OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADelft is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the Netherlands, this is partially due to its importance in the middle ages as a trading place first for agricultural products and later for fabric and pottery. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey were very big on imitating the Chinese blue and white pottery that was popular at the time. The other part why it is so well preserved is that after being a large and important town up to the 17th century, it lost that importance quickly due to the plague and the growing relevance of the ports in Den Haag and Rotterdam.

We cycled to Delft on what is, conveniently, called the Delft path. Reaching the city after about an hour, we dropped of our bikes and started walking around. Without even trying, we found ourselves in the center of the city on the huge market place. The ‘new church’ in front of us, the mayor’s mansion in the back. The sun shining down on us and plenty of crazy activities around us. People dressed up in clothing from the 14th century to today. People dressed up as presents or clovers. People playing mini golf on the market place, making giant soap bubbles anOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAd what looked like Delft’s very own bike gang having their weekly meeting in the center of it. The market place was bustling with all kind of activities, one crazier than the others. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We stepped out of the market place and into the new church.. New only by comparison, the church is from 1396! Or at least the first stone is, the last one was put down in 1496. It is also an unfortunate church.. 1536 lightning struck and burned down most of the roof, 20 years later the protestants stormed the church, destroying all windows, statues and art inside. And because that wasn’t enough the French revolution brought a bunch of mad farmers who were eager toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA destroy all evidence of aristocracy. They went to the trouble of scraping off every single coat of arm they could find.  In 1654, a huge explosion destroyed the roof and the barely restored windows.. After that things quieted down. Another lightning struck in the 19th century, but only parts of the roof burned down. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ‘new church’ is also the church in which the royals are buried to this day.

The old church, on the other hand, is from the 13th century, at least parts of it. It was expanded four times, more or less successfully. The big tower tower was built around 1350 and the foundation proved to be not quite strong enough to hold it. It is leaning strongly. The next few building phases proved about as successful for other reasons.


In the 15th century, it was decided to transform the church into a gothic church by adding a basilican cross-coat. However they stopped half way through, so there’s only one half of the cross coat built.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Just behind the old church, we found this lovely building which was unique in its exaggerated ornaments. This house houses the regional water authority since 1645 and shows that it’s not just the noble men that knew how to go over board at the time.. The governmental institutions were no better. From there we moved to the city walls.. Not much of them exist any more.. Really the only thing still standing is the eastern gate. However that is actually quite a pretty sight, surrounded by water.
Delft is a lovely day trip from The Hague or even a half day trip, if you’re in a hurry. It has lovely old houses well over 500 years old and lovely old Cafe’s which make lovely hot chocolate.


Den Haag

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI arrived in The Hague on a sunny Friday morning, with the only clear goal to visit the Escher museum that day.. But there was so much more to see. I stopped at the tourist information and with a small tour guide in hand, I decided to see ALL THE SIGHTS. Of course, I failed. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut I ended up seeing a lot in a single day. The Hague is a very enjoyable mix of historic buildings and modern buildings. I’m usually not a fan of sky scrapers, but the ones I saw here were actually pretty to me. But the first big complex I visited was the medieval Binnenhof. Built throughout several centuries, the central Knight’s hall dates back to the 12th century and is the largest Gothic building, not built as a church. Though it definitely reminds one churches, with the large windows. The surrounding Binnenhof itself is mostly from the 17th century. In theory the Knight’s hall should be visitable, but once again OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d managed to pick the day they were having an event in the hall and were busy setting up. I didn’t want to disturb them. From the Binnenhof you exit onto the plain where the duality of new and old is best seen in my opinion. The place is surrounded by old houses, with all the sky scrapers visible in the back ground. The skyscrapers themselves are from the 1990ies to the early 2000s and are mostly government buildings. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach of them is housing a separate ministry. The concept of the houses was supposed to illustrate openness and transparency, so a lot of them have garden in the interiors and some actually have streets leading through the middle of the building. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the same time as the ministries, the “De Resident” area was created consisting of several multi-story houses and a small inner yard.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Because the tram line was considered a disruption to the area and the inner yard, the tram line was actually built through a building! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the rails disappearing into  the right hand tower and then come back out on the other side. The entire complex of sky scrapers is centred around the central station, which makes it a convenient point of reference when orientation yourself (and searching for the central station). From there I moved to “Spui” and the shopping area of The Hague. Even here there is a mix of old and new. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve rarely seen a shopping street that had a general concept and where the street and the metro entrances had a design element. But The Hague has that and it’s actually really cool! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey’ve even turned the tram stop into an architectural highlight by creating an underground space with wooden floors and lots of light.
At the end of the tour, conveniently, I passed by the Escher museum. A small palace that shows the works of Escher and illustrates his life. It also illustrates the life of some Queen that used to live in said palace.. Something I found absolutely not interesting.




