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The best of Holland

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Sometimes my jobs has perks. That is what I tell myself when I sleep for two nights on hard bristle carpet at a conference in KwaZulu Natal.

But before that, me and some other journo hacks went on a trip to The Netherlands ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit to South Africa.
Besides an interview with the Prime Minister, a visit to the ICC and the foreign ministry as well as countless of amazing and awe-inspiring businesses looking to invest in South Africa, I had a chance to experience some of the best of the country. All in all, we spent time in the Hague, Rotterdam, Veeneedal and Amsterdam. Our trip was jam packed and I have no intention to detail every bit of it. Here is just some of my sentiments of the highlights of my trip (this is not a hotel review but my mere experience following my trip). After arriving at the Schipol Airport, we headed straight to The Hague which is a lush, quaint old city out of a fairy tale. Imagine delicate architecture of two storey buildings with coffee shops and little boutiques everywhere. The coffee culture in The Hague is incredible. While there are some with an American franchise feel, most are unique, warm and serve the most incredible coffees.

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I love that no two coffee shops are the same. While one would be uber trendy, right across the road there would be one with furniture out of someone’s granny’s storeroom. Many travel blogs list what are the best coffee shops, but I suggest trolling the streets and trying as many as you want to. I spent hours walking and walking across the Hague, through the Palace gardens and in between hundreds and hundreds of bicycles. Everyone in The Netherlands navigates around with bikes. And coming from Johannesburg where we barely walk the streets and where our cycles lanes are empty, this was a shock to my system. I was quite fascinated when I found out that if there is an accident involving a car and a bicycle in Holland, it is never the cyclist fault. I enjoyed our trip to International Criminal Court whose presence was slightly underwhelming. I had no idea that the court was housed in an old parking lot. At least they are in the process of building something new. Moduradam- which is like Mini Town in Durban on steroids- was incredibly fascinating. It basically houses a ‘mini Holland’ with all the landmarks across the city created to miniature perfection.

IMG_2292Looking at the ‘city’ gave a lot of perspective of how efficient the Dutch are and everything just works. There are many museums in the Hague- but we didn’t have enough time to visit it. My suggestion if you ever go, just walk and walk and walk. It will be life changing. Between the Hague and our visit to Amsterdam we went to Rotterdam which has a bit of an Abu Dhabi feel to it. Skyscrapers and ostentatious bridges. Although the proximity to water in every Dutch town creates a very calming effect. Veeneendal is a tiny farm town which is also a lot more refreshing than the business of Amsterdam where you would see the most astounding windmills along the skyline.

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I was most excited to go to the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam which houses the infamous Night Watch painting among hundreds of other paintings of very famous artists. The museum is built spectacularly almost mimicking a church with quaint stain-glass windows and high ceilings. If history is your thing, then you could spend hours at this museum. If you want to tick it off your bucket list, two hours would be more than enough. Also in this precinct in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh museum which houses 20th century art of artist Vincent Willem van Gogh. These are must do’s in Amsterdam- alongside walking the city flat in a few hours. The canals are amazing too and if you have the time, a boat ride along the canals is an incredible experience. The highlight of my trip was taking a tram from my hotel to the Amsterdam CBD and just getting lost in the magic of the city. Amsterdam has a bit of the Jo’burg feel with its cosmopolitan-ness and vibe- albeit much cleaner, safer and way more efficient.

IMG_2479Despite many moans, we did a 6am trek to FloraHolland which is the largest flower auction in the world. As far as my eyes could see are rows and rows of flowers in the most unique colours I have ever seen. I expected an old-school auction with a chubby man screaming on top of his voice in the front, but I was surprised when I saw a huge sophisticated computerised bidding system. Flower buyers from all over the world gather in the early hours of the morning to get their hands on the most intricately luxurious flowers. My stomach did a flip-flop when i saw rows and rows of my favourite flowers, Orchids. And because Tulips are the national flower of The Netherlands, I had to buy a few bulbs as gifts.

Overall, we stayed at really fabulous hotels during our week in The Netherlands which were picked out by our hosts. The Park Hotel in The Hague was quaint and understated, Nhow Hotel in Rotterdam was very chic and trendy and so was the Van der Valk Hotel in Veenendaal. The latter hotel was my favourite because the interiors weren’t very hotel like. It was bold and unique with a strong attention to detail.

In Amsterdam we stayed at the Ramada Hotel which is a big hotel chain. Although the restaurant and skyview areas were superb the room were pretty average. (Don’t I sound like a blogger snob?)
For Halaal food, you can find plenty in Amsterdam: mostly Turkish and lebanese food.
In the rest of the country it is a little more difficult to find Halaal food as available but there are dozens of amazing vegi restaurants that will blow your mind.

IMG_2512There is also the canabis factor when you go to Amsterdam. Weed is legal in coffee shops around the country. While in The Hague you can barely notice it, you will find this drug wherever you go in Amsterdam. Obviously I had no intentions to get high to to hotbox, so I managed to find some really cute coffee shops that don’t have the green stuff on the menu.
The best time to go to The Netherlands (or Europe entirely) is from July to about early November.
Even though it isn’t fully Winter there, we were freezing while the the Dutch were enjoying 8 degree afternoons. Everything in the Netherlands works. There are no beggars or crime. The streets are pristine sans a few leaves. While this trip opened up my eyes to first world living, at the end of the trip I was ready for some of the Jozi chaos.

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