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Trip Report 3 weeks driving the Netherlands

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TRIP REPORT THE NETHERLANDS

In September 2017 my husband and I spent three weeks traveling in the Netherlands, with a couple of days’ dip into Dunkirk, France and Ypres, Belgium. Many thanks to Fodorites who helped us plan it. Here was our itinerary:

Sept. 12: Depart Providence RI
Sept.13-16: Amsterdam
Sept. 17: Enkhuizen
Sept. 18-19: Texel Island
Sept. 20-21: Delft, The Hague
Sept. 22-24: Rotterdam
Sept. 25: Vlissingen
Sept. 26: Dunkirk, France
Sept. 27: Ypres, Belgium
Sept. 28: Otterlo (for Kroller Muller Museum)
Sept. 29-30: Utrecht
Oct. 1: Hoofddorp near airport
Oct. 2: Depart Amsterdam

In my planning, I had some trouble finding first-hand info from travelers on some of the places we were going, and I realized that not many Americans spend three weeks in a country a third the size of Pennsylvania! Still, the more I researched, the more I found that we wanted to explore. We had intended to bike some, but decided it slowed down our adventures too much. As you will see from this report, sometimes we were doing three and four significant things a day. We thought our trip was a wonderful combination of art, intellect, seaside, countryside and city. After Amsterdam, we rented a car for the next 15 days, though we only used it during 10 of those. But it made it easier to see Texel, Dunkirk, Ypres and the Kroller-Muller Museum.

Here goes:

SEPT 12: DEPARTURE
First trip surprise: on our American Airlines flight to Amsterdam there was no plug-in at our seats for phones. My books were all on my gigantic iphone. No in-seat entertainment either. Welcome to American’s old 757 planes. No wonder it was so easy to get frequent flyer seats!

SEPT 13: AMSTERDAM & VAN GOGH
At the Amsterdam airport, we tried to buy a train ticket to the Central Station from a machine but we couldn't get it to take our credit card. We finally found a human ticket agent who said you can't use the machines if you don't have a pin for your card. Aargh. We vaguely recalling asking the bank for a pin number after we’d run into the same problem in Sicily but of course we couldn’t remember what the pin is! We took the train to the Amsterdam Central Station in about 15 minutes. Then we got off and SHOULD have taken a taxi to the hotel. But we decided to give the metro a try.

Outside the station we found a metro person in a ticket house who said our hotel, the Intercontinental, was three stops away. We went back into the station, got on in a few minutes, got off at the right stop and asked a worker which way the Intercontinental was. He didn't know couldn't seem to read our printed map, and pointed us — as it turned out — in the wrong direction. The Intercontinental is half a block from this metro entrance. We walked six blocks the other way before it started raining and I turned on my phone gps. We quickly found the hotel, which no one in Amsterdam calls the Intercontinental. They call it the Amstel Hotel. But we were glad to have figured out the metro, which we would use often.

At the Intercontinental, the gracious check-in person told us lots about the hotel as he walked us to our room. He noted that the hallways were so wide because when the hotel was built, women's dresses were very wide. He said that because the hotel was being renovated for its 150th birthday, some of the rooms’ windows were blocked by scaffolding. So he had given us a two-room junior suite to make up for the compromised view. We were staying there on our free credit-card night (if you have an IHG credit card you get one free night a year at any Intercontinental in the world, great benefit!) plus another night on points. Later, I read on TripAdvisor that people were being offered a river view room for an extra 30-50 euros a night (same deal as the Hong King Intercontinental harborfront rooms). The river is quite busy and interesting, we realized later, so that was probably a good offer. But we were happy with our two-room suite, which was luxuriously Old-World elegant. Everything in it was top-notch and ornate. Just a regular room was going for $500 a night at this point; I can't imagine how much the suites were.

I had made 3 pm reservations online a couple of weeks ago for the Van Gogh Museum, the largest collection of his paintings in the world and probably Amsterdam’s number-one sight. From Fodor Forum I figured out that if you're going to buy a Museumkaart — so that you can go into museums all over the Netherlands for the next 31 days for free — you can just make a time reservation at the VG without paying for tickets. You simply buy the Museumkaart at the first museum you go to, and you get into that one for “free” as well. So we took a nap in our posh bed, and then a taxi the mile or so to the Van Gogh. That cab ride was about $15; Uber is the cheaper method in the Netherlands.

We bought our Museumkaarts at the regular ticket booth and procured our Van Gogh tickets there as well; no line off-season. We bought the audio tours, which I would recommend. There was a free coat check and locker for our belongings; the same would prove true at most museums here. It took us a good 2-3 hours to go through the museum and still have time at the end for the fun museum shop. They ask you not to take pictures, and I think the reason is that they don't want to add to the problems of the usually mobbed museum. At some popular points, signs ask you to step aside once you've viewed the painting up close to make room for others to look. (The Potato Eaters was one). It was stunning to see all this beauty and to learn the story of Van Gogh’s tumultuous life.

