Adventure, Beer, Flying, Food, General ramblings, London life, New adventure, The Netherlands, Travel, Travel writing, Trips

Trip 3 Part 4: Alkmaar, Haarlem and Den Haag, and finally a little bit of Eindhoven

Inspired by visiting two cities in a day yesterday, I decided to raise my game and beat this new PB. Arriving at the train station, I bought the same day pass as before and took the next train to the furthest city from Eindhoven – which happened to be Alkmaar. I’d never heard of it, but going there first gave me the rest of the day to get back to base camp.

The train took about two hours, and was well worth it. Alkmaar had twinkling church bells, windy little streets, with pretty houses of all different colours and styles. Again, as with Utrecht and Amsterdam, the life and structure of the town was based around canals; beautiful arteries of interconnected waterways, along which people sailed boats and kayaked in the sunshine. I’d arrived too late for the famous cheese market, but I bought some cheese from a market and decide to try to collect a different local cheese from each city I visited that day.

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After a whistle-stop tour, I made the 3:20pm train to Haarlem. I was initially unimpressed with my second choice of city – walking from the station, it could have just been Croydon or Hemel Hempstead, a prosaic, generic town. But everything changed at the turn of a corner, and like the Netherlands in general, I fell in love with Haarlem. After sourcing some local cheese, I sat outside a pub in the central square opposite Grote Kerk church and drank a beer in the sun (Texels – from one of the Dutch ‘Waddeneilanden’ islands and delicious!).

Taking the scenic route back to the train station to see a windmill, I got the 5:36pm train to The Hague / Den Haag.

By the time I got to Den Haag, I was pretty tired… Apparently sitting on trains and drinking beer in the sun, is really exhausting! On my initial train from Eindhoven that morning, I was thinking to also stop by Rotterdam or maybe Gouda, but now, no, absolutely not. I was tired and in a bad mood, with no one else to blame or to be annoyed at but myself – great.

Unlike what I’d seen elsewhere in the Netherlands, The Hague had a lot of high-rise buildings and wide streets, it could be any city – it’s like the start of Haarlem all over again, I was immediately judgemental and therefore instantly disappointed. Luckily, I soon found the windy, warren lanes that I expected and stopped for some dinner – a tapas of smoked salmon and fennel salad, blue pecorino in sherry, some bread and a beer (another Texels). The place was Café Oude, it was cute, slightly kitsch, and the food was delicious.

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After a little post-meal wander, I got the 8:20pm train from Den Haag. It stopped at Rotterdam on the way to Eindhoven, but I was just too tired to visit another city. Plus, I needed to leave some places unexplored, so that I can come back for another adventure.

On day four, I finally investigated Eindhoven. I wandered around, saw the PSV stadium, browsed in some pretty boutiques, and whilst I sat in a bagel and juice shop, the glorious weather turned to torrential rain. I was sitting outside under the veranda and without a jacket or an umbrella, there was nothing I could do but wait and let (and hope that) the showers passed.

Pathetically and irrationally trying to overcompensate for being so desperately late getting to Stanstead, I arrived at Eindhoven Airport three and a half hours early for my flight – I only had carry on luggage. Despite such a healthy selection of freshly cooked food, I opted for a burger and a beer and sat on the terrace enjoying the sunshine – it reminded me of last month in Germany. The Netherlands has been my favourite place so far, I felt refreshed and energise from the trip, with a new love in my life, about which I had so much to learn and reasons to explore.IMG_1392

When I arrived back in London, the situation was painfully contrastive, a terrorist attack had just taken place at London Bridge whilst I was on the train home from the airport. Reality set back in, and the joy and happiness of my trip just disintegrated.

Adventure, Flying, General ramblings, The Netherlands, Travel, Travel writing, Trips

Trip 3: The Netherlands. Part 2: Day 1

The flight to Eindhoven is so quick – 45 minutes! People in the UK should visit the Netherlands, if nothing else, but for the shear proximity. In comparison, 45 minutes into my coach ride from London Victoria to London Stanstead, I had only reached the Tower of London… Also, the views flying into the country are stunning; the shoreline is edged with a plethora of islands, interconnected by winding threads of roads and bridges, and it’s so flat that the land looks as though it’s just a thin, motley green sheet floating precariously on the sea, ready to sink or be swept away at any minute.

In what appears to be my standard slipshod style, I arrive with no local currency (despite only going to Germany a few weeks before). However, I thought that this wouldn’t have been a problem as my parents visited the Netherlands earlier in the year and noted, on several occasions, that airport shuttle buses only accepted card. This bus to the city centre didn’t, but luckily the driver let me on for free. Another pococurante trait, which I’ve been aware of before my trips, is that I never properly charge my phone – it is in a perpetual state of senectitude, as was the case here. Amazingly, however, the bus had USB ports, and wifi! The Netherlands is doing great so far, it’s enabled me to be completely incompetent and disorganised, yet get to where I want to go and roam the internet for free.

