Random Europe Thoughts

Alternatively titled, “All the Things That Somehow Didn’t Fit Into Daily Recaps.”

1. I was (pleasantly) surprised by how friendly the Euro to U.S. Dollar conversion rate was while we were in Europe. One Euro was worth about $1.12 or $1.13, which was much nicer than the British Pound to U.S. Dollar conversion rate (closer to one pound equaling roughly $1.30). Based on that, I’m glad we opted to spend most of our time in Euro-using countries!

2. I reconfigured my budget after we got home to eliminate my Europe Trip line item, and it made me really sad. I’ve been saving for this trip pretty much since I started working “real” jobs, and it’s weird to not have to save for it anymore. I’m tempted to keep putting my usual amount per paycheck into my Europe fund even though I don’t have one in mind right now, because I really, really want there to be a next time. Though that money could go to better use over the next few months, as I have some gigantic, much less exciting expenses coming up.

3. We stayed in four hotels in two different countries, and not a single one of those hotels had 1) washcloths or 2) clocks in the room. Not having a clock wasn’t the end of the world, since my Fitbit and phone were more than capable of quickly telling me the time, but not having washcloths drove me nuts! How was I supposed to shower?! I already feel like I’m slumming it in hotels when I use washcloths (I use a loofah at home), but to not have anything made me long for American hotels and their washcloths.

4. I was way too pampered on those transatlantic flights. Both trips were on 757s, and apparently spending 15.5ish hours on a 757 (between the flight to London and the flight home from Amsterdam) was enough for me to get used to that kind of space, because when I traveled this past weekend via 737s, I was like, “What IS this poor excuse for an airplane?!?” Ha. I flew economy both ways on the Europe trip, but the economy cabin was set up in a 2-3-2 configuration, so if you weren’t in that middle aisle, you either had a window or an aisle seat: no middle seats. I was all about that 2-3-2 arrangement! I was legitimately surprised when I got up to go to the bathroom during the flight at 1) how short of a walk it was to the back of the plane and 2) how few bathrooms there were. I cannot believe how much two flights on a 757 skewed my size expectations!

I was also all about all of that food service. On both flights, us peons in economy got one hot meal, dessert after said hot meal (lemon sorbet on the way to London, honey ginger ice cream (it was…weird) on the way home), a pretty generous snack 90 minutes or so before arrival (croissant and yogurt on the way there, a sandwich and pathetic stroopwafel on the way home – though obviously any pre-packaged, refrigerated stroopwafel was going to be pathetic after the fresh-off-the-griddle ones I was treated to in Nederland), plus the mid-flight drinks/little snacks you get on your run-of-the-mill domestic flight. I suppose we didn’t get that much attention during the middle of the flights, but overall, it felt like the flight attendants came by a lot more often than I’m used to. So when I flew domestically this past weekend and it took like an hour and a half to get my usual in-flight Sprite, I was, once again, all, “What IS this poor excuse for in-flight service?!?” Get over yourself, Bethany.

5. While in England, I got a very unexpected text from…my brother? Sister? Someone in my family…that we had upgraded our family cellular plan to unlimited data (this, after years of fighting over our 15 gigs spread out among five people!), and got a six-month trial of Apple Music as a result. I had no idea why this was happening (I have since discovered it was due to my brother’s bonkers use of data), but I was happy to give Apple Music a try, so I signed up after I got home.

In poking around Apple Music, I discovered that they have Top 100 radio stations from just about any country you can think of, including Nederland! I don’t need to listen to the Top 100 songs in the U.S. on my phone–I can get those just by walking into my office building’s lobby, which pipes in pop music every day–but I certainly don’t have routine access to popular music in the Netherlands, so I gave it a listen. A lot of the music is the same stuff you’d hear on the radio here: not a surprise, since plenty of songs I knew came up on the radio when we were driving around in our rental car. But there were also, of course, some songs in Dutch, which really didn’t do anything to alleviate my newfound and ongoing desire to be Dutch (in more than just heritage), but I really enjoyed listening to! This is my current favorite:

I…have like no idea what most of it means, though there’s an English translation in the comments that I assume is accurate.

Listening to Top 100: Nederland regularly also enabled me to correctly answer the question about the winner of Eurovision in the New York Times weekly news quiz a couple of weeks ago (it wanted to know where Duncan Laurence was from. I knew it was the Netherlands, because the song he apparently won Eurovision with what has been the top song for a few weeks now.), and when I correctly answered it, only 39 percent of respondents had gotten it right, so *hair flip*

 

Europe Trip Days 10 (Part II) and 11: Amsterdam

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

Picking up where I left off…

We exited the begijnhof into the Spui:

amsterdam-spui

and walked from there to P.C.J. Hajenius, a tobacco shop. I don’t smoke, nor do I have any interest in smoking, but Rick Steves assured us that one does not have to smoke to appreciate P.C.J. Hajenius, and he was right. The store’s interior is reminiscent of those from the 1910s, and being inside felt like stepping back in time. It was worth the detour to see!

