Could April be the best month to visit Amsterdam?


If you love flowers and partying, although perhaps not at the same time, then yes it is! And with a new direct Eurostar service up and running for 2018, there really isn’t much stopping you. There is no better time to visit a city, than when the locals are celebrating their beloved King’s birthday. In 2018, this National Holiday arrives on Friday 27th April. King’s Day (previously Queen’s day) is now in its 137th year. It’s a time when the population of Amsterdam suddenly doubles in size, and sales of orange wigs go through the roof. If orange isn’t your colour, then you really should still wear orange! The wearing of this colour is traditional, in support of the House of Orange-Nassau, who played a part in bringing about Dutch independence after the 80 Years’ war (1568–1648).

The party begins the evening before, but the main event goes on for the whole day and through to the next evening. A good place to start things off is in the 45 hectare green space of the Vondelpark, which gets it name from a 3 metre high statue of a local poet, Joost van den Vondel, which first graced the park in 1867. If you haven’t found something orange to wear, this might be your last chance, as local people sell everything from 80s shell suits to home-made cookies at the free market (a bit like a massive bootsale). Their kids join in the action by performing songs, playing musical instruments and dancing. The smiles on everybody’s faces are infectious as an orange-clad posse offers out free hugs.

Following the action into town, the crowds become tighter as a DJ blares out loud dance music and golden confetti rains down on the excited revellers. Boats filled with tipsy friends float past and I wonder just how many people fall into the river on this day alone. Further down the street, a tall man attempts to hula hoop and two small girls giggle as he fails miserably. He now has to buy a bag of jelly sweets from them. If all the walking and dancing has built up an appetite, then Bitteballen are the perfect remedy. These small fried balls of ground beef, gravy and seasoned flour are the perfect hot snack to accompany a beer. But bear in mind when sharing, that it is considered rude to either take the first one, the biggest one, or the last one… the Dutch have impeccable manners (and somehow one of the lowest rates of obesity in Europe!). Across the street a band is playing a great rendition of the Pulp Fiction theme song and as the evening draws in, the private events begin, so its a good idea to buy a ticket well in advance.

The next day, if you’re not feeling too hung over, and even if you are, a spectacular sea of tulips will soothe your tired eyes and the scent of hyacinth and daffodil will lift your spirits once again. The Keukenhof flower show, just a 40 minute bus ride from Central station, runs throughout the whole of April, and is now in its 69th year. There are over 2000 varieties, planted in stunning arrangements, which weave through a woodland of trees surrounding a lake. Beautiful sculptures can also be found dotted around the park.

The name Keukenhof translates as ‘kitchen courtyard’ and literally started as a small herb garden in the 15th century. Two centuries later, the phenomenon of ‘tulip-mania’ occurred and it’s believed one special bulb was sold in exchange for 5 hectares of land, although there isn’t much in the way of records to back this up. Two centuries later, the estate had grown in size and the father and son combo who designed the Vondelpark (David and Paul Zocher) redesigned the plot in the style of an English garden and it was used to showcase the tulip bulbs, which flower in spring. In 1950 the park was first opened to the public.

Tulips are not endemic to the Netherlands, however, and wild versions can be found high up in the Himalaya mountains, as well as in Iran and Afghanistan. For 2018, the theme is ‘romance’, with a focus on roses. If you’re thinking of popping the question to your beloved, the cupid garden, or love paradise garden might just be the perfect place to do it!



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Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Arnhem to Utrecht, via the Veluwe



 



The last day of my Hertz adventure has arrived and that means it’s time to stay a little closer to home, so I can return the car before closing time. The weather is spectacular today (29 degrees and sun), so I decide to head east into the countryside, away from the hordes of tourists that will inevitably take up the coastline. I decide to explore the combination of city and countryside, and when I’m in the area, I have to get my hands on the local classic of Arnhemse Meisjes.

Arnhem

Despite not visiting that often, Arnhem is one of my favourite Dutch cities. That’s not due to its looks, because it’s not nearly as impressive as Amsterdam, Utrecht or even Den Bosch. But Arnhem’s got a great vibe. It’s bustling and upcoming. In some ways it reminds me of urban Rotterdam, but with better nature surrounding it.

Our first Arnhem-stop was foodie related. We went looking for the real Arnhemse Meisjes: crispy flat cookies made of yeast dough, sprinkled with sugar. It might seem easy to find Arnhemse Meisjes, but I’m sad to say – you’d be cheating. There’s only one bakery that makes the traditional cookies with yeast dough, and that is Banketbakkerij (Confectionary) Van Asselt.

