Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Amsterdam: 7 Exciting Things to do in the Netherlands (Holland)

I'm sure the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "Amsterdam" is sex and suddenly, images of window prostitution flash before you.

But I'm not gonna talk about that here. No sir-ee. If you think that Amsterdam is ONLY about that, I am here to prove you wrong and show you that there are other exciting things to do there apart from a trip to the red light district. 

1. Ride a Bike.
This is bicycle country, baby! Ditch your heels and bring out your comfy shoes. I was lucky to have a host who had a spare bike so I did not need to rent one to get around. As a pedestrian, watch out though and stay out of the Bicycle Lane as Amsterdammers tend to be possessive of it. You cannot expect cyclists to be kind if you're hogging their space.

bicycle is their main mode of transportation

did i say this is bicycle world?

even traffic signs are bike-friendly

bike lanes are marked with reddish asphalt and a bicycle icon

2. Take a trip to Zaanse Schans.
When I think of Holland, I imagine windmills and wooden shoes. Going to Zaanse Schans is like getting the entire package of what the Netherlands is about. Zaanse Schans is a village with windmills, wooden shoe workshop, cheese farm, and shops showcasing Dutch crafts. 

windmills in Zaanse Schans are actually sawmills

taste some cheese

cheese factory

try on the clogs

or sit on them!

3. Sneak into the Secret Garden in Begijnhof.
OK, so we do not have a formal name to it, so we just sort of searched our way through it. It's not hard to spot because it's just along the main walking area and you just have to single out this inconspicuous door. It is actually free to enter the enclosed courtyard, yet somehow it feels like we're intruding the beguine (Roman Catholic women) community. Make sure you stay quiet and not disturb the semi-religious community. We never saw any resident as most of them must be inside their homes.

entrance to the secret garden

a corner in the courtyard

garden in the courtyard

heading out

4. Pose in front of the iconic i amsterdam sign.
So what if a million others have had their photo on it?

i amsterdam

5. Explore the canals. 
No budget? No problem. You don't have to get into a boat to enjoy the picturesque waterways. Wander on foot.

6. Jaunt to another town. 
Holland is not only Amsterdam. I had a more pleasant experience being in off-the-beaten path and exploring my host's small town in Alkmaar. It had a bucolic feel to it and I felt I was time-warped to a previous century of cobblestones and brick houses. 

canals even in Alkmaar

bump into local schoolchildren

idyllic Alkmaar

7. Treat yourself Dutch.
Sink your teeth into kalf kroket (veal croquette), a typical Dutch snack. It's a ragout of veal fried in bread crumbs. Best eaten with mustard.

Dutch snack: kalf kroket


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