Planning visits to the Dutch cities of Utrecht and Amsterdam? Here are some recommendations*. To view all the photographs (with the captions in full) of each city, click on any image and navigate using the left and right keys.
1. Free walking tours in the major European cities are often good bets. From top left, clockwise: our knowledgeable and engaging guide brought us to the junction of the Jewish district and Chinatown, the former company headquarters of the Dutch East Indies, the residential buildings constructed on dykes (20 per cent of the Netherlands is under sea level), the Old Church right next to the red light district, as well as the Begijnhof.
2. Entrance to the museum in Anne Frank’s House, the hiding and diary-writing place of Anne Frank and her family. We had to queue an hour before entry (tickets can be booked online, though they are often sold out very quickly), but it was well worth it. Walking through the set route you witness the cramped conditions of the hideout and experience the anxiety of the family to remain out of sight and sound of the workers who – except a few trusted helpers – were unaware of their presence. Succinct and comprehensive: you see original pages of the diary, short interviews with the helpers, and the remaining furniture.
3. Lunch of toasted sandwiches: prosciutto pesto and tomato mozzarella.
4. The city library is a short walk from the central station, and is probably worth a visit if you are looking for a panoramic view of the city.
5. The neighbourhood of Jordan in Amsterdam just outside the city centre, which the tour guide claims is the most beautiful area of the capital. This is also an obligatory shot of one of the many canals around (more than the city of Venice), where many locals cycle along (there are 1.2 million bikes in the city, for a population of 800,000).
6. It was a (long and -somewhat- painful) 40-kilometre cycle around the city of Alkmaar, in drizzles and showers no less, but the tulip fields were gorgeous. We were a weekend late (perhaps even rarer than the Northern Lights), because some of the fields had been harvested or cleared, though the patches of pastels remained stunning. Along the way we stopped at quaint towns and cycled through the pristine countryside, and had a wonderful time.
7. Cycling through the (rainy) streets of Utrecht.
8. The Dom Tower at Utrecht is the tallest church tower in the country, and its 14 ringing bells are considered to be remarkable. It also houses a tower carillon, a set of bells played by an automatic mechanism. The guided tour to the top of the tower is a little pricey, and while the tour should provide good views of the city most walk around the city centre instead.
9. Breakfast at Yoghurt Barn: coffee, a toasted croissant, and brownie-and-peach yoghurt mix.
10. The uniqueness of Museum Speelklok makes it a must-see. The museum has an entertaining collection of automatic musical instruments (there was even a mini-concert of sorts, featuring tunes from different automated instruments), and a visitor learns more about their history and restoration process. Speelklok means musical clock, and one would be amazed at how human ingenuity resulted in self-playing violins, for instance.
11. A field of dandelions at the Botanic Gardens (nothing else of note was blooming).
12. The walk to the pancake house is a long one (it would be a fifteen-minute bicycle ride), but one would be rewarded with warm pancakes – or crepes, as they are known in Singapore – at the end of the journey. The scenery along the way, and along the canal at the pancake house, is one to savour too. In the background is a pancake with butter and powdered sugar, and in the foreground is a pancake with pastrami, goat cheese, and assorted vegetables.
13. And ice cream to wrap the day up – speculoos flavoured.
* Not an advertisement, and also not sponsored (unfortunately).
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