Monday, May 9, 2016

Holland – April, 2016
Decided to do a bike trip with a friend, El, whom I had met in Africa almost 40 years ago.  Flew from LAX and she met my flight in Amsterdam.  She had reserved all our airb&b accommodations and I was responsible for the restaurants.  We shared a taxi to our Nova Houseboat about a 20 minute bike ride from the center of town set on a canal.  There were two bedrooms downstairs and the houseboat was ours complete with kitchen and dining room.  We also had access to the bikes but they were all too high for me.  El had reserved a racing bike for herself which would be delivered in the morning.  I was just planning to rent a three-speed bike in each town we stayed in.

Our first night we took the tram into town and had a vegetable and noodle curry at Spanjer & Twist, a cute little restaurant close to a canal.  We stopped by a little supermarket and picked up some raisin bread, fruit, etc. for breakfast before taking the tram back to our houseboat.

In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then her bike was delivered.  She rode into our little town while I walked and we found a bike shop which had the perfect bike for me.  Stopped nearby at a little café and I had a salad with roasted broccoli, lentils and soft cheese.  We then biked into the woods and along the canals for about an hour before heading into town for dinner at Vlaming Etten und Trinken.  We had to watch carefully as there was a lot of traffic but there are bike lanes everywhere and Holland is very flat so it was pretty easy to keep up with the racing bike!!!  Dinner was excellent and we shared sesame crusted tuna, stir fried green beans/snow peas/mushrooms, sweet potato/potato/parsnip dish followed by a warm chocolate cake with ice cream.  Biked back before dark.

In the morning we rode into Amsterdam and within minutes El ran over some glass and her thin bike wheel resulted in a flat tire…(Supposedly there is also of glass in the streets.)  She decided to upgrade to the best tires and then we were on our way.  Visited the Museum
Willet-holthuysen, a fully furnished canalside home with its large collection of silverware, plates, art, etc.  Three floors and a lovely French-style garden are open to the public.  There is also a lovely dining salon elegantly set for a meal.

Split a brie/walnut panini at a little café and then shared a brownie at a pastry shop across the street where we also picked up some raisin rolls for breakfast in the morning.  On to Ons lieve heer op solder (our lord in the attic), a 17th century canal house, house church and museum.  The Catholic church was built on the top three floors of the canal house during the 1660s.  It is an important example of a “clandestine church” in which Catholics and other religious dissenters from the Dutch reformed church, unable to worship in public, held services.  There are pews to seat 150, an 18th century spinet-size pipe organ and two narrow upper balconies.

Wandered around the old church area and red light district, drove by Anne Frank’s house where there was a veryyyy long line and then to Max Restaurant  where we had an Indonesian rijsttafel, i.e. lots of little plates, i.e. beef curry, egg in coconut milk, honey chicken, etc. followed by an Indonesian cake.  It was dark when we biked back to the houseboat and we were happy to arrive safely!

In the morning, although it was very cold out, we decided to bike to Zaanse Schans, a replica 17th – 18th century village made up of houses, windmills, workshops, etc. that were moved to the site.  Rode up to the central station and crossed the water on a ferry to Zaandam.  We didn’t have a very good map so it took us awhile to get there but was a beautiful ride.  Started to rain when we arrived so we stopped for lunch at Restaurant & Brasserie d’Swarte Walvis overlooking the river Zaan and shared a warm goat cheese salad with macadamia nuts, apples and apricots, salmon with pasta in a curry sauce and apple pie.  Wandered around the town visiting the windmills, cheese shops, etc. and finally took the train back to Amsterdam as the weather was too rainy and cold to bike back.  Picked up some eggs, etc. and made ourselves a little dinner in the houseboat where it was nice and warm…

After breakfast we rode into town to see the flower market which wasn’t particularly interesting…Stopped at a Sunday food truck market for flatbread with cheese, mushrooms and arugula before spending a couple hours at the Rijksmuseum.  Started in the Rembrandt room to see the Night Watch, moved on to pictures by Vermeer and Frans Hals and then saw two wonderful furnished 17th century dollhouses.  Went to the special “catwalk” exhibit which was really excellent, i.e. 22 dresses “walked” the catwalk and there was a brochure explaining who designed each one, etc.  Stopped by the gardens on our way out to take some pictures of the fountains which surround you when you step into the center. 

