Summer In Utrecht: A Student Guideby Chelan Bliss
Daytrips from Utrecht
Further Out: Weekend Trips
Best Western Gold Crown Club
Kasteel De HaarThis pretty fairy-tale castle is a great 'beginner' daytrip because it is so close to Utrecht. At one point in time, Kasteel de Haar was an authentic, defense-based medieval castle, but it fell into ruin. The castle was revived in the 19th century, and reinvented into a 19th century fantasy of what a medieval castle ought to look like.
To get to the castle, take bus #127 from Utrecht Centraal Train Station toward Breukelen and get off about fifteen or twenty minutes later at Haarzuilens, a cute little town with thatched roofs. Walk back the way the bus came a few hundred feet and turn right on a country lane. About five minutes later, the castle will make a dramatic appearance on the right. You can take an interesting tour of the interior for 8 euros, but it only visits a few rooms. For 3 euros you can just roam around the grounds and enjoy the striking shape of the building from different sides. (Enjoy the grounds; the baron who reconstructed the castle had the entire village moved to make room for the gardens, and he had 1000 large trees uprooted from around Holland and planted here).
Maastricht & ValkenburgMaastricht and Valkenburg are both in the Dutch hills, a little piece of the Netherlands in the extreme SE part of the country, between Belgium and Germany. Maastricht has a big university, a great medieval area, a wide river and an architectural flavor that differs from the rest of the Netherlands (perhaps influenced by the neighboring countries?). Maastricht is a 2 hour direct train ride from Utrecht, and trains from there to Valkenburg leave a few times an hour and take about ten minutes.
Lonely Planet gives undeserved short thrift to Valkenburg, a tiny and touristy town just a few miles away from Maastricht by train. It has a cute tumble of narrow streets and cafes with the scenic advantage (and in Holland, this is fairly unique!) of being on a hill, the top of which boasts Valkenburg Castle. Valkenburg Castle has great views of the town below and the patchwork fields on neighboring hills. The sandstone castle is in ruins, but they are very picturesque ruins. Next to the castle is the entrance to the Velvet Cave, where locals mined the sandstone that built the castle. In hopes of building tourism, locals also carved relief paintings in the stone, and accented them with charcoal. The carvings are ornate and cover both local legends and historical events as they occurred, such as royal weddings. Many people have hidden in the caves; they were used as secret escape tunnels during the castle's heyday, as a hiding place for Jewish people and Allied soldiers in WWII, and as a secret Catholic chapel in the 18th century. The chapel is still there, and WWII carvings made by bored soldiers too. There are 13 species of bats that live in the cave.
The castle and cave close at 5pm (last cave tour starts at 5 on sundays), so you might want to go to Valkenburg first, and then see Maastricht on the way back.
From the train station in Valkenburg (the oldest train station in Holland): From the front door of the little train station, you can reach the cute part of town by heading forward (downhill) and to the left. You can follow street signs to the information center.
Yucatan, a Mexican restaurant in Valkenburg, is spendy (25 euros pp) but delicious, with a huge buffet of food that is vaguely Mexican and very tasty. Also, the place is chock full of tropical décor and live birds.
From the train station in Maastricht, walk toward the river Maas (straight ahead from the front of the station), cross the river, and turn left. Follow the river until you see medieval walls and cannons. Don't miss the Helpoort- an attractive 13th century city gate. You might want to wander around, following the inner and outer walls, and then follow street signs to Vrijthof- the huge main square with the pretty red church, Sint Jan. The tower in the red church reputedly has awesome views of the city and surrounding hills, but it is not open on Sundays. There is also a river trip down the river Maas from the waterfront by the bridge, for 6 euros. I found the boat trip boring but breezy and pleasant on a hot day.
GiethoornGiethoorn is a town with no roads at all, just crisscrossing canals trimmed with narrow bikepaths and canal-bound thatched roof cottages, all overflowing with flowers. Giethoorn is ridiculously cute, and worth the extra effort required to get there.
For fifteen euros an hour, you can rent a boat at the entrance to the village, with an electric motor, room for six people, and a canal map. You can wind around through the neighborhood, followed by begging swans, or go on a nature loop through a neighboring reserve. (Mostly just tall grass and water birds, but pretty and quiet). For six euros, you can rent a bike instead.
To get to Giethoorn: Giethoorn is in the north of the country. You can take a train to Zwolle, and then an hourly bus (a one hour ride) the rest of the way to Giethoorn. I don't have the bus number, but it should be easy to find the right bus. It's a major destination with Dutch weekenders, but was almost a ghost town on a Monday afternoon.
