|An Orange Excursion||
Well, sorry for the lack of Blog updates, but it has been quite the busy week. National Bier Proeflokaal Weekend (beer tasting at De Prael---6 out of 6, the Willecke is awesome), volunteering at a mid-level school teaching kids English (me..around kids...), and not too mention one exciting weekend around medieval Holland!!
Well where to start, I say the tour of Zutphen, Deventer, and Kampen. Small, medieval, and cities that say they could practically be in the same millenium as the death of Jesus. First was Zutphen, the pictures above, it was in central-eastern Holland, and was a major site for trading and fighting, as seen by the huge wall that cut through the middle of the town. We took a nice quite boat ride through their little stream/canal, and were almost decapitated many a times by low bridges. The perfect retiree spot, assisted living homes dotted the landscapes as we sailed down a Dutch waterway that had houses with watery backyards....not too mention a neat city square with a cool market, intriguing brewery, and a massive cathedral. Next, to Deventer!!!
Deventer, unlike Zuthpen, was not demolished during WWII and kept many of its medieval buildings. From the house of the Bishop of Utrecht circa 1100ish, to the main church with the founding well before 1000, to the hoome of the first and true Waalstraat Deventer was everything America is not----old. Because we went on a relatively gorgeous and lazy Saturday, people were at the restaurants, at the market, or in their homes, one could really feel get the sense of blacksmiths pounding out swords, wagons carrying goods, and people dumping their personal sewage into the streets, (of course their 21st century!). The image of the city, home of Erasmus, the biggest book market in Europe, and seriously rich off of Hanseatic traders early on is nicely blending the medieval importance of its roots with a very modern society (They had that therapy where those fish eat your dead skin off your feet---the is NEW AGE). After Deventer, it was a short overnight stop at one very smelly, loud, and hip hostel, and to Kampen, a city situated right on the Ketelmeer and had its own type of ship, the Kogge, and with a surly seaman to narrate the story of his town, and his ship, it made for one hell of an experience. All I can say is this, old guy with grizzled hands and a worn face who talks like he's choking on soup and starts his story with, "Now we must go back many years," yea, he was the town's designated story-teller, and if would of busted out a Stephen King novel I probably would of lost it. The man topped the cake.
(the black ship is Kogge) So, after this, the CIEE Americans came home, but all was not finished. Because their was football to be had. Me and a good friend, after partaking in some taste testing at De Prael wondered into the Red Light District for some sights, sounds, and another spot. Well, after many small alleys, scantly dressed females, and some guy asking me if I wanted "good stuff" (I cordially refused) we descended on a bar playing the Giants-Eagles game. Got a Duvel and sat back, thought the beer was overpriced, it was well worth watching good ol' 'Merican football.
There is one event however, that I had, until yesterday, deferred until the perfect locale with the most perfect cuisine was researched and selected. So, alas, my eerste pannekoeken belevenis happened. Yes, I lost my Dutch Pancake Virginity. The Pannekoeken Upstairs establishment was the one to have the joy of treating me. Ascending the extremely steep steps (80 degrees at least) and into the squeezed a space no bigger than my apartments living room with the threat of falling pots was worth it. Call it a, "trial of pancakes." Luckily 5 of us went, and 5 of us got different things, so obviously we shared, and obviously it was all delicious. Coconut, banana liquor, chocolate, cherries, cream, tomatoes, more bananas, cheese, and ham all celebrated this triumph of Dutch cuisine. Yes, with the ability to put almost anything on them, they are a nice substitute for the ingredient laden and syrup covered pancakes of America. A good weekend? I'd have to say een uitzonderlijk weekend full of traders, pancakes, water, and loads of colorful people and hostels. Prachtig!!!
Now, the "Green Lantern" has done me well. We triumphed over weather, bumps, and one partially flat tire, but alas, all is superb. On Friday, since I have no class, I decided, "lets go for a bike ride." Its much easier to get out of "town" by going about 5 minutes south of de Pijp, in fact, you get right up alongside the Amstel and take one of the most gorgeous, relaxing rides one can take. In fact, if I ever have lots of money, time, and the opportunity, I am moving here. This wonderful guy just pops out of nowhere when you round a corner:
As you get past this house/windmill, you get nothing but green pastures, sheep, fishermen, and the delicate smell of well fed cattle. Oh and mansion upon mansion upon mansion-farm. The dijk or that thing which holds back the water (which, contrary to popular belief is not some 'wall' or brick structure, but are actually some strategically placed dirt mounds) is literally some homes front yards. There is green everywhere, literally I cannot stress this enough, and I really felt that I had biked hours and hours to get to where I was, but I was not 3km from my apartment.
