The Netherlands: Returning Home

When Greg and I were in Scotland in October, we had beers with a fellow Canadian traveller.

We were chatting about which countries we’d been to and I was trying to explain my love of the Netherlands to her, but words were failing me.

She smiled and said, “Is it like when you’re there you feel like, for the first time in your life, you walk into every room as your whole self?”

“Yes, exactly.” I was grateful that someone could give me the words to express how I felt. Of course she completely understood. She had recently moved to Edinburgh to become a professional tour guide because she too fell in love with a country other than her own.

I couldn’t WAIT to go back. It had been almost 7 years since I studied there on exchange at Tilburg University and I had dreamt about this moment ever since I left.

What’s so great about the Netherlands?

Where do I even begin:

  • I LOVE the lifestyle there. The Netherlands was built on a swamp (and many parts used to be completely under water) so it is almost perfectly flat and everyone bikes everywhere regardless of the weather. As a result, the bike lanes are well developed and super safe to use (just watch out for other Dutch cyclists- they bike FAST), you’ll also see small children on bikes or balancing comfortably on the back of their parent’s bike

  • I find that Dutch people are very warm, welcoming and super hospitable (they also enjoy a good night out)

  • I think the Dutch language is adorable and sing-songy so every time I hear it, especially if it’s a small child talking, it makes me smile

  • The country is not dominated by skyscrapers, busy streets or dense populations, so everywhere you go you feel like you’re in a small, cozy place

  • Their street food is delicious

To be honest, because it had been so long since I’d been there, I was nervous that it wasn’t going to be as amazing as I remembered it. I had also talked Greg’s ear off for our entire relationship about how amazing it was to live and go to school there, and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

In reality: from the moment we arrived there together until we left, I had a silly smile on my face.

It felt like I was returning home.

Doing a canal tour in Amsterdam

Our first couple of days were spent in Amsterdam exploring the typical tourist stuff:

I had done all of these things before, but I thought it was important for Greg to see too (especially before we went to a more traditional Dutch town later).

The tours were a nice refresher on the history and culture of Amsterdam. Our guides talked about things in the Netherlands that are “illegal, but tolerated”, or in Dutch known as “gedogen”.

Um, what the heck does that mean?

It means that something is considered illegal only if certain conditions are not met.

In order for something to be gedogen it has to:

  • Make money

  • Have reasonable doubt (i.e. you can lie easily about what you’re really doing)

  • Not involve murder

Simple, right?

Some examples that might shock you:

  • Weed is actually illegal in the Netherlands BUT if it is sold in a “coffee shop” it is okay because you are not selling weed, you are selling coffee and bake goods (that just HAPPEN to have weed in it)

  • For many years prostitution also fell under this category but has been legalized since October 2000. Women could not stand on the streets and solicit others for sex, BUT if they stood in their living room windows “washing them all night” then it was okay. This is also the origin of how the Red Light District came to be (to this day women stand in glass windows)

  • At one point in history, they had also outlawed Catholicism so it was difficult for people to gather for worship, BUT if the police overheard religious singing and questioned you about it, and you said it was your best friend’s favourite birthday song, then they turned a blind eye to it

I love how quirky Amsterdam is.

Walking through the Red Light District you'll often see swans in the canals

While we were there, it was also the first time in on our adventure we had experienced “over tourism”. The Netherlands is a VERY small country and the ease of travel and social media has made Amsterdam a hot spot for travellers.

I couldn’t BELIEVE how many people were crowding and literally crawling all over the IAMSTERDAM sign to get that “perfect” Instagram picture.

We did our best to get close but it was hilariously impossible. We ended up finding a bench in the same area that had the words written on it and took a picture with that instead.

Luckily we were there when we were, because as of December 2018, the sign is no longer located in that square! The city has decided to combat overcrowding by moving it around Amsterdam to attract tourists to lesser known areas.

We were pretty pleased with ourselves after finding this less crowded photo opportunity

After two nights in Amsterdam, we took the train to Delft which is a wonderfully cute little Dutch town that we both had never been to.

We splurged a little bit here and booked a hotel for some much needed privacy and relaxation after staying in so many multi bedroom hostels in a row (4 to be exact). We were very socially burnt out, so while it rained the first few days we were there, we took the opportunity to do yoga and catch up on some much needed sleep.

