The Girl with the Pearl Earrings

February 2020 —

I have always wanted to connect with my Dutch heritage, and visit the Netherlands!! My senior year of college I found myself with space in my schedule for another class so I decided to take a Renaissance History class because I love history! As it turned out this became one of my all time favorite classes because we read many books about the various factors that influenced things like social class, race, art, politics, and trade from the 1200s to the 1700s. I found all of this to be extremely fascinating! One of the books we read that I particularly loved, Vermeer’s Hat by Timothy Brook, melded into my realisation that I could in fact visit said locations from the book!

Therefore I decided to book a long weekend trip during my year teaching abroad in Spain. This was my first solo trip to another country which meant it had to be amazing no matter where I was going! I knew that the Netherlands was a yes and that Amsterdam was a yes, but where else? When reflecting on my Renaissance History class, I found it fitting to visit the small town of Delft in the Dutch countryside where Johannes Vermeer, a main character in the history class book I read lived and the famous Delftware originated.  

So planning out my long weekend, I would first fly to Amsterdam to stay the night, then take a train to Delft in the Dutch countryside, and lastly I’d conclude by taking another train to Brussels, Belgium. For this 3 day and 3 night journey, I packed only my NorthFace backpack and my fanny pack. Since my focus here is on how much I loved the Dutch way of life, I will talk about Belgium in another post.

 

A Day in Amsterdam

Amsterdam was a definite yes for many reasons - cheese, cheese, and cheese!! 

From the picturesque canals, to the Rijks Museum and the Anne Frank Huis, you just cannot go wrong. There is soo much to see! I realized upon leaving that I could’ve easily spent another night in this illustrious city. Consequently, perhaps one day I will return to the lovely Dutch capital! For my stay, I booked a bed in a 6 person hostel room at the Hans Brinker Budget Hostel. This was one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at!!! I would definitely stay there again! They had a FREE all you can eat breakfast, a really rad bar/restaurant area for socialising, super clean rooms, really friendly staff, and a prime location in the city center!

I recall that my flight left Madrid around 8 a.m. and that I landed in Amsterdam around 11:30 a.m.. After maneuvering through the airport I came out to a large open area where the metro entrances and bus stops were. Here I got slightly confused because I didn’t realize that I needed to go down a level to get to the metro platforms, but once I figured that out I had no trouble hopping on the metro towards my hostel. 

After I checked in to my room and ate lunch, I began wandering the city streets around mid-afternoon. I had previously purchased a ticket to see the world famous Rijks Museum in advance. Following a paper map through the canals, bike paths, and trolly lanes was a bit challenging at first because there was so much bustling around me. As I crossed over the last bridge, I saw the unique architectural entrance which in itself is a work of art! Inside there are expansive collections of Dutch Golden Age sensations and other famous European masterpieces that are even more magnificent in person than I could have imagined! Worldly well known artists like Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt all have works on display in this museum. Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ painting, painted in the year 1642, is exceptionally detailed and much larger than I had thought.

From there I went to the Amsterdam Cheese Museum which is free by the way!! There are massive cheese wheels covering all the walls and for a whole hour I sampled various utterly delicious Dutch made cheeses!!! Hey the samples were free, why not?! I then proceeded to buy a nice wedge to take back with me to Madrid. Also in the  basement there is a free mini museum about the cheese making process and the history of it in the Netherlands. 

Once I felt I had eaten enough samples, I made my way to the Anne Frank Huis, huis meaning house, for the 5:30 p.m. tour I had booked. The structure itself is a key piece of history that I think everyone should be aware of, but it is also a very solemn and saddening experience. It is truly mind blowing how tight they were all packed into that attic. When the tour ended, it opened up to a large room filled with extended Holocaust history. On a positive note, there is also a cafe with large windows and tables where you can sit and watch the canal activity. Here I decided to order a piece of genuine Dutch Apple Pie and a cup of hot tea as it had been raining most of the afternoon. 

