Housekeeping, pt. 2

Hey everyone and happy Saturday! Just writing a quick post to let you know that I’ve just updated my name servers (totally know what that means …) and so my blog may be down or wonky for a few hours. Hopefully she’ll be up and running again in time for Monday’s post!
Sophie

Valentine’s in Rotterdam & The Hague

A belated happy Valentine’s day to all of those who, like me, are a sucker for the holiday, or who in any way enjoy the festivities! I myself celebrated with two blondies and a redhead, and took advantage of both Rotterdam and The Hague.

The festivities started on Friday afternoon. I took the train to Rotterdam Blaak to meet Barbara for a short coffee & shopping session – a little Valentine’s day girls’ date.
Back in the fall, Barbara was offered a great internship opportunity with a huge company in Rotterdam. She immediately accepted and left Groningen behind for the big city life.

In the Netherlands there is definitely a sort of prejudice against Rotterdam among some groups: it’s big, it’s impersonal, it doesn’t have the quaint, typically Dutch charm of other major cities … Basically, it’s ugly. I’d been once before Barbara moved there, about four years ago while I was on exchange, and at the time I had vaguely agreed with the sentiment.

Now that Barbara lives there though, it’s slowly edging out my favourite Dutch cities – and soon it may very well be number one.

rotterdam, Dutch city

When people say that it doesn’t have that typically Dutch charm … They’re right. It was majorly bombed during the war and very few of those lovely old Dutch buildings survived. What came out of the rubble though was a big, industrial, and very modern city, but with distinctly ‘clean’ lines – we are in the Netherlands after all. This may seem like a boring thing to say, but actually what I love so much about Rotterdam is that it distinctly reminds me of my home of Toronto, but with an undeniably Dutch feel. The sidewalks are big and they’re made of concrete so there’s none of this impractical, one-person-at-a-time, teeny-tiny, cobble, careful-you-don’t-get-clipped-by-a-cyclist, gymnastics-beam-esque business going on.

It also happens to be a one-stop shopping heaven. Every store you could possibly need is situated within a one kilometre radius, right in the center of the city. (Get out at Rotterdam Blaak, not Centraal!) So far it’s the closest thing to a North American mall I’ve encountered in the Netherlands, even if it’s outdoors.
As a side note: I never thought much about malls until I moved here. Now a trip to the Eaton Centre is required every time I go to Toronto and seems like the most majestic of all occasions. Which is weird because I worked there and it was a nightmare. But anyway.

rotterdam, Dutch city

We started with heavenly chocolate-y drinks at Mockamore – definitely an appropriate Valentine’s treat, and oh-so delicious – before checking off a few items on our shopping lists.
Having found what we needed, we stumbled across this gem. They’ve installed a camera in the middle of the shopping street where you can take selfies and then post them to a Facebook page for the world to see.
Needless to say this provided us with endless entertainment.

rotterdam, Dutch city

Rotterdam, Dutch city

All too soon it was time to head back to the Hague, where a hurricane awaited me in the kitchen – but I’m pleased to say that I successfully pulled off a surprise three-course meal, complete with homemade sea-salt truffles and a burrata starter (which I found at Marqt without even looking for it! take note!). Pieter in turn surprised me with a box of chocolates the size of the province, which should be devoured by Tuesday morning.

Valentine's day

Stolen from my Instagram

But the eating fest wasn’t over quite yet: we’d planned an all-you-can-eat sushi lunch at Sumo on the beach as our official celebration.
It turns out there was a major wind storm going down, so our casual stroll along the boulevard in Scheveningen quickly turned into a work out … All the more excuse to eat EVERYTHING.

Valentine's day, Scheveningen

With so much sand twirling about, the beach, the sea and the sky sort of blended into one. Between fits of hysterical laughter as the wind essentially propelled us forward, I managed to snap a picture.

My day ended with a lovely long Skype with my awesome Katerz and a lot of Olympics.

Valentine's day, Canada

You can take the girl out of Canada …!

I hope you all had a great weekend, whether or not you celebrated Valentine’s day, and I hope the start of the new week treats you kindly.

