Searching for Sunshine in the Benelux - Part 7

Back to Leiden and Delft again, a journey through Northern Netherlands, and the Finale

We wanted to see Leiden again, because the first time we were there, the day we got into the Netherlands, we hadn't seen much, because we had only put in about two hours on the parking permit, and had been distracted because there was a big open market going on that day. Well, it was Saturday market in Leiden again! We parked in a garage this time, so we could stay as long as we wanted, and walked around the market and other parts of Leiden. Leiden was another pretty, canal-filled Netherlands city, but with a very big outdoor market. There were food stands of all kinds, cheeses, breads, fish, clothing, bicycle parts, you name it. It went on for blocks and blocks in every direction. There was a big crowd of people in town, and zillions of bicycles (I'm running out of names for huge numbers of bicycles). After walking around for several hours, and taking lots of pictures, we went back to the car and drove to Delft.

On our way to Delft, and in fact, for several days, we passed more windmills. I have stopped taking pictures of them because we have seen so many. They are in farmers fields. They are just off the highway. As I said before, one was less than 20 feet from our hotel in Breukelen. They show up everywhere. Most seem to be privately owned, not tourist attractions. Some of the larger ones are residences. Today, several that we saw had their sails deployed and were turning! Incredible. It's wonderful that they maintain them. In America, they'd probably tear them down to build shopping malls.

We got to Delft. We had booked two nights in the same hotel we stayed in a few weeks earlier, because we enjoyed the hotel, and it wasn't too expensive, and we felt that it would be a central location if we wanted to drive around from Delft. The hotel, as I said before, was music-themed, with each room dedicated to a different performer. Unfortunately, last time we had the “Brittany Spears” room. Luckily, this time we got the “Nat King Cole” room. Much better. On the wall over the bed was a quotation from Nat. It read “Critics don't buy records. They get 'em for free”. Good point Nat!

We then went out to see Delft again, this time in the sunshine. What a difference! The city was full of people. The shops were open. The outdoor cafes were open. There was an antique flea market all over the city, with stalls on almost every street. With the sun shining, the buildings and canals were beautiful, and we took a lot of pictures. We were at the entrance to the New Church, which we had missed seeing the last time, except for being let in for five minutes just as it closed. This time there was a sign saying something like “Open Monument Day”, and lots of people were going in for free! Unfortunately, one again we got there just before closing, but we walked in and some musicians were playing up in the organ loft, accompanying the organ. We listened until they finished, and then had to leave because it was closing time again.

When we got to the main market square, it had been transformed. There were bleachers set up on three sides of the square, and a stage on the fourth side. We thought there was going to be some kind of rock concert that evening, but we later found out that they were having a “Military Tattoo”. (In Dutch, they called it a Taptoe.) A bunch of military marching bands and other military-themed entertainments. Also, in the square were a number of World War II US military vehicles and a lot of guys dressed up in WW II uniforms. Interesting that they were all US military vehicles, not Netherlands ones.

As it was getting late, we had dinner, this time in an outdoor cafe, attached to a restaurant built in the old Waag, or weighing house, where gold and silver were weighed in the 18th century. I had Iced tea to drink. The iced tea served everywhere in the Benelux restaurants is the same, Lipton Iced Tea, in a glass that looks like a brandy snifter, with the Lipton logo painted on the side. The three unusual things about it are, firstly, it is carbonated, a fizzy iced tea, and secondly, it always comes with a slice of lemon in it, even though it contains a lot of (probably artificial) lemon flavor already, and thirdly, it comes with what we called a “lemon spusher”. This was a plastic thing, something like a swizzle stick, but with a bumpy disk on the end that you could use to squeeze the lemon against the bottom of the glass. Interesting. We decided not to buy tickets and stay for the military tattoo, so we went back to the “Nat King Cole” room for the night.

I really love Delft. It may be my favorite place in the Netherlands. Along with Maastricht, and Leiden, and Amsterdam.

Sunday, September 12

Today started out with overcast skies and heavy rain. The forecast, which is almost always wrong, was for rain all day. Rather than walking around some pretty town, we decided to just go for a ride somewhere and look at the scenery in the rain. We drove north, past Amsterdam, and went to an area called IJsselmeer (yes, the IJ is capitalized. I don't know why.), which an inland lake bordered by Polders, which is the Dutch name for areas reclaimed from the sea. As we drove north, the skies cleared a bit and the rain stopped and the further north we got, the more the skies cleared. Also, the further north we drove, the narrower the highway got, the smaller and prettier the villages along the highway got, and the more picturesque the farms became. We got all the way to the end of a peninsula in the town of Den Helder, a seaport town with a mixture of old and new buildings and ships. There was a historic area, something like the South Street Seaport in New York, or at least the way it used to be before it became a shopping mall - a mixture of commerce and museums in old, restored seaport buildings. We had lunch in a restaurant inside one of the old seaport buildings, and then left Den Helder and started across the Afsluitdijk, a 29 kilometer dyke, or dam, which you can drive along. It was a nice afternoon, lots of puffy clouds and sun, and we were surrounded by water, the Waddenzee on our left, part of the Atlantic Ocean, and the IJsselmere on our right, now an inland lake, once called the Zuiderzee.

