While the first two days of our trip to the Netherlands were filled with canals and windmills, the latter half was all about the natural landscape of the country. First stop, a lovely national park by the beach.
Zuid-Kennemerland National Park
I love mountains and the vistas they provide, but when cycling through this beachside national park, I did not miss them. Due to a pesky morning hunt for an ATM after our cards were rejected at the grocery store (the notorious Maestro’s dominion includes all grocery stores, apparently) we got to this park later than we would have liked. However, this actually worked in our favor as the cost of renting a bike goes down significantly when you arrive in the afternoon.
Another relatively short train ride away from Amsterdam, getting to the park was easy, as was exploring it on a bike. From the pristine visitor’s center, we cycled on one of the main bike paths towards the beach, which was packed with people. Rachelle led most of the way, which was best since I had a bit of a stumble trying to avoid a zooming motorbike (they are also allowed to use the bike paths). Be warned – once these rented bikes, meant for smooth paths and roads only, hit the sand, it’s game over! A Dutch woman and her American friend witnessed me avoid a complete fall by doing an impromptu tango with my bike and applauded me afterward. It was quite encouraging actually.
Stumbles aside, the bike ride to the beach was splendid. We passed sprawling meadows dotted with lackadaisical bison and wetlands framed by purple fauna. It felt so good to bury our feet into the sand once we reached the beach. We took notice of the swarm of kites and windsurfers, impressed by how efficiently Dutch people harness wind, something they are never short of.
After rinsing off our sandy feet, we hopped back on our trusting steads and headed back to the visitor’s center just before the park’s closing. It was a sunny day well spent, to which my numerous remaining sunburns can attest.
Leiden, a city about 25 minutes from Amsterdam by train, was simply lovely. This rain-soaked break from lively and chaotic Amsterdam was just what we needed on our last full day of the trip. Our decision to go there was a spur of the moment one, but we soon embraced the slow pace life seems to move at there once we arrived. We were quite happy to wander down its numerous cobbled alleys, flanked by lampposts adorned with flowers and adorable little homes. There were many opportunities to take photos, breathe in a little deeper and wistfully remember all of the charming English villages I used to explore during my childhood summers; this Dutch hamlet felt quintessentially English to me, which made me love it more.
We spent the rest of the day window-shopping in some cute, quirky stores and dried off a bit from the steady rain in quite a few cafes. Just before we took the train back to Amsterdam, I ordered a waffle from a little ice cream parlor topped with way too much whipped cream and caramel. Although I do not regret eating it, the sugar coma that soon followed was less than ideal. Never have I, the queen of all things sweet, felt so defeated by a dessert.
The next day, my trusty travel companion Rachelle left for her new home, The Hague, and I stuck around in Amsterdam for just a bit longer to meet up with an old family friend from Slovakia before heading to the airport.
Visions of cheese samples and stroopwafels danced in my head on my short flight home as I relived the pure joy of discovering a new place with an old and grounding friend.
A cheesy way to conclude this blog, I know, but the Netherlands is the birthplace of several kinds of cheese (Edam, Gouda) so I make no apologies.
Thanks for an amazing trip, Rachelle!