Nearly two years ago, I started to talk to somebody who I got to know through Goodreads and general geekiness and who has become a fantastic friend – her name is Mendy but she is better known as the “hotcutegirlygeek”.
Following a review that I wrote for a theatrical production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” that I saw in April 2012, Mendy kindly offered to act as a tour guide for me should I have ever found myself in The Netherlands. So, after over a year of talking and planning, the time had finally come on Thursday 19th September 2013 for me to finally visit her.
The first afternoon/evening was basically taken up by travel, introductions and settling in. However, it was a day of comedy with yours truly right in the heart of it. I had not ridden a bicycle for nearly 25 years when I regularly did a paper round. Inevitably, this has lead to a lack of co-ordination and balance, which, alongside the lack of knowledge of how to use a foot brake, is nothing short of being a menace when you’re in a nation where people are pretty much born on a bicycle. Fortunately, although there were accidents the only thing that really got hurt was my… ahem… dignity. (I will never, ever be in a position to challenge the likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins or Sir Chris Hoy).
My lack of cycling prowess did not ruin the evening and we had a lovely meal at a restaurant called Gewoon Gouds that is located in the beautiful city centre of Gouda virtually next to the Town Hall.
Town Hall, Gouda
It’s a place where we revisited on out last evening together and it’s somewhere I have and will continue to heartily recommend for great food and friendly customer service.
Following the adventure that we had on the way into the centre, we both decided that would be safer… not only to prevent injury, but to prevent my breaking any traffic laws, to continue our travels on foot or by public transport.
Day One – A trip to a Fairy Tale land
After a good night’s rest, Mendy and I made our way to the Efteling theme park in the town of Kaatsheuvel. I hadn’t been to a theme park since my teenage years, but right from leaving the bus on our arrival at the park, I knew that it was going to be a great day as we were greeted with jolly music.
Efteling Theme Park, Kaatsheuvel
Efteling is split into four distinct areas around a central hub called “Reizenrijk”, “Marerijk”, “Ruigrijk” and “Anderrijk”. In each of these zones are a variation of rides and attractions including white knuckle rides such as the double loop roller coaster “Python”, the racing coaster “Joris En De Draak” (or “George And The Dragon”) and the spooky “De Vliegende Hollander” (“The Flying Dutchman”) ; more relaxed rides like the “Fata Morgana” (also known as “1001 Nachten” or “1001 Nights”) and “Droomvlucht” (“Dreamflight” – which was unfortunately closed on the day I visited”); animatronic shows such as the creepy “Spookslot” and the fairy tale land called “Sprookjesbos”.
Langnek from the story “The Six Servants”
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Through the park, Mendy was fantastic, as she was all the time that I visited The Netherlands, in explaining how European stories and original versions of the fairytales made the world of Efteling and showed me the original children’s park from where this whole park was created.
However, there were three highlights of my day that I wanted to share. The first highlight was food related as I had been set a little challenge to try traditional Dutch treats and recipes. The first in my list of Dutch treats was an item called a chocoladeball, basically a ball of choux pastry filled with cream and smothered in dark chocolate sauce, in essence a giant profiterole. It was fantastic treat to eat, but I dare anyone else to try one and not get covered in chocolate.
My first Chocoladeball – Yum Yum!!!
My second highlight was the “Raveleijn” show. The show is based on a story created by noted Dutch author Paul van Loon. The version that is presented in the show is that four child, two brothers and two sisters are looking for their brother and they are drawn to the magical domain of Raveleijn. Once they arrive there, they are reunited, but they have to face the evil Count Olaf. Without wishing to present any major spoilers, it’s a fantastic, magical story with a seriously jaw dropping final act. If you ever go to Efteling, you should make this show a must see. A book and television series have been produced and Mendy has written a review for the book.
Photos from the “Raveleijn” show
The final highlight for me, and certainly a case of saving the best for last was the “Aquanura” water show which featured huge fountains of water, pyrotechnics and lights all being synchronised to music which features within the park. It’s a fantastic experience and although it was a big enough spectacle in the early evening twilight, it would have been more beautiful in the dark.