Housekeeping!

I hope everyone is having an excellent weekend! Mine certainly has been, and I’ll be putting a real blog post up tomorrow morning about it. I just thought I’d make a little note here about some upcoming changes on the blog.

First of all … I registered my domain name! I am officially a dot com and I am inappropriately excited about it! I’ve had this blog for about a year now, and have certainly waffled about it in the past, but I’ve thought about this quite a lot lately and have decided to really throw myself into blogging, come what may. I love to write about my life here, and I also love all things digital media, so I figure what I have here is the perfect opportunity to delve into several of my interests at once!

The next few weeks should be a flurry of Photoshop and CSS tutorials, and likely also a circus of extreme excitement and terrible frustration as I attempt to give this little blog a makeover. I’ve been bookmarking and pinning the life out of every resource I can find, but if you’ve got tips I’d love to hear them.

I guess this is also an appropriate time to join virtually all other bloggers out there and claim Sophie in Clogs as my own … If you’d like to know when I update, no email subscription or WordPress account needed, please follow my blog with Bloglovin! I’d be very grateful for the gesture.

Thank you to everyone for reading & happy Sunday!
Sophie

Peer pressure & brined herring

I’ve lived in the Netherlands for well over a year and, until this past Saturday, I had successfully managed to avoid going anywhere near herring – you know: that salty brined fish the Dutch are famous for swallowing whole. A few months ago there’d been talk of me finally having to try it. It had something to do with a bet, I believe, although frankly I instantly forgot the circumstances as soon as the words were uttered (likely in self-defense), sure that the day would never truly come.

And it wouldn’t have, if Pieter and I hadn’t been out running a few errands. We were scoping out the tuna and the salmon at the fish stall when it suddenly dawned on him that what we had here was a perfect opportunity.

I begged and I pleaded! Not today, I’m not ready! I’m still so full from lunch! If you love me BUT AT ALL you won’t make me do this!
At last he conceded that a whole, plain herring was a rather big leap for a first-timer. Instead, he ordered me a broodje haring met ui. Herring on a bun with onion – raw onion, that is.

Dutch food, herring, haring

Doesn’t that just look scrumptious?

I spent the next few minutes carefully examining every last corner of that sandwich, trying to determine from which angle I should take my first bite in order to maximize the bread to herring ratio. Finally, with a sinking feeling in my heart, I went for it.

Dutch food, herring, haring

Dutch food, herring, haring

Clearly it was delicious.

Dutch food, herring, haring

In case you are wondering, I’m told those long fibres sticking out of the fish are bones. I bet you can’t wait to sink your teeth into one of these bad boys!

The verdict: much like black salty liquorice, if you happen to be Dutch you will love it love it already. I, on the other hand, will be sticking to fish snacks of the deep fried variety!

Dutch food, herring, haring

But if you’re looking to expand your palate, or if you’re simply curious, then definitely give herring a try. If nothing else, it makes for a good laugh and truly delightful breath.

English scones, Chinese dragons

I’m sitting at my dining table on a sleepy Sunday morning with a delicious cup of coffee, my daylight lamp, and an extremely hyper Porgy darting through the room, occasionally swiping at my ankles … sheer happiness!

First things first: a belated happy Chinese new year!

the hague, china town, kensington

On Saturday, China Town hosted some festivities complete with performances, fire crackers and little markets. People showed up in droves to sample all of the delicious food and watch some enormous dragons dance through the streets. I have to say that the whole thing was rather more commercially-oriented than I had expected (namely, a major casino was sponsoring the event and had an enormous promotional booth amidst all the smaller vendors’ booths), but the dragon dances were certainly impressive and had I not just had lunch (such a rookie mistake!) I would have gone to town on all the snacks available.

