Maastricht is located near the southwest border of Holland and Belgium. In 1992, the treaty that formed the European Union was signed in this city. While we did not have time to explore the city, we walked around the downtown admiring the buildings and lifestyle of the people.
Located 15 km away from Rotterdam, Kinderdijk is an UNESCO World Heritage site that is reminiscent of the beautiful Dutch landscape: whirling windmills floating on the grassy banks of the marshes.
Our tour guide arranged a private boat for our group that took us down the course of the river and allowed us to admire the breathtaking scenery on both banks. Apparently, people can leisurely walk or bike along the banks; or stop for refreshments at a small café near the entrance. Continue reading
As the third largest city in Holland, Rotterdam is a modern port city with a skyline of skyscrapers and few traditional Dutch buildings. It had been rebuilt completely after being bombed during World War II.
During our brief stay, we visited the Euromast. Designed by architect, Hugh Maaskant, in the 1960s, the Euromast’s structure represents a ship’s mast with a crow’s nest, where one can see an amazing panorama of the city. Today, the structure is 185 meters (~607 feet) tall and one of the highest structures in Rotterdam.
- Henri Willig cheese farm
- Wooden shoe demonstration
Volendam is a quaint fishing village located northwest of Amsterdam and bordering the Ijsselmeer, a freshwater lake. Frequented by visitors, one can visit the cheese and wooden shoe factories outside of the village prior to exploring the village proper.
The Henri Willig cheese farm at the Alida Hoeve was our first stop. The ladies in Dutch traditional dress showed us how the cheeses were made in the past and the machinery used to produce the round cheese balls or donuts.
Cheese apparently comes in many flavors, including garlic, fenugreek, and cumin. Worth a taste if you like cheese!
Next door was the wooden shoe demonstration. The famous Dutch clog is made of a flexible willow or poplar wood; and can be worn in summer and winter. A machine drills the hole and shapes the wood into a shoe. Then, the shoe is dried and sanded before it is painted in the bright colors and patterns favored by the Dutch.
After the delightful demonstration, our tour group took us to the village for lunch and exploration. As a coastal village, it is known for its seafood (especially eels) and traditions of wearing traditional costume during folkloric events. Apparently, Paviljoen Smit Bokkum is known for its smoked eel, which we regret not trying, and was a favored spot for some celebrities.
- Grote Markt
- Frans Hals Museum
- Molen de Adriaan
- Kathedrale Basiliek St. Bavo [St. Bavo’s Cathedral]
In the early morning, the town of Haarlem awaits us. We arrive in the quaint town passing by a memorial commemorating the brave maid and her proud companion. Following the lazily, winding cobbled stone paths, we watch as store vendors clean their shop and creative restaurant artists doodle caricatures on the store windows. Then, we enter the heart of Haarlem—the Grote Markt (Big Market). From there, we take in the sights and sounds before choosing our next destination.
Haarlem is a short journey by train from Amsterdam (about 20 minutes) and is easily navigated by foot. Following the main street from the train station, several shops and small restaurants line both sides of the street as one goes toward the town center—the Grote Markt.
The Grote Markt is the main square with the most important buildings of the town, including the town hall (see below), Grote Kerk (leftmost building in above image), and many restaurants for a savvy adventurer to try. On certain days, there are market days selling clothing and other goods. Unfortunately, the church was closed the day we visited so we could not explore the interior.
- Museum Speelklok (May 29)
- Domkerk and Dom Cathedral (May 29)
- Dick Bruna Huis [Dick Bruna House] (May 29)
- Centraal Museum (May 29)
- Kasteel de Haar [De Haar Castle] (June 2)
The sound of the bell tolls in the air amidst the pattering of the rain. From the nearby Dom Cathedral, the gothic-style Domkerk is an ominous giant of 112 meters reaching into the sky. My father urges us to quickly go to the tourist office to purchase tickets to explore the tower. We manage to get on the last tour. Following our guide, we brave the narrow passage way, past the cavern of bells, and up 465 steps to the top. Despite the rain, we brave the dizzying view of the city below. The fortressed town of Utrecht stretches out miles before us. Another hundred or so steps, we follow our guide to the enormous bell playing station. She shows us the program of songs that are played at the different hours of the day and during holidays. For fun, she gives us a demonstration. We are in awe as the bells chime their melody. The song of Utrecht echoes in our memory.
In the early morning, we catch the train to Utrecht departing from Centraal Station in Amsterdam. The 20-minute ride takes us past the Dutch countryside to the medieval university town of Utrecht located south of Amsterdam. Stepping off the train, we enter a quaint town of sturdy brown bricks and cobbled streets. Utrecht is the fourth largest city in Holland and is renowned for its university and rich art and design culture.
Tip: At Centraal Station in Amsterdam, you can purchase tickets from the person-operated ticket booth. Just tell them your destination and whether it is roundtrip.
Following the turns of the road and hiding under our umbrellas, we find ourselves outside the Museum Speelkok—known for its vast collection of musical clocks and devices.
- I amsterdam letters photo site (May 26)
- Hard Rock Café (May 26)
- Van Gogh Museum (May 27)
- Anne Frank Huis [Anne Frank Museum] (May 27)
- Stedelijk Museum (May 30)
- Rijiksmuseum (May 31)
- Gassen Diamond Factory (May 31)
Ring! Ring! The sound of a bicycle bell snaps me back to attention as I allow the bicycle to pass. Here in Amsterdam—along with its busy, winding cobbled streets and canals—the bicycle is the most common form of transportation. In the early morning, from the veranda of Hotel Aalders, one can hear the soft pedaling of several bicyclists heading for work or school. From the hotel, if one heads down the street and around the corner, one can see the hubbub of parents on bicycles taking their children to school. What surprise to see mothers in heels skillfully maneuvering their bicycles and charges through the traffic to school!
Prior to our tour with Trafalgar, my family and I arrived four days early in Amsterdam to explore the city on our own. We stayed at Hotel Aalders, conveniently located in the Museum-Kwartier (Museum Quarter) within walking distance of the Rijiksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, diamond factories, and Stedelijk Museum. Public transportation in Amsterdam is very convenient—a tram cuts through the center of the city, making it easy to visit the important sights of the city.
Tip: If you are planning to stay at least 3 days and 3 nights in Amsterdam, it may be wise to invest in the I amsterdam city card. The perks are unlimited public transportation usage of the metro, tram, and bus; and some free admissions or discounts at participating vendors/restaurants. There are three options: 24-hour, 48-hour, and 72-hour cards. See the official website for details.
On the dreary morning we arrived, we checked in at the hotel and then took a walk in the Museum-Kwartier. We passed by the closed museums and headed to the iconic I amsterdam letters, where we took photos. Passing through the tidy park, we passed by the ornately decorated Rijksmuseum as we headed towards the main city center.