A Day In Utrecht, the Netherlands

Saturday was spent the day exploring Utrecht.  If you read my blog lately, you know I’ve been taking some day trips around the major cities in the Netherlands and enjoying all that they offer.  Over the last couple of months, I’ve visited Den Haag/Scheveningen, Delft, and Rotterdam  I’m working on a post about Den Bosch considering it’s where I live – just not yet complete as I want to add more photos, etc.

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After spending the day in Utrecht I’m ashamed to say I never gave it the credit it truly deserves.  I mean I have a sister-in-law and partner who went to school there and live there now for years with their two kids, but we only visit their home when we go so I don’t know the city intimately.  Once we stayed at the Grand Hotel Karl V which was an amazing weekend but the visit was so long ago [1999 or 2000?].  So I don’t remember too much about the city apart from playing games in the cave, having a lot to drink, eating sushi and bowling and it being a really nice hotel.

Seriously, it’s a great city and I look forward to going back and exploring more.  We didn’t get to see everything and would like to visit some museums, wander around more beyond the main streets.  It has a very charming old town feel and at times when you walk it feels quaint, but Utrecht is actually the fourth largest city in the Netherlands with a population of almost 350,000 it is pretty big.  It is also home to Netherland’s largest university and has the energy and youthfulness of a college town.  With its canals and street cafes, it has the look and feel of a smaller, less crowded version of Amsterdam – which I like!!

Utrecht has a small walkable compact city center.  Just a few minutes from the central station we were at the major historical highlights including St Martin’s Cathedral and Dom Tower.

OUDEGRACHT

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We spent the afternoon wandering through the city center of Utrecht. Since it is so compact, it doesn’t take long to explore the area.  Stopping in a few shops to take a look.

Oudegracht is among the oldest canals in the Netherlands and was dug out during the Medieval period. A system of underground wharves eventually developed along its edges – many of which have since been converted into cafés, stores or homes.

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WALKING TOURS
Like most large cities, you can book walking tours via the VVV.   Or you can check out  Utrecht Free Tours and Free Walking Tours Utrecht which are independent guides – and of course, while optional, they are really tip-based tours and tips are greatly appreciated at the end. Sure they are called free, but these people are doing this for a job not just for fun.   For a while, all these tours were canceled due to corona but they are back on just in a more limited capacity.    We say several happening during the day.    You can always follow your own tour, at your own pace using GPSMyCity where you can find a few different options for Utrecht.   I’ve also started looking at a new one Walk the City phone app.  Some are free and others cost  €1.09…. google is your friend.

It’s hard not to notice but the Dom Tower dominates the skyline, sitting right in the medieval center of town. Two main canals run through the city center, Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht. An ancient moat still surrounds the medieval city center, a remnant of Utrecht’s long history.  We didn’t get outside the main few streets to explore the ancient moat but in the future, it could be fun.

A  unique experience to have in Utrecht is to have a meal or a drink in one of the atmospheric cellar restaurants.  A lot of the buildings in the city center date back to medieval times. Hundreds of years ago, a portion of the Rhine River flowed right through the city, making this a very important spot for trade. During this time, a wharf system was built along the canals, and these platforms that exist today are now home to cafes and restaurants.   I even think some are terraces which go with houses above – so instead of a balcony, you have an area to sit out on the wharf – quite unique.   You can see what I mean in these photos.

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SEE UTRECHT BY BOAT

There are several different options for renting your own boat – but GreenJoy seems to be the most economical option at €30 per hour for an electric boat.  I did a check to see if there was any space but totally sold out on Saturday.   Clearly requires some planning ahead but with the Dutch weather, you never know.    I can be wearing a leather jacket and boats one week in July and a bathing suit flip flops the next.  I guess the minute you see a good forecast for the upcoming week, book a boat of your liking!

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Screenshot 2020-07-16 at 09.49.31There were some characters on the water for sure.   Check out these two ladies – one on a pink flamingo.  A boat full of 20 somethings rocking the boat having a lot of fun and a lot of beers.  There were small inflatable dinghies to some pretty large boats – even a dinner boat which is “romantic and nice if you are around the age of 85 :)”

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GUIDED BOAT TOURS

There is also a larger tour provided by the Shipping Company Schuttevaer. They offer excursions, hop on & off tours covering the unique canal system of the medieval city of Utrecht. While it’s nice in the winter and colder days to have covered boats with heating systems but during the nice weather,  I love an open-top boat without windows.    Anyway, their guided boat will tell you all about the hidden beauties of the city and about the historic and modern places of interest. Utrecht has a unique character with its terraces along the canals, the old center with its many churches, and the beautiful parks along with the encircling defensive canal system (Singles).

Prices are €13.95 for adults and €9.95 for kids under 14.   Booking online is required.

KAYAKING

If you are feeling adventurous you can even rent a kayak and paddle along yourself along the canals.  I’m sure it’s lovely but seriously this is nothing for me.  But we saw tons of people doing this and then it was funny when I recognized some of them walking around the city later.

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Being a student hub and a large city, there are a TON of bars to visit here and I’m not sure of the best ones as I’m only a tourist myself but I read about a few and we had some drinks.   Not sure where but I assume you can rent SUP’s too… there were some going around – but maybe they were their own.   One woman on a SUP had a shirt on and the backside read “hire me”.

Update: Hours after posting this – I got a “suggestion” on Facebook from DagjeSuppen.nl which happens to offer SUP rentals in Utrecht  – interesting, right!? 🙂

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STADSKASTEEL OUDAEN

Part of the Stadskasteel Oudaen brewery are two outdoor options is a terrace on Oudegracht and the unique terrace on the wharf outside the brewery, where you can enjoy a drink or have a bite to eat.  We wanted to have a drink here but there were no spaces outside.  I’m sure it would have been equally nice inside as the building itself as it looked lovely but the weather was too nice to be inside.   Instead, we had a beer at the terrace next door – Basis – which was super basic – only bottled beers.   It’s typically a techno nightclub but with corona, they cannot pack them in, so they have had to cancel all their DJs & events and that is why it was so simple.  Hopefully, they stay afloat.

BELGISCH BIERCAFE OLIVER

This is a beautiful bar/restaurant in a former hidden church, dating back to the Dutch “Reformation” period when public Roman-Catholic gatherings were forbidden. Although the ban was lifted in 1853, the church remained hidden behind a regular domestic entrance ever since.   They have a nice menu with typical food like mussels and fries and of course, nice beer!

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On the way back to the station, we stopped in for a beer at the bar.   Not sure how the guests eating feel about this but there was a cat walking around.    Most people were having dinner when we arrived but there were some stools at the bar so it was an option for us to just have a beer.    Absolutely a place I’d visit again.

FAK – FRENCH ASIAN KITCHEN
Originally we wanted to have dinner at the Streetfood Club but there we no spots available instead of outside, so instead, we had dinner at French Asian Kitchen a place which was recommended.  The food was good – we had a sharing platter which came out with a flaming candle.

Also something called Trump Gambas which were a few large shrimps on skewers.

On the top was cotton candy wrapped around crazily as if it was his “hair”.  We both found the sugar too sweet but the shrimp were good and a funny idea.

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Credit: Cityguys.nl

DOMPLEIN TERRACES
On the corner just outside the Dom gates is the Dom Plein and there are about four cozy terraces – and we had a drink there.   The place we had a beer at on the corner – Domplien 20. The place is new – before it was called the Brasserie Domplien but it’s now called Bada Bing – I only remember that as I looked at their menu and remember saying that is what the bar in the Sopranos was called.

DOM TOWER

A trip up Dom Tower makes a good afternoon activity and the highlight of our afternoon. For one of the best views over the city, climb the 465 steps to the top of the tower.  Now there is even an ELEVATOR on the outside – and it takes 3 minutes and perfect for old poeple who would never otherwise be able to take the trip up the staair but that is the fun of the adventure!!  From the top, you can see Amsterdam and Rotterdam and a clear day.

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Important Note: Currently the Dom Tower is undergoing restoration work. Scaffolding surrounds the ENTIRE tower but because of this, they built a higher platform above the tower.  So yes you do have a fence around your view, but you can still enjoy the view and can continue taking advantage of the tours offered.  Unfortunately, the magical photos of Utrecht with the Dom are not possible until after 2022 when the renovations should be complete.

Dom Tower is the tallest belfry in the Netherlands and is 112.5 metres (368 feet) in height.  It started out as a Roman fortress right where this tower stands today. In 1382 the Dom Tower construction was completed. Since that time, it has survived a tornado, religious upheavals, and centuries of European history.

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The Dom Tower was originally part of the Cathedral of Saint Martin, also known as Dom Church. The Cathedral’s nave was never fully completed and in 1674 a tornado destroyed this part of the cathedral left the Dom Tower a free-standing tower as it is today. Upon completion in 1382 the tower stood 109 meters tall. During restorations in 1910, its height was increased to 112.5 meters where it stands today.

The Dom Tower can only be visited on a tour.  There were some extra rules with Corona in place but all were common sense.   You had to book your tickets online in advance and they were selling out quickly so we bought ours on Thursday.   Also, you had to put all your bags and possessions in the free lockers at the VVV center but I did bring some water with us as I thought we’d need it.  After all, I knew in advance we were going to climb 465 steps to get to the top.  I knew there were some resting points along the way.

The following information is from the English sheet provided at the Dom visitor information center.  They have it translated into several languages for their non-Dutch speaking guests.

