Tag Archives: Netherlands

It’s good to be in Gouda

On Thursday mornings in the warmer months, visitors can step back in time to observe the Gouda Cheese Market as it would have appeared at its inception in 1395. Ginny and I did just that on our visit to the Netherlands last month – along with a boatload of other people happily milling around Gouda’s historic town square on a sunny May morning.

Ginny and me in Gouda

Ginny and Kate with a big cheese.

I’m not going to call it a mob scene but suffice to say that there was a very healthy turnout of tourists that fine day.

The market starts early with horse-drawn carriages delivering big wheels of cheese to display in front of the Het Stadhuis van Gouda, or City Hall. Cheerful red shutters doll up this otherwise-staid Gothic structure that opened for business in 1450. It’s situated right in the center of a huge plaza ringed by old buildings hosting shops, restaurants, and other businesses, as well as the magnificent Sint Janskerk church and the Waag (weigh house), which is now a small cheese museum.

Gouda cheese

Other people enjoying big cheese.

People in costume perform an old hand clapping ritual that was once used to confirm a sale between a farmer and trader. Dutch girls and farmers in wooden shoes are friendly and selfies are welcome. Super cute, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way.

In addition to the reenactment of the cheese market, other folks in costume were demonstrating how cheese was made. Market stalls selling cheese (naturally), tchotchkes, souvenirs, etc., circled the outer edge of the plaza. A broad walkway between the market stalls and the permanent buildings allowed visitors to comfortably explore the entire area.

StroopwafelAfter loading up on cheese, we stopped in several shops and were especially glad that someone had recommended we try stroopwafels. Stroopwafels are a very thin, crispy, spicy waffle cookie sandwiched with caramel (our favorite) or a gooey syrup (also tasty). I think that if I found a recipe, I could make the waffles on the iron I use every Christmas to make my favorite Italian cookies, pizzelles. Maybe melt caramel squares to make the filling? We’ll see. Ginny brought some back to give as gifts and her friend Janeen loved them so much, she immediately ordered more on Amazon. My mother gave a thumbs up, too.

Eventually Ginny and I decided to take a break from a big morning of buying cheese and cookies and enjoy a coffee at one of the outdoor cafes before leaving Gouda for our next adventure (or a nap; I forget). A little oom-pa-pa band strolled past while we people-watched and enjoyed the sunshine and cappuccino.

Evil Kneivel

Don’t try this, or speak Dutch, at home.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you (my English-speaking friends) that we’ve all been saying “Gouda” wrong. It’s not GOO-dah. It’s more like HOW-dah. But try to work up some phlegm in the back of your throat so you can almost hawk up that “how” and you’ll be close to the Dutch pronunciation.

It’s interesting to me that any attempt on my part to reproduce the sound of a Dutch word is vaguely disgusting, and yet, the language is charming enough when spoken by the Dutch themselves. It’s like Evil Knievel having the ability to leap across twenty pickup trucks on his motorcycle but knowing you really shouldn’t try it yourself. If you are not Dutch, don’t try to speak Dutch. You’ll sound like a child molester or something.

Anyway. That’s my take on Gouda. Highly recommend a visit. Keep calling it GOO-dah, though.

 

It’s not all about the food – part one

Peach cobbler in Atlanta? Crab cakes in Baltimore? How about pizza in Naples, or sushi in Tokyo?

High-minded folks may tell you that travel is not about the food. I love to travel. And I agree. There is so much more to travel than the different kinds of foods you can find around the world.

But travel’s not not about the food, either.

If you’re not slathering French Camembert on a fragrant baguette in Lyon, or slurping fresh-cut Hawaiian pineapple at a beach resort on Maui, you’re missing a delightful piece of the travel pie:  Food. And it occurred to me that remembering our experiences relative to the food we ate might be a fun way to tell you about our trip to Belgium and The Netherlands with my buddy, Ginny.

Grand Place Brussels

The Grand Place, Brussels

It started in Brussels . . . .