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGouda was another town recommended by my friends. I was a bit wary, if one googles Gouda the top sight is the cheese market and the carrying of the cheese.. Something I wasn’t even remotely interested in seeing. However, google doesn’t do the city justice. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a very pretty town and, as apparently everything in the Netherlands, has a lot of very old buildings. The main sight is the central town hall from the 15th century situated in the middle of the market square. It is also home to the longest church in the Netherlands, although I must admit on the ground you don’t notice it so much. There is another interesting story about that church though. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in the middle of the 16th century, Gouda was affected by the iconoclasm, protestants were rising up and eager to destroy all things catholic. But the church had just recently been renovated and restored, after lightning had struck in 1552. The town’s council and the richest merchants wanted to protect their investments, the expensive stained glass windows,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA so they decided to pre-emptively carry all statues, art and belongings out of the church for the protestants to destroy and thereby take the incentive to enter the church (adding a few armed guards to deter those that still wanted to touch their precious windows). This worked, the church today contains more than half of all stained glass windows from the 15th century in the Netherlands. In any case, there is lot of evidence that Gouda’s population were smart businessmen. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey’re main fortune came from trading,and from a water lock. Back in the twelfth century a water lock was installed and Gouda was the one deciding when it would be opened, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAleading to a lot of boats having to wait (sometimes several days) for the lock to open. In the mean time the sailors would spend their hard earned money in Gouda’s pubs and brothels. Smart. In the 16th century this monopoly was threatened. Prince Wilhelm needed a larger lock for his warships and you can’t say no to a Prince. However, you can bargain and the final solution was that the new larger lock would be built, but that every ship using that lock would have to stop in Gouda for 36 hours first. Making sure the pubs and brothels didn’t loose their customers!
Since Gouda was a merchant’s city, a lot of institutions put a lot of effort into having the biggest, highest, bestest something to show their importance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA So it happened that when Catholics were allowed back in the 19th century, they built a church that was to have the highest tower in Gouda. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow Gouda is built onto turf, so the ground isn’t particularly solid. So a ‘normal’ church was built and a wooden tower construction set on top to make sure the church had a higher tower than the last catholic church, which was now officially protestant. It make look weird, but as long as it’s the highest, that’s fine!
Of course the biggest, largest, highest does not apply to everything.. Especially if it’s open to everyone. Some of the streets I took could easily make you claustrophobic.. I felt the urge to cross sideways on more than one occasion!


And one more picture of the town house because it’s just so pretty:


