Tiptoe through the tulips

What a perfect time to be in Holland. Our first stop on the bike tour was Keukenhof. The huge gardens have over 79 acres of tulips. It is a showcase for bulb growers, and this year there were more than 7 million bulbs and 800 varieties of tulips growing. I just couldn’t quit taking photos.

In the Juliana Pavilion there was an orchid show. Absolutely breathtaking. The theme clearly was fashion.

Bike to eat!

I love trying foods from the places I visit. And after biking during the day I figured I burned a few calories. Now, if I had cut back on the beer and wine I probably would have lost weight….but, it was vacation.

I had a list before I started: bitterballen, stroopwafel, kibbeling, fries, herring, oliebollen, stamppot, licorice, snert, kroket, poffertjes, and rockwurst.

I missed the oliebollen, but maybe best to avoid deep-fried dough. The Dutch pea soup, snert, seems to be more of a winter dish. And though I saw stamppot, a traditional Dutch dish made from a combination of potatoes mashed with one or several other vegetables, on the menu I had to opt for the seasonal asparagus soup.

The asparagus in Holland is white and very-prized. When it is in season, it is on everyone’s menu.  I sampled soup in three places. They were all good and very different.

A very good blog that shows how this vegetable is grown underground can be found at:

http://crazydutchfoodie.blogspot.com/2013/05/they-are-back-dutch-white-asparagus.html

Cheryl, one of my dinner companions in Antwerp, tried the asparagus with eggs and greens. So glad we shared tastes! I had pork cheeks in dark beer with chicory. Yummo.

Smoked salmon, herring with onions and olive-wrapped with anchovies, and kibbeling (battered chunks of deep-fried fish, commonly served with a mayonnaise-based garlic or tartar sauce) were some of my fish samplings.

This poor guy missed his calling.

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The bitterballen were scrumptious. We sampled them at the American Cafe in Amsterdam. The cafe is a wonderful example of art deco design.

So many of the European markets are feasts for the eyes and the stomachs. It was in the Albert Cuyp Market that I tasted my first stroopwafel. Hot off the griddle, one warm stroopwafel is covered with syrup and then topped with another. Very sweet, but yummy.

We had delicious coffee on the barge and often stopped for a coffee break while biking. How nice that coffee was always served with a small treat.

One stop was for the “best ever hot chocolate.” It was served with chocolate chips that you whisked into hot milk.

Of course, no trip to Holland would be complete without cheese.

And of course beer, sometimes from Delft taps.

The food on the Merlijn was excellent! Such a variety:  fish, lasagna, beef stew! On the last night we were in Ghent we were served a delicious soup that I think is called waterzooi. The soup originated in Ghent. It was originally made with fish, but when the waters around Ghent became polluted, the dish was made with chicken. Delicious! Thanks Jantien!

And last, but not least…a delicious Belgium waffle. The sugar was baked into the crust. OMG. So good!img_4823

Nights on the Towns

Each night, after a day of biking and a lovely dinner, a night walk with our biking guide, Felix, was offered.  Not only did we get a chance to see the architecture and landmarks of the area, but we often stopped to try the local beers. Win/win.

Day 1: Haarlem

Behind the beautiful wrought iron gate is a beautiful garden. This is the Hofje van Oorschot, founded in 1768. A hofje is a Dutch word for courtyard with almshouses around it.  They provided homes for mostly elderly women. Usually a wall hid the garden, but there was a city official that lived across the street that wanted a beautiful garden to be enclosed by a fence. They eventually got their way. Hmm. Go figure.

Day 2: Leiden

Leiden is the City of Keys. You see the motif everywhere. The gates lead to Burcht van Leiden (The Castle of Leiden.) The views of the city, the town hall and Hooglandse Kerk are spectacular.

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We arrived img_4283late in the day and the “gatekeeper” locked up as we left. We jested that he must have the keys to the city as he locked up. He jokingly answered by holding up the keys.

 

 

 

 

Wonderful night views.

One of the favorite parts of the night for my retired literature teacher friend Jan was the e. e. cummings on the wall of a building. Other poems graced the walls of the city.img_4286

Day 4: Antwerp

Rain, rain go away. Don’t come back another day. I braved the rain with Cheryl and Linda to go to the heart of old Antwerp for dinner. Luckily, the next day we had the morning in Antwerp and Jantien treated us to a tram tour of the city. (More about Antwerp in another post.)

Day 5: Dendermonde

One of the most interesting stories of the trip was that of the great horse of Dendermonde.

