May 15, 2012

Best of Holland (Day 4, 15 May 2012)

We are now in Groningen, the city where Fandi Ahmad played European club football. It looks pretty much similar to Amsterdam, i.e. numerous canals, similar architecture. It was a long day and took a while to get here, not because of the distance but because we had about 3 sightseeing stops along the way.

We checked out of our hotel at 9am this morning and headed towards the Kröller–Müller museum and sculpture park in Otterlo where we got to see some of Van Gogh’s works including the ‘Café Terrace at Night’. You know that song with the opening line, ‘Starry starry night…’ by Don McLean? It never registered with me that the title was actually ‘Vincent’ and it was about Van Gogh.

There were other paintings too, by Renoir, Monet and Picasso and the works were collected by a woman named Helene Kröller–Müller who then donated it to her country back in the 30s.

It was bloody cold today and of all days I had decided to wear a skirt and leggings, luckily we were mostly indoors. Nick managed to have a catch-up with Ananda at the museum café and then we briefly viewed some sculptures outdoors.

Next stop was the Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn, it belongs to the royal family but they opened it up for public viewing. There was a line of symmetrically planted trees leading up to the entrance and peacocks wandering about.

We spent all our time exploring the gardens, the so-called ‘Versailles of Holland’. It rained intermittently and the directional signs were non-existent so we skipped viewing the interior of the palace and had lunch with Phebe and Zalina at the café outside.

Had a really hearty tomato soup and some croquettes and a mouthwatering strawberry tart. Plus I had my first Heineken of the trip!

After Het Loo, we headed towards Groningen and along the way, they showed us Staphorst, one of the country’s most religious towns and recognisable with the thatched roofs on their houses.

Then we arrived in Giethoorn for some apple pie and coffee, with the freshest whipped cream to top off the dessert.

An optional excursion, Giethoorn is a charming village criss-crossed by many canals, hump backed bridges and thatched farmhouses. This pretty spot is more popularly known as "Holland's Green Venice', there are no cars in the village.

We had a pleasant boat ride, some of the group wanted to open the windows on the boat to take better pictures so it got quite cold, I think today was around 2-4 degrees. I think the kids in the village must get a lot of Chinese visitors because they would wave to Nick and say ‘Ni Hao?’

We reached our hotel, the Mercure Groningen Martiniplaza in the early evening and after a short rest, were out again with Phebe and Zalina to search for food. The shops were closed around our neighbourhood so we waited for a bus to the city, which was a little too far to walk and we were not orientated yet.

Met a friendly Nigerian woman named Julie who helped us with directions and she let on that her neighbour Julia is Singaporean and just had a baby. Small world!

The ride to town was only a few minutes and there was a fun fair in the main square. Not a lot of places were open and we managed to find a kebab place. Chatted about politics and our respective countries over wraps and burgers, and then we rushed to meet the bus back to our hotel.

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