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St. Michael’s Chapel (11m / 36 ft). The chapel was originally built as the private chapel of the Bishop of Utrecht. This room is more than 700 years old and had walls covered with white paint and carpets on the floor. Nowadays the chapel is mainly used for wedding ceremonies, festivities, lectures and dinners. The floor has an internal heating system since 1929. In the arched roof, you see a hatch, which can be opened and through which materials can be hoisted up. Similar hatches exist on every floor in the tower.

Egmond’s Chapel (25 m / 82 ft). Until 1901 the tower guard took residence here with his family in a wooden house, built inside this room. The tower guard was responsible for the maintenance of the bells and the clockwork and kept the tower clean. Also, part of his house was used as a café which the tower guard exploited to earn extra income. After the tower restoration in the years 1901-1931 the tower guards home disappeared and the guard did not return. On 1 August 1674, a hurricane-ravaged the city and besides destroying hundreds of buildings it also destroyed the main nave of the church. The tower remained practically undamaged. It was not until 1826 that the ruins of the main nave were cleared, and since then, the tower and church have been separated from one another by what we now know.  From the look-out, at 70 metres the remaining part of the cathedral is visible in the pavement.

Belfry (49 m / 161 ft). This room is the domain of the bell-ringers. For centuries these bells were (and still are) the voice of the tower. The 14 bells, all of them together weigh over 31,000 kg, are the heaviest set of bells in the Netherlands and second heaviest of Europe, after the set of the Dom of Cologne in Germany. In the centre of the room, you’ll see the largest bell ‘Salvator’. Weighing 8,227 kg, this bell is the heaviest one in the collection. The seven oldest bells (you can recognize them by their clappers shaped as apple cores) are the most remarkable. They are more than 500 years old. The other seven bells (with lollipop-shaped clappers) date from 1982. The bells are made of bronze. The ringing of the complete set of bells only occurs a few times a year and 26 people are needed to ring the complete set. Bell-ringing is a trade that you can learn under supervision of a master bell-ringer. The bells are still rung for services in the Dom Church and special holidays like Christmas, New Year, Easter and King’s Day.

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The Lantern (70 m / 230 ft). The carillon you see here has 50 bells and the oldest are more than 350 years old. This is the musical instrument of our city’s carilloneur Malgosia Fiebig. She sits behind a keyboard with wooden keys in the cabin you see at a height of 80 m (262 ft), right above the largest bell. The wooden keys of the keyboard are connected to the clappers inside the bells. The carilloneur plays a wide range of music and you can hear her play every Saturday from 11- 12 hours. The mechanical playing drum (1669) plays a melody every 15 minutes. Spire (95 m / 312 ft). You have climbed 465 steps!

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Photo credit: wiki

On top of the spire, you can see the weather-vane, which is shaped like St. Martin sharing his robe with a beggar. The spire and weather-vane of the Dom Tower are together 17, 32 m high.

As we were two of the last to go up – we didn’t go into the Lantern room at all rather our guide just sent us up the remaining nearly 200 winding steep steps to the top to take in the view first before sending up the other 20 or so right behind us.  I suspect most people find climbing the last section of stairs to the top is the most brutal.  It was dark, narrow with long spiral stairs that seemed like a never-ending climb.  There were no real handrails and the steps were very warn so a bit slippery.   Obviously, you should be wearing proper footwear so should you find yourself in flipflops, I’d suggest you NOT do the climb.

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Occasionally there little things on the wall to hold onto but in general, you are on your own and just have to take your time keeping your hands on both walks you will be fine.  Going down was the same thing – it just felt like a long winding never-ending trip down but we went carefully one other couple was in front of us so it felt fine.

On and the belfry floor (the one with the bells) it could be very cold and windy had it not been summertime so if you are going during the fall, I suggest wearing a coat.  They did put up plastic on the windows but you could hear it whipping. I’d hate to have rowdy kids right behind me going down but the view at the top was well-worth the climb.

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I’m already looking forward to climbing future towers here in the Netherlands as it’s something I’ve never done before and when we got to the top it wasn’t scary like I thought it was going to be.   Perhaps climbing St. Jan here in Den Bosch is the next being so close and it’s only 43 meters high.

Hours: Noon to 5 pm daily
Cost: €10 for adults; €5 for children 4 to 12 years old.  The lift option is €17 per person.
Website: www.domtoren.nl/en

ST. MARTIN’S CATHEDRAL

St. Martin’s Cathedral (Dom church) is located next to the Dom Tower.  The first stone of the Cathedral was laid in 1254. In the years that followed, the Cathedral was Catholic until 1580, then Dutch Reformed until 2003, when it became part of the Protestant Church.

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The interior is typical of Dutch churches — stark with neutral colors and little ornament. This aesthetic is due to the Iconoclast Fury of 1566, when Calvinists across the Netherlands stripped the churches of statues and other representations of Christ, as these were thought to be idol-worshipping.  You can see signs of the destruction in hidden corners of the church.

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Entry is free to but a suggested donation of €2 is appreciated.

DOMunder TOUR

History buffs should head to the Utrecht Dom Under experience.  It is an underground space where you can learn about 2,000 years of history right below Dom Square.  You’ll look at historic artifacts with an interactive flashlight that activates stories and animated films.  The 1.5-hour tour is currently only in Dutch and recommends for kids over age 10.   Adults are €12.50 and Students & kids aged 10 & over are €10.    Book online & early – as tickets are limited to six people and sell out days in advance!

PANDHOF SINTE MARIE GARDEN

Between the buildings of the conservatory, you will find Pandhof Sinte Marie (St Mary’s Courtyard), a remnant of the former Mariakerk (St Mary’s Church). We walked quickly into the garden area.  You can admire the 15th-century cloister surrounding the courtyard as well.

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This is NOT the same PANDHOF gardens at the Domkerk which is a much larger and more stunning garden area – which we didn’t go to but here is a photo.

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Credit: Holland.com

RIETVELD SCHROEDER HOUSE

The Rietveld Schröder House is the architectural highlight of the art movement De Stijl. The iconic house was designed and decorated in 1924 by Utrecht architect Gerrit Rietveld, for Dutch socialite Truus Schröder-Schräder and her children.  The UNESCO World Heritage Listed house was a private residence until 1985 but is now open to the public for guided and audio tours. If you happen to be a fan of quirky houses, then this is definitely the tour for you.  The guide demonstrates the transitions between interior and exterior and the clever use of space and light in the house by sliding various walls and pointing out cleverly designed furniture.

Every 15 minutes there are only TWO slots available, so you really need to book online well in advance.  All tickets for Saturday were already sold out when I looked on Thursday.   Tickets are €18 per adult.

FLOWER MARKET ON SATURDAYS

If you are lucky enough to be here on a Saturday, stroll through the flower markets.

The Bloemenmarkt of Utrecht takes place in not one but two locations! Every Saturday from 7.00 am to 5.00 pm, the Janskerkhof morphs into the largest flower and plant market of Utrecht. This is where you can by everything from bulbs to plant pots.  We walked by here later in the day looking for a restaurant so lucky for me, I got to see it.

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At the same time, another flower market is on at the Oudegracht.  But today there were only a few market stalls selling flowers but I was in sunflower heaven! 

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“HIDDEN GEMS” IN UTRECHT

Utrecht has some interesting and unusual things – we’ll say “hidden gems” for the lack of a better world.  I’m sure there are tons more but these are what I found when I did some searching for cool things to do and see when there.

MIFFY TRAFFIC LIGHTS

You already know about the Nijntje Museum, but there are several tributes to Bruna and Miffy around the city such as this super cute traffic light on St Jacobsstraat with a rainbow crosswalk – located just near the de Bijenkorf.

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WORLD’S LARGEST BICYCLE PARKING LOT

The biggest bicycle parking lot in the world is located in Utrecht and is now fully operational.  Here is a video I found on Youtube where you can see it from the perspective of a bike-rider.  The garage, located Utrecht’s Centraal Station, has room to park over 12,500 bicycles, and cost over 30 million euros!   I’d 100% have to take a photo of my bike’s location each time as I would NEVER be able to remember where I left it at the end of a weekend away.   I’m very spoiled here in little Den Bosch – where I nearly always get a spot in aisle 10 or 11 in the lower level.  They say we are creatures of habit – I tend to try and park in the same area.  Imagine what it is like at peak rush-hour when 7,000+ bikes descend on this station?!

Also, the first 24 hours you park your bicycle is free but afterward to pay €1.25 for each additional 24 hour period.  If you regularly use the bicycle storage for longer than 24 hours, an annual subscription can be cheaper – which is 75 a year and you can park on the ground level in the special area marked “abonnement“.   You see it in the videa when the person first rides in.  It was built in stages to allow the station to remain fully operational.  Because of its central location in the Netherlands, Utrecht Centraal is the most important railway hub of the country with more than 1000 departures per day as the station is the busiest in the Netherlands.  (credit: wiki)

SEE THE HOUSES OF UTRECH’S MOST FAMOUS FORMER RESIDENTS 

You can take a walk by the houses of Utrecht’s most famous former residents. The only Dutch Pope, Adrian VI, also called Hadrian VI, originally name Adrian Florenszoon Boeyens, (born March 2, 1459 actually came from Utrecht.  Adrian’s birth home was Oudegracht 265. But in 1517, he gave an order to build the Paushuize (The Pope’s House) on the Pausdam, where, unfortunately, he never got to live in.  We didn’t see the Pope’s House ourselves but we did see his birth home on the Oudergracht.

