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

 

Byline Bank Chicago Spring 10K Race Recap

I crossed the last race off my pre-move city races bucket list on Sunday at the Byline Bank Chicago Spring 10K. I’ve done this race twice before, running the half marathon once and the 10K once. I’m a HUGE fan of this event’s post-race party, so I wanted to do the race again. I waffled between the half and the 10K, but ultimately decided to do the 10K for a few reasons:

Reason #1: I didn’t think I’d be up to half marathon shape that quickly after my Europe trip.

Reason #2: I’ve never had good weather for this race (by which I mean it’s always been hotter and/or more humid than I’d like for a long distance run), and I’d rather run fewer miles in hot/humid conditions given the option.

Reason #3: The two times I’ve accidentally run the 5K of the Chicago Half in September rather than the half marathon (“accidentally” because in both instances I registered for the half, but extenuating circumstances [running a marathon seven days earlier; a bum hamstring] made me drop down to the 5K) have taught me that, given the option between the long distance and the short distance event offered at a Lifetime race, you should always pick the short distance event. You get all the benefits of running a Lifetime race, of which there are many–I firmly believe Lifetime is the best race organizer in the area–and you don’t have to do as much work to enjoy those benefits. Plus, the shirt and medal 5K at the Chicago Half are always way better than the shirt and medal for the half marathon, but that’s not really relevant to this race 😛

Reason #4: I hadn’t run a 10K since the last time I ran this 10K, and that was three years ago. It seemed like it was time to do one again.

chicagospring10kpacket

I didn’t have any particular goals for this race, though I did hope to break an hour. Had this race been closer to my previous spring races (and had the weather been much cooler and drier), I would’ve gone for a PR–I unofficially PRed my 10K during the Lakefront 10 Miler, and most likely unofficially PRed it during the Chi Town Half as well–but I knew I wasn’t in PR shape and neither was the atmosphere, so I didn’t want to put undue pressure on myself from a performance standpoint. Plus, I was really only interested in doing this race for the finish line breakfast and flower, and I’d get those regardless of how fast I ran.

bean

(If you go to the Bean at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, you get it all to yourself! Who knew!)

The logistics of this race changed since I ran it in 2016. Instead of being based in Lakeshore East and starting on the Lakefront Trail right outside Lakeshore East, it’s now based in Maggie Daley Park and starts on a completely-closed-to-traffic Columbus Drive. The half marathon started at 7 a.m., but the 10K didn’t start (“start”) until 7:45, so I got there a little after 7:00 and had ample time to linger around before getting to the corrals. The corrals were a BILLION times better organized than when I did the 10K in 2016. In 2016, we lined up behind the half marathoners and just waited around forever. This time, they sent all the half marathoners on their way before even organizing us into our corrals, which I thought worked a lot better.

However, I don’t think the corrals themselves made a whole lot of sense. I don’t know what I put down as my estimated finish time when I registered, though I’ve got to imagine it was awfully close to 1:00. Despite this, I somehow was assigned to what appeared to be the last corral of the 10K. While waiting to start, two women who clearly were friends were next to me chatting, and one said to the other, “Just remember: only an hour and a half until brunch.” I didn’t ask her to clarify what exactly she meant by that (did that hour and a half account for the fact that we hadn’t started yet? Did that account for travel time to brunch? Did “brunch” mean “at a restaurant somewhere” or “at the finish line”?), but if she was planning to run the 10K in 1:30, obviously we had very different expectations for how our race days would pan out, and she didn’t seem to be someone who should be standing next to me.

The race was supposed to start at 7:45, but the pre-race stuff started at 7:45 instead (God Bless America, announcements, etc.), so no one got moving until 7:47. They waited FOUR MINUTES between corrals, which meant I didn’t start running until 7:55. The point of waiting that long was to alleviate course congestion, but I really don’t think it made a difference, as I’ll get into later.

