Friday, May 31, 2013

Holland: Weekend in Holland

Dear Daughter and a Windmill - outside Vollendam, Holland

Let's start with a picture.  Holland...cheese, canals, bikes, windmills and cheese.  We wrapped all that into one glorious visit this past holiday weekend.  Late last June, we visited Stockholm and while we all loved the trip, we felt that we were missing something by spending all of our time in the city.  We wanted to see more of the countryside.  So when we began planning this trip, we decided to stay outside the city and travel into Amsterdam on only one day.  In the end, we think it was a great success and fit nicely into our "travel behavior".

As soon as the school day ended on Friday afternoon, Dear Daughter and I were in the car and headed to pick up Dear Husband/Dad.  We were on the autobahn by 3:30 and within three hours, we hit our first destination, Brunssum, Holland. Nothing really to know about the town.  There is a NATO facility nearby and we stayed at a wonderful hotel in town.  After a tasty Greek dinner and a walk in the nearby park, we settled in our comfortable room and crashed for the night.  By the way, did I mention that the weather had not changed...still rainy and cold?

Saturday brought no change to the weather but we were on our way shortly after breakfast.  Our next destination was a touristy spot, about 40 minutes outside of Amsterdam.  It was a small farm and many of Dear Daughter's friends had raved about the farm, the cheese and the wooden clogs.  Seemed like a money maker to me but since it was on the way...why not.  I have to admit, it was a bit of a let down as we drove into the parking area - only to see at least one tour bus parked in the lot.  Once inside the main visitor area, my thoughts did not change.  Wooden clogs hung all over the walls and behind the first room was a cheese making facility.  Luckily, a woman quickly grabbed our attention and took us on a private and very informative tour of the cheese making facility, which had been in the family for years.  Of course, no cheese tour would be complete without a sampling of  Gouda (pronounced GOW-DA).  It was fantastic and naturally, we left with two rounds of the cheese.

Satisfied and eager to move on, we resumed our trip and within no time, we were on the Ring around Amsterdam - the beltway.  After only a few minutes, we took an exit and it seemed impossible to only be two or three miles from the city center.  We had hit Waterland, the area outside of Amsterdam, which consists of marshland and tiny villages.  You could see canals all over the farms and the land was actually inhabited by tons of ducks, sheep and cows.  It was incredibly rural with these lovely little houses dotting the landscape.  The road was incredibly narrow - with only one car able to pass at a time.  Even with my driving, we made it unscathed and arrived at our destination within 15 minutes of leaving the Central Ring.

The Lake House, a Bed and Breakfast in Uitdam, Holland, is owned by the cousin of my former boss.  The village consists of twenty or so houses perched against a dyke.  The houses are tiny and the architecture of each was very different.  The backs of the houses have fantastic views of the IJsselmeer Lake, and the fronts gaze out at a lovely bay.  It is perfect for taking advantage of the sun.  In the mornings, you could have your breakfast with the morning sun in the back of the house and in the evenings, cross the tiny street to the bay - where you had yet another patio to enjoy the sunset.  Our hosts had added a two story apartment to their old farmhouse and it provided us with incredible, private, spacious accomodations.  Breakfast was even included and brought up to our apartment each morning at a time designated by us! This was living!

Dear Husband preparing dinner

We were up early on Sunday morning and headed into Amsterdam early in order tour the city and visit the Van Gogh museum.  Parking is an obvious issue in the city, so we easily took public transportation and were standing in line when the museum opened.  Currently, there is a new exhibition of his work which took eight years of research and planning.  It centers on how Van Gogh learned to paint and it was fascinating.  From looking at his strokes, one could make the assumption that he was a fast painter but the opposite was true.  He developed his style over time and he copied many of the Masters in order to truly learn his craft and hone his own style.  Even Dear Daughter seemed engaged in the exhibit and we all left with our own personal favorites.

Following the museum, we took a short walk to one of the canals and took the typical touristy canal tour.  It was actually quite informative and we learned all kinds of tidbits about the city, its architecture, history and fun facts.  It also gave us a chance to hit some of the major sites quickly.  By the time our tour had ended; however, we realized that the city was becoming quite crowded.  A quick lunch break followed by a short visit to Dam Square and the location of the Royal Palace and we were back on our tram and headed for the countryside once more.  Cross Amsterdam off the list.  It was nice and we enjoyed it but we were eager to experience more of Holland.

Monday and Tuesday were spectacular days with sunny skies and warm temperatures.  The area of the Waterland is naturally quite flat, rural and scenic.  Seated on our rented bikes, we took off on Monday on an ambitious tour.  We left Uitdam along the dyke to the small fishing village of Marken.  From there, we boarded a ferry, which took us across the lake to the touristy town of Vollendam.  After a quick drink, we were off to Edam, home of cheese and a quaint, more authentic town for lunch.  Our return trip took us back to Volendam and into what would become our favorite town, Monnickendam for a late afternoon beer (Heineken, of course).  When we arrived home later that afternoon, we all were in great spirits - having enjoyed the day.  Tuesday was a repeat of Monday and Dear Husband and I were thrilled that Dear Daughter was such an avid biker.  At one point, we lost her as she decided to do her Tour de France impression and took off after an experienced road cyclist!

At the conclusion of every trip, I always ask the family if they would ever want to return to the destination.  Many times, the answer is basically that while we had a great time, we can check it off the list.  When I asked this time, I was surprised to hear each of them emphatically state that they definitely wanted to come back.  I agree.
Now pictures:

Biking along the dyke to Marken, Holland

Edam, Holland

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