Tag Archives: Netherlands

Amsterdam Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Amsterdam?

Keukenhof, Holland, Netherlands

The week that Dan, Clare, Scott and Emma visited was the highlight of our time in Amsterdam and our day at Keukenhof was a perfect start to their stay

Summarise Amsterdam in three words.

  • Canals – the canals and the architecture of the buildings along them are a distinctive feature of the city
  • Bicycles – they’re everywhere!
  • Tolerant – Amsterdam is a multicultural place and the locals seem to have a pretty relaxed attitude to most things, be it the customs of others, the waft of marijuana smoke from the coffeeshops, or legalised prostitution.

You really know you’re in Amsterdam when…

.. there are fresh flowers everywhere. The Netherlands is the world’s biggest exporter of cut flowers and the locals like to brighten up their lives too. Pretty much every cafe and bar has bud vases with tulips or gerberas on each table and it is common to see larger bouquets in museums or shops, not to mention poking out of the bags of ordinary shoppers (much like baguettes in France!).

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Amsterdam?

Something orange to wear if you’re planning to visit on King’s Day!

Koningsdag (King’s Day) in Amsterdam

Our penultimate day in Amsterdam was the 27th of April, which is the Dutch National Holiday called Koningsdag or King’s Day and marks a day of public celebration for the King’s birthday. The centre of Amsterdam is closed to traffic and trams, and almost all of the locals swap their bicycles for orange clothes – it’s bright, fun, crowded and noisy – we loved it!

The Dutch know how to have a good time, and everywhere we went people were really enjoying the citywide festival spirit

The Dutch know how to have a good time, and everywhere we went people were really enjoying the citywide festival spirit

Why orange? Because King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and the Dutch Royal family is of the House of Orange-Nassau!

We started with the nearby Sarphatipark, which was full of entrepreneurial kids running all manner of car-boot-like jumble-sale stands, orange tarpaulins strewn with used toys and worn clothes, others with homemade cakes and some really inventive ones like a whack-an-orange, living statues and the Human Fruit Machine.. from what we discern the latter involved three kids with their heads in cardboard boxes, that each held up a piece of fruit after you paid them!

Sarphatipark, King's Day, Amsterdam

The busy Sarphatipark, full of locals with their kids enjoying the sunshine and the atmosphere. Selling their unwanted belongings was definitely secondary!

Sarphatipark collage, King's Day, Amsterdam

We loved the inventiveness and thought that had gone into some of the wackier stalls, not to mention the bright orange cupcakes! Clockwise from top-left: The first stall we saw in Sarphatipark – get kitted out if you aren’t already!; Those homemade bright orange cupcakes, yum!; Throw a wet sponge at other people’s kids – I imagine that’s easily their parents favourite game of the day!; Fantastic orange headgear like this furry-edged Stetson!

There are some restrictions on what people can sell, anything with meat in it must be from a licensed restaurant to avoid upset stomachs, and alcohol can only be sold from licensed premises though we never had to walk more than a few steps to find a beer!

EDM street stage, King's Day, Amsterdam

Loud music is everywhere from buskers, residents pointing their stereos into the street, and proper public stages with massive stacks of speakers – it must be easy to find work as a DJ in the Netherlands on King’s Day!

As we walked through the streets from square to square, and canal to canal, the soundtrack to the day was eclectic – electronic dance was the most common from the bars and large public music stages, but walking past people’s houses we heard jazz, 80’s pop, reggae, classical, funk, and even a Christmas tune!

Dam Square, King's Day, Amsterdam

Dam Square: the centre of the city was taken over by a compact fun-fair, including a ferris wheel, spinning chairs, a catapult pod and an array of the usual skill games like shooting ranges, dart boards and the claw

Boat drinks, King's Day, Amsterdam

King’s Day boat drinks. I used the ‘Spot Colour’ feature of my camera to pick out the orange and I really liked the results!

There’s also a one-way system in force on some of the canals because long-boat parties are the place to be seen on King’s Day in Amsterdam. Each one had a bar, a DJ, a shower-curtain hoop toilet and a lively complement who remembered to duck under all of the low bridges!

Celebrating with the locals and tourists alike was the perfect farewell to one of our favourite cities of the trip, Bedankt, Amsterdam!

