If you ever find yourself in the Netherlands, you might at one point or another have to use the phrase “Nou breekt mijn klomp!” This literally translates to “that breaks my wooden shoe,” but is a phrase that essentially means “well I’ll be darned!” Now, I was only in the Netherlands for four days, and at no point was I moved to such extreme shock or other emotional feelings that I had to utter those exact words, although an appropriate occasion for doing so did present itself when we found out that upon the landing of our plane, we were not in Eindhoven, Netherlands as our itinerary had otherwise suggested, but instead in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Let me start at the beginning. My friend Claire and I decided spur of the moment to take a trip to the Netherlands, more specifically, to Eindhoven, located in the South near the Belgium border, for a few days. This trip was different from all my previous journeys off the Rock, the most obvious reason being that it was my first time off of an island in over six months. Island-hopping is cool, but sometimes you just feel the need for a little more space.
Again, the beginning. About 30 minutes out from landing, our pilot announced that the airport of our destination was closed. This came as a bit of a shock to most people as we could not understand the feasibility of an airport being closed when we were hovering in the air directly towards it. It turns out that there had been some rain and cloudy weather and the runway had been damaged, meaning we could not land. This would have been the appropriate time to exclaim the breaking of my wooden shoes. The pilot continued to speak but we really just could not understand him as we don’t know Dutch (at this point we honestly weren’t even sure if he was speaking Dutch or German or English). After landing, Claire wondered where we were and I confidently said that I was 95% sure that we had at least landed in the Netherlands. Immediately following that statement, we heard “Welcome to Düsseldorf.” So no, we were in fact in Germany. This was another opportune time to exclaim Dutch footwear tragedies.
Ultimately we weren’t very concerned. We didn’t have a connecting flight to worry about and we weren’t on any tight schedule. We couldn’t even check into our hostel for several hours. It was nice to be able to encounter this problem so freely and nonchalantly. We got a coffee and relaxed while watching the rain pass by. As it turns out, we were not exactly in Düsseldorf and more in the middle of absolute nowhere somewhat within proximity to Düsseldorf, so there really wasn’t much to do or look at until the buses got there that would take us to Eindhoven. The 90-minute long bus ride turned out to be quite relaxing as well. We got to see some lovely Germany countryside, although we were never really sure when we were no longer in Germany, as is the beauty of non-regulated borders within Europe. I do believe that the best part of the unexpected journey was the very unexpected music. In addition to the already strange circumstances we found ourselves in, add in John Denver’s hit “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” blasting on the bus bound for Eindhoven, and you find yourself in a very weird position. I just never thought any of those things would align together at once.
As it turns out, Eindhoven is not a very big place. It’s the fifth largest city in the Netherlands, which does not mean it is a big city. It has roughly 225,000 million people, which is less than Malta, although I’m not sure how the physical sizes compare, so I’m not sure if that’s really saying anything. We spent the rest of our day getting oriented to the city (after taking the bus around the entire perimeter and back before finding the right stop for our hostel) and finding a good place to eat (which also featured highly unexpected music- Phil Collins songs from the Disney movie Tarzan.) Other than that, we didn’t do much else. All the shops closed by 7pm and only a handful of restaurants were open, so we headed back to the hostel and I convinced Claire to let me teach her how to play rummy.
We spent the next day in Amsterdam, which was no doubt the highlight of the trip. We took a train across the country and got there about 75 minutes later. While the train ride was a piece of cake, we still had to walk several miles to get to the center of the city, so we enjoyed some lovely views of wealthy Amsterdam suburbs.
Before going to Amsterdam, and really the Netherlands in general, I knew nothing about those areas, which generally is not a good rule of thumb for travelling. I’m sure that if I had more than 9 days between buying my ticket and leaving, and didn’t have another trip in between, I would have read up on my destinations. Because I knew nothing, it was a great surprise to find out that Amsterdam is a canal city, very much like Venice. We spent most of the day walking along the canals and enjoying the amazing views of houseboats and adorable Dutch architecture.
One other thing to note about this region is that biking is an extremely popular form of transportation, with roughly 1.3 bikes for every Dutch citizen. Whatever you do, do not block the bike paths! THEY DON’T STOP.