the hague, china town, kensington

After we’d wandered through the festivities, we headed to Kensington, an English tea room, for giant cups of tea in a teeny, cosy little shop. We’d walked by the place a couple of times and finally decided to check it out … and we weren’t the only ones! The place was consistently packed – and I mean PACKED, the entire café must measure less than 20 square meters! – while we were there, and I can see why. It’s an incredibly friendly, almost cheeky sort of atmosphere, with the staff bickering good-naturedly and the owner charming the ladies with his jokes and classic British manners. The room is decked out with lovely cake stands, chandeliers, little Union Jacks, lovely mismatched cups and cutlery, and even a big painting of Princess Diana surveying the premises.

the hague, china town, kensington

We hadn’t planned ahead, so we ordered chai teas and shared a blueberry scone served with cream and jam, and everything was just perfect, not to mention surprisingly inexpensive. I was a terrible blogger and didn’t bring my camera, but I found a Flick account dedicated to this place and you should definitely take a look – though perhaps not when you’re hungry. They do what looks like a heavenly high tea (in such close proximity to the other guests it was easy to get a proper, totally non-creepy look), with little trays piled high with sandwiches, scones, and cakes. So many cakes!

the hague, china town, kensington

Kensington is located right in a quiet corner in the centre of the city. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I definitely recommend a visit – preferably on an empty stomach!

Exploring The Hague

After a rather hectic start to the new year, Pieter and I finally had a quiet weekend to just relax and enjoy each other’s company.  Having indulged in a Saturday morning marathon of cooking shows, we set off on a walking adventure to find special food for Porgy (as you already know if you read last week’s saga, she has a delicate tum).  So here, on this rainy Monday, are some of the places we really enjoyed.

Living in the city centre, I’ve sort of fallen into this trap where anything that isn’t within walking distance simply seems too far!  A ten minute tram ride?  Forget about it.  A bus ride?  Who do you take me for?!  After this weekend though, I think it’s safe to say I’m cured of that silly phase.

Piet Heinstraat (Zeeheldenkwartier)

The Hague, Piet Heinstraat

You wouldn’t necessarily walk down this street thinking that it seemed like a lovely place to linger.  Some of the buildings are really worn down and you get the sneaking suspicion that a lot of the novelty-type shops in the area (think a whole store dedicated to toilet seats) may in fact be intended for other purposes …   wink wink.  To be brutally honest: it seems a bit sketchy.  I must admit that I am not at all the sort of person who has a nose for sniffing out great places.  I tend to like things neat and tidy and can be quick to judge a book by its proverbial cover.  I’m so glad I didn’t this time, though, because this street is PACKED with goodness!  The highlight: an Italian food shop, simply called Italy.

The Hague

The shop is a true feast for culinary geeks – they sell every imaginable type of flour, pasta in shapes I’ve never seen before, and a wide array of prepared food ready for you to sink your teeth in to.  A big plus: the staff were extremely friendly.  Pieter and I walked out with a heavenly burrata, which I’d been raving about since my trip to Rome in October, and pasta flour!  I’m happy to say that both were a tremendous success.  Or otherwise put: we devoured it all.

Besides Italy, the Zeeheldenkwarter is also home to a Portuguese traiteur (which we sadly didn’t try, with thoughts for our wallets and our waistlines) and an expat store!  We couldn’t resist stocking up on all manner of mysterious British sodas (dandelion & burdock?  yes please) before continuing on our journey.  I’m pretty sure that, given how heavily we were weighed down at this point, all calories consumed later were immediately used to replenish our depleted stores …

Right?

Frederik Hendriklaan (Statenkwartier)

The Hague, Statenkwartier, Frederik Hendriklaan

It wasn’t my first time in this area – I’d been with Barbara the week before and had immediately fallen in love.  It’s a very homey, friendly atmosphere, with a good mix of chains, independent boutiques, organic market stands/grocers, and lots of enticing restaurants.  While the street itself is quite commercial, the area surrounding it is very family-oriented, with beautiful old Dutch houses and lovely green expanses to play in.

The Hague, Statenkwartier, Frederik Hendriklaan

Aaah … Dutch weather.

(For the girls: a great store to check out in this area is By Fabrio – it looks a bit uninviting from the outside but they have a great selection of Dutch-made, high-quality clothes to choose from, all for 40,- or less!  Plus they apparently overhaul the entire store every week so you’re unlikely to find the same thing in there twice.)

