WANDERWEST HOLLAND

 

THE PLACES

  • Amsterdam - My friend Lukas (who did this Pink Mic Session with me) said it well - Amsterdam might be the biggest small city in the world.  It's the heart of the Dutch Republic and one of the top city destinations for international travelers, yet has just over 3/4 million residents.  On top of that, central Amsterdam is super walkable.  I've been to Amsterdam a bunch now and have never set foot in a car and have only used the handy trams that go all over the city on a couple of occasions (you will need change or a chip card for that).  If you're an experienced cyclist, I recommend renting a bike.  That's the best way to get around.  When it comes to shopping you gotta check out De Negen Straatjes.  I can't really afford to shop there, but even so, it's fun to pretend and right along the beautiful canals.  There's also Utrectsestaat, another good spot for shopping.  On Saturdays there are eclectic markets that pop up in the Jordaan neighborhood, including the popular Noordermarkt.  As for some favorite restaurants, I recommend Duende Dos, a tapas place in the Jordaan neighborhood, De Ebeling, a Dutch fusion joint near the Museumplien, Bagels and Beans, a fun take on bagels with several locations, De Bakkerswinkle, a bakery with several locations (but my fav is in Westerpark), and Lo Stivale d'Oro an authentic Italian place super central off the Rembrandtplein.  If you're a coffee junkie like me, I recommend The Coffee Company, kinda like the Dutch version of Starbucks.  If you're a bit more snobby and want something exclusive to Amsterdam, I really enjoyed De Koffie Salon near the Museumplein.  I'm not a big chocolate cake guy, but they had a delicious one.  In general, I say stay away from eating in the major squares.  The prices are high, the service super meh, and the food mediocre.  Take the side street to find much better options.  Now for my favorite things to do.  Walking or biking the city is a must, but beyond that, if you're into museums The Rijksmuseum (which you see in that iAmsterdam shot) and Van Gogh Museum are musts.  FOAM is a great one for the photography enthusiasts.  When it comes to nightlife, the Leidseplein area is the epicenter for clubs, bars and venues.  The Backstage Hotel, where the Amsterdam Songwriter's Guild has the open mic every Tuesday night, is right there.  All in all, the fun quotient will be made better when you make friends with locals.  The Dutch can be a friendly bunch.  So, don't be shy.  For a ton more info about Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities, check out this stay trip (coming soon!).

  • The Hague - Most people expect to love Amsterdam, but The Hague is a surprising gem.  It has a similar look and feel, and is equally walkable (at least the central area).  What's different is that this is an international destination on a different accord - it's where the government lives and where the international court takes place.  The promenade along the embassies is gorgeous and leads to that favorite discovery of mine in The Hague, The Escher Museum.  Don't know who Escher is?  Do yourself a favor and check the Dutch master doodler out.  This museum is one of my top museums in the world because it's not just art hanging on the walls.  You'll have to go check it out to know what I mean.  The architecture of the city is classic northern European and there are plenty of specialties to dive into like The Peace Palace (the International Court location) and Het Binnenhof (Dutch Parliament), along with many buildings that line the streets and speak specifically to the Dutch style.  Just outside the central area is the miniature museum, Madurodam, which you see in the road trip.  This is a great one for anyone looking to get an overview of Dutch architecture.  Here you'll get scaled down view of some of Holland's most famous structures.  A special feature of Den Hague is that it's very close to the sea, so if you're feeling a little adventurous you can be soaking up waves over at Scheveningen Beach in 30 minutes by bike.  And that leads me to the next location.

  • FAST - This little surfer haven on Scheveningen Beach provides a bunch of amenities for Holland's growing surf population.  Believe it or not you can actually learn to surf in Holland.  But it's more than a surf spot.  It's a hostel.  It's a restaurant and bar (with good eats at decent prices I might add).  It has a WW2 museum in actual bunkers.  And, it's a party spot.  In the summer they throw massive parties.  I made a return trip during one of these parties.  (coming soon!)  But no matter when you go you're likely to meet good people.  I met the dude who runs the show and he was super down to earth, as was his entire staff.

  • Breukelen - This small town was on my list for obvious reasons, it's the predecessor to the hipster famous Brooklyn, New York.  Just like Amsterdam was the predecessor to New York.  There's also Haarlem in Holland, which is a pretty rad town to visit and much bigger than Breukelen.  I had a good time hanging out at Jopenkerk, a brewery in Haarlem.  I did enjoy the little country drive through Breukelen, and where Suus and I had lunch turned out to be a vibey, tasty spot right on the canal, Slangevegt.

