If you haven't seen Part 1 of my trip to the Netherlands check it out here. Now, continuing with pics from the trip. We still had lots of exploring to do in the Netherlands and our next adventure was a trip to Gouda. Lara had a contact, the family of a friend from church, so we decided to go visit and also get to check out the town where one of my favorite cheeses is from!
Unfortunately, it was not the best of days weather-wise. We took the train from Amsterdam to Gouda and soon after we arrived it started to rain pretty steadily. We tried to wait it out at a cute little outdoor cafe with red fleece blankets on the chairs, and small fires scattered throughout for warmth. It did manage to stop raining for a few minutes, allowing us a chance to see the cheese market and try some yummy samples. We weighed ourselves on the cheese weighing scale and looked at all the big wheels of cheese that were for sale. I would have liked to have been able to explore the city a little more, it looked nice, but it started to rain again, putting an end to those plans.
A homemade meal of a spiced meat patty, fresh salad, and rosemary roasted potatoes awaited us when we returned to Oostzaan that night. This was perfect after our long and cold day of travel. Filling, hearty and warm.
Knowing how much Lara and I love cheese, Henk and Frankje were excited to take us to Alkmaar the next day for more cheese adventures at the Alkmaar Cheese Market. This is apparently the largest cheese market in the Netherlands, much larger than the Gouda cheese market from the day before.
I really enjoyed the morning at the market, it was so much fun to see all the cheese lined up in the market square, and the cheese guys (do they have an official name? I don't know!) carry the big wheels back and forth to the scale inside the nearby cheese building (probably also has an official name). When we first arrived it was still raining but thankfully after half and hour or so the rain let up for the rest of the day and we were able to enjoy the show. It was the first cheese market of the year and there were a lot of tourist from all over watching. There was a lady explaining what was going on in at least 4 or 5 languages, very impressive.
There was obviously plenty of cheese for sale as well, and we were able to sample them all pretty much. You could almost make a lunch out of all the samples if you wanted to!
One of the other Dutch specialties Lara and I were determined to try while in Europe was raw herring. I love pickled herring either in vinegar or sour cream and I was excited to try the fresh stuff. As a little snack in Alkmaar we were able to dig right in. You could get it on a little bun, or just plain on a plate with raw onions and pickle, and this is what I went with.
I know a lot of people would find this disgusting, but I loved it. Made me wish I lived closer to the sea! Yum, yum!
As we left Alkmaar, we stopped at another great little bakery to pick up some baguettes (Henk's favorite) for dinner that night. I was already excited!
From Alkmaar we traveled south to hit up the Keukenhof in Lisse. It is one of the world's largest flower gardens. They plant 7 million bulbs every fall, and in the spring it is open for 8 weeks so tourists from everywhere can can and enjoy the beauty. When we were almost to the Keukenhof, Henk pulled over on the side of the road so we could get a picture with the blooming hyacinths. They are beautiful, and smell amazing.
The Keukenhof itself was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, we were a week or two too early for the splendor of all the tulips, but we still got to see quite a few tulips, tons of hyacinths, and daffodils as well. I would recommend the Keukenhof to anyone traveling in the Netherlands in April or May, it was definitely worth visiting.
After our long day in Alkmaar and at The Keukenhof we returned home and had a delicious dinner of cheese fondue using some cheese that Henk bought in Alkmaar and the baguettes he bought at the bakery there as well. There was bread and cheese for an appetizer as well, a delicious French cheese called chaumes. So it was a bread and cheese kind of night, pretty much my favorite thing ever. This was our last night in Oostzaan, and it was the perfect way to end our stay there.
The next day we were off to Rotterdam. On the way we stopped in Maasluis. This was a MUST for Lara and I because this is the town my grandpa grew up in and where he worked as a fisherman. We stopped at the local bakery (of course) and picked up a few tasty treats, as well as a package of windmill cookies to take home for my dad. We spent some time exploring the city and really enjoyed getting to see where my grandpa came from.
View of the Groote Kerk from the oher side of the channel.
And then we were in Rotterdam. We booked a couple of nights at the Hotel New York. I wanted to stay here because this building used to be the headquarters of the Holland America which is the company that my grandpa used to work for before the war. It felt like a fitting place to stay.
The hotel is just full of charm. The rooms are all different, but with nautical themes (at least the two I was able to see were) and there is so much history running through the building. They also have a very nice restaurant on the main floor which is always a good thing!
When I originally planned our trip, I discovered that the Rotterdam marathon was being run on April 10. Since I didn't really care when we went to Europe, I figured this was as good a time as any, so I planned the whole trip around the marathon! Actually, around the quarter marathon. I'm a big runner, but I don't care for marathons all that much. Just too long for me. I do love 1/2 marathons however, and when I saw that the Rotterdam marathon also offered a quarter marathon I knew it was perfect. This is pretty much a 10K and a good distance to race when on vacation in another country in my opinion.
After hitting up the race expo and picking up our bibs we went exploring in the city. So many ships and boats along the river and canals, crazy. My favorite part was probably Markthal, a large residential and office building with a market beneath that is full of food stalls and restaurants, basically my favorite thing ever. Shops selling cheeses, meats, fish, bread, spices, dried fruit and nuts, sandwiches, salads, sushi, fruit, vegetables...
For dinner the night before our race I mentioned that I often like to eat pasta the evening before I run a race. Henk knew just the place to take us. La Stanza was a beautiful Italian restaurant with amazing food, including my requisite pasta!
The next morning we were off to the races! I had my typical pre-race breakfast of bread (usually a bagel, but had to go with the baguette this time!) with peanut butter and a banana. It was the perfect morning for a run. Low 50s, sunny, no wind. I couldn't have asked for a better day. It was a nice course too, ran through the city and around a nice sized lake with a park. I didn't have my phone with me so I couldn't really get any pictures, but thankfully Frankje managed to get a few, so I have a couple to share.
At this point it was time to say goodbye to Henk and Frankje. They headed back to Oostzaan, while Lara and I stayed another night in Rotterdam before heading to France. After they left we treated ourselves to a delicious "lunch" of appeltaart and coffee at the dining room of the Hotel New York where we were staying. A great post-race meal!!
For our last dinner in the Netherlands, Lara and I went back to the Markthal and bought ourselves a few little things to bring back to the hotel and dine al fresco in the garden they had overlooking the channel. It was the perfect night to eat outside, and we had all of our favorite things to enjoy. We bought a couple fresh baked mini rolls, a small wheel of buffalo camembert, prosciutto and a container of strawberries. It was perfect!
And like that, we were off! Onto our next Europe adventure. We boarded the high-speed Thalys train in Rotterdam and rode our way into Paris. More on that...soon!