After a while, we came to a parking area, right on the dyke, which had a memorial statue to the man who conceived the whole project to dam the Zuiderzee in 1891. His name was Dr. Cornelius Lely, and he didn't see the project start until 1919. He died before it was finished. In addition to his statue, there was a souvenir shop, and a little cafeteria, with all kinds of nautical antiques and collectibles inside, and lots of old pictures of the construction of the dyke. We stopped for quite a while, taking pictures, and then Donnie went into the souvenir shop and bought a set of postcards with old pictures of the dyke being built. We then drove to the end of the Afsluitdijk, and came to the little town of Zurich. No, not the one in Switzerland! We decided that since it was getting pretty late, we would turn around and head back across the dyke, and then head south again toward Amsterdam on a highway. It took about 1 and ½ hours to get back to Delft and our hotel. We went out and had an Italian dinner in Delft and went back to the hotel for the night. It turned out to be a lovely day, without any rain, and with a considerable amount of sunshine as we got further north.

Along the way today, we saw dozens of old windmills, many of them actually turning! We also saw hundreds of modern wind turbine generators; many, many of them; almost all of them operating. Some were 3 or 4 stories high, others were huge like skyscrapers. This little country probably has more wind generators than the entire U.S. There were also bicycle lanes along the side of the road everywhere, and canals along the roads and in the towns almost everywhere. We frequently saw people on bicycles cycling through the countryside, no matter how far from any kind of city or town. It was another day of lovely scenery in a lovely country.

Monday, September 13

Today was our last day of sightseeing for this trip. This morning we woke to very cloudy weather, threatening rain. We had, we thought, exhausted most of the recommended things to see in this area, and we didn't really know what to do today. We had a nice (free) breakfast in the hotel, and checked out and, depositing our stuff in our car in the extremely clean parking garage, we walked back into Delft to buy some gifts. It was Monday morning at about 11:00 am. The place was deserted. Most of the shops and all of the restaurants were closed. We found a couple of shops open and bought some Delft tiles for gifts.

We then went back to the car, and decided to drive to an “Open Air Museum” called Zaanse Schaans, a little north of Amsterdam. We have been to several “Open Air Museums”, and this one was small, and really just some old buildings. There were, however, about 9 Windmills. We walked around and took 42.735 gazillion windmill pictures. There were windmills for sawing wood, windmills for milling grain, windmills for making oil from peanuts, windmills for sharpening mill stones and blades, and even one windmill used to grind pigments to make paints. It was the last working “Color” mill in the country. Most of the windmills were private residences. Two were turning and were “open”, meaning that you could go inside to see the operation of the machinery, but they wanted 3 Euros each to go into each mill, and we had already seen inside working mills. After walking around all the windmills, taking pictures in the very poor light from the overcast sky, the sun came out, and we had to retrace our steps so we could take another 37.493 gazillion windmill pictures.

After taking the windmill pictures (and some sheep pictures, and a few goat pictures), we decided it was time to find the hotel we had booked for our last night in the Netherlands. We had tried to find a hotel close to, or inside Schiphol airport, but evidently there was some kind of big convention in Amsterdam, and all the hotels anywhere near the airport were fully booked. We found a room at a Marriott Courtyard hotel, which claimed to be near the airport. It was very expensive, much more than we had paid in any other hotel during the entire trip, including the incredibly luxurious Sofitel in Luxembourg. We drove to the hotel, following the directions we got from their web site, and discovered that they were near the airport, just on the completely opposite side of the airport from the terminals, so that it was a 15 minute ride to the airport terminal. We checked in, and they upgraded us to a “penthouse” room, which had a nice, large, fancy bathroom, which was nice, but still not worth what we were paying.

We then drove to the airport to turn in the rental car. We took the hotel shuttle bus back to the hotel, and discovered that they charged 5 Euros per person to use their shuttle bus to get to the hotel. Unbelievable! I have been in business hotels many times. Some charge for parking, usually a lot of money. This one charged for parking. In fact, you couldn't even drive up to the door of the hotel without taking a parking ticket from a machine to raise the gate. Most charge a lot for breakfast. Many charge for Internet access. I had never before heard of a hotel that had the nerve to charge for taking their own shuttle bus to get to and from the hotel, especially since they called themselves an airport hotel. Ah well, we didn't really have any other choice. The only hotels available were in Amsterdam proper, and since we had to be at the airport early the next morning, we had to stay here.

The next morning we woke up to another rainy day. We washed and dressed and finished packing, and went down to take the shuttle bus to the airport. We had read on the hotel website that you had to reserve the shuttle bus in advance (and pay 5 Euros per person!), so we had done that. We got on the bus and waited a little while for it to fill up with passengers. The driver got in and asked for tickets (which we had previously gotten from the desk clerk). One man on the bus didn't have one, but he said that he was staying at the hotel and gave his room number. Not good enough. The driver asked him to leave the bus!

We got to the airport, had a typically poor, expensive, airport breakfast, and did all the necessary check-in and security things. We finally boarded our plane and took off for New York.

The trip was wonderful. The only downside was the rainy weather, but that can't be helped. We took lots of pictures. (I took about 1000, Donnie took about 8000!) Of the 3 countries, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, we love the Netherlands the best. It had more pretty villages and more beautiful countryside. Belgium has Bruges, though, and that's one of our favorite places. Luxembourg was nice to see also. I wouldn't mind living in several places in the Netherlands, or in Bruges. In all the countries, the towns and cities were beautiful, the people were friendly, the food was astounding, there were open-air markets everywhere we went, the architecture was fascinating, and we had a ball. Maybe you can tell, we love Europe.