One thing that runs consistently through all my travels is the realisation that no matter how much time I spend in a country, it just is never enough. There are always boxes left unchecked, experiences unexplored and that one cafe not checked out. This also happens to be my biggest lesson in travelling. You can never see everything and it is best to take some time to soak in what you can as opposed to touch and go a multitude of places.
Twelve days in the land of canals and tulips and I cannot probably find photographs or words to do justice to The Netherlands as seen through my eyes. I covered The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam; three of the largest cities in The Netherlands and also probably the most significant. Apart from the fact that only about 50% of the country is one metre above sea level, The Netherlands is also one of the most liberal countries in the European Union. It has something to do with the fact they have legalised euthanasia, prostitution, same-sex marriages and boast of a relatively chill drug policy. But it also comes with the fact that the work culture and the work life balance of the nationals is extremely balanced and thus contributing to a great quality of life. You know how it's difficult to find a Parisian smiling or waving at you for no real reason? Let's just say that despite the same kind of a language barrier, I had many a happy Dutch (men, women, kids alike) smiling and waving at me on different days. I have come to realise that listicles work best when it comes to compiling my travelogues so let me just give you my top ten things to absolutely not miss doing in The Netherlands:
- The Museums: I know I know, you definitely saw it coming. I am a hard core museum buff and can very conveniently spend almost every second day exploring a new museum. Over the course of twelve days, I went to five museums across the three cities and picking a favourite would be almost like picking a favourite child. In no particular order, my five picks were: Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, House of Anne Frank Amsterdam, Escher at The Palace in The Hague, Mesdaag Panorama in The Hague and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. All of the above are a great mix of art(Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Claude Monet and many a Dutch gems), craftwork, pottery, antiques and a display of the evolution of it all. House of Anne Frank as the name suggests is the original house where Anne Frank and her family went into hiding when the Nazis invaded The Netherlands during World War-II. It displays everything from the original transcripts of her notes to each doorway that originally led up to the hiding place and has now been sealed off. Needless to say, the museums were the most satisfying part of my trip.
|Van Gogh, Amsterdam|
|Escher's genius, The Hague|
- Bicycle, walk or take a boat across the canals: The canals are all over the country and incidentally when I was in Amsterdam, the Gay Pride Parade was at it's peak which was essentially a long drawn celebration of homosexuality across the long weekend. The house boats and the jets across the canals were all a riot of colours and parties dotted across the entire city and there possibly could not have been a better time to be there. We walked around, stopped across bars and even took one of jetties across the canals which took us on a mini tour of everything in Amsterdam. It is scenic and definitely a part of the complete Dutch experience.
- The Food Experience: My fiancé had his finger on the pulse when he said that there really isn't anything very intrinsically Dutch about their cuisine. It is heavily influenced by the neighbouring countries and is basically a mix of everything European. However, Dutch pancakes, coffee, cheese (or kaas as the Dutch call it), hand cut fries with different toppings, gelato (albeit Italian) are few of the Dutch food experiences that you need to dive into. Usually the street food carts do a good job of all these especially if you are close to the Pier.
- Shopping: I did most of my shopping in The Hague since I spent most of my time there and while the local Dutch designers are definitely not easy on the pocket, the high street brands work out a lot cheaper in Europe as I told you here and here. River Island, Bershka, H and M, Pull And Bear, Monki are all great options for bulk high street shopping. My favourites, however remain COS and this Dutch label that I discovered there called Vanilia. In The Hague, Centrum is the central part of the city which has winding alleys with all the stores. There is also De Bijenkorf which is the multi-designer retail store across The Netherlands. When in Amsterdam, you would find a lot of cute vintage shops dotted across the 9 straatjes and is a real hit with the tourists.
- The street market experience: Amsterdam runs a host of street markets but one of it's most popular ones has to be the Albert Cuyp Market which has more than 200 stalls running across Albert Cuypstraat selling everything from souvenirs, to dried herbs, from pieces of luggage to Delft pottery, form cheese to all kinds of meat. Basically, everything a local family or a tourist needs can be found here. It is also a great place to pick up vintage artefacts and household things.
