Visiting the fascinating country of the Netherlands

Netherlands has more canals than any other country I have visited.

Both of you know that I like taking a European vacation every summer. It is an excellent way to take a break from the working world, experience other cultures, and blow off some steam.

I find Europe fascinating and never get tired of going there.

The past few summers we visited well-known countries like Germany, Austria, and France. We saw several scenic sites, climbed cathedral spiral staircases, and witnessed world-class art.

This year it was impossible to get our schedules aligned, so I went to Europe this summer without you. Instead, Kim (my new girlfriend) and I went to the Netherlands.

Why there? We only had a week for the trip, and the Netherlands is one of Europe’s smallest countries, so it seemed like a good choice.

I never visited the Netherlands before

The Netherlands was new to me. I had driven through it several times en route to Belgium and England but never spent anytime there.

I was super excited to finally see Amsterdam — one of Europe’s most famous capital cities. I have been to many of them, but not Amsterdam. I did a fair amount of research before going so that we were prepared as possible.

I watched several YouTube travel videos from various travel experts. The one found below is both entertaining and educational.

I also read Rick Steve’s book about Amsterdam and the Netherlands to plan out how we would spend our time.

We only had a week — which is pretty short for a trip to Europe. I wanted to make sure we made the most of our time there.

We had a good plan for the week

Based on my research we decided to spend a few days in Amsterdam and then head south visiting several of Holland’s best cities to include Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, and Rotterdam.

For any purists — we stayed in Holland the whole time so I am comfortable using that term. We did not venture into the other parts of the Netherlands. I plan to do that on a future trip.

Public transportation seemed good, so no need to rent a car. Instead, we would use trains to travel from town to town and backpack the whole way.

No real luggage for the journey. We would carry everything we had on our backs. from place to place.

As both you boys know I like to create charts for our trips. The slide below details the trip. When we were wheels up in America I was confident we were going to have a great vacation. I was not disappointed.

Holland is a small country. The train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam was 45 minutes.

I gain practical experience with each trip

Every trip to Europe is different. No country is the same. All of them are unique. Traveling can be hectic, especially if you do not know what you are doing.

Each summer I hope to get better at traveling. I am convinced that the only way to get better at something is by doing it. Sure — you can read a book, talk to others, and watch videos. I do a fair amount of that before each trip.

But nothing trumps practical experience.

I gain more and more every summer. After each trip, I jot down the best practices (what went well and should be factored into future plans) and lessons learned (what did not go well and should be avoided in the future).

In this blog post, I am sharing what went well on this trip. Consider this list the top ten best practices from Holland.

  1. Train travel was easy — the Dutch train system is well organized, efficient, and inexpensive. It took less than 30 minutes to travel between cities. The Dutch trains ran on time (similar to Germany), and we did not have to worry about any employee strikes (like in Italy). We did not need a car. I would only rent one if you are going to see sites away from the cities.
It was less than 20 minutes from Amsterdam to Haarlem on the train.

2. The museums were world-class — each city we visited had museums worth visiting. Amsterdam has several world-class ones. I was really impressed with the art museums. We chose not to spend too much time in museums because the weather was great.

The Night Watch is one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings. It is huge.

3. Dutch apple pie was excellent — I like to drink coffee every afternoon and eat something sweet while on vacation. The Dutch offer several options to include pancakes and pie. Their apple pie is particularly good. I highly recommend it — well worth the calories.

Do you want whipped cream with your apple pie? The answer is always yes on vacation.

4. Staying on a canal in Amsterdam was worth it — the canals in Amsterdam are beautiful. They are different than the ones found in Venice (which are also awesome). I am not going to lie, hotels in Amsterdam are expensive. Since the cost would be high we chose to stay in a boutique hotel. Our room had a small nook that looked onto the water. It was a funky place to drink morning coffee and talk about plans for the day. It was a splurge, but well worth it.

We stayed at Hotel Sebastian’s in Amsterdam. It was right on one of the main canals near the train station.

5. Taking canal tours helped us meet others — most cities in Holland offer canal tours. We took two. One in Amsterdam, and one in Leiden. Both were excellent. We were able to bring a picnic lunch on the one in Amsterdam. We chose a smaller company (thosedamboatguys.com).

During the tour, we learned a lot about the city and Europe in general. The other tour participants were from all over Europe. A really diverse group that was more than happy to share their perspective on many topics to include American politics.

They made fun of Obamacare. After all, who pays that much for healthcare. Also, we don’t get nearly enough vacation days. Five weeks is the norm, and some countries offer six weeks. Amen.

It was an excellent opportunity for us to see the world through others eyes.

The canal tour in Leiden was piloted by a student (it is a large university town) who spoke excellent English. We were able to ask him a ton of questions about the city which was helpful for the rest of our stay.

Great views of Leiden during the canal tour.

6. You do not need cash in Holland — some European countries prefer cash. Not the Netherlands. They use the Euro and accept credit cards almost everywhere. I have a special travel card that offers a good exchange rate with no foreign transaction fees. This convenience helped us save money, and reduced the amount of cash we carried which is a good thing in large cities.

Even small restaurants like this one in Delft take credit cards.

7. Rick Steve’s walking tours helped a lot — in his book about the Netherlands, Rick Steves provides detailed instructions for a self-guided walking tour in each city. We went on several of them. They are a great way to learn the basics about the city without having to pay for a tour guide or follow one in a large group like lost sheep. I am not a fan of those type tours.

I always travel with a Rick Steve’s book in Europe.

8. Most Dutch food is not that great — several travel videos warned that Dutch food is not that great. They are right. Most Dutch food is okay, so we avoided going to any pricey restaurants which helped save money on the trip. The best meal I had on the trip was actually German. The Dutch are not afraid to import other cultures, so some of your best options may be from other parts of the world like Indonesian food. As mentioned already, their sweet treats are also excellent. The pancakes were delicious.

Banana and Nutella pancake with syrup — sugar bomb.

9. Dutch cafe culture was fun — I am talking about places that sell coffee, not cannabis. Places that sell cannabis are called coffee shops which can be sort of confusing, although the smell gives it away. Dutch cafe culture is not as cool as French, but we enjoyed hanging out at several cafes located in the various town squares. As always — great people watching.

t was easy to find a decent breakfast at a cafe. I could eat a croissant every day.

10. You can see a lot in a day — we spent only a day in several cities. Oddly enough it was enough time. Most of them are not that big. You have to do some walking, but that is part of the fun, and help burn all the calories from the Apple pie. Did I mention that it is excellent?

The views from the Delft Church in the market square were great. Lots of stairs, but worth the climb.

Bottom line — we had a great time in the Netherlands. It is a small European country that offers a lot to travelers. I hope you get a chance to visit it one day. I plan to return there soon.

Related

I write a blog for my sons called Doug Keating Letter to Sons. I am sharing content from my blog here. I hope you enjoyed it. All feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading it.

Originally published at www.lettertosons.com on August 27, 2018.