Travel is a strange thing. The way I do it, it’s work. You get up early, go hard, eat exotic foods because they are exotic, stay up late and sleep in less-than-desirable conditions. And you drag your husband around on your agenda because you are the planner. It’s rewarding in quite indescribable ways. I’m a different person than I was a few years back before we started traveling constantly. Seeing the world gives you new perspectives, new ideas. It’s enlightening. And exhausting. And sometimes delightful. But also sometimes miserable. It’s a big world. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to see some of it.
Every year for the last three, George has gone to Oxford to work with his colleagues there. I went two years ago and we also hit Belgium. We fell quite in love with Flanders, so we decided to try just a tad north and this year went to The Netherlands before settling George in the old university for several weeks.
Of all the places I’ve traveled, and it’s been a few at this point, The Netherlands strike me as the place I might most like to live. The people are refreshingly direct and simultaneously mind their own business. I’ve operated my entire life feeling blunt but not so in The Netherlands. I think I might fit in just fine. And there are bicycles everywhere. And the air is really, really clear.
We started the trip in Amsterdam, which is a logical place to start. We were there for five days and could easily have doubled that time. Amsterdam is packed to the brim with museums, historic sites and activities. It’s an incredibly active, engaging city. We rolled in off a red eye bleary and exhausted, and so spent most of the first day wandering around in a stupor. The following day, the first activity we did, before stepping foot in a single museum, was a cheese tasting. We promptly bought 20 euro worth of cheese, that we had to cart all over the damn world. Now that it’s in our fridge, I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Cheese anyone?
One of the wisest moves we made was purchasing Museumkaarten, cards that get you into all state-run museums for free (once you pay the 50 euro fee). These cards were good for basically any museum we stumbled across and they were an amazing deal. Highly recommend to anyone spending more than just a few days in the country! They’re not marketed to tourists, so you won’t find any info in English, but you can buy them at most of the big museums.
Here we’re at the end of one of the museums… I don’t know which one. We went to all of them, because admission was included with the card, but it was a lot of checking off boxes. Yes, we went to the Van Gogh museum. No, we don’t really give a rip about Van Gogh.
But what we do give a rip about, obviously, are windmills! These things are every bit as adorable and neat as they seem. George and I took our first bike trip out to Zaanse Schans during our stay in Amsterdam. It was a beautiful ride. Our butts hurt like crazy. And the windmills were super-awesome. A couple of them were operating, grinding spices or making paint. They used to be a huge industry in the region but industrialization, etc. etc.
We took a walking tour of the Red Light District, which was considerably campier than the regular walking tour of the old part of town. The guide (on the left) insisted we go into the Sex Palace. It’s one of those places where you put in coins and then can watch the “live show” in a tiny booth, in a circle of other tiny booths looking in on a spinning bed of sorts. It was a unique experience.
Amsterdam was awesome and the country is so small, you really could stay there and day trip everywhere else. But it’s also the most expensive city I have ever seen. Our (sort of crap) private room in the hostel was way more than I wanted to spend for a ten-day trip. Our wallets lighter, we headed to Utrecht.
More examples of stores in Europe selling just one thing.
This is Amersfoort (or Amber’s Fort, if you will). We biked here. My butt hurt. The city has really, really cool old gates.
The city of Leiden has more than 100 poems on the walls of various buildings. Quirky and charming.
Upon arrival in Rotterdam, George immediately fell ill and spent the next two days in bed. I felt a little guilty, but I wasn’t about to pass up on Den Haag and the other sites nearby. These are a bunch of people protesting Israel’s military actions. It was a strange protest because they were pretending to be dead and it was really quiet. There were just all these people lying on the ground and probably just as many taking pictures of them.
The Escher Museum, where I was willing to drop serious, serious coin on some gift shop action. Thankfully they didn’t have anything really good.
Sculpture show in Den Haag. I think I’ve seen this cake before, in Paris.
The beauty of the Museumkaart is that I could go in all these 15 euro museums and go straight to the highlights, without feeling I needed to “get my money’s worth” by looking at a bunch of other stuff I don’t care about. Art museums are cool and all but every single city in Europe has a “world class” art museum. You can only look at so many portraits of rich people from the 1700s. It was also really fun to go into the Rijkmuseum or the Van Gogh museum and go check, check, check and skedaddle for some kebabs. Yes, if we’re being realistic, most of travel is just finding something to do between mealtimes.