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Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, the inventor of the X-ray and winner of the first Nobel Prize in physics was in fact expelled from Utrecht University.  Outside is a large mural painting.

Giant Bookcase Wall Mural – Boekenkast by Jan Is De Man

As it’s not located in the city centre, we didn’t bother going over to see it in person but it’s worth mentioning as it’s very cool.

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L’Or FILMBOULEVARD

The Filmboulevard is sort of like Utrecht’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There is a row of plaques (Gouden Tegel) in the ground with handprints (and a pair of footprints of Carice van Houten, who has won twice) of stars who have won the best actor/actress.

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LETTERS OF UTRECHT – THE POEM WITH NO END

The literary creation, called “De Letters van Utrecht,” is being written one character at a time, block by block, one letter per week.

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A kind of “social sculpture,” The Letters of Utrecht is a 21st-century project intended to expend into the 22nd, the 23rd, and on and on… to wrap around the city for as long as its residents support it. The lines are being written by a changing roster of Utrecht’s Guild of Poets (so far there have been seven), the words known only to the next writer’s imagination.

The project was started in 2012, but in order to pinpoint an easy start date, the first 648 blocks were laid out and back-dated to January 1, 2000.

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Since its inception, every Saturday one of 22 stone carvers from a local guild chisels a single letter into the stone has pulled the next stone from the border of the canal path, in order for the current poet to inscribe a letter. It takes months, but words slowly begin to appear, and with each year the verses will continue to wind through the streets.

The beginning of the poem is at the corner of and Lange Smeestraat and Oudegracht (the Old Canal) at #279.   Our first loop around the city we missed this completely…. and then we purposely walked back to find the start and had a chuckle that we were there hours earlier.

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The project is supported by the city, but you can make a sponsored donation of €100 or more and your stone with a character (even punctuation like colons and periods count towards a weekly carving) and number engraved on its face and your name engraved on its side.  With Corona situation, it is currently on hold so we didn’t see the new stone laid on Saturday between 1 & 2 pm – would be fun to see.   But here is a video from Youtube so you can see how one letter is put in before.

The full text, so far, can be found here in the original Dutch.  Roughly translated, in English it reads:

You have to start somewhere to give the past a place, the present is getting less and less. The further you are, the better. Go ahead now,

Leave your tracks. Forget the flash in which you may exist, the world is your street plan. Was there a time when you were another: it went by.

You are the other though. You are, as you know, the spell of this story. This is eternity. It takes. It’s time. Therefore, go into your story and swallow. Tell.

Tell us who you are with each step. In our story we disappear naturally, and only you remain in the long run. You and these letters, which are cut out of stone. Like the letters on our grave.

They burst into the Dom. Raised to the sky like an index finger, to indicate the guilty and demand more time. So we can go up straight, like people along the canal.

Stare at their feet. Look up! See Utrecht’s churches protruding above ground level. Raise the hands, begging with the towers to be this privilege: to be, now. The weather is nice.

Stand on. Life is witness to your gaze on the horizon. Your footsteps connect the past with written letters…”

Each poet is limited to 52 letters a year since they put a new letter out every week.  In order for a poet to qualify for participation, he or she must have published at least a book of poetry or two, and even if they make the cut, their proposed verses must be approved by the guild.

SHOPPING
Like all the big Dutch cities, Utrecht is no different.  They have the main shopping street, little concept shops like Keck and Lisa and all the big shops like de Bijkorf but what they also have is a huge American-style mall which Maebh would LOVE called Hoog Catharijne.

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We walked through from Centraal Station to the city and there was a Primark and Miniso shop – so a return trip here is due for her when it’s back to school shopping time.

MUSEUMS TO VISIT
There are several museums in the area to visit.   We didn’t make it in any of them this day but on a rainy day or during return visit we’ll certainly visit a couple.

CENTRAAL MUSEUM

Classic meets modern at Centraal Museum with collections of design, modern art, and works from the art masters.  The Centraal Museum is the main museum in Utrecht and was founded in 1838.  The museum houses a wide-ranging art collection, including the largest collection of Rietveld pieces in the world so if you cannot make it to the house you can still get to appreciate his designs.  Among the highlights of the museum is the one-thousand-year-old ‘Utrecht Ship’. The ship is part of the collection ‘Stadsgeschiedenis’. The ship was found in 1930 preserved in the clay, near the Van Hoornekade in Utrecht, and was put in the cellar of the 16th-century part of the museum building.   It is €3.50  with a Museumkaart – but I am not sure if that is accurate as I always thought it was free.   Adults are €18.50, kids 12 & under are free, and kids 13 – 17 are €9.25.

SPOORWEGMUSEUM

This railway-themed museum is located a bit outside the city center – but you can walk there or take a shuttle from the central station.   It was first opened in 1927 and is a very popular attraction for train enthusiasts of all ages but especially children who are fans of Thomas the Train – which visits once a year for a huge event like they do back in the states.  On display are a number of collections, locomotives, train cars, trams, freight cars. The museum is split into four distinct sections – Dream Travels, Steel Monsters, The Workshop, and the Great Discovery.  It’s very hands-on and there is an outdoor playground.    I know my kids and both my parents would LOVE this place.  Tickets are €17.50 and kids under 3 are free.

NIJNTJE MUSEUM

As Utrecht was the home of Dick Bruna, the author of Nijntje (Miffy).  There is a museum built in the honor of his most famous work.  While I have never been it’s a super child-friendly museum, perfect for families with young children visiting Utrecht.  You’ll find lots of Miffy stuffed animals, Miffy-inspired rooms, and interactive activities for the kids.  At 12.5 and 10, my kids are too old but I’d say kids 2-6 would enjoy it most.    Hommage to Dick Bruna is scattered around the town with statues of Nijnete and there is even a walk signal.

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MUSEUM SPEELKLOK

This museum will entertain both adults and children with countless interactive exhibits, fascinating history, and a lot of quirks.  The entire museum is dedicated to automated instruments that can play a melody without humans – most of which still work and can play their music.  Among the instruments on display are music boxes, musical clocks, pianolas, barrel organs (including the typically Dutch large street organs which you see in the markets with a guy shaking a jar for coins), and a turret clock with carillon.

Aside from the brilliant instruments and objects, the museum also gives an in-depth look at how these things are created and the high amount of dedicated, patience, and craftsmanship that goes into each piece.  According to their website, you no longer have to book online – you can buy tickets at the entrance.  Adults are €14 and kids 4-12 are €7.50  Free to Museumkaart holders.

SONNENBORGH MUSEUM EN STERRENWACHT

At the historic 19th-century observatory, scientists deciphered the composition of the sun and made the first weather forecasts. Today, Sonnenborgh is a museum where visitors can conduct their own research. Climb the stairs to the observatory and wonder at the starry skies during a Star Viewing Night.  Learn all about the unique building, the stars overhead, and the weather in one of their exhibitions, tours, or lectures. Sonnenborgh was built on a monumental 16th-century bastion and is one of the best-preserved city wall bastions in Northern Europe.  Would you like to see the surface of the sun up close with your own eyes? Visit the observatory for Sun on Sunday: every week, visitors have the opportunity to look through one of the largest solar telescopes in the Netherlands.

Interested in looking at the nighttime sky? Visit a Star Viewing Night at Sonnenborgh. During autumn and winter, you can peer through the telescopes every weekend evening. The program always consists of a lecture, a demonstration of the telescope, and a short tour around the museum. In case of clear skies, you can look for objects in the sky yourself: gas nebulae, planets, or the surface of the moon. The observatory is open for ages 12+ on Friday evening, and on Saturday evening there is a special Children’s Star Viewing Night for children aged 6 to 12.  Note that the Star Viewing Nights are in Dutch only.

This museum is a 20-minute walk from Utrecht Centraal Station but due to corona restrictions, it has limited hours on during the week and on Sunday so we didn’t visit.  But it looks cool and I think the kids would enjoy it.  Adult tickets are €8.50 and kids between 4-17 are €5.00. Entry is free for Museumkaart holders.

MUSEUM CATHARIJNECONVENT

Museum Catharijneconvent occupies a characteristic building in the old city center of Utrecht. The building has a long history going back to the fourteenth century. Originally, it was the site of a shelter for the homeless. In the fifteenth century, the Carmelites acquired the land and built a convent. Later, the knights of St John turned it into a hospital, which it remained until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Subsequently, it served various other functions until becoming a museum in 1979.  Presently it houses the beautiful collection of medieval art in the Netherlands.  Miracles All Around Us is the current temporary exhibition.  Adult tickets are €14. and kids between 6-17 are €7. Entry is free for Museumkaart holders.

Overall Utrecht is a GREAT city and I definitely want to return and explore more both win and without the kids.  I felt like at each corner we turned, there was another square with terraces and cafes filled with people enjoying themselves and the great weather.  If you find yourself in Amsterdam for a few days, take the 20-minute train ride to Utrecht and see for yourself.

Have you been to Utrecht?  Do you have a tip or suggestion of a great place to see and things to do?  Send me a private.

Maeslantkering: Visiting the Storm Surge Barrier

We all know the Dutch are world-famous for many things and one being flood and coastal risk management.  With a lot of the country sitting below sea level you understand why.  They drained water through a system of polders, canals, and windmill-driven pumps… with record rainfall and climate change, they are preparing for the future.  Schiphol is 8 feet below sea level and the lowest part is in Nieuwekerk aan den Ijssel not so far from Gouda.

