I was very, very excited for the Netherlands. I spent quite a lot of time in the country as a child, because my mom grew up there (she immigrated to Canada with her immediate family at 14) and still has quite a lot of family and friends in various cities. I hadn’t been for almost 10 years, so I was interested to see how much I would remember, and I knew it would be a very different experience to see everything and get to know my mom’s family and friend’s as an adult. Holland is a beautiful country with really friendly people, and almost everyone speaks English, making travelling there really simple. They have a really good (and reasonably priced) intercity transit system, so it’s not very difficult to travel outside of the major cities to get to experience more of the country. I know I’ll be back many more times throughout my life! Also – I just noticed that basically every single picture I’m posting has water in it… that’s not a coincidence; the country really is covered in water and it is so lovely.
After a very long bus ride from Paris, we arrived in Rotterdam fairly late at night. My cousin (or rather, my mom’s cousin’s son) and a couple of his friends were waiting at the station to meet us. The football game was about to start, and we were pretty into it at this point, since the World Cup match had been on basically the entire time that we had been in Europe and it’s kind of a huge deal over there (soccer/football is not a big thing in Canada – most people play for a couple of years as kids, but I’ve rarely heard of people going to professional games). We headed to a pub and had a couple pints and watched the game, and then headed back to my cousin’s place and ordered pizza. The night – as well as the week that followed, was pretty relaxed, which we were grateful for.
The following day we got to do a bit of sightseeing in Rotterdam. We went on a boat tour of the massive harbour, which took a couple of hours and it was really quite cool to see one of the biggest ports in the world. Then we did a bit of shopping and ate poffertjes (delicious, coin-sized pancakes with powdered sugar) at a small place on pannenkoekstraat – literally, pancake street (best place ever, obviously). We stayed in that night, and then in the morning, my Oma and Opa (actually my mom’s childhood best friend’s parents who we have always stayed with in Holland) came and picked us up to head out to their farm near a smaller city called Brielle.
I came back to Rotterdam for two more nights after Amsterdam to spend a little more time with family before heading to Germany. My first night back I went with my cousin and his friends to Bazar – a really good Turkish/Mediterranean restaurant, and then to an Irish pub called Paddy Murphy’s to watch the game and play bingo (I won!!) I spent the next day with my mom’s cousins from her dad’s side. We drove out to Hoek Van Holland, a town at the very edge of Western Holland on the North Sea and saw the new (and apparently famous) DeltaWorks dam and then drove into Vlaardingen to have a seriously amazing seafood lunch at the Delta Nautique Hotel and to see some more family.
Overall, Rotterdam is a really cool city and is totally different than Amsterdam. Since everything was completely destroyed in the World Wars, the architecture is very modern, and the harbour is huge and very interesting. It’s not overly touristy, and there is great shopping and food if you know where to go. There are also tons of options of smaller towns that are easy to get to if you want to do day trips. Rotterdam is a very multicultural city, so the people and the food options are unique and interesting.
After getting settled at my Oma and Opa’s, we tried to make a plan for the next couple of days. This was much easier said than done, considering that they speak very minimal English and I speak virtually no Dutch. We eventually figured it out, with help from a translator app on my phone (so smart!) and then Shelby and I went out on a bike ride to explore the area that I had spent so much time in throughout my childhood. I managed not to get us too lost, which I was quite proud of. We biked into Brielle and spent a little bit of time going up and down the tiny streets and stopping when we saw anything interesting, such as the lovely old church in the centre of the town, the windmill surrounded by sheep at the edge of town, or the drawbridges over the small canal that goes through the city. We kept going until we found Vierpolders, the town where my mom grew up (the towns are all very close together), and then headed back for a typically dutch, very hearty dinner.
Afterwards, we went to another family friend’s house, and my friend Dayenne and her boyfriend showed us around Brielle a little more. The city actually has really interesting history – there are still walls around the city and it is surrounded by a canal, plus there are many memorial structures and other interesting remains from many past wars. We also went for ice cream in another nearby town at De IJssalon, which is apparently one of the best places in the country (there are also locations in Rotterdam and other smaller towns.)