LeidenLike Utrecht, Leiden is an old and beautiful university city. I recommend starting out with a boat tour (they leave from around the city center) or a trip to the Burcht. Either will orient you to the city. The burcht is a round, short stone tower that once served a defensive function (before the city grew on beyond it). It has great views of the city on every side, and a shady picnic area inside. Admissions is free.
There are signs everywhere to the Burcht, but while the signs get you near to the Burcht, the building is hard to find. That's because it's not on one of the streets, it's hiding behind the buildings. Just follow the signs, and then ask someone.
The pilgrims that came to America on the Mayflower really left from Leiden. They were religiously persecuted Brits, to be sure, but before they set out for the "new world" they first tried to live in Leiden, where the people were more flexible than they were in England. In 1618, King James announced that he'd be taking control of the expats living in Leiden, and the local Dutch people were tired of the pilgrims anyway, so the pilgrims set out for the new world in a dutch ship, the Speedwell. The Speedwell wasn't a good ship, so they stopped in England and changed boats for the Mayflower. From 1-5pm Wed-Sat, you can check out pilgrim history at the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, at Beschitsteeg 9. Or, you can follow signs to the Vrouwekerk, where a crumbling wall is all that remains of the church the pilgrims used.
Leiden offers a windmill museum inside a windmill (like Haarlem). It's called De Valk, and you'll see it as you walk from the train station to the center of town; it's a landmark. €3 euros, closed Mondays. Open until 5pm other days.
There are frequent trains to Leiden from Utrecht, and I think the journey is about half an hour.
Rotterdam & KinderdijkRotterdam
Rotterdam is Europe's busiest port, and the city was bombed to smithereens in WWII. It rose from the ashes as a very modern, distinct city. Ugly? Maybe, sometimes. It's also a really interesting city with great nightlife and a big-time art museum.
The museum is called the Boijmans Van Beuningen, and some people like it better than anything in Amsterdam. It is huge, and it covers most of the genres of European art, through most of European art history. Take tram number 5 from Rotterdam's central station and get off at Eendrachstsplein. www.boijmans.rotterdam.nl Closed Mondays. Open until 5 other days.
There are direct trains from Utrecht to Rotterdam 2x per hour. It's a 40 minute ride.
Looking for an iconic Dutch scene? Head out to Kinderdijk, where you can see 19 windmills, all from one vantage point. There are 4km of trails that loop around the windmills and on Saturday afternoons, all 19 are in operation, creaking and spinning in the wind.
From Rotterdam's Lombardijen station (not the central station- you'll have to transfer), take bus 154. There is also a bus from Utrecht; inquire at the bus station.
Haarlem, Bloemendaal An Zee & KennemerduinenHaarlem
Haarlem is a beautiful old city west of Amsterdam. At its center is a very fancy square (Grote Markt) and the Grote Kirk Sint Bavo, a giant church with a huge Muller pipe organ. The organ has 5000 pipes, and both Handel and Mozart have played it. Nearer the train station (and on the way to the Grote Markt if you are following the signs), a well-restored windmill sits on a canalbank. Inside, for only 2 euros, someone will take you through the building, explaining how windmills work. At the end, you can watch a ten-minute video on windmills in Holland. Don't miss the video; it's hilariously dramatic. Someone had a lot of fun with visual and audio effects.
There are also two museums in Haarlem. The Teylers Museum (open Tues-Sat 10-5 & Sun 12-5) is the oldest museum in Holland and houses a hodgepodge of old inventions, art, fossils, minerals, etc. The other museum, the Frans Hals Museum, is an art museum showcasing 17th century "Haarlem school" art. It's on the Grote Markt.
To get there: There are direct trains from Utrecht. It's an hour-long journey, and passes through Amsterdam. The Grote Markt is .5 km south of the train station.
Combining trips: If you want to see the pipe organ in action (it's dreary, but interesting), there are free concerts every Tuesday night at 8:15. (Some guidebooks say there are concerts on Saturdays too, but that is no longer true). So, you could take the train into Amsterdam after class, see a museum, and then jump back on the train for another fifteen minutes, and have dinner in Haarlem, followed by the organ concert.
Or, you can combine Haarlem with Bloemendaal An Zee/Kenemerduinen. Just take the train to Haarlem, check it out, and then take bus 71 to the Bloemendaal An Zee.