After, we took a walk, looking for an early dinner. Bicyclists were everywhere; we had to learn that each intersection has stop and go lights for cars, bicyclists and walkers. Bikers come from everywhere so quickly! They are such confident riders. We liked the specials at the Small Talk cafe and so we took a table in the glassed-in front. My husband had goulash soup; I had the 3-fish salad on the specials board, with smoked eel, smoked salmon and tiny local shrimps on lettuce. It was magnificent and one of my favorite dishes in the entire trip. Smoked eel became our new thing. Our middle-aged waiter told us much of the eel comes from the IJsselmeer where we are heading after Amsterdam. He was one of several chatty Dutch men on this trip who would tell us he's divorced but still good friends with his wife. I never hear many American men say that!

We walked back to the hotel as the sun sank, detouring to the last canal of the canal ring, to make it more interesting. So many houseboats and such fanciful architecture on the narrow canal houses, like a fairy tale. In the canal, we saw a dinghy shaped like a wooden shoe. As we turned down along the wide Amstel River, we saw some kind of locks; we learned later they have something to do with letting water in from the IJsselmeer. At the hotel, we shared a dessert in the lounge: apple pie with real whipped cream. The piece was hugely tall, and the apples were stacked distinctly on top of each other. In the US, they would be all cooked mushily together. It was fabulous.


SEPT 14: AMSTERDAM, WWII and BIG SPLURGE DINING
I was enjoying this hotel’s lovely touches. Its elegant elevators have a velvet seat built in; I sat in it every time! In the lobby, we always tried some candy from a group of jars that encourage you to sample Dutch treats. One jar had pieces of stroopwaffle, for example; another had cherry hard candy. We took a cab ($20) to the Anne Frank House where we were supposed to meet Peter, our guide for “Amsterdam in WWII Walking Tour.” We were early, so we crossed the canal to the Tulip Museum to admire the pots of forced tulips outside the store. Nice to see some! We also went into The Cheese Museum, whatever that is. But the store had samples everywhere. I loved the aged goat cheese.

Peter was a wonderful guide to what life was like in the Netherlands during World War II. He enhanced the history with tales from his own family: The Germans demanded everybody's bikes for their own use, but were so regimented that they actually gave a receipt for the bike they seized from you. Peter had his uncle’s receipt. Peter had old pictures of, say, the current H&M store that used to be a Nazi recruiting station to send Dutch men to the Eastern Front. He also took us to a street where he showed us the pictures of the German army marching after the Dutch had surrendered. (It only took them five days to give up; they had a single tank.) He told us how on May 4, Remembrance Day, all of the Netherlands even now stops for two minutes of silence. On May 5, Liberation Day, they party! But Peter also sprinkled random info too; when we passed the Wester Kerk he told us that Rembrandt is buried there and lived on the next street. And we never would have visited the second-floor cafe that Peter took us to for coffee; we were fascinated to see that they had recycled old clothes into chairs.

After we said goodbye to Peter, we strolled back toward the hotel. It was raining, but we had umbrellas and rain jackets. We ended up having a light lunch at Lampecka cafe, across the street from the hotel. Soup, sausage plate, Italian almond tea, cappuccino. We had a table crammed into a corner at the window. It gave us a fine view of the traffic on the Amstel River, but even more interesting was seeing what Dutch bicyclists do in the rain. A few have on elaborate get-ups. But many have nothing to protect themselves. Some are holding an umbrella, talking on the phone AND bicycling. Back at the hotel, we took a jet-lag nap.

Then we were in a cab to De Silveren Spiegel (The Silver Mirror), our Big Splurge for Amsterdam. We reserved online weeks in advance. The elegant restaurant is in a circa-1600 house that you can’t help but notice leans. However, the white tablecloths, heavy beams, Delft tiles, huge old Dutch paintings and soft candlelight make for a romantic setting. The chef emphasizes local ingredients in his inventive Dutch and European dishes. Menus of 4, 5, 6 and 7 courses are offered. We ordered a 4 and a 5, each course paired with a glass of wine; one course was more beautiful than the next. The ingredients ranged from wild duck and local scallops to lamb neck and Zealand mussels.

It was still raining so instead of an after-diner stroll we hurried to the Central Station to take the metro. We bought our tickets from the machine; thank goodness we had finally remembered our credit card pin because there was no human at this hour to sell us a ticket. Back at the hotel I took a long bath in the eiegant bathroom’s huge bathtub; I was so tired I dropped the guidebook I was reading into the water!

SEPT 15: AMSTERDAM, DUTCH RESISTANCE and BOOM CHICAGO
We got up this morning to go to the venerable Rijksmuseum, tho the bed was so cozy we could have stayed in it forever. We had to pack because we were moving today a mile north, to the new Kimpton Dewitt up by the Central Station. When I booked in March, I could only find two nights on points at the Intercontinental; the weekend was booked five months in advance! This is the first Kimpton in Europe. The IHG has just renovated it from an old Crowne Plaza. It will be good to be more in the center of town, but we wanted to finish up seeing the sights down here.

We walked to the Rijksmuseum where we spent about two hours hitting all the highlights from Rembrandts to Vermeers. At a nearby cafe, The Keyser, we had lunch outdoors, a meatloaf sandwich and steak tartare.

