The Netherlands has it in for us. Maybe it’s because we keep calling it Holland instead of the Netherlands (my autocorrect keeps calling it the Netherworld but that’s a different story), maybe it’s because we’re not cool enough to be there, or maybe it’s because we kept mispronouncing each and every word we tried to speak in Dutch (and insulted them by saying it resembles German). I have no idea, but the fact is every time we try to go there it ends up with someone being sick, and this time around it was my turn.
At least being high on drugs is acceptable there, so I blended right in with my pills-cocktail of all pain medication known to men and that I had in my bag.
This was supposed to be our re-do visit, after the disaster of our last visit in Amsterdam last year, we planned to spend half a day in Amsterdam to see some museums and then head out of it to other places in the country.
Then came the terror attack in Turkey where Hidai’s aunt and niece, who were on vacation, were badly hurt, and the terror attack in Brussels at the same places we visited last month, and suddenly going on holiday did not seem like the best idea. For the first time in a long long while we thought about letting fear win and that maybe we should just stay home. It took us almost a week to finally decide to go (and to not cancel the whole cross-Europe trip), days where we were fused to the phones and internet and the news, days of worry and sleepless nights. But at the end of the day (and after we knew Hidai’s aunt and niece were on the very long road to recovery) we decided beliefs only matter in times of crisis, and we are firm believers in not letting fear or terror win, so we went. We just decided that we also believe that no belief is worth dying for, so we spent most of our time in places we figured no one will want to bomb. That left only car accidents and crazy serial killers to fear, you know – the normal stuff.
It turned out the only thing we had to worry about was me. I had a multitude of problems this trip – first I got us lost on the way from the central station to the car-rental pickup (yes, it’s a five minutes walk in a straight line, and still I managed to get us lost. What can I say, it’s a gift), then I had a sinus problem which made half my face unusable on the one hand and hurt like hell on the other hand (so I spent 4 days eating nothing but “soft food”, thankfully I managed to avoid the baby-food section but I was darn close), and if that wasn’t enough the shoes I bought especially for the trip were too tight on one foot and by the morning of day 3 I couldn’t walk at all so we had to go search for new shoes (which meant I ended up wearing brown Crocs with socks. Because I’m trendy like that).
Like I said, Holland has it in for us.
But we forgive them and come back every time because a) the Netherlands is one of the most aesthetic pleasing countries I’ve seen. Everywhere we went was so well kept, with attention to the smallest detail. there isn’t a hair out of place. Or a leaf; and b) (which just between you and me is more important) they have Hagelslag (it’s chocolate sprinkles that you eat on bread) I know they also have the cheese (we did visit Gouda), and the Stroopwafel (which is yummy caramel syrup waffles) but there is no question who is the winner of the contest “best food in the country”. Hageslag every time. We even got our own box of XXL Hageslag from our hosting family because they found it so funny how much the kids enjoyed them. Apparently you should also try putting peanut butter on your bread instead of just butter and then sprinkle the Hageslag on it, and if that sounds too much, then you really shouldn’t try it my way – take a bread-roll, open only the top and pour the Hageslag until it fills the whole thing to the top. Of course I only eat like that when no one is looking, because it is a known thing that hidden calories don’t count. When I am outside in the world I take a small cup of coffee and one tiny raisin-bun.
It was also supposed to be our test-trip, to make sure we are all ready for our next adventure – our cross-Europe trip, which we’ll be launching in about a week, and our last holiday before the big trip, which will be a lot of things, but a holiday is not one of them (I explained to my kids a long time ago that mummy is never on holiday, especially not when everyone else is on holiday – that is when mummy works the hardest. You can judge me, but generations of Jewish mothers proved that guilt works). On hindsight maybe it was not the best decision to go on a 5 days trip two weeks before leaving your life and home behind. Or maybe it was, because the last few weeks were getting very stressful and all around the house emotions were running free and high. Leaving Berlin, just like living in Berlin, is turning out to be much trickier then we originally anticipated. Or maybe, like Hidai said, it’s the same everywhere and every time and I just choose to forget it.
Because this trip was our opportunity to check our “big trip” preparations, we did a few things we don’t normally do – we rented a car (On the one hand renting a car was amazing – the freedom, the comfort, the ability to carry loads of stuff. On the other hand cars are like sleeping pills for the kids, which made for some really weird sleeping habits), we went from Berlin to Amsterdam by train (and not plane), we stayed with a hosting family, we took the 130L bag we bought to try it out instead of our regular 4 small suitcases, and we planned much more strict schedule, budget and meal plans. And after all that we ended up with a different problem, because you can’t prepare for everything, and the shoe always drops where you least expect it – we planned too much. We didn’t leave room for improvising, or for changing plans, or for less full days. In 5 days we passed through Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft, the Hague, Efteling, Zaanse Schans and Keukenhof. It was just too much. But on the other hand we still have things we wanted to do and didn’t have time for, which frustrates me to no end, especially because we are not planning on going back to the Netherlands anytime soon (after all, with our luck there, it is now one of the kids turn to be sick). How do you reconcile wanting to do and see as much as you can in the little time you have in a place with needing to do other things like work or rest or study? How do you plan ahead but leave room for change and spontaneity? How do you move from travel as a short-term activity to travel as a long-term way of life?