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DIJKRINGEN

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The Netherlands works with what is called “dijkringen” (dyke rings).  If a dike breaks, only a restricted area – a so-called “dike ring” – would be flooded.  Dijkring 13 and 14 (the 2 provinces South and North Holland with Amsterdam and Rotterdam in it) and are protected on a level of a flood risk of 1 in every 10.000 years (with the current water level).   However, other “dijkringen” in the Netherlands have a much higher risk to be flooded – say 1 in every 1,000.    They calculate how many people live inside an area, how much industry is involved…how important is the land… and they connect a risk factor to it.

1953 NORTH SEA FLOODING DISASTER

On February 1, 1953, there was a devastating flood in the Netherlands as a result of a spring tide and a strong Northwesterly storm with the force of a hurricane caused a storm tide.   The water level was considerably higher than normal and the combination of the strong wind and the storm tide meant that that the water defense system couldn’t hold it anymore and the dykes broke at multiple locations.  Sadly 1,835 people were killed, 70,000 more were displaced, and caused damages worth 1 billion Dutch guilders.

CREATION OF THE DELTA WORKS 

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The Dutch government made it a mission to never allow it to happen again and created the Delta Commission.  https://english.deltacommissaris.nl/  This commission consisted of water experts who had to create a plan to make the Netherlands safe against the water.  As a result, they came up with the Deltaworks Project consisting of 13 ambitious projects designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea building a series of dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers. The original plans for the Delta Works did not include the Maeslantkering barrier because the authorities wanted to keep the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp accessible. However, when it was found that the dykes that were originally planned were insufficient to protect the population and the vital economic region, it was decided to build a moveable storm surge barrier.  This is a great website from the Watersnoodmuseum outlining all the various Delta Works projects.

MAESLANTKERING

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On Saturday, we visited the Maeslantkering – a movable storm surge barrier spanning the New Waterway and allows the port of Rotterdam to be shut off during a major storm.

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Photo credit: Bart van Eyck

HOW IT CLOSES

Before you read this part, I suggest you first go here and see the small animated video about the Maeslantkering [‘Maes’ = the river Maas; ‘lant = land and ‘kering’ means ‘barrier’]

The two moving arms as long as the Eiffel Tower, and each one weighs twice as much pivot with the help of the largest steel ball-joint in the world!  When a storm surge of 3 meters above normal sea level is expected, the barrier will be closed automatically. Incoming and outgoing ships are warned four hours before closing and after two hours the traffic at the Nieuwe Waterweg is stopped altogether. The dry docks that contain the gates are flooded half an hour before closing and the gates start to float. Two so-called ‘locomobiles’ (red things in the photos) move the gates towards each other. When they approach each other, water is let inside the hollows of the gates, and they sink down to the bottom of the waterway.   Imagine the power this storm barrier must resist when an enormous pressure of 35,000 tonnes of water pushes on each of the doors when the barrier is closed (well technically they are not 100% closed – there is an 80 cm gap still.  When operated they take half an hour to swing together over the river and then two hours to sink to the bottom.

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Here is a time-lapsed video on Youtube where you can watch it during a testing– as you’ll see the video is over an hour-long, even on time-lapse, but you can fast forward it.

An interesting factor is that a computer system decides when to close the barrier, and closes when water levels reach 3m above normal levels.  Therefore, the closures are triggered automatically to prevent emotions/politics from interfering in its function.  It is expected to result in a closure roughly once every 10 years.  With 50 years of sea level rise, this will increase to once every 5 years.  So far, the barrier has been closed due to storm surge once in 2007.  Though I also read on January 3, 2018, it was closed due to a major storm but if I understood her explanation the water was not that high, but they took advantage of the storm and closed the structure.

They do however do testing – so once a year (typically the third week in September) they do a test by closing the gates in the afternoon and leaving them closed for a few hours.    Due to Corona, not sure what they are going to do this year, but going to keep an eye out on their website.

As you see here in the photos, during the summer, the docks are dry so they can make repairs.  Come the autumn they add water again, allowing the gates to be closed much faster should it be required in bad weather.  It is also painted white so it doesn’t expand as much in the hot sun.

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Outside are some kids play areas that didn’t seem open possibly due to corona and a small kiosk serving drinks outside and a cafe inside.   There are some steps up to a hill where you can get a great view of the waterway and the massive structure.

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Guided tours are possible in the weekend although reservation is required – and can easily be done online. Guided group tours of around 1.5 hours and are available in Dutch, English or German. These tours also include the site of the storm surge barrier outside the Keringhuis – the small museum is hands-on exhibits – entirely in Dutch.

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After our English tour, our guide put on two movies in English.  She normally doesn’t show one as it was quite “technical” but as some of the people on our tour were very interested in seeing it she put it on.

OOSTERSCHELDERKERING

While we’ve driven over the fascinating 3 kilometers long Oosterscheldekering – the longest component of the Delta Works, we have never stopped at the Delta Experience so that is also on my wish list.   Also nearby is the Deltapark Neeltje Jans which I’m sure would be HOURS of fun with the kids.

Of course, visiting is not a possibility for many so you can also do virtual tours. The virtual tours combine both ground photos and aerial photos – a combination that is unique in the World! The aerial photos are made by hanging a camera from underneath a large kite. These so-called ‘kite-shots’ give you the freedom to hover over the DeltaWorks. By clicking on one of many “hot spots” you can zoom in on places that are normally closed for the general public and not even an option to enter like underneath!

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I remember taking a few photos when going over this loooonnnngggg bridge but I don’t seem to have them anymore.    I also remember so many cycling over it and thinking that could be fun (on a sunny not too windy day!)

If you find yourself in the area, it’s worth a visit and tour to witness this giant technological marvels.  If not, well click on the links above and be in awe.

 

Cafe Dudok Rotterdam

Nearly 30 years ago, Dudok Rotterdam opened its doors in a building on De Meent.  The building itself “De Nederlanden van 1845 Rotterdam” was designed by well-known Dutch architect Willem Marinus Dudok to be used as an office building for the insurance company.   In addition to Rotterdam, they have other locations around the Netherlands including Den Haag & Arnhem.    If interested, you can read more about Dudok and his contributions around the Netherlands and beyond here at Wiki.

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Photo Credit:  Cafe Dudok Instagram

We split a slice of their original apple pie and it was great.  Not too much dough and not too sweet.  They have a seasonal menu serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner including vegan and vegetarian options but we didn’t have anything apart from the pie and beer.  You’re probably thinking beer and apple pie, well it was the start of our weekend, sitting gout on the terrace – yes, a nice local summer beer.

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While we sat outside on the terrace, I went inside to take some photos as the interior and of course the deserts.

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You can take home ready-made apple pie but they also have “Do It Yourself apple pie boxes” which I know would be a big hit with the kids, but I thought not this time.  Not 100% but I assume it’s all the dry ingredients and you buy the apples.  When the kids are visiting Rotterdam with me, we’ll bring them here for a slice of cake.  I’m thinking they’d like to take home the kit then making it just that much more special.  The carrot cake and the chocolate cake looked good too – not sure which one the kids would select – but I hope a variety and we can taste each others. 🙂  I’ll be sure to post a photo when we visit.

 

 

 

Restaurant Review: Day & Day Hot & Hot – Hot Pot Rotterdam

Hot Pot is a favorite among the Chinese. It’s so ubiquitous in China that it can be found just about everywhere – from the very north in Mongolia (where it’s believed to have originated) all the way to the south.  It’s also called “Chinese Fondue”.

After a bit of research, each in China region does it a little differently:  Beijing is known for lamb hotpot in a copper pot, Sichuan for their signature numbing-spicy broth, and the Cantonese region for fresh seafood.    I’ve only had Japanese “Shabu Shabu” – one of the different subsets about a half dozen times in Boston.  The phrase ”shabu-shabu” actually translates to “swish-swish.”  The motion you make when you move your meat from side to side in the hot broth to cook it.   

But for those who live here in the Netherlands don’t get confused with the restaurant chain Shabu Shabu – we made the mistake but it does NOT serve shabu shabu it’s a SUSHI restaurant.  Why they call themselves that is a mystery.

Seriously, whatever the version or edition you call it hot pot or shabu shabu essentially the cooking of raw ingredients into a pot of boiling broth at the table and enjoying it to the fullest is key!   I loved it before and I loved every minute of it this time. 

I once watched a program about a restaurant in Singapore that allows you to first catch your fresh, live seafood, put it in the cooler box, and then you drop them into your hot pot.  Yes, I know many will say that is so cruel – but is it any different than what we do with our lobsters and crab?  Maybe they are asleep in the cooler box like you do with lobsters in the freezer in Maine?  Not sure.  Anyway, here is their promotional video of the show – I still follow them on Insta.   One day if I ever make it to Singapore, I’ll definitely book a table.

Anyway, now you know a bit about hot pot, the rest of the post is going to be about our experience and our delicious food at a specific restaurant we just visited on Saturday night – Hot & Hot on the Goudsesingel in Rotterdam.   They have two more restaurants in Amsterdam too.

Day & Day Hot & Hot

A couple months ago we walked across the street from this place and from a distance, I was like what an odd name – Day & Day Hot & Hot = odd  Not even thinking what it was.  So then I find it extra funny now that here we are enjoying our meal in the oddly named restaurant.