Confectionery in Arnhem

The original cookies were first made in 1829, not by this bakery, but Van Asselt has been making them and getting famous for them for many decades. The recipe of the cookies (still handmade every week) has been featured in Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipe Cookbook. The writer fell in love with the cookies when first tasting them when he was in town for a book signing. Fast forward a few years and countless boxes of cookies that were shipped to the UK, and he asked to feature the recipe in the book.

Confectionery in Arnhem

I obviously had to taste them: they were delicious, and very addictive. The lady who works in the confectionary loves sharing the story of the bakery with her customers, as well as giving us many tips for places to eat in Arnhem.

After our sugar fix it was time to explore Arnhem. Don’t miss one of the more recognizable buildings: the Musis Sacrum, a concert hall. The building always reminds me of Paris or Budapest. Other than that, the Duivelshuis is worth a visit. If you enjoy churches, the Eusebius church comes recommended, as you can take the elevator to the top from where you have an amazing view over the city.

Above everything I just really enjoy the atmosphere in Arnhem. It’s full of original stores with fun home accessories, local clothing brands, and some funky cafes and restaurants. I could see myself living here. The area called Modekwartier is my favourite bit. We had lunch there at Caspar, in the sunshine. We opted for an amazing chickpea burger with goat’s cheese and salsa, and a BLT on cornbread with creamy mayonnaise.

Caspar in Arnhem

Veluwe

Time to escape the big city and head north of Arnhem, to the Veluwe area to find peace and quiet. We haven’t actually been in the Veluwe, but we did drive around the area. The route from Arnhem to Otterlo was amazing, and from there we drove via Hoenderloo to Uchelen and via Kootwijk back to Utrecht. With regular stops to appreciate nature of course. Being in such a natural area with only small towns, a car rental comes in handy, so you can stop to take pictures whenever you please. I was grateful to have my Opel Mokka Turbo to explore!

Veluwe

After this it was time to return to Utrecht, where I returned the car.

Veluwe

Mostly I’m just happy I got to spend three sunny days exploring amazing places and eating delicious food in The Netherlands. The accompanying freedom was bliss… I also really liked Hertz’s Opel Mokka Turbo car. Fancy, modern and sparing no luxury. The service was high class too. In three days I got to taste the best of Noord-Brabant, Zeeland and de Veluwe. Now only one question remains:

What is your favourite place to go on a road trip in the Netherlands?

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hertz.



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Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Willemstad to Middelburg, via Domburg



 



On my second day of exploration with Hertz, it was time to explore Zeeland. It’s a place that is practically impossible to explore with public transport, which meant my car rental came in handy. Today’s mission? Scoring true Zeeuwse Mussels, and walking on the beach of Zeeland for some true holiday vibes.

Willemstad

After staying the night in Etten-Leur, we drove to our first stop on the edge of Noord-Brabant: Willemstad. Even though it is not far from where I grew up, I can’t remember ever visiting. The village lies on the border between Noord-Brabant and Zeeland, with just the water separating the two.

Willemstad

The fortified town of Willemstad was founded in 1583, when the village of Ruigenhil was fortified after the Spanish had overtaken nearby Steenbergen. At this moment, it turned into a fortified city. A year later the town was named Willemstad (Willem’s city) as an homage to Willem of Orange who was murdered that year.

If you look at Willemstad from above you’ll see the shape of a seven sided star. The fortified city walls are still there, making for a lovely route to walk on with amazing views over the town. It is the perfect place to just go for a wander, pass by the Oude raadhuis, check out the harbor, and don’t forget the amazing windmill. We stopped for the Dutch tradition of coffee and Dutch apple-pie with whipped cream at Het Wapen van Willemstad. I really enjoyed my visit to the town as it was just the most adorable little town, especially with the lovely sunny weather we had.

Yerseke

Then it was time to head on the highway to Yerseke. My initial plan was to search for mussels in the tiny town of Philippine, but I’d shared my itinerary with the Herz branch staff on day 1 and they highly recommend I go to Yerseke instead. That’s the power of rental cars: you’re free to go wherever life takes you! I arrived in Yerseke a real working class fisherman’s town. Fishing has always had a central role in this town, and that makes it a great place to taste all that the ocean has to offer.

