The Netherlands - or better known as Holland!

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Flag of Netherlands  , Utrecht,
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The train ride from Berlin to Utrecht in The Netherlands was nice. Even though the direct train we were planning on getting was not available due to flooding, we managed to find our way across the flooded fields of northern Germany, making a stop in Hannover for a few hours and enjoying my first Bratwurst of the trip in the very classy train station dining facilities. But finally around 10:30 p.m. we rolled in to Utrecht train station to be greeted by Raldi (pronounced "hhllrraldi") and Marianne, Raldi's mother. It was great to finally stay in a house again after almost 2 months of living out of hostels, and Raldi's home is also a B&B so they are used to having visitors. We stayed in the guest bed in Raldi's room, but as we found out, Raldi was staying with her boyfriend down the road because her bed caught fire a few months ago! So we were a little nervous about taking our chances in the same room, but it turned out to be a very comfortable stay.

Another thing we noticed on our trip to Utrecht is that as we got closer and closer to the station, we saw more and more bike parking cages packed completely full of bikes. It was still nothing compared to when we actually made it out of the train station and started to walk to Raldi's house. Bikes, bikes everywhere, I had never seen anything like it. And not just in Utrecht but Amsterdam and other small towns we would go to, the Dutch just seem to ride their bikes all over.

The next day we made the half hour train ride to Amsterdam. Our first impression of the layout of Amsterdam reminded us a lot of Venice, only with a lot more bikes! It made sense too considering most of the country is actually below sea level. But the old town area of Amsterdam is lined with canals and hundreds of bridges scattered throughout the area. Armed with our map we snaked our way through the streets, making our first stop at Dam Square. It was at this point that it started to rain again, so Micaela ducked inside an H&M store to look at underwear while I caught the end of a street performance show. So after chasing down the shopaholic we did as the tourists do and made our way over to the red light district to get the unique experience of "window shopping". Micaela was interested in how the ladies lined up along the windows but she wasn't sure how to act around them. I on the other was quite happy to hold Micaela's hand and being a gentleman, give the ladies a wave now and again as we walked by. There have been discussions in the past about making prostitution illegal, but from talking to the locals and watching a documentary on it a year ago, it seems it is a lot safer for everyone to keep the industry legal. We were pretty late to get to the city that day though, and since Erik was coming up from Rotterdam to see us for dinner that night, we made our way back to Utrecht for a home cooked meal at Raldi's house.

It was fun that night having such a wide range of backgrounds for conversations, with people from Australia, the US, Germany, and the Netherlands. We were also very grateful not just for the food but also the wide variety of Belgian beers, wines, and spirits for the evening. After 2 months on our own we were truly spoiled!

The next day we started off in Utrecht, and on the advice of Marianne we rented bikes and followed the river up to the next town. Little did we know that our bike route would also take us up past the one of the prostitution areas of Utrecht, with designated cabins set up right on the river, quite arguably one of the most picturesque settings for this kind of thing in the world. After taking in the uniqueness of the setting and waving to the ladies as we went by, Micaela and I made our way up the river through the quaint little towns which lined the banks. After a while we cut in from the river and did a loop back to Utrecht, but not before checking out more of the countryside, stopping at a lake, and marveling at the old timey windmills we passed along the way. It was perfect timing to make our way back to Utrecht because it started to rain as soon as we got back. So we returned our bikes and walked up to the main clock tower in Utrecht to find a nice warm place to get some food and out of the rain. We settled on the clock tower cafe and I got some soup to warm me up.

That night we settled in for another delicious home-cooked meal with Raldi, Marianne, and Raldi's sister Lillian. After the meal was over we made our way over to Raldi's boyfriend's house to continue the party until he got home from his shift as an officer on a train. I was intrigued since his name was pronounced "bus", but he assured me that he did in fact work on a train.

The next day we boarded the train for Donaueschingen in southwest Germany. It was another long train trip with multiple changes, but unfortunately it was made longer by our mistake of thinking we could find a shortcut when we should have kept to our original schedule. Our first train change was in Duisburg, Germany, and while we should have had a 40 minute wait for our train to Stuttgart, we noticed that an earlier train to Stuttgart had just been delayed enough for us to hop on board and catch it. How clever we thought we were that we would get to Stuttgart early and possibly even get to Donaueschingen early too! Turns out what we had hopped on was what I am dubbing the "scenic" train. We saw some wonderful castles and scenery along the Rhein river, but due to the frequent stops and slower speeds we got into Stuttgart and hour after the other train and we missed our connection. All in all we were delayed 2 hours but still met Christian and Katerina Sellmer with plenty of daylight to go.
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