Amsterdam has a lot of museums to choose from, varying from slightly uncomfortable topics such as the Torture Museum, to more friendly themes, such as the Tulip Museum. Our first stop was the Anne Frank House, the home in which Anne Frank and her family hid themselves during the Nazi invasion and the location where she wrote her famous book, “Anne Frank’s Diary.” The line for entrance into the museum was roughly 45 minutes long, but it was well worth the wait. It was a very humbling experience to visit the house and read all about her and other people’s reactions to their visits to the house. I would highly recommend paying a visit to the museum as it represents a hugely important part of history and I don’t know if there’s anyone who hasn’t heard of her book.
Afterwards, we walked up and down the canals and ended up right across the street at the Tulip Museum and then the Cheese Museum. The Cheese Museum is fantastic for anyone who a) likes cheese or b) likes free food. There were little samples of every kind of cheese available and being the cheap college students that we are, we tried every single one. We then paid the €1 entrance fee to get into the actual museum and read a bit about the cheese making process. It was just a tiny room in the basement, but it was worth it for all the cheese we got to sample.
We made our way down the street to a pancake shop and got Dutch pancakes, which are not like pancakes as we know them but more like crepes, meaning they were delicious. And seeing as how Malta has a really horrible produce selection, we enjoyed getting rare and exotic fruits on our pancakes, such as strawberries. We also tried stroopwafels (crispy waffle cookies with sandwiched with syrup in between) and croquettes (small breadcrumbed fried food roll?- we were never really sure about this one but it tasted like Thanksgiving).
Our last day in the Netherlands was cold and rainy, with a little bit of snow mixed in. I was equal parts excited about the snow after not having seen it for so long, and annoyed because I thought I would never have to see it again. Our original plan had been to go to one of the many nearby National Parks, but wet soggy snow does not make for good park weather.
Instead we ate breakfast at Bagels and Beans, which is the Dutch version of Harrisonburg’s classic Mr. J’s Bagels. Any place that I can go to and order a green drink and a veggie burger will gain my full support.
Afterwards we headed over to the Van Abbemuseum, a modern art museum in the center of Eindhoven. We were skeptical at first, because modern art can be weird and frustrating, but the museum featured several displays that I really enjoyed because they are relevant to current events and social issues going on in today’s society (refugees, protests, our reliance on technology, etc.). We’re also both pretty artsy and open-minded, or at least like to think we are, so we would never say no to the opportunity to attempt to interpret modern art displays presented to us in Dutch. However, it wouldn’t be a modern art museum if it didn’t come complete with a few rooms where you walk in, glance around, say, “what?” and walk away.
We finished off our time by going to see The Revenant in theaters. Normally I don’t go to movie theaters, or really anywhere that I can go to at home, when I’m on vacation or traveling, but there truly were no other options. And it was an interesting experience. The movie was in English, fortunately for us, with Dutch subtitles. However, the movie also featured several scenes with dialogue in French or Native American languages, and it took us a while to catch on that the plot was actually important and we just wouldn’t know what was being said because we can’t read Dutch. We felt very local going to the theater and celebrated by eating stuffed mushrooms and going to sleep at 10pm.
Our time in the Netherlands didn’t go as planned from before our plane even touched down, but that’s the beauty the journey. I’m lucky that Claire is exactly the same as me in terms of travel philosophy, and we didn’t let any of our unexpected setbacks set us back. We enjoyed our trip and the Netherlands was never high on my radar, so getting to visit a place I never planned on was pretty exciting, and just made the events of the trip even more fitting. I enjoyed being on solid ground for a few days and being in a place where people were shocked when I spoke English because they didn’t just assume that I was a tourist. They caught on pretty quickly though when I couldn’t respond back to them in Dutch. However, I did learn that I could survive in the Netherlands on my Spanish skills. Waiting in line for entrance into the Anne Frank House, there was a sign posted in many languages, English not being one of them. I quickly relayed the message to Claire via the Spanish interpretation and then looked at her looking at me somewhat surprised and definitely impressed. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but anytime you’re in the Netherlands and need to know whether you can use flash photography or not inside the Anne Frank House, I got you.