Gouda, Holland

June 24:

After Amsterdam, we took a train southbound to Gouda (later we learned it is pronounced “howda”). Gouda is the self-proclaimed capital of cheese!! The main street had big rounds of Gouda cheese (plastic of course) hanging across the street.

Gouda cheese strung across the city streets

It is an absolutely charming little town. They had a beautiful town square with a town hall built in medieval times that looked like a castle! We loved just aimlessly walking around the little town.

Medieval town hall on the left, hot air balloon in the distance in the center!
A better look at the medieval town hall!
The street our Airbnb was on.
Gouda town square

Our Airbnb was in a old historic printing house. The owner was so delightful and we had such a fun time talking with her. She welcomed us into her home and even showed us around their beautiful garden in the back yard. The loft area was perfect for what we needed! We were able to do laundry while there, which was much needed as we continue the backpacking trek.

The front of our AirBnB – an old print shop!
AirBnB in Gouda
AirBnB in Gouda
The little courtyard in our AirBnB host’s home.

Of course while there, we had to try some Gouda cheese! Our favorite was a truffle Gouda cheese made from goats milk.

Gouda cheese shop
More Gouda cheese
Slicing up some cheese to take on the train with us!

The food was so excellent in Gouda as well. Being that we were quite a ways away from the more touristy spots of Holland (like Amsterdam), everything was so cheap. One of our favorite dinner spots was a little deli right down an alleyway from our AirBnB. The owner was from Bosnia, and grew up right across the channel from Italy – and he grew up around authentic Italian cooking! We had a great time talking to him (one of the nicest guys we have met this entire trip), and his food was such a good price and SO delicious. Later at our AirBnB, we learned that our host (a former high school teacher) taught all of the deli owner’s kids in high school and agreed that he and his family were some of the nicest folks she has met. If you’re ever in Gouda, check out this deli: Adriatika delicacies

We wish we would have stayed longer, but our next Airbnb was already booked in Bruges, Belgium. Gouda is a city that we know for sure we will want to come back to in the future!

Haarlem, Holland

June 23:

We decided to take a quick day trip to Haarlem, just west of Amsterdam. It’s a quick €4 15 minute hop from Amsterdam Centraal to Haarlem via a direct train.

Espresso in center-city Haarlem!
Crepes in Haarlem

One of the things that Haarlem is known for is its flowers. The city sits just north of the famed tulip fields in Holland that you may have seen pictures of! Unfortunately, we were told that it was a little too late in the season to check out those fields as most of the flowers had already been harvested. Regardless, we loved walking around Haarlem and seeing the flowers and the flower markets all over the city. It smelled amazing!

Flower markets like this were everywhere
An old church built in the 1600s
Flowers in the city
Flowers in the city
More open-air flower markets

One of our favorite things that we have learned about The Netherlands so far is that the Dutch are ingenious when it comes to land reclamation. Over the past several hundred years, the Dutch have invented ways to extend their land deeper into the sea – and as such, it’s one of the only countries that continues to grow in size. First, they build a dam (or “dyke”) in the ocean or in a bay, and once the powerful ocean is sealed off, they pump the water out of the sealed off area until there’s nothing but land beneath. Historically, they used windmills for this kind of thing – which is one of the reasons why you see so many windmills here!

The reclaimed land is often full of good nutrients and historically has been turned into farming land. Just below-sea-level-farming-land! Fascinating.

An old windmill
A beautiful cathedral in Haarlem
Haarlem city streets
Haarlem city streets
Haarlem city streets

Corrie Ten Boom’s historic home is also in Haarlem. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Corrie Ten Boom is often considered a hero of the 20th century. She helped a large number of Jews escape from the Nazis during the Holocaust by hiding them in her home shown in the pictures below. The home where this occurred has been turned into a museum about her fascinating life. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we walked by and we weren’t able to go in. Still, having read her book “The Hiding Place” as a child, I found it to be an honor to even stand near the home where such an extraordinary woman lived.

Corrie Ten Boom’s home (now a museum)
Corrie Ten Boom’s home
Some info on the side of Corrie Ten Boom’s house

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

June 22-23:

Amsterdam (and most of the cities in The Netherlands) is very much a bike-centric city. Bikes, in fact, have the right of way on streets and often pull out in front of cars without even looking – the car has to stop! It’s incredible seeing just how many folks ride bikes here. There are dedicated 2-way bike streets on the side of every normal street, and the bikes even have their own traffic light system at the major intersections.

