This weekend Phil and I made a last grasp at summer and headed for the beach. Visiting the wind-blown, sandy seaside – with rolling grass-covered dunes on one side and the white-capped North Sea on the other – is a decidedly Dutch experience, and coming from the Great Lakes region, it’s one we thoroughly enjoy. (It is also easy to see why Dutch immigrants settled along the western coast of Michigan…the two sets of farmlands meeting sand dunes and a great expanse of water feel very much the same!)
At any rate, somehow our summer was quite busy (and seemed to have a disproportionate number of cool rainy weekends) so we had not yet made it for our annual trip to the beach. But since we have experienced lots of nice September weather since we’ve been here, and with this weekend relatively free, it seemed like as good a time as any to get away. We also had a good deal on a hotel we needed to use, so decided to make a small, one-night trip of it.
The hotel, Hogerhuys, was in Noordwijk, a beach town outside of the university town of Leiden (and close to the famous bulb fields and Keukenhof Gardens of Lisse, which bring over 1 million visitors to the province of South Holland every spring.) Originally, we had planned to take our bicycles on the train to Leiden (about an hour train ride from Utrecht) and to cycle the remaining 40 minutes to Noordwijk, but the weather was uncooperative – with wind, rain and thunderstorms threatening throughout the weekend. In the end, we reserved the car-share car parked down the street from our apartment, and stayed comfortably warm and dry on our rainy hour-long Saturday afternoon drive.
Thankfully, by the time we arrived in Noordwijk, the storms were blowing through, and after checking in to the hotel we had a lovely, refreshing walk on the beach. We looked at flotsam washed ashore, stopped for coffee and a snack at the Branding Beach Club (a lovely beachside restaurant) and eventually enjoyed the sunset filtering through the remnants of the storm clouds.
Noordwijk struck me as very similar to the other Dutch seaside towns that we have visited, with cute, storm-ready houses and hotels nestled in between the dunes, which give more change in elevation than is usual in such a flat country! There was a pedestrian shopping street as well, though everything seemed to be closing up shop at the end of the day and likely for the end of the summer season. In fact, we had hoped to rent bicycles, but being late in the day on Saturday, and with most places being closed on Sundays, we struck out with finding anything at all. Instead this meant that we enjoyed a slower paced wander on the beach, which was a lovely up-close experience in itself.
We ended the evening with a cozy dinner in the hotel restaurant, and fell asleep to the sound of the wind blowing between the dunes. The next morning the sun was shining through the morning mist, and the ever-present North Sea wind was chasing gray and white clouds across a blue sky. After a hearty hotel breakfast (nearly always a scrumptious affair in Europe) we checked out and moved our car to a beach-side parking lot for a few more hours of stretching our legs and breathing the fresh ocean air.
It seemed like we were in good company…although there were only a few intrepid, wet-suit clad surfers, and one brave father-daughter pair swimming in the ocean, the beach was most busy with lots of groups, families, kids and very, very happy dogs. Almost all were well bundled for a hike in the wind, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the brisk beach of September. Phil and I walked along the surf, hiked a bit in the dunes, and finally stopped back at the same beachside restaurant for an alfresco lunch on the terrace, soaking up the sun along with many Dutch families, before turning our sights back toward Utrecht.
All-in-all it was a quick, lovely and relaxing weekend trip. It felt good to visit the beach and stretch our legs a bit. It was also nice to see life in this part of the Netherlands again, and to remember the Dutch connection to the temperamental sea. Now back to reality and a busy week of work…here’s hoping everyone had a wonderful and relaxing weekend as well, and a good start to the week!