A Wandering Widow Post
The earth laughs in flowers.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the final stop of my adventure was in Holland. Like many of the countries I visited along the way, Holland wasn’t on my original itinerary, although it was on this flower child’s “someday” list to see the famous tulip fields. To end up there in April, when the flowers were in full bloom, was a beautiful high point on which to end my journey.
My Dutch friends insisted Holland was famous for art, Anne Frank, tulips, and windmills. They weren’t so amused when I told them that Holland was more famous for Amsterdam’s Red Light District and weed shops. That was a weak joke, but we’re both correct. Holland was also full of beautiful surprises for me, and an important reminder to go beyond our limited expectations to avoid missing out on the best stuff.
Since I’m not overly fond of life in the tourist lane, I spent very little time in Amsterdam itself, not even on King’s Day. The first week I was there the weather was warm and sunny, and I got to enjoy the best of Holland’s natural beauty. Picnics under the cherry blossoms, canal boat rides, walks in the Amsterdam Forest, and lazy sunny bike rides were scenes straight out of a movie. I could feel myself falling in love with all of it.
The second week was more typical of spring in Holland and was cold and rainy, a perfect time to hit museums and do some shopping. And if you think bike rides don’t happen in the rain, you’d be wrong. My favorite bicycle outing was a bit drizzly but brought me to some old windmills. Despite being turned into houses, they are so beautifully preserved I half expected a little Dutch girl to walk out in braids and wooden shoes.
Thanks to Holland’s very user-friendly public transportation system, I got to visit a lot of places while still using the burbs outside of Amsterdam as a home base. I loved my visit there so much I’m already planning my next one. Details below, as usual.
The Wandering Widow
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Click HERE for my Holland Photo Album
Amsterdam is full of beautiful architecture, Michelin restaurants and bars to make a foodie swoon, and shopping for days. It’s also home to incredible museums.
Heads up, these Instagram friendly signs are all over Amsterdam so don’t freak out that you have to go to one specific place. There is a big one in front of the Rijksmuseum.
Buy your ticket online to avoid waiting. Just like at the airport, download your barcode to your smartphone and present it at security. The museum has an impressive collection of Rembrandt’s (a Dutch artist, if you didn’t know) and other art and artifacts. My personal fave, the exhibit on ancient Dutch drinking games. What? It was funny, especially since I entered the exhibit as a docent was explaining it to a group of school children.
This was a big womp womp for me. I’d neglected to research this and didn’t realize I needed to get my tickets online in advance, so missed out on it this visit. Huge bummer since they were featuring his Japan influenced works. Van Gogh + Hokusai? Yes, please! Oh well, I’m a firm believer in leaving things on the table to make sure you come back, and this is mine.
Super easy to access from Schiphol Plaza, just look for the long line of tourists. It was worth the crowds to see the riot of color and flowers, and there was a special rose exhibit going on this year. It was also convenient with lots of places to picnic, eat and shop. This Garden Goddess came away with a long shopping list in the event I ever have a garden again, but next time will do like the locals do and head out to the fields themselves.
Not far from Amsterdam is the Waterleidingduinen nature preserve. The dunes create a natural water filtration system that provides most of the drinking water for the city. It’s also a beautiful place to hike or picnic. The landscape is different from anything else I saw in Holland, and included shady woods, brush land (which reminded me more of the Serengeti) and the coast. Crystal blue water, herds of deer and birds of prey dotted the landscape. Rumor has it there are fox as well, although I didn’t see any the day I visited.
PRO TIP: allow yourself a full day to explore at leisure so you don’t feel rushed. You can hike the multiple paths, swim and picnic. If you’re like me you will probably want to do all of it. Bicycles are not allowed so you’ll be on foot. And don’t forget your camera. This place is beautiful.
Not far from Schiphol Airport, and a short bus or bike commute to Amsterdam, Amstelveen is the lovely town I made my home base for my stay.
This was the highlight of Amstelveen for me. This forest is easily accessible on foot or by bicycle, and you’ll even see people on horseback. Like the rest of Holland it is flat, so makes for easy walking. Walking in the trees, while being serenaded by Tweetie bird, you’d never know it’s proximity to the airport and the freeway.
If you’re there at the right time of the year, be sure to stop at Bloesempark and have a hanami picnic under the cherry blossoms. Definitely one of the highlights of my stay. Surprise! There are other flowers in Holland besides tulips! I hadn’t been to a hanami picnic since I lived in Japan, and this is one of my favorite memories.
Oh, and be sure to stop by the goat farm and buy your fresh goat cheese. Who knew the Dutch were so crazy about cheese?