Our table was booked a table at 8 pm, but when we arrived, the only tables available were in the back and it was very hot and steamy.  We’d be literally sitting so close to other couples, we requested a table towards the front.   The issue was that the two large tables were still dirty despite all the guests being long gone.  Maybe it is a cultural thing or lack of experience with the staff, but when I worked as a waitress, we’d never leave dirty tables especially the front.   Newly arriving guests shouldn’t arrive in your restaurant and the first thing they see is dirty tables.  Also, you’d always want to have guests in the window seats.  A restaurant that looks empty is never a good sign.    Their website says AUTHENTIC SICHUAN FLAVOR & ORIGINAL CHINESE DINING CULTURE but surely I’m reading into the second part too much! 🙂

FIRST YOU CHOOSE THE BROTH 

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Based on my experience, I know that with hot pot restaurants you can split the pot where you can choose two or even three different soup bases to cook the food in.  Most people choose a half spicy and half plain stock.  This is great because those who are intolerant to spice don’t have to miss out on the fun and those who like spice and cool down a bit by adding some of the non-spicy broth to theirs.  We chose little spicy and mushroom and it was perfect, but we did need a little bit of help with the menu.

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W On the other side, mushrooms and spring onions. This side is mild and intended to cook your vegetables, but we mixed them up which was so yummy!  Here they had other choices like Pickled Cabbage and a tomato base – but we safely chose “little spicy” and it was plenty spicy for us.    How awful it would be if it was mouth numbing and you couldn’t enjoy it.

SAUCE CONTAINERS

The most popular hotpot dipping sauce for the Chinese is sesame paste. It compliments spices and meat wonderfully. Some places will just give you a bowl of sesame paste, but some places like this place have a condiments buffet for you to create your own sauce!

In the middle of the restaurant are all trays where you can make your own sauce. For example, there is soy, sesame, and barbecue sauce that you can finish with pieces of peanut, peppers, or spring onions.   Unfortunately and not sure how exactly but all the garlic was used and there was no more in stock.   Guess all the previous guests were garlic aficionados.  There is a “recommended recipe” card that you can follow or make your own.  Linn our waitress helped us along with a recommended one which was very delicious.   I used up all my sauce and had to go back and make a slightly different version but my mouth waters thinking about the yummy taste.

FOOD INGREDIENTS

Now it’s time to select the food!  You want variety here to bring out the flavor and compliment your sauce and your broth.  Most people will get one meat, one seafood, one tofu, one veggie, and one noodle or one rice dish to design a complete meal.

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Here you can make it as adventurous here as you want. The menu contains very different things like organs and blood. While I consider myself adventurous, I draw the line too, so we stuck with recognizable dishes, such as freshly cut beef tenderloin, a veggie platter,  mushroom platter, and some udon noodles.  That was plenty of food for the two of us.  Maybe next time, we’ll add is some lamb or seafood but all in all, it was very delicious and we had just enough for two people.

We ordered a beer each but neither of us knew much about the choices so we ordered two different ones – both were good.

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COOKING TIME

The time varies from a few seconds to five minutes.   You are given a slotted spoon and a ladle that you essentially dip your food in and that is how you cook and fish out your food.   Dip it into your sauce and enjoy!  In Boston we always had a bit of corn on the cob which you had to leave in forever, but we never ended up eating it.

Oh yeah, they were offering something new – a grill option.  Here you see a cook grilling some food and the menu choices – but we didn’t get anything.

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So, in summary, we LOVED the food, the waitress Linn was very friendly and helpful in explaining how their restaurant works as it was our first time here.   We’ll definitely be back again – and I know for sure my 10 & 12-year-old would LOVE to eat here too and I will definitely bring him!

Overall we give it 8.5 out of 10.  Surely we’ll be back.

YuGuo is another Hot Pot restaurant in Rotterdam which I saw but due to location and reviews, I went with this one.   Perhaps one day we’ll try the other.  And I’ve been waiting to go to Yuan’s Hot Pot in Amsterdam for a while too.  But next Asian meal I hope will be Korean BBQ at Soul Sista on Witte de With. 

Know a great Hot Pot / Shabu Shabu place in the Netherlands – message me – I’d love to hear it.

 

 

 

A Day Out In Den Haag, Netherlands

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When most people think about tourist places in the Netherlands, they think Amsterdam and the canals and the famous Red-Light district and legalized drugs.  Yes, of course some think of windmills, delicious cheese, famous artists/museums, tulip fields, bicycles, and the Keukenhof, but Den Haag or “The Hague” is not one of the top cities tourist think about when they plan their trips to the Netherlands.  It is often thought of just a place where the boring Government is located.  Admittedly, I never gave the city much of a chance.  Even though we have friends who live in Den Haag and Voorburg for the past twenty years!  I even have a sister-in-law who has lived in Den Haag for, I think, the past eight years.   We just go there to visit the beach at Scheveningen and an occasional stop at one of their houses for dinner or birthday gathering, but I’ve never been around the city exploring in a tourist manner.  So when it was discussed to actually visit the city and walk around taking in the many sites and then head over to the beach for some oysters later, I was sold!!  I always welcome the chance to visit a new place here in the Netherlands – especially with a “local’s insight”.   Well, “local” might be stretching it, but someone who when to college there and lived there for 11 years is surely local enough in my mind and was a perfect guide!

GETTING AROUND

While Den Haag, has a pretty walkable city center, it is easier to take public transport between the center and Scheveningen if you are heading to the beach.  There are trams which go right out there – but we went by bike – OV-fiets!

Map

As the OV-fiets is the easiest and cheapest option, that is the first thing we did when we arrived at the Den Haag Hollands Spoor station before heading off to explore the city – which we did by a combination of walking and bike riding.

HOLLANDS SPOOR STATION

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We didn’t come to Centraal Station but rather the second station in the city and it’s quite nice.   With regard to the history of Hollands Spoor Station, I found some interesting snippets on Wikipedia, written in italics below.

Den Haag Hollands Spoor railway station, also known as Den Haag HS, is the oldest railway station in The Hague, Netherlands. It was opened in 1843, when the Amsterdam–Haarlem railway, the oldest railway line in the country, was extended to The Hague. This line was further extended to Rotterdam in 1847. The railway station was named after the Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorweg-Maatschappij, the company which operated the railway station.

Also, this station has something unque in that it has a Royal Waiting Room which you can see photos here.  Outside of Corana time, guided tours to the waiting rooms can be booked through the Culturele Agenda agency.  The former waiting room at Den Haag CS station and royal saloon cars can be seen in the Spoorwegmuseum, the railway museum, in Utrecht.

BOMBING OF THE BEZUIDENHOUT

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Photo Credit: liberationroute.com

The Bombing of the Bezuidenhout was a MAJOR catastrophe which took place on March 3, 1945.  Just before the liberation, the neighborhood was accidentally bombed by the British air force. The plan was to bomb the V2 installations in the Haagse Bos (The Hague city forest). But the very heart of Bezuidenhout was hit instead of the installations. Much of the neighborhood lay in ruins – over 500 people lost their lives or were wounded as a result, and thousands lost their homes.

A strong north wind ‘blew’ the bombs to the wrong places and a navigation error involving the use of incorrect co-ordinates meant that they landed on Louise de Colignyplein, right in the middle of the residential Bezuidenhout area.  Due to low-hanging fog, the pilots were unable to see where they were and 67,000 kilos of anti-personnel bombs were dropped on the neighborhood.

For those really interested in this topic, you can find a walking route and more information for both adults & children on this website.    I discussed this today with my 12-year-old as he has a huge appetite for and knowledge about WW2, especially the various planes and he found it interesting.

DUNNE BIERKADE

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Photo credit:  Bierkade – Valerie Kuypers

As we were riding our bikes from the station to the city centre, we drove by the Dunne Bierkade is one of the most beautiful canals in city centre. When Den Haag was not yet a city and beer making was not permitted, the beer was brought in from Delft via de Bierkade in Den Haag.  Here, it was possible for the beer to be sold by the beer blenders who lived in the Bierkade, the so-called ‘bierstekers’.  Dunne Bierkade was given its name because thin (dun) or light (licht) beer was sold here.   Today the historical buildings, cozy terraces, and yummy food make Dunne Bierkade a favorite part of Den Haag for many.   Clearly, it was too early to stop and have a beer, but this street was so cute and very much reminded me of Delft and after some research, it was for good reason.  Next trip to Den Haag, I’d love to stop here and have some lunch or at least a beer.  

ADMIRE THE KING’S WORKING PALACE (NOORDEINDE PALEIS)

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Photo Credit: koninklijkhuis.nl

The King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, goes to work most days in the city center of Den Haag within the Noordeinde Palace.  Anyone walking down the street can admire the palace although you’ll know if the King is in if the flag is raised.  While the Palace is closed to the public (with the exception of four weekends in the summer), you can visit the Palace Gardens.

I think it would be pretty cool to see the royal ceremony on Wednesday mornings.

On Wednesday mornings, HM King Willem-Alexander regularly welcomes new ambassadors who come to present their letters of credence at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague. The new ambassador arrives by state coach early in the morning, escorted by horsemen from the Royal Netherlands Mounted Police. After an honorary salute of four drumrolls, the national anthem of the ambassador’s country is played, followed by an inspection of the guard. Inside, the King awaits the new ambassador. Outside the palace, you can watch the arrival of the coach, listen to the national anthem being played and follow the inspection of the guard – always a special moment in the royal city of The Hague.