Mussels in Yerseke

Lunch took us to Café-Restaurant De Schelde, a family-owned restaurant right behind the dyke and close to the oyster beds. Family De Blieck has been running the restaurant for over sixty years, leaving it in the hands of the third generation by now. I can appreciate a good pan of mussels, but to be honest I’ve never been blown away by them. But at De Schelde I had one of the best meals on this trip. A good pan of lightly spiced mussels, fries with creamy mayonnaise (you’re not Dutch if you don’t eat mayonnaise), bread with herbs butter and a nice cold drink in the restaurant gardens. Highly recommend!

Domburg

You can’t visit Zeeland without going to the beach, and for me that equals the town of Domburg. Not a year goes by that I don’t at least visit once to go for lunch and a nice stroll on the beach. Domburg is the second oldest beach town of the Netherlands, and you can tell. The wealthy destination is built for tourism, and there’s a fair chance you’ll hear more German than Dutch here.

Hertz53

When visiting Domburg don’t just go to the beach, but also get an ice-cream. We lucked out with weather, so we had a great excuse to try some. We ended up getting ice-cream at IJsvogel, an ice-cream shop on the main strip of Domburg: the Ooststraat. They sell high quality icecream from a small Belgian factory.

Ice cream in Domburg

Middelburg

After an intense schedule of walking on the beach and tasting ice-cream, it is finally time for the last stop of the day: Middelburg. I decide to get back into my trusty Opel Mokka Turbo to drive the coastal route through Westkappele.

Middelburg

Once I arrived to the capital of Zeeland, I was surprised. Middelburg is such a pretty city. I had never been before, so you could definitely color me surprised at the sight of the pretty medieval center. The city is properly old too, having been founded in the 9th century.

Ever since that moment it has been a wealthy city, after Amsterdam the most important one in the country because of its beneficial location on the water. I especially liked the stadshuis (town hall) on the market square. The building took fifty years to complete, with the built starting at the end of the fifteenth century. Abdijtoren De Lange Jan is also worth a visit, especially when the weather is good. You can climb the tower and on clear days you’ll not only see all of Middelburg, you’ll be able to see nearby islands too.

My hope was to score a Zeeuwse Bolus (a sugary pastry in a snail shape), but as I didn’t arrive to Middelburg until dinner time, all bakeries had already sold out. Sad, but a great reason to come back!

What is your favourite Zeeuwse speciality?

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Hertz.



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Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Den Bosch to Breda, via Berkel Enschot



 



If you know me, you’ll know I never miss a chance to escape abroad. But in spring and summer my own home country, The Netherlands, is actually a lovely place to be. During three beautifully sunny days Hertz challenged me to explore The Netherlands during a Delicious Drive, in search of lesser known bites & drinks. The itinerary was up to me. During the first of my three days with Herz I decided to return to my roots: Noord-Brabant. Having a rental car to use was a huge benefit on my mission, as it allowed me to get to places you normally can’t reach without a car, or it would take forever to get to with public transport.

Once I arrived at the Hertz car rental location in Utrecht I saw the big shiny Opel Mokka Turbo that was going to be my travel partner for the next three days. I’d never driven a new car like this, so it was really a revelation of luxuries: the start-stop system, automatic lights, a satnav system, a rearview camera, the opportunity to sign along to my own Spotify list … and even wifi! It made my drive with Hertz comfortable and easy. On to stop number one: Den Bosch!

Den Bosch

If you’re talking about true Dutch specialties a Brabant native like me will instantly tell you about the Bossche Bol. This pastry is a giant profiterole, filled with cream and coated with chocolate. I went in search of the best one, and I found it at Banketbakkerij Jan de Groot. This isn’t just any confectionary, this is the shop that belongs to the granddaughter of the inventor of the Bossche Bol! He invented the sinful treat in 1938. The confectionary is now THE place to go to for the pastries, having grown large due to word of mouth advertising. It supplies Bossche Bollen to many other cafes in the city.

Bossche Bollen in Den Bosch

Having eaten a handful in my life I never counted myself as a fan of the Bossche Bol: too heavy, too intense. But it turns out I’d just never had a good one. The Bossche Bol from Jan de Groot is light, crispy, with a sweet cream filling and thin chocolate coating. Not too heavy, the exact right balance. As I sat down on a Monday morning to enjoy my pastry, the place was already bustling with locals enjoying their morning coffee and pastry.

Once you’re done with your sugary treat, it’s time to burn off some of that energy with a walk through Den Bosch, one of my favourite Dutch cities. I spend lots of time in the city, so I know my way around. There’s a fun, easy-going atmosphere in this medieval city, which was home to renowned painter Hieronymus Bosch. My favourite parts of the city are the old city center, the beautiful Binnendieze canals and the glorious Sint Jans cathedral.

