Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Windmills, Wooden Shoes and all things Dutch: The Low Lands of The Netherlands

Destination:   Amsterdam, Netherlands
Number of Days Spent:  4 days
Where we stayed:  We had an amazing time staying with Marije & Fetze in Durgerdam just outside of Amsterdam!  
Best restaurant:   Fetze broke out the grill on our last evening and we feasted on steak, chicken and pork chops.....  all outdoors in their garden!  Stropwaffels take second place (1 Euro/$1.50).  If you happen across one of these delights dive right in...imagine a hot cookie sandwich with what I think was honey and maple syrup in the middle. 
Best of:  Beautiful waterfront villages, windmills & startlingly beautiful scenery...don't miss this part of the Netherlands! 
Worst of:    I can't think of a single "worst of" moment. 
Most Memorable: We happened upon a bunch of ladies dressed all in pink crazy looking outfits.  They were having a picnic bridal shower underneath one of the famous Dutch windmills. 
After a couple of fun filled days in Germany with Leann, we hopped aboard the overnight train to Amsterdam to meet our friends Marije and Fetze.  Thanks to human ingenuity in the form of dikes, about 35% of the country lies below sea level giving it the moniker "Low Lands".  The resulting reclaimed land is rich and fertile and ideal for growing among other things, tulips.  With its windmills, quiant little "sea" side towns, and vast expanses of flat fields used for growing flowers in season the Dutch countryside is a delight for any traveler.  The pace here is a subdued one where amble walks along pedestrian only sidewalks are a common practice and even till this day, a few of the local tenants don the traditional attire.
A short train or bike ride south of Amsterdam lies Durgerdam.  With a population of around 500, a beautiful waterfront view and colorful facades we found ourselves envious of Marije and Fetze's dwellings.  Occasionally in our travels we pause and ask ourselves, "could we live here?".  In most cases the answer to that is no.  We love the United States, but in this stunning setting with its friendly people and liberal society we added this place to our list of cities that would qualify with a definite "yes".  Plus, how cool would it be to don wooden clogs and go work in the garden?!?  Ok, so they are not that comfortable as one could imagine, but who ever said fashion = comfort.          
Kicking off the clogs, Marije took us around to a couple of villages for the morning.  Visible from Dugerdam, but an entirely different town is Ransdorp.  In the middle of Ransdorp sits a tower that for a couple of Euro cent one can climb to the top and see for miles.  The view is stunning.  Lush green fields dotted with little while specks of sheep grazing.  The vast system of canals, lakes and channels can be seen from here glimmering in the mid-day sun.
Across one of the many manmade lakes lies the village of Volendam.  Popular amongst locals and tourists alike, the town sports a picturesque harbor lined with cafes, sailboats and your obligatory windmill.  On the day we were here, a little market was set up - mainly selling clothing flea market style but with one exception - the Stropwaffel stand.  Few tastes can match how delicious a fresh and hot off the grill Stropwaffel is.  The maple syrup and honey mixture is something not to be missed.  After grabbing our treat and strolling along the docks, we picked out a nice little cafe and sat down to have a coffee and people watch while taking in a bit of sun.  Sailboats come in and out, residents walk their dogs and the occasional traditionally attired woman strolls by - complete with the dual pointed bonnets they are known for.     
After our morning out visiting the villages, it was time to hit up the big city - Amsterdam here we come!
To see more photos click on each town:  Volendam, Ransdorp, Durgerdam

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