Nearby is the Royal Stables, but we only briefly went by on our bikes and there wasn’t much to see.   Not sure the situation if you could tour it, etc.  I doubt it, but it was of course, grand looking.

There are museums in Den Haag, with are well-worth visiting.  This time we didn’t bother as the weather was amazing and we had too much to see, but I’ve highlighted a few – but check here for more in the region.

MAURITHUIS

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Art lovers often are surprised to learn that the Girl with the Pearl Earring and the Goldfinch are housed in the Hague rather than Amsterdam.  The Mauritshuis is a museum with over 800 works from the Dutch masters with many Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings.  Be prepared to spend at least a few hours here.   When I checked a few days before, the only time slot we could get was in the late afternoon – so we’re waiting for a return trip back during not so great weather to take in the paintings.

Both famous paintings sometimes go on tour around the world, so check to see if both paintings will be in Den Haag before you’re disappointed if you really want see the Goldfinch or the Girl with the Pearl Earring.

ESCHER’S ART AT ESCHER HET PALEIS 

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The Escher Museum is housed within the former winter palace of Queen Emma along the beautiful Lange Voorhout. The museum is a mix of royal history as well as personal history related to M.C. Escher, making it a great educational experience for those visiting the Netherlands for the first time.   I’d love to come back here with the kids to see all the crazy optical illusions.  The Museumkaart is not accepted but the prices are not outrageously high – €10 for adults and kids vary depending on age.  A family ticket for 2 adults & 2 kids under 15 is €26.50.

PANORAMA MESDAG

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Photo Credit: https://indebuurt.nl/denhaag/gids/panorama-mesdag/

Again, while we didn’t visit today, I wanted to include it as it’s a must-see/do things in Den Haag.  This is a 360-degree cylindrical vista painting of the sea, the dunes, and the fishing village of Scheveningen in 1881 known as Panorama Mesdag. It is housed in a purpose-built museum with the same name.  Panorama Mesdag is the largest painting in the Netherlands measuring 14.5 meters high and 114.5 meters long, installed in its original location.  To view this painting, museum visitors are first led past the (short) permanent exhibition and then up to the observation gallery.   To keep the kids entertained there is a 12-question speurtocht [treasure hunt] available for the kids in both Dutch & English.  The prize is a section of the Panorama Mesdag painting on a postcard – so they can take home something to remember.

Curious? Here is a link to see the painting online and a video on youtube.

The museum is free for Museumkaart holders and €15 for adults.   During CV-19 times, you need to book online to ensure not too many people are inside at one time.

PRISON GATE MUSEUM

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Photo credit: gevangenpoort.nl

This is one of the most iconic buildings of Den Haag and opposite the Hofvijver. Originally, the Prison Gate was an entrance gate to the castle of the Counts of Holland. For many years after, this building served as a prison to the mighty Court of Holland.  Today, the museum showcases the utterly “creative” ways of torture, life in cells – differences between rich and poor, and the stories of political conspiracies.  But it’s not all about cruelty, a significant part of the museum is dedicated to the history of criminal justice in the Netherlands.  You can even have your child’s birthday party here! Personally, I’m not really sure how I feel about that and I don’t think either of my kids would agree to have a party here.

BINNEHOF & RIDDERZAAL 

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Binnenhof, which translated to “Inner Court” is one of the most visited sites in the center of Den Haag and is now a complex of parliament and government buildings and located next to the Hofvijver.   The houses the meeting place of both houses of the States-General of the Netherlands, as well as, the Ministry of General Affairs and the office of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

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Along the Hofvijver there is a statue dedicated to Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt – read the full story of his why his death has always been viewed as a black page in Dutch history here.

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There are lovely views from across the pond on the exterior too.   The small island in the middle of the Hofvijver was used for executions to ensure that people could watch.

The buildings date back to the 13th century although various parts have been built at various points in history.  It was pretty to walk through and we even found a window with this Feyernood scarf so I took a photo for Soren.

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It is the oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use.  The courtyard is open to the public to walk around and is well worth a quick stroll through the historic courtyard admiring the architecture.

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There is also a fountain that attracts a lot of attention for photos.   According to wiki:

Fountain at the Binnenhof, in honor of count William II of Holland. The fountain was donated in 1885 by the citizens of The Hague, on the occasion of a major overhaul of the Binnenhof complex

Every third Tuesday of September, the King of the Netherlands delivers his annual speech from the royal throne inside the Ridderzaal. It is called Prinsjesdag, also known as “Budget Day” because the King’s speech describes the government’s policy plans for the coming year. 

The Prime Minister’s office has since 1982 been located in the small tower in the northern corner, simply called the Torentje (English: “Little Tower”).

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Speaking of the Prime Minister, Mark Rutte.  He arrives at work on a bicycle and often seen walking freely around the city.  In fact, we actually saw him walking down the street, alone and in a t-shirt and baseball hat.  Completely different than what you’d expect from a leader of a major country. 

GROTE MARKT

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The Grote Markt (literally ‘Main Market’) is a former market square surrounded by bars and clubs.  From early in the morning, until late at night you’ll find people having a good time here.   Now that it was CV-19 time, it was less crowded due to spacing restrictions, but you can still feel the buzz.

PLEIN

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Another main square of Den Haag is the Plein.  The Plein is one of the more picturesque and tasteful spots for dining and drinking in Den Haag. Situated next to the Binnenhof, the political heart of the Netherlands, the historic Plein (literally ‘square’) offers grand buildings and many cafes and restaurants during the daytime.

Initially served as the fruit and vegetable gardens belonging to the Binnenhof castle has the feeling of an old town square in the middle of an active metropolis. It’s impossible to miss the contrast between the historical, quaint buildings located on the Plein and the modern skyscrapers towering behind.

In the middle is a statue of William of Orange.

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After work, the vibe changes and it is a very after-work drinks crowd.  It isn’t unusual to see Ministers and Secretaries of State walking round.   It has a different vibe to the Grote Markt.

PLAATS

Located just around the corner from the Prison Gate Museum, you’ll find the historic Plaats square, it is the place to be for the expat community and hipsters.  We had a beer in the sunshine of Jamey Bennet.   Their dinner menu looks amazing, so will add this to a place to return to for sure.  I didn’t take any photos here.

HAAGSE HARRY STATUE

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A statue of the comic book figure Haagse Harry overlooks the Grote Markt.  Haagse Harry is the popular Dutch comic book series created by Marnix Rueb in which the main character speaks a phonetic Hague dialect. With his local Hague dialect and a particular sense of humour, Haagse Harry became the most famous ‘Haganees’ in the Netherlands.

Just opposite the statue to the right was a Bleyenberg Den Haag which has an awesome rooftop bar which I’d love to check out.

Oh yeah, keeping with our traditions, we ate a salad from AH on a bench next to this statue 🙂

TAKE A BOAT TOUR OF THE CANALS

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Taking a boat tour on the canals of The Hague is always an original way to get to know more about a place and its intriguing background stories.  You get a totally different perspective on the city and of course, great photos.  This particular one offers a 75-minute tour in English so that is great.  Also, unlike the Friendship in Amsterdam, they do not serve drinks onboard, but you are welcome to bring your own.  Tickets are available to buy on board. Cash only.  Unfortunately, this company doesn’t make reservations by telephone or email for the regular boat tour.  Adults are €12 and kids under 12 are €8.  There are other boat tour companies too like De OoiievaartWe didn’t take one this time, but during a future trip to Den Haag – I’d love to do it.  While we were sitting on a bench, we did watch a tour boat come by so I took these photos.

Not sure the rules about private boats but it is not packed like in Amsterdam but we did see many kayakers.

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PASSAGE

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The Passage is the UNESCO-recognized monument in Den Haag.  This grand shopping arcade dating from 1885 is lined with upscale stores & cafes and has some distinct architectural features, specifically a domed glass roof.   Truthfully while very pretty to walk through, especially during the holidays, there are really no stores there for me, except the AMAZING shop, DOK Home of Cooking.  It’s there where I bought my vanilla for my cookies – but sadly that is all gone now.

HOTEL DES INDES

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Along the Lange Voorhout and just next to the Escher Museum is the iconic grand Hotel Des Indes.   This hotel welcomes royalty and celebrities when they come to Den Haag.  I read that the legendary Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova stayed in the hotel and died just after midnight in her room of pneumonia in 1931, where the reception area is today.  While we were walking by, there were some cameras set up taking photos of a couple standing in the doorway.  Of course, I don’t know all the famous Dutch actors or even sports stars, so luckily I overheard a person saying it was The Bachelor of the Netherlands.  So here you have it, a photo of their photoshoot.

LANGE VOORHOUT

Also known as the “Museum Quarter”, the Lange Voorhout was historically the street where noble families built their town castles in the middle ages.  Today the embassies of the United Kingdom, Spain and Switzerland can be found on this street along with other things some amazing homes.  The former US Embassy was located on the corner before moving to Wassenaar.   It is now home to the West Den Haag – a contemporary art museum.

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PEACE PALACE

PEACE PALACE

Seeing the Peace Palace and was pretty cool.  It is an impressive building and on the way to Scheveningen Beach  During Covid crisis – it is closed for visitors, but during normal times – some weekends throughout the year and for a couple of weeks in summer, the doors of the Palace open to the public. A guide will tell you about the building and about the institutions housed in it. A tour through the Great and Small Hall of Justice, the corridors and the Japanese Room will give you an impression of the most beautiful rooms of the Palace.  Visitors won’t be able to take a tour when the court is in session.  In the summer, they even offer special Garden Tours. I also read that “clever visitors” can go observe the hearings in the Internation Court of Justice (in French or English) as observers if you get there early on a court day.   Read here all the details if interested.  Keep in mind that the sessions here are arbitrating country-level court cases, rather than criminal cases.  The criminal cases are held elsewhere in the Hague.

