Wednesday, April 6, 2016

There's More to the Netherlands than Amsterdam

Sonndeg, 6 Abrëll.

I have never been to Amsterdam. In fact, with the exception of a trip to the tulip-filled Keukenhof Gardens in the 90s, I have never been to the Netherlands at all.

It's not that the Netherlands don't have any appeal: it's just that the reasons that most teenagers abroad have for spending a weekend in Amsterdam (cough, cough) have never really appealed to me. (And before you get riled up in defense of Amsterdam, I know that it has more to offer than its coffee shops and am definitely looking forward to exploring the city someday soon. I promise!) But as it turns out, there's more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam. And Rotterdam. And the Hague. And all the places that I had heard of, before approximately one week ago. Thanks to an impromptu road trip with two of my housemates, I spent the weekend discovering two under-appreciated corners of this flat little country: Nijmegen and Domburg.

We arrived in Nijmegen on Friday morning after a one-hour drive from Dusseldorf. This city is just across the German border -- so close to Germany, in fact, that it was mistaken for a German city during World War II and bombed by the Americans. This fact was mentioned to me no fewer than three times during the 24 hours I spent in Nijmegen.

Depending on who you ask, Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands. It was the site of a Roman camp in the first century BCE. At the end of the first century, the settlement became one of two now-Dutch cities to receive Roman city rights and was later named Noviomagus by Emperor Trajan. Although very little remains of the city's Roman history (because, remember, the Americans bombed the city), there are some traces of Nijmegen's role in the Carolingian Empire.

In Valkofpark, we visited the remains of the fortifications built by Charlemagne and later reconstructed by emperor Frederik Barbarossa. (Who knew?) The building pictured above is the Saint Nicholas Chapel, one of two chapels that remain from the site.

We also explored Stevenskerk, the city's main church. Construction on the church began in the thirteenth century and continued throughout the Middle Ages, but was halted for good in the late-16th century.  However, although the church tower dominates the skyline of Nijmegen, it is actually unfinished: a guide explained to us that the church was originally intended to be twice as tall as it actually is.

If the church looks surprisingly new for its age, it is because it was heavily damaged during World War II (remember, the Americans bombed the city) and restored in the post-war period.

The massive copper chandeliers were donated by guilds and installed in 1640.

Just around the corner from the church, tucked into a quiet corner of central Nijmegen, we found Philipse Koffie & Brocante, a retro coffee shop and antique store. Although we arrived right before closing time, we still had about fifteen minutes to sit down, enjoy some coffee (served, of course, on adorably mismatched china), and scroll through all the photos we had taken so far! ;)


Look closely ... someone in Nijmegen has a rather quirky decorating style!

Oh, and -- of course -- we ate. Fries for lunch and pizza for dinner and apple pastries for breakfast ... this is my kind of country!

On Saturday morning, we woke up and hit the road, driving 200 kilometers southwest through the province of Zeeland (yes, as in New Zealand, which was first discovered by a seventeenth century Dutch navigator) to the beach town of Domburg. 

I don't know if words can express the flatness of the Netherlands ... but maybe photos will do the trick!

Today, Domburg is a cute beach town with roughly 1500 inhabitants (which, okay, makes it a pretty cosmopolitan city by Luxembourgish standards). Interestingly, however, its history dates back to ancient times. Given its convenient location on the North Sea, the coastal town was a popular center of trade and shipping. Beginning in the 19th century, Domburg became the home of a swanky seaside resort; today, it remains a popular destination for Dutch and German tourists. And students from Luxembourg, of course!

I thought this building looked like a lighthouse in disguise! Any thoughts?

Of course, one of the coolest aspects of our weekend -- and, in fact, our whole reason for choosing to vacation at Domburg -- was our hostel. Which just so happened to be a medieval castle, complete with moat.

No. I'm not kidding.

Kasteel Westhove was built in the thirteenth century in between the existing towns of Domburg and Oostkapelle. For centuries, it was the property of the Catholic Church and served as a summer home for the abbots of Middelburg. It was partially destroyed in the 16th century by the Geuzen, Dutch nobles who opposed the rule of the Spanish in the Netherlands, and served as a nursing home for children after being restored. The castle was fully restored after World War II and today serves as a youth hostel. (Click to read more about staying at the Stayokay Domburg.)

Of course, I handled this fact with all the grace and nonchalance of an American accustomed to such things, as evidenced by the snapchats sent to anyone and everyone I know...



  1. Amazing visit! I think the lighthouse might be a watchtower for enemy lookout.? I love that kind of beach!

  2. It is about as flat a land as San Angelo Texas! 😉

  3. Merci de me faire visiter tout ce que je n'aurais jamais vu sans toi...

  4. Wonderful pictures! Sounds like y'all had a great time! One of these days, I'll make it back to Holland. ;)

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