Let it be known that checking in for Megabus at London Victoria Station is a nightmare. Queues are ridiculous, people are pushy, and finding out where you’re even supposed to be is tricky. Make sure you get there early. Taking our seats we find ourselves delayed for over an hour at Dover ferry terminal, due to issues on the French side. We take the time to check out our fellow Megabus passengers and come to the conclusion that the majority of them are backpackers travelling Europe on the cheap or local English lads looking for a cheap way to reach Amsterdam with more money for weed in their pocket.
Arriving in Rotterdam we’re overjoyed our friend Florus has driven from Utrecht to collect us as the heavens have opened and a deluge has besieged The Netherlands.
Utrecht, a place we’ve frequented many a time over the last eight years, feels like a home away from home. Passing through the familiarity of the Lombok area with its (finally!) completed Mosque, Turkish flavoured fast food and flower baskets hanging from light poles, when we arrive in a neighbourhood to the northwest where we’re clearly reminded that we’re still in The Netherlands.
Having recently purchased a new house we’re spoilt this time with our own room, an upgrade from the comfy couch. Opening the window to the bedroom the smell of freshly processed coffee from the nearby Douwe Egberts coffee plant gently wafts in whispering
Having ventured into the Old Town many times before, we opt to take a stroll along the canalside Keulsekade and Kanaalweg, with Merel the two year old stubbornly (and slowly) pushing her own stroller.
With the breeze to shoot and parched mouths we head to one of Florus’s favoured pubs, the Café Kanaalzight which was built in 1905 in the typical style of that area and era. With a laidback, old boozer style vibe it’s a great place for a relaxing pint. Back into Lombok we head to the old favourite, Slijterij Besseling, to collect some locally produced craft beers from De Leckere, Maallust and Vanderstreek. Dessert sorted its back to the house to start on dinner for the night with a little help from a little friend.
The following day we head into Old Town Utrecht where the first stop is the Dutch institution of FEBO. Now if you haven’t been game enough to throw your money into the slot and release the door to fried little morsels of stodgy delight, then basically you haven’t lived. The best by far is the Satekroket, a satay style potato encased in a crispy breaded envelope thingy that’s good enough for any occasion, especially the hangover sort as you don’t even have to speak to anybody.
A 100 meters further into the cobbled streets and we come to another one of our favourite beer halls, Olivier, with an extensive list of brews on offer. Conveniently located in close proximity to the Hoog Catharijne Mall and central train station, its housed in an old church and is popular with the local and tourist crowd alike and we settle in with Florus and his wife Karin for a couple of rounds of Jupiler and bitterballen (so good, don’t ask what’s in them, just eat ’em!)
The university town of Utrecht took heavy damage in the Second World War, though the Cathedral of Saint Martin, the tallest church in The Netherlands, managed to survive. Due to lack of funds the church was never completed and randomly a tornado tore through in 1674 and destroyed the nave, yet the tower remained untouched, a testament to the resilience of the Dutch. A small street now separates the church from what is now known as Dom Tower.
Into Utrecht’s main canal with its bars and restaurants at water level (unique to Utrecht only) another must eat is Broodje Ben. This place usually has a line that once joined you’ll be delighted to be thrown one of the best custom made sandwiches ever. Yes, ever.
Continuing our stroll through the canals we pass our favourite named building in the world, the Winkel Van Sinkel (say it in a Dutch accent, piss funny right?). Through to another plein for an alfresco beer at Eet & Drinkgelegenheid De Beurs, exiting out of the Old Town we passed the fancy new City Hall to Jaarbeurs, where the Tour de France commenced this year (on a side note, the The Netherlands have now begun the race a record 6 times, more than any other country outside France, well there are born attached to bikes and clogs!).
Tonight we’d been invited back to another old friend’s house for a BBQ, Dutch style. This usually involves trying to imitate an Aussie and failing. On this occasion, due to the close proximity of the neighbours backyards, it involves a right proper smoking out of the surrounding houses, though to be fair the barbie was delicious and the catch up as always was top notch. We even treated our host to a fittingly named beer.
Drink up, Prost. Beer from Oedipus
Walking through Hoog Catharijne Mall the next day, we come across a statue of a children’s book character long forgotten by us though still dear to the Dutch heart. Nljntje or Miffy was first bought to life by Dutch artist Dick Bruna in 1955 and has spawned 30 books, selling 85 million copies, two television series, clothes, toys and even a feature length movie.
Like we said it pays to have friends in the Netherlands. Jos, whilst his fiance Petra was at work, was kind enough to take us to Den Haag (The Hague) on the way to a business meeting in Amsterdam. Bonus as this saves a train journey with several changes, something we’d prefer to avoid, thanks bro.