Note: Haarlem is also the base from which people take buses to the famous Keukenhof Garden, the largest garden in the world. It's closed most of the year, including the whole summer. So don't waste your time going there, as I did!
Bloemendaal An Zee
Bloemendaal An Zee is one of many places to go to the beach. If you want a crowded beach, go to Zandvoort (bus 140 from Haarlem). If you want some space to yourself, take bus 71 from Haarlem's train station, and tell the driver you want to get off at Bloemendaal An Zee. (It's only a few km from town). When you get off the bus, you are right at the beach. There is a little store at the bus stop, for last minute sunscreen or snacks.
Kennemerduinen National Park
From the same bus stop, if you walk back the way the bus came for a few hundred yards, you will see a sign on the left for Kennemerduinen Nationaal Park (Parnassia entrance). This is a huge sand dunes reserve. The dunes are grassy and full of wildlife. There is a lake in the dunes called t'Wed, where you can swim, and another lake, called Vogelmeer, where you can watch birds. A WWII cemetery is roped off in the dunes (Erebegraafplaats Bloemendaal). Most of the trails are pedestrian only, but there is a main trail that allows bikes. You could rent a bike at the Haarlem train station and ride out to the dunes instead of taking the bus. It's only 3km. The tourist office in Haarlem offers maps.
Important note: There are signs, all over the park, warning that the ticks in the dunes are known to carry Lyme disease. You might consider wearing bug repellant with Deet, wearing long pants, or at least checking yourself carefully when you get back to the hotel.
AalsmeerHave cobblestone burn out? Tired of museums and medieval buildings? Check out Aalsmeer, for a bizarre experience. Europe's largest commercial complex, the flower auction complex in Aalsmeer is one million square meters and hosts the sale of over 90 million plants everyday. Mon-Fri, from 7:30 am-11am, you can watch the world's largest flower market in action. It's all done by Dutch auction (the price starts high and the first person to bid as it falls is the winner). Buyers come from all over the world, and make for excellent people-watching.
To get there: take bus 171 from Amsterdam's central station and get off at Aalsmeer VBA stop. The bus ride takes an hour, and there are several bus departures each hour. There might also be a bus directly from Utrecht; inquire at the bus office on Jaarsbeurplein, next to the train station.
AmsterdamThere are a great number of things to do Amsterdam, and the train ride is only 35 minutes from Utrecht.
The Big Sights - Just a Short List.
There is a huge renovation going on at the Rijksmuseum, slated to be finished in 2008. In the meantime, only about 200 paintings are on display. Many important works are unavailable, or scattered on loan to smaller museums around the country. What's on display is something of a "greatest hits" of the museum's permanent collection. And the smaller display makes the museum doable in two hours.
The temporary display includes Nightwatchers by Rembrandt. The painting is in a room by itself, and a light and sound show accompanies it. At first, the lightshow creates the optical illusion of day turning to night, and it spotlights different characters in the painting. Then at some point the lightshow gets weird, with digital rain falling on the indoor faces and thunder and dogs barking and musket shots and loud laughter.
Sorry, even though the exhibits are limited, the price isn't reduced and the lines aren't any shorter. Come early.
The Rijkmuseum is open everyday from 9am-6pm, and on Fridays it stays open until 10 pm, according to its website.
To get there: Across from the central train station, take tram 6, 7, 10 (get off at Spiegelgracht) or 2 or 5 (get off at Hobbemastr.) The Stedelijkmuseum is only a few blocks away from the Rijksmuseum, on the other side of the Van Gogh museum.
Van Gogh Museum
It's plain on the outside, but one of the best collections of Impressionist painting lies inside. Open 10am-6pm as of summer 2006, but check to be sure at the website.
Location: Next to Rijksmuseum, so follow the same directions.
A huge collection of Impressionist through Modernist art (Monet to Warhol).
The Stedelijk Museum is undergoing restoration at the same time as the Rijksmuseum. And while this project is underway, the Stedelijk's home building in the Museumplein is closed. Many of its works are still visible in a high-rise at Oosterdoksdijk 5. Supposedly, the museum's home location will be reopening sometime in 2007, so definitely check out the website before going.
Anne Frank's hiding place is also a great interpretive museum.
Open 9am-9pm; Anticipate extremely long lines. If you can't stand long lines, there is a new way to get around them: you can buy an evening ticket ahead of time. Stop by at any Amsterdam Tourist Office to buy one, and it will be good from 5pm-9pm, and will cost 50 cents more than the general 7.50€ admission fee. With this evening ticket in hand, you can bypass the line and save up to 2 hours.
