North of Holland you have several islands. Locals told me that Texel is not necessarily the best one of them, but its the one easiest reached from Amsterdam. The welcome weather was nothing short of spectacular when I got there and the atmosphere relaxed as you would expect. I explored Den Burg (largest settlement) before taking a tour round the island next day under pretty windy conditions. Great time.
Getting there: Just hop on one of the direct, half hourly services from Amsterdam to Den Helder (1:15min) and then take a short ferry ride over to Texel. From the ferry terminal it’s just under 7km walk, which i found pretty enjoyable (also, the cafe at the terminal has great bitterballen … by far my favorite Dutch dish & highly addictive judging by guests).
Where to stay: Plenty of options on this holiday island (full with German tourists) that makes 70% of its money from tourism in some form or shape that are attracted by more than 2,000 hours of sunshine per year (on par with Uganda, Philippines and well ahead of London’s 1,600h). I opted for the stayokay hostel in den burg. Sadly there was only a german school class on excursion and so no-one to hang out with in my age category. But its a nice hostel minutes from the center, the staff is friendly and they rent bikes (well, probably everyone does in Texel).
Texel basics: It is the largest of the Frisian islands though still has just c14k population. Den Burg is the largest settlement (7k inhabitants). It was created by the All Saints Floods in 1170 – a massive flooding of Northern Netherlands & Holland territories (if you look at the Texel using google maps satellite it is still looks like land). It is pronounced ‘Tessel’ by the way. Historically it has been an important port (offering protection from the strong prevailing winds) and gained fame as the only place in history where a navy was defeated on horseback (as the french in 1795 used the frozen state of the of ice to attack the fleet. The dutch surrendered without a single shot fired).
My 47km route
Wind conditions on the day
Island tour: My bike tour took me some 47km around the middle & upper part of the island and some of its villages. From Den Burg I headed beach/dike bound to Oudeschild and made a first stop at the local museum Kaap Skil. It gives you a great overview of how old fishing villages/housing used to look like, a lot of the islands maritime history, modern ways of dike construction and all sorts of objects found on the sea floor or flushed up on the shores of the island.
From Oudeschild I continued via Oostered north-east along the dike and thus straight into the SW wind. The fact that my high point was +9m and my low point -9m would suggest an easy ride, but not with 30-35km/h winds (1kts = 1.85 km/h) & gusts of up to 50 km/h+ blowing right in your face. The wind was about 10km/h more than normal for May. In fact, those painful miles towards the lighthouse on the NE tip of Texel were as slow as walking speed at times and reminded more of a mountain stage on the tour France. That would explain why apart from two guys on e-bikes (leisurely overtaking me) I was the only fool going that direction (all the others went “downhill”) – I better do some research next time.
Nonetheless it was spectacular scenery – be it the wild sea, sailing boats, shipyards, loads of birds and pretty villages. I stopped for fries & herring in De Cocksdorp before checking out the beach nearby. Sadly the cycle route runs on the wrong side of the dam. So no more sea views for my, but heh. At least it was a lot faster. Once back at the hostel I headed straight for the net ferry and after a Heineken & 12 bitterballen I was on my way back to Amsterdam feeling somewhat exhausted, but happy.
Den Haag was the next stop on my little Holland tour. It is a somewhat unusual Dutch city so far as it has no canals (but a lake in front of the parliament). I thought the city free tour was only average, but the Esher museum and the seafront were worthwhile visiting. After the tour I had a fun afternoon with Julia (from Darmstadt, but now in Berlin) enjoying the local food festival and, given she also blogs (see here), I got some handy tips.
What I learned about Den Haag
The Hague is the 3rd largest city in Holland with c1m population in the metropolitan area. It is home to the parliament and the royal palace though Amsterdam remains the constitutional capital.
Haagse Harry statue: It looks right out of a comic book and was designed by an artist who lived in the more artistic area of Den Haag (for locals there is a distinct separation of richer & not so rich people in the city).
There was originally a synagogue in the city, but the few remaining jews couldn’t support it anymore. Then Turks squatted this synagogue in 70s and made it their building. Now two minarets have been added and its a mosque.
Seagull mania: Being close to the seaside, there are plenty of seagulls about. They are pretty aggressive in their endeavour for food and take apart rubbish bags (apparently not red/yellow bags) and steal food right out of people’s hands/mouths – so watch out when you snack here.
Across the city you’ll find many storks – a symbol of Den Haag that stands for prosperity (and children).
Stay normal rule: apparently very important for locals is to stay normal. Hence, it is not difficult to spot people like the PM having a coffee in an ordinary cafe.