We finished off our stroll at Hudson’s with some drinks and a snack and both agreed that the place had a great, relaxed atmosphere.  We were there fairly early, but by the number of reserved signs on tables it was clear that the place gets quite packed in the evening.  Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area!

The Hague, Statenkwartier, Frederik Hendriklaan

Pets in the Netherlands: a mystery

Porgy and I have had quite the bonding week. First there was a pregnancy scare (on her end, not mine!), then the revelation that her stomach was not in fact full of kittens but, rather, poop. Or what the vet called ‘feetses’ (feces). Now poor Porgy is in full-blown heat and has been strategically placing herself near the front door so as to try to escape at a moment’s notice. In addition, she’s taken to producing truly heart-breaking, lamenting meows and expectantly presenting me with her posterior. Another vet appointment is definitely in the cards!

Stolen from my own Instagram

Stolen from my own Instagram

Fun fact about Dutch vets services in general: nothing is open on the weekend, and nothing, NOTHING is open after working hours, so that you have to try to sneak out of work early to bring your howling cat on a fully-loaded tram through the city and to the vet before 6 o’clock rolls around. I’m lucky to have incredibly flexible working hours, but I seriously don’t know how anyone with a strict schedule does it.

While we’re on the topic, here’s another head-scratcher: where do Dutch people get their pets? In Canada you have stores like PetSmart where (controversies aside) you can adopt a furry friend who’s been vaccinated, de-wormed, sterilized … you name it! Here there are no such pet stores, except perhaps for rodents and fish. If you want a cat or a dog, I honestly cannot tell you where you are technically supposed to get one unless you go to the pound – which is conveniently open on weekdays between something like noon and one, and on Saturdays for a generous three hours, and where any relatively healthy and young animal is seemingly adopted within the hour. Obviously that’s a great thing! But in combination with all the people out there warning you not to adopt cats from people on the internet, and the seeming impossibility of even making it to the pound in time to have any sort of choice, you have to wonder: is there a top-secret place out there where wise Dutch folk go when they’re looking to adopt?

Porgy

Some exciting news! And as per my resolution, I’m writing a short entry without pictures or an elaborate plot. Progress!

Anyway. Pieter and I had to say goodbye to our beloved Clyde last week. (His real human, Hilary, is going to revamp a bookstore in Nova Scotia – which is very cool even if it means that Clyde is no longer on our continent!) We were set on getting a cat of our own to love but weren’t having much luck. On Saturday we made the treck out to Wateringen to check out the animal shelter. While it was a good experience, it seemed the only cats labelled as ‘indoor cats’ were the ones who had suffered in life or who were extremely scared and withdrawn. The inner cat-lady in me wanted to save them all, of course, but we did the wise thing and left without a new furry friend. We wanted one we could love for many years to come, after all.

I was feeling a bit hopeless. We were trying advertisements online and looking at other shelters but were having no luck … And then late Sunday night, after an episode of Boer Zoekt Vrouw (Farmer Seeks Wife), as we perused Marktplaats with little expectation, we suddenly found her.

One thirty minute tram ride later, we were in a foreign apartment, meeting our new kitty. She is about one year old and very small, but will gladly devour everything you put in front of her … A girl after my own heart! We wanted to give her a real ‘person name’ but, somehow, Porgy just fit.

We’ve only had her about 36 hours but I think it’s safe to say we’re both madly in love with her already. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve been warned: prepare yourself for an onslaught of cat pictures!

An extended absence, an explanation?

This title is misleading, as I don’t really have an explanation. I do have some confusing, unclear thoughts to share though, if you’re down for some of that!