In Search Of Tulips Near Amsterdam

Amsterdam was on the list of places that we wanted to visit before we set off on this two year trip. We even considered starting our journey here by taking the ferry from Newcastle, but in the end we decided that we wouldn’t have enough time to do it justice and get through Europe in time to make the most of the fixed start date on our Russian visas. Amsterdam stayed in the back of our minds though and when we were planning the last stage of our route northwards through Europe it felt like a logical place for our final long stay before returning to the UK. We’d booked our accommodation and train tickets before I realised that staying in the Netherlands in April meant tulips and I got very excited!

Tulip varietiesTulips come in a surprising variety of shapes and colours

Tulips are not native to the Netherlands but were first introduced from Turkey in the 16th century and immediately became popular, so popular in fact that they were responsible for the world’s first economic bubble in 1637, usually referred to as Tulip Mania. Nowadays the Netherlands produces over 50% of the world’s cut flowers and a massive 80% of the world’s bulbs. Keukenhof is the showcase for the Dutch floricultural industry and every year 800,000 visitors from around the world descend between mid-March and mid-May to marvel at the spectacle.

Tulips at KeukenhofDuring our visit in mid-April, most of the outdoor tulip beds at Keukenhof were not yet fully open. An exception was this beautiful display beside the lake

It takes about 90 minutes, but it’s straightforward to get to the Keukenhof gardens from Amsterdam – get the bus to Schipol airport, walk around the corner and board the Keukenhof Express bus straight to the main entrance. We bought the combined bus and entrance ticket from one of the Canal Company ticket offices in the city – at €28.50 it’s actually slightly cheaper than paying separately and saves time queueing at ticket offices on the day of your visit.

Tulip showSquares of tulips in the indoor tulip display

Keukenhof gardenI really liked the mixed beds with their pretty complementary colours

Each autumn seven million bulbs are planted at Keukenhof. Although tulips are the headline act, the garden focuses on a whole range of spring flowering bulbs also featuring a wide variety of daffodils, hyacinths and crown imperials. This also means that there will always be something to see as the different flowers bloom at different times. Obviously the timing is heavily dependent on the weather in the preceding months.

Spring flowers at KeukenhofKeukenhof was filled with swathes of colour (top to bottom): tulips, daffodils and crown imperials

HyacinthsThis ‘river’ of hyacinths smelt fantastic

To supplement the outdoor displays (and provide useful places to warm up on chilly spring mornings), there are three pavilions with flower shows. These change at various points through the season; when we visited one was dedicated to orchids, one to roses, and the main Willem-Alexander Pavilion had a mix of flowers including a wonderful range of tulips.

Orchid show at KeukenhofOrchid show in the Beatrix Pavilion

Multicoloured rosesThese crazy multicoloured roses were part of the rose show in the Oranje Nassau Pavilion

From the windmill at Keukenhof we got a view across a few bulb fields…

Bulb fieldsBulb fields visible from the windmill at Keukenhof

This whetted our appetite for a bit more of an exploration into the bulb growing area, and what better to tackle such an enterprise in the Netherlands than by bicycle! We found a route online (PDF booklet in Dutch but the map is easy to navigate) which started outside Leiden Centraal station.

Nodal point on the Dutch cycle networkThe Dutch bicycle network is marked by a number of junction points from where arrows point off to the neighbouring nodes. Here I am at point number 77.

The ride through the countryside along well marked cycle lanes and through pretty little towns was nice enough in itself but before long we passed through Voorhout and into the start of the bulb field area.

Cycling to the bulb fieldsCycling to the bulb fields (clockwise from top left): Some rather handsome hens beside the path; Julie passing a small windmill; bulb sculpture on a roundabout in Voorhout; Andrew cycling down the main street in Voorhout

Flower pickersIn the first fields that we came to was a group of workers picking bunches of tulips. This is quite unusual as most of the fields here are destined for bulb production not cut flowers

Tulip fieldsTulip fields in full bloom

Daffodil fieldThe yellow of the daffodils is just as striking as the tulips

Bulb plantingWe came across one field where planting was underway

There were a few Dutch people cycling the paths as well but in general it was quiet until the route took us past Keukenhof and suddenly there were lots of tourists on bicycles (it’s possible to rent bikes at Keukenhof and do both activities on the same day).

HyacinthsSometimes you could work out what had been planted in the field the year before as here where there are couple of lonesome tulips in amongst the hyacinths

Us in the tulip field

Cycling through the dunesOur return leg took us through the dunes which protect the Netherlands’ low lying land from the North Sea

Keukenhof was an unmissable day and it was also extremely busy, the day of cycling was fun and felt more relaxed, but we’re glad we did both.

