The Netherlands is a picturesque country, well positioned in north-western Europe. Holland, as it is commonly referred, but which technically only means the two most populated provinces, is generally associated with liberal social policies, yet there is a whole world beyond the base stereotypes.
In addition to Amsterdam, there lies a wealth of areas worth exploring. Utrecht is a bustling city centrally located within the country with the very notable Surinamese community. The food is delicious and much more flavorful than typical Dutch fare, and is similar to Indian cuisine as Suriname was a Dutch colony until the 1970′s; when Dutch brought Indonesian and East Indian laborers to work on their plantations.
Leiden is a perfect day trip from Amsterdam as it is only a 20-30 minute train ride. The city certainly takes you back in time with its cobblestone streets, windmill, and old cathedral. There are also some beautiful parks filled with ponds and swans. Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a market along the canal; be sure to seek out a stroopwafel which is a waffle cookie made from two thin layers of baked dough with a delicious caramel syrup filling. Afterwards, soak up the laid-back vibe lounging at one of the many adorable cafes.
Maastricht in the south is one of the oldest towns in the country and offers a surplus of art, culture, and historical districts to explore. You can also hop on another short train and find yourself in Brussels or Antwerp. To hear the best dance music in the country, Rotterdam is the place to explore world class discos. Massilo is a perfect example in a converted grain warehouse, or Hollywood Music Hall, which boasts a “love message chalkboard,” and 5 rooms, one of which has a rotating dance floor.
Amsterdam is of course renowned around the world. If traveling in the summer, be sure to check out the gay pride parade or the vibrant tulip fields nearby in the early spring. The coffee shops and red light district here are a must, if for no other reason then to take a quick look. More importantly, this city has some of the world’s most illustrious museums. There is an entire museum district that is easily accessible by the trolleys running throughout the city and a great Museumsplein square park. The Anne Frank House is also a must, as it is devastating, enlightening, and beautiful all at once. Amsterdam is easily traversed by foot but is also great to see sailing down the canals. Or, to truly feel like a local, rent a feijts (Dutch for bicycle) and start cruising.
In addition to sampling stroopwafels and a Surimanese meal, there is a plethora of food to seek out and sample. The Dutch are undoubtedly known for their cheese as well as a their love for herring (best eaten by holding the fish by the tail over your head). Bitterballen, deep fried balls usually filled with a mix of beef and spices are sinfully good, and the similar krokets, filled with beef, potatoes or chicken can be found in a popular chain of automatic vending machine walls called Febo. Another wickedly good snack is Dutch frites, also known as patats; yet what makes them unique is the variety of toppings, such as mayonnaise, curry sauce and peanut sauce. As a major colonial power, the Dutch were exposed to a variety of cuisines around the world and Indonesian has become a national favorite, deeply integrated within the country.
The Netherlands offers a world of culture and a good dash of overindulgence for those so inclined. It is beautiful and easily accessible, as most Dutch people speak perfect English; and traveling to other European countries is painless. Just be sure when greeting someone to give 3 cheek kisses, it’s the Dutch way.