From here we grabbed a cab to the Dutch Resistance Museum to get there by 3. We stayed til it closed at 5. I was surprised that a lot of it focused on the moral dilemmas faced by countries that are occupied by another government; as an American I had never spent much time thinking about that. We found it very interesting. Afterward, we went to the cafe next door; the museum had given us a coupon to use for a very tasty combo of apple pie and coffee.

We walked the .8 miles back to the Intercontinental, picked up our luggage and took the metro to the Central Station and the Kimpton. The hotel was modern and sleek, quite a shock after the Intercontinental. I had requested a room on an upper floor, meaning I wanted a view. The young woman behind the desk said instead we’d been instead given a “quiet” room, so she switched us to one with a partial city view. The room was perfectly comfortable tho nothing special (except we did get robes; I always love that). What we would end up liking best about this hotel is the location, the handy public spaces and the lively bar.

I had bought tickets online a few weeks ago to Boom Chicago, a comedy club in English. They have several shows but this one was billed as angry white men and Trump. It was at 9 pm. We used the complementary drink cards that the front desk had given us — because we arrived yesterday just as the daily free happy hour had ended — to have a pre-show drink at one of the hotel bars. Our concierge told us how to take the tram to the club, which we caught just down the street from the hotel. We each had a glass of wine at our seats; some people were having food as well. The two comedians were 30-something ex-pats who live here and have kids. They were quite funny, but I'd been hoping to get a more Amsterdam or European view of the world and it was more like SNL. And Trump’s actions are often so unbelievable he's almost difficult to make fun of.

We were sitting next to a girl from Michigan and her Dutch beau. The pair met on a G Adventure trip to Thailand that they had each gone on by themselves. She said it is quite common for singles to go on group trips with other 20-somethings that they don't know. Now she has moved to Holland and works as an au pair. She likes it but she is quite homesick now. She said she knows the beau will never leave the Netherlands. She said marriage is very low-key here; there is little family pressure to get married, even when you have children. Have you seen any bridal shops here, she asked me. No I haven't! The beau has never even been to a wedding and she's been a bridesmaid 7 times. She's 28. An interesting slice of life here!

After the show we realized we'd like something to eat but everything was closing. Then we headed down into the Red Light District and everything was open! We settled into a semi-greasy spoon at 11:30 called The All Stars Steakhouse. I had a couple of sausages and a salad and fries and Chris had a sandwich and fries. It was decent.

SEPT 16: AMSTERDAM: PANCAKES, SECRET CHURCH, CRUISE
We strolled over to Pancakes Amsterdam on the river for breakfast. A line of 10 people was out the door, but it only took about 20 minutes for us to get in. The pancakes were huge and so varied. My husband had one with pear and cheese and I had a prosciutto and camembert; we liked his simpler one better. My hot chocolate was crowned with a huge puff of whipped cream and a stroopwaffel. It was fun looking at what everyone ordered.

We walked off breakfast by finding the Oude Kerk, whose 13th-century impressiveness was enhanced by an art exhibit involving shiny gold blankets spread out over the floor areas. But we really liked going to the “Our Lord in the Attic” (Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder). It’s a secret Catholic Church hidden inside an ordinary canal house. When the Protestants took over in the 1600s, they were tolerant enough to allow the Catholics to practice but services had to be discreet. Hence, hidden churches, including this one that was preserved as a museum. When you see a four-story church including a soaring ceiling over the altar tucked inside an ordinary house, you begin to understand how Jews and Resistors could be hidden away in canal houses for so long. The tour is self-guided with headphones, quite informative.

We figured we had justified the expense of our Museumkaart already!

It wasn’t even sprinkling for a change, so we had a drink in an outdoor bar overlooking a canal near the red light district and watched the boats go by. We decided we’d like to take a canal cruise on a boat that was open rather than having a roof. We found one in front of the St. Nicholas Church across the water from the Central Station. It was a little more expensive — $25 — but included two glasses of wine. A Coast Guard-type student named Colin was driving the boat and was full of good info, right down to what each prostitute pays to be in a window ($150) and a sketchy study of how many times a week the red light gals actually have intercourse (not many — guys are either too drunk or too scared)! Two young Swiss couples were with us and the guys were so stoned they could barely function.

For dinner we went to Dwaze Zaken, across from Pancakes Amsterdam, because they had cheese fondue, my favorite. Goat cheese, even. My fondue, which I could order for 1 person (unusual in the U.S.), came with a big plate of broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, celery, zucchini, cukes and seeded brown bread. Waiter says fondue is not terribly common in the Netherlands, but we would run into it a few more times on this trip. My husband’s vegetarian curry was just average. We both had a Double Blonde Kleiburg beer, which was like an amber but a bit sweeter. The restaurant had great windows on the busy street leading into red light district, excellent for people watching.

We walked around a bit and then went back to the hotel bar and used our free-drink coupon that the hotel provides with each reservation. The bartender, besides making an awesome Moscow Mule, was quite chatty about being a millennial in Amsterdam. He had traveled quite a bit and dazzled us with his phone photos of Guilin in China.

More to come!

  • Report Abuse

    It was most definitely used -- the forum was how I found out about both the water park and FutureLand in Rotterdam (probably from you!), two places that most foreign tourists would be unlikely to go (we were the only English speakers on Futureland's busy boat ride).