Cathedral in Den Bosch

Oisterwijk

My favourite thing about having a rental car is the freedom to change your schedule and jump at any opportunity that comes your way. I was planning on going to the small town of Boxtel for lunch, but a friend recommended Oisterwijk, so that’s where I ended up going instead. Such a cute town! The best part was where I drove past a windmill, and spotted they served food and drinks. I decided to stop there, park the car, and head in for lunch. The Kerkhovense Molen was built in 1895 and is still in use. Inside you find the cutest little shop that sells local products, that also functions as a small café. When the weather is good, you can sit outside and enjoy your food and drinks in the sunshine. I opted for a Brabantse Worstenbroodje, which is a local’s favourite: a sausage-filled roll, and ate it while enjoying some of the rare sunshine.

Kerkhovense Molen in Oisterwijk

I was a little short on time to visit Oisterwijk itself, but it is an adorable little town. One of the windmills visitors, approached me in true Brabantse style (friendly and open), and proudly told me about the towns history. He told me Oisterwijk has always been a prosperous town due to its location on the trade route between Nijmegen and Belgium (most notably Antwerp). Aside from the town center, the churches are worth a visit. The Sint-Petrus’-Bandenkerk is a neo-gothical basilica from 1897, and the pride of the town. It was designed by Pierre Cuypers, a famous Dutch architect, responsible for the designs of Rijksmuseum and the Central Trainstation in Amsterdam.

Berkel Enschot

Then it was time to check in for our brewery tour at La Trappe in Berkel Enschot. I’m not a beer drinker, but my travel companion was, and as it happens I have a huge love for products with an original story. As I have lived in nearby Tilburg for years, I was beyond excited to get to visit the La Trappe Brewery. We sat down in the Proeflokaal (tasting room) at two o’clock, where we were shown an instruction video on the history of the abbey and the beer, before we got to visit the actual brewery itself. The complete tour takes 1.5 hour and includes a La Trappe beer.

La Trappe brewery in Berkel Enschot

La Trappe beer is produced on the Abbey Koningshoeve. La Trappe is a craft beer that’s produced by monks. To fall into the category of Trappist beer, the beer must abide by three rules: the beer must be produced inside the walls of an abbey, the beer must be made by or under the supervision of monks, and the abbey must do charity work. There are 22 monks living in the abbey (which cannot be visited), who support themselves according to Benedictine teachings, by producing cheese, bread and beer. The beauty of this place is that the abbey could not exist without the brewery, and the brewery could not exist without the abbey. Because of the growing attention for craft beer, the brewery has seen its production double in the last four years. La Trappe takes great pride in producing locally, with great attention to nature. If you’re not interested in the brewery tour, it’s also possible to go to Proeflokaal for locally produced food (and a La Trappe beer, obviously – when in Rome…).

Breda

Time to round up the day in my birth place: Breda. A city that’s often overlooked by tourists, while it is one of the most beautiful and relaxed cities in the Netherlands (in my humble and not at all biased opinion). Just check out De Grote Kerk, one of the most impressive structures in the city. The Brabant’s Basilica was constructed in 1547 and is open for visitors. I have been inside multiple times (I’ve even climbed it), and on one of those occasions saw King Willem Alexander in the church (he was still crown prince back then). It wasn’t too strange for him to be there, as the Basilica’s Prince Chapel is a mausoleum for the forefathers of the Dutch Royal family. The church is the face of the church. Due to its height, it can be spotted from afar. It is also widely considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in the Netherlands.

Grote Markt in Breda

Its position on the Grote Markt means you can look at it while enjoying a drink. Because that is the place where locals gather on sunny days and at the end of a work day to have drink. We ended up having our drink and snacks at Café Vulling, a traditional Dutch brown café. Enjoying the real Burgundian style of life, this area of the Netherlands is known for. A moment later we sat down for dinner at Restaurant Zeezicht. The name stands for sea view, but that’s slightly confusing, as there is no sea in the near area. The view of the Grote Markt however, doesn’t disappoint. I had a great fish stew, and enjoyed the unrivaled atmosphere Breda.

It was an absolute blast to have an opportunity to explore Noord-Brabant for Hertz which I really consider my home. It’s surely inspired me to explore more in The Netherlands. Stay tuned because the next two days I’ll be visiting other Dutch destinations in collaboration with Hertz.

What is your favourite Brabant specialty?



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