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

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

Friday the Thirteenth

On Thursday night, I bundled myself up again the chilly air and set out into the city to pick up the lovely Barbara at the station. I stopped on my way to casually buy out the supermarket’s junk food supply, and we spent a perfectly stereotypical and fantastic night chatting up a storm, chomping down on various candy and salty treats, and laughing out loud at The Big Wedding.

I posted a shameful glorious shot of our movie night to my Instagram. I’ve been updating a lot more with my new phone, so if you’re interested in a mix bag of pictures of the Netherlands, friends, cats and food, I’m your gal! (But be warned: when I say cats, I do mean cats.)

The next day was much more wholesome. The last time Barbara had spent more than a couple of hours in Leiden it had been way too cold to properly enjoy the city for its beauty and its incredible history. This time, armed with light jackets and resigned to being spit on all day – all day – we explored the heart of the historical city centre and its countless alleys and hidden corners. Barbara’s enthusiasm for everything awoke my own rather dormant appreciation of this gorgeous old town.

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Aside from the Pieterskerk and the Hooglandsekerk, two must-see tourist attractions, we fell in love (I for the umpteenth time) with the dozens of little hofjes, enclosed residential squares. They are hidden within the city by high brick walls, discrete gates, high foliage, and narrow, winding alleys.
(Apologies for the picture quality! We hadn’t planned to do quite so much exploring and my camera was tucked safely away from the rain in my room.)

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Some of these hofjes date back to the fifteenth century or even earlier, and have been reserved for orphans, the poor, single women, and, more recently, for specific communities of like-minded people. Most contain a little garden and many also continue to feature old water pumps. (Unfortunately they don’t work anymore – we tried!)

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A beautiful old orphanage, hidden right by the popular Hooglandsekerk.

A beautiful old orphanage, hidden right by the popular Hooglandsekerk.

I was very intent on showing Barbara the medieval dungeons, housed within an otherwise modern university building, in which I occasionally have meetings. Unfortunately both rooms were occupied; however, sensing our eagerness, the kind receptionist led us to the back of the building and showed us the building’s old torture chamber! It turns out the building was used as a full-on prison in the fifteenth century. You can even reach it from the Breestraat, one of the busiest streets in Leiden, by following the Diefsteeg, or thief alley.

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The receptionist explained that the walls of the chamber were at least half a meter thick, ensuring that no one would ever have heard the screams …
How fitting for Friday the thirteenth!

Left to our own devices, we poked around the rest of the building, enamoured of its old, winding brick staircases and big wooden doors.

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Access to the historical Leiden monuments is usually restricted – we happened to show up on a quiet day and were lucky to be allowed in. However, once in a while the university organizes free tours of all of its hidden historical gems. If you’re interested in visiting this gorgeous place, check out the Visitor’s Centre. They’ll be able to tell you when and how you can arrange these sorts of tours.
Alternatively, you could simply walk into the building, soaking from the rain and batting your eyelashes, and play your best confused tourist card.

The hofjes on the other hand are open to the public and are truly enchanting. Part of the fun is trying to find them!