Running in Magisch Maastricht

I have had my share of runathons in the past but I’m not a runner anymore. Because if truth be told, when you have a toddler, running becomes part of your daily life.

Young decided he is done with 2 years of walking and doesn’t want to do it anymore (taking a deep breath…..this too shall pass). He refuses to walk more than 10 metres, wailing, screaming, squatting and all that drill that come with kids.

But ’tis Christmas time and that in Europe means Christmas Market time!

We visited Christmas markets in Den Haag (The Hague), Museumplein (Amsterdam) and Haarlem in December and discovered that our child HATED these markets. But being persevering parents (which sounds a lot better than selfish, right?) we decided that we couldn’t end the year without visiting Maastricht – argued to have one of the best markets in the Netherlands.

But how to get through another city and market without an angsty child in tow? We did what any good dutch parent would do – took his little cycle along with us.

And that, my friends, is why we ran around Maastricht. The child cycled as if on steroids and we spent all our energy ensuring he didn’t ram into anything or anyone and followed the right paths in a city we hardly knew our way through.

All said, we managed to get glimpses of this beautiful city and its lovely market (stunning from atop the ferris wheel at night, I must add). We even spent a quick 30 minutes inside a beautiful Dominican church-converted-bookstore. As unselfish parents, we also decided to indulge in an overnight stay in the city thus allowing the child to go on a fietsen-rampage one more time the next morning.

Maastricht lies at the south-most region of the Netherlands and is nicely nestled between Belgium and Germany – the former a morning-walk away to the border town and the latter, a few driving miles from the centre. Someday, we hope to revisit the town with 3 cycles and discover more of this place.

Ah, wishful thinking.

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It all began in Haarlem

“Dreams do come true but for that, you must believe they will” – A wise old woman

It all came rushing back to me when I first stepped foot into the chilly winter air of Amsterdam in Dec 2018. Yes, it was happening and I was going to actually live in the Netherlands for the next few years!

To make sense of this, I had first visited the country in the spring of 2013, whilst on an English-teaching contract in France.


View of Haarlem architecture and River Spaarne

Also read: Notes from Netherlands

Being an Easter weekend then and with throngs of tourists in Amsterdam, I decided to get away from the city and headed to the train station buying day pass with the intent of visiting Delft, Leiden and Den Haag (The Hague). This, on the recommendation of my ‘Couchsurfing’ host.

Most of the day was spent admiring the beauty of Delft and Leiden. With little time to visit The Hague (that is, rainy weather and an early next morning departure), I decided to give it a miss and head back to Amsterdam. Greed eventually got the better of me and on a whim, I got off at Haarlem deciding to do a quick jog of the town (hey, I used to run half marathons back then!).

I don’t remember much of Haarlem as I whizzed through from the train station to the town ‘centrum’ and back – and almost got lost too; mobile google maps/4G were not on my radar then. Yes, it was yet another lovely Dutch town but what is vivid in my memory as I got into the train was that 2 measly days had done no justice to this gorgeous country. I swore then that I’d return to visit Haarlem (in a less hurried fashion) as well as few other Dutch towns sometime in future.

Destiny, indeed!

So that was part reason why I wanted to live in Haarlem initially, alongside proximity to Amsterdam. We eventually settled in Zaandam but I have visited Haarlem more number of times than imagined!

As with most European cities, walking is the best way to see the city. The ideal place to start is from the train station, which incidentally is one of the oldest in the Netherlands, and then wander your way into the ‘Grote Markt’ or the market/city centre. Unmissable here is the gothic styled Saint Bavo Church which is known to preserve the ‘Muller-organ’ that has been played by Mozart and other musical greats. Haarlem is known for its medieval architecture and while I have not done it yet, a canal cruise along River Spaarne that runs through Haarlem would be another excellent way to see the city and its monumental buildings including the iconic windmill, Molen de Adrian.

