The postcard image I had heading to the Netherlands was of gigantic windmills and grand canals. But the thought of them faded when I arrived at the Amsterdam City Centre.
A wide waterway was lined on both sides by monumental 17th and 18th century buildings in a myriad of warm, earthy colors. Boats and brick bridges crossed the still, reflective water. As soon as I started wandering, I found myself delightfully lost in a maze of canals. Figuring out that the narrow streets and canals form concentric belts around the crescent-shaped center didn’t lend a sense of direction either.
I came upon a building that from the exterior didn’t particularly stand out from the rest, but had a very long line. It must be the Anne Frank House, I thought, and confirmed. I decided to save the touristy stuff for later and kept walking.
The Amsterdam Cheese Museum seemed to be more frequented by locals, so I stepped inside to find there were more cheeses than I knew existed. I sampled a few including six- to eight-month aged typical Dutch gouda with cumin, and truffle goat cheese.
After spending the day absorbing old Dutch culture, I checked out the recently opened A’DAM tower lookout 20 floors up. The sky deck revealed a panoramic view of the city center with “AMSTERDAM” spelled out on the port which was bustling even at night.
The next day, I visited the Van Gogh Museum. Though “The Starry Night” and “Irises” are in the U.S., the museum in Amsterdam has the largest collection of Vincent van Gogh’s works, as well as those of his contemporaries in the Netherlands.
Not far from that museum, in front of the Rijksmuseum, was the iconic red-and-white Amsterdam sign. It was swarmed, but all the more fun climbing the letters and attempting to get a good picture like everyone else.
Just as I started to feel as if I had a good grasp of Amsterdam in a short amount of time, the thought of windmills returned. Turns out they were in Kinderdijk, a train and bus ride away. I picked a random sausage and croquette from the Smullers fast food chain vending machines at Amsterdam Central Station and hopped on a train to Rotterdam, then on a bus that wound through miles of countryside.
At first, the village didn’t seem too special, but as I walked down a paved path, 19 quintessentially Dutch windmills erected in the mid-1700s to keep Holland above water came into sight, looking large even from a distance. Instead of taking a boat tour along the canals, I admired the spinning windmills on a slow stroll through the grass. Staring at the man-made wonders, I lost all sense of time.