When your hotel’s minibar list includes a ‘Leisure Item (The Love Bag)’, it makes you wonder what kind of accommodation you may have booked. This is what happened to us in The Hague although luckily the hotel turned out to be perfectly fine. (The bag was available upon request at 25 Euros and that was just too high a price just to satisfy our curiosity.) Day 2 of our Dutch adventures started as grey and gloomy but luckily the rain had stopped by the time we checked out. We had briefly visited The Hague in the past and had hoped to explore it further this time but as usual, our loose plans changed at the last minute. The little I’ve seen of the city has given me an impression of a lively and vibrant place, not at all serious and businesslike as I had expected before my very first visit. (Aren’t positive surprises great?) After I grabbed a much needed morning coffee at the rail station – using my faithful red thermos mug, of course – we hopped on the train to the cheese city of Gouda. Because of a ‘police incident’ – and that’s all we understood of the announcements – our journey took longer than expected with a train change at some random station but we got there in the end.
The picturesque Gothic city hall, Stadhuis, overlooks the main market square, which on the Saturday morning was a hive of activity thanks to its weekly market. Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of cheese for sale too. The actual traditional cheese market, however, is held there on most Thursday mornings from April through August. Now that I’ve read more about it, I wish we had timed our trip differently to be able to see this spectacle. Apparently on the day large cheese wheels are delivered by horse and cart and stacked on the ground by the farmers who then negotiate over the price with the traders using ‘hand claps”. The cheese is extensively tested and, once sold, taken to be weighed in the Waag (the Weighing House). Now this is something I really want to see! Gouda’s centre has a lovely network of canals and watercourses as well as intriguing courtyards and side streets. It took no time to find a record store – we didn’t buy anything this time – and a lovely tea, coffee and chocolate shop, where we stopped to top up our caffeine levels enjoying the beautiful scents floating around.
As we had an overnight sailing back to Harwich that evening, around noon we continued our travels to Utrecht, a gorgeous city with a medieval centre and a network of canals. (Have I started to repeat myself?!) By now the rain had returned, which slightly dampened our mood and enthusiasm to explore on foot. Despite the weather, canalside markets had plenty of customers and we spotted a bride and groom strolling along, sharing an umbrella. Cyclists were whizzing past pedestrians in crammed streets and once again I was quietly admiring how beautifully the seemingly chaotic shared space worked. We shared a halloumi wrap from a little Greek take-away place and waited for the rain to ease off before admitting defeat and looking for – you guessed it – a café to think of our next move. Our choice was a coffee shop at Museum Speelklok, home of music boxes and other automatically playing musical instruments. The card machine didn’t accept any of our cards but luckily the museum ticket booth could process the café payments too. Considering how the day was to continue, we should have taken that as a sign.
You see, our great plan was to get to Rotterdam and its Miniworld – a model railway and the largest miniature world in the Benelux countries – before its closing time at 5pm. We had been before and even someone like me, who is not interested in model railways, loved the detail of the villages and towns. Hubby, on the other hand, loves the place and was really looking forward to revisiting it. By the time we got to the ticket office soaking wet, we had about 45 minutes left, which would have been enough for a quick peek. However, we were both stunned to hear they only accepted cash or debit cards (in other words Maestro, not Visa debit), and because there wasn’t enough time to start looking for an ATM, we turned around to go and look for a supermarket instead. After all, we wanted to get some wine and food for the ferry trip back home. At the checkout we found out – yes, you got it – the supermarket didn’t accept Visa or MasterCard either. As we were determined to get our goodies, we had no choice but go and get cash from an ATM, conveniently located just around the corner. I’m so used to paying for anything anywhere by card that I never even thought I’d need cash for a supermarket shop. I’ll be wiser next time! The incident reminded me of our previous trips to Holland when we were trying to buy train tickets from self-service machines and only found out on the payment screen we needed to have either coins or a Maestro card. Nobody can say travelling isn’t educational!