Around Holland: Utrecht, Gouda, Delft, and Rotterdam

This weekend I joined up with my friend Iva, an intern from Croatia, to see a few of the nearby Dutch cities. Trains here (and in all of Europe) are blissfully frequent and always on time, making it very easy to travel around efficiently. We had no particular agenda for any of these cities other than to arrive and wander around.

Utrecht is a charming city about 45 minutes east of Den Haag. To me, it seemed like a larger version of Delft: it’s home to many canals (wider than those of Delft) and buildings whose architecture reflects the age of the city  – it’s one of the oldest in Holland.

After navigating our way out of the central station (which is also a sizable mall), we exited into a square filled with stalls of clothing and food (the smell of waffles wafted through the air, making us hungry). We found our way to a church and took a look inside before walking along one of the larger canals. We contemplated renting a canoe but opted for sitting on a bench near a man strumming a guitar and singing in Portuguese. Here was our view:

People live right on the canals in little buildings right under the main street. Except for the threat of flooding, this seems like the perfect set-up to me:

I also FINALLY saw someone wearing the famous Dutch wooden shoes. I almost bought a pair today, but they seem like the ultimate example of something you want to buy but really shouldn’t. Here’s what one looked like on my foot:

Anyway, after a couple of hours in Utrecht, we hopped back on the train to go back to Den Haag and took a quick detour to Gouda, home of the famous cheese. Let me take a moment to announce that we’ve all been seriously  mispronouncing “Gouda”. It’s not GOO-da; it’s HOW-da. (One of the few things I’ve managed to figure out about Dutch is that g’s sound like h’s.) Gouda is another charming little town; we walked down a pedestrian shopping street towards the main square, and about halfway down I realized that the orange things hanging over the street were not the ubiquitous orange soccer decorations but instead wheels of cheese:

Once in the main square, we found a cheese shop but didn’t buy anything. Here’s your Dutch word of the day (one of maybe six that I know): “cheese” is “kaas”.

There is also a cheese museum, but we didn’t visit:

Today Iva and I headed southeast to Delft and Rotterdam for some shopping. I’ve written about Delft already; it was just as charming today despite the cold rain that we put up with until mid-afternoon. We went into around six souvenir shops along the main square, and I bought some wooden tulips for my apartment:

I noticed something new this time in Delft. At random intervals along the brick sidewalks, there are the famous white tiles with blue paint instead of bricks. They all say the same thing (I think the word for “earth” in a number of languages):

On our way back to the train station, we grabbed some “hot dogs” from a bakery. They were quite delicious, although they also had some of the sweet brown sauce that frequently appears in Dutch cooking (I’m not a huge fan).

We arrived in Rotterdam about 15 minutes later. Rotterdam is the second-largest city in Holland, and unlike the rest, it’s full of skyscrapers. Apparently, nearly the entire city was destroyed during World War II, and Dutch developers took that as an opportunity to build a modern city. Here’s one example:

There’s quite a bit of touristy stuff to see and do in Rotterdam, but Iva and I stuck to the shopping district near the central station. (Rotterdam, unlike the Hague, has fully embraced the American tradition of shopping on Sunday.) We went into a bunch of stores, and I ended up buying a lovely sea green “leather” jacket, which will serve my needs of both fashion and function here in still-chilly Holland.

So, even though I didn’t visit any museums or go on any tours, I had a lovely weekend seeing a bit of the nearby cities! I doubt I’ll have a chance to go back (although Rotterdam’s shops are open until 11 this Friday…), so I’m glad I got to see them even briefly.

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