    Here is some news about Dutch water expertise. It sounds like there are going to be two new centers for info in Rotterdam and in Groningen, but it's bot clear whether they are business centers or public info centers:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/water-world-dutch-flood-expertise-is-big-export-business/2017/11/12/b01721fc-c791-11e7-b506-8a10ed11ecf5_story.html?utm_term=.4ca7459dd5c4&wpisrc=nl_az_most&wpmk=1

  • Report Abuse

    This is the next part of my trip report; I had already posted the Texel portion included in here as separate report as I personally had had trouble finding Texel info.

    SEPT 17: HOORN, ENKHUIZEN, ZUIDERZEE MUSEUM

    We took a cab to the downtown Hertz location to pick up our Thrifty car. We had reserved a stick shift, cheaper than an automatic transmission, but they gave us an automatic Volvo for the same price. The salesperson assumed we would have insurance through our credit card; no American-style sales pressure, thankfully. It was easy driving through Amsterdam on a Sunday morning, and we were not far from the A10. The city quickly gave way to cows grazing on wet green land that seemed barely claimed from the sea. The bartender last night had said the roads are good “because we pay a lot of taxes,” and yep, the highway was perfect.

    It was a short drive north to the pretty town of Hoorn (which Cape Horn was named after) but driving in it was puzzling. Where is the parking, anyway? It was now early afternoon, so we decided to get on to Enkhuizen to have enough time for the open-air Zuiderzee Museum. On the way I made a hotel reservation online through a search engine but when we arrived the owner told me to cancel the reservation because she could give me a better room at a lower rate. OK. Then we ran off to the ferry which would take us to the museum. By now it was actually sunny after four days of rain!

    The museum captures what it was like living in a seaside village in the old days. Houses, shops, equipment and boats — even a windmill — have been collected here. It was fun, especially seeing up close how windmills are used to draw water out of one place and deposit it in another. In the town’s pharmacy, we were introduced to gapers, which are carved and painted wooden heads with their mouths wide open. Back in the day, when you saw one of these outside a shop, you knew it was the drugstore. Beautifully done.

    We bought some delicious herring smoked right onsite the old-fashioned way, and learned how to make rope. Even the boat ride out to the park was fun in the sun (and covered by Museumkaart, as was the museum entrance). It was Steam Weekend so we saw some unusual steam-powered machines in action, some from the States. We were almost done when it started to rain AGAIN. Had a soggy walk back by the city exit. It was a beautiful town to walk through though. We stopped at Brasserie Restaurant Markerwaard for two tasty dishes: fish soup and mussels baked with tomato onions and butter. We sat outside under the awning that protected us from sprinkles and watched the street action.

    At our hotel, we relaxed and dried out. Took a before-dinner walk and it started to rain AGAIN. We had dinner at the hotel’s quaint restaurant, a really nice sea bass with au gratin potatoes, onion soup and delicious bread. Wish the fireplace had been on!

    SEPT 18: FERRY TO TEXEL ISLAND
    It was finally sunny. We tried to drive down Enkhuizen’s Main Street but it turned out to be a pedestrian street. It’s a pretty town with huge old defense gates, beautiful sailboats in the big marina — they're all sailboats— and lots of restaurants and inns in historic buildings in perfect shape.

    We took off for the ferry to the island of Texel in the North Sea, but first we detoured to drive on the Afsluitdijk. This 20-mile dike famously dams off the Zuiderzee, the huge saltwater inlet that, until it was dammed, had made Hoorn and Einkhuizen some of the important seagoing towns in the world. The inlet is now the very large freshwater lake IJsselmeer. I’ve wanted to see this amazing dike since I did a school report on it when I was a kid. You can drive out on it a few miles to a monument at a rest stop with a cafe. It’s wide and looks a lot like the much narrower 7-mile bridge in the Florida Keys with sparkling water and nothing else on both sides. There's a statue of a worker building the dike and a statue of Cornelius Lely who conceived the enormous project and died a couple of years before it was completed. Fortunately a few miles up from this there's a gas station where you can make a u turn, which we did. If you keep going, you’ll end up in Friesland Province.

    We arrived at the port of Den Helder about noon. First we saw a giant North Sea oil rig in dry dock being fixed. Then we saw toll booths coming up, we handed over 37 euros for us and the car, and we were instantly in a long line waiting to drive onto the ferry. One ferry left a minute later. We waited for the next, just long enough to grab a ham and cheese panini in the terminal. These ferries are huge, with two floors of cars.

    After a 20-minute ride, we drove onto the island and stopped at the tourist info center at the main town of Den Burg to see which hotels had openings. Not a ton. (Completely forgot about the cool rental airstream trailers I had read about). Decided to go for the inn near the town of Den Hoorn called Hotel B&B Loodsmans. Drove up and asked if they could do two nights cheaper than the search engines. Oh yes. Instead of $117 a night, $106. Not much, but hey. Lady in charge was not the usual receptionist and had trouble with English. But she did manage to convey that they don't take credit cards! The only ATM was in Den Burg, the town we had just come from. They were willing to wait for their cash tho. The room was up tiny, steep stairs clearly made for elves.