I started the race behind someone in JEANS who took off at a casual stroll across the timing mats, which further confirmed I was not in the right corral. I don’t have any problem with people who sign up for races with the intention of walking them, but it seems to me that someone who plans to walk the race, as this person clearly did given their wardrobe, and someone who hopes to finish the race in under an hour shouldn’t be starting right by each other.

Anyway, we ran down Columbus, making this the only time I’ve run that road going south rather than north, and at Roosevelt turned into Grant Park. We went under Lakeshore Drive and headed to the Lakefront Trail, which is where things got a bit sticky.

The Lakefront Trail going around the Shedd Aquarium is too narrow, period. It’s really only wide enough to comfortably accommodate one person in a northbound lane and one person in a southbound lane at a time. It is NOT wide enough to accommodate a bit over 1000 10K runners, three different on-course race photographers, AND homeward bound speedy half marathoners all at once, but that’s the situation we were in. I felt really bad for the half marathoners who had to deal with all of us 10Kers going south, because we were very clearly in their way, and those were not the sort of runners who seemed…unbothered…by having other runners get in their way. I’m sure the long intervals between 10K corrals helped, but I think if they really want to alleviate crowding on this course, they have to make the Shedd Aquarium curve a one-way deal. I think the course would be vastly improved by routing outbound runners around the Field Museum and Soldier Field and then having them merge on to the Lakefront Trail and limiting the Shedd Aquarium curve to inbound runners, similar to the way the Hot Chocolate 15K finishes.

There was a pretty aggressive (16 mph) wind coming out of the south during the run, which helped keep me cool for the first three-ish miles of the race but certainly didn’t make running particularly easy. Sunday was definitely my hottest and most humid run of the year thus far (it was in the low 70s, with a dew point in the low-mid 60s), and I wasn’t very prepared for that. Drafting wasn’t an option for me because I spent the first four miles passing people, thanks to my bizarro corral assignment.

For all my criticisms of the beginning of the course, I have to give credit where credit is due, and credit is VERY much due for how the race handled the 10K turnaround. I spent most of the southbound portion of the race wondering how on earth they were going to accomplish having all of us 10K runners make a hairpin turn to head north in the middle of the half marathon course, what with all the northbound half marathoners we’d have to disrupt and all. What they ended up doing was routing the 10K runners off to an auxiliary trail just south of McCormick for like maybe 50 meters and having us do our hairpin there, which allowed us to seamlessly merge back into the half marathon course from the left. Genius!! I was so amazed by how smoothly it worked! Like, I spent a good couple of minutes marveling over how smart of a course design that was. Good work, Lifetime!

Turning around meant we had the wind at our back, but I’ve found that’s almost never as pleasant as it sounds like it should be. I got really warm, and, courtesy of my over-enthusiasm at the start, was getting quite tired as well. I alternated between reminding myself that I was only in this for the breakfast and thinking about how annoyed I’d be if I ran a 1:00:xx, so I did my best to keep pushing. It started to rain a little around mile five, but not enough to cool me down as much as I could’ve used.

I ended up finishing in 58:34, which is my third fastest 10K time. I averaged a 9:26 pace, which makes me really happy! Obviously if I was going to break an hour, I needed to average sub-10:00 miles, but given how much my training has nosedived since I ran my half six weeks ago (which I don’t say to be critical of myself – I wanted to back off my training after working so hard for 12 weeks), I was quite surprised that I managed to hold an average 9:26 pace over 6.2 miles. Anything faster than a 10:00 is fast to me, so I’m really proud that I managed to pull that off.

chicagospring10kpostraceparty

The rain tapered off during the post-race party, giving me time to enjoy the breakfast I was so interested in and to get a begonia to kick off my 2019 gardening. This was my last Chicago race as a Chicago resident, and I’m glad I ended with strong finish at one of my favorite races.

chicagospring10kmedal

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

Europe Trip Day 5: Gouda

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 😛 ).

gouda-waag

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.

gouda-swinggoudasandwich

Yes please.