I’m something of a perfectionist. Throughout the years I’ve learned to tame that aspect of my personality a bit but it definitely lurks in the corner of my thoughts a lot and occasionally steers me in my decision-making. What that means for this blog is that I feel this desire to publish only the best posts I can produce – the most polished, if you will, with pictures, a clear theme, and perhaps an informative aspect too. I really enjoy creating these posts and like to look back on what I’ve published since I started this little blog in February … But, on the other hand, a job, social commitments, and – let’s face it – life in general don’t necessarily make for lovely photographs or light and yet informative writing. (There are only so many pictures of coffee or rainy skies or the five Excel sheets currently open on my computer that I could reasonably pass off as ‘content’!) When I don’t have pictures, or when I don’t have a specific theme, I feel in a way that I don’t have anything ‘worthy’ of publishing.

I vacillate between wanting to keep my posts more formal and wanting to share more general thoughts or observations, or humorous anecdotes. My perfectionistic tendencies make it hard for me to imagine a blog in which both sorts of posts are possible. Which is stupid!

I do want to write more often, but what I would be writing is still a bit fuzzy in my head. I guess with blogging you have to figure out how personal you want to be, and how polished too. While I’m working on figuring out that balance, I’ve joined the crew over on DutchReview, where I’ve so far published two posts. I’m really enjoying that so far!

I know there are a few readers out there who remain anonymous to me but who return fairly frequently, and this post is mostly for you guys. Not really an explanation for my absence, I guess, but maybe a form of apology. Basically, I appreciate that you keep coming back and I’m sorry for my inconsistency in posting.

On a less confusing note, my oldest and wonderful friend Catherine came to stay with Pieter and I for a week and so I’ll be writing about that soon. Highlights will include Zwarte Piet on a hydraulic sea-scooter of sorts, typical Dutch treats, and a magnificently hilarious vintage fur coat. Cat’s already blogged a bit about her time with us, so if you’re interested check that out here!

Thanks for reading!
Best

Sophie

Roma Roma

As I mentioned in my last post, my graduation ceremony took place recently. To celebrate, my mom flew in from Toronto, friends drove down from Groningen (a 2+ hour drive) and I was showered with gorgeous flowers and gifts. Our group sat down for what started out as drinks but ended up turning into dinner, dessert and coffee before we parted ways late in the evening. It was an overwhelmingly awesome day and (as I know I often do) I have to pause here for an instant to marvel at how lucky I am to have you wonderful people in my life. Thank you!

Anyway. After you receive your degree, it’s a Leiden tradition to sign your name in the Zweet Kamertje (literally ‘sweat room’). My signature is now amidst thousands of others, including those of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and Queen Wilhelmina … Pretty exciting I must say!

Leaving my mark in the Sweat Room.

Leaving my mark in the Sweat Room.

To further the celebrations, my mom treated me to four days in Rome. It was my first time in Italy and I simply loved it. The trip was incredible and, although it would be impossible to try to capture it in all of its glory, I wanted to document some of it – in pictures mostly. I hope you’ll indulge me in this non-Dutch post, particularly since my updating record has been less than pristine lately! Ahem.

View on the way to the Villa Medici.

View on the way to the Villa Medici.

I’ll try to spare you the most typically touristic shots I took, although restraining myself is likely to be a challenge. The internet is full of gorgeous images of the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum and Saint Peter’s basilica. Really, what can I say about Rome that someone hasn’t already expressed, likely more beautifully, eloquently and knowledgeably, before? Surely nothing, but here goes!

Pigeons on statues - a recurring theme.

Pigeons on statues – a recurring theme.

We stayed at the Hotel Locarno, right off the Piazza del Popolo. The room was lovely and quirky, and the location was just perfect – very central but not packed with tourists. I loved taking a seat on our teeny balcony and watching the activity outside. One morning I got quite the show: a man wearing nothing but his underwear very casually lit a cigarette, took out his phone, and had an entire conversation out on his balcony, which happened to be right across the street and on precisely my level. Oh my prudish North American heart!

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

Also conveniently located was the Villa Borghese, what our travel book called the Central Park of Rome. Here we had reserved tickets for the Galleria Borghese, which houses a stunning and enormous collection of sculptures and paintings. It was definitely one of my favourite sights of the trip, made all the better by the smaller groups of visitors allowed in at a time (something like 350 per slot).

Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese

On our second night, we went out in search of Il Margutta on the Via Margutta, an all-vegetarian restaurant that has apparently won awards for its food. When I later mentioned this to a fellow tourist, I was met with a blank, uncomprehending stare. I know what she was thinking: we went to a vegetarian restaurant in Rome of all places?! But even my mom, who has a penchant for rare meat, found the food delicious.
We started with a sort of appetizer plate and it was absolute heaven. The pictures I took really didn’t do it justice so: suffice it to say that it included a mini pot of truffled cheese fondue, a fennel and orange salad, and chunks of golden, almond-crusted goats cheese.

Via Margutta

Via Margutta

Fortunately we also did our fair share of walking.

Courtyard, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte

Courtyard, Sant’Andrea delle Fratte

P1010734_blog

P1010733_blog

I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things to see, and occasionally rather frustrated by the Romans’ seeming disregard for their surroundings. We came across several beautiful and yet unacknowledged fountains, buildings and ruins … How far we were from home! Can you imagine 2000-year-old ruins in downtown Toronto being totally unmarked and used to house stray cats?!

Pigeons on statues pt. 2

Pigeons on statues pt. 2

Quattro Fiumi fountain, Piazza Navona

Quattro Fiumi fountain, Piazza Navona

Ponte Sant'Angelo

Ponte Sant’Angelo

Portico d'Ottavia

Portico d’Ottavia

We followed a neighbourdhood walk of the Jewish Ghetto and Campo dei Fiori from the Fodor guide to Rome which, although aggravating at times (the directions were awful and the accompanying map inexplicably left out a lot of what the book suggested we see!), allowed us to discover a lot of beautiful architecture and a more ‘typical’ side of Roman life – at least, that was the feeling I got. Particularly at Campo dei Fiori, where we had a ‘light’ (cough cough) lunch, I loved watching the market vendors go about their business, pretending I could understand their banter.

Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori

One evening we joined a food and walking tour of the lovely neighbourhood Trastevere with Eating Italy Food Tours. I had read about them online and the evening even surpassed my already high expectations. I had my first-ever burrata (if you don’t know, look it up because OH MY GOODNESS); we sipped wine in a cellar older than the colosseum at Spirito DiVino; and we had fantastically, amazingly delicious gelato at Fatamorgana. On top of that, we were treated to a surprise visit of an old pharmacy concealed within the church of Santa Maria della Scala, which was shut down in the 50s and still contains remedies that are many decades old (and are made with live vipers!) as well as big leather-bound volumes on herbs and plants and their healing properties. We were all fairly awe-stricken when we saw where we’d been lead … (There had been some apprehension as we turned down several unmarked corridors at the back of the church. The words ‘murder’ and ‘kidnapping’ were thrown about in a rather nervous, not altogether casual manner …)

On top of the delicious food and exciting surprise, we got to discover Trastevere which is extremely charming and lively, and which offers a totally different feel from the other areas of Rome that we got to explore.

Crossing the Tiber

Crossing the Tiber

Trastevere

Trastevere

Trastevere

Trastevere

While we were able to see the Colosseum and the surrounding archaeological area/dig, one major attraction that eluded us was Saint Peter’s basilica. We foolishly turned up around eleven in the morning, only to be met by a line the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before. Unwilling to waste so much time, we swore to come back the next evening … Which we did, only to find out that the basilica had been closed early for a wedding.
We were rather reckless and attempted to sneak to the entrance by squeezing ourselves between fences, but to no avail – the way was blocked off and we were forced to admit defeat. Disappointing though it was, it was still a highlight of the trip for me: I’m unlikely to forget the sight of my innocent little maman carefully sizing up a fence, considering whether or not she could climb it, in her determination to get in.

Saint Peter's Basilica

Saint Peter’s Basilica

I guess I’ll have to go back!
I’ll leave this post here as I’ve just noticed the word count has passed 1000. If you’ve been to Rome, I’d love to hear about your favourite sights/experiences there! I may not have a job after December first but I’m already planning my next visit. That’s adulthood right there …