    It was already mid-afternoon so we took off. We went down to Beach 9 (all the beaches are known by numbers) in the national dunes park near the inn (you have to drive or bike there, too far to walk). We parked in a lot near a restaurant tucked behind big dunes. The beach was wide and long and the waves were wild. It was warm in the sun and lots of people were enjoying it. A few were swimming, but moat were walking or lounging or playing games, soaking up the rays. Lots of little white square wooden cabanas were lined up against the dunes. Picturesque. The dunes that stretch behind the beach are all covered with vegetation including white mushrooms. Trails wind through them. Everything is in Dutch or German so we were clueless, but we figured out that “Geen toegang” means “Don't walk on here.” We hiked out for a little bit but then went back to the beach.

    We drove north looking for a nature preserve that's supposed to be the prettiest in the island but we couldn’t see how to get there. So we went on to the lighthouse. It was cloudy there but the beach was unbelievably wide. We walked up the hill to the beautiful red lighthouse. It seemed gigantic, towering over that extremely wide beach. The people looked like ants down there, walking around the tide pools. The sea was so far away I didn’t even think I’d have time to walk out to it. The sun appeared and the light was gorgeous for photos. Lots of people walking around, and lots of dogs, all on leashes.

    We had to be back in Den Hoorn for reservations at 7 at Inn de Knip. The kitchen closes at 730! It was an old antiques-filled house, very atmospheric, right around the corner from our inn (it has a beautiful front terrace for lunch). It’s crammed with stuff to look at. The menu was not in English but the young server helped us. Chris had a big hunk of firm fish whose name we didn't recognize. I had the renowned Texel lamb, a beautiful pink piece that oddly had little flavor. It came with tasty vegetable chips. My dish was earthy with what looked like straw scattered around it, very arty and unexpected. Lots of sides: french fries and roasted potatoes, along with a big gorgeous salad with tomatoes. Huge amount of food. We tried two kinds of Texel Brewery beer from the tap, pretty good.

    SEPT 19: TEXEL, NATURE HIKE, SEAL RESCUE

    Had breakfast in the inn’s quaint antiques-filled breakfast room on first floor. Bacon and scrambled eggs! Plus beautiful black bread, yogurt, etc. Went to Den Burg for cash to pay our hotel bill. The capital turned out to be a cute little town with lots of beachy stores. We finally managed to figure out the parking machine to get an all-day parking sticker. The problem, as usual, seemed to be that we needed to use a credit card with a pin, and we finally remembered that we had asked for a pin with our Bank of America card after we’d run into this problem last year in India. We took a guess re the pin number and we were right. Victory! In a small grocery store, we bought some cheese for a picnic lunch — old goat and a blue.They wrapped it in paper and handed it to us. Plastic shopping bags have been banned in the Netherlands since 2016; their use has dropped 70 percent.

    We set out to find De Slufter, the nature preserve in the northern part of the west coast that we couldn’t find yesterday. Lots of tourists were out bicycling on this beautiful day, which we had assumed we would do too. But we had a car, and this island is bigger than we expected — and we wanted to see all of it! The roads, like most in the Netherlands, have bike lanes separate from the car lanes, and no shoulders.

    We found De Slufter, turning down a road that yesterday we didn’t think was meant for cars. But it was, with a parking lot and a restaurant at the end. We climbed the staircase that led over a huge dike and took a beautiful walk onto the flat salt plain toward the sea. This was a failed land reclamation project; the dike broke and nature took its course. We walked WAY out, for at least an hour, detouring around areas too wet to navigate. We didn’t even make it all the way to the sea! We found a less zig-saggy way back, which only took us about a half hour.

    Our next stop was Ecomare, which is part aquarium, part nature center, and part rescue and sanctuary for marine animals and birds (no Museumkaart here; they need every dollar for the animals). It was surprising to see this rather big operation on such a small island. We saw the seal “show”; trainers interact with porpoises and other animals several times a day. The rescued baby seals were adorable. But the aquarium was just as interesting, and the whole place is a great introduction to the nature of Texel and the North Sea. It was especially helpful because English translation was available for everything, which is not true anywhere else on Texel. Some guided tours through the dune park are available here too. We enjoyed the giant whale skeletons, with surreal lighting, in the Whale Hall.

    We needed a cappuccino, so we drove to Beach 17, where it turned out there was an international kitesurfing competition happening. It was fun to hang out on the restaurant terrace and watch the action.

    From there, we went to the town of Oudeschild on the east coast to see its beautiful harbor. Surprise: They were building a dike, an interesting process to see. The fishing harbor was indeed gorgeous, with real fishing boats, former fishing boats now offering sea tours, and an amazing number of historic tall ships converted to teaching ships that take thousands of teenagers out for sailing weeks. The harbor has several vaunted restaurants, and for dinner we chose the one at Haven Hotel, whose reviews correctly said the large windows provide a great view of the harbor comings and goings.

    I wasn’t super hungry, so from the extensive menu I ordered the Creamy Texel Herbal Cheese Soup, which was magnificent. Its ingredients come from the Texel farm “Vrij & Blij.” Chris ordered a special, a whole flatfish which he masterfully fileted. It came with some lovely sides: cucumbers in vinegar, beautifully roasted potatoes, and a warm mix of celery, zucchini, carrots and onions. For dessert we shared a piece of fine apple pie.