- The nightlife: While you might think Amsterdam is all where it's at, you would be surprised at how exciting the nightlife in The Hague is too. Everything ranging from the 'brown cafes' to cocktail bars and coffee shops across the country are abuzz for most part of the night. For those of you travelling by trains and trams, you might need to take the party closer home since those services stop at around 12. My first and the best pick for a bar in Amsterdam would have to be Vesper which is a tiny boutique cocktail bar boasting of some beautifully potent cocktails, especially martinis that are all bound together by the common theme of James Bond. The bars dotted all across Amsterdam especially the alleys around Leidseplein are great to party all night or just sit across for a couple of fresh brews since the variety of beer brewed in The Netherlands is just brilliant and diverse across palates. Prinsengracht also has many a bars to just sit outside and to look out from. It's best to just walk around since all these lanes are walking distance of each other and have a vast range of bars and breweries. My favourite area which is also basically a square full of outdoorsy bars and cafes in The Hague would have to be Grote Markt.
- A guided tour of the Peace Palace in The Hague: This international law administrative building houses the ICJ (The International court of justice) and the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration). Not only is it an intimidating yet stunning structure with every detail about the countries' contributions and the history of the world legal politics but it also houses the fantastic Peace Palace Library. Given the significance of Hague in international law, this one is a must visit. The guided tours for the inside of the courts only go in batches of twenty so make sure you squeeze in with people before 3 or 4 pm. Post that, you only have access till the lobby which gives you a free of cost audio tour of the history of the Peace Palace.
- The Heineken Experience: The Dutch love their beer just as much as they love their museums and when you bring the serious affinity together, you get the Heineken Brewery Experience. Amsterdam is the home to the Heineken Brewery and this fun, trivia filled little tour (followed by a little roof top party with burgers and beer and the views of the city) will actually take you through the entire procedure of how their beer is brewed complete with historically significant memoirs of everything Heineken. The souvenir shop is mind boggling and it's hard to settle on the one perfect Heineken memoir but your own beer bottles brewed and packaged with your name printed atop the heineken logo take the cake.
- Vondelpark and the AMSTERDAM letters: Slightly gimmicky as it is, no real visit to Amsterdam is complete if you do not get yourself a photo infront of the signage at Museumplein. Like they say, pictures or it didn't happen. Vondelpark surrounded by the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum is the Central Park of Amsterdam. With hot dog carts and souvenir shops on the side, you will find the locals and the tourists alike, sunning themselves here or sitting propped open with their picnic baskets. It also has an open-air theatre. I am quite the park and garden person so it definitely was worth all my time to just get a cat nap here.
- The pier or the Dutch Riviera: It is not much of a confession since I made it abundantly clear in all my travelogues till date that I am more the beach person. Not to say that I don't love the hills but as and when the opportunity strikes, I always go the beach route. Should not it come as much of a surprise then that The Pier Scheveningen or the Dutch Riviera as it is also known in The Hague made it to my top picks from The Netherlands. Dotted with restaurants, bars, food stalls and a Sea Life Museum, the pier and the beach promenade are delightful and needless to say that the restaurants at The Pier itself offers wonderful views of the water. The weather in August, when I was there was a little tricky and not quite appropriate for hitting the beach but the restaurants and the walks are abuzz nonetheless.
No listicle or travel blog can cover every little thing to do or place to eat at, all encompassing. However, the attempt always remains to give the reader a holistic idea based on your experience and interests and it should be customised keeping your personal interests in mind. Keukenhof in Lisse for the Tulip Gardens, Delft for the shoe making and pottery and the Rijksmuseum are on my must-see for the next visit.
If you would like, I would be happy to share my list making methodology which I use to create my organised lists of 'Things to do' before each holiday. Yes, it's an acquired skill. No, you don't know my secret.
For all travel related questions, ideas etc. Fire off below.