Chilling by the Mills

What helps make backpack traveling easy and convenient is when a place has at least an almost excellent network of transportation connections. And definitely, this is the case with the Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam. With just 5-10 minutes of train time from the central, southern and western parts of the city, you will arrive at the airport very conveniently, just in time for the security and passport checks without necessarily being at the airport a couple of hours before your flight. And this gives us a good intro into a great site which one can definitely hop into while having a layover in Amsterdam or having a flight later on in during the day.

One of the best stop over places very close to Amsterdam and specially if one is just the type of traveler who prefer to go a bit off the beaten path is Zaanse Schans. Located around 30 minutes by train north from Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is a collection of well-preserved traditional windmills and houses along the Zaan river.

Although this site is now one of the most famous tourist attractions in the Netherlands, and arguably one of the busiest especially during weekends, the Schans is still a personal favorite of mine both when I lived in Amsterdam as well as afterwards, when I still visited North Holland. Whether the weather is cloudy or sunny, the Schans is a relaxing place to visit. Walking from the parking lots available on the other side of the main bridge towards the site, the 10-15 minute walk gives one a windy atmosphere that on some occasions, if one is lucky, one would also smell either a bready or a chocolate milk scent coming from nearby food factories.

Within the Schans, aside from being welcomed into the site’s museum, which stands there since the mid-90’s, one could enjoy a couple of house strolling and taking photos of the mills, which offer differing angular views of the place; souvenir-shopping; cheese tasting and shopping; spending time just relishing on the views and the atmosphere or as for my case, taking a cold chocolate beer from one of the mills and sat outside, feeling refreshed with panoramic views of the area.

I couldn’t help still feeling full of that experience even during my train ride to the airport. That’s definitely a place worth visiting over and over again. I did it again with a visiting friend when I still lived in Amsterdam. I did it again during the first lockdown due to Covid-19 when I moved to South Holland. And definitely, I would do it over and over again either just to relax or to tour some friends to the site. This is a must do while traveling to the Netherlands.

Of Bridges and Canals II – Amsterdam 2018

I’m not sure how one feels about this, but writing about a previous travel experience in the country which you currently live in hits different to me. This is like me 6 years ago when I started working and living in Singapore reminiscing about visiting Bugis or hanging out with my friends from my previous job on the Singapore flyer at night 8 years ago. This is the same now that I am living in the Netherlands and writing about my first experience traveling to Amsterdam – it’s like asking myself how would have it been if I knew then that I would return to the place not only as a traveler spending his holidays but actually living there? It’s an unusual feeling but it actually made me smile thinking about it.

3 years ago, a close friend of mine was finally getting married to her then Dutch boyfriend of many years and when she invited me to their wedding, it was exciting to witness another one of my close friends tying the knot, going to spend the rest of her life with the one she loves, and of course, meeting with new people and just share in the joy and happiness that the couple would start spending together for the rest of their lives.

Initially, it actually didn’t sink in to me that I will be spending a few days in Amsterdam. Honestly, I’ve been reading and seeing a lot of great things about Amsterdam – the feeling of liberty and liberalism in the city, the youthfulness of the atmosphere, a city completely designed in a network of canals. Wait! This totally sounds like the younger sister of Venice. And I have to say after this trip that it was the case – so as Venice is like the more mature elder sister, her experiences written all over her design, her structures, her landmarks; here is Amsterdam, the more innocent younger sister, the more she grows, the more she keeps well-written stories and memories of her old self but at the same time, less cautious and more dynamic.

When they say that the Dutch are very welcoming or very warm, at first, I was a bit cautious to believe this outright. As much as I love the sincerity and seriousness of my relationships with my northern European family and friends, of course, they are not from the “warm” Mediterranean. But soon as I landed in the city, I had to calibrate up my expectations to the reality. Ok, a part of that could stem from the fact that most Dutch people study 2 or 3 other languages apart from their own language when they are in high school. Thus, speaking English is not much of a problem; and even if they are proud of their culture and tradition, they are not afraid nor are not arrogant to speak a foreign language to welcome people in their city. But more than that, I just felt that the Dutch are open-minded people. This could be because of their long history as maritime people and that actually reflects in their culture and in their cityscapes.

When going out in restaurants or entering museums, you will meet mostly patient and enthusiastic people who would let you take some time to decide what you want to eat, explain to you menus that are specific to their place or even let you try samples of their delicacies. I remembered even getting lucky as to walking through the De Pijp area and being able to have a tasting of a stall’s different flavors of stroopwafel. When you eat at a crowded restaurant and you find yourself queuing along with other people (our bad as usually, during weekends, Dutch people are fond of reserving spots to dine…and we were definitely unprepared for this :P), most Dutch people would be curious enough to want to know if you live there, where you come from, would spend a couple of minutes chitchatting with you over a few glasses of drinks, before you both settle down to your seats to eat. If that’s not going to further fill up your dining experience, I don’t know what would.

Amsterdam is a very dynamic city. On the centermost parts of the city, you see an almost uniform style of Dutch architecture, from gothic-styled stone-colored churches into Dutch Golden Age-styled architecture that’s very evident in the almost very symmetrical designs and orange colors in many of the buildings that stand out even up to this day. However, this is contrasted by the more modern designs one may found especially in new business buildings found way further from inner circle towards the Zuidas.

The city was constructed and designed to be supported by a network of streets and canals, which, in one way or another, further connects to the Amstel river, as if the city is shaped like a spider web and its core orb towards the city center, which is the intersection between the Ij and Amstel rivers. It’s as if the Amstel river is the spine of the city and everything gravitates and finds support from the river. After all, the city’s name mainly derives from the river’s name. And I seem to have not mentioned that most of the canals have distinct views of the city, so no matter which section of the inner city you are in, it doesn’t matter that much if you spend a few minutes wandering around, having a glass of beer while people watching, do a few turns into narrow alleys or wider roads along the canals, it’s the same level of fun as playing maze games, getting lost, but ultimately still enjoying the whole experience.

Fast forward a year and a quarter later when I eventually moved to Amsterdam and spent around a year living there, I was still amazed at how much more things I still enjoyed doing around in the city. With a quite vibrant expat scene, an overall work environment that focuses on efficiency to be able to do more recreational activities after working house, I was really able to reflect and inhale my experience as a resident of the city. I would probably write more about my experience in the city as an expat in later blog entries, but with my experiences as a traveler a year before eventually moving into the city, there was no wonder that around a year later, it was not a difficult decision at all to accept an opportunity to move to Amsterdam.