I think I am truly assimilated into A'dam culture. I now frequently swear at blatant tourists, and have rung my bike's bell more this week than I ever have. For some reason, the past week was " de week van domme toeristen ." I mean, not everyone can ride a bike fairly well, but at least don't look idiotic during the process. Anyways, my homestay mom recommended to head south, and luckily, once you get on the trail, its pretty much you, the road, and tons and tons of manure. The farther one goes, the more rewards you get, and with my habit of going and going, making lefts and rights and lefts again until I am satisfactorily lost, has its benefits, a.k.a Ouderkerk.
Ouderkerk is this quaint, truly Dutch village that makes one feel like you're in Holland. Everything felt homey, and best of all, the coffee looked super cheap. The people spoke slightly different from in Amsterdam, which seems to be the generic, English-bastardized version. These people are hardcore Dutch, and let me tell you, I wouldn't mind to join them. What felt like forever to get there (mainly because I was thoroughly enjoying the ride there) took about 30mins. So after perusing the small town of Ouderkerk and crossing one bridge about 5 times deciding what to do, I journeyed West to Amstelveen.
This town is a modern, upscale, and 21st century town. Skyscrapers, paved roads, and one enormous shopping plaza. it is a very nice foil to the home city of A'dam. Schipol Airport that hub of Europe, was a short 15 or so kms away, and Haarlem was only 35km, but alas, I had dinner waiting and a very quickly coming thunderstorm the looked quite ominous. So, I found my way back quickly, still enjoying the wonderful way back, and decided that since this country is so compact, I'll have to fill up the Nalgene, pop in the Zune, pick a destination, and take some twists and turns to get there.
Amsterdam, apart from being very easy to get around in, and generally very crammed, its people love open markets. From Nieuwmarkt (organic produce) to the Waterlooplein Markt (anything and everything....some seemingly very expensive items for very cheap....stolen? maybe, but who's asking right?) to the all "goedkoep" Dappermarkt, where one can buy an entire package of toilet paper for an Euro, Amsterdammers love markets. And, as it happens to go, I too, enjoy their outside colorfulness. So below you can get a picturesque taste of the markets, and I'll explain below that!
Well here is my favorite, not only because of its closeness (a few blocks) but because it has a nice mix of everything. You go in one way with a veggie and patat fritas stall and end with a slipper and watch stand. The great thing is, the road closes, and often times the stands are different from the normal stores that line Albert Cuypstraat. I love just going out on a sunny (rare) day and taking a gander at what is there. The produce is awesome, and nothing beats the cheese stands (which are enormously cheaper than a store). This is where I first had poffertjes, which are half-dollar sized, mini pancakes that are served covered in powder sugar, then given with a nice slice of butter. Yes, pure, unadulterated butter, definitely not FDA allowed in America. On this one "straat" one can literally find a full course meal. From dried fruits, to nuts, to freshly (and in some cases) still alive seafood. Apparently, if one goes out in an Adidas track suit, you fit in quite well here, as one day, I was shopping for portobello mushroom and potatoes when all I heard was, "meneer, pardon meneer." Of course I looked up, and a bulbous, very well dressed man was talking to me in Nederlands with an extremely French accent. I gave that, "What? Huh? I can't quite hear you look" and eventually just said, "Sorry meneer, Ik begrijp u niet. Ik spreek slechts een beetje Nederlands." That was that, I guess I've assimilated well.
(To the side was a delicious "Wally's Waffle" of dark chocolate and coconut that I had just-so-happened to pass on Albert Cuypmarkt). The second favorite markt by far is De Bloemenmarkt. Now, I am not one for flowers, nee, I think of them as a waste of time, they provide no real sustenance, and thus, we men should give our partners either fruit or veggies when we see them, because you can actually live off that, as opposed to flowers, which you will eventually forget to water and will die. But, I digress, De Bloemenmarkt is "zeer leuk." The flowers stand are very colorful and smell like any good candle store. From flowers to go, to sprouts to try and smuggle through customs, they sellall sorts of decorative organics (and smokeable ones as well, but you actually have to grow them yourselves, or just go to any readily available Coffeeshop).
De Bloemenmarkt is right on Singel Centrum, the beginning of the really touristy, action packed area of downtown Amsterdam. On this street are plenty of tourist gift shops, 2 sample-friendly cheese cellars (with the girls in Dutch outfits to boot) and a pancake restaurant that I need to get to. I always walk through when I go by, because the stalls will change, there is no quota to cheese sampling, and I generally think this area is a great time to feel like I'm above those around me (because I actually have a residence card, unlike those tourists.....).
