Wednesday, September 24, 2008
One trip to Zandvoort, a beach 20 minutes away from Amsterdam's Centraal Station, left me wondering, "is this the only beach that serves Amsterdammers?" On one of our flights to the Netherlands, a man seated next to us told us about Bloemendaal, the Netherland's trendiest beach and the go-to spot for Amsterdam's party people.
Bloemendaal is a large and gorgeous stretch of sand filled with buzzing bars and lounges. A small boardwalk on the top of a dune leads the way into a dozen lounges with beautifully large patios, nice indoor eateries, and stages/equipment set up for amazing parties at night. On one lazy Sunday, we sipped cappuccinos on comfy sofas while listening to blaring house music and staring at the North Sea....typical Bloemendaal! Another chillier afternoon we ate tapas and sipped coffees at an exclusive beach club with glass walls and gorgeous fireplaces.
How to get there: Take the train from Amsterdam's Centraal Station to Zandvoort en Zee. In front of Zandvoort's train station, take the bus headed for Bloemendaal Strand (Beach). The ticket costs roughly 1,50EUR each way and the journey lasts 5 minutes.
The best bar/lounge: A large place called BLM 9 regularly hosts parties and also has plenty of comfortable seating for relaxing after a day on the beach.
Best days/nights to visit: The biggest parties occur on Sunday nights in the summers, when the major radio and television stations host amazing beach parties.
Zandvoort is a beautiful beach but caters mostly to German families who are visiting the Netherlands. Bloemendaal is filled with 20-30 year old Dutch people (mostly from Amsterdam) who make the 20 minute trek to the beach to party hard and enjoy the beauty that their country has to offer!
Friday, September 19, 2008
Hilversum is a city (population 83,000) located 20 minutes south-east of Amsterdam. Considered to be the media and broadcasting center of the Netherlands, Hilversum is a thriving city with great eateries, entertainment, and nightlife. The large young population of Hilversum can be accredited to media, internet, and radio companies. Notably, SpilGames, an online casual-gaming and MMO company (2nd only to YahooGames) has its home in Hilversum.
There are three train stations in Hilversum: Hilversum Noord, Hilversum, and Hilversum Sportpark. The main station is a 5 minute walk from the city's centrum. Within the central train station you can find an Albert Heijn To-Go, a Smullers, a magazine shop, and tons of construction! As well, the bus station of Hilversum is located behind the train station.
Some of my favourite Hilversum restaurants:
- Benk - www.benkhilversum.nl - Benk is a hip eatery in the centrum of Hilversum. While it specializes in wonderful cocktails, Benk also offers a series of tapas platters at roughly EUR8,50 each. The menu suggests ordering 4 tapas per person. The wine list is plentiful, and the atmosphere is chic. A popular destination for wealthy and hip 20 and 30-somethings.
- Bagels and Beans - kerkstraat 3 - This is a local coffee and bagel shop on the main shopping street. With two levels and an ample patio, Bagels and Beans is a great hang-out place in the late morning/early afternoon. They offer a wide selection of bagels, some great breakfasts, and wonderful fresh juices and smoothies.
- Musk - www.musk.nl - Musk is a night-club/eatery on Groest St in the centrum. Musk has a beautiful patio out front where you can enjoy small appetizers (think bitterballen and beers) while in the back there is a much larger patio that serves full meals. Inside, Musk is a lounge-type bar. In the evenings, Musk has popular DJ's and sometimes live music. Musk is a great place for a night-out and caters to the more up-scale partier.
- De Open Keuken - a restaurant a bit out of the center in Hilversum, with a wonderful patio serving proevertjes and delectable desserts.
The Museum Hilversum is currently hosting an exhibition on the farmers that shaped Het Gooi region in the past. From September 20th until February 1, 2009 the museum will feature this wonderful display. Check out www.museumhilversum.nl for more details. Also located within the museum (Kerkbrink 6) is a tourist office with tons of pamphlets and flyers detailing tourist attractions within Hilversum and the rest of the Netherlands.
Other notable stores in Hilversum:
- Paper & Cards - Leeuwenstraat 38 - A small store carrying papers, scrapbooking supplies, cards, and hand-made trinkets.