A little down the road was the Munttoren, or mint tower:

amsterdam-munttoren

and just beyond that was my favorite part of our Amsterdam walking tour: the bloemenmarkt, or flower market.

amsterdam-bloemenmarkt

The bloemenmarkt is made up of stalls floating in the Singel canal. At these stalls, you can buy all sorts of flower-related things: bulbs, garden decorations, etc. I really enjoyed wandering through the different stalls and seeing everything they had to offer. I bought a couple tulip bulbs for my mom and grandma, though who knows if they’ll ever grow into anything. If they don’t, I only spent about a euro each on them, so it won’t be the end of the world. We also popped into a souvenir shop on the other side of the road from the bloemenmarkt where someone was making fresh stroopwafels, so we got one of those as well, obviously 🙂

We walked through the koningsplein to get to Leidsestraat and Leidseplein, and from there returned to our hotel to relax for a moment until it was time for our final activity of Day 10: the Anne Frank House.

amsterdam-annefrankhouseexterior

(Taken from loading onto the canal tour boat the next day. The Anne Frank House is the one on the center right, without the shutters.)

I don’t remember ever reading The Diary of Anne Frank (so I assume I haven’t – it seems like a book you wouldn’t forget you’ve read), but going to the Anne Frank House seemed like one of those things you’re Supposed to Do when in Amsterdam, so we got tickets as soon as they became available two months before we planned to visit (which was actually a little trickier than you might expect, given that we visited on April 29, and two months before April 29 is February 29! In case you ever plan to visit on April 29 on a non-leap year, April 29 tickets are on sale on February 28.).

We added a 30-minute pre-tour talk onto our visit as well, which was 100 percent worth it, particularly if you haven’t read the book. The “30 minute” talk lasted close to an hour and covered both the people who lived and worked in the building (before, during, and after World War II) as well as world events happening at that time. As I continually realized during this trip, my knowledge of European history aside from the most basic, basic facts is embarrassingly nonexistent (particularly for someone who fancies herself a history buff), so even though I was aware of why Hitler rose to power and the consequences of that, I didn’t realize, for example, that the Frank family moved to the Netherlands from Germany because the Netherlands was neutral in World War I. Since I haven’t read The Diary of Anne Frank (yet – it’s definitely on my To Read list now), I also didn’t know anything about the other people who lived in the house–honestly, I’m not sure I even knew there were other people living in the house–so I learned a ton during the talk and am really glad we decided to add that on.

After the talk, we began our tour of the house. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, wanted the house left empty after it was turned into a museum, so there’s no furniture in any of the rooms. That doesn’t make the experience any less powerful, however. An audio tour guided us through all the spaces other than the areas where the family actually lived while in hiding. For that, you only had plaques on the walls to read.

I don’t think I can accurately put into words how powerful it was to visit the Anne Frank House, particularly the annex in the back where she and the other families lived for two years. World War II in general felt much more real and recent in Europe than it’s ever felt to me before, but being in the actual rooms where the Frank family lived, seeing the actual pictures Anne hung on the wall of her room and the actual lines Otto and Edith drew on the walls to track the growth of Margot and Anne really drove home the point that these aren’t made-up characters in a fictional book: they were all very real people with very real lives who experienced very real trauma and death. It was quite moving, and I think visiting should be a high priority for anyone spending time in Amsterdam.

We got dinner at Georgio’s Cafe, and then went to bed to rest up for our last day of the trip.

The last day of the trip was a bit more low-key than the others (not that that would take much, ha) and mostly involved eating, which is not the worst way to spend your last day of vacation in my opinion. We had breakfast at the hotel, and then left to go get cookies (at 10 a.m. 😛 ) from Van Stapele Koekmakerij. I have a friend who went to Amsterdam a few years ago, and when she posted about it on Facebook, someone recommended–nay, insisted–that she go to Van Stapele Koekmakerij while there. I made a note of it at the time and figured with such glowing reviews that I should go as well, and boy, was it worth it! It was one of the richest, most delicious cookies I’ve ever had.

amsterdam-boat

Big fan of the name of this boat, spotted on our walk to get cookies 😀

We wandered through the Nine Little Streets shopping district again before settling on Toos & Roos for lunch, and then walked over to the Anne Frank House again to board our canal cruise through Flagship Amsterdam. There are plenty of canal cruise companies in Amsterdam, and this was the only one I tried, so I can’t really compare it to others. It felt very casual: a Chicago River architecture tour this was not. Sometimes our guides would point out highlights along the canals, but other times we’d just float on in relative quiet. The guides were all very friendly, and just based on how other boats looked, I’d imagine we had a more intimate tour than you might get with a bigger company (but I don’t really know, since I haven’t been on any other tours). Regardless, I really enjoyed the cruise (and the blankets on the boat, as I, in a fit of optimism, left my fleece back in the U.S. and only brought a light sweatshirt and rain jacket with me to Europe. That was a bad call.). One thing I especially liked is that we all went around the boat before we launched saying where we were from, and every group was from a different place! There was people from England, from Wales, from Germany, and from Switzerland on our boat (plus us, from the U.S.). I thought that was really cool 🙂

amsterdam-canaltour1

amsterdam-canaltour2

amsterdam-canaltour3

One thing I was VERY curious about was the hooks I noticed at the top of seemingly every building in Amsterdam. I spent most of Monday wondering what they were about and hoping we’d find out on our canal tour, and we did! Many of the buildings along the canals were once warehouses. In Amsterdam, buildings were taxed based on their width, so many are as narrow as they can be. They build up rather than out, and consequently, staircases in buildings in Amsterdam are extremely narrow and steep (why would you waste what little width you have on a wide staircase?), as I noticed immediately in our hotel, and in the Anne Frank House as well. In both instances, the staircases were just this side of basically being a ladder. Those steep staircases are not conducive to moving anything other than humans (though I would argue they’re barely conducive to doing that), so instead of using stairs to move goods in and out of warehouses, people would rig a pulley up with the hooks in those pictures and use that pulley to hoist the goods up to a window, where they would be pulled in. While these buildings are mostly residences now, according to our canal guides, people still use these hooks and pulleys for moving in and out of houses–there’s no chance you’re going to get a piano up any of those stairs, for instance. This is also why most of the buildings are intentionally built to lean forward: to prevent goods being hoisted from hitting and breaking your windows/house. I thought that was super interesting!

