During the past several weeks, we have done a little town hopping around the Zuid Holland and Noord Brabant provinces of The Netherlands. We only spent about an hour or so in each of these locations, but they all had interesting and charming things to see and proved to be nice, quick and pandemic approved excursions.
We began our hopping in Willemstad, a small fortified city laid out in the shape of a 7 point star and surrounded by a 125-foot wide moat as designed by Willem the Silent (you’ll have to revisit some of my earlier posts to remember your history on him). Willemstad only has a few thousand residents, and it was very quaint. We enjoyed walking the almost empty streets (a perk of heading to the town early on a Sunday) and checking out the church and its graveyard boasting some really old stones as well as the Mauritshuis which was built as the hunting castle of Prince Maurits in 1587.
The weather was also perfect for strolling through the arsenal area, which showcased hut-like structures from the 1800s that were used in storing ammunition, and along part of the fortified city wall, eventually passing the harbor and then walking through the town center.
The town was very clean and quiet and had an upbeat charm which was evident in the quirky little dolls we saw in a canal as well as some little fairy doors affixed to a couple of trees featuring homes for owls and spiders.
Next up was Brielle. Brielle is also a fortified city. Brielle’s claim to fame is that, in 1572, it was the first town to be liberated from Spanish occupation thus leading the way for The Kingdom of The Netherlands to emerge (for those that didn’t know, The Netherlands was once under Spanish rule but Willem the Silent led a campaign to overthrow them and take back the land). They currently have cheeky signs around town asking residents to keep a 1.572 meter (pandemic request is 1.5 meter) distance from one another.
There were many charming buildings, homes and streets to see in Brielle and quite a few ornamental features including ancient-looking, square carvings on many of the buildings.
We enjoyed walking past this row of homes that I swear had to be converted from an old stable because of the half doors and shuttered windows, a gate to an ancient monastery and the church where Willem the Silent (that guy is everywhere!) married his third wife with its tower where Mary Stuart (a descendent of Mary Queen of Scots) would watch her husband (the great grandson of Willem the Silent) sail off to claim the British throne. That’s right-in the late 1600s, the king of The Netherlands was also the king of England.
And apparently, no trip to a small fortified city would be complete without strange little dolls.
Next up, we traveled to a much bigger city- ‘s Hertogenbosch. The highlight of this city has got to be the massive gothic cathedral in the town square. It is really unlike any other cathedral we have seen in The Netherlands as they mostly tend to be a lot simpler in style. There is quite a bit of sculptural work on the cathedral and of special note are the figures climbing the buttresses on either side.
After viewing the cathedral, we made our way to the market square where we found an old well house, a caged saint and a statue of painter Hieronymus Bosch. Here one can also find the old town hall and the oldest house in town, De Moriaan, which dates from the 13th century.
After seeing the historic sites, we wandered through the city on our way to the citadel and the Oranje, a preserved bastion alongside a huge cannon (couldn’t get a picture of the cannon as it was housed in a glass-walled building and was just too long to get from an angle on the outside).
Near the Oranje, we also found another church, St. Catherine’s, and a view of the vast, flat fields outside the city.
While the city was much larger than the others we had visited, it still had a lot of unique and interesting features.
We also especially enjoyed walking through the Uilenburg Quarter. It was really lovely with its canals and quiet streets.
And finally, no trip seems to be complete without some quirky dolls or decorative features so here are a few from ‘s Hertogenbosch.
Our final stop on our town hopping tour was Breda. Breda was probably the largest of all of the towns and it was fairly busy while we were there. Squares with outdoor restaurant seating abounded and were quite full. We made our way to the Grote Kerk (large church) which is where many members of the royal family are buried and features a Prince’s Pew which is always reserved for members of the royal family. We were unable to go inside due to a special exhibit that was underway, but we enjoyed seeing the ornate tower from the outside.
We also took a route past the Town Hall and Breda Castle. We walked through Valkenberg Park which was formerly part of the castle grounds where falcons were trained and where ornamental gardens were located.
Near the park is the Beguinage which is a walled-in area with an ancient church and medieval dwellings. The area was formerly inhabited by religious women and is now home to elderly women.
And finally, in homage to the weird dolls and figures we found in all of these places, here is the strange decoration from Breda.
All in all, we enjoyed our town hopping. We had been feeling like we were missing out on exploring The Netherlands thanks to the restrictions and precautions of the pandemic, but these little excursions allowed us to feel like we were still getting an opportunity to take advantage of our time here to learn more about the country. The main tourist locations are great, but there are some really beautiful and interesting things that can be found in these lesser-known locations and, hopefully, you enjoyed exploring a few of them with us!