Though not the Netherlands’ capital, the Hague (Den Haag) is the home to the Dutch royal family, the International Court of Justice, and the Netherlands’ national government. The Hague is really a short train ride from Rotterdam. But of course when we got there, the normal route was under construction. I had my heart set on still going, so we found our way there though it took a bit longer. To make things worse, it was a rainy morning. But those two factors meant we had the city to ourselves!
Our first attraction was the Binnenhof. It’s a big governmental complex set along a tranquil lake. It definitely does not look like the US Capitol building, but it’s absolutely impressive. I could imagine a king waving to his subjects below!
We continued our tour on to the Peace Palace (Vredespaleis) to see where the magic (… or peace) happens. We took a little audio tour in the visitors hall to learn a bit of the history. It was built with funds from Andrew Carnegie just as WWI was gearing up (peace would have to wait). But eventually the Palace would be the site of some popular international arbitrations and trials, such as for Slobodan Milošević.
The rain stopped after our lunch (two enormous open faced sandwiches at Cafe Blossom) and we headed back into town. We stopped at an open air market. While Reini stopped to listen to a singing pianist, I snuck off and bought a bouquet of flowers. They had the most beautiful assortment there. Unfortunately because we had to fly back to Innsbruck, I knew I’d only be able to take one bundle back with me (or I totally would have gotten the pink ranunculus too!!). Just for 5 euros, my bouquet of white hyacinth must have had 40 stems! That thing was much heavier than I had thought. Thankfully Reini helped me to carry it. 🙂 It did safely survive the flight and when I opened it in Innsbruck, it made 6 vases full.. The apartment smelled incredible!
Anyway, after my big purchase, we headed toward the fun little town of Delft, described as a smaller, more quaint Amsterdam. It definitely is a charming town. We must have hit it on a holiday because there were many costumed people. We never did find out what the holiday was, but I highly doubt that there are normally people dressed as caterpillars and butterflies… We climbed one of the church towers for expansive views. In need of a break, we sipped on a pair of coffees on the deck of a café over a canal.
Overall, our short trip to the Netherlands was really lovely. It’s a small country that you can get around relatively easily by train. We got to see plenty of beautiful flowers, though I’m sure we would have seen even more had we waited until the middle of April to schedule our visit. I hope we’ll get to stop by again someday soon!
Our second stop on our Netherlands tour was to Amsterdam. We took a train over from Rotterdam. First of all, the Amsterdam train station is very architecturally impressive and is in the Dutch Neo-Renaissance style (according to my guidebook). It was built on a series of artificial islands and has over 8,500 wooden piles for support underneath.
The first attraction of the day was to the Van Gogh museum. We got there early to beat some of the crowds (though it was still pretty busy, even at 9:30am). The museum is located in a district with a few other museums (the Rijksmuseum and Stedlijk). We chose the Van Gogh because of the man. We took the “multimedia tour” (with audio guide on an iPod touch-like device with interactive elements) and were fascinated with the stories of the artist’s life. And yes, there was a whole wall dedicated to the ear incident! Reini took note of a couple prints to consider buying for his office.
We stopped for lunch at a bagel sandwich place (mmmm) and then wandered about a bit through the canal lined streets. We strolled through the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market), admiring their offerings, though I had plans to buy a bunch the next day. 🙂 In the afternoon we took a canal tour (because you just have to when you’re in Amsterdam). We found all the house boats docked in the canals to be really interesting. They’re real, fairly permanent houses that are totally floating. Funny story – one man refused to pay attention to all the canal cruise tourists that pass by his home. It was laundry day as evidenced by his line hanging all his clothes… and by the fact that he didn’t have any pants on. That’s Amsterdam for ya.
To get process the sights that we saw on the canal cruise (and to hide from a rain shower) we stopped at a cafe. Man oh man I wish I remembered the name of that place because I had the most incredible sticky toffee pudding and Reini loved his carrot cake. We sat happily out front, watching an older man try to parallel park along the canal. (Note, there seem to not be any guard rails or even stones of any sort to prevent cars from falling down into the water below). We stayed until a bit past dinner time so we could catch some of the evening sights. Then we hopped on the slowest train in the world back to Rotterdam.
While Reini was sick and recovering from his surgery, he was hoping to have a trip to look forward to. I searched around and found that flights from Innsbruck to the Netherlands are super cheap if you time it right. So we planned a long weekend trip for spring to see the beautiful blooming flowers and charming windmills.
We flew into Rotterdam, home of the largest port in Europe. After an easy bus ride from the Airport, we checked into our hotel and beelined to the Markthal for some lunch. We had some delicious Lebanese cuisine and then picked up some sweets to take with us to our next stop.
Reini was really interested in what this “largest port in Europe” claim was all about. We thought it was a bit strange at how far away from the actual ocean Rotterdam is located. So we took a harbor tour to see for ourselves. We cruised around on the top deck of a pretty big boat, enjoying the audio commentary. The port really does seem to be huge. There were tons of shipping containers hidden in every nook and cranny!
We caught a sunny afternoon in Rotterdam and picked a bar on the harbor for some glasses of wine before dinnertime. The Netherlands was having their National Restaurant Week while we were there, so we had to participate for one evening! We went to a fancy Asian-French fusion place, Umami, where we had a 4 course meal featuring caviar, baby squid, and other interesting things 🙂
We really enjoyed Rotterdam. It’s a cool city with modern architecture. And we were a bit envious of their awesome network of bike paths. Innsbruck could learn something from Rotterdam!