Mendy had promised me a truly magical day, and she certainly delivered on that promise, but the next day was to prove all the more fantastic…
Day Two – A visit to see Vincent and “Messing around in boats”
After a thoroughly tiring day at the Efteling, it was an early start for the first of our two days visiting Amsterdam. We had originally planned to visit Amsterdam on the third and fourth days of my trip (Sunday and Monday). We had to change our plans, however, when we found out that there was going to be a half marathon taking place with the start line being the iconic Dam Square.
After a very quick trip to on the Dutch public rail network which took in some beautiful early morning scenery including some of the iconic windmills synonymous with The Netherlands, we arrived at Amsterdam Centraal station. Shortly after we arrived, Mendy showed me a little surprise in the form of a home away from home with iconic British stores Marks and Spencer, C&A (which no longer exists in the UK) and, for all you bookish people out there, Waterstones. Of course, Mendy, being a lover of books herself, was in her element and we visited this store a couple of times during our time in Amsterdam.
From there, it was on to our first museum – The Van Gogh Museum. As a pair of Whovians (fans of “Doctor Who” for the uninitiated amongst you), we made this museum a bit of a priority due to the beautifully written epsiode “Vincent And The Doctor” written by Richard Curtis. It certainly lived up to the expectation.
The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
The museum timelines Van Gogh’s work from the beginning of his artistic career in The Netherlands, through his Parisian period and eventually into his career in the south of France leading up to his death in 1890.
Whilst stories of his mental health feature within the museum, it does not overshadow the beautiful work contained within which includes several self-portraits, iconic paintings such as “The potato eaters”, “The yellow house”, “Wheatfield with crows” and “Sunflowers”, plus work from Van Gogh’s contemporaries such as Monet, Manet, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. In addition to the paintings, there are drawings by Van Gogh and letters to his brother, Theo.
If you’re somebody who loves the work of Van Gogh, art in general or a Whovian who loves “Vincent And The Doctor”, I would recommend The Van Gogh Museum as one of the first museums in your itinerary.
Self-portrait as a painter (Van Gogh – 1887 to 1888)
The potato eaters (Van Gogh – 1885)
The yellow house (‘The street) (Van Gogh – 1888)
The bedroom (Van Gogh – 1888)
Sunflowers (Van Gogh – 1889)
Following our visit to The Van Gogh Museum, we decided to chill out by having our lunch in the Museumplein, where The Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. In addition to these museums, one of the iconic “I Amsterdam” sculptures are located.
I Amsterdam sculpture, Museumplein, Amsterdam
Once we had our lunch, we visited the Rijksmuseum – the Dutch national museum. Now, one of the stereotypes of British people is that we are very adept in that mental discipline known as “queueing”. Well, that was put to the test to an almost Olympic standard as we had to queue on three occasions simply to enter the museum – once to get in through the main door, once to buy a ticket and once to check our bags in. Needless, to say that we came through this without loss of life, limb or dignity.
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum covers Dutch art and history from 1100 to the present day over four floors – the nearest comparison that I can draw is a combination of The British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum all squeezed into one building. The galleries are laid out in a chronological design and include works from the likes of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer and, due to the fact that the work is based on the work of Piet Mondrian, Yves Saint Laurent.
Whilst the museum is very interesting to visit, the amount of “footfall traffic” does prompt visitors to rush around a bit to avoid the crush, so I would recommend that you time your visit carefully, but if you like art and history then this is a museum for the culture vulture. (Plus the guidebooks which cost 10 Euros are very good value for money).
The Night Watch (Rembrandt – 1642)
Waterloo (Pieneman – 1824)
Self portrait (Van Gogh – 1887)
Following the visit to the Rijksmuseum, we decided on a change of pace for the remainder of the afternoon and following a quick refreshment stop, we went on a boat trip of the canals of Amsterdam.
This trip took in the various sights of the city including the Westerkerk, whose bells feature at various points within “The Diary of a Young Girl”, the Amsterdam branch of the Hermitage Museum, the NEMO museum, the Maritime museum including the recreation of the sailing ship Amsterdam, the Heineken Experience, the Amstel Hotel where all the celebrities stay in, a boat exclusively used for parking bicycles… and several buildings claiming the title of Amsterdam’s thinnest house (it was a tax thing).
Whilst the commentary provided by the automated system was okay, nothing beats a commentary from somebody with an element of a local knowledge beyond the guidebooks and the information provided by the captain of the boat, alongside some information and translation by Mendy was infinitely more useful.