Now I know that you may be wondering about cost when considering big ticket museums, but if you can narrow down what you really want to see accordingly, then you can essentially ration yourself without taking away from seeing what you really want to. For me, I really wanted to see Dutch history which is why I chose the Rijks Museum which cost me about 25 euros, and I had wanted to visit the historic Anne Frank Huis for years, which only cost about 12 euros with my student/youth discount card to enter. So those two were really reasonable, plus, the Amsterdam Cheese Museum was free which is always awesome!! Furthermore, all my entrances in Amsterdam cost me less than 40 euros, a very good number considering what I got to see!

Walking back to my hostel for the night I the rain was coming down horizontally, when all of a sudden I came across a homemade soup restaurant right next to my hostel called Soup en Zo – Spiegal. The staff were soo beyond friendly and the soup was amazingly rich and delicious! They use all natural ingredients sourced in the Netherlands so the girl working said to me. I was completely soaked at this time and this soup hit the spot!!! This was most definitely a highlight of my evening.

Fun Fact: Soup is spelled ‘Soep’ in Dutch, but sounds like ‘zooop’ when it is spoken in Dutch.

 

24 hours in Delft

The next day I woke up early, packed my things, gorged myself at the free buffet breakfast, made a couple sandwiches for the ride, and began my long walk to the Amsterdam Centraal train station to depart for the small town of Delft. Along the way I discovered a floating flower marketplace called Bloemenmarkt.

The train stations in the Netherlands are very well organized and quite large because train travel is high speed and super popular in the Netherlands. It was about an hour and half long ride to Delft and unloved every second of the ride due to the impeccable window views! There were large canals with boats, tulip fields, windmills, and eccentric Dutch homes all along the way. The train I boarded was a double decker so naturally I chose to sit on the second floor. Even though I speak literally no Dutch most of the people around speak at least some English, and the train speaker announced the upcoming stops which gave me time to keep up with where I was. I had no issues navigating the whole time even though I don’t know a lick of Dutch.

Arriving in Delft was sweet! The temperature was slightly warmer than Amsterdam, as it is a little more south. I arrived to the town center around 11 a.m., and did some sightseeing prior to being able to check in. There were several places that I really wanted to see: Nieuwe Kerk, Oude Kerk, the Vermeer Centrum Delft, the Delftse Molen de Roos, the Eastern gate of the town Oostpoort, the Beestenmarkt, and the Market place which is the town center.

I decided to visit the Vermeer Centrum Delft first because that had been my whole reasoning for coming to the town of Delft. They have a complete art gallery featuring the prominent works mentioned in Vermeer’s Hat by Timothy Brook. Specifically, the portrait ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earrings’ is explained with real life multicultural “caricatures” of modern day women all in the same pose as the portrait. On another note, in this museum and all over the town of Delft there are brilliant displays of bright white and blue Delftware. Delftware is attributed to the Age of Exploration, and was the Dutch way of recreating Oriental Chinese porcelain which became a hot commodity during the 1600-1700s. The entrance ticket, of about 15 euros, is not too pricy for the extensive amount of historical information and reflection offered. For souvenirs of each country that I visit, I always try to get a pair of earrings and a small snow globe. Therefore, on this journey I chose to purchase a pair of the very same earrings as in the painting, ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earrings.’ I really love them and I wear them all the time!

Next I checked into my hostel, Hostel Delft, in which I had booked an all girls room for 4 people. As it turned out, it was just myself and one other German girl. This was a lovely and sterile hostel with an adorable kitchen, a stairway entrance, in-room bathrooms, rooftop window views, and an awesome location!! I decided to grab something to eat for lunch, and so I dined at a cute little cafe on the canal. From there I walked across the Market town square to the Nieuwe Kerk, which offers a deal that when you buy the entrance ticket, you also buy an entrance ticket to the Oude Kerk. On this day they also offered a promotional coupon for one free cup of coffee at a cafe right next door, which I used the following morning. 

Inside the Nieuwe Kerk, meaning New Church, it is a bit dark but beautiful as the basement once held the royal crypt during the 1300-1600s. This is also a Protestant church so it has several design differences comparatively to the Oude Kerk across town. I believe that there was a fire that destroyed parts of this church, but I am not 100% positive. Next I walked over to the Oude Kerk, meaning Old Church, and along the way I got to pass though a different section of the town. This part had even more canal sections and hand placed stone pathways. When the sun shone on the waterways it looked so perfectly picturesque as if it was in a storybook. The Oude Kerk dates back to the 13th century and is where Johannes Vermeer himself is buried!! This building has enormous stained glass windows and detailed floor engravings. It is a must see part of the town!

