An incessant ping pong between the most beautiful places in North Holland, between bicycles, windmills, cheeses and a taste of local traditions. An invitation to go and perhaps even to stay, just around the corner from Amsterdam.
IMPRESSIONS: A FRESH SUMMER
“I’m going to Sardinia,” “I’m leaving for Spain” … You? “I’m going to the Netherlands!” In contrast to those who think that the summer holidays exist only for the sea, the sun beating down and beach parties, I am leaving for the North. I am heading to the outskirts of Amsterdam, for three-days full of freshness however as fate would have it also here I find the sea, in Zandvoort. It is the sea of the citizens of Amsterdam, the air is different from what we’re used to in Italy, zingy, a bit like when it has just rained.
I smell around me a fresh briny scent brought on the wind and now I feel I have arrived.
I have no time to settle in the Amsterdam Beach Hotel because already I find myself riding around discovering the coolest beaches of this windy coast (to rent a bike, opt for the Behind the Beach, http://behindthebeach.nl for quality bikes and reasonable prices, also available with brakes on the handlebars).
We go to Bloemendal an Zee, a chic seaside town just three kilometers from Zandvoort, where the young people spend afternoons drinking cocktails, chatting and lounging on large pillows.
After a few minutes relaxing it’s time to return to my base, but this time, rather than choosing the waterfront, I immerse myself in the National Park Zuid-Kennemerland for a ride among sea dunes,wild horses and scrubland. I can hardly imagine that here once upon a time potatoes were cultivated but I changed my mind as soon as I see a rectangle of land that is still used for this purpose.
We are watching the sunset over the sea in Zandvoort where the real show comes alive in the evening. The natural light has left the beach “and suddenly it is the evening” some would say. But no, the sunset here in the summer arrives late and I enjoy it until I begin to feel tired. It is 22.00.
My Holland does not end here of course and, as the saying goes, “The best is yet to come”. Second leg of my tour, Alkmaar, which I will follow, as I want to spend time visiting what for me is in some ways the emblem of Holland: the windmills. And here we are at Schermer, half way between Alkmaar and De Rijp. Throughout the Netherlands there are about 1000 windmills and here we find at least three and there are others when we look towards the horizon. One of these has been wonderfully preserved and now houses a small museum-house. The mill is in fact completely open inside, where the keeper’s house was in the past. Immediately my eye rests on the beds, positioned in a cabinet like structure. It seems that in the seventeenth century, the Dutch were obsessed with the fear of dying for this reason they slept half sitting up. This is amazing. I instead have a fear of dying as soon as I exit the windmill since the blades are rotating with the strong wind.
It remains to say that the towns that really impressed me the most are Edam and Volendam and about them I could write a book, not just a travel story! Starting from the first, Edam, the town dell’edammer, the cheese that made this perfect town famous. A village so picturesque that it seems fake, punctuated by landmark buildings such as the Palace, the Town Hall and the Cathedral . They all reflect in the endless beauty of its channels. Ignoring the possibility that I may suffer from seasickness, I let myself be lulled by a small boat which makes its way along the channel, framed by nature, neat little houses and romantic bridges encircled by garlands of flowers. With my eyes full of beauty, I see from afar my hotel for the night – the De Fortuna Hotel & Restaurant and now I wish time would stop. A cluster of houses dating back to the seventeenth century overlooking a flower garden and a beautiful canal that touches elegantly the center of Edam. I could not wish for more … Edam is beautiful from whichever angle you look at it, but the window of the hotel flourished in the early morning is even more beautiful.
It is my third and last day in Holland and I awake to clear and peaceful air which I breath in through the open window. I really don’t want to go but as soon as I set foot in Volendam, my last leg of this Dutch adventure I change my mind. A hidden gem overlooking the inland sea where placid waters meet with lovely beaches coveered in shells and a marina adorned with beautiful moored boats. It’s a shame that the place has become a bit too touristy and the residents even dress in traditional costumes to please the tourists but between you and me it’s quite nice. Here you can not miss the beautiful promenade from north to south, where you can find the manicured terraced holiday homes of the wealthy and Dutch footballers. Not only that, even the “Doolhof”, the “Labyrinth”, in the city center will mesmerise you with its maze of narrow streets which overlook minute historic homes (some dated to the fifteenth century) and a beautiful canal where the same are reflected, doubling them. Do you still have time? Take the ferry to the island of Marken, right opposite Volendam and arrive at the beautiful lighthouse that beautifies the island. Never mind if you forget what I said about all these villages, it is important that you remember that, as they say in these parts, “God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.
MEETINGS: OLD STYLE GUIDES
We are De Rijp, half way between Alkmaar and Edam. Once completely surrounded by water, as well as being a hub for the trade of herring, this small village now has about 4000 inhabitants. We end up here almost by chance, along the road leading to Edam and we fall in love with it. The brick houses, overlooking beautiful gardens which are wonderfully groomed. They seem painted by the best impressionist painter and make you discover the Holland of the past as you had imagined it to be from home.
Jan the guide of De Rijp is anxiously waiting for us at the entrance of the office of tourism. Formerly an air traffic controller, Jan, now retired, spends his time impressing visitors with the history of the village. He guides us as if we were curious children, patiently answering our questions. In the Netherlands many guides, such as Jan, are elders, this gives the possibility also to pensioners to feel useful and share their knowledge. Well done, it would be nice if in Italy we were so, who knows how many stories would be told by our grandparents!
