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A Postcard from the Netherlands

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.

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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.

Vaporetto

Vaporetto

Let Everything Happen to You

Let Everything Happen to You