This is the port where some of the pilgrims sailed for America. Some left from England, others from Rotterdam (though they were also English). The pilgrims who sailed from here came to The Netherlands because they wanted to practice their religion and England was not having it. But the Dutch let everybody practice their religion, so they got all huffy about all the different practices and were worried their kids wouldn’t be Protestant enough. So they hit the road for America.
Checking off more boxes, though the modern art museum in Rotterdam was really, really cool.
George maintained illness and decided not to see Adorable Windmill Town #2.
And then, George left to go to England. Because I am me, I decided to stay on and see some more of the country. After some train misery, I finally made it to Deventer, where they were having their annual book sale. The entire city was filled with book vendors. Apparently people in The Netherlands actually read.
Naturally my eye goes to wedding things.
This was my hotel. Because of the book fair, all the cheapie accommodations were booked up, so I stayed in a former convent. It was still cheaper than the hostel room in Amsterdam.
My second day in Deventer, I took a train to a bus to a bike to hang out in nature at Hogue Veluwe National Park. It was really serene and lovely.
I took this photo of dead rabbits as something of an illustration of Dutch sensibilities. Why wouldn’t you demonstrate how a dead rabbit decomposes?
For my last Netherlands stop, I dealt with some more train travails and made it to Gronigen, one of the best cities I saw. Compact, students and bikes everywhere, great modern art museum. None of which I photographed. But weird model heads in yellow shop windows? I’m all over it.
I’m not much of a biker. Actually, I’ve always sort of hated biking. Slumping over, wearing a helmet, huffing it up hills and trying to avoid getting run over – not fun. But biking in The Netherlands was truly wonderful. Cars give you the right of way, there are wonderful bike paths all through the countryside and the area is flat as can be. I biked something like 10 miles to get to the sea.
The Wadden Sea, as it were. This is the very furthest north I got. You can see what looks like mud in this photo. That’s because it is mud. And it goes on and on and on. When the tide comes in, it’s shallow water.
After my ten miles of biking and hoping to dramatically reach water, I came to this cattle gate. The bike path just ended and I was looking at an embankment. So I hopped the gate and walked up the hill to the scene above. It wasn’t quite the “I’ve arrived at the ocean” thing you get on the East or West Coasts of the U.S., but it was satisfying. Then I turned around and saw a bunch of baby seals at the baby seal rescue shelter. It was awesome.
And then, as these things go, it was time to move to England, reunite with George, and shoot a wedding.
The always-lovely Kari Bellamy had me over to the Cotswolds for a second round of second-shooting in the English countryside. (Round one here – one of my very favorite weddings ever.) The guys were doing their typical shower-five-minutes-before-leaving thing, so I just wandered around the incredibly, massively, unbelievably cute village next to their hotel and took eight million photos.
More from the wedding some day. Here’s George at Stonehenge!
To be perfectly honest, the Stonehenge day was pretty miserable. We spent way, way too much money on a car rental, drove two hours to get there and as we did, some kind of horrific mid-August cold front came in, with super-gusty winds and big-time chill. We took a quick loop, tried to be interested in our audio guides, then just gave up and got hot tea in the gift shop and got back in the car. But we’ve now seen Stonehenge!
Turns out they don’t know what the heck these people were doing with these stones. Lots of hypotheses but nobody seems to be able to come to a consensus about the stones, or all the burial mounds and things nearby. So it’s a lot of “here’s some big stones and where they’re from – isn’t that neat?” All of the “so why do I care?” questions are left quite unanswered. They’re big old rocks – from far away – arranged in a circle! Inherently interesting.
Oxford tourists doing incredibly dorky tourism things. In case you can’t tell, those kids are all dressed as Harry Potter. They filmed part of it in Oxford so it’s a big, big thing there.
A trip to London to sightsee and visit with former clients. This is the Natural History Museum. It’s a pretty great museum.
They even have Dodos.
On my last day in Europe, I took a long walk through Oxford’s countryside to The Trout. You pass through Port Meadow, a large grazing land that has apparently gone untouched (been continuously grazed without tilling) for four thousand years. Or so they say. The cows and horses are incredibly chill and you can get really close to them before they start making “seriously, fuck off” noises.
At The Trout, they have at least one peacock who begs and tries to steal food off your plate.
And that is that! I’m way more excited than I thought I could be about not having any more big trips planned. We’re doing a bit of Amish country on the way to a wedding in upstate New York next week and then we’ll be in New Orleans for Halloween, but other than that, we actually get to stay home for a good long while. Do laundry. Take walks. Get bored. Cook. The homebody in me is thrilled and the world-traveling, anxious, cabin-fever me hasn’t quite caught up yet.