Less than an hour from Amsterdam, The Hague is the legal and political center of Holland. It is famous for the International Court of Justice and is home to most foreign embassies and the United Nations. It’s also got beautiful architecture and Scheveningen Beach. Not gonna lie, brunch on the beach in Holland wasn’t at all what I was expecting and was one of my favorite surprises.
About an hour from Amsterdam, this medieval city was once the heart of religion in Holland. I lucked out with postcard-perfect weather the day I visited and took a boat ride around the city canals to admire the architecture and history. In Utrecht, you can also eat right on the water as most restaurants have outdoor seating when the weather cooperates.
For someone who lives in the high desert, the water issues and how they’ve impacted development boggle the mind. Unlike other cities in Europe which were designed for military defense, most places I visited here were designed to defend against the threat of rising water.
Other highlights include Dom Tower and the Speelklok Music Museum.
This is a bit of a longer trek and a little over two hours by train from Amsterdam. Leeuwarden is a Northern harbor town in Friesland, where they speak their own language as well as Dutch and English. This town shares a fabulous public art collection on what feels like every corner. Immediately outside the train station, you’ll find a Jaume Plensa sculpture waiting to greet you. Keep going til you get to the Fries Museum and the Escher exhibit, but mind the time since it closes early.
Also in Friesland, an hour past Leeuwarden, is Groningen. Another harbor town, Groningen also has an amazing art collection. Groninger Museum had a LaChapelle photography exhibit going on while I was there. Wow! Talk about the cure for a cold rainy Dutch spring day and the perfect bookend to the colorful tulip fields I’d visited the week before. Absolutely stunning.
Less than an hour from Amsterdam, Rotterdam is a modern city that was almost completely bombed out in the war. There are only a few buildings that survived, so the rest of the city is full of beautiful modern architecture that reminds me of Bilbao, Spain. The Erasmus Bridge, nicknamed the Swan, is one of the prettiest modern bridges I’ve seen, and I lucked out with an amazing view of it from my hotel room (Mainport Hotel for the win).
Also not to be missed, the Drijvend Pavilion, the largest floating structure in Holland and the future of floating cities. It even has it’s own floating forest. People! That means trees growing on water! What the what? I couldn’t help but think of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld (minus all the post-apocalyptic violence, of course).
I got to attend part of the Sketch City symposium while I was there, including the presentation by the Pavilion designer Dr. Rutger de Graaf-van Dinther. Recently retired from the land title insurance/real estate world, my favorite part was less about the science of it all (which is very cool and I will geek out about at a later date) and more about the water plot titling issues. Proof that you can take the girl out of ALTA, but once you’re in the biz you’re a title nerd for life.
My friend Katrina could care less about the places I see or people I meet, all she wants is info on the food. Kat, this is for you!
The Dutch have a thing for cheese. I had no idea how many kinds of cheese they produced, and how important it was to them until I got there. Hard cheese. Soft cheese. Smoked cheese. Cheese in a can. Cheese in jars. Rows and rows of cheese at the market. Suffice it to say, the cheese is fantastic. Word to the wise, don’t make jokes about there ever being too much cheese. Apparently there is no such thing as too much cheese.
Kroketten/Bitterballen (croquettes/baby croquettes)
I had several people suggest that I needed to eat this Dutch style croquette. I can only describe it as a deep fried gooey meat paste you find in pubs. It definitely needs beer. No offense to those who love it.
When in Holland you have to try this at least once. Herring isn’t my favorite fish, but when it’s covered in raw onions, and you have to grab it by the tail to eat it, it becomes more fun (even if it’s not very ladylike). If you eat sushi, you have no excuse not to try it.
Hello waffle cookies, come to mama. These super thin waffle cookie sandwiches have a thin layer of caramel or honey in the middle. What’s not to love?
Dutch Doughnut Balls covered in powdered sugar. Messier (and heavier) than a Cafe du Monde beignet, but just as lovely. In yet another example of my ladylike gracefulness, I made the olliebollen lady laugh her a$$ off as I tried to eat mine and got showered in a powdered sugar explosion. Yes, photos exist. No, you don’t get to see them since they make me look like a coke addict.
There are two kinds of licorice here. The black one (hard or chewy), and a salty version. I’m not a fan of licorice, but tried them both. The second one I tried in a lollipop. I had the shock of a lifetime when I got to the middle. Think TootsiePop with a salt lick center. I’m sure the expression on my face was priceless since the lady sitting across from me laughed so hard she almost fell off her chair.