Castel de Haar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACastel de Haar is a very pretty castle. It is also a castle with an interesting history. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt as a medival castle, it had basically fallen to ruins by the beginning of the 19th century. Then, a miraculous thing happened: The destitute owner of the castle, Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar, Hélène de Rothschild, daughter to one of the richest families of that time. Now owning a castle and the means to restore it, they hired Pierre Cuypers to build it from scratch. Or almost. The result is a medievalOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA castle with central heating, hot water and electricity. The kitchen installed was ‘the top of the line’ back then, with a steam powered rotisserie, inbuilt bain de marie and more. It was, however, still wood powered. The primary aim of the castle was “to be a place for extravagant parties” and that is what it became for the last 120 years. To this day the family returns to the castle once per years to throw large parties and enjoy the finer things. A newer kitchen has been insalled however.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEverything was designed by Cuypers from the castle building, to the furniture down to the tableware. Though most of the tableware still exists today only two of the original glasses survived until now and ‘normal’ glasses are used nowadays at parties. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHowever Cuypers didn’t get his way everywhere. Helene de Rothschild did not like the neo-gothic optics that Cuypers chose in the restoration.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA She insisted her rooms be more plain. This led to fights between the architect and the baronness and since neither of the two wanted to yield, several rooms now have two doors: one in neo-gothic style facing toward the central hall and one, plainer door, facing toward the room. That way both could get their will.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATuesday came too soon and my friends had to return to work. Which meant, that I had to explore alone from then on. The plan had been to go visit Amsterdam for the next few days.. But in the end I crammed it all into one day. I had been to Amsterdam before and had already seen enough of the red light district and the coffee shops.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Therefore I was also somewhat disappointed when the tour I joined basically focussed on the history after 1960 and didn’t really cover much of the history before that. Amsterdam is a beautiful city and even though it has a few stand out sights,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA a lot of the flair comes from the relaxed vibe of the city and all the small streets and waterways that it has. After the tour ended, I walked almost 2 kilometers along a water way to reach the Rijksmuseum.. and everything was pretty red-bricked houses or old historical buildings and in between the river and trees. It didn’t matter that it had been raining like crazy, it was still nice to work down the roads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Rijkmuseum is a large museum collecting some of the most important art the Netherland has collected. The building itself is also quite impressive and was designed by the architect Pierre Cuypers (who is somewhat omnipresent in the Netherlands) and opened in 1885. It has recently been renovated and reopened its doors only in 2013. The collection contains a lot of famous pictures from the Netherlands golden age. The golden age was mostly the 17th century afterOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the Netherlands gained their independence and were considered at the forefront of scientific, military and economic progress. The dutch east india company was created at the beginning of the 17th century and played a big part in this development. My favourite painting, on a purely emotional basis, is the threatened swan by Jan Asselijn, who is also a golden age painter.IMG_20160329_141215 It was also probably my favourite painting in the Rijksmuseum. Another very impressive thing in the Rijksmuseum is their library, which one can visit as, either a historian, or a simple visitor to look at the rangs of old books available to the historians.

From the Rijkmuseum it is just a few steps to the Van Gogh museum.. which was seriously overrun by people.IMG_20160329_142214 I thought visiting it on a Tuesday afternoon would make for smaller crowds, but I was wrong. In a long file we walked from picture to picture, obviously following the same audio guide. While pictures were explicitly allowed in the Rijksmuseum (something I realised way to late), they were explicitly forbidden in the Van Gogh museum..


Taken from wikipedia

To a point where a lady next to me that had lied in room 1 about taking pictures, was asked to leave in room 3 because they had reviewed the camera footage and she could clearly be seen taking pictures on it. I think it was more the lying about taking pictures that got her thrown out than the taking pictures though (I thought I had seen her too, but didn’t want to get involved). Even with the masses of people, I still liked the Van Gogh museum better than the Rijksmuseum. It is well made and structured and teaches a lot about Van Gogh’s life. At the end, it asks what the biggest discovery about Van Gogh was, what part of his life hadn’t you known about before visiting the museum. For me that would be the Japan-influence and his desire to draw like traditional Japanese artists.