Delft was picturesque. There were canals, cobblestone streets, short brick buildings and cyclists everywhere.

Walking through Delft

It reminded me of my time in Tilburg, and I couldn’t have been happier.

We were there over a weekend and were able to walk through a fresh food market where Greg tried his first fresh stroopwafel- an amazing Dutch treat of warm caramel between two thin waffer-like cookies (see below).

He's smiling but his eyes say: Take the picture so I can eat this already!

The next day we rented bikes, and because I was over-excited about the opportunity and our abilities, we attempted a 40 km bike ride around Delft and to the outside of the city…

It was pretty cold so we did about 30 km of it before heading back to the city centre for a beer on a heated outdoor patio with blankets.

The market was also still happening so we indulged in another of my favourite Dutch treats: poffertjes.

It was the perfect end to a perfect Dutch day.

By the time we left I felt satisfied we had tackled everything I was hoping to on my list of things I missed doing/things I wanted Greg to experience (including taking a picture in front of a windmill).

We left the Netherlands with my heart (and stomach) feeling full.

A windmill and a canal in the same photo? Jackpot.

Lessons Learned in the Netherlands:
  • Some canal tours in Amsterdam are not very interactive. We would have preferred one that had an interactive tour guide but ours just gave us headphones and we listened to a recording for 50 min (we almost fell asleep!). Read reviews of what is included in the price before booking

  • Biking uses muscles you’re likely not used to using if you haven’t done it in awhile! Be realistic with how far you can bike and the impact you will potential feel on your butt the next day (we were VERY sore)

  • There are a lot of “Sex” related museums and shops in Amsterdam with similar names. They’re not very expensive, are good for a laugh and can be quite interesting. However, we felt that the Erotic Museum located in the Red Light District was not worth going into. Most of the floors after the second one were empty

  • While the Netherlands is flat and easy to walk and bike around, be prepared for tight and narrow staircases in all of the buildings

  • Amsterdam is a fun and lively city but it is VERY touristy and, in my opinion, not an accurate representation of Dutch culture. Be sure to also visit areas outside of this busy city such as Delft, Eindhoven, Best, or Utrecht

  • Drink a Heineken beer- especially if you’ve never had a “fresh” one. It tastes better in the Netherlands!

  • Consider doing the Heineken experience (brewery tour of sorts) and couple it with one of their canal tours (it includes beer drinking techniques and samples). I’ve done both before and liked it better than just the regular canal tour that Greg and I did

  • Try Dutch snacks! Dutch culture isn’t notorious for their food, but you should consider tasting the following: croquettes (deep fried snack with a gravy-like substance in the middle), poffertjes (mini pancakes), and stroopwafels (you can buy them in the stores but try a FRESH one too)

  • Dutch cheese is amazing and worth buying blocks of it on its own

  • Observe/read about how the cycling lanes work and then rent a bike. It’s the most authentically Dutch experience you will have there and the fastest way to get around

  • If you want a picture with the IAMSTERDAM sign be sure to research where you can find one before you arrive! There are smaller ones also available for photo opportunities such as at Amsterdam Schiphol airport

Cost Breakdown for 7 full days in the Netherlands (in CDN$):
  • Flight from Barcelona to Amsterdam via Vueling: $323.88

  • Transportation: $86.98 (train from Amsterdam to Delft and back for departure flight)

  • Accommodations: $547.80 = 143.80 (Durty Nelly’s Hostel in Amsterdam) + 404 (Shanghai Hotel in Delft)

  • Attractions: $102.49 = 15 (Tip for Sandeman Walking Tour) + 40 (Canal Tour) + 16.93 (Erotic Museum) + 30.56 (Day bike rental from our hostel)

  • Food: $442.13 = 50 (Groceries) + 392.13 (Restaurants & snacks)


NOTE: We spent more than normal on our hotel in Delft-- this can be done much cheaper if you're on a budget.

The Netherlands is a wonderful little country that doesn’t take a lot of time to explore! From it’s beautiful canals to tasty snacks- it will always have a special place in my heart (and hopefully yours one day too!).

I already can't wait to visit my second "home" again one day soon...

Prost! (Cheers!)


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