Leiden, The Hague & Rotterdam,
Walking into Leiden the first thing we spotted was a never-ending street market, lining both sides of a canal. To say Danny was thrilled was an understatement - any sign of food stalls or random bits and pieces for sale and I have lost him. It was another one of those markets that seemed to sell everything, which felt so overwhelming that we quickly lost interest. I’ve never seen Danny spend so little time at a market.
Nearby was the Burcht, an 11th century fortress with views over the city. From the lookout we couldn't see much except an enormous church and a few houses that were previously part of an orphanage. A sign informed us that the orphans were used to make clothes, and when demand was high the city used to “import” orphans. I guess every country has a past they aren’t proud of.
Around lunchtime we returned to the market to hit the hot food section, where we indulged in a Dutch specialty: syrup waffles. Two giant, flat waffles stuck together with a sticky caramel sauce. They were as amazing as they sound. I can't believe this hasn’t taken off around the world.
On a massive sugar high we wandered over to a famous windmill, but the entire structure was covered in scaffolding (and I was so excited about seeing a Dutch windmill). There didn’t seem to be much point in venturing inside. Instead we walked through a quiet, residential area with a canal running down the middle of the main street (canals were everywhere, just like in Amsterdam). It was here we ran into a couple of camels, ready for kids to ride. Probably one of the last things I expected to see while we touring through the Netherlands.
Somehow we ended up back at the market, where this time we stocked up on a stack of ingredients for several days worth of dinners. Danny happily found more exotic mushrooms that he had never used before, which pretty much confirmed we would be having another mushroom risotto for dinner (not that I was complaining). Opposite the market we happened to find an British/Australian store, selling all sorts of familiar creature comforts. Danny was tempted by the Cornish pasties and pork pies, while I was salivating over the shortbread. I don’t know why this was more tempting than an Australian wine or British cider - it's not like me at all. In the end we resisted the food (and alcohol) and walked away feeling chuffed about our healthy and thrifty decision. That was until Danny wandered upstairs, where he was confronted with dozens of free tastings for various kinds of alcohol. I lost him for about 20 minutes up there. When he finally emerged I found him with loaded up with Australian beer (for him) and an alcoholic ginger beer (for me). Along with our groceries it was a fair haul we had to lug back to the van.
Our next destination was Den Haag, better known as The Hague. Straight away we noticed that the city was not like other Dutch cities – not a canal in sight, an abundance of skyscrapers framed the skyline, and suits outnumbered non-suits ten to one. Somehow we scored a car park right in the middle of the city, close to the Parliament building that we headed to first. The building incorporates part of a castle, which looked fantastic reflected in its exterior pond. Inside the courtyards there wasn’t much to sustain our attention, but I found the architecture impressive. Danny was expecting more.
Right at the top of the city was a panoramic painting that I was keen to check out, so we ambled up that way. Danny decided he wasn’t interested, but somehow he sneaked into the cafe which led him up to the viewing platform anyway. The painting was of a beach scene, with The Hague barely visible in the distance, produced in 1881 by artists of the Hague School. It wasn’t as grand as the panorama I saw in Poland, but I guess it was worth the visit.
Once we reached our car we found a small demonstration happening right beside it, which is not ideal in a foreign country when we have no idea what they were protesting about. Something to do with a camp in Iran we think. We managed to escape unharmed.
Next stop was Rotterdam, where we were hoping to stay in a campsite but the one we stopped at appeared closed. The lights were on around the park but reception was shut up and we couldn't see anyone else around. We ended up parking out the front, beside a sign that stated wild camping (including in campervans) was illegal and incurred a fine of €90.
The next morning we returned to the front gate of the campsite, after watching someone else walk straight in. Now that it was daylight we could clearly see there was a doorbell, and once we rang it the manager let us in right away. If only we had noticed that last night.
From the bust stop in the centre of Rotterdam we walked through a the quiet, deserted city to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The collection ranged from 15th to 20th centuries and contained several famous artists. For a change we were treated to a well-designed floor plan (we are sick of feeling constantly lost in museums and not being able to keep track of what we have seen), with the artwork laid out in chronological order and a description of each room at the entrance. It was brilliant.
From the museum we walked down to a park, which would have been pleasant on a sunny, warm day but it was grey, hazy skies and freezing temps. Danny wasn't up for doing anything else, so he headed back to the van while I walked on to Delfshaven, an old fishing village south of the centre. I finally spotted a windmill without any construction on it at all, meaning I could now tick that off my must-see-in-the-Netherlands list. Other than a few picturesque streets lined by canals, there wasn't anything else to see or do - nothing was open, no people were around. Maybe we had hit another public holiday.
I made the long journey back towards the skyscrapers and headed over to a modern residential area filled with quirky architecture, including a pencil shaped building as well as a string of large cube houses, lined up at odd angles and draped across the road. I found out later I could have ventured inside one of the cubes to see what it was like to live at odd angles. Frustrating I didn't know about this while I was there.
On the way to the bus stop I passed what appeared to be the shopping district. I’m fairly certain that every single resident in Rotterdam was here, as everywhere else I had visited was a ghost town. I also located a street full of hand- and footprints of quasi-famous people, such as Gloria Estefan and the Mayor of Hollywood in 1990. Again, not something I expected to see in the Netherlands, and not a place I lingered for long. It was time to hit the road again.