More at the website.
To get there: You can take tram 13 or 17 or take bus 21, 170, 171 or 172, all of which depart from Central Station. Get off at Westermarkt. Turn right and walk along the Prinsegracht to the museum.
Important Note: They don't let you bring in backpacks, and they don't have a cloakroom either! They suggest you lock up your bags at the train station in a locker. You can bring a purse or small bag.
Sightseeing in UtrechtUtrecht Tourist Office:
The "VVV bureau" (tourist information office) has recently moved to Domplein 9 (the square by the Dom). It's usually open until 6, but closes at 5 on Saturday, 4 on Sunday, and 7 on Thursday. You can also reach them by email, or check out their website.
(Thanks to Elisa Van Oostrum for the information)
Utrecht's main landmark is the Domtoren, the tower of the Dom (Cathedral). The cathedral and the tower are split by a courtyard, but if you look carefully, you will see how the whole courtyard was once inside the church. Hurricane-strength winds destroyed the center portion. You'll learn that and more if you go on a tour, which allows you to climb the 465 steps to the top of Holland's tallest Cathedral tower. Go on a clear day and see far-away cities. €6, open until 5pm every day. Behind the church is a cute, small monastic garden.
The museum quarter hosts 14 museums, and some of them are normal enough: The Centraal Museum has applied arts exhibits (and a 12th century boat made out of mud).
But if you want to learn about:
There are also Utrecht museums about: Musical Instruments, Trains, De Stijl Architecture… ask at the tourist information center.
Flying Away for the Weekendwww.ryanair.com
The legendary budget airline flies to six destinations from Eindhoven airport. The service is often bad and the seats are unassigned, but the airfare is so low it is all worth it. I was able to go to Ireland for the weekend for €65 roundtrip including taxes, and Rome for €70.
Selecting your weekend destination based on the price of airfare? This website allows you to choose a departure and arrival date, a departure airport, and leave the destination open. The result is a list of budget fares to all different European destinations, including Eastern Europe. Sometimes, the cheap seats will be sold out when you click them, but often you can get very low fares.
Eindhoven is not a particularly convenient airport, but is home to many budget flights. You'll need to leave time to take a train to Eindhoven (there are direct trains from Utrecht Centraal Station to Eindhoven, more than once an hour). Then from Eindhoven's train station, the least expensive way to the airport is to take bus #401. It will cost about 3 euros, payable in change on board (pay the machine in the middle of the bus). The airport is 6 km from the city center. More info at the website
Long Distance Buses
Long distance bus tickets are available here. They also have an office in the Hoog Catharijne mall, past the train station on the right. Eurolines buses are cheaper than the trains for some trips. Sample ticket: Utrecht to Brussels, round trip, 25 euros, three hours each way.
BicyclesBicycles dominate Utrecht, and abundant bike paths make exploration of the city and the surrounding countryside easy. If you think you might use a bike more than a few times, it might be a good idea to buy one instead of rent one.
Used Bike Sales/ Bike Rentals
Wheels Tweeweilers Utrecht: Here is the deal at this store (as of summer 2006): if you buy a used bike that costs at least 60 euro, it is guaranteed while you are here (just bring it back for repairs) and when you leave you can return it for a half-price refund. Save your receipt! Oh, and of course, buy a heavy-duty bike lock while you are here (not returnable, about 25 euro). Or you could bring a bike lock from home? If you haven't already heard: bike theft is a national sport.
The bike store is on the same road the Amrath hotel is on, but the road changes names every block or so. At the hotel, it is called Vredenburg; at the bike store, it is called Nobelstraat. (This is the only big road bordering the Amrath, along the left side of the hotel if you are facing the front doors from outside- this is the same road you walk down to go to the JK building if you have classes there). From the hotel, turn right on this road. Take this road over the first canal (the Oudegracht) and almost to the bridge for the second big canal (the Stadsbuitengracht). It is on the right side of the road, at 3 Nobelstraat. You will pass another bike store on the way, but it sells only new bikes.
Another option is Het Fietspad, a bike store at 18 Weerdsingel WZ, which sells used bikes, and rents them too. To get to this store, turn left onto the same big street that runs along the hotel and follow it a long block to a large intersection with Catherijnebaan, and turn right. (Catherijnebaan doesn't stay one name either, it is alternately Rijnkade/Catherijnkade/Catherijnebaan ). Follow for .2 miles and make a slight right on Weerdsingel. Het Fietspad is less than 1/10 of a mile ahead, if you get to Kroonstraat, you have gone too far.
