A Postcard from the Netherlands
This is my last night in the Netherlands, and I am enjoying it to the fullest in front of a roaring fire with an espresso. I've been staying in the sleepy town of Sassenheim for the past week with Dutch family friends, and I've had such a lovely time. After a month of burning the candle at both ends in Spain, I needed some time to rest, and a family home in the Dutch countryside was exactly the place to do it. Much as I enjoy the energized, social atmosphere of hostels, it was really nice to have my own room (and shower) for an entire week.
My lovely friend took me on a three-city tour today to round out my time here, so I thought I'd share with you my impressions of the five cities I've visited outside Sassenheim in the last week.
Amsterdam: The hip capital of the Netherlands was, unsurprisingly, my favorite city. I haven't spent nearly enough time there to feel like I truly know Amsterdam, and I can already tell it will be a place to which I return again and again. I keep trying to find the words to describe it, the equivalent city to which I can compare it, but the truth is that there is nowhere in the world like this place.
Favorite experience: Meeting a friend from DC for drinks at De Nieuwe Anita, only to walk through a door in the back and discover a miniature pop-up restaurant serving a three-course vegan dinner for ten euro (thank you, Christy!!!)
Leiden: I popped over to Leiden, only a five-minute train ride from Sassenheim, on a chilly Sunday afternoon. Like everywhere in the Netherlands right now, it was much quieter than it usually is in spring and summer, but I still found the university town charming. The rowhouses and canals give Leiden a similar feel to Amsterdam, but in a smaller, cozier package. I hit all the major sights (Burcht, Hooglandse Kerk, Pieterskerk) within an hour and a half. Good thing, because I was freezing my ass off.
Favorite experience: Hitting up jazz café De Twee Spieghels (The Three Mirrors), which I knew from the handy Visit Leiden website had live jazz starting at four o'clock in the afternoon. I pulled a stool up to the bar and ordered a glass of Spanish garnacha - my standard practice when going to a bar solo - and warmed up for about an hour. I chatted with a couple of people, but the Dutch tend to be a bit more reserved than the Spanish, so the conversations were brief.
Den Haag (The Hague): Though not a perfect analogy, I think of Den Haag as the Washington, DC to Amsterdam's New York. Home to the Dutch government and the International Court of Justice, its clean, expansive streets remind me a little of the US city I called home for the past several years. Where Amsterdam is cool, rebellious, and a little bit brash, Den Haag is regal, regimented, and diplomatic. Amsterdam has the dirt and the edge; Den Haag has the polish. Though I'd take DC over NYC any day, I admit that Den Haag, while beautiful, felt a little too quiet for my taste.
Favorite experience: Seeing the Peace Palace, the stunning building that houses the ICJ. Followed by a close second of The Coffee Company, where we stopped for a coffee and an amazing vegan granola pastry.
Delft: After just a quick turn around Delft, I was ready to name the college town my second-favorite Dutch city of this trip. Famous for the classically Dutch blue-and-white ceramic tiles, Delft's narrow streets, petite storefronts, and beautiful central square won me over right away. Plus, there was a giant clog for me to sit in and snap the cheesiest photo of my travels so far.
Favorite experience: If you like vegan/vegetarian food and you haven't downloaded the Happy Cow app, I don't know what you're doing with your life. I use this app on a near daily basis while traveling, and today it led us to one of the best restaurants I've been to since coming to Europe: Hummus, a Mediterranean lunch spot/hole in the wall. We ordered the dish called "A Little Bit of Everything," which was a sampling of their best small plates, and wow was it good.
Rotterdam: Okay, so I'm kind of cheating with this one, because I only drove through Rotterdam (well, rode in a car with my friend driving). I promise I'll go back and really experience the city, especially since I have a Dutch friend who's from there. Given the size of the city and our limited time, we sped around the city on a whirlwind architectural tour that I watched through the car window. The heart of the city was bombed to smithereens in World War II, so it's been rebuilt nearly entirely and has a fascinating mix of buildings. According to my friend, the Rotterdam attitude is very down-to-earth, with a mix of practicality and work ethic that makes me want to roll up my sleeves just hearing about it.
Favorite experience: Of all the sights I managed to catch, my favorite was the Hotel New York, which used to house the Holland America Line. It's an old-fashioned, brown-brick building located next to the river and surrounded by modern skyscrapers made of steel and glass. The contrast is curious but pleasant.
Something that my friend explained, which I absolutely noticed after visiting these five cities, is that each one has a distinct feel. Despite the small size of the Netherlands - it's about as big as the greater Los Angeles area - the country is still home to a shockingly varied range of regional cultures. Even after a full week here, there is still so much that I haven't seen. I can't wait to come back in the spring or early summer when everything is in bloom and everyone is out and about.
Until then, I'm taking a box of extra-large chocolate sprinkles and Dopper water bottle (the two best of many ingenious Dutch inventions) and hugging this beautiful little country goodbye.