KITCHEN: KROKETTEN AND AROUND
If putting on weight does not scare you, you have no excuse, you have to taste the Dutch Kroketten: with meat, with cheese, with white sauce. They are to be found in a thousand ways and a thousand variations and are simply delicious. I find the distributor of hot croquettes a brilliant idea. That’s right, distributor! Just like that of snacks, alongside bars and fast food, you will find a small case containing a croquette. The average cost is € 1.50. You will not be disappointed. Distributor machines in fact maintain exactly the right temperature. You can find a whole range of flavours, enough to give you an addiction in a few days! The secret, perhaps, lies in the cheese, the king of the Dutch gastronomy.
To savor and discover secrets of food at this point we move to Alkmaar. This beautiful town is home every Friday morning from April to September, to a lively and colorful market, the Kaasmarkt, literally “the cheese market.” The square of Waagplein fills with 30,000 pounds of Gouda Cheese in it’s unmistakable orange jacket. Cheese carriers take great pains to carry it to the weight room, housed in the very same building as the Museum of Cheese in pleasant bustle. The traditional transport system which already existed in the 14th century and still exists nowadays this spectacly attracts the curious alongside buyers from throughout the Netherlands.
If you happen to be in this area on Wednesday instead, from June to August, set the navigator to Edam. Dell’Edammer is more intimate but no less characteristic and is only 30 km from Amsterdam. Here too are carriers, the weighing room and smell of tradition.
GUIDE: ON BOARD KLM
KLM flies direct from Milan as well as 5 other Italian cities (Turin, Venice, Bologna, Florence and Rome) and in less than a couple of hours you are comfortably in Schiphol, Amsterdam. Prices from € 99 (http://www.klm.it), round-trip, including taxes and surcharges. KLM also has integrated social networking activities with their booking system and gives the opportunity to buy the ticket through Facebook (page KLM Italy) and Twitter (KLM Italy).
After landing, to travel in North Holland you are spoiled for choice. Bike paths exceeding 33,000 km exist and you can move easily from one location to another on two wheels, fairly quickly. By car it is easy to say, times are cut in half and in half an hour you can easily reach Volendam, rather than Zaandvort from the capital. For anyone who wants to reduce costs, there are also comfortable buses that depart from Amsterdam Central Station (www.localbus.nl) and pass by towns such as Volendam, Marken, Edam and De Rijp for the modest sum of EUR 10 per day (if you buy the tickets on the site, the cost is € 9). The advantage is that they are “hop on hop off buses” (you can then take to the various locations, visit them and then go back on the next bus and go to the next town). More comfortable than that …
If you have little time and want to take a trip outside the beautiful capital, head instead to the Zuiderzee Museum for an experience for the whole family. An open-air museum which recreates in every way a fishing village from 1600. Do not miss the school, rooms for smoking herring and the windmills.
Finally the fateful “where to sleep” and “where to eat”. Here are some ideas:
– The Amsterdam Beach Hotel (http://www.amsterdambeachhotel.nl/nl/index.html) a hotel minimal-marine comfortable and clean, almost facing the sea;
– The restaurant Plazand (http://www.plazand.nl/menu) directly on the Zandvoort Beach, for a sunset dinner on the beach accompanied by an excellent menu of meat and fish;
– De Fortuna Hotel & Restaurant, a great base from which to explore the city and surroundings dell’edammer. Confined well cared for spaces, in the heart of the small village, and distributed over 5 buildings dating back to the seventeenth century scattered in a romantic garden. Choosing one of its 24 rooms decorated in an old style will make your stay even more authentic and unforgettable (http://www.fortuna-edam.nl).
IN MY SUITCASE: AN ANTI WIND AND RAIN KIT
A windbreaker and a waterproof, even in summer, are a must in the Netherlands but don’t complain all the time and regret the heat of our beautiful country. With the right equipment you can also enjoy a beautiful boat ride, why not? Clearly, you can also shop whilst there, but it is a gamble, and my advice is: “bring the what you need for your holiday with you “, because after a holiday here in the Netherlands you are likely to go home laden with: cheese, biscuits, tea, and lots of Indonesian trinkets. That’s right, Indonesia, because Indonesia was a Dutch colony from 1630 until the forties of the last century. So there are many accessories, clothes and ornaments to tempt one in the shops and stalls. The rule in these cases is always : remember to have a suitcase!
BOOKS AND FILMS: A NOVEL WITH A HAPPY ENDING
An international bestseller and a poignant novel with a happy ending. It is the book “The Silver Skates” written by the American author Mary Mapes Dodge. The protagonists, a boy named Hans Brinker and his humble family. The leitmotif, a passion for skating on the frozen canals of Holland, poverty and generosity of a doctor who pays the love and sacrifice of a son against a father. A book dated 1865 which doesn’t represent modern life, but that will take you on a journey through time into nineteenth century Holland and the habits of its people and the hardships of the time. A recommended reading for everyone also for the morals that go with it that make it a classic in children’s literature and beyond.
It goes without saying that this beautiful story also inspired Walt Disney Productions that gave life to a movie, which is also outdated, released in 1962 and signed Norman Foster. Maybe now the title tells you something …