You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.
After our night in Brugge, it was finally time for the main event: The Netherlands!
We took an intercity train from Brugge to Brussels Midi/Zuid, then took the Thalys to Rotterdam. I learned later that, despite the fact that Rotterdam is in a different country than Brussels, we still could’ve taken an intercity train to Rotterdam Centraal (and, I would imagine, could’ve saved some money in the process). This was not the only time I had such a realization on the trip. There were almost always multiple trains from multiple operators that could’ve gotten us from Point A to Point B. God bless Europe and its investment in rail.
Some sort of accident happened while we were traveling from Brussels to Rotterdam (not to our train, but along the route), which delayed our arrival by about an hour. Fortunately, we weren’t in any rush!
Once we arrived in Rotterdam, we walked a couple blocks from Rotterdam Centraal to a Eurocar outpost to pick up the car we had rented. While the Netherlands has perfectly sufficient rail service, there were a few places we planned to visit where, logistically, it would just be simpler to have a car than having to rely on trains. Coincidentally, the woman at the Eurocar desk who helped us get our car was from one of those towns! But more on that later.
After we got our car, we headed straight to Gouda: a city whose name you probably recognize from the cheese. In fact, I originally planned to go to Gouda on Day 6 of the trip so we could see the recreated cheese market that they do on Thursday mornings, but a conflict arose, so we we went on Wednesday instead.
We parked the car in a garage outside the heart of the town (right by the Best Western, in case you ever find yourself driving to Gouda) and walked along the canals to get to the main square. Because Rick Steves didn’t have a walking tour for Gouda, we swung by the VVV (Tourist Information) in the Waag and picked up an informational packet on the city. I, somehow, summoned the self-control to keep myself from buying all the corny Dutch souvenirs they had in the shop (spoiler: that self-control waned significantly as the trip went on 😛 ).
It was nearly 2 p.m. by this point, so lunch was high on our priority list. We walked around the square eyeing restaurants and finally settled on Swing Gouda, where, naturally, I had to get a cheese sandwich.
I also got a side order of fries so I could inaugurate myself into the traditional Dutch way of eating fries: dipped in mayo. I don’t care how weird it sounds: fries in mayo > fries in ketchup. It was one hundred times more delicious than I expected, and I’d like my fries served with a side of mayo from here on out, please.
The informational packet we picked up in the Waag mentioned an app you could download that contained several walking tours of the city, so at lunch, we downloaded the app and picked a “hidden gems” walking tour. A Rick Steves tour it was not, but it got the job done and gave us a lot more direction than we would’ve had wandering around aimlessly on our own.
We then visited the stadhuis in the center of the square. The side of the stadhuis has a carillon that plays two minutes past every half hour, and we happened to walk up at 3:31. We watched the carillon do its thing, then paid for entrance into the stadhuis.
I believe it was the informational packet that mentioned that a lot of couples get married at the stadhuis, and I could see why! If you’re in the market for a wedding venue in Gouda, the stadhuis was quite the location!
This fancily up-lit space is the lower level of the building, which was originally used for selling meat, but other levels of the building were just as pretty.
After that, we went to Sint–Janskerk, the longest church in the Netherlands. While many old Dutch towns have equally old Dutch churches, visiting churches in the Netherlands is a very different experience than visiting, say, the churches I visited in Belgium (or St. Paul’s in London, for that matter). Many churches in the Netherlands were built as Catholic churches, and from the outside appear to be towering, grandiose structures. And they are often towering grandiose structures. The interiors, however, do not at all correspond with what you’d expect based on the size and architecture of the building. In 1566 Calvinist iconoclasts destroyed much of the artwork inside these churches (a situation Wikipedia explains thoroughly, in case you’re interested in learning more) and, by and large, turned them into Dutch Reformed churches.
This is neither the time nor place to discuss the ins and outs of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, but a difference worth mentioning right now is the difference in service emphasis. While Catholicism emphasizes the Eucharist (communion) as the main part of a church service, Protestantism emphasizes the sermon (or teaching the congregation about the Bible) as the main part of the service. I don’t think this shows up particularly in modern church design, but the difference in emphasis resulted in a dramatic change inside Sint-Janskerk. Instead of congregational seating facing the altar at the front of the church, it now faces the pulpit in the center.
(The pews in the front of the picture are from the Protestant-ization of the church. Note the pulpit on the right. The center towards the back–what’s lit up–is what used to be the choir when it was a Catholic church. Maybe it technically still is? But it doesn’t look like the choirs I saw in Catholic churches in Europe if it is.)
Sint-Janskerk had a fantastic audio guide (in English! And various other languages) that you could use to direct you on a tour around the church. The building is particularly famous for its stained glass windows, so that makes up the bulk of the tour, but you also learn a bit about the organ and the setup of the space.
(Organ, very poorly pictured, in the center. This is the view of the pews from the above picture from the other side.)
One thing I thought was particularly interesting: since the stained glass windows are so important to people, they actually removed all of them during World War II and stored them, pane by pane, in boxes so that they wouldn’t be damaged. After the war ended, they were all reinstalled. There are over 30 windows in the church, all of which are multiple stories tall, so you can only imagine what kind of feat it was to take all these windows–some of which date back to the 1500s–out and then reinstall them!
(This is one of the two tallest windows in the church, but hopefully gives you an idea of just how gigantic these windows are.)
We left Sint-Janskerk a little after 4 p.m., then crossed the square to get siroopwafels (also known as stroopwafels) at Kamphuisen and windmill cookies at de Vlaam next door. We planned to spend more of the evening in Gouda, but quickly learned that just about everything closes up shop around 5 p.m. We could’ve stayed for dinner, but I was 1) tired and 2) disappointed that all the cheese shops closed before I had a chance to buy any (“crushed and devastated and crying because I literally came to Gouda to buy cheese and missed my chance” is a more accurate way of describing how I felt), so we drove back to Rotterdam to check into our hotel for the night instead.
- Swing Gouda (Markt 24, Gouda). 5/5.
- Kamphuisen (Markt 69, Gouda). 5/5.
- de Vlaam (Markt 70, Gouda). 5/5.
- De Goudse Waag