Our first taste of The Netherlands

So we’ve moved to London and decided the first thing we’d do was go to the Netherlands (blog post re: settling in London coming soon). This is a country we’ve wanted to visit for a very long time and for 100 pounds (AUD $200) return each, we thought why not?

We arrived at Schipol airport after a tedious 45 minute flight and took a 30 minute train ride to Amsterdam Central. One of my first impressions of this city is:
1. The Dutch are really tall – in fact they are the tallest nation in the world with the average height being 6ft, they even had to change building regulations to increase the height of doorways
2. The Dutch are really beautiful – blonde hair, blue eyes with slightly olive skin, need I say more?
3. There are a lot of bikes – in fact there are more bikes than people with close to 900,00 bikes and 800,000 people

The city of Amsterdam is incredibly picturesque with it’s endless canals and majestic buildings, its certainly a must visit for architecture enthusiasts (I’m not one of them) or anyone who just wants to have a good time. Walking through the Neumarkt area we were confronted with the strong waft of weed with every pub/bar door opening. It was quite surreal walking around the area with marijuana and magic mushrooms being openly advertised and sold, something we’ve never experienced before. There are literally hundreds of the infamous coffee shops each with their own menu of the drugs on offer with their side effects.

I did some reading and found out the reason that marijuana is legal in the Netherlands is because the Dutch consider it to be a ‘soft drug’ at the same level as cigarettes and alcohol, yes it can be harmful in large quantities but in the end, its a personal choice. They do still have harsh penalties for those caught with ‘hard drugs’ such as cocaine and heroin.

Moving on from all the drugs, we met up with our friend Rose who is an Amsterdam local. We met Rose whilst volunteering in Vietnam and spent a good 4 weeks with her so it was great to see her again. Ironically we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner which was followed by a Rose-guided tour of the city. She took us through the main tourist district, showed us a fast food joint called ‘Febo’ where there are little boxes in the wall which contain burgers/fried food and is a very popular place for a midnight snack. And of course we walked through the red light district.

Now the red light district is something I found really confronting, despite the fact that I’ve seen a few similar places in other countries. Essentially this area is a tourist attraction, however it is so demeaning to the women who work there. Everywhere we looked there are see-through rooms (big enough to fit a single bed) lit up in red light and in each room were women in lingerie (sometimes not wearing anything) trying to seduce any person that walks past. The age range varied from roughly 18-60 years. Often we’d see tourists pointing, laughing or taking photos which really did make my heart sink. How did these women come to be here? Maybe they chose to? Maybe they’re forced to? Who knows, but whatever the reason its so difficult to be comfortable walking around this area.

The next morning we got up early and visited the Anne Frank Museum. Arriving at 9am, we stood in line and waited 30 minutes. It was incredible to see how well thought out the house was and just so amazing to see how several families were able to survive there. The original bookcase that hid the secret annexe is still on display.

Following this we went to the Body Worlds exhibition which is a project that was started by Dr Gunther von Hagens. This particular project works around the theme of Happiness and displays what is essentially real dead human bodies which have been plastinated in different positions eg. running, jumping etc. Its absolutely incredible to see what he has done with these bodies, it is clear that he has treated them with a great amount of respect whilst presenting them in an interesting and informative manner.

Overall Amsterdam is an incredible city – visit this place!

Only a short 30 minute train ride from Amsterdam, this city too has many beautiful canals. The main difference I noted between the two cities is:
1. There are significantly less tourists
2. The bikes are stacked a lot more neatly whereas in Amsterdam there were bikes literally parked in the middle of pathways

Unfortunately we’ve come here at the start of the cold season so most of the day was spent walking in the rain. Because of this we couldn’t really experience the true beauty of the city and ended up just eating and window shopping. Though I do have to say the night was beautifully warm and the canals romantically lit which did give us a glimpse of how wonderful this city really is.

We really were blessed with gorgeous weather upon arriving here. Our canal-view hotel was only a short walk from Delft station. Like the other Dutch cities we’d visited, this was yet another incredible place with a beautiful network of canals. There are much less people in this city but still plenty of bikes.

A market with a mixture of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, clothes and bric-a-brac filled the main cathedral square. It was a fantastic site to see so many locals enjoying a sunny thursday sampling foods and doing their weekly grocery shopping.

There’s a certain feel to this city. Its one of those romantic cities where you could walk around aimlessly for hours and still not get bored.

Now this is the world famous Windmills, in fact its a UNESCO World Heritage site. Getting here was a bit trickier than expected.
1. Took the intercity train from Delft to Rotterdam Central then to Rotterdam Zuid
2. Looked for the bus stop then realised that we were supposed to be at the Zuid METRO station not the Intercity
3. Walked 30 minutes to a METRO and eventually took a train to the correct Zuid station
4. Took Bus 90 to Kinderdjik taking roughly 50 minutes

PHEW! Finally got there and man was it worth it. The windmills are really as stunning as these seem in photos. We rented bikes for 2.5 Euros each and rode around the site surrounded by rivers, windmills and farmland. It came as a real surprise to us that people actually live in the windmills – they really are just a three storey house! A really fantastic couple of hours spent soaking in the sun and the sites.

The second largest city in the Netherlands comes with a mixture of modern architecture and eclectic artwork lining the street. It really reminds me of Melbourne, particularly with its tram network and reflective glass buildings. Theres a really relaxed feel here, there certainly are a lot less bikes and tourists than Amsterdam.

So overall our last minute visit to the Netherlands was a really eye opening one. We were forced to learn to utilise a completely different public transport network to get everywhere (which included guessing when it came to buying tickets on the ticket machines because the English translation still ended up being in Dutch) and get used to looking left and right about 6 times before crossing the road because of potential rogue cyclists. All in all a very enjoyable trip, looking forward to our next destination already!

Till next time
Ann & Jason xo


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