After our hour-long canal tour ended, we walked to the Rijksmuseum, which, as I learned on our boat tour, was no longer home to the famous I amsterdam sign you’ve undoubtedly seen in pictures from anyone who’s visited Amsterdam since it was installed in 2004. It was removed in December of last year, which was a huge bummer to learn, because how was I supposed to post an I amsterdam picture on Facebook if the sign wasn’t there anymore?!?!?! WHY EVEN BOTHER GOING?! (I’m kidding, obviously. I was slightly disappointed, but it was far from being the biggest disappointment of the trip (that was not buying cheese in Gouda), and I got over it pretty quickly.)

amsterdam-rijksmuseum

Though the Rijksmuseum no longer hosts an I amsterdam sign, it does still house oodles of artwork from Dutch masters. I’ll be honest with you guys: I know even less about art than I know about European history, and that makes the experience of visiting an art museum something that is mostly wasted on me. I don’t “get it” and therefore don’t appreciate it as much as I’m suspect I’m supposed to. Like, I could not comprehend why everyone is so into Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, when there were plenty of other Vermeer paintings right next to The Milkmaid that looked just as good to me as The Milkmaid did. I’m sure there’s a reason why The Milkmaid is so important, but I don’t know it or understand it, so instead of appreciating The Milkmaid, I was mostly just annoyed at how hard it was to see this painting I was supposed to be very interested in seeing because…the museum told me I was supposed to be interested in seeing it?

Anyway, the point of all that is to say that I’m neither educated nor interested in art in general enough to fully appreciate something like the Rijksmuseum. If I were to go back to Amsterdam, I’d rather go to the Van Gogh Museum, because I actually am interested in Van Gogh and his paintings. If you’re more cultured than I am, you’ll probably enjoy the Rijksmuseum a lot more than I did. We did go to the special exhibit, All the Rembrandts, featuring a ton of Rembrandt’s work. That was cool to see.

We got dinner at Heinekenhoek after the Rijksmuseum, where I had my first and only Heineken of the trip. We had seen bitterballen on menus all over the country, so we decided to try those at dinner that night, and I will say that’s the one Dutch food I definitely don’t need to have again. I’d seen them translated on menus as meatballs, and that’s accurate, in the sense that it was meat in a spherical shape, but they were NOT at ALL like the meatballs I’m used to. The best way I can describe them is “deep fried warm meat pudding,” and if you think that sounds unappetizing, you are correct! You can find a recipe here for a better description of what they’re like from a person who enjoys them, but they were 100 percent not my cup of tea. (That being said, I’ll happily eat pickled herring, another Dutch food that skeeves some people (i.e.: my travel buddy) out. Everyone has their own tastes!)

And that’s that! Eleven days of European travel. While it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I very much hope it wasn’t. I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost a full month now, and I still wish every day that I could be back in Europe. I only saw a very small slice of the continent, but I absolutely fell in love and sincerely hope that I’ll have the chance to go back some day.

amsterdam-bike

AMSTERDAM SUMMARY

Accommodations

Food

Sights Seen

  • Nine Little Streets shopping district
  • Amsterdam Centraal
  • Damrak
  • Beurs van Berlage
  • Dam Square
  • Royal Palace
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • Kalverstraat
  • De Papegaai
  • Amsterdam Museum
  • Amsterdam Gallery
  • Begijnhof
  • English Reformed Church
  • Spui
  • P.C.J. Hajenius
  • Munttoren
  • Bloemenmarkt
  • Koningsplein
  • Leidsestraat
  • Leidesplein
  • Anne Frank House
  • Canal tour (Flagship Amsterdam)
  • Rijksmuseum

 

 

Europe Trip Day 10 (Part I): Amsterdam

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

The final stop of our Europe Trip was Amsterdam. I was a little nervous about how I’d feel about the city. I have a friend who went last year and didn’t like it at all, so I had low expectations.

Spoiler: to my great delight, I LOVED Amsterdam from the moment we got off the train.

We took a tram from Amsterdam Centraal to the Leidseplein area and walked the rest of the way to Hotel D’Amsterdam, where we stayed for our three nights in the city. It was definitely the most European of the hotels we stayed in during this trip, with the steepest, narrowest staircase I’ve ever climbed and a bathroom small enough that I could stand in the middle and touch both walls at the same time. Novotel Brainpark this was not! But it got the job done.