Returned my bike in town and then we stopped for an early dinner at a little Italian place.  I had an arugula/parmesan salad and we shared some grilled prawns.  I leisurely walked back to the houseboat while El rode on ahead.  We relaxed and chatted, enjoying our last night in the houseboat….

In the morning I took the metro to the Zuid train station and caught the 30 minute train to Leiden.  El rode her bike so I arrived first.  Took the bus to our airb&b in nearby Oegstgeest.  Since she wasn’t there yet I walked to the park and had a delicious warm goat cheese salad with peppers, walnuts and warm crusty bread sitting outside overlooking the pond.  Once she had arrived we walked back into town and found a cute little café where she had a salad and I had a brownie and some tea.  Picked up some fruit for breakfast in the morning.  She was tired after her long ride so I walked into town on my own as it only took about 20 minutes.  I walked along the canals and into the center passing some great old churches until I found In den bierbenga where I had a delicious meal.  In this really cozy place with great atmosphere, I enjoyed baked mushrooms topped with cheese, duck with blueberry sauce and crisp parsnips and French “toast” with whipped cream and pear sorbet.  Caught the bus back…

Walked through the park in the morning and then into town to pick up some raisin bread and pastries for breakfast.  I walked and El biked into Leiden where I rented a bike at the central station.  We rode around town a bit and then parked our bikes and wandered around enjoying the cute little town.  Visited Pieterskerk, a late-gothic church dedicated to Saint Peter.  This beautiful enormous church with two organs is only used for events now.  There was also an exhibition about the pilgrims which was very interesting.  Shared a delicious warm goat cheese salad with pine nuts and crisp brown bread for lunch at a nice café nearby.  Bread is really good here and usually served warm and crusty.  Rode around the canals and down to the cemetery and then back to our rooms to regroup.  Dinner at het prentenkabinet, an upscale French restaurant supposedly one of the 10 best in Leiden but we were a bit disappointed.  Shared an asparagus appetizer and then fresh fish of the day but they had just taken their chocolate dessert off the menu leaving not much else of interest…Win a few lose a few…

The next morning after breakfast we rode our bikes to Keukenhof about 16 km away.  It was a beautiful day, although cold, and we stopped along the way to enjoy the beautiful flowers, etc.  In 1948 a group of flower bulb workers decided to use the estate of the Keukenhof Castle (built in 1641) which had grown to over 200 hectares for a permanent exhibition of spring flowering bulbs.  A team of 40 gardeners start planting 7 million flower bulbs in mid September.  All the bulbs are planted by hand which takes three months.  The season lasts 8 weeks and at the end of the season all the bulbs are dug up and destroyed and after the summer the cycle begins anew.  Each year there is a theme and this year it was the golden age.  There was a beautiful mosaic of flowers showing a delft blue tile on which the trade across the seas and the rich canalside houses of Amsterdam were depicted.  100,000 flower bulbs were used!!!  Wandered the gardens for a couple hours and then stopped at a café and shared a cheese/tomato Panini and a pastry each.  Rode back. 

In the evening we biked into town for dinner at Bistro Noroc.  It is a sweet little café on a tiny little street near Peter’s Church with excellent food.  We shared a goat cheese salad (what else!!!) with pumpkin seeds, arugula and roasted pears, Thai chicken curry with noodles and vegetables and each had a crème brulee with cinnamon ice cream – our best meal yet!!!  Rode back FAST as it was pretty cold by then.

