WHERE WE STAYED: We were lucky enough to stay with wonderful friends (Jadranka and her 3 boys) in a leafy-green, residential neighbourhood of Rotterdam.
BEST MEAL(S): The little town of Schiedam boasts a lovely chocolate factory De Bonte Koe. The amount of chocolate I consumedgau can definitely be considered a meal.
• The cheese market in Gouda—the source of much deliciousness!
• The origin of french fries (slathered with mayo, of course) is the subject of much debate in this part of the world. Both the Dutch and the Belgians claim the invention. Hands down, the best late night street snack.
DON’T MISS: The Rotterdam Port tour is absolutely fascinating! It will take you through what feels like a lego playground stacked with boxes of varying shapes and sizes, constantly moving. It's the biggest port in Europe and one of the world's busiest. And of course, it's really worth doing a tour of the canals in Amsterdam. If it's your first time, it's the perfect way to get acquainted. They are laid out in a circle, like a belt around the city centre. Look for a small boat with an electric motor, both clean and quiet.
• Climb to the top of a windmill in the little town of Schiedam for the views, then make like a bag of flour and slide down the giant wooden slide.
BIZARRO SIGHTING: A cheesy Rotterdam club offered free haircuts on your way to the dance floor. That's a whole lot more than a hangover to regret in the morning.
• I feel like a jerk saying it, but Dutch is a funny language, just try saying 's-Hertogenbosch. In this case, the bizarre sight is any tourist painfully trying to speak Dutch, and putting the phlegm in Flemish.
• Amsterdam's outdoor urinals (ladies, you're out of luck)
HIGHLIGHTS: On the day we visited 's-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) the town was silent. I don't know if it was the time of year, or because it was mid-week, but the streets were almost empty. Left alone for us to explore was this deep grey, fortified city filled with churches, stone statues and cobblestones. I populated my imagination with the grotesque characters of Hieronymus Bosch, who hails from the place.
• Maastricht is another gem, (debatably) the oldest city in the Netherlands, known for it's picturesque squares and romantic streets.
ART SMARTS: The great thing about travelling with my parents on this trip was the amount of architectural touring we crammed in (my dad is a building buff). It also happened to be the year of the Architectural Biennial in Rotterdam, so the exhibits at the NAi were excellent (who knew swamp draining could be so fascinating). Definitely visit the world-famous Cubic Houses & Schiecentrale art centre.
MOST RELAXED: The beaches of Scheveningen (one of the districts of the Hague) greeted us with a sight that I thought was reserved for the Mediterranean: 30C weather, and a beach exploding with swimmers and beach umbrellas. The best spot to enjoy the (very late!) sunset is at one of the cafes lining the beach, sipping on an Amstel —keep an eye out for the giant beanbag chairs, and maybe you can even score a nap.
• The misty ferry ride across the North Sea from England to Holland.
NATURAL WONDER: The Zeeland (meaning sea-land) area of the lowlands plays out like a fairytale. Just peer in any window and you'll find lace curtains, clogs, porcelain kitten figurines and bouquets of wildflowers. The landscape is dotted with windmills (and their modern counterparts, turbines) and the blue grey water stretches forever. Most of the province lies below sea-level and was painstakingly reclaimed from the sea.
HOW COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE SO MANY: Yes, you guessed it, bikes. Cute painted bikes; free city bikes; attractive people on bikes...
FIRST TIME: Buying drugs with my parents. Ok it was just pot chocolate in Amsterdam, but still a first.
BEST BUYS: You can see my What to bring home… post for more info, but I'd have to say, wooden tulips (cause you can't bring back the real stuff) and delft ceramic tiles top my list.
WHAT WE MISSED: Efteling, the stuff dreams are made of. When I was a child, I got a catalogue from this magical amusement park. One day I will find it.