I can’t sleep on an overnight flight. I just can’t. Turns out Ginny couldn’t, either. So by the time we landed in Brussels on Saturday morning (and after standing in line for forty minutes to go through immigration at the airport), we were beyond tired. Fortunately, our room at the Park Inn by Radisson near the Brussels airport was ready when we arrived (nice room, reasonable cost, great staff – definitely recommend). After collapsing for nearly a four-hour nap, we roused ourselves to walk to the local train station and, after deciphering how to actually buy tickets, rode to the center of Brussels to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Late afternoon in the center of Brussels is – magical. There were people everywhere, and honestly, they mostly looked like locals. Families strolled along eating ice cream cones, and friends enjoyed a beer and conversation sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at the many tables perched outside cafes in the city Centrum. Street musicians played upbeat tunes and shoppers clustered around little tented booths checking out handcrafted jewelry, jars of honey and jam, candles, etc.

We were starving and walked into the closest restaurant, the Brussels Grill. I later learned on line that this is kind of a small chain of steak houses in the area, but I’m pretty sure that the restaurant where we ate was on the rue marché aux Herbes near the city’s magnificent Grand Place.

dinner in BrusselsChain or not, that first dinner turned out to be the very best meal of our entire trip. Belgium is famous for its mussels (moules) and French fries (frites), and that’s what Ginny chose. Her order was perfectly cooked in white wine and Ginny said they were the best mussels she’d ever eaten.

I ordered the steak-frites (a ribeye with French fries) and it, too, was fabulous. The steak was juicy and tender, and the fries were an unlikely combination of being fluffy, but very crisp. I know we were really, really hungry, but seriously? If you find yourself looking for a place to eat in Brussels, the Brussels Grill won’t disappoint. Ginny also ordered a beer that she loved, but sadly, we were too jet-lagged to remember to take a picture of the bottle so she could find it again.

The second fabulous food moment in Belgium took place on the last day of our trip in the tiny village of Sint-Katelijne-Waver.

Our European adventure was nearly over and I’d yet to try a genuine Belgian waffle. I’d promised myself that I couldn’t leave without fulfilling that particular foodie dream.

You may be wondering how we ended up in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. I’m pretty sure the residents wondered the same thing, especially after Ginny entered a roundabout going the wrong direction and had to back out of the town square while traffic patiently waited for us to correct our path.

Allow me back up the story just a bit, too . . .

That morning we had packed the car and closed up the Airbnb house we’d rented in Dordrecht, Netherlands. We planned to stop in Antwerp to see the sites before dropping off the rental car and returning to the Park Inn for our last night in Belgium. By then we’d actually gotten pretty good at driving (Ginny – what a pro!) and navigating (me – interpreting the GPS as needed) in The Netherlands. But as we left Holland and approached Antwerp, the traffic became very heavy and progress slowed to a turtle’s pace. Prudence, our GPS, kept suggesting alternate routes and we finally agreed to follow her advice.

We exited the Antwerp ring road to find ourselves immersed in what I’m calling the Bagdad of Antwerp. In addition to pedestrians darting everywhere wearing burkas, head scarves, and assorted caps and turbans, there was construction, buses pulling in and out from the curb, a trolley and tracks running down the middle of the street, and oh, yeah, cars everywhere. There was nothing that felt threatening or uncomfortable about the location; it was just unexpected. At one point we waited for a woman wearing a hijab to park her tiny car in a space roughly the size of the love seat in my living room. I had to lean out the window and give her a thumbs up (I hope that’s understood universally) as we passed around her. I was impressed.

By this time Ginny had been battling this urban free-for-all for about twenty minutes. I turned to her and said, “So, do you still want to search for the center of Antwerp or would you like to explore the countryside?”

With Ginny’s relieved endorsement for Plan B, I quickly gave Prudence a new destination somewhere between Antwerp and the airport and we escaped from the city without incident. When we saw signs for Sint Katelijne, it kind of looked like my full name, Kathleen, so we decided to follow the signs to that sweet little village.

waffleThere we walked around the quiet square and randomly chose to stop for lunch at the Ice Cream Parlor De Joppe. The courtly French-speaking gentleman who directed us to our table outside in the sunshine turned out to be the owner of the restaurant. When I explained that I was soon to leave Belgium but had yet to sample a waffle, he convinced his wife to heat up the waffle iron (there was something I didn’t quite understand about the weather being too warm for waffles) and soon was served a gorgeous, crispy, golden waffle topped with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream. It tasted even better than it looks in the photo.