Every ten years the almost five meter tall horse is carried by people through the town. Astride the horse are four brothers wearing full armor. The story is based on The Four Sons of Aymon. The Dutch version of the story can be read here:

The Four Sons of Aymon-Dutch version

On the way back to the Merlijn we stopped to admire a poster about the celebration. A fellow walked out the tavern to his bike locked near the poster. Seeing us discussing the sign, he stopped to talk to us. He has been chosen to carry the horse during three different processions and was delighted in our interest. We were surprised to hear that in order to be one of the horse’s riders the boys must:

  • be four consecutive brothers, without a girl in between.
  • They all have to be born in Dendermonde.
  • The parents and grandparents have to be born in Dendermonde.
  • They have to be between 7 and 21 years old on the day of the procession.
  • They have to live in Dendermonde or one of its suburbs.

We asked the fellow if the town was having trouble finding a family that met the criteria. “It is a problem,” he told us.

Day 6: Ghent

No city surprised me more than Ghent. Breathtaking!  Jantien arranged for all of us to go on a canal boat ride through Ghent. The architecture is amazing. A university town with lots of young people and an active night life. And the green spaces, sheep are used to mow them!

A stop for Jenever tasting.

And always room for local beer…yes, it is 11% alcohol!img_4722

Day 7: Bruges

Last, but not least, was our stop in Bruges.

Another beautiful city. ….and the chocolate!

Merlijn…limousine on the water

After three days in Amsterdam, our group of six women walked down to the pier where our home for the next seven days was docked…the Merlijn.  What a beautiful, comfortable barge.

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We were met by our hosts Henk and Jantien and shown our rooms. By the end of the trip I felt like I had a new family. Henk, Jantien and the staff Felix, Lidia and Bernard were so welcoming it was a wonderful home away from home.

While we sailed for Haarlem, we had a welcome toast and orientation, enjoyed the views, had a lovely dinner.

After a glimpse of the next day’s agenda, we headed out for a night walk.

The pattern was set. Bicycle during the day while the Merlijn sailed to meet us. Relax, dine, hear about the plans for the following day, and enjoy an evening stroll. Check out the “A night on the town” post.

 

 

 

Make new friends and keep the old…

Bicycle and barge. The Netherlands. What to expect?

I knew when I started out on this adventure that I would have fun. But I could not have anticipated how much I would love the trip. I knew four of the women that would be my travel partners. What I didn’t realize was that I would make so many new friends and enjoy their company so much!

(Hover over the photo for captions.)

 

 

“A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke.” ~ Scott Stoll

If the circumference of the Earth is 24,900 miles and you rode every day, you would circle the Earth in 13.65 years. So, just how many times does the average Hollander do just that?

Bicycles. They are everywhere you look in the Netherlands. The parking lots for bicycles are larger than some car lots in the United States.

Adults, teenagers, children and babies travel via bicycles.

The bike paths are amazing!

Have to go down a flight of stairs? No problem. Bike rails make it easy.

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And bikes are not just for transportation.

Oh, to be able to travel this well at home!

You aren’t much if you aren’t Dutch

At least that’s what the guy stamping our passport said…in jest I think.  We cleared customs easily despite some of us lacking a Dutch heritage and headed out for Zaandam, a “suburb” of Amsterdam. You have to love European transportation. A short train ride and we were there (except that one    change when we got on the wrong train.) Our home away from home. 

 

A typical Dutch home, three stories with very steep stairs. 

 

Jet lag overtook me, and despite my plan to stay awake I hit the bed and passed out for a couple hours. Thinking that would do it, I felt ready to join the group and head out to meet Jan’s Dutch relatives.  

 

They treated us to a delicious dinner with all the Heineken we could drink. Cousin Annie’s husband worked at the Heineken plant.

   

Next stop Amsterdam. 

You can’t go to Amsterdam without trying the fries. Mannekin Pis has fries with a gazillion toppings. I chose the traditional mayonnaise (though I did choose light). 

 

  
 All aboard! Wine, cheese and water. An beautiful evening cruise down the canal. 

       

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”*

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this he was surely not sitting in an airplane. Because seriously, after a few hours on a plane IT IS ALL ABOUT THE DESTINATION! I love traveling, but I hate flying.  It is impossible to get into a comfortable sleeping position. And I have tried.

The basic head up against the wall position…

 

The feet on the tray table position …

 

The head against the back of the seat position… 

 

Jan tried the head on the tray position… 

But none of us slept. 

*Emerson is often credited with the quotation, but I couldn’t verify it for sure.