All the details if you’re heading to the Netherlands –
We took the train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Amsterdam Centraal, it’s a 6 hours ride on a direct train with lots of stops and lots of people, so book a seat in advance. It was our first time crossing a border on the train, so we were very excited and even had our passports ready, but at the end the only way to know you crossed the border was because the driver started speaking Dutch and English as well as German and the phone moved us to Vodafone NL. Very anti-climatic.
We rented a car through Enterprise car rental, and picked it up outside the central station (it’s a five minutes walk from the station, next to the Starbucks and the Double-Tree Hilton) they were nice and (relatively) cheap and the car we got was a Honda Civic which was roomy and very low on petrol. We took a car seat for Yon from them, but didn’t take the GPS option because we had internet so preferred using the Waze for directions (the kids love the Waze).
We stayed at the Novotel Suite in the Hague which I can’t recommend enough. We did get a bit lost trying to find it, because we came in with the car and the hotel is in the no-car zone so you have to park underground in the shopping centre and go up, which we didn’t know (it also makes parking a very expensive thing in the Hague – 30 Euros a night). The hotel itself is very modern, in an excellent location (especially for shopping), and has very good and very friendly staff. The room was clean, modern and specious, with a quirky design of the bath being part of the room, which can be seen as weird, but we kind of liked. Breakfast was part of the room price and was rather good.
We also stayed with a hosting family, through a website called HIT International, which stands for Host an Israeli Traveller. It was the first time ever we stayed with someone who is not my parents, and we were not sure how it’s going to be for us and for the kids. It ended up being really great (after we got over the serial-killer paranoia) and we had a chance to see how a real country Dutch family lives, eat real Dutch food, and meet some really nice people. It was definitely one of the crazier things we’ve done, and we absolutely loved it.
We visited Zaanse Schans which is a little village north of Amsterdam where you can see the windmills, and get a taste of old traditional Holland. It is just that the ladders to go up (and down) the windmill are a bit (ok very) steep. It can be a problem, especially if you are already up and the kids refuse to go down (there is a cheat way, but you need an employee to open it). If you manage the windmill, you get to make your own hot-chocolate, eat cheese, and buy some clogs.
Den Hagg was our favourite place in the Netherlands – it had a lovely atmosphere, great shopping, and Marks & Spencer, and we would have stayed a bit longer to explore it if we could. As it was we only had a day and a half, so we did some shopping, felt sorry for ourselves that we can’t stay, toured the central area, and went to the Escher Museum which the kids really enjoyed, and the Madurodam – the miniature land showing all the important places in the Netherlands.
On our sunniest day we went to Keukenhof, to see the tulips. We are not very big on flowers, but tulips are tulips, and especially in the Netherlands, and everyone says you have to, so I bought the tickets in advance online (which is what I recommend because they don’t have a specific date so you can use them whenever, as long as it’s open. If you do that, though, and like me you also buy the parking ticket, don’t forget it and buy a new one at the gate). What I can say about Keukenhof can be summed into three words – do not go. It is nothing like the photos and videos. In real life it is just a really big and really manicured garden where you cannot smell the flowers, touch the flowers or walk on the grass. What you can do is be like every other person and try and find the angle where there are no other persons, and where you can make it feel like you are actually in the midst of a field of tulips and not in a humid greenhouse. It might be that the fact that I was on 6 different pain killers at that time that clouded my judgement, but the kids and Hidai (who were not on pain medication) agreed.
We visited Gouda, which was amazing and full of cheese. We toured the market and old part of the city and mostly walked around the centre of town for a couple of hours. It is very recommended, even with the pain medication, and even though Yon said the best part was seeing a cat. After all the cat sat in a building dated to the 16th century.
We went to Efteling, which is the Netherlands big theme-park. We bought the tickets online in advance (also you don’t have a specific date, which helps) and brought Yon’s diagnosis to show and get the no-queue card. Unfortunately you can only use the card on specific rides, with specific number of people, only if they have a wheelchair entrance and so on and so forth. We got a whole paper explaining it, but since it was in Dutch it didn’t really help much. Thankfully the weather wasn’t very good and the people working the rides were really nice, so there weren’t a lot of people around and even on the rides we did have to wait we only waited about 10 minutes. It’s a nice park, very different from Disneyland or Legoland, mostly because the characters are a lot less “nicey nice” and a lot more realistic or grotesque. Let’s just say the kids did not enjoy the fairy-forest part so much, except for the talking tree of course. That was cool. The rides themselves are nice, and there are a lot of things for younger (or more prone to motion sickness) souls. The best one without a doubt was the Pirana (just be ready to get wet), and you definitely don’t need more than a day for it. Just don’t forget to buy a parking ticket at the exit. And unlike us, don’t forget where you parked your car. “car hide and seek” is not a fun game at the end of a long day.
Unfortunately we didn’t find the Netherlands to be easy or nice for people with disabilities, which was a shame.
We went to Delft to see how you make blue Delft Pottery, in a tiny house where you can get a (free) explanation and demonstration about how they make the pottery, and buy some real hand-made (seriously expensive) pottery items. After spending an hour trying to find one item that is priced for less than 20 Euros, we ended up paying 29 on a tiny urn.
Free WiFi is everywhere, it is very popular and works really well. We used it quite a bit.
This time around I bought a sim card from World SIM, which gives you a British number and the ability to have 3g and phone everywhere for lower prices. It still costs quite a bit, but mostly because we were using the Waze and the Google maps for most of the day (and because I hate being internet-less). They do have data-bundles which I am going to check out next time.