I think one of the hallmarks of this town is its ability to pack all these markets into an area already overflowing with everything else. De markten have unique times, some open on Sun and Mon only, to some only being open until 1pm. They are all unique in what they have to offer, and all are unique in their placement and clientele. But, random "fests" that sprout up from nowhere are what get me. On Saturday, on my way to Unlimited Delicious (again--tried the Appletaart--American apple pie has nothing on the Dutch version). I stumbled upon a food festival on Haarlemmerstraat which had everything from Dutch fried goods, to an American BBQ, to probably the freshest, most awesome looking bread ever, to say the least I was tempted. If I was not going to Unlimited Delicious I would of splurged, but just bought a Kroket (a fried mix on mashed potatoes and non-used meat products) and took in the smells and sunny day. Random fests, free cheese, and the daily selling of goods, sounds pretty Dutch to me. Their trading empire may have dissolved in the early 1700s, but they are definitely still trading gods on the streets.
Away from the traffic, the random musicians, crazy museums, and countless pastry places that I have oh so frequented, my American group decided to go to the "farm country" side of The Netherlands, technically "Holland," as it was below the dikes, and therefore, "reclaimed land." Welcome to the world of Polderville (to see what a polder is, refer to 1st blog post....aka--reclaimed land via the building up of dikes and such).
My group took a wonderful trip up the IJsselmeer (a totally man-made "lake" in the middle of The Netherlands and completely kept as fresh water too!) to the tiny town of Medemblik. Interestingly enough, the entire area had to be reclaimed from the sea, so the dike that you see to the left was at one time completely submerged. The Dutch eventually used those iconic windmills to go right ahead and show that water who was boss, and thus reclaimed all the land, called polders. Now, it is some of the greenest, most fertile land on the planet, and trust me, with the amount of cows, sheep, goats, and horses roaming around, the stuff they are eating is first-class. The entire city (if you want to call it that) was very quiet, far from the craziness that is Amsterdam. The houses were in the traditional Dutch size--small, but could actually have yards....prime pieces of real estate if you'd like to see green grass on your property.
The quaintness and quietness isn't all that comes out of Medemblik. Apparently at one time, it was supposed to be a big time harbor for Napoleon's Navy, so they built this big harbor, built all these buildings, but got stood up on the date alone, thus ending the night and ruining prom. Actually, the citizens changed the harbor into a world-class yacht playground and the old navy houses into fantastic low income housing. On our way back, we took a steam train ride to a bustling town of Hoorn, and were feed copious amounts of cheese, bread, meat, bread, bread, and super-dense bread (a true Dutch meal). All-in-all, a very nice day to feel really Dutch and to see the stark contrast to the city I am living in.
Now comes a part that I may have to later devote an entire post to, and that would be food, but more specifically, PASTRIES. I love dessert, yes, I at times like it too much, but life is short, and what will one more bitterballen (not a dessert, but anyone here will understand) really do to my lower intestine??? Any-hoo, I need to say that the Dutch stroopwafel,(pronounced Str[long 'o']p-vafel people!) a cheerful mix of caramel-honey goodness smashed between two piselle looking wafers is "de lekkerste ding'' that one must try immediately upon getting on Dutch soil. Cover it in Nutella and you may cease to exist. By far, my favorite bakery is called Lanskroon on Spui (pronounced Spow) and Singel. Its cheap, cozy, and full of wafel-like delicacies. Personally the Hopjeswafels (above) were very good, which was two thin vanilla wafers with a caramel-coffee stroop in the middle. Of course, they have many others, and let me say, their chocolate covered nougat truffles are worth the .80 Euro!!!
There is something about dark-chocolate flavored vanilla pudding and milk chocolate mousse that should probably be illegal. But, seeing that this is Amsterdam, the crazier it is, the more likely it is to be in a store. If one wants a good way to take an hour to down a dessert, please go to Unlimited Delicious, and please, try not to order a whole taart, as tempting as it is, one of the little guys will do quite as well!!
So, there it is. Reclaimed Noordzee water and pastry delights, can't get much better than that. The fact that one can be in total farm country with a 20 minute bus ride north is truly stunning. And to think that it all fits on a map the size of my home state is equally as awesome. Cows and trams; chocolate and cheese; old and new; sea and dry land; it about sums up this country. They like to have one thing, but never the other side too far away. All one has to do is walk around to Oude Kerk to see what I mean. (Let's just say that the notorious Red Light District begins practically on church property, but they were Calvinists, so really what is to hide right?).