We went to Thrill Grill, a burger place a couple blocks away from the hotel, for dinner Sunday night. Our waiter asked where we were from, which made me wonder: do all English speakers sound the same to non-native English speakers? Personally, I have a really hard time distinguishing between any non-American English accents. British, South African, Australian: they all sound close enough to the same to me that I can’t tell the difference. I thought it was obvious that we were from the U.S. based on our English, but maybe if English isn’t your first language, all the accents sound the same? Anyway, we told him we were from the U.S., and he wanted to know if we liked their burgers better than the ones back home. We did (truly. We didn’t say that just to be nice.), and he was shocked! Perhaps he was unaware of the superiority of Dutch cheese to U.S. cheese, and how that instantly makes a cheeseburger 10 times better.

The next day (Day 10 of the trip) was our first full day in Amsterdam, and we kicked it off with a two-ish mile run to/in Vondelpark. It was really pretty and perfectly suited for running, though, this being the Netherlands, you had to be much more prepared for bike encounters than you need to be in the U.S. We refueled with breakfast at the hotel, cleaned up, and then walked through the Nine Little Streets shopping district en route to Amsterdam Centraal to undertake our last Rick Steves walking tour of the trip.

amsterdam-amsterdamcentraal

The walk started at Amsterdam Centraal and continued down the Damrak. The Damrak is one of the main ways into the city from the train station, so it’s filled with things that appeal to tourists: restaurants, souvenir shops, and the like. We hadn’t done much souvenir shopping up to that point on the trip, aside from Delft, so we stopped in several stores to see what we could find. At first, I was all, “Souvenirs are for chumps! Who needs chintzy Dutch tchotchkes?” and very soon after I was like, “*I* need all the chintzy Dutch tchotchkes!!!!” and ended up with a bunch of things that will likely collect dust on a shelf. But will also remind me of my trip! So, worth it!

Anyway, as we walked down the Damrak we passed the Beurs van Berlage, the former stock exchange building:

amsterdam-beurs

and ended up in Dam Square, probably the most prominent square in the city. The Royal Palace presides over the square. We decided to pay the entrance fee to see it, and holy cow, WORTH IT. It was stunning.

amsterdam-royalpalace

The Royal Palace has served multiple purposes since its construction in the mid-1600s, but today is an active palace, hosting state functions and other official events. When no one is using the palace for such activities, though, you can pay 10 Euro to see it.

amsterdam-royalpalaceinterior1

A really great audio tour was included with the price of admission. I learned a lot about the building, its construction, and its history. The whole building was just so beautiful, and the artwork (the sculptures in particular) were out of control.

amsterdam-royalpalaceinterior2

amsterdam-royalpalaceinterior3

We spent way longer at the Royal Palace than we intended and were starving by the time we finished walking around, so we went across the square to de Bijenkorf Kitchen for lunch. de Bijenkorf is a fancy department store, and the top floor is a cafeteria-style restaurant (the Kitchen). The whole experience reminded me a lot of Seven on State at Macy’s on State Street, though based on the designer names I saw on the way up to the Kitchen, I think de Bijenkorf is more along the lines of Barneys than Macy’s in terms of fanciness.

After eating, we tried to follow Rick Steves’ sneaky way of seeing the Nieuwe Kerk without paying the entrance fee (enter through the gift shop and go up a flight of stairs), but clearly the gift shop had caught on that people were doing this, and the flight of stairs was blocked. The Nieuwe Kerk is primarily used as an exhibition space these days–it isn’t used as a church at all, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be all that interesting to see (in my opinion) from a pretty-interiors-of-churches standpoint because it’s been a Dutch Reformed church since the 1500s–and I wasn’t interested in seeing the art exhibit they had on while we were there. So we saw the gift shop and then continued on our walking tour.

The next part of the tour took us down Kalverstraat, a big shopping street. On that street, we saw De Papegaai (officially, The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul). It’s also known as the Hidden Church, because that’s exactly what it originally was: hidden. The ever-tolerant Dutch didn’t outlaw Roman Catholicism after the Reformation, but they didn’t want to see it. If Catholics wanted to worship in their normal style, they couldn’t do it publicly, hence why this church was hidden.

After stopping in De Papegaai, we continued walking down Kalverstraat to the Amsterdam Museum. The museum is housed in a building that started off as a monastery and became an orphanage that operated from 1580-1960 (!). We didn’t go into the museum, but you can access the courtyard outside the entrance for free. Here, they still display the cupboards children living in the orphanage used to store their things, which was really interesting to see.

amsterdam-amsterdammuseum

You can also walk through the Amsterdam Gallery for free, so we did that.

Exiting out the other side of the gallery brought us to the begijnhof, a word you may recognize from my Brugge post. Since I didn’t explain what a begijnhof is then, I’ll do it now! Begijnhofs were dwelling places for religious lay (i.e.: non-clergy) women who lived a lifestyle similar to that of a nun, but weren’t actually nuns. All the houses face a center courtyard, like the hofjes in Leiden (though this was much bigger than the hofjes we saw there).

While the begijnhof itself was interesting, I was much more interested in the English Reformed Church inside it.

amsterdam-englishreformedchurch

The church, originally built to serve as a chapel for the begjinhof, was taken away from the Beguines (the women who lived there) after the Reformation and given to English-speaking Protestants. Some of those English-speaking Protestants eventually moved to Leiden, and eventually became the Pilgrims. That alone was interesting to me, but things got even more interesting as we wandered around the sanctuary and found a plaque on the wall.

amsterdam-englishreformedchurchplaquechicago

City of Chicago! That’s not something I expected to see in Amsterdam!

Apparently the Chicago Congregational Club gave this plaque to the church in the 1900s in honor of the Pilgrims (the Congregational church traced its lineage back to the Pilgrims, hence their interest). I thought that was so cool!