  • Utrecht - This is another "large" Dutch city.  I put large in quotes because that is a relative term.  Large by Dutch standards is what I mean.  Utrecht is a university city.  So, as you might imagine, it has a banging nightlife scene.  It's also one of the older cities in Holland, dating back to the middle ages as a thriving city-state.  Where this city might actually have Amsterdam beat is the two-tiered walk / shop / eat along the Oudegracht, the main canal in the center of town.  There's a Coffee Company right there on Vismarkt, which I've camped out at for several hours soaking up the free wifi and delicious (and American sized) coffee.

  •  Nuenen - This is a small village made famous by Vincent Van Gogh, who spent two very important years here.  It is said that this is where he became an artist and a large portion of his work was done in and around this village.  In the town center is Vincentre, a small, tech-savvy, interactive museum dedicated to the life of the tortured, oddball enigma that was Van Gogh.  I don't often suggest where to stay, but I found a special place in La Cloche, a little cottage just outside the town center that I found on Airbnb.  This is a perfect getaway for couples.  It's charming and run by a friendly pair who take great pride in their hospitality, and yet don't get all up in your business.  The breakfast they prepared for Suus and I was delightful.  Speaking of food, the kind people at Visit Brabant (the region Nuenen is located in) treated us to dinner at De Watermolen van Opwetten, which was delicioso and happens to be the subject of Van Gogh's paintings.  The grand finale of Nuenen is definitely the Roosegaarde Cycle Path, which is like nothing I've ever seen.  It's an experiment in tourism and sustainability, a bike path that uses solar powered stones to emulate the most famous of Van Gogh's paintings, Starry Night.  And, if this tiny town wasn't full of enough surprises, there's an added bonus.  It's literally walking distance from the uber-urban, techie-centric city of Eindhoven, where Dutch Design Week happens, probably the most prestigious design-fest in the world.

  • De Efteling - This is the Dutch version of Disneyland.  It was very effective in bringing out the fairytale-loving kid in me (not that it's so hard to do), even though all the animatronic storytelling is in Dutch.  It's some of the best animatronics I've seen, for sure.  And that's just part of the park.  It also boasts a decent amount of roller coasters.  This place is more family-oriented, with a lot geared toward the kiddos.  However, if you're a Peter Pan fantasy man like me, you'll probably get into it.  Holland does have its version of Six Flags too.  That's Walibi World, where the monster coasters live.

Amsterdam canal 

The Hague promenade

entrance the the Escher Museum

Suus at FAST

Breukelen canal

Utrecht

Breda Castle

THE PEOPLE (in order of appearance)

  • Philly Moore - the stranger in Dam Square, Amsterdam singing / playing "Ring of Fire".

  • JARA - my Acoustic Guitar Project friend I who lives in The Hague who I did this song with.

  • Johnny Bruce Muller - another Acoustic Guitar Project friend who hosts open mics in The Hague.

  • Suus Groenleer - my ex-girlfriend and Dutch designer.

  • Julien and Hank - the board-shapers at FAST.

  • Geert Verhoeff - the manager of FAST.

  • Frans van den Boogaard - my tour guide in Nuenen and van Gogh expert.

  • Michiel Verweij - the first guy on stage in Hilversum and dude responsible for the animation in my videos.

  • The Wanderer - the second guy on stage in Hilversum.

THE FOOD

  • Poffertjes - Those delicious little mini puff pastries are seen on the road trip at that cool Dutchy spot in the Amsterdam market.  They come in a bundle of approximately 6 pieces with butter and powdered sugar.

  • Stroopwafles - My personal favorite.  It's two thin waffles smashed together with a caramel-y syrup used as the glue.  The store bought versions are nice, but do yourself a favor and an have a freshly made one at one of the stands all over Holland.  These are actually so delicious that their popularity has spread well beyond Holland, popping up even in chain-trendy spots like Starbucks.

  • Oliebollen - I would call this the Dutch doughnut.  It's fist-sized, deep-fried deliciousness.  It comes with or without raisins and you can have it sprinkled in powdered sugar.  The catch with these yummies is they are only available in the holidays leading up to New Years Day, when stands pop up everywhere... unless you go to De Efteling, where they're available year 'round.

