A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
One of my favourite childhood memories is going to dentist. Weird kid I was right, loving to go to the dentist. Well to be honest, it wasn’t going to the dentist specifically that I enjoyed (although I didn’t necessarily have a problem with that either), it had more to do with the fact that it was a fieldtrip that would take up half the day. My dentist was located in the town that my mum grew up in, you see, and this was half an hour traveling, so besides getting off early from school, we would usually also stay in the town for a while, shopping and visiting my grandmother, and just enjoying the environment of this charismatic coastal town. During the summer time we would sometimes even take the historical steam tram to this town. As you can imagine, I did not have a problem with the dentist when I was this age. Anyways, where I want to go with this little anecdote is to introduce you to some places in the Netherlands that you can visit outside of the Randstad, and help you get to know the less obvious places in the Netherlands. Sentimental as I might be, I first want to introduce the area I grew up in, and recently revisited (because I love being a tourist in my own backyard).
The area I grew up in is called West-Friesland, which, surprisingly enough is not located in the province Friesland. It is an area of North Holland a bit above Amsterdam, mostly centred around the coast of the IJsselmeer. When imagining stereotypical Dutch countryside this area probably embodies it all, from the tulip fields and the windmills to the water works and the towns build around the colonial era East Indian Company, but also much beyond that. Honestly everything stereotypical you can imagine about the Netherlands can be found here, and it only requires a day to visit it all.
Taking public transport, the fastest way to get to this region is to take the train to Hoorn, and from there out orientate through the area. There is either a direct sprinter train from Leiden central station, or via a transfer in Haarlem, which both take around an hour and a half. Arriving at Hoorn by train, I crossed to the other side of the station to catch the historical steam tram to the next destination, which leaves at 10:40. I tried to arrive a bit earlier than this so I would be able to look around the station and see the small exhibition in the historical station. The museum staff has tried to recreate the experience of what it would have been like to travel by tram in the late 1800s, including having the train conductors and other staffed dressed in historical uniforms. The trams are original and the insides have been restored as realistic as possible. It also seems to be the only train in the Netherlands that runs on time (which the NS could learn from), because at 10:40 we actually departed from the station, heading into the countryside. The tram took us through a typical Dutch countryside with fields full of cows and vegetables, additionally we had 3 stopovers in small villages where we were provided with some additional historical context and experiences.
Getting off at the final destination of the tram, you step right into the old centre of Medemblik, a small agricultural and fisher town with a rich history, it’s the oldest city of the region as well as (probably) being the smallest one, with less than 10.000 inhabitants. The small size allows you to explore it within the 1 hour and 15 minutes you have until the ferry to the next stop departs. The biggest tourist attraction here is probably the castle at a 15 minute walk from the tram station, the walk takes you through the historical city centre, past some monuments and architecture and the small harbour, the castle is one of the few left standing in this part of the Netherlands and dates from the 13th century. A tour through the castle was unfortunately not possible due to the time constraint, but the outdoor area of the castle also provides a nice view. Alternative activities are a visit through the bakery museum or simply get a coffee and a pastry at one of the bakeries and restaurants near the harbour, though make sure to be back at the dock of the ferry, located behind the tram station, at 13:20, when the historical steam boat leaves for the next town, Enkhuizen.
The ferry trip took around 1,5 hours, and took us over the IJsselmeer. This time was mostly spend enjoying the good weather, and having something to eat on board, as I skipped past getting some lunch in Medemblik due to lack of time. I got off the ferry at the stopover at the Zuiderzee museum, an interactive museum that allows you to take a step back in time, into a fisher village from the 1800s, reenactors completing the experience. When I got off the boat, I kind of skipped past this experience as I’ve been here before several times in my childhood (history teachers loved this place for field trips), but if you’re also planning on taking this trip, and you have the extra time, definitely consider visiting the museum as its quite entertaining. I instead strolled through the city centre, enjoying the general character, jumping into a few cafes and shops spread out through the town, and buying some old-fashioned candies. At this point it was around 16:30, and it seemed smart to head over back to the first stop, which would also be the final stop; Hoorn. This last part of the trip happens by boring old NS train.
Half an hour and I’m back at the city that I started at, this time I head into the city, unfortunately it’s too late to visit any of the museums, which all close at 17:00, so instead I decided to walk to the harbour and sit down at one of the many restaurants along the wharf, looking out over the old-fashioned ships that are anchored there, while enjoying dinner. At 8 I take the train home after a day of rediscovering I have called home for so long.
I feel that oftentimes we are so pushed to believe that we need to visit all these faraway places and unique destinations, that we easily forget the history and uniqueness of what is around the corner. This one day trip helped me regain some of that. Let me know if you’re also planning on taking (part of) this trip! It’s possible to book tickets through this site, as well as find aditional information here.