Since this post is already plenty long, I’ll leave it at this for today and wrap up Amsterdam later this week 🙂

 

Europe Trip Day 9: Rotterdam

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

After spending three nights in Rotterdam, it was finally time for us to see the city itself!

A quick note on staying in Rotterdam: we stayed at the Novotel Brainpark, which is a bit east of the city center. Novotel Brainpark is right by Erasmus University and feels very much like your typical American hotel–and, consequently, very much unlike your typical European hotel. The neighborhood around the hotel also felt very suburban, despite being in the Rotterdam city limits. There were no restaurants around the corner to pop into for a meal or sights to see close by (other than the university, I suppose). That worked out just fine for us, because our main concern as far as hotels in Rotterdam went was free parking. We were right by the highway, which made all of our day trips super simple (though it was a pretty quick walk to the subway from our hotel as well, and a quick subway ride to Rotterdam Centraal.). But if you want to be within walking distance of the city center, Novotel Rotterdam definitely isn’t your best bet.

Rotterdam is unlike any other city we visited on our Europe trip. Much of the city was destroyed in World War II, when the Germans dropped over 1,300 bombs on Rotterdam, destroying over 28,000 buildings. Because of that, the city center in particular is extremely modern compared to what you’d see elsewhere in the Netherlands. As an aside, the story of the bombing of Rotterdam and its rebuilding reminded me a lot of Chicago’s history, where a city-destroying event provided a blank slate for trying new architectural and city-planning ideas.

We started our day by returning the car to the car rental facility just outside Rotterdam Centraal, then headed out to get breakfast before commencing on–what else?–a Rick Steves walking tour. For breakfast, we opted to visit Op Het Dak, a little cafe that proved much trickier to find than we anticipated. It’s a rooftop facility: something that probably would’ve been a lot more obvious to us if we spoke Dutch, given that the name literally means “On the Roof.” *facepalm* I had my first-ever avocado toast there (not something I expected to eat in the Netherlands!) and was very impressed by the cafe in general. They grow their own food in a rooftop garden, which I thought was so cool! It was all very hipster and delightful.

And then we were off! This was one of the longest Rick Steves tours in terms of distance–about four miles–but we didn’t have anywhere to be until around 6 p.m. that evening, so we had plenty of time. We started at the Schouwburgplein, which led us into the Lijnbaan. The Lijnbaan is an outdoor shopping area for pedestrians only: no cars can drive up to the shops. Think the Oakbrook Center, for my fellow Chicagoans, just downtown rather than plopped in the middle of suburbia.

We saw City Hall and St. Lawrence Church, two of the very few buildings in the city center that survived the bombing.

rotterdam-cityhall

rotterdam-stlawrencechurch

We reached St. Lawrence Church by taking the beurstraverse, a passage that goes under Coolsingel (a road), allowing pedestrians to get to the other side of Coolsingel without waiting for traffic. Beurstraverse is also lined with stores, so it seamlessly blends in with the Lijnbaan.

We walked down Hoogstraat to a gigantic open area from which we could see several of Rotterdam’s modern (as in time, not as in the less-is-more, minimalist style) architectural highlights, including Markthal, the library, and the Pencil (a building that looks, unsurprisingly, like a pencil).

rotterdam-libraryandpencil

(Library is on the left, Pencil on the right)

We went into Markthal, and it was incredible! It put every other food hall I’ve ever visited to shame. It was huge, for one thing, but the variety of offerings was amazing! If you could imagine it, they seemed to have a stand that sold it at Markthal. The design of the building is also something else. It’s shaped like a horseshoe, and the center of it is where the food hall sits. Around the outside are apartments, offices, and retail space. The inside walls are covered with an enormous mural that I wish I could’ve captured in a picture. If you ever go to Rotterdam, I highly recommend checking out Markthal so you can fully appreciate this building.

rotterdam-markthal

(Also so you can see Markthal in all its glory, which this picture does not capture.)

From there, we walked through the courtyards underneath Rotterdam’s legendary cube houses, which I found baffling. Apparently they’re fully functional, normal houses, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around how that works. There is a house museum you can visit which probably would’ve cleared things up for me, but we didn’t go in.

We saw the Oudehaven (Old Harbor) and Witte Huis (White House) on our way to the Maas River. Rotterdam’s Witte Huis is more of a Witte Skyscraper – or at least it was at the time of its construction in 1898. It’s 10 stories tall, which isn’t much by today’s standards (in Rotterdam or elsewhere in the world), but was quite the feat at the time.

rotterdam-oudehavenwittehuis

The Maas River is the body of water that connects Rotterdam to the North Sea (and thus, the world), so it’s pretty significant to the city’s becoming the largest port in Europe. We saw the Williams Bridge, then walked along the water through the Parade of Flags to get to de Boeg (The Bow), a monument to those who died at sea during WWII. We had a good view of the Erasmus Bridge and the skyscrapers on the south side of the Maas River from there, so we sat for a bit before continuing on the walking tour. Though we had locked the majority of our luggage up at Rotterdam Centraal after returning the car, we both still had backpacks on, and they got awfully heavy after awhile!

rotterdam-erasmusbridge

Once we were ready to get moving again, we headed back into the city past the Leuvenhaven, once a bustling port but now home to the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam. In a plaza outside the Maritime Museum, we saw De Verwoeste Stad (The Destroyed City), a sculpture commemorating the bombing of Rotterdam. It’s quite striking.

