Trip Report: The Netherlands
November, 2003

5 days in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam, The Hague

Once again, I couldn’t resist the ‘e-saver’ e-mail from US Airways: only $450 RT to Amsterdam. I knew part of the discount was because it’s cold there this time of year; but with wool cap, gloves, and muffler I was fine.

Amsterdam is a city full of art and history. Van Gogh and Rembrandt lived here and still walk the halls of the museums. On the weekends, the city swells with art and photo exhibits. History peeks out from the tall thin homes lining the canals and impressive public buildings. The impact of World War II is still seen in neighboring cities, though Amsterdam itself was unharmed.


This city, a pleasant hour’s train ride south of Amsterdam, is the largest port in the world. This fact is an odd reminder of WWII, when it’s dock facilities made Rotterdam a major target of Nazi bombing and the city was almost completely flattened. Very little old architecture survived, but reconstruction has led to some remarkable new buildings. I spotted some beautiful modern skyscrapers that were quite notable.

Unfortunately, due to my late rising that morning (jet lag!), I didn’t get to the port in Rotterdam until about 3:45 p.m. — just missing the last boat tour of the port that day. (I like to say, it’s important to leave some things for the future; I shall have to go back!) I did, however, stumble across the casino (a block from the Centraal Station). Well, what can I say, they offer Vegas-style blackjack so I played for a while. I’m happy to say that I actually won 50 euros (about $60)!


This ‘village’ (never officially chartered as a city) is the country’s seat of government, though Amsterdam is the nominal capital. The Parliament is a marvelous old building. The Mauritshuis Royal Cabinet of Paintings is supposed to be one of the top museums in Europe; I wouldn’t know, however — the huge line to see a Holbein exhibit prevented me from seeing it! Like I said, it’s important to leave some things for the future.


No, not New York! Just a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam, Haarlem is a charming village with 3 good museums. The cathedral is amazing with its gorgeous ceilings, a 5,000-pipe organ (played by Handel and Mozart), and a cannonball still embedded in a wall. The market in the church square was fun, offering good souvenirs and high quality pastries!


I’m sure you’ve heard of the canals in Amsterdam. They are quite charming and a canal boat tour is one of the many fun things for tourists to do. “Gracht” is the Dutch word for a small canal (and the street that parallels it). Prinsengracht 263 is a world famous address; that is the location of the Anne Frank House. A couple of years ago when I first visited Holland, I went to see the Anne Frankhuis but was scared away by the long line — it is the #1 tourist attraction in Holland. This time I went early on a Monday morning, and there was no line at all.

The Anne Frank House was, for me, a moving experience, but not very informative. Having read her diaries, I knew all the details already. The museum presents context, but very little of the content from the diaries. Only if you read her diaries will you learn that Anne was quite a feminist, that she fell in love with one of her fellows in hiding, that the building was burglarized a couple of times while they were hiding in it, that the stress of hiding caused tremendous rancor amongst them, and that several people on the outside took great risks to supply them with food, ration cards, magazines, etc.

Holland has royalty (Queen Beatrix) and the royal family is quite popular. “Prinsen” means prince, so you can figure out what Prinsengracht means. And, yes, there is also a “Princessegracht”. And, of course, there are streets (straat) and plazas (plein) named after them, too. This plethora of prinsen/princesse place names got me in trouble in The Hague when I was looking for the Museum of the Book (Museum van het Boek) on Princessegracht. A policeman gave me directions, but apparently misread my tour guide, because I ended up in the wrong direction at Prinsengracht. I hate it when that happens! (I never did make it to the Museum of the Book. Repeat after me: “It’s important to leave some things for the future ...”)


Dutch words: (English obviously owes quite an historic debt to Dutch)
  • haven = harbor
  • melk = milk
  • schip = ship
  • kerk = church
  • huis = house (and is pronounced 'hows')
  • stroop = syrup
  • poeder suiker = powdered sugar

Rembrandt notes:

  • Full name: Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
  • He was the 9th child of a miller.
  • In previous centuries, especially during his life, Rembrandt was most famous as a printer and ‘groundbreaking’ etcher.
  • The Dutch woman I sat next to on the plane was named Saskia and I met or heard of a couple of other women with that name. This popularity was finally explained when I learned that Rembrandt’s wife was named Saskia. His son was Titus.

Misc. notes:

  • The trams are many and frequent in Amsterdam.
  • My favorite Dutch foods: smoked eel and mackerel.
  • It is great fun to watch foreign TV.
  • If Holland is predictive, upcoming fashions will include leather boots with extremely pointy toes. And also short (denim) skirts over black tights.
  • Unexplained mystery: In 1250 AD, sea level rose, flooding Amsterdam and leading to the extensive development of dikes and canals.
  • The Indian dish Chicken Vindaloo is just too spicy — don’t ever eat it again!
  • You’ve had Fanta orange soda, I’m sure; in Holland you can have Fanta pomelo soda.
  • As portrait painting became popular in Holland, painters found themselves limited by their patrons. To widen their market, the ‘genre painters of Haarlem’ invented the concept of painting scenes of (happy and sad) village life, which they could inventory — and sell to anyone.
  • The Pilgrims were Dutch! They left from Rotterdam; when their ship proved unseaworthy, they changed ships (to the Mayflower) in England before setting out for Plymouth Rock.
  • Amsterdam is a very dense city; bicycles are everywhere. This has also led them to develop tiny cars, only 4 or 5 feet long.
  • Perhaps the Dutch are into toilet technology as much as the Japanese; most toilets here have an ‘inspection shelf’ where one can look things over before flushing.
  • Man has been using fire to harden pottery since 5,000 BC.
  • Tapestries originated as insulation.
  • My favorite discovery: a beverage called ‘Fruit and Milk’, much like the liquid yogurt making inroads in US grocery stores.
  • The UK is considering a national ID card to be phased in over the next decade.
  • The Dutch prefer to call their country The Netherlands (vs. Holland).

Happy travels,

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