The Netherlands far exceeded our expectations and is, according to Dan, his favourite country in Europe and the “only one he could live in.” The country is simultaneously modern and historical, while being extremely organized and efficient. And it’s not just one city; the whole country is like that. My only dislike of the infrastructure design would be the insane crosswalks throughout the country: crosswalks often consist of two or three portions crossing bike lanes (which are everywhere, not surprisingly, and mopeds are allowed to use them!!), tram lines, and car lanes.
The entire country is connected by a fast, constant and timely transportation system that uses a single card (the OV card). The OV card works for all modes of transportation: everything from long-distance trains across the country to buses and trams in all the cities; now that’s efficient. The only downside: the card itself costs €7.50 and is non-refundable (you have to add credit afterwards to use the transport systems). However, if you make at least three inner-city journeys it pays itself off as without the card you are automatically charged for the longest journey plus an extra euro.
We lucked out and had two OV cards waiting for us left by my uncle at his mother’s house in The Hague, a city located between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Diny, (my mom’s sister’s mother in-law), also had a 2 for 1 two day train pass she gave us!
The Hague turned out to be the perfect home-base to explore the Netherlands during our short three day stay. Not only was the location central to everything (and we had free accommodation) but we got the chance to see family and family friends!
Amsterdam: the city known as much for its galleries and culture as for its legal prostitution and marijuana and with “XXX” as it’s core symbol*. It’s another ‘must-see’ city of the world. We started off our day wandering through the red-light district and even though I had expected it, it still felt strange to see women (of all colours, shapes and sizes) scantily clad selling themselves through a glass window – and watching the drapes close as customers entered. The red-light district borders Chinatown – which quickly reminded me me how almost every city in the world I’ve been to has a Chinatown bordering the ‘sketchier’ part of town. Regardless, Chinatown in Amsterdam was the first time we had seen a variety of Asian food restaurants and grocery stores in ages. Italy, Croatia and Greece predominately sold their own specialty food and didn’t have much diversity in both groceries and restaurants. If you don’t know this, I pretty much live for Asian food, and needles to say, my mouth watered at the site of sushi which I miss so dearly. Sadly, I had to quickly divert my eyes when I saw the prices which were at least three times more than I was willing to pay!
*What I didn’t know: I thought the ‘XXX’ seemed appropriate given the X-rated scenes easily accessible in Amsterdam; and the symbol is definitely exploited across the city. The ‘XXX’ symbol is actually three vertical St. Andrew’s Crosses. Supposedly “It’s actually a complete coincidence that the St. Andrew’s Crosses on Amsterdam’s 500-year-old coat of arms are also similar to the modern-day shorthand for red light district x-rated entertainment.” – http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting/about-amsterdam/history-and-society/city-symbols
Dan rented a bicycle in the afternoon – I seriously need to get back into riding bikes! I took the tram to meet him at the gallery square. The exterior of the buildings was enough to fulfill our museum desires for the short day we had in the city and we got some signature shots in front of the “I amsterdam” letters near the Riksmuseum before parting ways and exploring on our own.
I wandered back through the streets enjoying taking photos of the canals, people and bikes while Dan whizzed around town on his bike. I was extremely pleased when I found a café that offered soy milk latte’s (which is also not a thing in the Mediterranean countries we visited) as well as dark chocolate covered strawberries (dairy free!).
Our second day in the Netherlands we visited Rotterdam. We had heard it was a modern and architectural city but nothing prepared us for what a cool city it was! The buildings stood out as unique and the architectural aspects of the city were noticeable at first glance, including the new and overly modern train station we arrived at. From the train station, we made our way through the “Cool District” (as shown on google maps) which was filled with newly built/renovated shops and restaurants. The recently renovated central market consists of a large outdoor area as well as a huge covered portion. Inside is like a Granville Island Market on steroids – I would shop there every day if I lived in Rotterdam! We helped ourselves to some samples and I secretly wished we spent all day there.
Diny had given us a 2 for 1 ticket for the Spido Rotterdam Harbour Tour (she had a whole book full of discounts!). The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and stretches over a distance of 40km. The Port of Rotterdam’s annual throughput amounts to nearly 450 million tonnes which is transported by approximately 30,000 seagoing vessels and 110,000 inland vessels. In other words, it’s massive: a boat is definitely the only way to see the harbor properly and we were thankful for the discount ticket which encouraged us to take the tour!
We took the train back to The Hague in time for a late dinner with Diny. She had prepared a massive Indonesian feast for us. I was surprised at first but she reminded us Indonesia (previously the Dutch East Indies) was a Dutch colony until 1949 and their cuisine is very popular in the Netherlands. (It was delicious!)
Our final day in the Netherlands we spent exploring The Hague. The city was a lot bigger than I expected. Still needing more fall/winter clothes we stopped in the shopping district for a bit. We discovered Primark (not in Canada) and our jaws dropped at the extremely cheap prices and wide variety of clothes. Over an hour later we walked out a lot more prepared for the weather: €65 bought us each a pair of jeans, a sweater, two t-shirts as well as a beanie, a wallet and a pair of gloves! Given we only need the clothes for another month or two before we leave them behind, I was more than happy with the price and quality (*I heard later that the quality was terrible but since I’m writing this post about a month late, I can testify that I’ve washed my jeans and sweater a few times and they’re still in decent condition).