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.

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

A week in food

I don’t even know if I should give you my excuses for my terrible updating record! It’s always the same thing … blah blah blah thesis. I do have exciting news in that department though: as of tomorrow at 1.00 PM, it will be out of my hands. Done. Come what may. I can’t wait! I still have quite a bit of proof-reading and tweaking to do today but I thought I’d start off this Sunday morning in a leisurely way, with pictures of food.
My beautiful friend Stephanie came to visit for a few days, and I think it’s safe to say we ate our way through the country – or at least the better part of the Randstad.

Amsterdam

Steph has a Lonely Planet app on her phone, and it highly recommends Jordino. It’s a gorgeous chocolate shop on the outskirts of the Jordaan, with candy shaped into every imaginable form: heels, cars, iPads, herring …

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We each chose two little chocolates to whet our appetites for lunch. I had a candied ginger concoction that I’m still dreaming of five days later …

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After a great sandwich at Small World Catering (why I didn’t take pictures of that place is beyond me), we did some exploring and a bit of shopping before seeking out our next food stop: the Kaaskamer (cheese room). It way heavenly! We left with a big hunk of truffled cheese and a small portion of aged Gouda. Fortunately I still have some of each to tide me over through the mood swings I’ve experienced during the last legs of my thesis journey …

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Sadly it started pouring in Amsterdam in the late afternoon, so we headed back to Leiden for dinner: take-out from Ichi Ban. Delightful as always.

Leiden

We spent the next morning in Leiden, admiring the sights and sampling the entire market. Steph picked out a few tins of stroopwafels for friends and family, and then we shared a giant cookie between the two of us. The man at the stand was extremely friendly, and even agreed to my shy request (in Dutch I might add) to take a picture of us.

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Courtesy of Steph's instagram.

Courtesy of Steph’s instagram.

Having devoured more than our fair share of meaty green olives, bread and tapenade from one of the stands, we decided on a light lunch …

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Den Haag

Next, we headed off to the Hague to do some sight seeing and some shopping. I’d venture to say that, after Groningen, the Hague is my favourite city, and I did my darndest to make sure Steph liked it too! I think dinner really sold her. We scoured out a table on the Plein, a big square in the city shared by six or seven different food and drink establishments. After an apero (including deep fried cheese sticks) at Barlow, we scooched over to the neighbours, Millers, for truly outstanding food.

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Tuna sashimi with soya sauce, seaweed, lightly pickled ginger and wasabi. My goodness that tuna may have been the best I’ve ever had, even without all of the extras. It was so fresh and meaty! As a ‘pescatarian’ (vegetarian who eats fish), I rarely get meat cravings, but if I were ever to want to devour a whole steak, this is the dish I’d turn to.

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We also shared a Caesar salad, but I mysteriously have no pictures of it.

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The main attraction: truffle risotto with baked truffle chips, cherry tomatoes, parmesan and arugula. There are no words. I’m not even usually a risotto person but this had me closing my eyes with every bite! I foresee a do-over of this entire meal in the near future …

That night we were totally pooped, so we went home fairly early and (re-)watched Pitch Perfect. The best way to end an excellent day.

Scheveningen

To cap off Steph’s stay, we breakfasted at Bagels & Beans before heading off to the beach in Scheveningen. It looked rather different than the last time I posted about it.

(Courtesy of Steph's instagram.)

(Courtesy of Steph’s instagram.)

The sun was out in full force and we spent a delightfully lazy afternoon basking in its glory. Starting to feel peckish, we returned to the Plein for more delicious food and drinks. (Sadly this time I hadn’t brought my camera, so I have only my memories to treasure!)

Steph left the next morning … and I’m leaving Tuesday! I’ll be back in Canada for two weeks and I cannot cannot CANNOT wait. Aside from the truffle cheese whispering my name from the fridge, the thought of being back home after seven months is keeping me sane in these last hours!