We like to think of ourselves as travellers with a 'more-less' philosophy. We want more locals and less cash registers. More or less, it says you can have twice the experience for half the price. What a great travel philosophy! Rick Steves calls it Europe through the Back Door.
Despite our 'more-less' indoctrination, we still came into the Netherlands through the front door. It was a safety net. Nevertheless, Amsterdam proved an interesting safety net.
Amsterdam, in many ways, is a liberal city. The chance to legally use drugs and sex workers lures many travellers, especially backpackers, to Amsterdam. While we skipped both the drugs and sex workers, we did indulge in the Dutch Art Amsterdam had to offer.
I have read that Dutch Art was considered to be very quiet, especially compared to the drama in Italian Art. It was quiet, but still displayed the mastery over the canvas and colours. It was a highlight, particularly for Kristen.
This still life, for example. The closer I got the better it looked. Rembrandt's Night Watch was incredible to see, especially because it was the size of an entire wall!
Our night in the Amsterdam hostel was an 'experience'. We slept in a dorm with 18 other backpackers, most of whom chose their days wardrobe only after conducting the all-important 'smell-test'. It was there that we realized backpackers are not all created equal. Truthfully, though, it was a fun and funny experience.
We wanted to stay outside of Amsterdam and return to our more-less philosophy. So, taking full advantage of our Eurail Pass, we took a 25 minute train ride outside of the big citz to a small town.
Zandvoort is a tiny sea-side getaway for the Dutch and the Germans. With having no Dutch or German in our blood, we were lucky to even hear about Zandvoort. Our guidebook barely made mention of it; recommending it only as a half-day trip from a day trip from Amsterdam. It was a town with real Dutch people and a lot of cheese! Today I saw a 1 kg hunk of Gouda cheese for about $5 CDN. If I were flying straight home from the Netherlands, I would definitely be over my cheese exemption (Don't worry, Dad, I wouldn't bring back more than one turkey!). And the Dutch people have been so friendly. They offer to help when I am standing helpless in the deli section and actually stop on the street when we look a little lost. When I started planning this trip I really would have never imagined that I would see the ocean from Belgium and the Netherlands, but I am really glad that I have. We strolled for hours along the beach today. The waves were HUGE! There were sea kayakers, swimmers, surfers and lots of frolicking dogs. I honestly think everyone in Holland has a dog (big ones, small ones, some as big as your head!). The lady who is running our B&B is so welcoming. We are a three minute walk from the North sea, a 5 minute walk to the train station, and just down the street from Dirks Supermarket (notable because of its gouda and availability of my favourite Belgian Chocolate, Cote D'Or. TRY IT!!)
With Zandvoort as our worthy home town, we took our time going through manz of the surrounding cities. Haarlem, for its cobblestone and architecture. Leiden for its prestigious universities and gardens and Delft, with its well-known blue and white Dutch ceramics. There then came a time when we realized we had not seen enough of what every good tourist really comes to Holland for: windmills.
After chatting with a local, we were on our way to Rotterdam. It seemed weird that we were going to an uber-modern city in search of countryside and windmills, but after a little bit of navigating (I will spare you the details) we made it from Rotterdam to the land of 30 windmills, known to the rest of the world as Kinderdijke! We wandered around the windmills which lined narrow rivers and farmers fields. We were offical tourists of the Netherlands, with dozens of windmill pictures to prove it!
Our guidebook, and others we have read, suggest using big cities as 'hubs' to visit smaller localities. We think thez have it all wrong. The more-less philosophy uses less-expensive, friendlier, close-by local towns as the perfect hub to the larger, less-friendly and more expensive bigger cities. The trip has been great so far!
I would like to take this opportunity to also thank my Dutch friends, especially Lindsay and Laura. Without them I don't think that I would have appreciated Holland nearly as much I have. For example, those little sprinkles zou put on toast: well thez are everywhere, in all flavours, colours, shapes and sizes! And cheese? The good gouda kind, cut straight from the circle that Laura's mom always sent her as a treat? (The good cheese that you need to use the cool cheese cutter for...although Laura always says its a normal cheese cutter, I personally think that it is a genius Dutch invention.)