Language: With 60% foreign students and mot people well versed in English, there is a growing debate about what happens with the Dutch language. I have to add here, that Dutch people all too easily switch to english even for foreigners that are trying to learn their language – so give us a chance & be patient.
The Hague is home to the first mall in Europe, which looks similar to the one in Milan & Brussels. The origin is closely related to the chaperone rule whereby young ladies required supervision when they leave their house. Having everything under one roof provided a certain freedom for those upper class chicks.
Bike orphans & battle with drivers: As in any Dutch city there are loads of bikes. Currently there is a big debate raging between bikers and car drivers. The former provide for 65% of the city’s movement yet the cars get 10x the space. Bike parking is pretty organised and should you leave your bike in an area not being a dedicated parking space it might get picked up. There are in total c100,000 bike orphans in the city – picked up bikes that are not claimed by their owners.
The Hague has arguably the smallest city park I have ever seen ;o) In total less than 1sqm. Locals would love to have a bigger one, as the stone that heavily features in construction here heats up in summer adding 10 degrees extra at times. Well, you can always head to the beach though – something most other cities don’t offer.
Pharmacy anecdote: We stopped by an old pharmacy that retains much of its antique past. There is a joker figure above the entrance. This symbols ‘de jaaper’ (the jawner). He would travel with the doctor and if you don’t trust your medicine, he would try it for you so as to proof it doesn’t kill you.
Fahrenheit (1686-1736) is buried here in the Kloosterkerk.
Polderen: A term that I first came across in my waterland tour (see here). It basically means to debate a problem with all parties involved to find a solution. The origin is from the polder/water management where people realised that only if decisions are taken together a good outcome can be achieved since drainage of fields is interconnected.
Esher museum – graphic & twisted art
Esher was a Dutch graphic artist that made mathematically inspired woodcuts & lithographs including many ‘impossible’ pictures (like illusions). A few samples below. The museum was EUR10 to get in and is not covered by the museums card, but worth it.
For the last two weeks of my time in Holland I have put together a list of places to see and things to do. Utrecht was an easy decision. Only 30min on the train from Amsterdam and a very pretty town. I had been here for a business trip many years ago, but spent the little free time I had watching a Ludwig Ehrhard docu. Now I had the time to get lost in the streets & canals … and so I did amidst pure sunshine.
It was a sunny day and I left it a little late to leave Amsterdam, but got to Utrecht before 11am. I had booked a free walking tour, but this one didn’t take place and the improvised second tour didn’t fit my schedule. So off to see the town on my own. A few highlights:
Mueseum Speelklok: It was the only museum I visited given the nice weather. It displays all sorts of automatically playing music instruments. I liked most the one that plays a violine automatically (originally designed as coin operated machine to play in casinos). They offer free tours for adults and kids and have several corners for kids to get busy while seeing the museum. Even today, you can see some of the music machines on Dutch streets (like I did in Gouda & Amsterdam).
Utrecht cathedral & Dom tower: Utrecht has always been the religious center of Holland and its Gothic cathedral (Saint Martin) was the largest for a long time. However, the collapse of the nave changed that and left the tower standing free. Now, the 112m tower is the landmark of the city. While I was visiting, the cathedral had a photo exhibition on display showing portraits of incureable ill people taken by several artists sponsored by LEVENXL foundation (https://www.vereeuwigd.nu/). Inspiring and a nice alternative way to utilise the large church space. I also encoutered my first contactless donation station …
Canals: Utrecht, as most Dutch cities, has plenty of water about. Originally used for trade and transport, they are now a firm part of how locals & tourists spend their spare time. Very exnjoyable are the little cafe’s canalside where you won’t find it hard to relax and recharge.
Utrecht university: The university is one of the oldest in Holland (est. 1636) and a major factor for the economy with a budget of cEUR800m, some 30,000 students and 5,500 staff. It ranks no1 university in Holland and 13th in Europe. I have to admit that I certainly didn’t have such a nice buolding to study in as the students in Utrecht do! And also nowhere near as centrally located.
“Sol Iustitiae Illustra Nos” [Sun of Justice, shine upon us.]
– University of Utrecht motto
Utrecht overview: Utrecht is a town with 350k inhabitants (and counting) that is the religious center of Holland since the 8th century. It’s city center boasts loads of old and well preserved houses some dating back to the middle ages. In the Dutch golden age, Utrecht was the most important city surpassing Amsterdam. It remains a large cultural center for Holland (2nd most cultural events after Amsterdam), hosts serrval educational facilities and is a transport and trade hub due to its central location (the railway headquarters are based here).