Welcome to my latest blog post, it’s been a while!
A few months ago I managed to book inexpensive flights to Amsterdam for the Easter holidays. It took us a while to decide on accommodation for our family but we finally picked an apartment on a dairy farm in Polsbroek about and hour’s drive south of Amsterdam. We rented a car so we could explore the ‘Groene Hart’ (Green Heart) of the Netherlands and not centre our trip around the capital.
We were made to feel so welcome at the farm by owners Pieter and Saskia and I cannot recommend their accommodation highly enough. If you would like to find out more about staying in their self-catering apartments you can find all the information on their website http://www.boerderijlogeren.nl/. I am so glad we chose this place to stay as it gave us a feel for life in rural Holland and was the perfect base to explore the large cities and also the smaller villages nearby. If you like wakening up to the sound of nothing but birds cheeping and a view that stretches over acres of lush green fields and canals then this is the ideal spot for you!
The weather was incredibly kind to us, despite it being the end of March! It was cold, so make sure you bring plenty of layers if travelling at this time of year, but, it was dry, so we were able to get out and about every day.
On our first day out we visited the Kinderdijk windmills (pictured at the top of this article). It’s free to walk around the miles and miles of pathways and you can pay a small fee to go inside the windmill museum. Thankfully it was fairly quiet on the day we were there so we more or less had to place to ourselves and afterwards walked into the little village nearby and bought lunch from the bakery which we enjoyed while gazing over the fields of windmills.
In the afternoon we journeyed into urban Holland with a trip into Rotterdam. This is a huge city with a beautiful harbour and is famous for its cube houses and market hall so of course that’s where we visited.
The kids were mesmerized by the cube houses and couldn’t quite work out how you would manage to live in them without falling out of the windows! Great fun watching their imaginations run wild. This was also the day they learned the lyrics to ‘Rotterdam’ by the Beautiful South, and haven’t stopped singing it since!
The market hall is an incredible building filled with stalls selling Dutch delicacies as well as different foods from around the world. The ceiling itself is a work of art – designed with a spectacular array of colourful flowers and fruit.
We enjoyed a really nice dinner in Jamie’s Italian – one of the many restaurants which lines the outside walls of the market hall which was a real treat.
The following day we drove to the outskirts of Amsterdam and parked beneath Ajax Stadium, much to the delight of our football mad sons! From here we used the Park and Ride, which is so reasonably priced – the entire day’s parking plus our train tickets to the city centre cost just 8 Euros, which is such good value for a family of five.
Once in the city centre, the obvious thing to do was walk along the streets famous for their canals and tall houses and soak up the atmosphere of this buzzing hub of creative living.
Every which way you turn there are bicycles, thousands of them! Everyone here seems to own a bicycle and it seems to be the best way to get around no matter what your age. The cycle network is remarkable and pedestrians, cyclists, people on mopeds and cars all share the streets in harmony. Everyone has their own space and so there is no conflict. I knew Amsterdam was a city of bikes, but actually seeing it in reality was enlightening. It is possible to have cities where every person can move about safely in their own way and it comes down to good city planning and respect for fellow citizens.
After a long day spent in Amsterdam we decided the following day to visit some of the villages near to where we were staying. Oudewater and Montfoort are within a ten minute drive and although small are well worth checking out. The beautiful streets are lined with gorgeous houses and shops, including a quaint little chocolate shop in Oudewater which of course the kids just had to go to! We ate lunch in a small café and basically whiled away a few hours roaming along the canal lined streets and enjoying ice cream. It was so peaceful and even though there were no attractions for the kids they were happy to walk around and just spend time together chatting and exploring somewhere totally different from home. This was probably my favourite day of the whole trip because it was just so relaxed and everyone was happy despite having tired legs from all the walking.
Later that day we ventured on to Gouda – of course, famous for its cheese! This is a beautiful city and home to the oldest pancake restaurant in the Netherlands, so that was dinner sorted. Wow! Biggest pancakes we had ever seen and only our 10-year old could finish! Impressive.
While in Gouda we visited the longest church in the Netherlands, Sint Janskerk. It is well worth going inside to admire the stunningly detailed stained glass windows and religious artwork on display.
We decided while in Holland to treat the kids to a trip to Eftling, especially seeing as they had been so good walking everywhere. Eftling is a massive theme park, much like Disneyland, but with shorter queues! There are daredevil rollercoasters, water rapid rides, a bobsleigh, a fairy-tale forest and a million things to keep children of all ages entertained for hours. Site map in hand we managed to tour the entire park and get on all of the rides we wanted, some of them twice, in one day. We had bought the luxe family ticket which meant all of our snacks and lunch were included as well as our parking fee and I would definitely recommend doing it this way. The Octopus café is apparently the coolest café ever, set out like an underwater cave and full of slides and climbing frames.
The rollercoaster rides are most definitely not for the faint-hearted and the swinging pirate ship is so frightening that we had to go on again, and again! It was an expensive enough day out, but my boys do save their pocket-money and we rarely have a big splurge on something like this and we all had a really fun time.
On our final day we had a lazy(ish) morning enjoying the go-karts and trampoline at the farm as well as checking up on the newly born lambs. The kids would have happily spent the entire day there but our hosts recommended we use the Park and Ride Westraven and take a trip into Utrecht. So glad we did! Utrecht is another beautiful city with lots of interesting architecture and home to the Dom Tower.
After a great walk around the city we enjoyed traditional apple tart and coffee in the sunshine alongside the canal. It was a lovely way to bring our days of exploring the Netherlands a little to a close. We had early flights the next day so we just sat back awhile and watched the world go by. It was truly lovely. Simple yet perfect.
Visiting Holland was a wonderful experience. We as a family took home some great memories of time spent together laughing and talking, of walking around hand in hand and just enjoying being together.
As a country Holland really impressed us. It’s not in your face and loud, it is calm and collected – understated yet confident. The people we met were so warm and friendly. The way of life in the country is simple and honest. The landscape is rich a green and there is wildlife to be spotted. The quality and efficiency of the roads is of such a high standard. The commitment to living sustainably and self-sufficiently was evident everywhere we journeyed and was oh so attractive and thought-provoking! I take home with me personally a desire to be more mindful of how I live. To consider mine and my family’s impact on the environment and to just enjoy the simple things in life. That’s a valuable life lesson.