  • Stamppot - Like many northern European countries, potatoes have a strong culinary history.  The Dutch version is mashed and mixed up with all kinds of things.  My personal favorite is the one with sauerkraut and ham.

  • Bitterballen - To enjoy this one you need to be okay with meat mush (mostly veal... so baby cow meat too... sinner).  That meat mush is then battered and deep-fried.  It's not my favorite, but they are tasty... and suuuuper Dutch.

  • Gouda - This cheese is world-famous and comes from a town in Holland of the same name, aaaand here comes your first language lesson - we're all pronouncing it wrong!  It's "how-duh", not "goo-duh".  All in all, the Dutch are big cheese producers, so if you're a cheese lover, go nuts.

  • Ontbijtkoek - The Dutch are big on gingerbread and this, their most popular version of it, is used in cooking.  Suus once whipped up a stew with this and it was delicious.  It's also a good snack plain.  Beyond the bread are the popular cookies called kruidnoten, which, like Oliebollen, are associated with the holiday season.

THE CULTURE

  • Cycling - I'll never forget walking out of the Amsterdam train station for the first time and coming up on the enormous parking garage for bikes.  It's like the garages I've always known for cars in the US, but this was for bikes.  See it for yourself.  It's right there to the right of the train station as you exit.  There are thousands of bikes parked in well-organized fashion.  And this is just one of many.  It's not just the parking garages.  You'll find bikes chained up everywhere.  Learning to ride a bike.. aka cycling... is like learning to walk in Holland.  Nearly everyone owns a bike and there are bike lanes everywhere.  The Dutch even have their own style of bike, which is made for sitting upright and meant to be more comfortable.  I have grown quite fond of this mode of transit.  In condensed urban areas (which could be said of all of Holland) it's great for so many reasons: you don't have the liability and emissions of cars, it's quicker than walking, and you get some exercise.  If you do rent a bike in Holland, make sure to lock it up.  Crime is extremely low in this country, but bike theft is common.

  • Design - When it comes to product design, perhaps no country has a bigger reputation than Holland.  This is evident in the work of Hank and Julien who I met at FAST (Free Architecture Surf Terrain) as well as Daan Roosegaard who crafted and conceived the van Gogh cycle path I visited.  Delfts Blauw is their world adored pottery that dates back over 500 years.  As I mentioned before, Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven is an internationally renowned mecca for designers and appreciators.  In the same city is one of the great design institutions praised the world over.  In Amsterdam is the progressive company Droog, which is on the forefront of modern product design.  What might set the Dutch apart is their attention to social issues in relation to design.  It is through my Dutch friendships that I've opened my mind to how important and integrated product design is in everything we do.

  • Coffee Shops - Okay okay.  Let's talk about Dutch cliché number one.  Everyone comes to Amsterdam to party right?  Weed is legal!!  And they did it waaaaay before Colorado.  The Dutch aren't particularly fond of this reputation and I hope you've figured out there's much more to Holland than legal marijuana.  Interestingly enough, very few of my Dutch friends smoke weed.  All that said, I understand the allure.  The Dutch are laissez faire like that.  So, it's an unavoidable conversation... and a good one, in fact.  My favorite coffee shop hangout in Amsterdam is Abraxas.  It's very centrally located, yet not a tourist trap.  It plays good music and has fast, free wifi.  But if getting high is high on your to-do list, coffee shops are easy to find in touristy Amsterdam.  Outside of A'dam, they are not as easy to find, but they are certainly there.

  • Electronic Music - The Dutch love their EDM.  Clubs and raves can be found with ease.  Interestingly, many of the biggest DJs in the world hail from Holland.

  • Prostitution - Yup.  Cliché number two.  It's true - sex is for sale in Holland.  Suus about ripped my head off when I said this, but to many people the Eiffel Tower of Amsterdam is the Red Light District.  Honestly, it has become more of a side show than the spot where you wanna go find a piece, but definitely worth the stroll by.  My first time in A'dam I actually knocked on one of the windows where the girls showcase their wares.  I asked her what the deal was.  Her stone faced reply - "suck and fuck 50 euros."  Ew.  I'll admit she was super hot, but that killed any attraction I had.  Beyond the RLD, is the real world of prostitution in Holland - the websites.  It's a highly regulated business and still the Dutch have mixed feelings about it, but if you have some serious coin to spend, you can have your wildest sex fantasy show up at your door. 

