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Archive for the ‘Holland’ Category

Is it just me or does time seem to pass really fast these days? It has already been 2 weeks since I met up with Loraine and Armand from The Hungry-Trotting Couple! I was back in Amsterdam recently and the loving couple brought me out to Valkenburg, a little hill town built around the only elevated ruined castle in the Netherlands.

On the walk to the town centre, we saw an interesting outdoor chapel that’s an exact replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France. To be in such a peaceful place on a beautiful day is a blessing =)

The main reason why Loraine and I wanted to come here is for the famous Christmas market, which takes place at the Fluweelengrot (Velvet Caves) underneath the town. Even before entering the cave, the festive atmosphere was awesome!

With like-minded foodies around, eating is a must! Lots of people were queuing in front of a stand selling German food so that’s a good sign. The button mushrooms were yummy and I particularly love the Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancake, somewhat like the Swiss rösti), best served hot with applesauce in the cold weather!

Happy with a full tummy, it’s shopping time! The Christmas market is like a huge labyrinth and plays host to a large variety of stalls selling everything from clothes and beauty products to sweets and Christmas decorations. And cuz it’s rather touristy, it’s inevitable that some things are obviously overpriced and look suspiciously ‘made in China’!

P.S. Spot Loraine and I at the candy store! Haha.

Love how the whole cave is lit up with twinkling lights!

For me, the highlight of the place took place at Lunchroom F.H. Botterweck. Ever since I read HungryTrotters’ mouth-watering post on vlaai, I’ve been wanting to try it and Loraine being Loraine, she did the research and brought us here =)

Omg, how I wish there’s vlaai in Singapore! Cuz these spongy fruity pies are sooooooo GOOD. Better than good. The super tart mixed berries vlaai with a flaky base is my favourite; cherry vlaai has a softer crust and is no less delectable; while the rice pudding vlaai is surprisingly ambrosial with a rich custard-like filling. Mmmm~ Did I mention how delicious they are??

Grotestraat Centrum 51

Then we were off to Maastricht, the city where Armand grew up. Although it was only slightly after 5pm, the sky had already grown dark. Oh, the joy of winter -__- Most of the shops were closed and the city was quite quiet. We walked to the churches and I like how pretty the Church of Our Lady is, with turrets and fortress-like walls, and the hanging lights outside give a magical feel to the place.

Dinner was a quick fill-me-up affair before the 2 hours’ drive back to Utrecht where I had to catch a train back to Amsterdam. Armand brought us to a sandwich deli that’s been around since his youth days. Simple and satisfying, that’s my open-faced salmon salad on a long crusty baguette. And I’m amused that there’s no lettuce/tomato (the quintessential sandwich filling) on it!

It was fun spending the day with such great company. They are the reason why I can’t wait to go back. See you soon, Loraine and Armand! =)

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Holland: Beyond Amsterdam

My first impression of Amsterdam is that it’s way too dirty. Bags of trash lined the streets and the floors were littered with rubbish. I was really puzzled cuz I’ve always thought that Holland is a very clean country. While writing this post, I googled and found out that garbage collectors went on strike while I was there! No wonder -__-

And since it was so dirty, we tried to spend as little time as possible in the city. We made the obligatory stops at the Dam along Damrak, Koninklijk Huis (Royal Palace), Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), and the famous Red Light District. The RLD wasn’t as scandalous as I thought it would be. It’s just like going to a swimming pool with many ladies dressed scantily in bikini. Behind windows, that is.

Anne Frank wrote her story in a world-famous diary and long lines of visitors (I wasn’t one of them) wait daily to pay a visit to her house. The exterior of her house looks so… Modern and normal. I guess I was expecting something more special, haha.

Bloemenmarkt, the only floating flower market in the world, is quite an eye-opener. The flower stalls stand on the houseboats and there’s all sorts of tulips, narcissus,  geraniums etc. There’s so many varieties that I think there’s no flower that cannot be found there!

Besides fresh flowers, there’s also lots of bulbs on sale. Amazing how these ugly bulbs can be nurtured into beautiful flowers! And I saw some venus fly traps (bottom right), the carnivorous plant we learnt during science lessons in primary school~

Random photos: an adorable kid (I think Dutch children are super cute cuz of their rosy cheeks!) wearing clogs that’s almost as big as him; and an elderly gentleman putting on the finishing touches to his painting on the square outside the church, Westerkerk.

Albert Cuyp Market is touted as Amsterdam’s busiest and most famous day market. Personally, I think it’s not as bustling or as colourful as the markets in London and Paris. Research told me that there’s a man selling delicious stroopwafels there but alas, I couldn’t find him =(

And that’s about all that we saw in Amsterdam. The rest of the time was spent outside the city where it’s definitely cleaner and more pleasant.

