My journey to the Netherlands was tragic in several ways: they had just entered another lockdown for Christmas 2020, I had just gone through an ordeal of having my wallet stolen from my previous stop in Paris, and I was essentially void of cash and cards when I arrived.
Thank heavens I was here to meet and stay with a friend, who lived in Utrecht at the time. I was picked up from the station and promptly lent a transport card that would survive me until my new card should reach me. Fondly named the OV-chipkaart, it can be used not only on local transport, but long distance travels across the Netherlands too. As someone who likes to make full use of my time exploring beyond my base, this was the single important item I treasured during my entire stay here, and you will see why.
The fourth-largest city in the Netherlands, Utrecht is located in the very centre of the country. It is prominently marked by the tallest church tower, the Dom Tower of St. Martin’s Cathedral, which was under renovation at the time of visit. The city itself was a mixture of historical and modern, made picturesque along the banks of the river Rhine.
True to the country’s reputation of being bicycle-friendly, my companion and I rented some to ride into the city and then explored the city centre on foot. Given that it was during a lockdown, we didn’t get to see much beyond the outdoors. But I was already incredibly charmed by the convenience and quaintness of it all.
The Hague, or Den Haag, is the royal capital of the Netherlands, and the home of international law and arbitration. My companion had business here to attend to, so we took the 40-minute train ride and had a short walkabout around the station before I was left to my devices.
Naturally, this is where we got to visit the parliament and courthouse (and encountered a live protest). But what I was looking forward the most (despite it being winter) was the beach. While it was not the best in the world, the sound of waves was very welcoming after being stuck inland for a good chunk of my European lockdown vacation. Not to mention there were many cute statues along the beach!
From the beach, I rode my rental bicycle through Oostduinpark in search of a ‘high’ point. To be frank, the Netherlands are very flat to begin with, so there shouldn’t be an expectation for a spectacular view even from the observation deck. But the ride itself was very pleasant, I nearly lost my way, but I wouldn’t trade any other experience for this. (Except maybe for a stroopwafel!)
25 minutes from Utrecht is Amsterdam, the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands. The international hub is a famous tourist destination, but perhaps because I had seen Utrecht and the Hague prior that Amsterdam became underwhelming.
That’s not to say the multiple canals and historical buildings were any less beautiful. The ongoing lockdown at the time did put a damper on the trip. Even the red light district was shuttered. So all I could do was to explore the area surrounding the main station before heading back. Perhaps I will return for the museums in the future.
The live Christmas show by the canal was a lot of fun though!
40 minutes from Utrecht and close to the Hague is Rotterdam, the second largest city and home to many modern architecture. From the Eurovision-famous train station to the Wilhelmina pier, I was blown away by how the Netherlands had grown to fit in with the modern world through this city. Hence, it was a thoroughly appropriate last leg of my trip, even if it was under lockdown.
*All photos featured in this story are taken by the author.