The journey from the airport to the city wasn’t long, but in that short pace of time I saw so many bikes. Parked outside houses, lining the front of shops, seemingly free-standing on the pavement, crammed together chained to railings – everywhere, bikes are everywhere, it’s amazing. There are designated cycle paths too, and so many people use them. I’m in love already.

By the time I arrived in the city it was getting dark, but I found my hotel quite easily – after I went into the wrong, much nicer one next door and was politely told to walk a couple of metres further down the street. I should have known that my budget does not extent to establishments with night-time reception staff. I collected my room key from a safe on the side of the hotel – classy. At this point, standing alone at night on a random street in a new country, I was particularly grateful for my USB-supported bus ride, as I only had the passcode for the safe on an email and when I arrived at the airport, my phone had just a lean red line of life left. I should be more organised.

This time, rather than sharing a room with six or more randoms, with backpacks strewn everywhere, towels hanging from every bedrail and the floor scattered with islands of dirty clothes, I had my own room with my own little sink – what luxury (albeit, the room basic, the bed single and the toilet and shower shared).

There were a couple of pubs opposite my hotel, so I went to the closest one for a snack – bitterballen (beef croquettes with a mustard dip) and a beer, a nice end to my first evening in the Netherlands.

 

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Adventure, Flying, Travel, Trips

Trip 3: The Netherlands. Part One: From Standstill to Stanstead

Impotently stressing. In an attempt to keep costs for my trip down, rather than travelling on a chewing gum spotted, overpriced train seat, I booked a coach to Stanstead airport from Victoria Station. There were three key things I learned from this experience: one, it is incredibly inefficient to travel from North London to South West, to get East… Two, even more so when time is of the essence, always take the train out of London, and three, buses do not leave on time. Something I already knew, but gained a greater appreciation for, never drive through Central London.

I had a con-call for work on the day of my flight. As the most junior and by far the least important, I have little power to negotiate the time of these calls, let alone not be on one. The earliest others (who, for the record, are all incredibly lovely and supportive, just much more senior and busier than I) would / could do was 2:45 pm, so the earliest possible coach I could get was the 3:15 pm.  My flight was at 6:05pm.

Had I checked a map (and/or exercised an ounce of common sense), I would have realised that going all the way to Victoria was completely nugatory, as to get to Stanstead, the coach has to weave through central London – crossing the Thames from north to south and back again, what felt like a million times – to go East past Limehouse and out onto the A12. The bus left 15 (long, painful) minutes later than scheduled and took nearly an hour and half to get to the motorway; and the longer the coach sat lamely locked in endless, motionless congestion, the more agitated and desperate I became. Staring helplessly through the window at the Tower of London (45 minutes into the journey) I resigned myself to missing my flight, my main concern being, whether I should go into hiding and still take the two days off work, or save my holiday, return to the office and face the shame of being too incompetent to get to the airport on time.

Somehow, in defiance of GoogleMaps and City Mapper’s estimate arrival times, the coach pulled into the airport with about 30 minutes to spare until take off. Arriving in time for the ‘Gates Closing’ mark was long gone, but as soon as the doors of the coach opened, in a blind panic, I ran into the airport, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I could make it. This faint glimmer of hope was short-lived. As I scurried to the first set of security gates, all I could see was an impenetrable wall of bodies, snaking back all the way to the entrance. I did about 7 rows of shuffling and waiting, standing too close to the person in front of me, selfishly and pathetically hoping they and everyone else before them would move forward about 200 meters out of my way. In the end, having 10 minutes until my flight was supposed to take off, I decided (for the first time in my life) to jump the queue, politely of course – but it still felt so wrong and so un-English, it was great! After reclaiming my shoes and shoving my plastic bag of toiletries into my carry on, I ran to the gate.

Airports are the worst place to navigate when you are in a rush. Amongst their many functions, they are made to contain a lot of people (who, if they are prepared, on time and/or not a complete idiot, have several hours to pass) in a relatively small space – so have countless distractions and winding routes to aid time-wasting (and money spending). Furthermore, there are families scattered everywhere, meandering slowly with wheelies, buggies and children, in unpredictable directions, making un-signalled, manoeuvers and impromptu stops. An absolute nightmare.

However, my stress, worry and obnoxious running past and into anyone in my path, from leaving the body scanner to arriving at Gate 46 was not completely in vain – I made it in time to board! With only one person ahead of me in the queue, the process from the final passport check to my uncomfortable, crumb-invested seat, was incredibly efficient.

As I sat, a sweaty, puffing, dishevelled mess, caged into the window seat of Row 4, I reflected on my unnecessarily stressful journey so far. The fact that I had even made it to this point, despite my complete incompetence, gave me a very good feeling about the trip.