Having been stuck in the same place, for weeks, nay months, slowly but surely we’re now getting back some freedom. Lee-way to visit each other, have coffee on a nearby terrace and starting thinking about other spaces.
Truthfully, I didn’t mind the quarantine, work-from-home and keeping away from sooo many distractions. What I really did miss though, is that feeling of freedom to decide to go away for a bit. That change of scenery, a city-trip, or a mid-week stay anywhere but your house.
I won’t pretend and say that I now no longer would like to take long and faraway trips, there’s far too much I’d still like to see. In light of Corona and the environment, however, travel doesn’t have to be far, even now that freedom is starting to come back little by little.
In this cute, small and busy country, there are still plenty of fun activities to do, places to see and creative accommodation to stay in.
How about these to whet your appetite?
1) Sleep in former music conservatory – Amsterdam (North Holland)
Well since you’re in the country’s capital, why not stay in its fantastic and historical centre in a former conservatory. The building, designed by Daniël Knuttel over a century ago, was first used as a bank. Once the bank moved, the Sweelinck Conservatory took over this space. It outgrew the venue after which the building was sold and turned into a luxury hotel featuring an indoor pool, spa and sauna.
Enjoy a Royal Afternoon Tea in the hotel’s brasserie or enjoy the Asian inspired bar Taiko or the Taico (not a typo) restaurant run by Chef Schilo van Coevorden.
With the Vondelpark, for a relaxing stroll, museums in this part of the city and the P.C. Hooftstraat just around the corner, you’ll be spoilt for choice staying here.
2) Floating farm – Rotterdam (South Holland)
Okay, due to Corona, you currently cannot visit the farm on the water itself. But you can still go and see this environmentally smart solution to farming close to the end-users from its shore store.
This three-story dairy farm with 35 cows lies in Rotterdam Harbor. The stables are situated on the top floor and milking is done on the second floor. The ‘naturally’ cool first floor lies underwater.
Place of Transfarmation
This is sustainable farming at its best – what the company calls ‘transfarmation’. The cows are fed by rest products from nearby breweries (brewers’ grains), mills (bran), and grass cut-offs from soccer fields.
They collect rainwater from the roof and filter it on-site for the cows to drink. A next-door floating field with solar panels provides electricity. And lastly, the cows’ manure is turned into fertilizer, closing the self-sustaining and durability cycle.
This entire idea ensures that dairy is produced in a circular environment, close to the end-user, and without additional need for transportation from outside of the city.
This type of farming could well be the future, not just for the Netherlands but worldwide. As the company suggests, think of places like Singapore or Bangladesh. Where there is no space for agriculture or it frequently floods, hence no useful place either. Check out this video for additional information. Come and shop in the on-shore shop or order online.
3) Tallest freestanding climbing wall – Groningen (Groningen)
Who says you need to go to the Alps for a real outdoor climbing experience? Why not scale this tallest (121ft / 40 m) freestanding climbing wall in Groningen? The curved design of this meter-thick concrete wall even allows for overhang climbing. If this is too much, try Bjoeks’ other indoor walls and options for courses, free climbing and bouldering.
As of May 15th, the outdoor facilities have opened again. To climb, arrange for a course or organize a party, please check online.
Whether you already are a climber or just come for the experience, this is one not to miss.
4) Maze that will engage all the senses – Tilburg (Brabant)
For a more down to earth place, yet very engaging experience, go visit Doloris’ Meta Maze in the country’s south. Here you enter a maze of textures, sounds, sights that will have you crawling, climbing and experiencing a maze on a new level.
You will be blindfolded and taken to the maze one by one. Once in the maze, the blindfold is removed and you’re set free to roam the maze all by yourself. In fact, even if you come in a group and you might meet each other in the maze, the experience is an individual one.
The maze generally takes between 30 minutes to an hour after which you can reconvene at the rooftop café to relax and share your stories. Costs range between 19 -22 € per person, depending on the day of the week or online ordering of tickets.