We walked down Witte de Withstraat, a road full of bars and restaurants, and stopped to get beer (or, in my case, water) at Bierboutique. Witte de Withstraat ended at the Singel Belt, and following that brought us back to the train station. Witte de Withstraat the Singel Belt were the only part of the walking tour that went past any sort of historic architecture, which really put into perspective just how much of the city was destroyed during the bombing, if we could take a four-mile walking tour and not see any significant collection of historic architecture until the very end.

rotterdam-singelbelt

On another note, we saw some coot chicks in the Singel with their parents. I thought they were so ugly they were cute, but my traveling buddy thought they were just ugly, ha.

rotterdam-cootchicks

We had some time to kill before our train to Amsterdam would arrive, so we went back to Markthal, where I got a cupcake and my traveling buddy got fries. Good thing we had avocado toast in the morning to make up for it 😛

And that was Rotterdam! We made our way back to the train station, retrieved our luggage, and boarded the Thalys that brought us to the final stop of our Europe trip: Amsterdam.

ROTTERDAM SUMMARY

Accommodations:

Food:

  • Restaurant at Novotel Brainpark (once for dinner, once for breakfast). 2/5 for dinner, 4/5 for breakfast.
  • Op Het Dak (Schiekade 189, on the roof). 5/5
  • Bierboutique (Witte de Withstraat 40B). 5/5
  • Markthal (Verlengde Nieuwstraat). 5/5

Sights Seen:

  • Erasmus University
  • Schouwburgplein
  • Lijnbaan
  • City Hall
  • St. Lawrence Church
  • Beurstraverse
  • Markthal
  • Library
  • The Pencil
  • Cube Houses
  • Oudehaven
  • Witte Huis
  • Maas River
  • Parade of Flags
  • de Boeg
  • Erasmus Bridge
  • Leuvehaven
  • De Verwoeste Stad
  • Witte de Withstraat
  • Singel Belt

Europe Trip Day 8: The Hague

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

On Saturday, we donned our orange, had breakfast at the hotel, and headed off to The Hague to celebrate King Willem-Alexander’s 52nd birthday.

thehague-dutchflag

April 27 is Koningsdag (King’s Day) in the Netherlands, which is a holiday kind of on par with the Fourth of July in the U.S. It’s a holiday meant to instill a sense of national unity, which I think is part of the point of the Fourth of July, just instead of celebrating independence from a king, in this case, the king is the one being celebrated.

Amsterdam is the place to be on Koningsdag, which is exactly why we went to The Hague that day instead. I’ve lived through enough St. Patrick’s Days in Chicago to know that I do not enjoy being at partying ground zero on partying holidays, so if everyone was going to be in Amsterdam, The Hague seemed like a good place to go. Plus, it was ridiculously easy to access from Rotterdam. We thought we’d need to take Rotterdam’s subway to Rotterdam Centraal and get on an intercity train there, but it turned out that you could take Rotterdam’s subway all the way to The Hague. WHAT I WOULD GIVE for public transportation even half as comprehensive in this car-obsessed country. Of course, Rotterdam is also like 13 miles from The Hague, which is about the same distance as it is from Rogers Park to Soldier Field, so I suppose you can take Chicago’s subway that distance as well…but it feels a lot more comprehensive when it goes between cities.

Anyway, since it was Koningsdag, we didn’t want to make too many firm plans about what to do in The Hague because we didn’t know what would be open. One thing I did want to prioritize was visiting Mauritshuis, home of The Goldfinch, the painting around which the novel The Goldfinch revolves. Since I spent 21 and a half hours reading The Goldfinch earlier this year, I definitely wanted to see the painting.

And I did! And it was very fulfilling 🙂 The Mauritshuis also has The Girl with the Pearl Earring, another painting that inspired a novel (and movie) by the same name, but as I haven’t read The Girl With The Pearl Earring (yet), I wasn’t as interested in that one. Fortunately, it seemed like no one else at Maruritshuis had read The Goldfinch, so I had plenty of time to look at the painting without feeling crowded 🙂

Mauritshuis was also where I saw my first Jan Steen paintings, and I instantly liked his work. A lot of Steen’s paintings are quite funny (on purpose), and I enjoyed that a lot more than the usual somber portrait/still life numbers.

Mauritshuis was really nice, and just the right size for an art museum in my opinion. It was small enough to see the whole thing in an hour or so, and I liked that more than a gigantic art museum where it feels like you could spend all day looking and only scratch the surface of its collection.

thehague-maruitshuis

From the Maruitshuis we walked through the courtyard outside the Binnenhof (where the Netherlands’ Parliament meets).

thehague-binnenhof

When we emerged on the other side, we found a stand selling oliebollen (a Dutch donut, essentially), and I nearly lost my mind. My school always made oliebollen for fundraisers, and they are delicious. Oliebollen are a traditional New Year’s Eve food, so I definitely didn’t expect to find any on our trip. I was very pleasantly surprised to find them for sale on Koningsdag, and obviously bought one.

thehague-oliebol

Our tickets to Maruitshuis also got us entry into the Prince Willem V Gallery across the street from the Binnenhof, so we figured we may as well go since it was free and we didn’t have anything else on the agenda. It’s really just two rooms, one small one and one main one, but the walls are absolutely covered in paintings. They have guidebooks (including ones in English!) in the main room that tells you about the artwork, which I’d definitely recommend grabbing if you want to know anything about what you’re seeing (including artist names and painting names, since none of the paintings are labeled on the walls).