Visiting Sarah’s brother Cameron and his girlfriend Flora for the first time with their new baby in a new house (they used to live in Delft, another beautiful town) bought joy to our hearts, and we were glad we’d managed to time the arrival of baby Ethan perfectly. At just six weeks old, Ethan is adorable and it’s a tough job to keep him out of Sarah’s hands as she slips straight back into Aunty mode.
A new house in a new city we were blown away with the location right on the edge of the Old Town, within walking distance to the station, Haagse Bos and the bustling centre. The whiter than white interior bursts open in the lounge/kicthen/dining space with a 180 degree view over the Old Town and a small balcony sporting a Webber BBQ perfects its location.
Being our second time to Den Haag, it’s our first time exploring the city as last time the rain got the better of us. Being the home of the International War Crimes Tribunal, various embassies and a university, Den Haag has a diverse mixture of expats, students and locals, making it quiet an enjoyable place in which to go out.
Adorned with superb summer weather with a chance to finally immerse in Den Haag the first must is once again FEBO. Nah, nah it’s not like that, this is FEBO! A couple of doors open and close and its back to the serious side of sightseeing. Moving through the plein with its Statue of Willam of Orange, the place is lined with many a bar, restaurant and café, giving it a constant buzz on a weekend, day and night.
Wandering around for an afternoon we stumble across Raam Straat with its mural covered walls at one end and its oft forgotten old architecture and lead glass windows that survived the remodel of the city in the 1920’s. Onto Grote Markt, another weekend daytime hot spot crammed with tables full of patrons, and in our opinion the prettiest of the city to take a ‘schmoke n pancake’.
The Grote Kerk is the old town’s prominent church, and Across the way is the Fiddler Den Haag with popular outdoor tables beneath a sprawling tree. Around the corner is the red shuttered Old City Hall built in the Renaissance style. Strolling through the Binnenhof with the Ridderzaal in the center of the courtyard to return at night to gaze at outside reflected in the Hofvijver bringing a quaint tranquility contrasting from the day. Towards the southern end is the Mauritshuis housing the world famous ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ canvased in the 17th century by Johannes Vermeer. With so much walking its time to chill on the third story balcony at back at the apartment with another one of Holland’s craft beers.
With Morning greeting us with beams of summer sun trickling through the windows, a walk over to the International War Crimes Court seems a good idea. The impressively manicured gardens lead up to the Court that seem quite unlike somewhere you’d think a tyrant would be held on trial. Back through the Old Town under the Museum De Gevangenpoort (Prison Gate Museum) taking the long way to the Haagse Bos, this immense park is only minutes from the centre. Today Vestival is taking place, an R’n’B festival with a steady stream of punters streaming from the Central Station. Watching from the outside of the fence, Lady S has the crowd amping as she entertains with her hip hop DJ mix. Moving north in to the lavishly green park the music fades as we head towards the Huis ten Bosch, The Royal Palace. Heavily guarded we take a few snaps from outside the gates.
For us the best area for a good beer is in the Olde Molestraat. Small lanes crammed with pubs where the action spills out into the streets, many a front man happy to invite you into their bar with welcoming conversation. Bars such as The Huppel Pub, Café Momfer de Mol and the quieter Hoppzak are worth a look.
As with the many a town of the Netherlands there’s a massive amount of remodelling that’s been under way for several years in efforts to replan many areas for the years to come. Most noticeable is the area surrounding with and including of the Central Station in the New Town. A stark contrast to the Old Town, many cafes and restaurants catering to the work week population are arising and a great place serving fantastic coffees is Lebrov & Sons on Turfmakt.
With our final catch up with Jos from Utrecht it’s a wait for the flight ending another love affair, this time with Europe, that’s bound for the plains down in Africa.
Many people have the misconception that Den Haag is a boring city full of diplomats and expats, yet spend some time to dig a little deeper and you’ll find charm and history with a cosmopolitan vibe that’s sure to take a grip.
For more great pics of The Netherlands check out our Flickr Page. Thanks for reading.
TIPS FOR THE NETHERLANDS
- Ensure you arrive early if taking Megabus from London Victoria. The queues were mega (like what we did there?) and the place was packed.
- Make a friend so they can pick you up at your arrival point. With everything so close in the Netherlands, they’d be rude not to!
- Do see somewhere other than Amsterdam, it’s a nice place when your off your face though does get a little repetitive. From personal experience Delft, Rotterdam and Utrecht are all worth checking out.
- Again we used Tesco Supermarket points for the Megabus bus/ferry costing us 50p each (though it was another crappy overnight journey).
- Visit FEBO, the Netherlands Culinary masterpiece, you can thank us later.
- Definitely check out Den Haag, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.