Please know that the maze is not intended to be scary. There won’t be people jumping out at you or weird screaming (other than maybe your own). Since the experience however, is an individual one you need to be at least 12 years old and not be claustrophobic or afraid of small spaces. Furthermore, since there are areas to crawl in or through or places to climb, the maze is not suitable for disabled, mentally or physically unstable people, pregnant women, people sensitive to epileptic seizures, those with anxiety disorders, or when under the influence of alcohol or stimulants.
5) Overnight stay in a cathedral – Maastricht (Limburg)
Beside the fact that Maastricht is one of the most vibrant and culturally beautiful places in the Netherlands, now you get to stay down town in a 15th century monastery turned five-star hotel.
The hotel features 60 rooms and suites based in the original monastery. And a bar/restaurant in the nave of the former Kruisherenchurch.
Building this Gothic marlstone cathedral commenced in 1440 using and took 70 years to finish. The original occupants: Canons of the Order of the Holy Cross known for writing and binding books (spoiler alert) were forced to leave after the siege of Maastricht by Spain. Later, after the Netherlands fell under French Law, the government decided to dissolve the monastery.
It then served to store military ammunition and barracks, a temporary church, exhibition space, a government site for the unemployed and to house shops. During WWI it was restored by the Dutch Chief Government Architect Daniël Knuttel (see the #1).
Camille Oostwegel acquired the hotel and turned into a hotel. The genius in this is not only that the luxurious hotel is right in the heart of the city, it also is built in such a way it can quite easily be reverted back and hasn’t destroyed the historical elements of the building.
The hotel is a series of pods situated inside the church but not attached to or incorporated into the actual walls, Russian doll-style like.
Stay here for a night or book a weekend package. Rooms situated in what were the cloister gardens, the gate keepers house or the former monastery itself. Enjoy dinner in the Kruisheren restaurant or have a glass of wine in the Rouge & Blanc wine bar. Prices range from €190 – 510 (2-person occupancy).
6) Russian Architecture garden – Winkel (North Holland)
Where can you find a combination of Russian towers with those characteristic onion-shaped bulbs, baroque-style battlements with a hint of Middle-ages looks like? Well, the owner Gerrit Leegwater, can show you in the little town of Winkel, North Holland.
Upon his early retirement, the metallurgist needed to find an outlet for his creativity and after bricklaying a wall and then an arch, he came upon a book about Russian building techniques. Especially the bulbs and how they reflect light caught his attention. And when you can build such shapes by hand yourself, of course, you have to try.
Well, Gerrit more than succeeded. So, over the years, the wall and tower became towers, replicas of Venetian towers, Roman walls and Greek styles.
All of his work is done with scrap-material that he finds or gets. And he loves challenges. In fact, figuring out how to make molds for shapes, panels, and bulbs is the big attraction to a lot of the adornments he has created over the years.
Visit this place
As per the website, work permitting, the gardens are open to passers-by. If you want to be certain you can see the buildings and ornaments in person, visit on an open day (September 13, 2020).
7) Floating X-mas market – Leiden (South Holland)
Though a while away yet, hopefully, come December we’ll all be allowed to go out again and enjoy the pre-Christmas and Holiday Season’s markets. Fun and special about the one in Leiden which takes place the last two weeks up until December 24th (check closer to December for exact dates), is that it floats.
No, you read it correctly, the market is situated on the water of the canals. Resting on pontoons it ensures extra space both for the numerous and diverse stalls and the visitors.
Stroll, glühwein, or hot chocolate (splash of rum, anyone?) in hand, around to find a one-of-a-kind gift, beautiful decoration or yummy spice cookies. Want that little extra? Why not go for a boat tour of Leiden too.
Woodchips are spread on the streets and there’s a height difference between the street and the pontoons, which makes it hard to navigate the market in a wheelchair. Have a strong friend coming with you may just be the ticket.
8) Traditional footwear – Dutch Clogs at J.Boom’s place – Arnhem (North Holland)
Even if you don’t see clogs in the streets in the Netherlands, they still are made and worn. Granted, usually in a similar way as others would wear slides or other quick slip-on footwear. But they’re still there.
