Wooden shoes, tulips, windmills, Dutch costumes, poffertjes, stroopwafels, Dutch fronts on buildings….and bikes and canals and people actually speaking Dutch.
Coming from a small, Dutch town where I have lived my whole life, I was more than excited to visit the place I have been hearing about for the last 21 years of my life. I have been to Tulip Time for the last 20 years and I wanted to see what life actually is like in The Netherlands. I come from a completely Dutch family and I am your typical Dutch girl – blonde hair and blue eyes – but unfortunately I am not 6’2″ (Which would have really helped me back in my basketball days, but that’s a completely different story).
Every year in May, my town has a festival called Tulip Time to celebrate our Dutch heritage. Tulip Time has always been the best time of the year in Pella, especially growing up. You only have to go to school for half-days on Thursday and Friday, you got to dress up and possibly be in parades, you got to pig out on all of the delicious food, and if you were lucky, you got to watch a parade or two with your friends. And the best moment as a young girl is that you get to ride the Future Tulip Queens float when you’re in Kindergarten. But you only get to ride it once, so when it’s your turn, you don’t miss your chance. This could be the start of your future Tulip Queen career!!
In grade school, we used to have to march in the Tulip Time parades with our class. We would all wear Dutch costumes and sing “we’re the kids from Pella, Iowa, USA. We’re proud to be here right here with you today. We have windmills, costumes, wooden shoes, we’re very proud to say we’re the kids from Pella, Iowayyy. We’re proud we came from Holland to the U.S.A. We found a place in Iowa where we would stay. We’ll not forget our native land, but new ways we have found. And all of us are proud to be right here in this great town.” and it goes on but you get the point.
I don’t know how to describe how excited I was to finally be able to see where I come from in real life. I had heard nothing but good things about Amsterdam and I couldn’t wait to see it myself. I decided to make this my last trip during my time in Europe because 1) I wanted to see the tulips when they were blooming..which meant I needed to wait until at least late March or early April to go and 2) What better way to end my adventures abroad than to go to the one place I wanted to go the most?
Unfortunately, I did not get to see the large fields of tulips or any working windmills up close, but I got to experience almost everything else I wanted to on my “must” lists.
We arrived in Amsterdam late on Thursday night. We were staying at an Airbnb in Lelystad, a small town to the northeast of Amsterdam. It took about 40 minutes to get to Amsterdam by sprinter train.
Our Airbnb this weekend was the complete opposite of our experience in London. Our host was so helpful and sweet. She messaged me asking when our plane landed and gave us advice on which train to take. She works at the airport and she got off at 10 pm. She said that if she had a car she would have waited for us so she could just give us a ride home since our plane landed at 10:45, which was super sweet of her. She even waited up for us to arrive, which wasn’t until about midnight, so she could show us where we were staying. She neighbors the room she rents out which was basically just a garage that was transformed into a little guest house. She showed us around our little weekend abode, told us where the nearest grocery store was so the next day we could get groceries if we wanted, and she told us how to get to the train station. She even called her friend that works at the airport to see if he could give us a ride with him on Sunday morning (since our flight was at 7 am). He was working the night shift this weekend though so he couldn’t, but it was still very nice and thoughtful of her to ask so that way we didn’t have to wake up super early to go to the train.
On Friday, we headed to Amsterdam. By the time we got up and got ready and took the train to the city, it was about 10:30 am. The trains in the Netherlands were rather expensive compared to the trains in other countries I have visited. It was 11€ one-way, where in Spain it’s only 3.40€ to go from Alcalá de Henares to Madrid (which is the same amount of time..about 40 minutes). I will admit, these were some of the nicest trains I have been on. The seats were nice and padded, they were clean, and the intercity trains had free wifi for passengers (which was really nice for me because I don’t have data when I travel. Heck, I barely have data when I’m in Spain…but that’s a completely different story for another time.) So, to me, it made sense why they were a little more pricey than those in Spain, but it was still annoying to have to pay so much for such a short train ride. The ticket machines in the station also only took coins, debit, or credit cards. Jordan and I had issues with our cards not working in the machines, so we had to go to the change machine each time we wanted to take the train so we could buy our tickets. The largest coin in Euros is 2€, so the least amount of coins you could put in the machine for a ticket was 6. My wallet became pretty heavy with all of the change I acquired, but I used most of it by the time I left The Netherlands.
The first thing we did was found somewhere to eat breakfast. From there, we headed for Dam Square, the main town square in Amsterdam. The Royal Palace, that was also once City Hall, was located there, along with the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum and the National Monument from World War II.
Before we even made it to Dam Square though, I was already feeling so at home. Dutch fronts on every building like in Pella, Delft literally everywhere, and an oversized pair of wooden shoes for people to take photos in just like the pair in Pella. It was crazy for me to feel so at home in a place so far from home, when I’ve been feeling like a foreigner for the last three months.
Next, we headed for Waterlooplein. I had read online about the market there and I was curious, so that’s where we went. We walked through the flea market, which was a lot like the Dutch Market we have in Pella at Tulip Time. I found a cute turtle ring that I almost bought, but it was 18€ because it was Sterling Silver. As we got toward the end of the market, there was a place for people to sign a petition to save the Waterlooplein Market because City Hall wants to shut it down.