From there, we decided to wander back towards the train station, not to go back to Rotterdam, but to check out some of the Koningsdag festivities we had seen walking to Maruitshuis earlier. There was a small music/food truck festival going on on Lange Voorhout (right by the old U.S. embassy, incidentally) where we hung out for a bit. They had portapotties at the festival you had to pay to use! I know a lot of public restrooms in Europe come with a charge, but I was surprised to see they charged for the privilege of using a portapotty, of all things. I can only imagine how that would go over in the United States!

There was a much larger fair going on at the park right outside Den Haag Centraal, so we went there next. It was a very much like your standard U.S. county fair: rides, carnival games, fair food, etc. We saw a TON of people walking around The Hague wearing either orange leis or red/white/blue leis (both for the colors of the Netherlands: orange for the royal family, red/white/blue for their flag), and figured since so many people were wearing the same thing, they must be giving them out for free somewhere. Turns out they were at the fair in that park, so we both got one of each.

We wanted to see the Peace Palace, so to get there, we walked back through the festival on Lange Voorhout and stopped to get poffertjes, mini Dutch pancakes drowning in powdered sugar. They were every bit as good as you’d think they’d be.

thehague-poffertjes

Our walk to the Peace Palace took us by Noordeinde Palace, a palace with royal offices, which was cool to see.

thehague-noordeindepalace

By the time we got to the Peace Palace it was, naturally, closed, so we took a couple of pictures and then returned to the park near the train station.

thehague-peacepalace

We had dinner at Paviljoen Malieveld, a pannenkoeken restaurant. Pannenkoeken are the Dutch version of pancakes, which I’d consider to be the halfway point between a crepe and an American pancake. We both got savory pancakes for dinner (I got ham and cheese) and split an apple cinnamon one for dessert. They were all delicious 🙂

thehague-pannenkoek

And that was our day in The Hague! We went back to Den Haag Centraal, got back on the subway, and returned to Rotterdam. We certainly didn’t do as much in The Hague as we did other places, but I’m glad we left the agenda more open than usual so we could check out the things going on for Koningsdag.

thehague-koningsdaggoogledoodle

The Google Doodle for Koningsdag in the Netherlands 🙂

THE HAGUE SUMMARY

Food

Sights Seen

  • Maruitshuis
  • Binnenhof
  • Prince Willem V Gallery
  • Noordeinde Palace
  • Peace Palace

 

Europe Trip Day 7: Aalsmeer, Keukenhof, and Leiden

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

On Friday, we got up at 5:30 (what vacation?) to make sure we were on the road by 6:15 for our drive to Aalsmeer, where we had plans to visit Royal FloraHolland and see its famous flower auction. Visitors can arrive to the auction as early as 7 a.m., and I had heard the early you get there, the better, so 7 a.m. it was! (Or rather, it was intended to be. It was closer to 7:15 by the time we actually got there.)

If you’ve never heard of Royal FloraHolland, you aren’t alone! I hadn’t either, prior to planning this trip. If you’ve ever bought cut flowers, though, there’s a decent chance your flowers passed through Royal FloraHolland. It’s the world’s largest flower auction, and literal millions of flowers are sold at the auction every single day. Suppliers bring their flowers to the auction, and wholesalers bid on the flowers by price/stem. Once they purchase the flowers, employees on the warehouse floor fulfill their order, bring the flowers to the wholesaler’s truck bays, and off they go. The whole process, from purchasing to the time the flowers leave the warehouse, usually takes less than 90 minutes. And, if you figure in the time zone differences–the auction starts at 11 p.m. Chicago time–and the auction’s proximity to Schiphol Airport, it’s totally reasonable that the flowers purchased in Aalsmeer could be to your local florist by the time you’re on your way home from work that night.

royalfloraholland-flowers

The auction, it’s worth noting, works different than “normal” auctions. The price per stem starts at a fixed value (like 50 cents) and then goes down rather than up. The price ticks down on a clock that moves very quickly rather than being called out by an auctioneer, so a wholesaler’s bidder has to be ready to claim the price they want as soon as it shows up–and hope there isn’t another wholesaler willing to spend more. Once someone claims the price they want, that’s it: there’s no going once, going twice, etc.

royalfloraholland-auction

Watching the auction was really interesting, but watching the action on the floor was far more interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that fast-paced and organized. The employees zipped around the floor on Segway-type vehicles, picking up carts filled with flowers they’d tow behind them. It was really something!

royalfloraholland-warehouse

We spent about an hour at the auction, and then headed off to the whole reason we had come to the Netherlands when we did: Keukenhof.

keukenhof-tulipsmixed

Keukenhof is an 80 acre (!) flower garden made up almost exclusively of bulb flowers –  daffodils, tulips, that sort of thing. Those flowers only grow in the spring, and consequently, the garden is only open from mid-March to mid-May (it closed for the season yesterday, so, uh, sorry if this makes you want to go visit. There’s always 2020!). While the goal is to go at the height of the blooming, that varies from year to year, so if you live outside of Europe (*raises hand*), you have to pick a time to go and hope for the best. Mid-April is generally considered a safe time to go, hence why we went when we did. But, Keukenhof plants their flowers “lasagna style” (bulbs on top of bulbs), so if they’re open, you’ll definitely see flowers. The surrounding fields may have been deadheaded, but the garden itself will be fine.