BusesBuses depart from the train station, and go both long distance and to local destinations that are beyond the reach of trains (see daytrip Kasteel De Haar, for example). In Utrecht, follow signs to "Jaarbeursplein" while in the mall/station complex Hoog Catharijne. For short distances, tickets can often be purchased on the bus itself. You can also buy a "strippenkaart", which has multiple segments (strips), each worth one zone. The driver will stamp the third segment to indicate that you have used up the first three strips, etc. Each strip is worth one "zone", so a short trip will take fewer strips. You can buy strippenkaarten at the post office or bus station. If you wait to pay on the bus, it is slightly more expensive.
Long distance buses
Long distance bus tickets are available here. They also have an office in the Hoog Catharijne mall, past the train station, and on the right. Friendly agents will help you make long-distance plans. Eurolines buses are cheaper than the trains for most trips. Sample ticket: Utrecht to Brussels, round trip, 25 euros, three hours each way. Eurolines goes to Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, even down to Morocco, though I am not sure how they manage the Strait of Gibraltar.
TrainsFortunately, the train station in Utrecht is the hub of the Dutch rail system. This means you will be able to take direct trains to many destinations, saving you a lot of time and headache. It also means the trains are frequent, and that the train schedule continues late into the night to some destinations. The ticket machines usually take only change or European credit cards, so you'll probably need to go wait in line in person. This also means you should buy a round trip ticket if you are planning to stay out late. (If they close the ticket booth at your destination, and you can't use the machines, how will you buy a ticket home?).
Train discount fares
Before you leave home, you could buy a Eurail National Pass online. The Holland National Eurail Pass is a good deal. For 49 Euros (if you are under 26, if you are older it's 15 euros more), you get to pick three different days of unlimited travel within Holland (you don't have to pick them ahead of time). If you go to Maastricht, or Groningen, or even places closer in, you will save a lot of money. One round trip to Maastricht is over 40 euros regular fare. It's also fun to be able to hop on different trains all day without going through the hassle of getting tickets.
Once in Holland, there are also special deals available at the ticket counter. Weekend passes are one such good deal, if you are traveling in a group. Three people, traveling together, can buy an unlimited travel pass good for the whole weekend, for about 80 euros. Of course, it's only valid in the Netherlands. There are other specials, just inquire at the ticket desk at the train station.
Stores close early in the Netherlands, like much of Northern Europe. Most stores are closed evenings and Sundays, but stay open late on Thursday nights (until 8 or 9 pm).
This is the huge mall attached to the train station. It's a great place to buy clothes. There is also a pharmacy in the mall, near the train station, and a grocery store (AH, right next to the train station) that's open late. Media Markt is in the mall, too.
Media Markt(in Hoog Catharijne)
A huge tech store, Media Markt can sell you more memory sticks for your digital camera, DVDs, music, and can develop your pictures at a reasonable price.
The post office (an interesting building inside) is down the road from the Amrath hotel. From the hotel door, turn right, and then a few steps later, turn right again onto the big street that borders the hotel (it has a changing name, but is called Vredenburg here). The post office is a large, brick building, and will be on the right just before you pass the "rabbit" statue. They also sell stationary and postcards.
Need hangers, storage bins, a corkscrew, silverware or a wine glass? Xenos is a very cheap store just across Vredenburg square. Head toward the entrance to the Hoog Catharijne, but don't enter. Turn left and follow along it on the outside past Blokker. Xenos is ahead on the right. Xenos also has two separate international food sections, where you can buy chips and salsa. The guacamole is a let down, and there are no avocados in the ingredients!
There is a door to Blokker right next to Xenos (see above) and another door from inside the Hoog Catharijne. Here you can buy a super cheap travel alarm clock, umbrella, power converter or power adapter.
Hema is on the Oudegracht and sells items similar to those available at Blokker or Xenos (dishes, umbrellas) but also includes some clothes and a small grocery section. From the hotel, walk down to the Oudegracht and turn right, Hema is a five minute walk, on the right side of the canal.
(Thanks to Gregory Venker for suggesting this store)
American and British Grocery Store
Like many small shops in Holland, this store closed down for all of July so that the owner could go on holiday. If open, the store carries American and English groceries, like fruit loops and devonshire cream. It's located on Steenweg, just before the little Royal Music Museum. (Steenweg is one of the main streets of the old town, off the Oudegracht).
