The Netherlands became a special part of my life when I fell in love with a Dutchman. Even though we chose to make our home together in Melbourne, part of having a European boyfriend is that you gain a second home on the other side of the world.
In my case, a little Dutch village called Nieuwkoop, just 40km from Amsterdam. On our first trip there together, we arrived to a lovely room in his mother’s house looking out to a canal and fresh tulips on the nightstand. His family were so welcoming and Nieuwkoop immediately felt like home.
The Netherlands are lovely in Spring. Villages bordered with canals inhabited by wild swans, cherry blossoms are in full bloom, spring flowers popping up in gardens all over the place. We climbed a steep vertical staircase to the top of a working windmill in nearby Aarlanderveen, drove around the tulip fields in Lisse, ate fish by the North Sea at Noordwijk, drank copious amounts of tea at the kitchen table, and went on long village walks.
Past flat green farmland filled with cows and sheep, we drove to Amsterdam. A compact city with a relaxed ambience. Endless canals, romantic bridges, flower markets, bicycles weaving through the city, pretty spring gardens brimming with daffodils, tall narrow town houses, and the heavenly smell of cinnamon sugar wafting through the streets.
Amsterdam is an open air museum of the Dutch Golden Age. The historical buildings are so well maintained, 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 via the canals, by foot, or bicycle for those brave enough to go up against the locals.
I came to Amsterdam for a weekend when I was living in London in my early twenties. I mostly saw the party scene, which didn’t really appeal to me. The red light district, space cakes, and ladies in windows are not the true Amsterdam. I soon discovered that you can make your own decision about what kind of experience you want.
I prefer the beautiful architecture, parks, and museums, so our first stop was the inspiring Rijksmuseum, home of the Dutch masters. I could have easily stayed for a week at the Rijksmuseum, but we only had a few hours to see the highlights. As one of the cities top attractions, pre-booking your tickets online to avoid the long queues is essential. The museum is open daily from 9am – 5pm, entry is around 17 euros and worth every penny.
We then joined a canal cruise, offering a wonderful perspective of the city. The audio commentary outlined the highlights and interesting facts along the way. We used the Blue Boat Company as they offered history and art focused commentary. Blue Boat offer a range of different tours and themed commentary. A 75 minute cruise costs 15 euros. After our cruise we walked around the pretty neighbourhood of Jordaan, one of the oldest parts of the city.
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 VERY fast 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 tourists accidentally wander on the bike paths, so be wise and check for bikes always.
We stopped for lunch at the Leidseplein at Café Americain, a stylish 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 rest our legs for a moment, the cobblestones are very hard on the feet and ankles!
The next day we drove to The Hague to see Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, where she has been living since 1902. The Mauritshuis is a boutique gallery housing a limited number of carefully sourced pieces, and the whole collection is delightful. Dutchie’s Mum surprised me with the most beautiful pair of pearl drop earrings to commemorate our visit, the most perfect keepsake to remember this very special trip.
I have written a dedicated post on Keukenhof if you love Dutch tulips?