Spontaneous Travel: Discover Holland

By Hani Walker

Some trips we plan, and others we improvise. My last trip was one of the latter.

Initially I was supposed to go to St. Petersburg, then I considered Berlin and Prague. However, none of these plans ended up working.

While exchanging our traveling experiences, Stefi told me about a big festival called King’s Day, which takes place every year in the Netherlands. I liked the idea, and I decided on the spot to make my way to Amsterdam.

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As I forgot to check the weather beforehand, I didn’t bring any clothes to protect me from the cold, the wind and the rain… The weather in Holland being unpredictable, you can face wind, rain, sun and humidity all in the same day. So you have to be properly equipped for all of these inevitabilities. That being said, I can understand why there are so many wind turbines dotting the Dutch landscape.

After flying over the country as well as traveling through it, we see that everything here is green- even too green for my taste. As someone who has spent quite some time in Africa, the contrast is shocking. Seen from the airplane at this time of year, the fields of tulips offer a breathtaking panorama. The mix of different colours are of extraordinary beauty.

From the airport, I take the train towards The Hague, the region where my aunt lives. The Netherlands is a small country. To go from one city to anther, it takes about 45 minutes by train. The public transport system is very well developed, efficient and affordable.       

I decided to make the trip both practical and pleasant by visiting family while touring the country. I visited an aunt that I haven’t seen in ages, and met cousins that I only knew through Facebook.

Thanks to video tutorials on Youtube, I managed to fit almost my entire wardrobe into a carry-on suitcase.

The Hague is a small, charming city. You can travel through it easily by foot, or by taking the tram. Out of habit, I opted to walk. Whether it’s day or night, hot or cold outside, I walk. How can you discover a city properly by using solely the subway or taxis?

All of the interesting sight seeing is found in the city centre. Among them are:

The Mauritshuis Museum, where the famous Vermeer painting “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” is found. It costs 14 euros to enter. Personally I preferred visiting the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam for 17 euros.

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The Binnenhof, built in gothique style, is the political centre of the country as well as where the Prime Minister’s seat is found. The boutiques and restaurants aren’t far from there. Making a detour is a must as we find the shopping mall “De Passage” that is inscribed at the UNESCO world heritage site.

If you continue down this way, you’ll come upon an important monument: The Peace Palace, which is the administrative building for international law. Unfortunately, tours are limited so we can only admire it from the outside.

The highlight remains the amusement park Madurodam, which is found on the edge of the city. Imagine a 1/25 model representing the Netherlands, and all of it’s cities, their monuments, and important sites, in one big location. In half a day, you can visit the entire country. Incredible, right?

A trip through space and time, all without leaving The Hague.

I had a great time with my younger cousins. It was a memorable day. There were lots of activities, even a Mars truck that delivered chocolate to you on demand. The Hague was my home base, and to go from one city to another, I used the train.

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Amsterdam. 25 euros both ways, plenty of trains.

Arriving in Amsterdam, you exit the central station to discover a past of glory and supremacy.

It’s a special thing, and difficult to describe. You have to experience it for yourself. Imagine living during the Dutch golden age. Working as a merchant for the East India Company, or as an up and coming baroque painter. The city is frozen in time between the Golden Age of 1584-1702 and that of the 19th century. Everything is reminiscent of these times.

Amsterdam is an open air museum. Renting a bike during your visit is a must as the city is a paradise for cyclers. There are special routes for those getting around on two wheels. Despite this, I preferred to meander through the streets by foot, as usual. There are many things to see and places to visit in Amsterdam. I spent two days and one night in order to do an entire tour of the city.

My first round was with Wille, I met through Instagram. After a short exchange, we decided to meet to discover the city together. What I didn’t know was that she spent two hours on the train to get there. It was really nice of her to to make the trip, just to show me the city. Wille is also a blogger who is involved in volunteer work in Africa. Go give her blog a look.

We wander around the city, it’s streets, it’s canals, to eventually arrive at the Rijksmuseum. The museum was extraordinary, a definite location to add to your Amsterdam bucket list.

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We find ourselves submerged once again in the glorious past of the Netherlands, it’s maritime supremacy and it’s influence on painting throughout the centuries. In this museum, we enjoy master painters such as Rembrandt, whose masterpiece “The Night Watch” is on display. Works of Vermeer and of course, the self-portrait of Van Gogh, a selfie before it’s time.

As far as suggestions of what to see, you just have to go out an discover of yourself. Get lost voluntarily in the streets and alleyways, wander, and let your travel spirit guide you.

This spirit of travel, improvising and of not planning, to discover, to be open and receptive to what you find, interacting with locals, and asking them for suggestions on what to see and do.

Of course, we can always go on google and find main attractions, but why not change up our travel routine once in a while and be surprised? Over planning is to have expectations that can be deceiving. Discovering a city without a itinerary has to be done at least once, and my visit to Rotterdam is a great example of the beauty of this.

The public transport system in the Netherlands is very efficient, it shows you the train schedules, the boarding platforms and the rates for each station and city. Even at night, there are trains to main cities, but they only depart once an hour. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Hani’s travels to Rotterdam & Belgium.

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