The following day we went to the beach at Rockanje, which is a very small resort town with a quiet, but beautiful and clean beach. The view from here is awesome, and the beach is completely full of beautiful shells that I spent hours collecting as a child. We spent the evening visiting more family friends near Delft, another city, and then returned home pretty late that night.
If you have some time in Holland and want to see more than just Amsterdam and Rotterdam, I would definitely recommend Brielle. It’s super easy to get to by car or bus from Rotterdam, and it’s adorable and picturesque and very typically dutch. There is a good market (which we didn’t have time to see) and some cute stores in town, so it would be nice to spend a day or two in even if you don’t have family in the area.
Shelby and I arrived in Amsterdam on a Friday afternoon, and we spent a couple of hours walking around the city and got dinner (pannenkoeken – Dutch pancakes) before heading back to our hostel to meet up with Carley and her friend Evelyn. We were staying at a lovely little hostel on the outskirts of Amsterdam that was set up like a hippie village – the rooms were either colourful mini trailers or cabins – and it was next to a huge lake surrounded by adorable cottages. We were pretty excited to have a decent sized group of girls to head out with, so we went to a bunch of bars around Leidseplein and had a very fun night. I didn’t realize that Amsterdam is like the Las Vegas of Europe – there were SO many Bachelor parties around.
On Saturday we walked around the city and checked out cool vintage flea market in Waterlooplein before going to the Heineken museum for a tour. It was actually really fun, and such good value for the price – around 20 euros I believe, and we got 4 decent sized beer samples, the museum tour, a canal boat ride, and a souvenir beer glass from their gift shop. Afterwards we went to the Anne Frank House, where we waited for an apparently very short 45 minutes, and then went to Vapiano for dinner. Vapiano was basically the best restaurant ever – it’s a pizza/pasta take out place that serves giant portions with tons of options, all made right in front of you with fresh ingredients by beautiful men (not sure if this was a coincidence or not…) We opted to have a night in on Saturday, since we were pretty exhausted from the day of walking around (and probably from the night before).
Shelby had to fly home to Canada really early on Sunday morning. I was very, very sad to say goodbye to my travelling partner, but also really excited to explore more cities on my own. Carley and Evelyn still had a few hours until they had to leave, so we did some shopping and saw a little more of the beautiful city. We found some really awesome stores/restaurants, including: Anna + Nina, Latei, and countless others, mainly around Utrechtstraat. After leaving Carley and Evelyn at the train station, I walked around by myself for a couple more hours – just seeing/experiencing the city. It was actually pretty cool because the football game was on, so EVERYONE was inside or on a patio watching the game and the streets were literally silent, but every once in a while I would hear chorus of cheers, and then madness at the end of the match (they won!)
On my last day, before heading back to Rotterdam, I was really excited to grab a coffee and some treats, and then go read my book in Vondelpark. I took a tram to the area, stopped at a bakery and an amazing coffee spot (Brandmeesters), and then found myself a nice place to sit. Since I was leaving that day and our hostel was a bit out of the way, I had all of my luggage with me – 1 huge backpack, 1 smaller backpack, and my purse. At this point, I finally noticed that I no longer had my small backpack. I attempted not to panic, because the bag thankfully didn’t have anything too important in it – my passport and my wallet were in my purse – just my camera (which I had hardly used because I always use my iPhone), my moms iPad, my makeup, and tons of other things that would be a pain in the ass to repurchase. I retraced my steps, and eventually ended up (many tears and many hours later) at the main office for the tram company. I reported it lost, gave them my info, and headed back to Rotterdam. A couple days later, I called the company, and the backpack had been found and returned (!!!) I got my cousins step mom to ship it to Carley’s place in Germany, where I was heading next, and everything worked out SO nicely. There are SUCH good people in this world.
I adored Amsterdam, so much more than I thought that I would. It was among my favourite cities on the trip. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous city with so many friendly people, adorable cafes, dozens of markets, and good shopping. It was reasonably walkable, there were so many things to do, the night life was great, and as soon as you left the very central/touristy areas, it wasn’t all that busy despite it being the end of June.