Holland for the Weekend

A few years ago, Anthony Bourdain hosted a great show called The Layover. It was all about what you could do in a short amount of time in really amazing cities. I loved it. So, when I had the chance to do a Layover-style trip of my own, I jumped at it.

I chose Holland – specifically Amsterdam and Delft – because I’d visited both cities once before and knew I wanted to go back, even if just for a few hours. This time, though, I was flying standby, which meant no guaranteed seat. Rather than waste money on nonrefundable hotel charges, I waited to book my first night’s stay until after I was at the gate and cleared to board. I didn’t book the second night because I had no real plan and figured I’d just sort it out once I got there.

Twelve hours and eight time zones later, I’d made it through customs at Schiphol Airport, giving me just under 48 hours before I had to be back for my return flight.

Delft is about an hour’s train ride from the airport. Tickets can be purchased onsite and the people working at the information stands are incredibly helpful. My hotel was a short walk from the train station – a journey made easy thanks to the iPhone maps feature – and the front desk staff were kind enough to let me check in early.

Jetlag was setting in, so I did the one thing everyone says not to do: I took a nap. Two hours later, I was marginally refreshed and ready to explore. My first stop was Delft Market Square, where I got to marvel at the Nieuwe Kerk (new church) and visit De Candelaar, a ceramic shop known for authentic custom Delftware. There’s also a tattoo shop called Sapphire Ink right next door that I will be visiting on my next trip.

Because Delft is so walkable and everyone is so friendly, I spent all afternoon happily exploring the city with no particular destination in mind. I was back at the hotel and done for the day by 6:00 PM, though, because jetlag is a killer.

Day two started early. It was market day, so I spent the morning wandering the shops, soaking in the beauty of the fresh flowers, browsing a huge selection of leather goods, and inhaling the smells of some really incredible food. Market day was so vibrant and alive that I even began to envision myself packing up and moving to Delft (my inability to speak Dutch notwithstanding).

I checked out of the hotel and was back on the train to Amsterdam by noon.

Amsterdam’s central station is a lot like Disneyland. Crowds everywhere, massive overstimulation, and a general sense of organized chaos. I stored my bag in a luggage locker then moved through the hordes of people to get out into the city.

I walked through De Wallen, the medieval city center filled with incredible architecture and home to one of the red-light districts, then to The Canal Ring for a late lunch on the water.

Hours later, when I was ready to call it a day (and a trip), I went back to the train station for the fifteen-minute ride to Schiphol. I’d decided to stay at an airport hotel, by which I mean the hotel was actually in the airport. Schiphol has a couple of major chain hotels that essentially have their own terminals. They are super fancy, worth every penny, and I was back at the gate waiting for my seat assignment the next morning without having the added stress of transportation.

What I learned is that spontaneous international trips work best if the destination has 3 things:

  1. A major airport or transit hub
  2. Excellent public transport
  3. Highly walkable neighborhoods

Holland has all three and my weekend there was fantastic. The Travel Channel may not be ready to hire me for a reboot of The Layover (their loss), but I like knowing I can put together a great trip on a short timeline.