I am convinced that the best way to explore Europe is by car. Having a car allows you to stay on a schedule that YOU define, you aren’t bound by any plane or train schedules, and you can go to the places less travelled – it’s the ultimate flexibility. Our journey starts in the Netherlands and will go through six more countries in the span of a week – something very difficult to without a car. Our first day takes us to The Hague, Rotterdam, Baarle-Hertog, and Antwerp.
The Hague (Den Haag)
The first stop is The Hague in the Netherlands. It’s the home of the International Court of Justice (pictured above). This is the international court that resolves international disputes that the UN is involved in. It was involved in well known cases such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to judge the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to judge the perpetrators of crimes committed during the internal struggles in Yugoslavia that eventually led to its dissolution.
For lunch, we searched around for something to eat and we could try some herring since that’s a popular dish in the Netherlands. We found a street food stall near us not far from where we were and proceeded to go inside and order. One problem though… the entire menu was in Dutch and there was no English to be found anywhere. We stood there looking confused for a moment, before I piped up and simply asked the staff (knowing that the Netherlands has a very high degree of English literacy) what we should order. He simply replied, “herring sandwich!”. It’s raw herring preserved in a brine in a sandwich along with condiments such as raw onions and pickles. It’s got a nice fishy freshness to it (like sashimi), but a saltier and more sour flavour because of the brine. This is going to be one of those foods that I’ll crave once I leave and can’t get anywhere else.
Another cool place to visit in The Hague is the Madurodam – it’s a park built purely on minatures. Imagine famous landmarks in the Netherlands, like the canals of Amsterdam, old town city squares, and palaces, but in miniature form! As a fan of Lego, I can definitely appreciate looking at miniatures!
Next, we drove to Rotterdam in the Netherlands and stopped by the Market Hall for more food (I’m always down to eat). This time, we had yet another Dutch speciality: the stroopwafel. It’s hard to say no to two thin crispy wafers with gooey caramel in between.
And because I really enjoy eating protein, I couldn’t resist trying some cured meat. I think this is more of a Spanish thing as opposed to Dutch thing though. I found the flavour way too salty for my tastes (and I use a lot of salt when cooking), but I’m not sure what it’s supposed to taste like.
The market hall also has a nice selection of spices – kind of apt considering their colonial past trading spice and other goods in the Dutch East Indies.
And of course cheese! It’s so nice to see all the wheels of cheese, in all these different colours and sizes.
Baarle-Hertog / Baarle-Nassau
After leaving Rotterdam, we headed towards Belgium – well kind of. The cool thing about Baarle-Hertog / Baarle-Nassau is that a border between Belgium and the Netherlands cuts right through the town in seemingly random spots. You could just be walking down the street along the main avenue of the town and randomly end up in the Netherlands, then in Belgium, and then back again.
On our way out of the town, we noticed lane lines that we hadn’t seen before in North America. At first, we didn’t know why the lines were painted like that, but upon closer analysis, the road is simply a road shared by both cars and bicycles and the red section shows where the bikes should be, and the grey area is the section where cars should be when passing a bicycle. By allocating a space for the car to pass, the cars don’t get too close to the cyclists, thus reducing the risk of an accident. How cool!
Soon, we were fully in Belgium in the city of Antwerp and took a stroll in the old town square. The buildings here look pretty Belgian because of the way the roof inclines – it’s as if there are little steps as opposed to a smooth incline (so-called stepped gables).
This concludes our successful first day of the trip! On day two, we will travel to Oosterscheldekering, Ypres, and Dunkirk.