Took a walk in the morning and picked up some pastries for breakfast.  Took another bike ride out into the countryside, stopping in Sassheim where there was an open air market going on.  Had lunch in a little café and then rode back trying to use the GPS on El’s bike which took some doing.  In the evening, she wasn’t feeling well so I biked into town by myself.  First returned the bike and then set out on foot (a nice change!!) to walk around the town.  Ended up at Lot en de Walvis near the harbor for dinner.  Sat outside as it was very pleasant and ordered gravlak with fried capers, baby greens and crisp spelt bread, chicken yakitori with sesame seeds and couscous and ended with a delicious chocolate cake served with coconut ice cream and fresh shaved coconut.  Walked back…

After breakfast, El left for Den Hague and I walked to the train station and caught the train.  We met about 12:30 p.m. at our airb&b and it was quite nice.  Separate rooms, access to the living room and kitchen and breakfast prepared for us in the morning!  Peter, our host, drove me into town where I met El and rented a bike at the train station.  We stopped for a quick salad and then spent a couple hours in the Escher Museum housed in the Lange Voorhout Palace.  The museum features permanent displays of a large number of his woodcuts and lithographs but we didn’t have enough time to see it all… Dinner nearby at Feedback, a cozy little restaurant near the center but off the beaten track.  Shared beet turnover, crabcake with mango dice and raw tuna with wasabi cream to start, sautéed salmon with honey, fresh spinach and cornbread and a blondie with walnuts, candied orange peel and chocolate mousse for dessert.

In the morning Peter set out an incredible spread for the two of us, i.e. croissant, apple pastries, cheese, fruit, eggs, etc.  Took the train (and our bikes) to Delft, a really quaint little town whose facades of the Renaissance and gothic houses reflect age-old beauty.  It was really cold and rainy so we decided against biking out.  Old master Jan Vermeer spent most of his life surrounded by Delft’s beauty.

Visited the de koninklijke porceleyne fles (royal delft factory) museum and workshop to learn how the pottery is made.  Delft blue started in the Netherlands around the 17th century when the Dutch India Company brought the blue painted porcelain back from China.  For Royal Delft it started in 1653 when Van der Pieth transformed his house into an earthenware factory.  In the 17th century Royal Delft had several factories but this one is the only one left. 

Found a nice little café for lunch.  I had a wonderful sweet potato salad with arugula, goat cheese and roasted hazelnuts and some crusty brown bread.  El had roasted sweet pepper soup.  We wandered around the fruit and vegetable market and the antique market and then spent about an hour in the Het Prinsenhof museum to learn the history of William of Orange who lived from 1572 to 1584 when he was assassinated.  Also saw some nice paintings of Vermeer, i.e. “little street”, etc.  Train back…Later that evening we rode way out to the harbor which took a lot longer than we had expected.  Had a lovely dinner at Catch overlooking the water, i.e. shared sushi with crab and avocado, monk fish with green curry, bok choy, rice and sweet potato and each had a crème brulee.  By the time we finished it was dark out and neither of us had lights on our bikes so it was hard to find our way and stay together but we made it!!!  Well worth the trouble to be sure.

Peter made delicious crepes for breakfast and then we rode out to Maduradam, a miniature park and home to a range of 1:25 scale model replicas of famous Dutch landmarks, historical cities, etc.  It is an outside park so was a bit cold but no rain.  There are also stands with in depth information around the park as well as brief video shows.  It did start to rain as we left so we fixed lunch in our little kitchen.  Later we rode out into the sand dunes nearby and then after a brief rest headed into town.  Wandered around the old town, i.e. passed by Mauritshuis which houses many fine paintings, the Binnenhof, a 13th century hunting lodge of the counts of Holland, etc. 

As it was our last night in Den Hague we decided to have dinner at HanTing, a fusion Michelin star restaurant with excellent reviews.  Had the three course tasting menu which started with an appetizer plate with crisp seaweed sticks and oyster shell with eggplant mousse, first course was scallop and thinly sliced octopus with sticky rice, second course a nori wrapped sole and third course wagyu beef with beet sauce.  We also shared a chocolate forest dessert with raspberry sorbet.  It was an interesting experience…

In the morning after another wonderful breakfast, El and I said our good-byes.  The weather was very cold and rainy so she opted to take the train back to Amsterdam and then head home.  Peter took me to the train station where I caught the train to Bruges where I would be travelling by foot!!!  I took many great memories of our trip to Holland with me.

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