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.

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.

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?

Goodbye, 2013!

I’m sitting in the departures lounge at Pearson Airport, waiting to head back to ‘real life’ after a short but wonderful visit home for the holidays.

I feel like it’s been a big year.  The first half in particular seemed to bring stress after stress and, at certain points, had me questioning my decision to stay in the Netherlands.  I’d even started to half-believe in the unluckiness of the number 13.

But 2013 was also really good to me.  I got to go to London, to Rome, and even home to Toronto – twice.  I was visited by many friends and also by my lovely Maman, and I was lucky enough to have enough flexibility at my work to be able to properly enjoy their company.  I lost my job – but then, with blood, sweat and tears, and also the help of my wonderful Pieter, I got it back.  I learned to drop my pleases and thank yous and people actually listened.  I guess you could say I got the hang of the Dutch way (although I’ll still apologize to you if you run me over with your bicycle).

Campo dei Fiori - take me back!

Campo dei Fiori – take me back!

I got my master’s degree and my friends and family celebrated with me.  I started figuring out what I might want to do with that degree, and taking steps towards reaching my goals.  More than ever, I have a real sense of control over my own life.  (It may falter on occasion but I know it’s there!)

Celebrating graduation with amazing friends

Celebrating graduation with amazing friends

I had a realization recently while I was in Toronto for the holidays: that I in fact have two homes.  It’s a comforting thought, in a way.  No matter how long I’m away, my relationships remain strong (if slightly different) – something I was worried about when I first moved.  I’ve also managed to continue to fall more and more in love with both Canada and the Netherlands, whereas I used to think that to love one more than the other was inevitable.

(How’s this for a random entry?)

I don’t want to make a big list of resolutions, but I would like to share two.

First, I’m going to speak Dutch.  Actually speak it, and not just listen to it and then answer in English.  I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and try not to be too ashamed of my many MANY grammatical errors.  It’s high time I did!

Second, I’m going to experiment with this blog.  It’s not going to be perfect, and my updating record likely won’t be either!  But I love to write here and so far it’s brought me many good things, so I’m not going to stop.

On that note, I’m off to board my flight.  I wish everyone a great end of the year, and a very happy new year 2014!