Next, we headed for the Albert Cuypmarkt. (Side note: any time I saw ‘markt’ I couldn’t help but feel special and that’s also how I knew that I truly am Dutch.) I read online that this was going to be the best place to get fresh stroopwafels. I thought it was going to be a market indoors, but it ended up being another flea market and this one was twice the size as the Waterlooplein one. We got poffertjes first because we found them before stroopwafels. We watched the man make them, which was nothing new for me but Jordan had never seen it before. I just got powdered sugar and butter (classic) and Jordan got melted chocolate and strawberries. They were fabulous and I wanted more but I knew I was going to get a stroopwafel soon, so I waited.
After our poffertjes, we got stroopwafels. They were fresh and warm and so good. Since we went straight from our poffertjes to the stroopwafels though, we had stomachaches from all of the sugar.
As we continued our journey through the market, I realized why there were so many different little flea markets. It all makes sense. Growing up in Pella, I would commonly hear the phrase “I’m Dutch” when not wanting to buy something because it was expensive. Dutch people are known to be cheap. And so it makes sense why they have so many flea markets with various, random, and everyday things for such a cheap price, because Dutch people are cheap! (Mind blown, I know.) I ended up buying a pair of Birkenstock sandals for 35€! For those of you who don’t know what Birkenstocks are, they are a popular shoe brand that a lot of people my age wear because of their comfort and practicality. In the United States, a pair of Birkenstocks cost about $100. So 35€ was a steal and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I also bought a sweatshirt simply because I’m a nerd and I liked the design.
We wandered through the streets and across various canals and stumbled upon a couple of different things. We came across the Heineken Brewery, Westerkerk Church, a tulip museum, a café that we stopped in for some Heineken, a cheese museum, and a cow museum! We didn’t go in the brewery or the church but we did go in the museums. In the cheese museum, we got to sample different cheeses and I tried some bright green and blue cheeses. They were interesting to say the least.t
We stopped and get some “frites” (french fries) along the way. The traditional way to eat them is covered in mayo, but I don’t like mayo so I just got ketchup. They were very yummy and extra crispy (and I didn’t even ask for that, it just happened!)
We made a point to stop at the “I amsterdam” sign located behind the Rijksmuseum/near the Van Gogh museum. We didn’t go to either museum (nor the Anne Frank House) because we were feeling “Dutch” and didn’t want to spend the money. So, we visited the sign behind them instead and called it good. The area was really busy. There were some street dancers breakdancing in front of it when we got there, so there was a pretty good-sized crowd there to watch them. After they finished preforming, the area cleared up some, but there were still a lot of people around when we were trying to take pictures. We still had fun with it though! I originally just wanted my picture with an ‘a’ for Aimee..but then tried to make myself be the letter ‘i’ in between the ‘a’ and the ‘m’ to spell out “Aim” which is what my family and close friends call me. It was a fail but oh well! That part of the sign was really popular and busy, so we moved down to the end of it. A lot of children and people were climbing on top of the letters and I thought it looked like fun so I wanted to do it too. I struggled hardcore to get up on top of the ‘a’ but eventually I got it! And man, it was a dam good view from up there. 😉
My final wish as we finished our day on Friday was to watch the sun set over the canals. Once I found the best view I could in the area of Amsterdam that we were in, karma happened. As many of you know, Amsterdam is famous for it’s bikes and bikers. I had been warned about them before going to Amsterdam and was told that they have a little bell that they ring to tell you to get out of their way and that you’d better do so or else they will run you over. All day, Jordan had been telling me over and over to watch where I was going and to pay attention or else I would get hit. Long story short, she was the one that ended up getting hit. I crossed the street to take my photo of the sunset over the canal and as she was crossing over to follow me, she got hit by a biker who did not seem pleased. What bothered me about the bikers is that they acted like they own the entire road. Most of the day, Jordan would be walking on the sidewalk and I’d walk on the street right next to the sidewalk because they were very narrow and there wasn’t enough room for two people. The bikers would ring their bells at me and act like I was right in the middle of the road when I wasn’t at all. It really annoyed me that they thought they owned the road. I was fine with the bikes and bikers until there were more of them after about 5 pm when people started to get off of work. As far as aesthetics go, I loved them.. I thought they were very cute and made for great photos, but as far as the bikers themselves go, I was not a fan.
We went to the grocery store and bought some things to eat for dinner and snacks and then we headed back to our Airbnb in Lelystad. We got a little lost on our walk back because Google Maps took us the wrong direction but we made it eventually.
On Saturday, we went to the Dutch countryside. My grandma had looked up things to do in and around Amsterdam and she found this local bus that we could pay 10€ for a day pass and it would take us to smaller towns outside of Amsterdam. We could get on and off whenever we wanted all day until the busses stopped running at 5 pm. The main reason she wanted us to do that was so I could look for some Dutch costume material for her (since she makes them) from one of the small towns specifically. I wanted to go because even though Amsterdam felt a lot like home, I knew that going to small towns outside of the city would feel even more like home since Pella isn’t as big of a metropolis area as Amsterdam is. Originally, we were going to go to three small towns, but we ended up only having time to visit two.
