A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days in the Netherlands. As for Belgium, it’s not that far from France but I never went there before. So I just took advantage of the extended weekend starting on November 11th (remembrance day for WWI in France) to visit a few cities in the NL, especially Amsterdam.
Thalys takes you directly there in less than 4 hours (My grandmother wasn’t pleased when I told her it’s easier than going to her place !). Actually it will be even faster in a few years when the missing fast track between Brussels and Antwerp will be complete. Once arrived you’re right in the center and I found it rather small, easy to walk across. And with biking it’s the best way to see the city, urban transports are expensive in NL.
The first evening I met my host and we had diner at his place before seeing the city by night in a very instructive walk. He told me why people here have huge windows and never close the curtains. That’s because they want to show they’re « not having fun » :p. It’s inherited from calvinism : if you put curtains, you have something to hide. And yes I’ve seen these huge windows and all the inside of houses everywhere in the country.
The walk included also the red light district, which is one of the reason why Amsterdam is famous for. I didn’t like this part actually, it’s like a freak show, and you have only tourists there.
First thing in the next morning I rented a no-gear-back-pedal-break-bike, the default and cheapest one. Least than 2 hours later it was heavy raining. This explains what I have no photo at all until day 2. I went to 5 museums this day and saw many Van Gogh’s and Rembrandt’s masterpieces.
Day 2 the weather was really better so my host took me on a bike ride in the dutch countryside. It was just very very windy, which compensate the lack of hills !
Windmills are everywhere, it’s no legend. And most of them are very well preserved.
And water is everywhere. It seems that before 19th century, ships were the main transportation mean.
Bike routes are easy to follow. I brought back a very detailed bike map of the Amsterdam area.
Trails were sometimes really narrow and the wind made it hard to stay on it.
A castle surrounded by water :
We ended up riding 65km. Of course I made a map from the ride.
Day 3 I stayed in Amsterdam with another friend from Paris that my host nicely invited to. The weather alowed us to walk more in the center and to finally take pictures of the city.
The harbour area, with more modern buildings reminded me of Copenhagen. This building is shaped like the opera of the danish city
But the most important is that Amsterdam (and whole Netherlands) is the image of the paradise for urban cyclists. And the reality met my expectations on this point (although they were very high.) Bike paths everywhere, even streets only for bicycles. Easy ways to leave the city and go to the countryside. And bikes you see nowhere else.
We left Amsterdam for Utrecht in the evening where we met an outstanding couple and their amazing pure white cats : Leeloo & Parker, named after the Fifth element and one of my favorite book, Life of Pi (but I actually didn’t remember the name of the tiger). They’re crazy about their cats and they know ticks. That was really fun to meet them.
Utrecht is a small city and on a sunday morning there aren’t many things to see or do. That’s pleasant anyway.
One of the specificity in the Netherlands is that it’s hard to guess whether it is a river or a canal. I’m still not sure. And which way it’s flowing, everything is sooo flat !
After a brunch with our hosts, which let us time to talk more (I usually prefer staying more than one night at the same place, otherwise you don’t get to know the other people much), we left for Rotterdam.
My expectations about Rotterdam were the lowest. I know the city was bombed flat during WWII so there is no such thing as an historic center like in other dutch cities. But I was amazed by the town anyway. It’s like not being in Europe anymore, several high-rise buildings and a very interesting and wild architecture. I think the tremendous aussie couple that hosted us as something to do with my feelings about Rotterdam.
Let’s start with the symbol of R’dam : the Erasmus bridge. As seen from the river side …
… and as seen from our hosts rooftop.
On sunday my host guided me on a walk along the water front.
I can’t say which of both cities, Amsterdam or Rotterdam I preferred.
The last afternoon I made a quick jump in Delft, a charming and quite city nearby.
I waited for the train back to Rotterdam more than an hour and later for the Thalys 40min. Dutch trains are not better than french ones ! And around midnight while back in Paris there was a suspicious luggage alert that stuck me underground for another 40min. No need to say I was more than happy to restart biking to work the next morning. You definitely can’t trust public transport :p.
Once again a great trip with great encounters.
I realize that I’ve cycled and walked in 9 foreign countries over the last 6 months !