  • Windmills and Wooden Shoes - You might call these clichés too, but like the others they are part of the Dutch story worth writing about.  The most typical "I went to Holland" gifts are tiny wooden shoes, like a miniature Eiffel Tour from Paris or an "I love NY" shirt from New York.  The windmills are the classic Dutch scene and I must admit, they are pretty cool.  If you are interested in learning about that provencal Dutch life that made these famous I recommend visiting Zaanse Schans, a little village maintained to look just like Holland was when the wooden shoes and windmills were in use.

  • Sinterklaas - The Dutch Santa Claus.  I was fortunate enough to be in Holland over the holidays.  Interestingly, the Dutch celebrate Christmas noticeably different from their European neighbors and the US.  Though there are many similarities (as you might notice in the name), Dutch Christmas is celebrated on December 5 and 6.  History suggests that Christmas for the rest of us actually derives from their version, which is more understated and the character Sinterklaas far less fat and jolly.  There is a funny little side story though.  Instead of a red-nosed reindeer this version of the Christmas hero has a little helper named Piet, who shows up as white dude in black face.  Yup.  Not so politically correct.  And it's stirred up quite the debate.  I was told that his blackened face actually represents the soot from coming down the chimney (yeah, that's similar too).  Makes sense... I guess.  Though, I will say I was rather shocked when I saw this guy blasted on ads my first Christmas there.  Another funny note, if you're one of those kids who makes the naughty list your punishment is not a lump of coal.  Instead you get kidnapped and taken to Spain.  Ha!  Some might say that's actually a case for being naughty.

THE HISTORY

  • The 80 Years War - Also known as the Dutch War of Independence, this is the period in which the story I tell at the beginning of the road trip takes place.  It was the long struggle with Spain that began in the mid 16th century and ended in the Dutch overtaking Spain as the most prominent and powerful nation in the world.  The origins of the conflict is attributed to religious strife, that back and forth between Protestants and Catholics in the late middle ages / renaissance.  However, much of the conflict was carried out in the colonial arena at sea and in the New World.  In many ways, this was a conflict about control of the resources, riches and supply lines flowing from the American continents.  One interesting tactic employed to great effect by the Dutch was privateering, which is basically state sanctioned piracy.    Dutch sailors were constantly ripping off the Spanish at sea, and in one monumental case they commandeered a fleet worth a fortune.  According to this fantastic book about the Dutch presence in the New World, the event can be considered a the defining naval moment in this long conflict, giving massive funds to the war effort while making the East and West India Trading Company shareholders back in Amsterdam exceedingly wealthy.

  • The Dutch Golden Age - This took place over the course of the 17th century and saw Holland, The Netherlands, as the dominant global superpower.  This was facilitated by their vast trade economy run by The Dutch East India Trading Company (not to be confused with the English version).  Wealth poured into the Dutch Republic via Amsterdam and what they did with that wealth is remarkable.  Instead of creating a society of control and fear, which plagued the Middle Ages, the Dutch created a tolerant business-first culture that was a refuge for dissidents, outcasts and forward thinkers across Europe.  The University of Leiden, founded by the Dutch prince who lead the revolt again Spain, was one of the early great places of leaning and boasts an impressive list of alumni, including the philosopher Spinoza.  His colleague, Rene Descartes, also spent most of his life in the Dutch Republic and is a example of the influx of foreign peoples that flocked to Holland's open society at the time.  Art also thrived during this period with the most notable figure being the Dutch darling, Rembrandt.  All in all, the Dutch Republic was haven of tolerance in an age where medieval oppression was still clouding most of Europe.  Though it wasn't the economic engine of this period it certainly was cultural one that spread across the continent and into the New World. 

  • New Amsterdam - Everyone knows New York.  Not everyone knows that New York was first New Amsterdam.  It was the Dutch who settled Manhattan and its surrounding areas in the early 17th century.  For 50 years it was a major port for the VOC (short for The Dutch East and West India Trading Companies) and was a mash-up of all kinds of characters from all over the world.  Strangely, this very important part of American / World history is relatively lost.  But thanks to that book I linked above (Island at the Center of the World), this is changing.  One of my favorite characters is Adriaen van der Donck, a young, ambitious lawyer who sailed to New Amsterdam with big dreams and ideas of democracy.  A man before his time, It's truly a shame that there is not more known about him.  His translated writings and activism allude to what is often credited to the founders of The United States.  It is said that he was the first person to refer to himself as an "American".  In the end, the peaceable turnover of New Amsterdam to the English could be considered a changing of the guard on the international stage.  Nonetheless, the Dutch impact on the American identity should be recognized.  New York is often considered the first international city and, no doubt, it was a literal and philosophical foundation laid by the Dutch.

