Three Dutch Cities, Three Faces of the Netherlands

During our month in the Hague, we took a few side day trips to other Dutch cities: Groningen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

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The Netherlands is a small country. Slightly less than twice the size of New Jersey. So, to us, taking a day to visit each of these places was a no-brainer. Rotterdam is a 20 minute train ride from den Haag Centraal. Amsterdam, 45 minutes. Groningen, the farthest of the three, gave us three hours of quiet time on the train to get work done.

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People seemed a little shocked that we rode a train for the interminable length of three hours to visit a city for 24 hours, but I’ve driven 4 hours each way to and from Jacksonville in one day just to hang out with people. And there’s no wifi in a car. The train ride was lovely.

(I feel the need to mention that I had pushed for us to drive from the Hague to the north, since our home exchange included the use of the car and you have the freedom to stop as you please, and get a different experience by driving in another country. But the husband adamantly insisted on the train. He was correct.)

Train travel is the way to go. Simple. Continuous. No need to pre-book tickets ahead of time. Our public transit chip cards worked anywhere in the country, on both trams and trains. These trains are not luxurious but they are more comfortable than planes, are easy to use (even for foreigners), and offer toilets and wifi. What more do you need?

Come on, America! Get it together! Give us a usable train system! 

Having the opportunity to visit three cities other than the one we were living in offered us a glimpse into the different facets of Dutch life and the other sides of the Netherlands’ personality.


Amsterdam

The experienced sister who’s traveled the world, has a few scars and tattoos to prove it, and still likes to party. Her give a damn broke years ago, but she’ll tell you when you’re being an idiot. 

Justin: Perhaps the only regret I have about living four weeks in Holland is only spending about six hours of that time in Amsterdam. We didn’t give her enough attention. But it was a great city to visit, even if short. It’s interesting to walk around bustling city of cars, bicycles and pedestrians, surrounded by beautiful architecture and canals. And, of course, women that hang out in glass cases awaiting a suitor. Not that the Red Light District is what makes Amsterdam Amsterdam. But there aren’t a lot of places in the world that have such an interesting cultural dichotomy.

As mentioned, I wish we would have spent more time in Amsterdam so we could explore other neighborhoods. Take in the food culture. Visit some museums. Next time maybe we’ll get around to scratching the surface.

Ashley: I wish we’d spent more time here, as well, but our evening in the city reminded me of why I was glad our home exchange was in a quieter place. It’s the Vegas of Northern Europe; everyone goes there to get a little rowdy. We spent most of our time walking around, taking in the scenery, comparing and contrasting to the lovely Den Haag. We found an awesome cocktail bar called Porem, where the bartender gave us a recommendation for a place in Budapest that just about blew our minds with creativity. We ate at one of the bazillion Italian restaurants (seriously, Europe, why are you obsessed with Italy?) and strolled through the Red Light District. Next time we’ll hit up some museums 🙂 

 


Groningen

The wise-beyond-her-years sister, still in college yet sure of herself. She loves history and prefers the quiet life, but goes out every weekend trying all the restaurants and festivals she can find.

Justin: This town took me by surprise. From the moment we got to the train station I could tell something was different. There was young people. Lots of them. Hanging around, leaving the station, going to the station, getting their bikes ready, drinking beer. As if we were in a college town.

Which was apparently the case. It was awesome to check out a college town in a foreign country. Visiting one of the university campuses reminded me of my first year at school. The weather was phenomenal. There was this sense of freedom. You couldn’t go far without catching a whiff of… coffee. Yeah, coffee.

All in all, I’d say this was one of my favorite towns we visited on the entire trip. The market was amazing with so many great vendors of fresh fruit and fish. Mussels being cooked right in front of you. Lots of food and drink. No shortage of cafes, bars and restaurants. I’d love to spend more time there.

Ashley: My dad’s best friend from high school (in Manhattan) moved to the Netherlands, fell in love with a local, and had four lovely Dutch children. They came to visit the Schwartaus in Nashville last fall, so now it was our turn to visit them. After picking us up from the train station and taking us out to a delicious meal, Howard and Alies welcomed us with warm arms into their home for our overnight sojourn to the north.

The next day, they gave us an informative and fun walking tour around the center of town, and then three of their four adult children came to join us at the house where they prepared a wonderful home-cooked meal. Even though we spent less than 24 hours in Groningen with the Levinskys, it was one of my favorite days in the Netherlands. Even though I’ve met Howie a few times in the Netherlands and we had spent a few days hanging out when they visited Nashville last year, I wouldn’t say we know each other super well, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from visiting.

But Justin and I both agree that it was just like visiting family. It was easy. It was comfortable. The day in town and the dinner at home were both filled with laughter and stories and an easy flow of conversation you usually get after years of knowing someone. So we were very lucky to discover Groningen under such circumstances, with friends who feel like family.

 

 


Rotterdam

The cool brother who had a troubled past but rebuilt himself, and now has lofty career aspirations. He likes EDM, craft cocktails and modern art. He has no patience for people stuck in the past.

Justin: Rotterdam, what is going on with you? We take a quick train ride from Den Haag and get off at Blaak, Rotterdam, and are immediately greeted by a cluster of yellow, cubed houses. Like, that’s so very strange. And then we turn around and see this massive Market–one of the most impressive markets I’ve ever seen. Not only is it over 17,200 square feet of food/cafe/bars/restaurants, it also has 228 apartments and an underground four-story parking garage. If this place existed in Nashville, I’d go several times a week.

The rest of the city was lovely to walk through. I’ve always had a soft spot for port cities and river towns–really place that thrives on large bodies of water. Rotterdam has everything I could ever want. If I lived in Holland, I’d be on the train a lot visiting this city, before just giving up and moving there.

Ashley: Rotterdam was so aesthetically different from its sibling cities that it took me by surprise. I had to stop every five feet to snap a photo of another odd or artsy building. The artistic structures felt very purposeful, like after the mass destruction during World War Two, they decided to not only rebuild but recreate the city entirely. It’s beautiful in a slanted modern way, and I know we only got to see a little of what this city has to offer. It felt like a Chicago to the Hague’s more Nashville-pace (if you balled up Nashville and put her in a beautiful, old, walkable city). 


Have you been to the Netherlands? What cities have you visited and what stood out to you as the most memorable experiences? Where should we go next time we find ourselves in the Netherlands? 

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