This bookstore, at Stadhuisbrug 5, can be reached by walking to the Oudegracht from the Amrath Hotel/Vredenburg square, and turning right. It will be a 5 or 6 minute walk. It's on the right side of the canal. It has a wide selection of (expensive) English language books, including all the Lonely Planet guides. So if you book a last minute weekend in Prague, you can pick up the guide here.
Another bookstore further down the canal, De Slegte, (on the Oudegracht at 121) offers second hand English-language books.
Time to Surf Internet Café
You can access the internet at the library, or at this internet café, on the Oudegracht, across from the AH convenience store (where the Oudegracht meets the large street that runs along the hotel-the one with the changing name, that starts out with the name Vredenburg).
Plus supermarket: Hof van St. Jan 27
Albert Heijn supermarket: Voorstraat 38
AH to go: Oudegracht 85
AH in the train station (same as the "AH to go" by the hotel, but open late)
(Thanks to Elisa Van Oostrum for grocery info.)
There are restaurants all over the area. Because it is the city center, they tend to be expensive, particularly on the old canal itself. Wander a block or two off the canal to save a few euros. Indian or Indonesian restaurants seem to be more expensive, and Italian restaurants tend to be cheaper, but that might be my imagination. Gyros are kebabs are cheap from vendors. Sorry, this a short section for a large topic.
Milky's is in a narrow alley off Vredenburg square. Turn left from the Hotel Amrath door, and left again at the narrow alley. It's on the right side of the alley, half way to the Oudegracht. For about 12 euros, you can have a delicious lasagna or other vegetarian dish in a quiet, shady garden behind the restaurant.
A suggestion from Elisa Van Oostrum: "The department store called "V&D" located at Hoog Catharijne (shopping mall almost literally across your Amrath hotel) has a restaurant called "La Place" on the 4th floor opposite the children's clothes.
The La Place restaurant offers good food for a very good pricing for example, a pizza costs € 6, this weeks special mixed grill costs € 5,95. For every taste there's something (vegetarian, meat, fish, wok food). On top of that, you have a magnificent view over the city of Utrecht and they even have a terrace and a smoking and non-smoking section."
V&D and the restaurant La Place opening hours: open until 7pm Mon-Sat, except Thursday, when it is open until 9pm, and Saturday when it closes an hour early at 6pm.
Other Suggestions from Elisa
Wok to go (Chinese take out): Mariaplaats 10 € 10
Toko Mitra (Indonesian): Lange Viestraat 487 € 12
Loeff (pub searving meals): Loeff Berchmakerstraat 34 € 12
Bella Napoli: Voorstraat 94 € 13
De Chinese muur restaurant: Oudegracht 214-216: € 13
De Oude Muntkelder (pancakes): Oudegracht 112 € 14.50
If you are tired of spending money at the restaurants, you could consider creatively cooking in your room. The electric water-boiler in your room is provided for tea, but it also boils water for cup-of-soup or cup-of-rice dishes available at Xenos (see shopping section). Or you could buy quick-cooking noodles like gnocchi or tortellini at Xenos. If you boil the water, throw the noodles in, and boil it again, they should be cooked. You can place an unopened jar of sauce in the bathroom sink and fill the sink with hot water to warm the sauce. Add bread and wine and invite people over. Just clean it all up so the hotel staff don't get mad.
A note on Dutch culture (from my perspective as a half-Dutch/half-American person):
As a generalization, the Dutch are friendly, practical people. They tend to be direct when communicating, and value sincerity. Waitresses don't work for tips, employees are hard to fire, and hotel staff are used to being addressed as equals. It's just not a "the customer is always right" country. However, if you respectfully explain your situation, you will often find that the Dutch are very helpful problem-solvers.
To learn more about Dutch culture, consider reading, "What!?? Aspects of Dutch Culture That Can Cause Friction", by Marilyn Warman.
(Thanks to Professor Zwart for the suggestion.)
If you are staying at the Hotel Amrath, consider enrolling in the Best Western Gold Crown Club. As a member, the money you spend at the hotel translates to Gold Crown points. Rob and I were able to convert the points we generated staying at the Hotel Amrath into a $200 gift certificate to Barnes & Nobles (accepted at our campus book store). You can also spend points on gift certificates to other stores, such as Macy's and Target, or use them to get free nights at other Best Western hotels.
To enroll, ask for an application at the front desk of the Amrath. A membership card will come to your home address in the mail. You can then spend the points online. Membership is free.