Using the Museumkaart in Amsterdam

Many of the big cities we’ve visited on this trip have some kind of discount card which is valid for many of their attractions. They tend to be a really good deal if you want to tick off three or four big name sights during a short visit. Unfortunately for us they’re usually only valid for 1-5 days and we want to spread our sightseeing out over a fortnight or a month rather than cramming it all into just a few days.

Amsterdam has this option too, it’s called the iamsterdam card and covers public transport as well as entry to attractions for 1, 2 or 3 days. But there’s another option here. If you’re not bothered about public transport (and it is very feasible to walk everywhere in the centre), the Museumkaart (Museum Card in English) is valid for a full year and allows multiple entries to around 400 museums across the country. It costs €59.50 and can be bought from museum ticket offices (we picked ours up at the Van Gogh Museum). It easily pays for itself after 4 or 5 visits as museums here are pretty pricey. In total we used it for €121.50 worth of visits during our month in Amsterdam, saving over €60 per person. Granted we wouldn’t have visited all of these places if we hadn’t had the card but it allowed us to just have a quick look whenever we were vaguely interested.

Here are the places that we visited using the Museumkaart:

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum

You’ll never see as many Van Gogh paintings in the same place again as are in the galleries of the Van Gogh Museum. It’s laid out in chronological order and includes paintings by other artists to show how his contemporaries were working and those who were influenced by him, including Monet, Manet and Francis Bacon. We thoroughly enjoyed it and were happy to visit again with Dan, Clare, Scott and Emma.

Huis Marseille Museum of Photography

Photograph by Cor Jaring“Janus ‘the Polisher’ in café Hans en Grietje”, a 1958 photograph by Cor Jaring

Housed in two neighbouring canal houses the Huis Marseille Museum of Photography is host to a number of temporary exhibitions. When we visited one was a fascinating collection of pictures from a photographer who had visited North Korea, but over half the space was given over to a retrospective on the life’s work of local photographer Cor Jaring.

Nieuwe Kerk

World Press Photo at Nieuwe KerkI loved this series of photographs by Tomas van Houtryve taken from a drone in the US of events which are the habitual targets of drone strikes abroad – thought provoking and visually stunning

The Nieuwe Kerk (literally New Church) is a former church which is now used for art exhibitions. At the beginning of our month here it was showing a video installation by Bill Viola, and for our final week, the winning images from the 2015 World Press Photo competition. The video installations were quite hypnotic but maybe not something we would have paid to see. Whereas we knew we would enjoy the photographs as we saw the 2014 winners in Tokyo last year. Once again we were stunned by the ability of the photographers to capture the story in the images as well as often achieving something jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Museum Van Loon

The Bird Room, Museum Van Loon

After wandering beside so many of Amsterdam’s canals and admiring the architecture of the canalside buildings we wanted to have a look inside one. The Museum Van Loon is stilled lived in by the Van Loon family although nowadays they’re up in the former servants quarters and the house’s main rooms have been restored to their former splendour. It was also nice to spend some time in the small garden tucked away behind the house and entirely invisible from the street.



The Rijksmuseum is so huge that it deserved its own post.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House is high up on many people’s to-do list when they visit Amsterdam and the length of the queue outside reflects this (seriously it winds all the way through a nearby square and around a church). We managed to avoid the queue by reserving places online the day before (timed tickets seem to be released sporadically so keep an eye on it). The museum is small but well set up for the huge flow of people, telling the tragic story of Anne’s life and how she hid with her family for over two years. It was fascinating to see the secret annexe and learn a little more about the ‘helpers’ who brought them food and news from outside, and one of whom managed to rescue and keep the diary after the arrest in the hope that it could be returned to Anne after the war.

Stadsarchief exhibit

Stadsarchief entrance

The main exhibit of the Stadsarchief (City Archive) is free to enter although it was of limited interest to us as all the captions were in Dutch only. However, the Museumkaart granted us entry to the special exhibit which was a different aspect of Cor Jaring’s work than we’d seen at the Huis Marseille Museum. When he died in 2013 he left his archive to the city, and the exhibit here focussed on his chronicling of the cultural revolution which took place in Amsterdam during the 1960s. The building itself is worth a look as it is a former bank and you can see the original vault doors as well as huge leather bound archives in the basement.