Zaanse Schans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe used the sunny (if still stormy) weather on Sunday to visit Zaanse Schans. It’s a historical village that’s existed since 1961..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA How does that work out? Well they selected old buildings from different surrounding villages and moved here. Today it is a museum and consists of about 40 houses and almost ten wind mills. The first thing I learned here is that the stereotypical buses of tourists unload here in the same way as they do in everywhere else. While visiting the cheese shop, they swept in like a wave and suddenly there was no moving forward or backward any more. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople were taking pictures of cheese, themselves in front of cheese, them taking pictures of cheese, them standing in line to buy cheese and we were in the middle of it. Fighting our way out took some time and we decided that we’d set off into the more distant parts to avoid the crowds. The more distant parts, also conveniently, contains the mills. The first thing I learned about mills was that wind mill isn’t equal to wind mill. The mills in Zaanse Schans include oil mills, wood cutting mills,spice mills and the world’s only working dye mill. Purely by chance I picked the dye mill as the one mill I wanted to visit.. I had no idea at the time that it was the only working dye mill then or that it had a mid-twenties miller that would be open to a twenty minute grilling by me and my friends.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe basic principle of the dye mill is the same as a grain mill.. Only that it grinds chalk rather than grain. This dye mill currently grinds large amounts of chalks and is selling their chalk to local soccer clubs, painters and similar. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe miller showed us how he positions the blades into the wind and told us that he climbs each of the blades every morning to put the sails up. He also showed us the mechanism with which they reduce tropical wood to red dye for clothing.. That is, however, super noisy and ideally not used on the days with large amounts of visitors.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe told us that he had followed a two year class to become a miller and was specialised in this wind mill and everything here basically was under his command. He showed us how everything worked and happily answered all questions that we could come up with.. And we came up with a lot of them.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe didn’t visit the interior of the other mills (each of them asks for individual entry fees and we were starting to feel sickly again), so we’re not hindered by facts when saying that De Kat clearly is the best mill in Zaanse Schans and probably world wide. I never thought I would enjoy visiting a wind mill that much.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was visiting a couple of friends in Utrecht and, of course, some sightseeing needed to be done as well. Unfortunately my original plans were thoroughly ruined by illness (first theirs, then mine), so instead of doing long day trips all over the Netherlands, small outings were planned from which we could easily return once we felt tired/exhausted or just not up to the entire thing. The rest remained quite unchanged, nice cosy evenings with home-cooking, chatting and board games. Just perfect!
The weather, also, wasn’t with us unfortunately. Which doesn’t mean that the Dutch would stop riding their bikes. Oh no. Through out this week-end, I would be repeatedly teased for (repeatedly) pointing out that 90km/h wind gusts on a bike were a bit of a challenge. I didn’t learn to keep my mouth shut after the first two times.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut first things first, initially we went to visit the old town of Utrecht. And when something is called “old” in the Netherlands, then it truly is old. The first and main sight we went to was the dome. The church it belonged to dates from the 14th century and was never fully finished due to lack of funds. The dome is said to stand on the exact spot where the city of Utrecht was founded 200 years ago. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADirectly behind the dome, there’s … a street?! And on the other side of the street are the leftovers of the church. Turns out the unfinished nave collapsed in the 17th century and was never rebuilt. The remaining, stabler, parts of the church are now two independent buildings with a street running in the middle.
The remainder of the church, in theory, is visitable.. I had no luck however, trying to visit it twice and finding it closed on both occasions. At least, on the first attempt, the church garden’s were open.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
From there we walked through the old town almost straight into the board game shop.. Because, surely, my visit must be celebrated with a new board game for their collection. 😉
We finished our walk around town along the “Oudegracht”, a water way with lots of restaurants and café’s at water level, which were all still closed because it was March, it was cold, windy and rainy. Though my Dutch friend corrected me on the latter, that is just “high humidity” not rain.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe afternoon we decided to do a small bike ride outside of Utrecht.. This was when most of the teasing happened.. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had used my google-fu to find something interesting around Utrecht to visit, failing to see the most obvious option: The Castel de Haar (which my friend would point out to me that evening and I’d go visit it on one of the subsequent days). Instead I decided on the Maarsevensche lakes in the north of Utrecht.. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere the local knowledge of my hosts was invaluable, a) because we didn’t get lost and b) because no tour guide would’ve ever told me that all the abandoned houses on the waterway used to belong to prostitutes before they closed down the operation due to health concerns and more. They also showed me the local castle, which was very pretty and motivated me to  request we drive by some of those “forts” marked on the map. Being originally from the Rhine, my inner eye was showing me a countryside full of medieval castles, one older than the other, all of them pretty awesome. What I got was concrete bunkers.. These forts date back to World War 2 and definitely weren’t built to be pretty.. Such disappointment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Our last stop on the trip (before reaching the lakes) were two wind mills.. When we got there, unfortunately, there was just one wind mill.. The other spot showed a lot of burned wood and a shield declaring this the smallest wind mill in Utrecht. It is no more, we didn’t find out what happened, maybe lightning struck. Maybe some idiot burned it down. The other mill still stood in all its glory and its blades were turning furiously. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat was the first time I realised that the way back might become a challenge, so far we had had the wind in our backs.. Once we turned back it would be coming straight at us.. We tried to avoid that as long as possible, but there was no escaping the wind. The way back showed me clearly how crazy the Dutch can be.. I was pedalling in place, leaned over my bike and had to scream to make myself heard, while my friend said “oh, that’s not a lot of wind. We have this almost daily”. And rode away as if there was nothing to stop him.

The next day we spent at the local railway museum. It is really quite cool but no pictures. We happened to visit on Easter Monday, when they had some kids’ event (and we’re all still kids at heart). There were old employees in different parts, explaining how their work used to look like, how they ensure that there’s only one train on the tracks and how the lights were switched on and off. Mixed in are very modern, interactive segments.. Like driving your own train. Luckily, I wasn’t in charge of driving the train per se, since the lady giving instructions was giving them in Dutch and I’m not sure I could’ve told slower from faster in time. The ride was hilarious though!