The first small town that we visited was Monnickendam. It was like walking through the streets of Pella. Dutch fronts on every building, cobblestone roads, small local shops lined the streets, and they had a glockenspiel that chimed on the hour, just like we do in Pella.
We came upon another small market where I bought a bundle of tulips. I really wanted to see the fields of tulips while I was in The Netherlands, but unfortunately I was there too soon for them to be blooming anywhere but the giant tulip garden in Amsterdam that you had to pay 16€ to enter. So, I bought a small bundle for 4€ and carried them around with me all day. They made me very happy just to have them for a little while since I knew that I was going to have to save my dream of seeing the fields for another time in the future.
From Monnickendam, we went to the island of Marken. We visited the wooden shoe factory first. I explained to Jordan how they are made, or at least what I knew from what I have learned at Tulip Time after all of these years. I also explained to her the Dutch Christmas tradition of putting your wooden shoes out for Sinterklaas and if you were bad, you got coal in your shoe.
We then found a little shop selling Dutch costumes. I asked the lady working in the shop if they sold the type of material my grandma was looking for. She didn’t have any, but she pointed me to a shop that would have it and showed me how to get there. Once I got there, I asked the lady if she had any and she said that she did not have any more. The company she orders it from had sent her other patterns but not the specific one I asked for. She had called them and told them that they didn’t send her the right one and they told her they don’t make that pattern anymore. Which is very disappointing, and so I had to disappoint my grandma and tell her the bad news. She was fine with it and was just happy that I even took the time to look for her, but I still felt bad.
We continued our walk through the small town and came to one of the coasts. It was really neat to see all of the locals living their daily lives, mowing the lawns, children playing outside as we walked through.. something you don’t see much of when you’re living in a city. The North Sea was also really neat to see! I’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea, so the North Sea was a new one to add to my list of large bodies of salt water that I’ve seen. The little beach we walked on was covered in seashells.
The little coast was lined with small shops, food stands, and a couple of little cafés (one of which, the waitresses were wearing Dutch costumes which I found to be amusing). We stopped at the poffertjes stand and shared a plate of powdered sugar and butter poffertjes. I felt very proud of myself because I ordered them in Dutch. To be honest, I can speak Dutch better than I can speak Spanish and I don’t even know Dutch. I literally knew less than 10 words before going to Holland, but for some reason, it was really easy for me to pronounce things correctly. So, I ordered our plate of poffertjes with suiker & boter and couldn’t help but feel proud of myself for this small yet probably insignificant accomplishment.
Also, I wouldn’t like to trick anybody into thinking that I didn’t bother to learn the word ‘turtle’ in Dutch. I asked an older man at the train station who starting speaking to us in Dutch and then we told him we spoke English and he switched to English no problem. The first thing I asked him was how to say turtle. So, I now know how to say it in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Italian, and German! (I learned how to say it in German in high school from a girl who came to Pella from Austria to study abroad.)
By the time we finished our poffertjes, it was time to head back for the bus because we didn’t want to get stranded and have to pay for another way to get back. We were going to go to the peninsula of the island but sadly ran out of time.
When we got back to Amsterdam, we stopped in a small café for a snack. The cafe was called ‘Villa Nieuwmarkt’, which kept throwing me off because every time I read ‘Nieuwmarkt’ I kept thinking it said ‘Uitermarkt’. To be fair, only two letters were different and the arrangement was a little off! I got some bitterballen, which to me were a mix of a croqueta (that’s what we call them here in Spain. A fried ball of mashed up meat and vegetables) and a meatball (because there were little chunks of meat in them). I had remembered hearing about them before and so I figured I would try some.
We met a couple of guys who sat at the table next to us. They were traveling around Europe. We talked about our trips and where we had been over some Heineken. And then after that, we headed for our Airbnb because our flight left at 7 am the next morning and we knew we were going to have to get up really early to be able to catch a train to the airport.
I had carried my little bundle of tulips around with me all day and they had endured some very chilly wind..but they had been out of water too long and started to get very droopy, so I left them in somebody’s bike basket in Amsterdam before we headed back for Lelystad. I didn’t want to throw them away, but I also knew it wouldn’t be worth it to take them with me, so I am hoping that whoever’s bike basket I left them in got a pleasant surprise!
We woke up the next morning at 3:30 am and made it to the train station in time to catch the train at 4:45 to the airport. Being up that early really sucked, but I got to watch the sun rise from the airplane and that was really beautiful. I didn’t get to ride a bike or see the tulip fields or a windmill up close, but I got to experience as much as I could in two short days. I was sad to leave The Netherlands, but I know that someday I’ll be back. I loved it there and two days was not enough time to do everything I wanted to do. I’m excited to go back someday, but for now, my mind is focused on how I will be back home in Pella soon, and I’ll be home for another Tulip Time.