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Solo Trip to Zaandam & The Tulip Fields 🌷🇳🇱✈️🌏

In April 2023 - during the weekend just gone - I spent a glorious few days in Holland. But before I detail my latest visit to the country, here's a bit of a backstory...

In June 2018, I visisted Amsterdam following a Scandinavian cruise. It was my first time in the city… And I swore it would also be my last!

Okay, so I'm going to drop the sugar-coating and pleasantries right here and just come right out and say it... I loathe Amsterdam. Sorry!

It's a really unpopular opinion; most people I know adore Holland's capital.

Don't get me wrong - the architecture is grand and the novelty of seeing bikes toddle across the cobbled bridges over the canal is thrilling... But in my opinion, that's why the allure abruptly ends.

I think it's fair to say that the object of my disdain is not the city itself, but rather the seedy version of the city that tourists have callously created over the years.

I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively across Europe, and I have never experienced anywhere as 'touristy' as Amsterdam. I have no idea how the city has managed to desperately cling onto its identity as long as it has. The funny thing is, the locals actually feel the same.

A few weeks ago, a tourist campaign with a difference - bluntly dubbed 'Stay Away' - was launched, discouraging wild partying, antisocial behaviour and the over-consumption of drink

and drugs. It may come as no surprise that the campaign was predominantly aimed at Brits...

Amsterdam has many selling points that are unfortunately overshadowed by the city's smutty

connotations. It sometimes seems as though many visitors flock to the 'Dam with specific activities in mind, and turn a blind eye to the remarkable overspill of history and culture that the city has to offer.

The crass conversations I overhead between various stag parties on my flight over certainly backed up this sad theory!

For me personally, I find there to be absolutely nothing relaxing about Amsterdam.

When I go on holiday, I don't want to be faced with a tsunami of people at every corner.

I would honestly go as far as saying that Amsterdam is busier and more touristy than New York. There's just this mad clamour everywhere you go - people pushing and shoving to get the best pictures.

Back in 2018, we went for an evening wander around the city. I was mortified.

Josh said taking me out in Amsterdam was the equivalent of accompanying Paddington Bear to an abattoir.

It was as though the most disreputable parts of English cities had been raked up at club closing time, shaken together in a massive cauldron, and then unleashed in the Netherlands.

I like to buy an obligatory fridge magnet from every place I go, but could I find one that wasn't phallas or cannabis related? Could I 'eck.

I thought I was playing it safe by picking up a tulip magnet, until I saw that even the tulip had been given a penis. Another magnet depicted the city's traditional canal-side houses. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the windows and doors had been made to look like eyes and a mouth, and each house appeared to be smoking a spliff.

Just... Why?

I'm not a prude (hey - I went to see Snoop Dogg last month!)... But surely you've got to draw the line somewhere! And that line, I feel, is at houses smoking Class B drugs.

Anyway, I came away from Amsterdam adamant that I had seen quite enough and would never set foot in the city again.

It was the tulips that lured me back. I had been too late to visit the famous tulip fields during my last trip, and a niggling yearning had remained ever since.

Recently, I gave in to this craving and decided to grit my teeth and book a return to Amsterdam.

Strictly speaking, I didn't stay in Amsterdam, instead opting for a hotel in nearby Zaandam instead.

Inntel Zaandam... find me a cooler hotel - I'll wait!

On the late April Bank Holiday 2023, I travelled over to Amsterdam for round two.

A quick little solo getaway was exactly what I needed, and I thought it would be a great way for me to relax, unwind, celebrate my new job and finally tick the tulip fields off my bucket list.

The flight over took 50 minutes - a joy that was short lived by the near-two-hour wait at Schiphol Airport passport control. Never again will I slate Manchester Airport! It was up there with some of the worst airport experiences of my life, and that includes my brush with the SHACK that is Corfu Airport.

Two hours to get through passport control is utterly ridiculous. And that's even before luggage collection!

I was keen to get out of the main Amsterdam vicinity as quick as possible, so I hopped on a train that took me straight to Zaandam.

In contrast to Amsterdam, Zaandam is one of the most chilled places I have ever been!

The city - situated north of Amsterdam on the River Zaan - is totally and wickedly unique and just absolutely defines quirky. No matter how much of a seasoned traveller you are, I can guarantee that you will have never seen anywhere quite like Zaandam! 😍

Zaandam's architecture is jaw-dropping and modern, and couldn't be further removed from Amsterdam's classic statures. The whole city has been staggeringly designed and executed, and is aesthetically pleasing.

