For a return trip to Djibouti, I was able to extend a layover in Amsterdam for a day in order to see some family. My painstaking route of New York-Amsterdam-Nairobi-Addis Ababa-Djibouti took FOREVER, but it was all worth it to meet a few new relatives who were born in the last year and a half, and see the older ones as well. Of course, there were a few “hometown favorites” that a girl who grew up spending most of her summers at the Dutch seaside had to hit during this short little sojourn. My quick stops?
- A Dutch Snackbar for some kroket (meat croquettes) and “patates met” (literally “fries with”, which when uttered at a snackbar means one order french fries with mayonnaise). If you’re hungry enough, I recommend getting a kaassouffle too – these little salty cheese pastries are delicious!
A fish store to pick up some zoute haring (traditionally preserved herring, usually salted and served with chopped raw onions that you dip them in before you hold them by the tail over your head and eat them from the bottom up – see photo) or some gerookt makreel (smoked mackerel – which you can sometimes buy right on the beach, straight from the fisherman who has just finished smoking it. Delicious!!). Honestly, this time I, sadly, didn’t have time to get my fishy fix, but I’ll definitely make it a priority on my next visit to Holland!!
- The HEMA – a department store with good quality cheap basics – I had to stop in to the same one that I used to go to buy my school notebooks as a child. I loved that I didn’t have the same Five Star notebooks all my classmates were carrying, and that I had cool pens from the Hema too! And when I was younger it was a pretty big deal when I was first allowed to walk from my aunt’s house all the way to the main street in town to go to the HEMA by myself, or with one of my cousins. Though the layout has changed a little over the years, the store is still in the same place, and the value is still unquestionable!
- Gassan Jewelers – while my budget doesn’t allow me to buy their diamonds, looking is free, and if I’m lucky I hit a sale on my favorite Danish costume jeweler’s wares. Dyrberg/Kern always has cool designs and I’ve scored some great pieces at very discounted prices at Gassan – which is nice, since the brand is not readily available back home. They use a lot of Swarovski crystals and have unusual designs. Nice stuff! And, as I can only get them when I travel, each piece I have reminds me of a particular trip, which adds to the sentimental value. And now, Gassan has a couple of locations in Schiphol airport, so even if you’re just passing through you can make a stop!
If it’s your first time in Holland, hopefully you have more than 24 hours to spend there! There is a lot to see. And I’m not even going to go into the “coffee shops” or red light district stuff that make people raise their eyebrows when you mention going to Amsterdam…. honestly, from my perspective, those things take a backseat to a lot of the more cultural activities that Holland has to offer. And the drugs and sex stuff that seem so exciting to many tourists are really not something that many Dutch people (at least not in my circles) take advantage of, which may come as a surprise to some. That stuff is really mostly for the tourists than the majority of locals. Here are some of my favorite (non-controversial) recommendations to visitors:
- Tulips and other flowers – if you’re lucky enough to get the timing just right (I was lucky enough in 2002), every 10 years, the Floriade happens, so if you’re there between April 5-October 7, 2012, you should DEFINITELY get a ticket to the Floriade. The best way that I can describe it is like a Cirque du Soleil with flowers. It’s an impressive event, and after having seen the intricate detail and beautiful design of the full-day experience, I understand why it only comes around once every 10 years. It probably takes about that long to design!! If you can make it, I highly recommend it. In fact, if you live in Holland, I would even consider getting season tickets to this amazing event. Very cool. And if you aren’t going to make it to Holland during that period, you should at least check out Keukenhof flower park in Lisse, which is much less schedule-sensitive.
- The Kroller-Muller museum – super cool museum with a great Van Gogh collection (in my humble opinion actually better than the collection at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, though the latter is more conveniently located), and a cool setup in the middle of a park. When you get to the entrance you pick out a white bike that’s about the right size for you and ride it through the windy roads of the park, through the randomly scattered statues and pieces of outdoor art work, until you reach the museum. Great atmosphere, fantastic sculpture garden, overall a wonderful way to spend a day, if you’re willing to take the time to get out to the Hoge Veluwe National Park.
- The Anne Frank House – its important to remember the tragic events of the past to make sure they don’t happen again. This is a good place to not only learn about the struggles people endured, but to actually really feel it, in the house where a real Jewish family hid from the Nazis.
- The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam – visit the brewery, get a tour, drink some beer. I’m not even a huge Heineken fan, but I enjoyed the tour.
- In winter, ice skating on the canals. Sometimes, if the canal itself isn’t cold enough, they’ll put a skating rink on top of a barge that’s parked, so you can skate on the canal even if global warming prevents the canal from freezing over!!
- The Vondelpark – a large park in Amsterdam that is just perfect for a picnic or a beer at one of the park’s cafe’s on a nice summer day.
- Historic Leiden – boasting the country’s oldest university, this city has a proud heritage. If you visit around the 3 Oktober festivities, you’re sure to hear the tale of how the citizens of the town chased the Spaniards off so fast that the food that they had been cooking was still hot on the stove. Since then, ‘Hutspot‘ (the dish that was found on the stove) has become a Dutch tradition, and a typical dish served on 3 Oktober, along with the salted herring and bread (see above) that is said to have been provided to the starving citizens of Leiden by the leader of the revolt, Willem van Oranje (Prince William of Orange) just before the city was reclaimed.
- International Den Haag (The Hague) – considered in many circles to be the center of the international law world, this city is home to many of the international tribunals. For example, a well-known court here is the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia), where the former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, was tried. This court, as well as others like the ICC (International Criminal Court), the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration) and ICJ (International Court of Justice), have very interesting histories, and many, if not all, allow the public to attend hearings. And the PCA and ICJ can both be found in the Vredespaleis (Peace Palace), which is just an amazing building. Many of the different components of the Peace Palace were gifted by various countries that were signatories to the second Hague Conference, and it come together in a pretty cool way. Definitely worth a visit!!
- Delft – go visit the home of the famous blue on white designed traditional Dutch china. It’s also just a very nice place to walk around.
- For the family:
- The Efteling – along with Canada’s Wonderland, this was one of the first amusement parks I’ve ever been to.
- RollyGolf in Noordwijk aan Zee (the “aan Zee” part designates the part of Noordwijk that is closer to the sea – Noordwijk Binnen is Noordwijk “inside”, meaning inland) – the trampolines that you can rent time on here were my FAVORITE thing when I was a kid. And the mini-golf course isn’t half bad!!
- The beaches – OK, so the weather in Holland is often rainy, and you don’t get GREAT beach weather all the time. But when you do, it’s pretty fantastic!!
- Linnaeushof – another amusement park, this one geared more at the younger children, in which my favorite thing was the “funny wheels” (#27 on this map, which unfortunately is not available in English). The Funny Wheels are bicycles with the spokes off-centered so that they kind of go up and down in a not so smooth and more challenging but entertaining manner to ride. Fun to ride, fun to watch!
Anyway, that should be a good start for anyone visiting Holland for the first time. Its a fun country! Veel plezier!