    Our fellow diners were quite friendly. When I walked to the front of the dining room for a better view of the seals that were popping up in the harbor, I ended up talking with a Dutch couple who had spent a few years in Los Angeles with the paper technology industry. They were on vacation on their boat. We also chatted with some teenage girls from a school in Stuttgart, Germany, who were here for a sailing week on an historic ship and quite excited about it!

    SEPT 20 CHEESE FACTORY, HAARLEM, DELFT

    After breakfast, we went to the cheesemaking farm Wezenspyktexel near Den Burg, where cheese has been made for 35 years. There was no tour available at that time, and none of the signs were in English, but we wandered around admiring the cows and the pastoral views. From the shop, you can see the storage of huge rounds of cheese and also sometime the production. They sell both cheese and meat products. We bought several cheeses, and the lady running the adjoining cafe (They have cheese fondue every day after noon! Wished we had known) came to the shop and asked the young girl running the shop to cut and sell us some smaller pieces of various other cheeses.

    We drove to the port and lined up for the next ferry. The fellow in line in front of us told us we didn't have to buy a ticket, the one we bought to go over is round trip. Uh-oh. We didn't keep that. Doesn't matter, he said; they don't look. True, they didn’t. This ferry was even nicer than the one we took over, with modern lounging areas for the 20-minute ride!

    We drove south toward Haarlem, along the intercoastal-type canal with pleasure boats on it. Cows, sheep and old and new windmills dotted the countryside. We ate our Texel cheese, so yummy, as we drove to Haarlem, where we easily parked on a street close to the city center. Saw home store with furniture painted like they do in wickford. We walked along the Grand Canal to the Grote Markt or main square. Beautiful old buildings lined the canal. The bustling square had gorgeous old architecture and a gigantic cathedral. It was too lovely to resist hanging out in one of the many cafes that spilled out into the square and ordering cappuccino and apple pie. Our chatty server told us that so many people bike in Amsterdam because it is ridiculously expensive to park. She rides a scooter, and in the frequent rain she brings extra clothes with her.

    It was a quick drive from there to Delft, where we found out hotel in the achingly beautiful historic center. It’s so historic that there’s nowhere to park; we deposited our trusty Volvo in the supermarket parking garage where it would remain for the next couple of days. Hotel de Emauspoort is ancient, family-owned and across a tiny street from the gigantic New Church. Our adorable second floor room (which had a sleeping loft we didn’t need) overlooked all this beauty, including the church. For dinner, our hotelier recommended Dis, also called Spijshuis de Dis Restaurant, on nearby Beesten square. The restaurant prides itself on “Dutch culinary art.” Inside it’s a bit like a hunting lodge with its dark wood, and my husband chose a dish on that theme: roasted deer filet wrapped in puff pastry, with veggies and a small glass of homemade Bockstinth. I had the oven-roasted lambs crown with grated cheese and a rosemary-garlic sauce, which came with substantial tasty sides. Both were to die for, but ESPECIALLY MINE!

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    Thank you so much for this great report! It is interesting to read about an area I have never thought about visiting. It may be climbing up my never-ending travel list!

    --Annie

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    It looks as if I jumped in too quick...you have not got that far in your trip yet.
    From the other posting I was very pleased you liked Enkhuizen. I do hope you liked Ypres and Utrecht too.
    Looking forward to reading about Dunkirk as I have only used the location as a freey port.

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    The Italian/German army confiscated Italian bicycles and gave receipts too, Mrs Eric Newby (he a travel writer, she an Italian) mentions taking the receipt and getting her bike back during the war at some point and actually getting her own back from the miles of bike storage much to the amusement of the German officer in charge.

    Bikes were important

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    Bilboburgler, aren't those little details of life interesting?

    Here's the next part:

    SEPT 21: THE HAGUE, MONDRIAN, THE GOLDFINCH
    After a substantial breakfast at our Delft inn — with pastries from the family’s own bakery — we walked a few blocks to grab the tram to The Hague. It wasn’t worth driving; the tram cost almost nothing and took 15-20 minutes.

    Once we got to the center of town, we consulted with a couple of helpful passersby on how to take a bus a couple of miles to the Gemeentemuseum. The Dutch art movement De Stilj came into being 100 years ago, and this museum was holding the largest exhibit in history featuring the movement’s best-known member, Piet Mondrian. Numerous activities and celebrations were being held all year in the Netherlands, but this was the “must” event. Of course it was wonderful, a great learning experience with the usual Dutch sense of humor; the cakes in the cafe were all done in Mondrian red, yellow and blue.

    Following that cake break, we headed back on the tram past the International Court of Justice that is always in the news, but not many opportunities seemed to be available to see anything there except the grounds. So we were on to the Mauritshuis Museum, which is not huge but is a Dutch Golden Age powerhouse. There is Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring, Rubens’ Night Scene, Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, and even Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, the painting upon which the novel “The Goldfinch” centered (read by possibly every book club in America).

    The Hague was a nice town, but Delft had our hearts, so once we were done with the museums, we took the tram back.