The slick sites of Zaandam are complimented by the cosmopolitan vibe that runs throughout the entire city. Think beautiful boutique shops, friendly locals, and tastefully decorated coffee shops serving wholesome food such as poke bowls and smoothies.

The many restaurants and bars have modest opening hours, which encourages a more civilised atmosphere.

While there is plenty to see and do in Zaandam, the city slumbers peacefully from mid-evening to mid-morning.

You certainly won't be woken by stag parties drunkenly singing Sweet Caroline at 3am, put it that way!

In my opinion, Zaandam is also extremely safe. As a solo female traveller, I didn't encounter any problems whatsoever.

I went for an early morning run on the Sunday and found myself following the main road out of town: I passed through an array of side streets and estates, and I didn't once feel unsafe. Even at that time of the morning, there were plenty of locals out cycling, running and walking their dogs, and all let on to me.

Zaandam! 💚

I can't recommend Zaandam enough for anybody wanting to sample the attractions of Amsterdam, but on a lower-key basis.

Regular trains run between Zaandam and Amsterdam, and the journey takes roughly 12 minutes.

If Amsterdam is an unruly teen going off the rails and clamouring for attention, Zaandam is the cool older sister with her own style, who everyone wants to be! She has a quiet confidence and isn't afraid to be herself.

I stayed at Intel Zaandam, which has to be the most Instagrammable hotel in the world!

The hotel is perfectly located a two minute walk from the station, and the rooms are spacious and clean. There is also a restaurant, gym and spa on-site, covering all your needs.

After checking in, I headed straight out for my afteroon at the Keukenhof Tulip Fields.

... And that's when it all got a little bit stressful!

I had pre-booked my tickets months in advance, choosing a combi-ticket to include bus transfers from RAI station. My plan was to catch the train to Amsterdam Centraal (10 minutes), then hop on the metro to RAI (a further 10 minutes), then board the designated bus to Keukenhof (35 minutes). I was due at the gardens at 3pm, so left the hotel at 1pm to give myself plenty of time.

What should have been a straight-forward hour long journey turned into a FOUR HOUR one way trip!

There I was, happily waiting at Zaandam Station, Lion bar in hand, when all of a sudden, the boards changed and every single train flashed up as cancelled. The station staff weren't sure what was going on, but put it down to a 'logistics failure' that was likely to remain unresolved until 'around 6pm.'

No trains from Zaandam to Amsterdam Centraal... Great! (I mean, I'm from the North of England - I have daily battles with Northem Rail, so I should be used to it by now, but come on!)

I fired up my Uber account... And promptly closed it straight back off again. €105?! You've GOT to be having a laugh.

In the end, I leapt on a bus to Amsterdam, which took an age and a half and dropped me nowhere near where I needed to be. After a mad dash through my least favourite city, I found the Metro. I was that flustered that I ended up on the wrong side of the platform and added yet more steps to my daily count.

The most horrific part of the journey was the drive from RAI to Keukenhof. The traffic was shocking. We sat in a stagnant queue of coaches outside the venue for 50 minutes.

By the time we arrived, it was 5pm.

I had planned to spend a few hours meandering around the gardens. It was a warm, sunny day and I'd packed my reading book and notepad, envisioning myself sat under a shaded tree, writing the afternoon away. Alas, the transport delay meant that I only had two and a half hours in the park, which was really gutting.

Keukenhof... When real life looks like a dream... 😍

In terms of fairytale landscapes, the tulip fields really didn't disappoint, although I'm sorry to confirm that the overall experience did.

I have to say... If you dislike crowds and find yourself easily irritated by people, Keukenhof is not the place for you.

It was BUSY. Of course, this is one of the main tourist spots in the country, so I'd prepared myself for busy... But not this busy.

I believe a lot of people had arrived outside of their allocated time-slots due to the issues with the trains, so this could explain why the park was exceptionally heaving

We Brits are partial to a queue... Absolutely no-one queued at Keukenhof, be it for photo opportunities, ice-cream, or the bus home.

I lost count of the times I was barged out of the way while stood taking photos. It just felt like a massive free-for-all with everyone so impatient and so desperate to get their photos at any cost.

Certain tulip patches were cornered off, presumably to protect the flowers and deter people from walking on the grass, yet so many simply climbed over and posed for photos anyway.

🎶 Daydream... I fell asleep beneath the flowers, for a couple of hours... 🎶

Over 7 million bulbs are planted at Keukenhof every year, and there are approximately 800 different types of tulips alone! I really enjoyed reading the whimsical names: Let's Dance, Amazing Grace, Orange Sunrise.