- De Hilversumse Boekhandel - www.dehilversumseboekhandel.nl - Hilversum's nicest book store, featuring a variety of Dutch adult and children's books, as well as English-Dutch dictionaries.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Edam is a small village in Noord Holland, roughly 20 minutes from Amsterdam. Hopping on bus 110 from Amsterdam Centraal Station will take you to Volendam and Edam, both great places to visit. Volendam is a popular tourist destination, with opportunities to dress up in traditional Dutch clothing and sample typical Dutch cuisine (ie. pannekoeken). However, if you aren't looking for the "Disneyland" version of the Netherlands, then a visit to Edam (only 2km away from Volendam) will serve you well.
Edam is most famous for it's delicious cheese. In the summer months, Edam's Kaasmarkt (Cheese Market) takes place from 10am-12:30pm. Besides the market, there are wonderful sights to see in this picturesque, pretty town. Lovely canals with hand-drawn bridges are everywhere, and quaint Dutch cottages with clogs overflowing with flowers abound. Along the bumpy cobblestone streets you will find wonderful bakeries and traditional cheese shops. Of course, a stop at the Kaaswaag (old cheese weigh-house) is a great idea. There are displays of the cheese production process in the museum, which has free admission and will take you 5 minutes to explore. The Grote Kerk is beautiful and allows trips to the observation deck for a cost of EUR2,00.
I went to Edam on a Monday, which may not have been the smartest idea. Most places in the Netherlands are closed Monday morning, and open at 1:00pm. In Edam there are only a handful of restaurants, and very few tourist shops. Perhaps this is part of the town's charm, however, since it is truly a small town with a traditional Dutch community. Just down the street from the Kaasmarkt you will see Dutch farmland. We walked along the side of the road, taking pictures of the cows and sheep as they grazed near the canals. In a nearby church there was a sale going on, and for EUR6,00 I was able to purchase a hand-knit Miffy (Nijntje) stuffed doll.
At Schepenmarkersdijk 6, you will find Ton Tweewielers, a bicycle rental shop. Renting a bicycle is a great idea (but was closed on Monday) especially to cycle to nearby Volendam.
In terms of beauty, Edam is only rivaled by Brugges, Belgium. If you must decide between Volendam and Edam, choose the less-popular destination of Edam, and you will not be disappointed.
After having spent 3 months in the Netherlands, it surprised many people that I hadn't yet visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This museum is often the first stop on people's lists when traveling to Amsterdam (it was my top choice during my first stay in the city...but I never got around to seeing it).
This morning I woke up early to make the commute into Amsterdam and visit the museum. At Centraal Station, I took tram 5 to the Museumplein. From the tram stop, it was a minute walk to the museum's entrance. Since I had a museumkaart, I was given free admission into the museum and by-passed the line for ticket sales. In order to avoid this chunk of the line, it is advisable to buy tickets online at www.vangoghmuseum.nl. Adult tickets cost EUR13,00.
The ground floor of the museum houses a gift shop, restauraunt, audio-tour booth, and cloakroom. On the first floor, the permanent collection of Van Gogh paintings are displayed. Here you can see such famous works as Van Gogh's self-portrait and "Sunflowers". I particularly loved his painting "Almond Blossoms", given to his brother Theo after the birth of his nephew Vincent William.
Most of the paintings in the museum's extensive collection (200 in total) were donated by Vincent's brother, Theo. After Theo and Vincent's deaths in the 1890s, Theo's wife donated the items, as well as a series of correspondance letters between her husband and his brother.
Floors 2 and 3 of the museum house various paintings of Vincent's, as well as paintings of those 19th-century artists that inspired him (Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, etc). Some vases that Van Gogh used in his still life paintings have been donated to the museum, as well as paint sets.
Of particular interest is an exhibit on the third floor showing an old canvas that Van Gogh used. The canvas has been subjected to X-ray imaging, and reveals three separate works that Van Gogh created during his early exploration into painting.
The gift shop includes over-priced kitschy items such as Van Gogh mugs and "Starry Starry Night" postcards (although the actual painting itself is not in the museum). The restaurant looked decent, but there are a ton of great sandwich stands flanking the space between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, which are much cheaper.
The entire museum took me roughly 2 hours to look through. It was amazing to see these masterpieces so closely, and to examine each brushstroke that this truly wonderful Dutch painter created. I don't know why I waited so long to visit this fascinating museum!