We just returned from a 12 day trip across the Atlantic to Belgium and the Netherlands, revisiting Amsterdam for the first time since we lived there 3 years ago. It was a fantastic trip and we already miss being in Europe. Strolling around Amsterdam reminded us that it’s the most beautiful city we’ve ever lived in. Sorry Dublin, Melbourne, Australia and our current home of Boston- you’re all great cities but Amsterdam’s lovely canals, bridges and unique canal houses, many of which date back to the 1600’s make it the most special in our eyes. And the abundance of bicycle traffic and quirky stuff like marijuana hazed coffee shops and prostitutes in windows in the Red Light District are just icing on the character cake.
We lived in Amsterdam for 3 and 1/2 years as Bell did her PhD at the University of Amsterdam and especially loved living in the city for the first year. We always enjoyed walking home along the canals and gazing at the buildings, frequently having a ‘pinch me, I live in Amsterdam’ moment. Unfortunately things ended really badly with our housing situation and we were lucky to have friends help us out by letting us stay in their homes while they went on vacation. We won’t get into the specific details in this post but our landlord made our life a nightmare and we couldn’t find a better alternative in our price range at the time. The whole ordeal left us with a bitter taste towards the country because we wanted things to go better than they did. We wanted it to feel like a home.
So while we wanted to return to the Netherlands to see our friends sooner, especially when we lived not so far away in Ireland, we always had mixed feelings. But we finally found our excuse to return with Bell’s company’s Rotterdam office holding a 3 day training session on the beach town of Scheveningen, near The Hague. So we planned a 12 day trip by flying into Brussels and spending a day sightseeing while sleep deprived, eating great food and drinking delicious beer. When we initially arrived back in the Netherlands, some bad feelings initially struck us but they quickly subsided and we had an amazing time.
We enjoyed a wonderful picnic on the Amstel River, on the boat dock near the Hermitage Museum, with a group of friends, several of whom really helped us out in our prior Amsterdam life. This spot was a favorite of ours for picnics as it’s spacious and offers a really open view of passing boats and a panorama of beautiful canal buildings. If picnics are your bag and the weather is nice, grab some delicious Dutch cheeses, meats, dips and bread and head down here, or park yourself at one of the thousand other picturesque spots for this. If you’re adventurous, buy a package of Ossenworst (raw oxtail sausage) from the grocery store as it’s a real Dutch favorite that you can also often buy in a sandwich in cafes. I like it, Bell doesn’t care for it as much. Filet Americain (steak tartare), which is raw minced beef mixed with mayonnaise and seasoning is also very tasty and popular, and also something I enjoy more than Bell. There’s something about knawing into raw flesh that gets some guys juices flowing, but maybe not as much for the ladies. La Trappe is a popular monk brewed Dutch beer to wash down raw meat, but we personally prefer Westmalle Tripel, and at 9.5% and rich in flavor, it’s a beer that doesn’t need refrigeration, which is great because the grocery store doesn’t chill them anyway.
While Bell was working I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Dutch towns of Gouda and Dordrecht for the very first time. It’s interesting to note that Gouda was named after the famous Dutch cheese and not the other way around! Dordrecht is one of the oldest Dutch towns and I really enjoyed my time photographing both cities. Delft is the grandest and arguably the most beautiful town in South Holland but as I’d previously visited it on two occasions, I chose to explore new places. I also loved experiencing more of The Hague (Den Haag), Rotterdam and just soaking up some sunshine in Scheveningen, which has a great beach club scene. There’s not many places in the world where you can enjoy monk brewed beer like Chimay in abundance for good prices, but there you can!
In Amsterdam we stayed at a dear Dutch friends apartment who we had a wonderful time with, and who helped make our homecoming welcoming, comfortable and memorable. When we returned to Belgium we decided to spend two nights in the lovely student town of Leuven, near Brussels and the international airport. Bell and I first met in a hostel in Brugge many years ago and we considered returning for a third time, but again wanted to experience a new town. We’d also previously visited Ghent and Antwerp and wanted to stay near the airport to catch our early flight. Brugge is a bit more beautiful than Leuven, but as Leuven isn’t as touristy it’s more of an authentic Belgian experience since it doesn’t house 80 chocolate shops! Leuven has beautiful architecture, great food and of course, lots of delicious beer.
Just as we were getting used to life in America again, Europe’s amazing architecture, cafe terraces, fresh food, fantastic public transportation and laid back lifestyle have left us missing our previous life, but alas, Boston is a great city too. We’ll be writing more on some specifics of this trip but if you have any questions about visiting Belgium or the Netherlands or you’d like to share your own recommendations please leave a question or comment. If you’re heading to Amsterdam it’s worthwhile to check out the IAmsterdam website for details on upcoming events. And if you’ve never visited Amsterdam, don’t buy what much of the American media sells, plan a trip there soon!