Amsterdam in a day

Our last day in Holland was spent walking around Amsterdam enjoying the city life. We got up bright and early to get to the famous Amsterdam Central Station around 9am. After researching, we couldn’t believe that the station was built in 1884 on three artificial islands and is supported by 30,000 pilings (poles)! The building is massive and is the one featured in the photo above.

After leaving the station we quickly realized it was very quiet along the streets considering this was a city. It turns out nothing in Amsterdam is really open until around lunch hour. This was great for us though as we walked through the city taking in the beautiful architecture of old slanted Western Church and Canal in Amsterdambuildings. We also walked all along the canals admiring all the houseboats with few other tourists around, just the locals. If you want to see inside a houseboat there is a houseboat museum on Prinsengracht street, however it is not open until 11 and only on specific days. Check the schedule if you really want to see this. The museum goes over the lifestyle of living on a houseboat and the many questions tourists like us have about temperature inside, electricity and where does the waste go for example. This area of Amsterdam is called Jordaan, known for its art and culture with Westerkerk (western church) as its landmark on the edge of Jordaan. It is pictured in the background of the photo with the houseboat to the left on Prinsengracht street. This church is where Rembrandt was buried, as he grew up in this area of town back in the day when it was considered the slums.

Royal Palace AmsterdamThe best way to see Amsterdam in the day is to walk everywhere. You’ll be amazed by the things you find, and can use the Dam Square, the center of Amsterdam as your starting point. Here the Royal Palace is located and the national monument memorial from World War II. The building itself was initially built as the city hall and was the largest secular building in Europe during the 17th century. It was also built out of white stone! Hard to believe when looking at the photo.

We walked through the floating flower market on Floating Flower Marketthe Singel canal. All the flowers and other gardening tools are on display in these floating barges. From the side you can hardly tell that they are on water! The market opened in 1862 as all the flowers were brought in by boat through the canals. Today they are mostly brought in through a van.

If you walk down Stadhouderskade street you will go past the Heineken Experience as well as the Rijksmuseum. If you want to go to these both you will need more then a day. We just walked by the buildings as they are a sight themselves. The Heineken Experience, besides being in aHeineken Building Amsterdam huge warehouse that takes up an entire block, also has a section of the experience viewable from the street. As you can tell in the photo I couldn’t even get the full building in one frame! The Rijksmuseum is still under renovations and almost in its final stages to re-open in April 2013. With the new renovations you can follow a chronological sequence of 80 galleries, 8,000 works of art and objects that tell the story of 800 years of Dutch history, from the Middle Ages to the present day. If you want to visit this museum you will need almost a full day.

It’s interesting the things you find in Amsterdam…and smell…and see. Our favourite was the number of tiny vehicles just sitting on the sides of pathways or canals. We found these two little ones to the right. ApparenSmall Vehicles in Amsterdamtly you are allowed to drive these vehicles without a license. So all is good in Amsterdam if you fail your license too, you can still operate just a smaller vehicle. Sure it wont go as fast but you still get to drive on the streets!

Clearly there is a lot you can get done in Amsterdam in a day. This post is long already but we also went through the Red Light District, saw an old castle/church in the middle of town that is now a restaurant and went through some street markets. The best way to experience Amsterdam is to just walk through the streets and you’ll be amazed at what you will see, find and smell.

Traditional Holland

Countryside roads, windmills and old school towTraditional Clothing of Volendamns are where you need to go in order to experience the true historical culture behind Holland. Volendam is a village north of Amsterdam and does just that. This town is known for two things, their fishermen and their musicians. Time stood still in this town as six centuries worth of character in the homes surrounding the town have been preserved throughout the years. The houses are all squished together with matching paint. There are tiny pathways around the canals throughout the town making it confusing to be aware of what direction you are walking in. Here we had the photo opportunity of the year to dress in the traditional folk clothing of the town. This folk clothing is still worn by some of the locals today and each town will have their own “style” of folk clothing as part of their identity and association to the community. David and I dressed in the local Volendam style of folk clothing for our photo moment, he really pulled it off well!

The second town we visited was Marken. This town was separated from the mainland after a storm in the 13th century leading to the town’s close and isolated history as a community. The majority of the peoplClogs in Markene on the island were also fishermen, just across from Volendam. All the homes here were built on stilts as the town experienced frequent flooding until they built the dike that attached the community to the mainland again in 1957. After the dike was built, they filled in the empty spaces under their homes with additions, giving them more room. The houses in here are so close together some of them are only accessible by foot. Here we also visited a clog factory. Unfortunately, we missed the demonstration, but the building was filled to the top with every size of clog you could imagine. We then stopped for a drink and some poffertjes at the only open cafe in the town. It has been owned and operated by family members since 1903!

Our final true Holland experience was visiting some traditional windmills used to pump lake water in the Land of Leeghwater. If you are real windmill lovers I recommendWindmills going before October as they all close down for the winter starting in November. We still were lucky enough to see this water windmill just before dark and from the bridge you could see how much water just one windmill can move. These windmills were in Schermer and there were 3 of them all really close to each other. The craziest part about this area of Holland is knowing that all the land here is reclaimed land and people are living and working in places that lie as much as 12 feet below sea level.

