Written by Renate, a veteran Rail Europe Employee and native Netherlander. She’s here to give you the inside track on what makes her country so special – and just 30 minutes away from Holland’s cultural epicenter.
Maybe it’s because I was raised in the burbs, but I’ve always known there was much more to my country than the ever-popular, culturally liberal city of Amsterdam. City dwellers who want to unwind know that just 30 minutes away by train there’s a place to relax that’s “shaped” by history. And it’s much more than tulips and windmills.
The northern fisher towns of Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Medemblik, also know as the “Historic Triangle”, blossomed during the time of the Dutch East India Company. A journey through these towns by steam train and boat make for a unique and unforgettable experience. At least, this is what my out-of-town guests claimed after a post-wedding trip I had arranged for them on this route.
We began our adventure in Hoorn. Trains run from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Hoorn every 30 minutes. Out the window, especially in April, the landscape is an explosion of color – blooming flowers in North Holland. In fact, it’s the most important flower producing area in all of The Netherlands.
The town’s picturesque historic center is paved with cobblestone streets, antique houses and a beautiful port. What I wanted most to do was take our guests to Hoofdtoren, a cozy restaurant in a 500-year-old defense tower. Popular with the locals and tourists alike, you can sample specialties like mussels and ale, plus herring either raw or pickled. To my surprise – our guests went for the raw herring. It went down pretty easily with a pint of local beer.
From Hoorn we traveled 20 minutes by conventional Dutch rolling stock to Enkhuizen. The town is home to the open-air Zuiderzee Museum. This recreation of an actual fishing village in the 19th century gives visitors a unique opportunity to live the life of a sailor over 100 years ago. I think the kids in our group liked this best!
Our last stop on the “triangle” was to Medemblik – and we arrived by boat. On this journey, we crossed part of the IJsselmeer, a modern marvel. This expanse of water turns from salty to fresh thanks to a manmade dike that connects North Holland with the province Groningen.
A must see in Medemblik is the 13th century Radboud Castle, situated next to the IJsselmeer. In fact, I felt it was so beautiful, we had our wedding there. On site, there’s a museum with exhibitions, which our guests loved exploring. Our wedding toast was held in the Knight’s Hall – perfect for my groom in shining armor. From Medemblik, our wedding party returned to Hoorn in style – aboard an early 1900′s vintage steam train. On board, we were served a local treat called poffertjes, which is like a small pancake with butter and powdered sugar. Our guests are still talking about them! Everyone got off the steam train, and boarded a conventional train back to Amsterdam, taking with them memories of their Dutch getaway off the beaten path and into history – The Netherlands’, and ours.