Then I went over to the Delftse Molen de Roos, the last standing windmill of Delft that was built in the early 1600s. It is absolutely breathtaking!!! The mill is still operational and volunteers from the town work weekly to process the wheat into flour the good old fashioned way!! This mill is open for regular business selling flour, baked goods, and good ole baking essentials too. You can actually climb up into each of the floors to see how everything works. I was fortunate enough to come across a tour guide who told me all about the mill. To say I was lucky that the windmill was open on the day I visited is an understatement because it was a one in a million lifetime experience!! I am so thrilled to have traversed the Delftse Molen de Roos!!

Around town, the bars and restaurants all have fun names and colorful entryways. For dinner I decided to eat at a restaurant down the street from my hostel called Cafe Zondag. I tried some traditional ‘Dutch bitterballs’ which have a cream sauce in the middle with either meat or vegetables. I really enjoyed how well they paired with the bowl of homemade cream of tomato soup I had also ordered. I would recommend their reasonably priced and well rounded menu. Upon returning to my hostel room I had a divine conversation with the German girl also staying in the room. In the morning we decided to go out to breakfast together at a little place just down the street called Kek – De koffiebar van Delft. This was the most delicious and scrumptious breakfast I have ever eaten in another country!!! The homemade cinnamon roll I ordered was paired with fresh greens, a small bowl of hearty oatmeal with fresh fruit, and a large latte. One couldn’t have a nicer start to ones day! : )

I spent the rest of the morning walking around admiring the Dutch way of life, the marvelous canals, and the blooming tulips and daffodils. I also checked out the old Eastern gate to the town called Oostpoort which has a real draw bridge, and the Beestenmarkt, or Beef Market, where they used to sell and prepare fresh beef for the townsfolk back in the day. Before catching my train to Brussels, I went to the cafe where I had the free coffee coupon and sat people watching for a half hour or so. This was a very pleasant way to wrap up my precious time in the Netherlands. From the town center it was only about a 15 minute walk to the train station. From what I recall, my train ride to Brussels was approximately two and a half hours, but it passed quickly because of the scenic window views along the whole way. I did have to change trains part way there, but it wasn’t too confusing to hop off and on because I didn’t have to leave the station.  

 

Overall Recommendations 

I think the biggest suggestion that I could give someone visiting Amsterdam, is to spend more than just one day, perhaps 2 to 3 days might not suffice for this European city is so vast! Other famous places I chose not to see included the Red light district and the Van Gogh Museum. Though if I had had more time I would have walked around and soaked in as much as humanly possible!

Perhaps bring a longer/warmer coat if you are going to visit in late fall, winter, or early spring because it was quite rainy and damp. I wore and packed several turtlenecks with long sleeves underneath, a down vest, a lightweight down jacket and my raincoat and there were quite a few times when it was raining that I was cold!

Be sure to check out my other posts for more amazing tips! Click below : )  Budgeting: Where to Stay & How to Get There                                           Plan Ahead: Do More & Worry Less                                                                       Minimize: Pack Lighter & Smarter                                                                     Be Smart, Vigilant & Observant 

 

Without a doubt, you need to go to the Netherlands!!! This place is hands down spectacular and I think that Amsterdam especially has soo much to do and see, no matter your preference!! Even the Dutch countryside is filled with mini wondrous adventures around every corner, or rather every canal!   :  ) 

My scenic train ride from Amsterdam to Delft.

Above are photos of the two most well known paintings by Johannes Vermeer that I took when walking around in the Vermeer Centrum Delft.

The left is of course ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring,’ and the right is of a Dutch officer chatting with a young woman. This one is important to demonstrating the importance of the beaver pelt in society during the Dutch Golden Age. 

Standing on the deck of the Delftse Molen de Roos windmill.
Looking up at the massive wind blades going around on the Delftse Molen de Roos windmill.
The scrumptious breakfast I ate at the Kek - De koffiebar van Delft.
A pair of traditional Dutch wooden shoes.

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