Christmas Town of Valkenburg

Valkenburg is Holland’s Christmas town that exceeded all of our expectations and is well worth the scenic drive through the country if you’ve got the time. The town is right at the bottom of Holland between Germany and Belgium. Valkenburg is just as interesting below ground as it is above, with Roman history from over 2000 years ago surrounding the town. Today we visited 3 caves and the ruins from Valkenburg Castle with surprising findings from each.

The two caves, Velvet Cave (Fluweelengrot) and Municipal Cave (Gemeentegrot) 18th Century Church in Valkenburghad Christmas markets throughout the tunnels underground, all dressed in lights and Christmas decor. Within the Velvet Cave were many murals along the walls as well as an 18th century chapel (pictured right). This secret chapel was during the time Napoleon closed down all the churches and forced Roman Catholic priests to swear allegiance to France. If they did not, they were exiled. Another highlight of this cave is the honour of the U.S. soldiers during World War II who came to Valkenburg to serve. They discovered local and Jewish people who had been hiding in the caves during the war and their names are carved within the cave with the date.

The mining of Velvet Cave began in 1050, the same time the construction of the castle started. Builders used the mCastle Valkenburgarlstone from both caves to build, and because of this many secret passageways and tunnels run over five kilometers underneath the town. David had to hold himself back from hopping the fences and gates to see where all the staircases and tunnels were headed. The Valkenburg Castle (Kasteel Valkenburg) is the only elevated castle in all of Netherlands and has been taken over and destroyed so many times throughout history it would take a full blog post. It’s well worth the 4 euros to walk around and you can look over the entire town.

The third cave we went to was Wilhelmina Cave where Europe’s largest Nativity Scene in Wilhelmina Cave Valkenburg sand sculpture Nativity Scene is displayed. The scene measures 30 meters wide and 6 meters high! As you walk through the cave the sand sculptures illustrate the Christmas story and highlights its importance. In the picture on the right you can see the lit up town of Bethlehem all carved out of sand as well as the manger scene.

After an almost 3 hour drive back home we reflected on the day and realized we not only saw some of the most unexpected scenes throughout the day in the caves and ruins but also had some of Holland’s greatest foods! Pictured at the beginning of the post is a girl making Poffertjes in style. Later on we also had a waffle with REAL whipped cream and then had some fries and sauce as well for lunch. Don’t worry though, we got a vegetable on the drive home to eat for dinner to stay “healthy”

 

Sinterklaas in Alkmaar

Today we went to our very first Sinterklass parade in the town of Alkmaar. We were considered “one of the lucky kids” who got to meet Sinterklaas face-to-face and sing the SinterklaasSinterklaas in Alkmaar Kapoentje song for some Pepernoten. Pepernoot is like a poofed up ginger snap cookie only bite size. I think Sinterklaas was impressed with my dutch as you can see in the photo to the right. David and I had all the right connections for this as our very good friend, Cleo, was also dressed as one of the many Pieten throughout Alkmaar with VIP access to Sinterklaas.

Sinterklaas was the first dutch tradition Cleo had taught my family when she was an exchange student staying with us in Canada 12 years ago! She taught my sisters and I the Sinterklaas song, we placed our boots by the fire and on December 5th we got a chocolate letter, some pepernoten and some other sweets from Holland. This was my first time seeing the actual parade and I know my sisters would have loved it so we caught Sinterklaas arriving on the boat from Spain on camera for you to watch.

Alkmaar CheeseAfter the Sinterklaas celebrations we wandered through the streets of Alkmaar. Alkmaar is Holland’s cheese town with plenty of shops like the one pictured with cheese stacked right up to the ceiling. The cheese market in Alkmaar is known for weighing cheese as early as 1365 right in the center of the town. The center of the town is pictured in the photo featured at the start of the post. Unfortunately the cheese market is a summer only event but on the bright side this just means we will have to visit Cleo and Holland again in the summer months :)

Mini-Holland or Madurodam

If you only have a few hours to visit Holland you can see the entire country at Madurodam in half a day! This interactive miniature replica of the country tells the unheard stories of Holland’s famous buildings from the miniature replicas of the people who lived and worked there. You can weigh yourself in cheese, save a village by operating the Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier and sail some boats through the locks near some windmills. Cleo and I were even lucky enough to catch a live Golden Earing concert! Click on video below.

We also collectively put out a boat fire. Click on video below.

There were tons of market replicas selling flowers, fish and of course cheese. Here we learned about where the term “cheese heads” for a national nickname even originated from. In short, the Dutch used to use the shell from their cheese as a helmet when others would attack. Some of the scenes you find throughout Madurodam include an attempted burglary at The Rijksmuseum, Troonrede (where the Queen speaks at parliament about the state of the country) and the world renowned Sinterklaas parade in Amsterdam. The amount of detail throughout Madurodam is amazing and for such a small country there certainly is a lot to see!

After walking around the entire country we went to Castricum Aan Zee (the beach). The dunes are unbelievable and walking paths run throughout them. We sat in a restaurant right on the beach with a hot drink by the fireplace and some cheese fondue for dinner. Life is good on our first day in Holland!Castricum Aan Zee