Across from the Peace Palace which is all about peace, you will find The Hague War Monument 1940-1945. It reminds the residents of Den Haag that almost 20,000 fellow citizens perished due to war violence during the years of occupation.

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SCHEVENINGEN BEACH 

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Scheveningen – say what?  Yes, I know it’s a mouth full.  Quickly before I go into the details of the beach – I’ll talk about how on earth that word is pronounced.  I still mess it up and cannot say it…  This video you hear a native Dutch person and a whole bunch of non-native Dutch speakers try to pronounce tricky words – one is this one. 

Anyway, anecdotal evidence exists of the name Scheveningen being used as a shibboleth during WW2 to identify German spies: they would pronounce the initial “Sch” differently from Dutch native speakers.  

Okay back to the beach – as planned, we ended the day by taking a bike ride to Scheveningen the lively, somewhat tacky beachside resort only 20 minutes or so from the city centre.   It was a very nice day so of course, it was quite busy with parking and traffic, so it was a great idea to take the train from Rotterdam and ride bikes after our day of sightseeing.

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When we arrived, we started off in the fishing harbor area and then rode our bikes along the boulevard a bit until you had to park your bike and walk.  Which was perfect actually.  We walked by several cool looking beach bars, Sculpture Museum – Beelden Aan Zee, the SEA LIFE Centre, and the grand Kurhaus.

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Which from the beachside looks amazing and has a Crazy Pianos in the lobby.   I LOVED those piano bars back home so I’ll need to add that to my list of places to visit on a return trip back.

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SCHEVENINGEN PIER

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While I’ve been to the Zwarte Pad area many times for drinks & food, I’ve never once been on or in the pier, so that was exciting.  We first walked inside the lower level of the pier where you can look out both sides and view the extensive beach, visit a few shops and have a drink or snack.

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There is even a kid’s indoor playspace – perfect for the wintertime.   Outside they have trampolines set up for the kids to jump (for about €5) and of course, many of the beach bars at have their own play areas so the kids are still within view of the parents.

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Facing towards the sea, on the left you see the harbor, lighthouse & the famous Kurhaus.

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Also is a large meeting room area and hotel suiteshow romantic!

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To the right is the Zwarte Pad where you’ll find even more restaurants/bars – this is the only area we’ve been.

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When we got to the end of the pier, we came to where the adventure area is including bungy jumping, a zipline, and giant ferris wheel.  Nice to watch but nothing for me to try. We then went to the upper deck, where we sat and had a beer in the sunshine for a bit before heading along towards the Zwarte Pad for a walk and find a place to have beer and oysters.

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Afterward, we had a fish dinner at Simonis Aan Zee and went down to the water to watch the sunset.    I am a HUGE beach and sea lover, I could have breakfast, lunch & dinner and stay here forever!   Well, maybe not Scheveningen but the beach – one day I will live by the seaside again.   For now, I’ll just visit as often as I can.

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Here are a few more photos I took during our walk/bike ride around the city.

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Next time we come back to this area, maybe we visit Meijendel.

Do you have a tip or suggestion of a great place to see, restaurant to try, or something off the beaten path to do in Den Haag?  I KNOW there are tons of things to do in the city that I have not touched upon here.  Send me a message and let me know.

 

A Day Out in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam has been a major city for hundreds of years and is Europes largest seaport.  Since the 1300’s the port of Rotterdam has developed and served as a major port of the Dutch East India Company.  If you want  a more in-depth experience of the port, you can explore it by bicycle, or even take a guided tour with an expert who knows all the ins and outs of Rotterdam’s port.  I’m sure Soren would LOVE to do this.  I had already marked World Port Day in early September on my calendar, but unfortunately, it has been cancelled due to Covid-19. 

During WWII, Rotterdam saw extensive bombing and its centre was almost completely destroyed. But after the war, rather than rebuild quaint (as most Dutch towns did), Rotterdammers embraced the chance to go in another direction which was: boldly modern. You’ll see wildly creative and futuristic train stations, libraries with giant yellow steel tubing outside, market halls, skyscraper office towers, stunning bridges, subway stations, and apartment complexes that push the envelope toward science fiction. While there are certainly charming areas and lovely homes there, it doesn’t have the romantic, cookie cutter charm that many Dutch cities have – and that is what I like about it.  Instead, it’s a bit insane, innovative, has an atmosphere like New York City – raw, busy, dirty, very multi-cultural, full of amazing street art, but somehow the chaos seems more organized in Rotterdam. Oh yeah, it is cheaper than NYC and nothing like our little s-Hertogenbosch.  Maybe another American thinks it is similar to another large metro city, but it is nicknamed “New York on the Maas“. Would be curious to hear.

Rotterdam also has a wonderful variety of festivals, museums, restaurants [of every culture- which I LOVE] and so many activities to enjoy. Locals say that while the money is spent in Amsterdam, it’s made in Rotterdam and they boast that shirts in Rotterdam are sold with the sleeves already rolled up.

We decided to do a bit of sightseeing and follow the Introduction to Rotterdam walking tour which is one of the 16 Walking Tours of Rotterdam found on GPSmycity

VEERHAVEN

As it was Covid-19 time and all terraces were still closed, you won’t believe it, but we stopped in Albert Heijn for lunch. I had one of their salads (ha ha) and ate on a bench near a picturesque marina of Veerhaven. You can read here about the history of the marina and of the various vessels who call it home.

There was even a guy on his jet ski flying around the harbor – see the video

ERASMUS BRIDGE

While we didn’t go over the Erasmus Bridge this time, I couldn’t resist talking a few photos of this impressive, world-famous bridge from the ‘Ze Hielden Koers’ park.

Designed by Ben van Berkel in 1996, this suspension bridge, which is an icon of Rotterdam, is nicknamed the Swan due to its large upright mast that resembles the neck of a swan.  It is 800 meters long and links the northern and southern parts of Rotterdam over the Maas.

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ST. LAURENSKERK

The Laurenskerk or Church of St. Lawrence was built between 1449 and 1525 and it is Rotterdam’s only surviving late Gothic building. After the bombing of Rotterdam in the Second World War, the image of the heavily damaged church and the reconstruction works that followed became a symbol of all that the city and its people had endured. 

Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grote_of_Sint-Laurenskerk

Today, the medieval Laurenskerk stands amid the present modern city architecture. The church still celebrates mass and also hosts tours, concerts, exhibitions, lectures and receptions.

SANTA CLAUS SCULPTURE – AKA- BUTTPLUG GNOME

So you may or may not have heard about a statue in Rotterdam which went very wrong… Well the story is that the City of Rotterdam commissioned a festive sculpture in 2001 which did not fare well with its residents/business owners. A huge bronze statue by an avant-garde American artist, Paul McCarthy, intended to show Santa holding a Christmas tree and a bell. The statue was deemed too controversial! Santa Claus became widely known as ‘Kabouter Buttplug’ – the buttplug gnome – and it’s fair to say not everyone found it funny and it was moved around a few times until it found a permanent home opposite an amazing shop, Swan.

When we arrived in the square and I was amazed by the size. I thought it was going to be much smaller. My intention was to take a photo of it, but two women were sitting on the edge [umm why would you do that I thought to myself). Of all places to sit?] Then suddenly some dude, goes and sits down right on the front of it and lights up a cigarette). How freaking bizarre of all three of them ha ha – but by the looks of him, he wasn’t all there. Anyway, while I didn’t take a photo but my friend Carrie, did take photo during a trip to Rotterdam recently (look even people sitting on him in her photo) and allowed me to post her photo here. So all credit for this photo is given to Carrie – thanks!!

MARKTHAL

Another stunning piece of architecture is the Markthal which was constructed in 2009 and serves as both an office building, apartments and a marketplace. The design of the structure is quite unique with a large semi-circular grey façade and a large windowed section facing out to the surrounding courtyard. Inside is some amazing artwork by Arno Coenen and shows various colourful fruits, plants, insects and flowers. My photos just do not do it justice – a real must see. You can follow them on Insta and see many more photos.

There is an AH which was open, along with an Asian Market (which I popped in to see if they Korean pancake mix which has been sold out in Amazing Oriental here in Den Bosch. They didn’t have any mix here but we were successful later in the day at another AO location and ended up making one for dinner that night! But most of the other shops, stalls, and restaurants were closed at the time due to Covid-19. It is a cool and vibrant place to explore and sample some fine food and drink and worth a stop when in Rotterdam. It’s not the same as the Foodhallen which I’m very excited to try hopefully this coming weekend!! Also I wouldn’t mind checking out Fenix Food Factory but I was told it was closed for renovations and didn’t offer as much choice.

HET PARK

As we walked back away from the Maas, we walked through Het Park which was a lovely English landscape–style park and home to Parkheuvel – the first restaurant in the Netherlands to be awarded three Michelin stars! It was here, for the first time, I saw giant circles painted on the grass. The purpose is to mark where guests could sit ensuring proper distance and still enjoy the park during Covid-19 crisis. I have yet to see these circles here in Den Bosch. As we walked through the park you had great views of the Euromast and some people going down in on a zip line.