    We took a walk through the gorgeous main square to check out a restaurant we had seen the night before: De Waag. Turns out its building was constructed in 1488 as a gate to the city and by the 1600s became the weighing house for goods going in and out of the market (an important source of city income). The bottom floor is a cafe where you can get burgers, soup, etc.; the upper floor houses a fine dining restaurant, and once we saw the menu we headed upstairs.

    The setting was beautiful, this ancient house with white tablecloths and candlelight. The dishes were complex, with unusual combinations of ingredients. Among those we ordered: crab salad with fennel, lemon foam, crispy celeriac, beet root and herring caviar; salad with duck breast, cauliflower couscous, artichoke, melon, and onion cream; pork ravioli with sprouts, mushrooms, and apple coarse mustard sauce; filet des landes with Chinese spinach, soy beans and quail egg. Anyway, the whole thing was more than 100 Euros and it was worth it. Other people around us seemed to be celebrating; one family group was marking their son’s college graduation.

    SEPT 22: ROTTERDAM, HARBOR TOUR, CHEESE FONDUE
    We had our last breakfast in Delft and went across the street to tour the New Church, which was impressive for its English and for its multimedia presentations of the Royals” funerals. I’d never seen anything like that before in a church! All the Royals are buried here, in a crypt below the ground, back to the legendary Prince of Orange. I pay little attention to various countries’ Royals, so it was helpful to see them on TV.

    We checked out of the hotel, retrieved our car and were off to Rotterdam, a quick trip. Thanks to our phone gps, we easily found the Holiday Inn Express, where we had reserved because, first, it was a really busy weekend in Rotterdam and we were making reservations kind of late, and second, we collect IHG points. The new, modern hotel was well-located in the north end of town and it had a truly nice breakfast. Its flaw is that it has no local flair. It could be anywhere. And it did have a few quirks, like it didn’t provide luggage racks so your suitcase was always on the floor, and the bar was oddly part of the front desk. On the plus side, it conveniently had bikes to rent at a decent price.

    We took a long, fun walk down to the harbor, where we found a reasonably priced Spido tour on a big boat that took us all around the harbor for at least an hour. A great intro to the biggest port in Europe (before China got inspired, it was the biggest port in the world). It was fun to see the giant cargo ships up close. Still, my husband didn’t feel he’d seen enough of the port.

    In some guide, I had spotted a listing for a restaurant that served fondue, which I was hoping to have one more time in the Netherlands. So we went to Cafe Haagsebluf, which turned out to be quite close to our hotel and on a canal. It had both indoor and outdoor dining, and we sat in the very casual interior. As in Amsterdam, fondue for one was offered, and I had that while my husband had a light fish stew, which came with some salad, slices of melon and French fries.

    SEPT 23: ROTTERDAM, CUBE HOUSES, PILGRIMS
    The hotel had posted a sign in the elevator that they were full, advising guests to go to the buffet breakfast either early or late to avoid a crowd. We got up early and were impressed by the nice spread, lots of choices, with sliced goat cheese and French pate that was actually liverwurst, and good fruit and hard-boiled eggs. We had been thinking of renting bikes to explore the city. But we decided not to because we were going to markets that we'd prefer to walk through.

    Rotterdam is a city of fascinating architecture, having been inventively rebuilt after being bombed to smithereens by the Nazis. We saw fun buildings and details everywhere. But the best was the forest of bright yellow cube houses, tilted at a 45-degree angle. The development included the hostel that I'd been interested in, which has a private room but was booked for this weekend. We went into the one house that was made into a museum after people kept asking residents of the houses to let them in to look at their interior. Quite efficient, like the tiny houses on TV. They now sell for about 250k euros, and there are 38 of them.

    Next door is an apartment house known as The Pencil, because the top looks like a pencil point. Surrounding both of these landmarks is a huge open-air market with all kinds of food and wares. Beware, however, of buying tulip bulbs: Ours were seized at U.S. customs. Even though, of course, the vendors had insisted there would be no such problems.

    Overlooking all of this is the Markthal, a massive inverted U of glass encasing a gigantic food hall. Its enormous ceiling is covered with a brilliant mural. Among the highlights: an Iberian ham stand that cut slices from legs with hooves attached (taste was phenomenal), fish stands where we feasted on marinated herring, and a French sausages vendor where the Dutch attendant dazzled us with samples. (Unfortunately, customs seized the sausages we bought and tried to bring through. No meat allowed at all! So they said. Once again, the vendor had insisted there would be no problem in the U.S.)

    From there we were off south on the tram to Delfshaven, the only part of Rotterdam that the Nazi bombardment missed. It’s almost shocking to see an entire neighborhood of buildings here that are hundreds of years old. The big attraction: This is where the pilgrims said their last prayers before heading off to make history in America. The boat they took from here, the Speedwell, proved so leaky they had to risk landing back in England to switch it out for the Mayflower.

    At the center of this is a beautiful canal lined with historic old ships that people seem to be living on (judging from the laundry flying). The Fathers Pilgrim Church is on one side, and inside everything is about the pilgrims. Both the Speedwell and the Mayflower are immortalized in stained glass. The Pilgrims Brewery is one door down. A fun cafe and pool hall, where we had cappuccino and apple pie while watching the boat people, are on the other side along with more cafes. At the far end of the canal is a huge windmill under repair. All in all a worthy stop for a couple of hours on a beautiful day.