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Travel notes:

  • Haarlem is a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam.
  • Don’t miss walking around the Grote Markt and the main cathedral – De Grote St Bavokerk (and of course, the musical organ if you choose to go in)
  • Plenty of museums if you are into it….and well preserved buildings if you are more interested in the exteriors
  • If you like beer, sample it at Jopenkerk (trust the Dutch to convert a church into a brewery!); it was closed as of May when we visited but appears to be open again.

Read also: The story so far

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Zaandam. The place we now call home.

Let me introduce you to this unassuming and pretty town, 15 minutes away by train from its more popular neighbour and capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam.

So some trivia to start with – Zaandam gets its name from the River ‘Zaan’ and ‘Dam’ which has the same English meaning that is, a barricade or so that prevents water from flowing on to land (more on the awesomeness of Dutch marine engineering in another post). And hence derives ‘Amsterdam’ through which flows the river Amstel.

We had not heard of Zaandam until we arrived in this country. Our initial plan was to stay in Hoofddorp or Haarlem and as a last option Amsterdam which we figured would be a more expensive option than the former two. Our timing of arrival (December and the holiday season) ensured that either we had apartments that exceeded the budget or just very few places being rented out. Till a colleague of the husband (yes, that man from Yin and Yang prominence) suggested that we consider Zaandam and recommended a property agent who’d help us.

This took way longer than our 2 weeks-estimate and by then I was disillusioned with the house hunt. I had very low expectations as I walked out of Zaandam train station for a couple of house viewings. And may I admit, the first view of the town totally took me by surprise!

Zaandam has a unique canal house archictecture where the external facade is painted in all sorts of green hues, with bits of orange and white and topped with the triangular gabled roof.  My first sight was of Inntel Hotels that looks like a pileup of gingerbread Zaandam-styled green and blue houses one over the other. Quite a sight for architecture lovers and one that briefly stunned me as I walked into town. From there on, I was totally charmed by this place and some of the unique sights I stumbled upon.

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So we saw two houses, liked both, finalised one, moved in, discovered it was old and creaking and much too big for us (in short, a terrible decision), moved out and into the second house and finally settled ourselves. Phew.

All’s well that ends well and we love our home now! It is a simple and small place sufficient for the three of us but the setting is as pretty and Dutch as can be. A red bricked three-storied building with a canal running in front, a quiet yet busy street (and by that I mean there’s a school next door so hurray, noise level achieved — I am Indian like that) and surrounded by locals (though it wont take too long for the rest of our country brethren to populate this town).

Home 1

View from our house in winter…

Home 3

…and in summer!

From a travellers’ perspective, Zaandam is a great day trip or even a smart and inexpensive base to stay if you want to visit Amsterdam and neighbouring towns. Part of the larger Zaanstad municipality, it is home to Zaanse Schaans, a large open air farm and museum best known for its collection of well-preserved historic windmills.

If you are an art, and more specifically, impressionist lover, there is also Monet’s Atelier – a small house in the town centre that is curated with replicas of the artist’s paintings and includes as a short but interesting presentation of his brief time in Zaandam a century ago. Free entry!

Monet ZaandamMonet art Zaandam

So that’s a wrap up for now, but there’s more coming on cycling, the Dutch language and the hormonal weather. Watch this space!

Related post: Notes from Netherlands

Categories: Netherlands, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

…and I am back!

It has been a year since I wrote my last blog post on Ireland. I was hoping to elaborate on that beautiful country and share some photos but never got around to doing that.

While there was no dearth of travel in the interim, there has also been a whirlwind of activity on the personal front that put blogging on the backseat. Numerous occasions when I put timelines and promised to publish a post, brief one if I could, but lack of focus just put me off.  Time to rectify now, better late than never as the saying goes!