The Westerkerk, Amsterdam
The recreation of the Amserdam
The Amstel Hotel, Amsterdam
A boatful of bicycles… Thankfully for the residents,
I didn’t ride any of them!!!
At the end of the boat ride, we decided that we had done plenty for the day and made our way back to Gouda for dinner and a relax. A great first day in the capital.
Day 3 – Meeting friends, Apple Pie, Dutch “sushi” and a feast fit for the Devil!!!
Ahhhhhhh… a day to relax… well, for me it was to start with as Mendy was planning a special dinner in honour of my visit. Later that morning, we travelled to the beautiful city of Delft, primarily known for its blue pottery known as “Delftware”, the Oude Kerk with its leaning tower and for us… the most beautiful apple pie around (well, apart from my Mum’s).
Yep… that’s one biiiiiiiiig piece of apple pie –
Kobus Kuch, Delft
Following our train ride to Delft, Mendy and I met up with a fellow Twitter friend, Lokke, who was our guide for the afternoon which started with a nice couple of hours at the Kobus Kuch cafe where we had the aforementioned beautiful apple pie alongside coffee and tea and, in my case, a Haagse Hopje – a sweet which tastes of coffee.
The rest of the afternoon followed the tone of the lunch as Lokke guided us around the centre of Delft including the city hall which was the location for a travelling fair for the day, the Nieuwe Kerk which contains the burial vault of the Dutch royal family, a little souvenir shopping for my family and the second of my food challenges.
One of the national dishes for the Netherlands is raw herring and I had been challenged to try one. Now, there is an art to eating raw herring and it’s not the polite, or should I say inefficient, way of nibbling it whilst cradling the body of the fish. Nooooo, to eat a raw herring you simply hold it by its tail and lower it down into your mouth. Given that this was my first taste of this delicacy, I have to admit that it was fantastic, fresh to eat and nothing like I imagined.
As we carried on our tour of Delft, we took in an old fashioned sweet shop, some really beautiful scenery and yep, you guessed it, another cafe, where this time chocoladetaart was on the menu and, like the apple pie, it was beautiful.
Unfortunately, our time together ended all too soon and we said goodbye to Lokke and returned to Gouda for dinner.
The Nieuw Kerk, Delft
City Hall, Delft
The fish stall where I ate raw herring in the foreground
with the leaning tower of the Oude Kerk in the background
On our return to Gouda, Mendy treated me to one of her speciality dishes, the “Devil Dish” – a tasty concoction including vegetables, chicken, mushrooms and various spices. Needless to say, I’ve asked her for the recipe.
After dinner and a little televisual geekery, we decided to have another early evening due to our return to Amsterdam the following day.
Day 4 – Return to Amsterdam
Monday morning saw our return to Amsterdam and the reason for which our friendship really started, a visit to the Anne Frank House.
Although the story of Anne Frank’s diary is one that is well known throughout the world, nothing can really prepare you for the emotive impact that the museum has upon a person, it certainly did on me. Once you make your way through the museum’s entrance you are guided through the front offices of the Opekta and Pectacon spice and gelling companies through to the bookcase which served as the cover for the entrance for the back house (also known as “The Hidden Annexe”) and into the back house itself where Anne, the Frank family, the van Pels family (known as the van Daan’s in the book) and Fritz Pfeffer (known under the pseudonym of Albert Dussell in the book) hid from Nazi oppression for over two years before they were betrayed and captured.
Although the rooms have no furniture, there are little items which showed the daily lives of the people who lived in the back house including pictures of movie actors and the young Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and Princess Margaret which had been glued to the walls and pencil marks which served as a height measure for Anne and her sister Margot.
Once through the house, you are conducted into an area which explained what happened to Anne, the Franks, the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer following their capture and internment in the concentration camps and the importance of Anne’s writings to the wider world, not only upon the immediate release of the book, but also in the current time.
I will carry the impact of what I saw in the Anne Frank House for a long time and I highly recommend it as a place to visit to put the diary into real context.
Following our visit to the Anne Frank House, Mendy suggested that we have a snack, a chance to chat about what we had seen and a relax. We managed to find a small cafe near a canal which was reminiscent of the Parisian cafes that I have seen on television – ones where you can do “people watching” or generally watching the world go by.