Stedelijk Modern Art Museum

Stedelijk Modern Art MuseumClockwise from top left: ‘The Parakeet and the Mermaid’ by Henri Matisse; Andrew admiring ‘Two Color Frame Painting’ by Robert Mangold; a 1920s clock by Jan Eisenloeffel in the design galleries; one gallery had dancers disguised as museum staff who took visitors by surprise when they entered

Hosting a special exhibition focussing on Henri Matisse during our visit the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum is the only museum that we had to pay a surcharge (€5) to enter with the Museumkaart. We both enjoyed the Matisse exhibition as it was well set up and liberally sprinkled with works from other major artists (Van Gogh, Picasso, etc.) to add context. The remainder of the upper floor was given over to a large number of works from the second half of the 20th century while the other half of the ground floor contained a selection from the museum’s large collection of design objects.

Our Lord in the Attic

Our Lord in the Attic church

From outside, the Museum Our Lord in the Attic looks like an unassuming canal house, but climb the stairs inside and you find the top three floors have been converted into a church! This dates from the 1660s when it was forbidden for Catholics to openly practice their faith and so secret churches like this one were built. Designed to accommodate 150 worshippers, it was used for over 200 years until the law was relaxed and a new church was built.

A family trip to the heart of Dutch culture, Amsterdam

One of the questions we ask ourselves in the summary posts is “Apart from family and friends, what are you missing most about life in the UK?” and while it’s a fun way to think about the differences we experience every day, it’s probably the toughest question because we dearly miss our family and friends back home. With that said, we’ve become quite the easy solution to our family’s holiday destination conundrums, as they just ask where we’ll be at a future point in time and they come out to travel with us!

Julie’s parents joined us for a tour of northern China, her sister and family met us in Istanbul, and our great friend and quick-draw commenter extraordinaire Jo explored Vietnam and then Uzbekistan with us – and raised the quality of our editorial content with a couple of guest posts too ;o)

As we were discussing our final couple of months’ travel plans with my brother and family on Skype, we said we’d planned April would be mostly in Amsterdam. They’d booked a week or so off work in the same month but didn’t have any plans and we ended our conversation with a mutually nonchalant “we’ll look into possibly meeting up and let you know“. 2 hours later we received an ecstatically enthusiastic email from Clare that read “we’ve bought the ferry tickets – see you in Hamsterjam!Aww yeah!

Keukenhof, Holland, Netherlands

From the overnight cross-channel ferry we arranged a proper Dutch introduction to the Netherlands by meeting up at the blooming Keukenhof tulip and flower gardens! Left to right: Julie and I, Scott, Clare, Emma and Dan

Blessed with bright but occasionally brisk spring weather throughout their visit, we spent almost every day together even though our apartment was in the centre of Amsterdam and they’d booked a nice static caravan at the closest Eurocamp about an hour away. With an eye on the weekly tulip forecast, we decided to meet up at the Keukenhof gardens which was just starting to come into season..

Keukenhof – Tulips

Julie and I, Keukenhof, Holland, Netherlands

Julie and I arrived early – just enough time for a quick selfie with the tulpen! (‘tulips’ in Dutch)

The Keukenhof gardens are one of the biggest and busiest annual attractions in Holland, and we couldn’t think of a more naturally beautiful setting for a family reunion, and a typically Dutch start to their family holiday with fields of tulips, mini canals and a windmill!

Julie and I arrived a little bit early and did a quick whirlwind of the park taking far too many photographs of the tulips covered in dew glistening in the gorgeous early morning light.

Keukenhof Collage, Holland, Netherlands

It was still about a week or so too early for the tulips outside to be at their best, but there were an inexhaustible array of colours on display inside the greenhouses and outside in the other flower beds. The immaculate gardens reminded us of the manicured Japanese gardens, especially as there was an odd cherry tree in bloom here too! Clockwise from top-left: Tulips, tulips, everywhere we looked; Grape hyacinth; More tulips!; Cherry tree in beautiful full bloom; We weren’t the only ones that couldn’t stop taking photos!

We’d been eagerly anticipating our get-together as we hadn’t seen Dan, Clare and Scott for 25 months, and Emma, well, she’s 14 months old so for all we’d seen her on Skype, this was the first time we met. Scott ran to meet us with fantastic hugs but Emma took her time to decide if we were OK, and after about 10 minutes she’d made up her mind and started smiling!

