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.

Utrecht for a day

Today I’m bringing back the cheer as I continue to wage a war against the university job agency! (I haven’t had any luck so far, but it’s only a matter of time surely …)

It may have been a pretty rough week for me, but this Saturday marked one year since I arrived in the Netherlands and I was going to be darned if I let some bureaucratic concerns stop me from celebrating. Neither Pieter nor I had ever been to Utrecht before, so we decided to make a day of it and explore this gorgeous city together.

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Utrecht is one of the biggest cities in Holland, and it’s full of secret gardens, artsy shops and tree-lined canals. All of that in combination with an unchangingly grey sky gave our trip an enchanted sort of feel.

The day started off on an excellent note with the discovery of a narrow little shop that sold all manner of candy – North American included!

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(I was extremely good and didn’t have any.)

One of my favourite parts of the day was walking along one of the main streets in the centre of the city. It was split in two by a very low canal, and if you wanted to you could climb down little steps to walk right alongside the water. Right there on that narrow sub-street were dozens of underground studios buried in the brick wall – sculpture, painting, dancing … all forms of creative expression were accounted for.

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Of course, we took a look at the Dom, a famous medieval tower right in the middle of the city. According to legend, no member of the Utrecht ‘corps’ fraternity (the oldest fraternity) may walk beneath the Dom or people will die. Yet another perplexing tidbit to add to my knowledge of Dutch fraternities! It’s really too bad for them though, because hidden behind the Dom is a gorgeous garden complete with white benches, a manicured lawn, and even a resident cat.
Alas, the place was pretty busy – it was, after all, around noon on a Saturday – so my pictures don’t quite convey the magic.

Right across the street, the Dom cathedral also offered some lovely sights. We were lucky to meander into the church right as choir practise was starting!

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After all of this wandering, we had earned ourselves a coffee break. Having seen more than one café/bike repair combination, and many more heads sporting toques (which are not, in fact, cool in Holland like they are in Canada!), we had to conclude that Utrecht is a little bit more hip and edgy than Leiden. The people-watching was particularly good that day …

Once we’d warmed back up, we continued on our way and soon stumbled onto a deserted area called a beeld tuin, or picture garden.

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Just like in Leiden, in Utrecht you might be on a main street one minute, and the next find yourself in a place like that, away from the city noise and the (surprisingly aggressive) cyclists!

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My one-year anniversary with Holland was a definite success – it even happened to fall on the same day as the Eurovision Song Contest finale, which I obviously watched with great delight! (Apparently that’s not at all cool, but I’m willing to play my foreigner card on this one.) My favourite performers were Roberto ‘crazy-eyes’ Bellarosa for Belgium and the painfully beautiful Zlata Ognevich for the Ukraine. (Watch with discretion – all of those Eurovision songs have been playing on repeat in my head since Saturday.)

Today I’m heading up North to Groningen to see my lovely friends. Fingers crossed for some good news about my job when I get back!