My favourite Holland experience after Keukenhof is Kinderdijk, one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the place with the most windmills in the world. It’s not near to Amsterdam; we had to take a train to Rotterdam and then a bus to the Dutch village. The whole journey to and from took about 5 hours but it’s totally worth the trouble cuz the place is so picturesque! A canal cruise down the river allowed us to see all 19 windmils and a relaxing stroll thereafter completed the awesome day.

Another interesting place we visited was Zaanse Schans, an open-air museum-like village with the largest collection of historical working windmills after Kinderdijk.

Besides windmills, there’s a cheese farm and wooden clog factory, both with frequent demostrations.  Though there’s more to see here and by far the easier to reach from Amsterdam, I still prefer Kinderdijk cuz it’s less touristy and the landscape there is so typically Dutch with real windmills~

The cheese town of Holland, Alkmaar holds a famed cheese market in the main square weekly from the first Friday of April to the first Friday of September. It’s mainly a show for tourists (and there are lots of them!), with costumed “cheese porters” carting heavy rounds of cheese on wooden barrows suspended from their shoulders~ And of course, plenty of cheese for tasting and sale!

We wandered around after the cheese auction and I was excited when I saw this stall!

Ta-da, presenting to you the traditional Dutch delicacy — raw herring! Actually, the herring is not entirely raw since it’s been pickled in salt. The typical way of eating it is picking up its tail and then letting it slide into your mouth gradually.

Errr, it’s something I wouldn’t eat again cuz it’s sort of slimy and though the raw onions and pickles did help some, the fishy taste still lingered in my mouth.

To help sweeten our raw herring breath, we bought fresh strawberries from a roadside stall that’s incredibly sweet and juicy!

And now that I’m on the subject of food, I’ve got to admit that even now, I have no idea what is authentic Dutch food. Based on my understanding, the Dutch people live a simple lifestyle and there’s no tradition Dutch cuisine per se cuz they usually have simple meals like meat and potatoes.

Hungrytrotters, please correct me if I’m wrong!

And because of that, I ended up having international cuisine like Middle Eastern falafels at Maoz (Ferdinand Bolstraat 67), Italian pasta at Toscana (Haarlemmerdijk 176), Indonesian pancakes at The Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191), Japanese soba at Café de Jaren (Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20), and of course, sandwiches and breads! On a side note, I had the best spelt roll ever from a stall at Noordermarkt Biological food market.

A breakfast place I found and really like is De Bakkerswinkel (Warmoesstraat 69). We went back twice cuz everything we tried was all good and freshly baked, from the fig + rye bread, raisin roll and plain buttery scone to the quiche lorraine and yogurt muesli!

I always save the best for the last.

In this case, it has got to be the most memorable and delicious Dutch apple pie I’ve ever had! Full of soft, naturally sweet chunks of apple and encased by a crispy crust that’s of the right thickness, find this lovely pie at Winkel Cafe (Noordermarkt 43)~

Hope you enjoy reading my experience in Holland =) Next up: Prague!

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Holland: Ode to Keukenhof

Keukenhof in The Netherlands is a flower wonderland and it’s definitely the crown jewel in Holland’s tulip crown. This is the largest flower garden park and perhaps, the most famous and photographed place in the world. This spring garden is only open for 6 to 8 weeks every year, attracting almost 1 million visitors during this short span of time.

My Europe trip was planned with Keukenhof in mind and I was determined to see the Dutch tulips in their blooming glory, even if it meant flying off on the day of my very last paper (yay!) in university. As it is, after spending much beloved days in London, Paris and Belgium, I barely made it in time as I was there only on the second last day before it closed for the year.

There’s different themes every year and for 2010, it’s “From Russia with Love”. 7 million bulbs of tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils and other spring flowers have been planted in the 32 hectare park. To give you an idea how huge the garden is, I spent almost 7 hours there and still didn’t manage to see everything!

No words are adequate to describe the beauty of Keukenhof. Colours, colours, colours… It’s a riot of vibrant colours and a photographer’s dream. No photoshop was applied to these lovely photos, what you see is exactly what you get. Enjoy! 

Disclaimer: I’m not into flowers, never has been and never will be. They are pretty things that I can do without but I feel that Keukenhof is one of those places you ought to go at least once in your life =)

So… why not next year? In 2011, “Germany: Land of Poets and Philosophers” has been chosen as the theme and the park will be opened from 24 March to 20 May daily.

Directions from Amsterdam: take the train to Schiphol and from there, board the bus to Keukenhof using the Connexxion’s all-in Combi-ticket. It’s an entrance/return bus ticket to Keukenhof which I think is great cuz it brings you directly to the main gate and you can just enter directly without queuing.

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