Keukenhof was everything I hoped it’d be. Pictures could never do it justice. There are literal millions of tulips to see, in every shade and size and variety you can imagine. I took around 100 pictures/day on the trip, except the day we went to Keukenhof: I took over 400.

keukenhof-tulips

Being at Keukenhof felt like being at the United Nations (or what I assume being at the United Nations would feel like, as I’ve never been.) There were people from all over the world speaking all sorts of languages all around the garden. It was really cool!

keukenhof-redyellowtulips

Seeing Keukenhof was easily one of the top items on my travel bucket list, so I’m really, really glad I was able to go and see it in all its glory.

keukenhof-pinktulips

Since we got to Keukenhof pretty early, we had seen our fill of flowers by about 1 p.m., which gave us plenty of time for the last (tentative) item on the agenda for Friday: visiting Leiden.

Leiden actually has a bit of a connection to U.S. history, as it was the town where the Puritans who became the Pilgrims ultimately settled in the Netherlands after they left England.

To that end, our first stop in Leiden was the American Pilgrim Museum, which came highly recommended by Rick Steves, and thank goodness it did. I don’t think there’s any chance we would have accidentally stumbled into the museum. Its location is easy to find, but the museum itself isn’t labeled at all, and it certainly wasn’t obvious that it was open. We actually got in because we peeked in the windows, and the girl manning the museum that afternoon saw us and let us in.

Anyway, once we got in, the museum was really cool! It’s in the oldest building in Leiden and gives you a good idea what living conditions were like in the 1600s (“cramped” would be the word I’d use). The house–which is a generous way of putting it, since it was really just one room–was about the size of a modest bedroom. An entire family would fit in that space! The museum was filled with items from the 1600s: books, tools, etc. It was fascinating!

leiden-americanpilgrimmuseum

Next door to the sample Pilgrim house (though still part of the museum) was an example of living quarters for a priest. It was bigger than the Pilgrim house and only had to hold one person, which would’ve been a lot more comfortable by today’s square footage standards. It, too, was filled with old items, including a chair from the 1100s that you were allowed to sit in! I thought that was pretty cool – and a pretty nice testament to the construction quality, since it’s held up all this time.

The Rick Steves walking tour for Leiden included the American Pilgrim Museum, so we picked the tour up there, finished it, then returned to the start to catch everything we missed (as the museum is close to the end of the tour). We saw the (outside of the) Hooglandse Kerk and walked around it before heading over to a canal. I was in A Mood by that point for a couple of reasons (getting up so early, worrying that we weren’t allowed to park the car where we parked it and that it’d get towed [that didn’t happen, for the record]), so we stopped for ice cream at IJscafe Danice in an attempt to bring my blood sugar and attitude up. It was a fairly successful endeavor 😛

After refueling, we continued on the walking tour. We saw yet another former waag that had also been converted into a restaurant and then walked farther west to get to the Galgewater, a street named after the gallows that used to be there. We crossed the water on the cutest bridge, the Rembrandtbrug, to get to Rembrandtplein, the area where Rembrandt was raised.

leiden-rembrandtbrug

His childhood home isn’t there anymore, but there’s a nice statue to him in the plaza next to the former site of the windmill his father operated.

leiden-rembrandtplein

Leiden has dozens of hofjes. They’re courtyards that are technically public property, so you’re free to visit them, but it does feel a bit like walking into someone’s enclosed backyard. They were (to my understanding) generally built for the poor and elderly, though the one Rick Steves had us pop into now mostly houses students from Leiden University.

Speaking of Leiden University, that was our next stop on the walking tour. The university doesn’t have a central campus, so there isn’t a quad to stroll through or anything like that, but we saw several university buildings. We saw Pieterskerk, the square of which was where I saw my one and only Eurasian Jay – though the church itself is also nice to look at 😛

leiden-pieterskerk

We saw the Gravensteen and passed through a hofje to see Jan Steen’s house–something that I would have appreciated much more had I seen it later in the trip, as, after two trips to art museums in the coming days, I decided Jan Steen is my favorite Dutch Golden Age painter. We finished the walking tour at the Burcht, a shell keep on top of a hill that provides really great views of the city, got dinner, and headed back to Rotterdam for the night.

leiden-viewfromburcht

SUMMARY

Food

  • A cafe in the main building of Keukenhof, 4/5
  • IJscafe Danice (Hoogstraat 6, Leiden), 5/5
  • Scarlatti (Stille Mare 4, Leiden), 5/5

Sights Seen

Europe Trip Day 6: Zuidland and Delft

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!

zuidland-ring

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.

zuidland-house

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).

zuidland-floodlevel

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.

zuidland-church

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!

delft-royaldelft

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.

delft-guesttile

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).

delft-stroopwafel

(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.

delft-waterauthority

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.

delft-stadhuisnieuwekerk

DELFT SUMMARY

Food

Sights Seen

  • Royal Delft
  • Markt
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • De Waag
  • Meat and Fish Shops
  • Boterbrug
  • Oude Delft Canal
  • Water Authority
  • Oude Kerk
  • Prinsinhof
  • Phoenixstraat
  • Windmill