These little cars are everywhere!

Dam Square

We walked from the train station to one of the main squares called Dam Square. Here, there were monuments, shops, and the hustle and bustle of normal Amsterdam workday life.

Dam Square – one of the main hubs in Amsterdam

When we walked into the square, we saw a man with a large bag of white rice throwing it out for the pigeons. He wasn’t charging at all, you could tell that he was delighted at the fun everybody was having with his little bag of rice. Birds came flocking from all around and stood on his arms and head waiting to get some of the rice. Little children came running to see the birds. He gave the children some rice to feed the birds too. You could tell some children were going to be forever scared by birds after this encounter. Birds were sitting on their heads and arms while the children squealed and cried. One brave little girl did not cry, but instead walked over and picked up one pigeon by one of its wings. It was truly a sight to see!

The man gave us some rice to feed the birds as well. They immediately flew to our arms and heads for the rice. It was so much fun! The feeling was very strange. We couldn’t help but laugh the whole time. We surprisingly did not have any bird poop on us. (We immediately checked!) Definitely a highlight of the day!

Feeding the pigeons in Dam Square
Contracting 84 strains of bird flu

Strolling the City

As we waited for check in to open at our AirBnB, we decided to stroll through the streets of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a canal city, similar to the likes of Venice, Italy. There are beautiful bridges crossing each canal as tour boats and delivery barges pass beneath.

Crossing a canal in Amsterdam
City streets
City streets
City streets
City streets
City streets…plus rubber duckies!?

Anne Frank House

One of the more popular tourist destinations here is the Anne Frank House. If you haven’t already, we would highly recommend picking up a copy of her diary. She was a young Jewish girl who hid in a house in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands during WW2. Her family was eventually discovered and sent to a concentration camp nearby where she eventually perished. Her story is unique in that she was a wonderful writer at such a young age, but I believe it’s important that we look at her as a symbol of her generation. Although her story was unique, her experience was not. Millions of Jews in this area were sentenced to the same fate, and we use Anne’s story as a way to honor and remember the millions of others.

Our AirBnb was right across the canal from the Anne Frank house, so we hopped in for a tour of the space where Anne and her family hid for 2 years. It was such a powerful experience!

Anne Frank

Amsterdam Food

The food scene in Amsterdam is delicious! The city is known for its French fries which come with a variety of different sauces. Some of the most popular flavors are a variation of Mayonnaise (that to us, tasted like a delicious mix between mayo and ranch), and a peanut satay sauce. A Kroket is also a well-known snack food, almost like an egg roll but deep fried with more gravy inside. Yum.

Fries with peanut satay sauce, and a Kroket (often enjoyed with mustard)

Indonesia was once occupied by the Dutch empire as well, and as such, there is a huge amount of Indonesian influence here. We heard some of the best Indonesian food was just around the corner from our AirBnB and had to give it a try!

Indonesian food
Indonesian food
Some tasty candy recommended by our friend! It’s like a whole package of pink Starbursts.
There was a famous Apple pie place close to our AirBnB. It was incredible!
A Bacon sandwich house… what more can you ask for?
Burgers are also extremely popular in Holland. This was one of the best burgers we’ve ever had

Flowers everywhere!

Holland is globally known for their beautiful flowers. In fact, the world’s largest flower auction market sits just south of Amsterdam. You have to look into the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. They have an auction floor that looks something like a stock floor with international auctioneers purchasing flowers as they roll through the room on autonomous carts – flowers from this market get exported all over the world. It’s big business!

The people of Holland take their flowers very seriously as well! Everywhere you look in Amsterdam and beyond, there are beautiful flower markets, flower gardens, and people carrying bouquets of flowers as they ride their bikes.

Flowers in front of Amsterdam homes
Floating flower market (in an Amsterdam canal!)
Floating flower market (in an Amsterdam canal!)

Final Thoughts

Amsterdam has a reputation of being a pretty wild city. From the Red Light Districts to the marijuana legally sold in just about every coffee shop. Despite this (perhaps narrow on my part) perception, the city is a wonderful place to visit. The people are so kind, everybody speaks Dutch as a first language, but English almost flawlessly as a second (or third) language. The canal systems are so impressive, second only to Venice perhaps in their quantity throughout the city. Transportation is a breeze – no need to own a car. We would absolutely return to Amsterdam if given the opportunity, and can’t wait to do so.

A beautiful canal right next to Amsterdam Centraal – the train station we left from.