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.

gouda-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!

gouda-stadhuisinterior2

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.

gouda-stadhuisinterior1

After that, we went to SintJanskerk, 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.

gouda-sintjanskerk2

(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.

gouda-sintjanskerk

(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!

gouda-sintjanskerkstainedglass

(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.

gouda-markt

GOUDA SUMMARY

Food:

Sights Seen:

  • De Goudse Waag
  • Markt
  • Stadhuis
  • Sint-Janskert

 

Europe Trip Day 4: Ostende and Brugge

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

After a great day in Brussels, it was time for the second half of our Belgium time: Brugge!

brugge-belltower

Brugge (or Bruges, if you prefer the French spelling. I’m using the Flemish spelling due to the fact that the city is in the Flemish region of Belgium.) was–all together now!–another place in Belgium I had never heard of prior to this trip. In case you, like me, are apparently wholly ignorant about anything related to Belgium outside of waffles, chocolate, and fries, Brugge is best known for its preservation of the look and feel of the town during medieval times. It was a bustling port town from the 12th to 15th centuries, but once the river leading into town began to fill in, that obviously got in the way of the whole port town thing. Brugge declined, and since it declined, there wasn’t money available to tear down old structures and replace them with new ones. Consequently, a good amount of the city’s architecture remains intact (or, at the very least, was replaced by structures that look similar to the original ones), which makes it a gigantic tourist draw.

We took an intercity train from Brussels Centraal to Brugge, then walked to Hotel Academie, our lodging for the night, to drop off our bags. We then got on another intercity train to quickly pop over to Ostende, a town on the North Sea. My traveling buddy’s grandma’s great-grandfather had owned a costal hotel in Ostende, so continue in our family history vein, we went to see the area where the hotel had once stood. The building itself is long gone–Ostende suffered a lot of damage in both World Wars–but the location is still there, of course.

At my instance, we popped into St. Petrus and St. Paulus Church on our way to the beach. Once again, I was blown away by how beautiful this place was. They just don’t make churches like they used to.

ostende

It was decently warm, but not exactly beach weather, so we found the hotel’s location and then walked down the promenade until we came across Lido Sole, where we stopped for lunch.

Then it was back to Brugge for the day’s main sightseeing.

There were tourists and tour groups everywhere in Brugge, most of the time spilling off the sidewalks and into the streets. There wasn’t too much vehicular traffic in the main parts of town, but carriage rides went by frequently, so you had to keep an eye out before venturing off the sidewalk.

Rick Steves had a walking tour of Brugge, and having throughly enjoyed our walking tour of the Grand Place in Brussels, we decided to do the Brugge one as well.

We started at the markt, the main feature of which (aside from the medieval architecture surrounding it) is the bell tower. The bell tower (pictured at the top of this post) has stood over the markt since the 1300s! You can pay to climb up it, but we had plenty of other sights to see, so we opted against that.

brugge-markt

After the markt, the walking tour brought us to Burg Square. While the markt is the center of town, Burg Square felt much more like the center of town to me, especially based on the buildings that surround it. One of these buildings is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. This basilica contains a relic, purported to be the blood of Jesus, brought back by to Brugge by Theirry of Alsace in 1150 after he received it from the patriarch of Jerusalem in the Second Crusade. You’re free to go into both the lower chapel and upper chapel of the basilica, the upper chapel being the one with the relic.

From the basilica, we went to the Stadhuis, or city hall. (One of a few stadhuises we’d visit during the trip – but I’ll get to those in later posts.) You can see the main floor of the Stadhuis for free, but the real attraction is the gothic room upstairs. This room was once where city council met, and its walls are covered by murals depicting the history of Brugge. It’s really a sight to behold!

brugge-stadhuis

Next to the stadhuis is the Renaissance Hall, which currently serves as the city archives. In addition to holding the archives, it also holds a room decorated in renaissance style. It has a pretty impressive fireplace mantelpiece that was worth seeing, in my opinion.