Want to see 200 years of clog history, then visit J. Boom’s place in Arnhem. This part shop, part museum has been making clogs, rope, and brushes since 1835. Unfortunately, the Arnhem Cheese Market isn’t expected to start earlier than September 1st, again this year, but the shop normally has a stall there too.
Come and see how clogs are cut from blocks of woods by hand. Get the right pair fitted and stomp out on your own genuine traditional Dutch footwear.
Besides the colourful display of footwear and brushes, be sure to check for old-fashioned solutions for cleaning. Ever heard of or used plant-based pine tar soap, Marseille soap (olive oil-based) or Ox gall soap? Plus, chimney sweepers, carpet beaters, pipe cleaners and much more! This place has it all.
Hint: they also sell online.
9) Star-shaped fortress – Bourtange (Groningen)
Now for some historical military fortifications. This fortress in Bourtange in the province of Groningen is one beautiful example of a 5-point-star-shaped defense against the Spanish.
These former marshlands would regularly flood with the odd sandbank sticking up. The floods, of course, were a great natural defense against any enemy. Using this and building an addition on the sandbank, locally known as a ‘tange’ made even more sense. And so, under Prince William of Orange, the building of fortress Bourtange commenced.
The first step in 1580 was to build entrenchments along this important trade route, with five bastions. These bastions were placed 60 rods (1 rod was 3.77 m/ 12.36 ft) away from each other. This allowed for defense from the flanking bastions, should one fall to the enemy as muskets reached up to 60 rods in those days. The courtyard diameter in the centre is just shy of 170 m/ 554 ft.
Over time ramparts were build, then heightened and widened. Additional fortifications in the form of ravelins and crownwork were added until in the 1630’s, the land started to dry up around the fortress.
This asked for new plans. A dam was built to collect water which was then directed to the fortress to surround it. Over the centuries it was left, restored and built out a few more times. The last of these periods happening up until 2001. Now not only has the fortress been restored to its heyday in 1742, people also live within the centre again. It thus is not just a historic and touristic place to visit, it is alive!
The fortifications are open to the general public again. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, you need to book tickets (2-hour slots) in advance. Prices range from €4.50 (kids 6-12) to adults (12 y/o and up) €8.50.
10) Witches Weighing Scales – Oudewater (Utrecht)
Do you know the expression: ‘Be weighed and found wanting’? It refers to the way witches were exposed in the Middle Ages. Besides those suspected of being a witch being thrown in the water to see if they would sink, there also were put on scales. They were thought to weigh less than water.
One of which can still be found in museum de Heksenwaag. Where most scales were rigged, this one is said to have been approved by Emporer Charles V and therefore true to its weight. Apparently, most of the suspects weighted here made it off alive.
Come and try it for yourself open from June 1st, 2020 once again.
11) Book shopping in a cathedral – Maastricht (Limburg)
Another nearby former Dominican church, also dissolved by the French has been transformed into a bookstore.
The church has been restored and a three-level bookshop built on the length of the original nave. Come here to browse, read and have a coffee in the café that was created in the former choir and features a cross-shaped reading table.
Extra: Sweat place that isn’t a sauna – Leiden (South Holland)
No, no, no, this is not that type of sweat room, nor does it have anything to do with criminal activities. It is quite the opposite, in fact. Well, that is, if you did well enough in the place beyond this little sweat room.
The room is part of the university of Leiden. It was the waiting room for those who had to take the final test of their PhD studies; defending their thesis.
Testament to the many students that made it through are the signatures and doodles that adorn the walls. What once started as a way to while away time and jitters has instead become a rite-of-passage, signatures now are added after receiving one’s bull.
Unfortunately, unless you study at the university now or know someone who does, you may not get to see this. Visitors no longer are allowed. Those who successfully defended their thesis can bring up to 5 people to come and see it for themselves, just saying.
Which of the above have you visited? And, is there a place, experience or space you miss in this list? Let me know in the comments below.