My Dutch Adventure in the Neverlands

Last weekend, I went to Berlin for the first time in my life, and it made me realise how incredibly fortunate I have been this year in visiting so many wonderful European places. Berlin marked my fourth European mini-break in 2014, and my first was back in March when I had the joy of visiting my good friend Floor in her wonderful homeland of the north Netherlands. I have been raving about the trip ever since (seriously, GO, I have run out of superlatives for it), and on the train back to the airport, I wrote the following, which I though would be fun to post here. I may write other entries about my other trips, but since I already had this locked and loaded, why not start here? Enjoy!

On the Thursday, I pretty much arrived, admired Floor's flat and went to bed. Then on Friday we cycled(!) into Groningen, left our bikes in the free underground bike garage, and wandered around looking at all the gorgeous shops. We sampled cheese at the market (and I made a couple of purchases...)
and then climbed the Martini Tower, which is a massive church tower and kind of the symbol of Groningen. Then we went to see Floor's school,hung out for a bit in the royal gardens, got stroopwaffels and then went to the Groninger Museum to see an exhibit on Natural Beauty from Fra Angelico to Monet, which was incredible. Like, I was expecting it to be at least a bit dull as it was essentially a collection of paintings of natural things but everything in it was fabulous. After that we saw an exhibition of Marilyn Manson's artwork(!) which was on a tour stop there (disturbing) and there was also a delightful show about the 400th anniversary of Groningen Universiteit. 

After that we went shopping and got supplies for dinner (we had boerenkool stamppot, which I am going to make for you soon because it was delicious), cycled home and cooked it, and then watched Notting Hill (my choice). 

The next day (Saturday) we went to Assen, which is the capital of the neighbouring province of Drenthe. First we cycled 45 minutes to Floor's parents' house to pick up the car. Cycling is AWESOME and will definitely make the list of things I love about the Netherlands. At Floor's house I met (along with her dad, who I've met before and is lovely) her new cat Pietertje ("Little Peter"). He was such a sweet cat, and he climbed onto my shoulder and snuggled round my neck like a scarf. He then tried to scratch my hair and out of my ponytail, which was slightly less adorable but I still basically love him. Later there was a picture taken of me and Peter that I think might be my favourite picture of myself ever. 

In Assen we tasted some more cheese a the market, I bought some tea and then I has an unbelievable goats cheese and honey sandwich, which I then talked about for the rest of the trip. It was just that good. Then we went to Drents Museum, which is where Floor works, to the nationally famous Mummies exhibition, all about how there are more than just Egyptian mummies and there can be accidental mummies and it was pretty much loads of dead bodies in varying states of decay. I wa worried I'd be a bit scared because it comes with a warning but it wasn't bad at all. It was such a privilege to get to have Floor talk me through it all and to tell me things like what they smelled like and how heavy they were :D 

The rest of the museum was really interesting too and best of all, we got in free with Floor's job!

After that we drove to the open air museum where I found the Apple Museum and we admired the traditional buildings and lifestyle and then had a cup of tea. 

We drove back to Groningen, got some more food supplies as the shop wouldn't be open on Sunday and then went back to the flat and made our dinner of pannekoeken (pancakes)! We had gouda (many and varied techniques), sugar (they have this AMAZING sugar called basterd zuiker, which is white and brown sugar combined with sugar syrup - sooo good on a pancake), syrup, nutella, banana, chocolate sprinkles(!) aaaaand I think that was it. My favourite flavour was gouda and syrup :D Oh, and we also made lots of little pancakes (poppertjes) to take with us the next day. 

After that we watched both episodes of Jonathan Creek on iPlayer while eating Heinz ketchup flavour crisps and salted caramel chocolate and drinking tea. 

On the Sunday, we got up early, packed a picnic and headed north to get on a ferry to the Frisian Islands, specifically Schiermonnikoog (which I have tried and tried and tried to pronounce, with little success). Once there we rented bikes and it was just so lovely. It's a sandy, duney island with the widest beach in Europe (i.e. between the land and the sea it's really far). We cycled to the village and got some apple pie for brunch/elevensies and then cycled over to the beach. It was such a strange landscape because even though the weather was glorious and the ferry had been packed it was almost totally deserted. With the land behind you, you can only just see the sea far away on the horizon and then to your left and right the beach just stretches away totally flat and empty. In the wind the top layer of dry sand blows gently and it looks like the surface of the beach is a river. It's pretty much the most alien landscape I've ever been in (but I'm not all that well-travelled). If I was making a sci-fi movie on another planet, I'd make it there. 

Then we cycled onwards towards the furthest-away point on the other end of the island, and it was very duney, so we'd cycle uphill for a bit and then there would be an awesome downhill bit. I haven't cycled much in my life and even then I haven't used a bike at all in maybe 6 years and I just had so much fun :D

Eventually we chose a little secluded dip in the dunes with some soft moss-like plant on the ground to set up our picnic. We had lots of cheese and cake and sausages and salad and poppertjes and it was totally delicious. We were there for an hour and a half eating and chatting and sunbathing and in all that time we didn't see or hear another soul. It was wonderful. 

After that, we cycled back to the ferry (very tiring! I started to love cycling slightly less) via a super awesome/creepy German WW2 bunker which was built to keep an eye out for the British in the North Sea. It was supposed to be topped by a massive radar receiver but they made occupied Dutch workers construct it and when it came to be installed it was slightly the wrong size and couldn't be finished so they left the bunker there after the war as a monument to Dutch resistance. 

We made it back to the ferry, drove back to Floor's parents' house, and met their other cats, Jip and Zipper, along with Floor's mum. They asked us to stay for dinner, which was delicious (they kept yelling at me to take bigger portions! <3). Then her dad drove us home (because we were returning the car and the bike that I had been using). 

We unpacked from the picnic, made tea and tried to find something to watch. After various attempts at Game of Thrones and Torchwood, we eventually watched The Notebook. I also saw a bit of Dutch TV, which included such classics as 'Adam seeks Eve', a dating show where strangers try to find love in naked blind dates on a tropical island. 

Monday morning we had a lazy morning getting ready, eating breakfast (all the shops are closed on Monday mornings). We went to the station and I finally used a burger vending machine to get a crokkette (a croquette with meat filling). I also got a soda called Rivella, made from a byproduct of cheese production, which tastes kind of like alcohol-free Southern Comfort pop. 

Then I got on the train, then I wrote this. 

My favourite things about the Netherlands (in no particular order):

  • Floor
  • Cheese
  • Cycling, and how easy and safe it is
  • The food in general
  • The landscape
  • Canals
  • Dykes/ditches
  • The architecture - the old canalside townhouses with the pulleys for goods and then also the suburban homes for which they have completely ripped up the rule book of what a house should look like. 
  • How it's a really humble, unassuming place that is secretly really awesome.
  • How as a nation they seem really self-assured and comfortable. Like, they pretty much all can speak English, and they have media from all over with subtitles and there are loads of transplant words from English and that's just a-okay. And they're content to live in their little patch of flat land and get on with things without being self-conscious or over-thinking or stressing about their place in the world the way that Britain does. And they don't need to because they already know that they're AWESOME. 
  • The language. I LOVE the language. It's so nice-sounding and so easy to get the hang of once you know the pronunciation rules. It sounds so similar to English in some ways and I was really, really enjoying getting to know it a bit. I've never been anywhere where I don't know the language at all and yet have a local to teach it to me. So much fun! And Floor is VERY patient with my CONSTANT questions haha!
  • The width of the roads (wide)
  • Double-decker trains.