After gorging ourselves on Belgian chocolates, we made our way to the Netherlands. First stop Rotterdam, to visit Lauren, one of my sister’s school friends. Armed with traditional Belgian beer, plus cherry ripes and Chicos from Aus we lobbed for the weekend. Friday we had a relaxed afternoon of laundry, walking to the local market to get some plants for L’s balcony garden and rode to the local hardware store to pick up some planters. The weather held beautifully until we were 5 minutes from home and we soaked us to the skin. While gardening we tasted the traditional Belgian beer (from Cantillon brewery) and decided there’s a lot to be said for modern brewing techniques.
Saturday we took the bus into central Rotterdam and walked along the canals to the river. We pottered along until we reached the main parklands – a vast stretch of public garden which was very picturesque. It was interesting to note the little memorials embedded in the footpath delineating the Rotterdam ‘Fire Line’ of WW11. Central Rotterdam was heavily and devastatingly bombed by the Germans during WW11, forcing the Netherlands to capitulate to Germany. The fire line marks the perimeter of the destruction. It is quite a subtle memorial, a series of lights set into the pavement which feature a red silhouette of fire when lit.
The weather was overcast and drizzly so found a nice cafe overlooking the river Meuse and had a tasty lunch of Turkish pizza, salads and steaming hot chocolate. Afterward we wandered back through town to the Visitor Information Centre which houses an interactive ‘map’ – including a scaled maquette of the city centre – indicating the various periods of Rotterdam’s history and development. We cooked dinner together and watched a moved about Dutch Resistance during WW11 (really must ask L what the title was…)
On Sunday morning the three of us rode the 10km to the little township of Delft. Holland is so flat that the bikes have no gears. L had borrowed a third bike for the weekend and it was a wonderful old rusty thing that squeaked and scraped with each pedal, it really set a rhythmic pace for the ride. The bike path followed a small (at times one lane) road set by a canal on one side and traditional style houses and farm-ettes on the other. It was a very pleasant way to spend a morning and we felt transported back to an earlier era. Houses were spread out between farms and fields and the area had a clean rural feel and smell. Just lovely. Along the way we passed through a character-full little village of about 10-15 stone buildings.
Delft is very picturesque. It’s known now as a university town, L tells us that the prince of NL studied there, lending it more prestige. The old Delft pottery building is still on the outskirts of town and operating as a tourist museum site and shop. It’s a big brick building several stories high. The cost was quite high – 12 Euros – to enter, and as we didn’t have enough time we didn’t go in. Next time perhaps.
Delft centre is very beautiful. It has retained much of its medieval character. The ‘New Church’ was first established in the 1300s!
Like many of the towns we’ve visited, Delft is structured around a large, cobbled town square where many of the public buildings form the perimeter. We poked around the town and came across a monastery and convey which have been converted into a museum. There was a lovely manicured hedge garden at the site. The weather was drizzly, overcast and cool. I loved it, feeling it lent a mystical atmosphere to the place – as through able to transport us back in time. And of course, overcast days really bring out the true colours such as in foliage and stone. The site of the painter Vermeer’s house is marked with an information panel, though the building itself is long gone and replaced with a church building.
After riding back home we bade farewell to L and hopped on the train to Amsterdam. Chaos! The train was officially running 20 minutes late (though we waited some 40 minutes) and we then changed twice more due to signal faults. This was a true test of our backpack carrying skills. We eventually made it to our pensione after a minor detour in the wrong direction – albeit a picturesque one – and de-turtled ourselves of our packs.
Monday was a public holiday in NL for Queen’s Day (birthday celebrations). The whole city (well, country) makes its way onto the streets, where stages for bands and DJs are set up at key locations. Flea markets and other various stall holders populate the city’s public areas. The city’s extensive main park ‘Vondelparc’ is set up for families to have trash and treasure stalls, and many talented kids try their hands at busking – drums, singing, others had set up stalls where you could throw eggs or wet sponges at their faces for a small fee. The place had real spirit! Families were also selling home-made food and cakes, poffertjes, hotdogs and other goods. After the tightly regulated Food & Safety strictures placed on public events in Aus, this seemed like a recipe for food poisoning disaster – but people were enjoying themselves.
The city’s canals were another sight to behold! Boatfuls of revellers were cruising and partying the day away. We were later told that the boats slow down under the city’s many bridges to allow revellers the opportunity to hang off the side of the boat for a pee… charming!
Altogether a fabulous day to be in Amsterdam!
We took the opportunity to use Queen’s Day to see both the Reichstag Museum and the Anne Frank House. Both were relatively deserted, so our plan worked well. It was truly something to realise the conditions that people in hiding were able to withstand when we saw the attic spaces of the Anne Frank house. When Otto Frank set the museum up, he left it deliberately barren of furnishings so the space has a very haunting feel.
While in Amsterdam we had a lovely time visiting the many museums, including van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt’s House – where we were treated to demonstrations on etching and pigment making for oil paint; and toured the Red Light District at night. We tested the local restaurant/cafe culture at Cafe Jaren (delicious and a balcony view over the canals), and the Amstel pub for frites and beers.