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EUROMAST

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The Euromast Tower is an observation station that was created in 1960 to provide panoramic views of the Rotterdam Cityscape. The towers stands at 606 ft and with its antenna it is the tallest building in Rotterdam. The tower features a restaurant, a conference room for business meetings, a hotel suite, and of course the observation deck.  A 360 degree elevator takes you up – and this must be booked online – available every 15 minutes.

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This is the perfect way to see the sprawling expanse of Rotterdam and its ports.   If you are looking for a little adrenaline action you can even zip-line or abseil from the tower! NOTHING for me but I would consider going up to the observation deck for a few photos and maybe a drink.

OUDE HAVEN

The Old Harbor is the oldest harbour in Rotterdam, built in the 14th century. The view of the historic fleet gives the Old Harbour in Rotterdam a unique atmosphere. There is a small shipyard, where historic ships are renovated. But what makes the Old Harbour really special is the mix of historic homes and modern design, and terraces along the edge. Just opposite is the famous White House – Rotterdams 1st skyscraper!

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A couple weeks later, we came back and had a couple beers on a Friday evening at two terraces – APARRT & Stockholm.   The backdrop of impressive historic ships makes the Oude Haven (Old Port, part of the Maritime District) a popular place for locals to meet, eat, drink and dance.

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WITTE HUIS (WHITE HOUSE)

One of the important things you’ll see in the Oude Haven is the historical White House, Europe’s first skyscraper. Today the building is listed as a Rijksmonument. This building is 43 meters (140 feet) tall and was built in 1898 and it has been the tallest office building in Europe for many years. The White House in Rotterdam was inspired by Manhattan’s skyscrapers after a trip to New York by one of the developers and it was built in Art Nouveau style. Visitors were able to use an elevator to the viewing platform at the top floor of the building, which was a novelty during those days. We didn’t go in, but of course, I took photos.

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WITTE DE WITHSTRAAT

So far we’ve visited this street twice for beers and both times I’e had a great time.  The clientele on the street is very diverse.  There is a mixed audience: young and old, artists, businessmen and everything in between and it’s perfect for both a beer or for a coffee on the terrace if you don’t drink.   It has a bit of the vibe of Landown street only cars cannot drive down it so it’s better and safe for pedestrians and being in Europe there are  terraces.    With Corona time it more spaced out, but before that you can see from past photos it gets packed in good weather.  

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photo credit: https://bigseventravel.com/2019/07/7-of-the-best-bars-rotterdam/

Once as it was raining we say indoor at De Witte Ape.   The second was outside on the terrace at Bierboutique

There are TONS of bars with great beer in Rotterdam.   I’ve got a list of places I want to check out – not all are on this street of course – including:

Sijf
Bierlokaal Locus Publicus
Belgisch Biercafé Boudewijn
Bokaal

CUBE HOUSES

Finally, I was able to see the famous Cube Houses up close and personal. I have seen them one time before quickly driving by in our car but this time was great. Well, we didn’t go inside the Kijkkubus (show cube house) as it was closed (Covid-19), but we walked up the steps, into the courtyard were I was able to take some photos and admire their uniqueness.

These cube houses are so unique and are what I think one of the most photographic buildings by tourist in Rotterdam because of their striking design. These Cube Houses were designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom, who tilted a traditional, cube-shaped house 45 degrees and lifted it on a hexagon-shaped pylon. Each of the houses represent a tree and all together they represent a forest. The 38 Cube Houses are all connected together with two supersized cubes at both ends of the string. The houses have three floors with a living space of around 100 square meters. Some residents use the small third floor as their garden. A fun fact is that the cubes do not have any straight walls inside, so this may give a few homeowners a headache when they need to buy their furniture. There is even a Stay Okay Hostel in the Cube Houses – which if you click on the link you can see photos of the rooms. I think for a big city, in such a unique hotel/room, the prices are quite affordable. I’ll be sure to update this post once I visit the Kijkubus.

CENTRAAL STATION

 Definitely one of the most iconic buildings in Rotterdam!!

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Hofplein Fountain

Hofplein fountain is often lit up in various colours. If you’re in the city during an important football match, expect to see crazy fans dancing in the fountain.  I often take a photo of this from the tram or when going by on bike and send it to my 12 year old Feyenoord fan son. 

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Delfshaven

With my rented OV Fiets, we set off to visit Delfshaven.

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Delfshaven (which means harbour of Delft) started as a colony of the city of Delft in 1389 when Delft was connected to the river Maas.  It became an indepent city in 1795 and is now a district of Rotterdam. 

In historic Delfshaven, people used to earn a living with herring fishing and distilling gin. Now you’ll find cozy antique shops, artists’ studios, gin cafés, beer brewers and eateries in the historic canal houses.  It’s a really cute place – just outside the hustle and bustle of downtown Rotterdam.    Here you can step back into late-Medieval Rotterdam, because it is one of the few areas of the city that was spared during the Second World War bombings.

There is a very old Windmill – which I took a photo in front of.  Funny my friends all commented on me – not the windmill.  Anyway, about the windmill. I can’t find too much about it other than it is a reconstructed 18th-century windmill overlooking the water at Delfshaven. It still mills grain; the interior is closed to the public.  I found a shop – De Molenwinkel van Delfshaven– which had I know, I’d have bought something.

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In 1577 Piet Hein, a famous Dutch naval officer & folk hero, was born here.  Hein captured the Spanish treasure fleet loaded with silver during the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and Holland. You can see a statue of Hein and a replica of his birth house – which I rode by on my bike but forget to take a photo.  More of a justification why I just ordered that Hendy phone case on a cord – taking my phone in and out of my pocket is problematic for all the photos I’d like to take 🙂 

Pilgrim Fathers Church

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Another historic site in Delfshaven is the Old Church, better known as the Pilgrim Fathers Church. The Pilgrim Fathers did their last service in this church in 1620 before leaving the Netherlands with the Speedwell on their way to America. After a stop in Southampton where most of them changed to the Mayflower ship, they established the second successful English colony in America. Nowadays this colony is known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. There are still services in the church but you can visit the church between services as well.   I’ll have to ask my mom a bit more about this and if we had ancestors here or only in the UK who arrived via the Mayflower.   I might be totally wrong but there are some ancestors there somewhere, I think from Leiden and the UK.  

Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim

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Directly next to the church is the brewery called Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim, but the few spots outside were taken so we had a beer at a nearby bar on a corner of a bridge.  Cute location but I’m certain the brewery beer would have tasted better than a bottled Wiekse Witte :).

Of course, I just had to share this BEAUTIFUL photo of me taken using Snapchat – don’t I look gorgeous?!  I think so, so much that I had to share  🙂 

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After we had a beer, we rode our bikes over the world-famous Erasmus Bridge – it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.  A stop at the top of some photos and a sip of water. 

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We continued along to see the hotel the famous Hotel New York.

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Hotel New York

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Hotel New York clings to the magic of the past.   It really stands out and something very cool about it.  Originally it was the head office of Holland America Line (owner of the SS Rotterdam).  Keep in mind that at the time it was not a cruise liner but a regular ship service between Rotterdam and New York where MANY Dutch immigrants set sail from here to seek a new life in North America.  A hundred years later, the hotel and restaurant still preserve that distinct nautical theme.  

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We did go inside the restaurant briefly and asked if I could take a few photos. As it was not yet dinner, there were only a few guests having drinks to the front, so it wasn’t a problem.   Most guests were outside on the terrace enjoying the view.   The place is very cool and full of history.    I’ll definitely go back and enjoy a drink (I bet they make a good bloody mary) and a eat a fresh seafood platter from the Oyster Bar.  

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SS Rotterdam

SS Rotterdam is a historical ocean liner from Holland America Line that sailed it’s first voyage from Rotterdam to New York in 1959.   On her maiden voyage she carried the then Crown Princess, Juliana of the Netherlands, to New York.  It was one of the most elegant ships built in the Netherlands post WWII.  

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However, with the growing popularity of air travel, it was refitted to be used as a cruise ship for many years until it was finally retired in 2000.  In 2010 was brought back to Rotterdam harbor and used as a hotel ship.   [There was a bit of a scandal with a housing authority which bought the ship – you can read about it here in English] Today guests can stay, dine, and explore with a tour.    We didn’t do the tour – but there is a short movie about how traveling on SS Rotterdam really looked like back in the day.   With COVID-19 measures, a lot was closed off, but they offer several types of tours which you book at the gift shop – all highlight the ship and all the facts and figures, visits to the steam room, and Captain’s Quarters – perfect for kids.  For the adventure lovers who can solve riddles and work together, there is even an Escape Room onboard too.   

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Clearly, it’s a popular place to dine among the older folks – who were coming on board for a special meal.    While there are a lot of things to do on board, I was most interested in seeing the Lido deck, checking out the view,  taking a few photos and of course enjoying a drink outside.  But the weather was not dry and when it rains, they close the deck.   The view was lovely and it would be nice to come back another time.

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But the staff was very friendly and allowed guests to go outside and take a few photos. Afterward, we had a couple beers in the Ocean Wine Bar.

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Then we headed off to the Foodhallen where we didn’t have too much to eat or drink.  I’ll elaborate when I have more time.   


I took the following photos as we went around Noordereiland

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Do you have have a tip or suggestion of a great place to see and things to do now that things are opening up after the Covid-19 crisis? Bonus if they are FREE!  There are musuems I’d like to visit, a bunch of restaurants I’d like to try….