At this cafe, I was able to try another Dutch delicacy called Bitterballen. These consist of a mixture of a ragout made up of meat and coated in breadcrumbs which are then fried and usually eaten with mustard – however, we ate ours with Dutch style mayonnaise (which is nicer than the English, I can tell you).
(Photo credit: Mendy)
Warning: Do not play the “Yellow Car” game against Mendy – she’s an expert!!!
Following our snack, we decided to visit the Hermitage museum as Mendy has a fondness for Russian culture and art. Unfortunately, the exhibition that she hoped to see about Peter The Great finished a day earlier when it wouldn’t have been practical to visit Amsterdam. Instead, we saw an exhibition of work by Gauguin, Bonnard and Denis. Although it wasn’t the exhibit that Mendy really wanted to see, we still liked the art on display (even though we couldn’t buy a momento of our visit due to the price).
After our trip to the Hermitage, we had a late lunch in an Irish pub in Rembrandtplein called the St James Gate where I not only ate, in my humble opinion, one of the finest burgers in a pub but you can get a nice pint of Guinness and a view of “The Night Watch Statue”.
(Photo credit: Mendy)
“The Night Watch” statue, Amsterdam
Following our lunch, we decided to visit the foam photographic gallery to see the temporary exhibition (which closed recently) of photographs taken by Brian Duffy between 1972 to 1980 of David Bowie.
Whilst the exhibition was small, it was no less impressive as it included some iconic photos from works such as Ziggy Stardust, Ashes To Ashes and Aladdin Sane.
Following our visit to foam, we went on a wee shopping trip to a speciality store which sells British and American confectionery items where Mendy could stock up on goodies including some Jammie Dodgers for her forthcoming birthday party and for me to feel old and nostalgic about sweets which are no longer produced in the UK.
After a quick trip to Starbucks (for me to get a Pumpkin Latte – nice spot Mendy) and back to Waterstones for Mendy to treat herself, we returned to Gouda to have our last dinner together at Gewoon Gouds, where we had a fantastic meal.
On our return to Mendy’s house, we decided to mark our time together by watching the “Doctor Who” episode “Vincent and The Doctor”. Needless to say that although the music used in the story already made me feel sad because of the story’s ending, I have another reason to feel sad whenever I listen to Murray Gold’s score and “Chances” by Athlete.
Day 6 – Stroopwafels, cheese, the sadness of partings and the joys of flying
Well, it was inevitable that no sooner had I arrived than I was going to return home. It was a day of mixed emotions on my part. Yes, I would be glad to return home to familiar things like British rain and Beans on Toast, but I was feeling very sad that I would be going home.
However, we decided to visit the centre of Gouda so that I could buy some last minute items – namely the obligatory tourist item of Gouda cheese for my family and for Mendy to treat me to two final Dutch delicacies – Stroopwafels (Syrup waffles) which taste even better warm than cold out of the packet (even though they are fantastic cold) and an Oliebol (also known as a Dutch doughnut).
After our quick visit to the city centre, we decided that we couldn’t delay the inevitable any further and we caught the train back to Schiphol airport, where we had a mammoth walk from the airport’s railway station to check in and then I had a mammoth walk ahead of me from the security channels to the departure gate… but not until I had a really big hug with Mendy.
Mendy was a kind and hospitable host throughout by putting her life on hold for a couple of weeks whilst a weird British guy visited and although we try to talk on Skype when we can (because we have real lives), I still miss her because of the kindness, patience and hospitality she showed throughout the days I spent in her company and it’s been a little difficult to get back into the rhythm of normal life – even two and a half weeks after my return.
However, before I left Holland I had a couple of surprises in store. Firstly, my flight was delayed due to fog earlier in the day. Although it wasn’t a major inconvenience, it meant that all the plans I had made for an easy journey home on my return to England would come to nothing.
The second surprise was a nice one as I visited a smaller branch of the Rijksmuseum which was housed in the departure hall of the airport which houses a small exhibition of paintings and a model of the Rijksmuseum itself.
If you ever have a desire to visit The Netherlands I would heartily recommend it. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to visit again as I would love to meet Mendy again in person and we have loosely discussed a “return fixture” some time in the future.
Thank you Mendy. You were fantastic… absolutely fantastic.
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