Travel with kids: The Netherlands – The hot new not-so-hot summer destination

According to Tui in the Times recently, (10 August) ‘Holidaymakers will swap Med for Belgium’, I mean who needs forest fires and 40 degrees in the shade? I whole-heartedly support this, based on my recent trend-setting visit to the neighbouring Netherlands, another country which has been unjustifiably overlooked. I might be suffering from some rose-tintedness, but the country seems bloody ideal to me, and here’s why. The infrastructure says innovative, pragmatic, optimistic, stylish. The people oooze organisation AND bon-viveur. How is that pawssible? The Top 6 features of the Netherlands I loved were the public transport, roads, food, architecture, Men and wellbeing. 

Public Transport 

Preparing to board the ferry

Preparing to board the ferry

Can I totally recommend Stena line as a blissful alternative to flying? You overnight at Harwich, then mosey onto the boat for 8am. It’s calm, civilised, empty and the sea voyage gives you a sense of connection between our two sea-faring nations. Once you arrive, everything runs like clockwork, connections are conveniently close, and the infrastructure is in good condition. The National railway has a fab app where you can book, see your journey including platforms (how come they know which platforms things are coming in at aHEAD of time?) and transfer times, and even delays expressed in minutes as in ‘+1’. In red. Love it. And when our train was late, our driver apologised for a ‘monster delay’ of 25 minutes!

 

 

Roads

Delft Canal parking

Delft Canal parking

Roads are confusing to a Brit who is used to all modes of transport vying for the same space. Here, bikeways, tramways and car ways are separated, all criss-crossing safely, but noobie pedestrians do feel like they’re dicing with death. To cross a main road: Look left for the bikes, then left for the trams then left again for the cars. Then look right for the cars and right for the trams and again right for the bikes! What stumps me is the corners and curves where they all intersect – so we do the light-house thing,  or follow the crowds. But trams are king – everyone defers. Only in the old town cobbled areas does everyone share one space, but non-res cars park on the periphery. You wouldn’t want to park up alongside a precipitous canal wall anyway… I wonder how many cars take the plunge every year. Diya says swimming diplomas, with candidates fully clothed including shoes, are mandatory for all children. It’s all flat so bicycles are everywhere and you can cross the whole country in an hour.

 

 

Food culture 

Food has an international spin, so you start asking, where’s the Dutch stuff? They need to take their own heritage more seriously – I found just one good, very expensive Dutch diner in Rotterdam. Many sugary items, yes, tempted me in the bakeries, and of course there’s pancakes, but they are self-effacing about main courses. Did they just live on bread, cold cuts and cheese, which would be very Germanic and true to their farming roots. According to the old masters, the rich lavished their disposable on incredible pies, game pies mostly, topped with peacocks and swans. Oysters and sea foods also featured. 

A cheese shop

A cheese shop, in The Hague

a swan pie, in The Mauritshuis, both in The Hague

A swan pie, in The Mauritshuis, in The Hague

 

This needs resurrecting. The Rijks café offered ‘bitterbollen’ which were delicious; savoury balls with a creamy potato+herring filling,  rolled in panko, and deep fried. And a soup bowl of large dense cheddar-like cubes, on its own, which stumped me rather. Rugged oder was? I was expecting a cheese board with crackers and butter etc. Was I supposed to eat it just like that? The waiter told me it was an accompaniment to beer usually, as I ordered bread and butter to help it go down.

 

My Rijks Museum 'snacks'

My Rijks Museum ‘snacks’

the breadnbutter platter, knife in situ

The breadnbutter platter, knife in situ

 

 

 

 

 

 

Architecture

The Germans didn’t destroy everything thankfully. The Old towns of Delft, Leiden and Amsterdam are totally charming. Where the Germans blitzed everything there’s an irrepressible spirit of blue-sky and humour that asserts itself through the new builds. Adventurous architecture like the Cube Houses totally astound, as they break all the rules, and still people fall over themselves to own these mad-hatter topsy-turvey properties at 380K euros each.

At the Delft Museum with camo blouse and gift wrapped bowl

At the Delft Museum with camo blouse and gift wrapped bowl

Modern quarters, both rural and urban, are open plan and spacious, like Warsaw, all holistically planned and custom-made. Towns are just so user-friendly. Rotterdam Centraal station has a huuuuuge concourse, with tubes just 3 minutes walk from trains, buses and bike racks. Marvellous. And the entrance, hard to explain, but imagine a giant duvet being lifted with one leg to let a fart out? 

 

the Cube Houses

The Cube Houses   

   

Captions: Modern family home with thatch all down the walls, or badly stacked high-rise, take your pick

 

The men speak other languages effortlessly, and och, they’re cute

Way more of them are handsome than in the UK I swear. Wholesome. Kempt. Confident. Courteous. Most eligible. And game for a dance! I joined a free salsa dance night at a cafe in Delft, where everyone just flipped into English without a moment’s thought and danced without any gawkiness. 

 

Salsa DJs in Delft

Salsa DJs in Delft

 

 

 

 

 

Well-being

Hockey anyone? from the Rijks Museum, Amsterdam

Hockey anyone? from the Rijks Museum, Amsterdam

The general high level of fitness is noticeable. Central Rotterdam on Sunday morning turned into a jogging maze, with hundreds of solo runners, friends, and clusters of colleagues in corporate tops, all chatting and jovial. It ended in a bar with booming music at 10:30. That’s AM. Our friend Diya says everyone does a sport and it is heartily encouraged in their curriculum. Hockey is the big thing, as we see in their classical painting, but all sports are catered for, in covered facilities to keep motivation up through the cold wet winters. Brilliant. It’s a bit nanny-state, but it’s so jolly encouraging, you can’t object.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh and cannabis is legal. And the windmills actually go round. 

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