Keukenhof Family Collage, Holland, Netherlands

Catching up amongst the tulips, and getting acquainted with my new niece! Clockwise from top-left: Playing with Emma and Scott; These clogs are big enough for 3! – Julie, Scott and I; Walking Emma with her Dad; Playing the (fake plastic) cheese drums with Scott!

Zaanse Schans – Windmills and old Dutch industry

The windmills of Zaanse Schans, Holland, Netherlands

The windmills of Zaanse Schans – the powerhouses of Dutch industry in the 18th and 19th centuries

Continuing our immersion in Dutch culture, we spent a day at Zaanse Schans which is a free, open-air museum showcasing the beginnings of the early industrial way of life from the 18th and 19th centuries. We especially liked the diversity of the windmills that have been saved from dereliction and destruction across the Netherlands and have been lovingly restored. I hadn’t really considered it before, but windmills can be used for all sorts of processes besides milling grain into flour, such as grinding spices, cutting trees up as a sawmill, stirring milk to make cheese and even making pigments for paint!

Inside the spice grinding windmill, Zaanse Schans, Holland, Netherlands

The spice grinding windmill was much bigger inside than we expected – it had space for 4 sets of crushing wheels all powered by the sails above. The ropes hanging down from the ceiling control the gears which start and stop each station – very clever. Oh, and it smelt wonderful inside!

Clog making demonstration at Zaanse Schans, Holland, Netherlands

Scott and I were fascinated by the clog making demonstration where they took a quarter chunk of tree and turned it into a shoe in about 6 or 7 minutes! We watched it twice and we took lots of photos, then Scott modelled some from the gift shop – what an adorable little poser!

While entrance to the area and the demonstrations are free, most of the space in the windmills and attached barns is given over to gift shops which usually have free samples! As we’d brought our own lunch it turned out to be quite a cheap family day out too.

Alkmaar – Cheese Market

Alkmaar wholesale cheese auction, Alkmaar, Holland, Netherlands

The start of the weekly “kaasmarkt” or cheese market in the small town of Alkmaar just north of Amsterdam. Here two members of the cheese carriers guild carry out special cheese barrows which weigh about 25kg each – later they’ll be loaded with 8 of the bright orange Gouda rounds, each weighing 13.5kg, that’s 130kg total!

Having frolicked through the tulips at Keukenhof and watched clogs being made in a windmill at Zaanse Schans, the only remaining experience on our fun-packed family friendly tour of Dutch culture was cheese – and we hit the jackpot!

The small town of Alkmaar is one of only 4 in the Netherlands that regularly reenacts the cheese auctions of yesteryear. This weekly show starts at 7am when the “kaaszetters” or cheese-setters unload the cheese from the local dairies onto pallets laid out in the Waagplein outside the Waaggebouw for inspection. “Waag” means weigh, “plein” means square and “gebouw” means house or building.

5 minutes before the cheese market opens, Alkmaar, Holland, Netherlands

Waiting for the cheese bell to toll – the guys in white with the coloured straw hats are the cheese runners, the guys in light blue to the left are cheese-setters (they handle the cheese directly), and the two men dressed in white coats to the far right are samplers who negotiate the prices

At 9:30 the “kaasvader” or cheese father calls the roll of cheese carriers and divides them up to cover the area of the market. At 10:00 on the dot the market officially opens with a toll of the bells from the Waaggebouw tower, and the traders and samplers start working their way around the orange carpet of creaminess knocking, sampling with a corkscrew-like doweling rod and finally cutting a cheese from each batch in half to check the number of eyes, or holes, present.

Cheese sampling, Alkmaar, Holland, Netherlands

Here a sampler and trader inspect a cheese chosen at random from a pallet in the market

Once each batch of cheese is inspected a ritual of hand slapping is performed – kind of like a cross between a handshake and a game of pat-a-cake, where the sampler and trader shout prices back and forth until they finally grasp hands in agreement – the wholesale price of the batch is set and must be weighed before purchase. This is where the cheese-runners come in..

Cheese runners at full pelt, Alkmaar, Holland, Netherlands

Having transported the cheese to the Waaggebouw for weighing, the cheese-runners then run it back through the market to be loaded onto the trader’s cart. Photo credit: Scott Freemantle

After all the excitement of hand slapping and running cheeses hither and thither we wandered the narrow cobbled pedestrian streets of Alkmaar, which felt like a mini Amsterdam with its narrower canals and leaning narrow houses.

We ended another lovely day together with Scott’s favourite lunch: cheese sandwiches – what else!