The Netherlands became a special part of my life when I fell in love with a Dutchman. Following the completion of my university degree in Sydney, it was time to move back home to Melbourne to begin the next chapter of my life. I soon found a lovely place to live in a quiet leafy street close to my office, sharing with two male housemates – a Kiwi and a Dutchie. Lucas (Dutchie) was supposed to be moving back to Holland after two years working in Australia. He was absolutely lovely and we soon become good friends. Our first little “date” was watching William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream under the stars in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. This was the pinnacle of romance in my star-crossed eyes. I have learned in retrospect that Shakespeare is definitely not his thing, but he does try to recite a few lines in a dramatic Elizabethan accent when he gets drunk just to make me laugh.
Following our first date, the situation became more and more complicated as time passed and Lucas was due back in Holland. Two months soon turned into a year, then one more year turned into another year, and no decision had been made either way. However, as we learned from Mr Shakespeare on our very first date – the course of true love never did run smooth. Once it became apparent that our love story was too special to end, we eventually began talking about the possibility that he might stay in Melbourne and make his life here… and now after four years together, I am so happy to announce that my Dutchie is a permanent Australian resident.
When you love somebody from another country, you will always have a home away from home – and in this case, home is a cute little village outside of Amsterdam called Nieuwkoop, bordered with canals, cherry trees, wild swans, old crooked pubs, beautiful wetlands, windmills, and cobblestone streets.
We stayed in the village with Dutchie’s Mum, Inge, who laid out the red carpet for us during our whole stay. Inge made such a wonderful effort to take care of us from the moment we landed until the day we departed. We arrived to a lovely room with views of a canal, fresh tulips on the nightstand, decorations and wrapped gifts. Every morning before we woke up, the kitchen table was spread with breakfast, each afternoon was tea and cake, and traditional food for dinner in the evening.
We were battered by torrential rain that lasted six days (which is apparently quite common for the Netherlands), but we certainly did not let Mother Nature stand in our way of having a lovely time. Our first day, we climbed a steep vertical staircase to the top of a working windmill in Aarlanderveen, visited museums, drove around the tulip fields, ate fish by the North Sea in Noordwijk, took a cruise through the canals, went on long walks, and celebrated Kings Day in Amsterdam amongst a sea of festive orange clad Dutchies in boats.
I have written a dedicated post about the spring tulip festival at the Keukenhof Gardens, which you can view by clicking here. Taking a day to wander around the tulips is an absolute highlight if you are visiting Holland from late March to mid May.
Onward to Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. A compact city with a relaxed ambience and only 800,000 residents. Endless canals, romantic bridges, flower markets, bicycles weaving through the city, house boats bobbing up and down, pretty spring gardens brimming with daffodils, tall narrow town houses – and the smell of sugar and cinnamon, stroopwafels (caramel wafer biscuits) and poffertjes (little pancakes) wafting through the city.
Amsterdam feels like an open air museum dedicated to the Dutch Golden Age. The historical buildings are so well maintained in some areas that if you took away all of the modern cars and bikes, it would look like you had travelled back in time. Set upon the Amstel River, Amsterdam is home to more than 100km of canals and a million bikes. The city is best experienced by foot, ferry, or bicycle, for those brave enough to go up against the locals. There are also trams, trains, and buses, which are very easy to use. You can purchase an I Amsterdam city card that provides access to the full public transport system.
I came to Amsterdam for the first time when I was in my early twenties on a tour, and I saw more of the stereotypical “Amsterdamage” scene, which did not appeal to me. This time, electing to bypass the red light district, space cakes, ladies in windows, and sex shows, I realised that you can make your own decision about what kind of experience you want to have in Amsterdam. You can focus on the beautiful architecture, parks, and museums – or you can get high in one of the cities many infamous “coffee shops” selling legal weed. Like Alice in Wonderland, it’s entirely your choice which adventure you wish to take.
Naturally, our first stop was the astonishing Rijksmuseum, home of the Dutch Masters. The Rijksmuseum is one of the most impressive museums I have ever seen, on par with the Louvre. I could have easily stayed for a week, but we only had a few short hours to see the highlights, such as the Night Watch by Rembrandt. The Rijksmuseum is one of the cities top attractions so getting there at opening time is my number one recommendation to avoid the hoards of tourists. Book your tickets online to avoid the long queues at the ticker counter. The museum is open daily from 9am – 5pm, entry is around 17 euros and worth every penny.
The rain was bucketing down when we finished, so we joined a canal cruise around the city to keep us busy until the rain stopped. The canals are a phenomenal way to see the city as they offer a unique view point and perspective – particularly for photography. The audio commentary outlines the highlights and I learnt so many interesting facts about the city as we passed under the cities iconic bridges. We used the Blue Boat Company as they offer a more history and art focused commentary, which most aligns with my interests. Blue Boat offer a range of different tours and special themed trips – from hamburger cruises to child friendly cruises. For a standard 75 minute cruise it costs around 15 euros for adults and 8 euros for children.
After our cruise we walked around the pretty neighbourhood of Jordaan, one of the oldest parts of the city. I would have loved to explore more on foot, but the rain was just unrelenting. I guess one huge benefit of having a Dutch boyfriend is knowing that I will be back again soon.
One very important thing to remember – beware of cyclists! I was almost hit by a bicycle a few times (completely my fault). The locals are super fast on their bikes and it is imperative that you look both ways before you step out onto any pathway or cross the road, they don’t get called Flying Dutchman for nothing! Cyclists suffer terrible injuries when unbeknown tourists accidentally wander on the bike paths, so be wise and check for bikes always.
We stopped for a cosy lunch at the Leidseplein at Café Americain, a fabulous Art Deco restaurant serving local oysters and croquettes. The setting was reminiscent of the film Casablanca, with colonial fans on the roof and a piano player in the corner. It was a lovely place to escape the rain and to rest our legs for a moment, the cobblestones are very hard on your feet and ankles! As the city is best explored by foot, you do inevitably cover quite a lot of ground – comfortable (and preferably water-proof) shoes are essential in Amsterdam.
When planning our trip I knew I just had to visit the painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. We drove to The Hague to see her at the Mauritshuis where she has been living since 1902. She was petite, but her wide-eyed mysterious stare is enchanting. I really enjoyed the other works in the Mauritshuis Collection, it is a boutique gallery housing a limited number of carefully sourced pieces. Just as we were leaving, Inge surprised me with the most beautiful pair of pearl earrings to commemorate our special time together. It was an unforgettable day that I will always cherish.
The lovely English saying ‘April showers bring May flowers’ certainly crossed my mind during our visit, but considering that the Netherlands produces two billion tulips a year, I guess they need the rain. Nevertheless, we are planning our next trip for the Dutch summer.