THE MUSIC

  • The Amsterdam Songwriters Guild - There's several songwriters you hear here at the open mic.  The first is the tune that starts playing when you see the "iAmsterdam" sculpture in from of the Rijksmuseum.  The main dude in the band goes by Tabaqui.  The next tune is the one with the whistling, which is so catchy and fun.  It makes me smile.  Here's the YouTube version.  Her name is Tineke Hussaarts.  Up next is the song in Dutch and I don't know what it means, but I really like the way it feels.  That's Johan Keeman.  Last, but certainly not least, is my friend Lukas Blum, who is playing that blues jam at the end of the road trip.  Here's a link to his band, Lucky Shot.  And here's the YouTube version of that blues jam.  And for a little more blues, we did this blues cover mashup together.

  • PushMethod - This is my band based out of New York City.  Our music shows up all over the video, but in particular it is the showcased in the opening sequence.  That's a song called "Get Lost" and you can see the video / hear the full song right here.  For all else PushMethod go to pushmethod.com.  What's actually kinda cool about some of the PushMethod stuff in this video is that it's raw takes in a practice room.

  • Solo Music - When boiled down, I'm first and foremost and songwriter / composer.  All that solo piano stuff is me.

  • The Acoustic Guitar Project - As stated in the road trip, I was the curator for the Amsterdam version, but it actually started in New York City and is running in about 40 cities worldwide.  My buddy is the founder and mastermind.

THE LANGUAGE (SOME PRACTICALS AND SOME FAVORITES)

  • Dankjewel / Alstublieft - thank you (dank-yuh-vel)/ you're welcome (ow-shuh-bleef) 

  • Goede morgen / Goede dag / Fijne avond / Fijne nacht - good morning (ho-duh more-guh / good day (ho-duh dakh) / good evening (fine-uh ah-fond) / good night (fine-uh nakt)

  • Tot ziens - see you later (tot seence)

  • Geweldig - awesome (familiar) (ghuh-vel-dik)

  • Tof - cool (in the colloquial sense) (touf)

  • Tuurlijk - said when you agree with someone's statement (familiar) (too-lick)

  • Lekker - an expression of good sensory pleasure (like for good food) (leh-kurr)

  • Veel Liefs - an expression of warm sentiment toward another person

  • Ik hou van jou - I love you (ik how van yeow)

  • Zonsondergang - sunset (zon-son-der-ghang)

  • Nu, eeuwig, en altijd - now, forever and always (new, eh-oo-wik, in al-tide)

  • Makerij - a maker of something, which is put after whatever it is that person makes... for example, I am a musicmakerij 

THE BUCKET LIST

  • Walibi World - The roller coaster park (link above in the "De Efteling" bullet point in "the places")

  • Mud Walk - A one of a kind experience where you trudge through the mud and tides on the Dutch islands.  In some cases you go waist deep, it looks like.  It can only be done in the summer when the water is warm enough and has a variety of levels.  This one is for the adventure seeker for sure.

  • Groningen - It's the main city up north and appears to be quite pretty.  I've been told that the vibe and culture there is different from the areas more south I've visited.  Kinda hard to believe considering it's only 180km (about 110miles) from Amsterdam.

  • ElfstedentochtIce skating is probably the most popular sport after football (uh... soccer for us Americans) and this event is the rockstar of all iceskating events worldwide (as far as I've come across).  Literally translated to "eleven city tour", this is an outdoor race through 11 different cities... on ice.  Think of a marathon... but on skates.  The thing about this race is that it requires very special conditions that haven't happened since 1997.  Some believe that it will never happen again, considering climate change.  So, if you have the chance to witness one of these I imagine it would be a very special experience, the race itself, and the whole excitement and culture around it.

  • De Hoge Veluwe - This one is for the nature lovers.  It's Holland's largest national park and boasts a variety of wildlife, various terrains and the reputable Kroller Muller Museum.

  • GLOW This festival in Eindhoven looks soooo dope.  It's a festival of lights.  Take the design inclination of the Dutch and mix it up with a citywide, weeklong light show and you have GLOW.