So here’s what happened since my travel to Ireland in May 2018:

  • We travelled to Romania in August 2018 – a gorgeous country relatively untouched by tourists
  • I quit my job a couple of months later, in October
  • We said goodbye to the UAE and moved to the Netherlands in December
  • Set up home in the pretty li’l town of Zaandam in January this year
  • We had our first travel within Europe since moving here; to Turin, Italy for 5 days last month (July 2018)
  • Most importantly, I have spent the last 8 months as a full time mom for the first time in 3.5 years! And surviving it a lot better than I imagined 😉

More on all of the above soon… here we go again!

Leaving you with the last pic taken in Dubai before departure.

Dubai Travel


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Notes from Netherlands

A 4-day Easter break provided the perfect opportunity to visit the land of tulips, canals and cannabis.

A little more than a day was spent travelling to and from Amsterdam in the low-priced but painstakingly long and uncomfortable Eurolines bus. But then, that applies for bus journeys world over for yours-truly, so we shall let that pass.

While there was no fixed itinerary, there were a couple of places I wanted to see – Anne Frank Museum and the Tulip garden at Keukenhof.

I didnt see either.

To digress a bit, this was my first Couchsurfing experience, where, as the name goes, you ‘surf’ on a couch (or a mattress) at a local’s place. After weeks of contemplation, I finally mustered the courage to stay with a ‘stranger’ who had agreed to host me through the website. (Must admit I did some background research – courtesy google – results of which made me wonder whether I’d return in one piece)

But it turned out to be an awesome experience. My host, a 50ish year old lady with a heavy Yorkshire-accent has spent a major part of her life in Amsterdam, has a small but cosy apartment tucked in a quiet locality away from all the noise and crowds of the touristy city centre. She welcomed me with a warm hug followed by a delicious ginger-carrot-parsnips soup (recipe duly noted) and further went on to share experiences about the city and to a large extent, how its ‘vices’ undid and did her life. I had a small room to myself and was completely at home. It was an enriching experience and only made me wish I had couchsurfed in my earlier travels.

We chatted on and on with me having lost track of time. When I finally left her place and reached Anne Frank’s museum, it was 4pm and suddenly it seemed as if the whole world had congregated in Amsterdam on this long holiday weekend. The queue must have been about 250-persons long. Took the alternative option of visiting the ‘Heineken Beer Experience‘, that included an hour long guide to beer-making along with simulated and interactive stuff ending rightfully with 2 complimentary beers. Anne Frank was momentarily forgotten.

A Sunday morning attempt to revisit the museum was in vain with the queue having doubled. Ditched even the one-hour drive to the famed Keukenhof to see tulips. I was content with my own little tulip corner in Strasbourg rather than seeing a field interspersed with millions of tourists posing or clicking photos. So the miserably cold and rainy day was spent loafing around canals, a quick glimpse at the red-light area (which is literally, at the heart of the city) and a small ‘dig’ of a chocolate ‘hash’ brownie at a coffee-shop (we are in legal territory, remember? :D).

In hindsight, Monday was best day spent in Netherlands. A quick online research made me decide the best option was to get out of the city and its madding crowd. Reached the train station and bought a return ticket to Delft along with a currant bun and raspberry smoothie. The hour-long journey was perfect, the country-side dotted with a few windmills and acres of tulip fields that I’d missed seeing earlier. Delft, a city known for its blue-pottery making was postcard-pretty with a magnificent church at its centre. I was even party to an Easter choir, thanks to a volunteer who instantly gave me a handout in Hindi! Later, was involuntarily pulled into a cheese shop that allowed me to taste 5 flavours of cheese, all drool-worthy. Happily left the place after investing in a small jar of organic cranberry mustard!

The return journey included two more quick stops – at Leiden (a canalled city like Amsterdam but smaller and far prettier) and Haarlem (once again pretty, but eerily deserted and I almost lost my way back to the station, phew!)

I would definitely want to revisit Netherlands some day and explore the many mind-numbingly pretty towns. And finally drop into the Anne Frank museum on my way out  🙂

Categories: French chapter, Netherlands, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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