The most jarring building in Burg Square is the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Built in 1992, it is hundreds of years younger than its neighbors, and seeing the name of an international hotel chain on the outside of a building in the square feels completely out of place. You wouldn’t think that this building is anything worth mentioning, but in fact, it was built on top of the ruins of the original fort, which eventually became St. Donatian’s Church, in Brugge. If you go to the lower level of the hotel, you can see artifacts they found during construction of the hotel–dishes, pipes, coins, etc.–and even more interestingly, you can see both the foundation of the fort/church and some of the original pilings used to construct the fort in 950. The pilings are over 1000 years old! This was my favorite hidden gem in Brugge, and I highly recommend popping into the hotel if you’re able.

brugge-crowneplazapilings

We walked through the Blinde-Ezelstraat, saw the Vismarkt (fish market), bought some lace at a shop immediately right next to the Vismarkt, walked through Huidvettersplein, and were rewarded with a lovely view of one of Brugge’s canals. Due to the fact that seemingly everything that wasn’t a dinner restaurant or bar in Belgium closes at 4 or 5 p.m. (same thing with the Netherlands), that was essentially the end of our walking tour. There were a few more buildings to see, but based on Rick Steves’s notes, it sounded like the insides of the buildings were more interesting than the outsides.

brugge-canal1

I was hungry, so we stopped at I Love Waffles for, you guessed it: waffles. This was my favorite waffle shop of our trip, because they did waffle “frozen yogurt style,” if you will–i.e.: they give you a waffle, and you can load it up with as many toppings as you want. I, obviously, went overboard. No regrets.

The last two stops on the walking tour, the begijnhof (kind of like an abbey) and Minnewater (a picturesque area home to many swans), were both close to our hotel, so we went to see both of them before heading back to the hotel to relax before dinner.

brugge-begjinhof

We ate at L’Estaminet, which came recommended to us by Rick Steves. I don’t remember exactly what time we left the hotel to walk to dinner–probably some time between 6:30 and 7:00, but it was WILD how empty the city had become. Brugge is a popular (and easy) day trip from Brussels, and it showed. Streets that had been overflowing with tourists were now quiet. All of the stores and tourist-geared shops (waffle places, chocolate stores, etc.) were closed up tight for the night. Fortunately, Pralifino, a gelato place right down the road from our hotel, was still open so I could get some ice cream before bed 🙂

I enjoyed Brugge, but I’ll be honest: it was a little too crowded with tourists for me. Obviously, I was a tourist myself, so maybe I don’t have the right to say that, but Brugge was one of the places we went where it felt like the tourists outnumbered the locals 10:1, and I found I prefer the ratio to be a little less lopsided. That being said, Hotel Academie was my favorite place we stayed during the trip (they leave a FULL CHOCOLATE BAR on your bed. Yes please.), so I’m glad we spent the night.

Brugge was our last stop in Belgium, but between the architecture, the canals, and the fact that Dutch was definitely the primary language in the area, I kept forgetting we were in Belgium, not the Netherlands. It proved to be a great transition city before heading off to the Netherlands the next day!

brugge-canal2

BRUGGE SUMMARY

Accommodations: 

Food:

  • Lido Sole (Albert I-promenade 67, Ostende). 2/5.
  • I Love Waffles (Katelijnestraat 26, Brugge). 5/5. (I couldn’t find a website for the actual place, so the link takes you to the TripAdvisor page for it.)
  • L’Estaminet (Park 5, Brugge). 4/5.
  • Pralifino (Wijngaardstraat 16, Brugge). 5/5.

Sights Seen:

  • St. Petrus and St. Paulus Church (Ostende)
  • Markt
  • Burg Square
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood (lower and upper chapels)
  • Stadhuis
  • Renaissance Hall
  • St. Donatian’s/fort ruins
  • Blinde-Ezelstraat
  • Vismarkt
  • Huidvettersplein
  • Canals
  • Bridge near Church of Our Lady
  • Begijnhof
  • Minnewater
  • Koningin Astridpark