You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.
A year or so ago, my mom mentioned to me that someone from Zuidland, a small town about 30 minutes southwest of Rotterdam where my great-grandpa was born and raised, had reached out to our family. The person from Zuidland had put together a history of my mom’s family and wondered if we’d be interested in copies of the book he had written. I was certainly interested, so I got a copy. The author mentioned that if anyone happened to come visit the Netherlands, he’d be happy to give them a tour of the town, so I took advantage of that offer while there.
Zuidland was completely unlike any other town we visited in the Netherlands. It’s not a tourist town by any means–it’s just a normal town where normal people live normal lives. And I really liked that about it!
We walked around the whole town in about two hours and learned a lot about its history. The highlight for me personally was seeing the house where my great-grandpa grew up, of course.
But I also loved learning about the town in general. Most of the buildings in the center of town are from the 1600s (!!), which isn’t all that old by Dutch standards, but it felt a lot different seeing buildings from the 1600s that haven’t been all gussied up for tourists to take pictures of vs. the ones surrounding town squares in bigger towns in the Netherlands. There are also a couple of buildings in the town square that were built in the late 1940s, because their predecessors were bombed during World War II. The Germans had set up spotlights outside of Zuidland to look for Allied planes, so the Allies were trying to bomb those, but hit the buildings in the center of Zuidland instead.
We also learned about the North Sea flood of 1953, which reminded me a lot of Hurricane Katrina: the barriers meant to keep water back failed during a storm, and mass casualties followed. In fact, the North Sea flood killed almost exactly as many people in the Netherlands as Hurricane Katrina killed–the flood killed 1836 people in the Netherlands, while Hurricane Katrina killed 1833 people–though almost 1000 people died outside the Netherlands from the flood as well. About two dozen people died in Zuidland alone during the flood, most members of two different families who weren’t able to get to the center of town in time (the center of Zuidland being on higher ground than the outskirts).
The plaque in the picture shows the water level during the flood.
While I loved the entire trip to Europe, visiting Zuidland was definitely the stop that meant the most to me emotionally. I didn’t know my great-grandpa all that well–he died when I was nine–but seeing where he grew up really felt like everything came full circle for me.
After our morning in Zuidland, our next stop for the day was Delft. Having grown up in a Dutch bubble, I was under the impression that everyone knows was delft is, but after returning to the U.S., I’ve quickly learned that that’s not the case. Apparently not everyone has grandmas with china cabinets full of the stuff. If you’re unfamiliar with delft, this is what it looks like. If it looks like Chinese porcelain to you, you’re onto something: the Dutch initially encountered Chinese designs through the Dutch East Indies Company and, liking them so much, decided to make them for themselves. The pottery from the Netherlands came to be called delft because it was produced in the city of Delft.
We arrived in Delft around lunchtime and stopped at Stadsbakkerij de Diamenten Ring for lunch. It was delicious, but it only accepts Maestro credit cards (not the only place we encountered in the Netherlands that only takes Maestro), so you’ll need cash if you’re don’t have one.
After lunch, we walked to Royal Delft, the last remaining delft manufacturer from the 17th century. We took a tour of the facility, where we learned about how delft is made and saw some artists painting pottery. A variety of delft was on display, from plates made to commemorate the births of royals to a gigantic tile reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. The last stop on the tour is where the pottery itself is made, which was really cool to see!
They had a large tile display there as well commemorating its 355th anniversary last year (but I don’t remember for sure, so don’t quote me on that) where, instead of the factory’s master artists, visitors from around the world painted tiles that were put into a gigantic map of Earth. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think the design in the upper left corner of this tile looks suspiciously like the Chicago flag, don’t you think? I’m allowing myself to believe that’s what it is, at any rate.
It started raining pretty hard at the end of our tour, which gave me ample time to wander around the gift shop and blow through a fair portion of my souvenir budget 😛 I really wanted a handpainted item, though–it’s never too early to start building your old Dutch lady china cabinet inventory, after all!–so I didn’t mind the high price tag.
Once the rain eased up, we headed back to the center of Delft for–what else?–a Rick Steves walking tour. The walking tour centers around the markt, but the markt was actively markt-ing while we were there (i.e.: there were vendors set up selling things), so it was hard to get an idea of the square’s scale. But it was very easy to understand what it looks like in action, so that was nice! We split a freshly-made, large stroopwafel in the markt (under the stand’s awning) while we got ourselves oriented. Our sightlines were not what they would be had the square been empty, but we could still pick out the Nieuwe Kerk and stadhuis (not that was a difficult task – they’re both pretty gigantic buildings).
(Stadhuis in the background)
The rain had slowed to a drizzle by that point, so we walked past the shops lining the square and popped into Henri Willig to remedy the previous day’s cheese-purchasing debacle. I bought a little gift set that came with a block (circle?) of baby gouda (side note on the gouda situation: I learned that gouda gets named based on how long it’s been aged, with young (baby) cheese having been aged for less time than old cheese.), a pair of little delft klompen (wooden shoes, though in this case, not made of wood), a wooden tulip, and a cheese board. It was every bit as delightful as it sounds 🙂
We also popped into a delft shop right next door to Henri Willig (which, in case you visit Delft, is labeled “Cheese & More” on the outside) at a store the receipt called “Delftware Best Buy,” but didn’t have a particularly obvious name from the outside. It just says “Original Painted Delftware” on the window. There, I bought a little vase for my newly acquired wooden tulip and a delft penguin, because obviously.
Our shopping complete, we continued the walking tour. We saw the waag, right behind the stadhuis, and nearby meat and fish markets, before crossing the Boterbrug (literal translation: butter bridge) and walking along the Oude Delft Canal. There, we saw the Water Authority building and learned a bit about water management in the Netherlands: an important task, given how much of the country is below sea level.
We saw the Oude Kerk (but couldn’t go in, due to some sort of academic ceremony that seemed to be taking place that day). We walked by the Prinsinhof, a former monastery where Willem I, the man considered to be the father of the Netherlands, was assassinated (but, for the millionth time this trip, couldn’t go in because it was already closed). We also saw Phoenixstraat (though we had seen that pre-walking tour, as we drove in on it) and the windmill at the end of Phoenixstraat as well.
We then returned to De Waag to have dinner! De Waag, no longer needed for waag purposes (i.e.: weighing house/customs purposes) is now a restaurant and was a really cool place to eat. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip, which was appropriate, as Delft was probably my favorite (Dutch) city of the trip as well. It was a really adorable town, and I definitely recommend making time for it if you find yourself in the Netherlands.
- Stadsbakkerij de Diamanten Ring (Choorstraat 9, Delft). 5/5. Bring cash if you don’t have a Maestro card.
- De Waag (Markt 11, Delft). 5/5.
- Royal Delft
- Nieuwe Kerk
- De Waag
- Meat and Fish Shops
- Oude Delft Canal
- Water Authority
- Oude Kerk