Stay tuned for more stories about food and fun in the Netherlands. I’d try to say goodbye in Dutch, but after more than a week there, the language remained pretty much incomprehensible to us. Dutch makes German look easy and sound melodious. Think about that for a sec.

As my friend Sue would say, a tout a l’heure!

Dreaming of chocolate and cheese

And waffles. Big honking Belgian waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream.

house-hunters-international-drinking-game

Okay, so I remember the show that this woman was on! This comes from Helene’s blog, www.heleneinbetween.com. (Helene added the drinking game element – which cracks me up.)

As you know, I am a House Hunters International junkie. I’m flying with my buddy Ginny to Brussels this weekend, so I was excited to find an episode in my cache of recorded shows about a young family searching for a home in Belgium’s capital city.

(I automatically record every episode of this program so I can vicariously experience looking for a place to live in Amsterdam or Puerto Vallarta or whatever exotic location appeals to me at the moment.)

My son says I’m delusional. I don’t care.

So, on this show the husband and wife took a little break from inspecting houses and apartments to stroll up to a waffle truck in Brussels. These plate-sized confections look too amazing to simply be called waffles. It looked like the husband may have ordered his with chocolate or Nutella drizzled under the fluffy mound of cream. Whatever the topping, you can bet that I will be gobbling down one of my very own on Saturday afternoon. I also plan to taste-test a few of the Belgian chocolates on display in shops of acclaimed local chocolatiers. Perhaps we’ll finish the day in a cafe sampling pommes frites and a light Belgian ale. It’s a good thing we’ll be doing lots of walking that day.

On Sunday Ginny and I will pick up our rental car and drive to the Airbnb apartment we’re renting in Dordrecht.  Located about halfway between Brussels and Amsterdam (roughly an hour’s drive in either direction), Dordrecht claims to be the oldest city in the Netherlands and will be our home base while exploring a bit of both beautiful countries.

We have requested a GPS in the car to help us get around. I am hoping that it won’t yell at us in Dutch or German.

Holland and Belgium 229

This is how they treat an order for a cup of coffee in Middleburg, Netherlands. So pretty, right?

Next Thursday we’re going to drive to Gouda for the weekly cheese market. Look for photos of that when we get back, for sure. I hope at some point we’ll also find a place to enjoy poffertjes – puffy little Dutch pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar and a choice of other toppings. Missed that the last time I was in Amsterdam with my friend, Sue.

Now that I’ve gotten the food porn out of my system, in truth, there are so many fascinating places to see in these lowland countries. My first river cruise years ago (try Viking’s Tulip Time cruise – fabulous!) took us to many of the places I want to visit again next week – Antwerp, Bruges, Holland’s Keukenhopf Gardens, Delft, charming Gouda, etc. A great thing about these compact countries is that the area is so small, it’s easy to jump in the car and explore many places without having to drive for hours.

Holland and Belgium 297

I didn’t know so many varieties of tulips even existed before visiting the amazing Keukenhopf Gardens in 2009.

When you go on vacation, do you like to experience a new destination each time? Or do you most enjoy returning to one treasured spot year after year? The argument for either choice is impossible to refute. It seems to me, in a perfect world with plenty of time and money, at least two vacations a year might fit the bill. Perhaps a week every summer at your favorite beach retreat, plus a spring or fall exploration of new territory. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I’m looking forward to enjoying a combination of old and new places in the days ahead. Best of all, I’ll be sharing this time laughing and creating memories with a dear friend.

On another note . . .

looking for Chris

My killer dogs, guarding the door.

I would not necessarily recommend announcing travel plans online before you go on vacation.  I feel safe doing so today because in my case, the house will be occupied with some big, burly people I’ve hired to dog-sit The Boys. Not only are the sitters armed and certified in numerous martial arts, but they will be training Mick and Rich to take down intruders and bite them until they cry for their mothers. Fair warning.

If you are still contemplating burgling my home, I’ll just tell you now that the reward will not match the risk. I don’t have nice jewelry or cash hidden anywhere. My TV is big-ish, but you can get the same one new in Walmart for less than $400 these days. The laptop needs to be replaced soon and isn’t even an apple. But if you take my dogs, I will hunt you down and kill you with my bare hands. Again – fair warning.

So, bye for now – see you when I get home.