    The tram brought us back to the city center where we strolled through more interesting modern architecture and checked out some of the shopping streets. We especially liked Witte de Withstraat, which had a lot of cafes, trendy shops and great people-watching.

    For dinner, we went to Restaurant Chung, which we had noticed across the canal from the fondue cafe last night. My mission was Peking Duck, a specialty at this airy, modern place. I had that; my husband had Iberian pork; and we shared a side of bok choy. Everything was exquisite, including our crisp, reasonably priced bottle of white albarino wine from Portugal.

    SEPT 24: ROTTERDAM, KINDERDIJK, FUTURELAND
    We checked out and prepared to retrieve our car from the garage under the hotel; I don't think we got charged for parking because the staffer didn't want to redo our bill, which didn’t have it (saved us 20-odd euros a day). As it was a Sunday, I wanted to arrive at Kinderdijk, the village known for its mass of 18th-century windmills, by 10 before any crowds would show up. Great driving, no traffic this early, and got there in less than an hour. Our reward: We were one of the last cars to park at the small, closest parking lot to the tour boats. This is a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the Rotterdam area’s main attractions.

    We bought tickets for the visitors center and the Canal Hopper boat that only goes about halfway down the row of 19 windmills but lets you hop off at the two mills that are open today. And you can walk down as far as you want once you hop off. The majestic windmills were lined up on both sides of a canal. We got off at the first one that was open, dating back to the 1700s. The keeper whose life was illustrated there had 13 kids and his wife died in her 40s when she was hit by the mill’s sail. The inside is preserved as though the family still lived there. Really fun to see the beds tucked into corners and hear the swishing sound as the sails spun around outside.

    We waited a few minutes for the next boat to pick us up. At the second open windmill, a garden and some outbuildings have been preserved; one houses goats which the present-day keeper was taking out to the pasture next door. Anyone can apply to live in one of the windmills but you have to take a miller’s course to learn how to operate the works. Why? Because you, as part of living there, are in charge of keeping the water outside at the correct level. We learned that the “arms” of the mill have sails that can be reefed in a heavy blow just like a sailboat. It was a perfectly beautiful day.

    From there we had a long drive — more than an hour! — back west, all through the Rotterdam port to FutureLand at its very tip. About 7 years ago, Rotterdam decided to increase the size of its port by 20 percent. Because they’re Dutch, they didn’t seize the surrounding land but instead reclaimed the land from the ocean. You can tour the brand new visitors center that explains the process of reclaiming the land and what the port actually does (It could use a little more English). It would make Epcot Center proud.

    We also took the center’s hour-long boat ride (it leaves several times a day). The highlight of that is seeing the gigantic new container ships that ports all over the world are vying to accommodate. My husband was one happy camper when we got up close and personal with those. But we both loved seeing this whole thing. I’d allow about three hours for the visit including the boat ride. However, you could make an entire day of it because public beaches were built with this port and they looked really great, even if just for strolling.

    The reason we checked out of the Holiday Inn Express even though we had one more night to spend in Rotterdam was that all the interesting places to stay there were now available: Should we stay in the SS Rotterdam, the hostel in the Cube Houses, or the Hotel New York? We went with the Hotel NY, right on the waterfront in Rotterdam. It’s a striking historic hotel with a touching background, especially for Americans: It was the headquarters of the transatlantic Holland America Line, right on the wharf where thousands of Europeans set off over decades for a new life in America. Because I knew we wouldn’t arrive til almost sunset, I opted for the cheap indoor courtyard room without a water view — but if you’re going to hang out in this hotel, opt for the view! (I asked about an upgrade but oddly they weren’t prepared to deal, even at 6:30 p.m.).The hotel and each room had innumerable vintage touches, hugely high ceilings, everything quirky and cool.

    They gave us a fun map of the area, and we went out walking in the twilight. It’s an amazing location with big ships going by. Zippy little black-and-yellow water taxis ferry visitors from this area (which includes the SS Rotterdam Hotel on the other side of the wharf) to the city center. A wonderful big sculpture of suitcases in front of the hotel’s outdoor cafe is called “Lost Luggage Depot” in honor of those who made the voyage to the United States. A pedestrian bridge took us to the next wharf or peninsula over, with the Food Factory, like a grittier, younger Markthal. Then we saw the Dutch Pinball Museum next door — it’s only open a couple of days a week and it had just closed. Can't believe we missed it because we love pinball!!! So much to do in this town. I think I liked it better even than Amsterdam.

    After our walk, we went to the hotel’s main dining room; we had made reservations when we checked in as the front desk advised. This too was a fascinating historic space with lots to look at. I opted for three different kinds of raw oysters, 2 from Netherlands, one from France. All were delicious. Chris had red pepper soup and pasta aglio e olio, which I ended up sharing with him. Those two were just OK. Our Dutch bread was awesome.

    Afterwards, in our room, I had a chance to look through some of the literature the hotel provides on its history and its renovation from cruise line office to hotel. These owners truly have a passion, taking such pains to show us all this. I loved the book in our room with before and after pix. I wish we could have stayed longer!

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