Keukenhof is not only home to tulips, but also blossoms, hyacinths, daffodils and crocuses. Combined in a breathtaking ensemble of colour, they make up an opulent carpet of wonder spanning far into the horizon.

My Grandma Barbara used to keep hyacinths in her porch every spring, and their scent reminds me of her so much. ❤️

Hyacinths for Grandma Barbara ❤️

There are various exhibitions around the ground, showcasing intricate compositions of floral displays. These are joyful, but again, it's almost impossible to stand and admire them due to the constant jostling.

The park is boarded by more tulip fields. You can rent bikes and cycle around the perimeter of the fields. I would have liked to have done this if I'd had more time. I feel it would have offered a more authentic experience and a respite from the crowds.

Boat tours are also available, although there was a two hour wait for this when I visited.

Is Keukenhof worth a visit? 🌷

Yes, it is, although I think research and careful planning is needed for the best experience.

I thought I was being dead jammy by booking my getaway over the Bank Holiday to avoid using up my annual leave, but it backfired.

I would advise visiting the park during the week. The website states that the quietest times to visit are Monday - Wednesday, before 10:30am and after 16:30pm. (I arrived after 16:30pm, and found it overwhelmingly busy, but as I mentioned, this may well have been due to the train situation).

Entry to Keukenhof is very reasonably priced at €17 (€34 for a bus combi-ticket), but I would suggest taking your own food and drink, as the prices inside the park were predictably extortionate (€3.50 for a bottle of water, and €4.50 for a Pepsi Max).

The Keukenhof team were excellent. I had a few queries prior to my visit and they were so helpful. I messaged them in a panicked frenzy when the trains were cancelled, and they were really accommodating with my ticket and assured me that no matter how late I arrived, I would be granted entry. The staff working at various shops, kiosks and at the information centre inside the park were also wonderful. Everybody was super friendly and informative.

In terms of the flowers, I don't think I could have picked a better time to go. Every single variant was in full bloom, which made for a mesmerising spectacle. There were some quieter areas of the park which allowed me to slip away into a daydream amongst the flowers.

To conclude, despite the masses, Keukenhof is definitely worth a visit.

The path to heaven 😍

I was exhausted when I got back to Zaandam at half 9.

I grabbed a poke bowl from Fudo opposite the station, which was delectable! My bowl of choice consisted of rice, avocado, edamame beans, sweetcorn, cucumber and shreds of carrot, and it was so refreshing after a long day of travelling.

The calm and peace of Zaandam was a a welcome retreat, and I slept like a bloody log!

FIT poke bowl from Fudo! 🤤

As previously mentioned, I went for a run at half past 7 on Sunday morning, which was, naturally, a highlight of the trip for me!

There's something so magically liberating about running around a brand new city. It's a totally unique perspective, and no two experiences will ever be the same. That's what makes running such a precious and personal pastime.

After my run, I made use of the hotel's gym and did a further workout on the treadmill. The gym overlooked the town and I was so busy people watching that I hardly noticed the 5k slipping by!

My workout was followed by a much needed trip to the spa, which included a pool, a steam room and a sauna. Sometimes, it's just nice to indulge in a bit of pampering.

All of this before 9am - what a delightful way to start a morning!

When Googling nearby coffee shops, I had been drawn to Lagom Cafe, which is located between the hotel and the train station. Impressed by the menu, I opted to give it a try for breakfast.

... Best decision of the trip!

My breakfast was stunning. I ordered a smoothie and a yoghurt bowl, which came generously embellished with granola, fresh fruit and purée. I was seated by the window with a view of the unfolding Zaandam morning, which perfectly enhanced a chilled hour of writing.

Everything about Lagom Cafe exceeded my expectations. The service was fantastic (the guy behind the bar was absolutely LOVELY!), the portion sizes were huge, and the final bill came to less than 10 euro!

Can I have breakfast at Lagom Cafe everyday?! 😋

My whirlwind weekend in Holland ended with a bit of shopping and some lunch at Schiphol station, before I passed through to the airport for my departing flight. (BIG shout out to KLM for being the best airline I have ever travelled with!)

"Welcome to Manchester, where the temperature is 9 degrees," the pilot announced upon landing. "... And it is raining."

A sneaky weekend away and one night in Amsterdam/ Zaandam is entirely possible, however I couldn't help but wish that I had booked another night. The fiasco with the trains ate into a lot of my time, and I left the country feeling more worn out than revitalised!

Still, I pray that my solo travels never end. They really are the best of adventures, the best memories, and the BEST days. ❤️

Cara Jasmine Bradley ©


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