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

The Hague Hotel School

If you’re reading this somewhere in the Netherlands, or if you’ve ever been served so much as a glass of water in the Netherlands, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the standard Dutch service-without-a-smile (and-perhaps-even-with-an-eye-roll if you’re lucky). And it’s not just in food and drink establishments. Trying to find your size at Mango or Vero Moda or even de Bijenkorf? It probably isn’t going to happen unless you manage to smuggle yourself into the stock room. Done trying things on? Don’t hand me your reject clothes, you tiresome, insignificant thing. Please hang everything up exactly as it was and then retrace your steps until everything is put back precisely where you found it.
(Note: I may be slightly exaggerating for dramatic effect here.)

Coming from Canada, the land known for its ridiculously and excessively polite and friendly citizens, it took me a particularly long while to really get accustomed to this unusual standard … But I can truthfully say that, at this point, I’m a convert. Going shopping back home in Toronto has become an exhausting exercise in small talk and extended smiles and sustained eye contact.

Once in a while, though, it’s nice to be acknowledged and appreciated as a customer – and a human being. My lovely maman came to visit me last week (more on that later!) and, after a gorgeous and sunny walk on the Scheveningen beach, we were treated to just such service.

image_2

Ever the foodie, prior to her arrival in the Netherlands my mom had read about the Hague Hotel School (Hotelschool The Hague). The school trains its students in every area of hospitality, which means that everyone spends time working in the kitchen, the two restaurants, and the school’s own hotel. Students are at every level of the operation. Because all of the staff are in fact in training, the food and drinks are offered ‘at cost’ and you can eat and drink for astonisingly low prices …
PLUS, from the moment you enter until the moment you leave, you are treated with North American levels of friendliness and enthusiasm.

We had lunch at the Brasserie Zinq, the more informal restaurant, and we were not disappointed. We were seated right by a huge window overlooking the grounds and, while we meticulously studied our menus, our lovely waitress brought over an absolute mountain of freshly baked bread with aioli and tapenade.
Things were off to an excellent start.

Highlights of the meal include a smoked duck appetizer that my mom raved about, really delicious wines, and a beautiful ‘seasonal salad’ with goat’s cheese and beet curls that melted in my mouth. However, the real winner was when dessert arrived (including cherry-beer ice cream and roasted figs … enough said) and the waitress lit a sparkler on my plate! We had mentioned at some point that I had just graduated the previous day (more on that later too!) and she’d remembered. I may be a big sap, but the smile on my face was pretty much permanent after that.

Europe 029

image_4

We must have spent a solid two hours at the Brasserie, so enjoyable was our lunch, and I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re ever in The Hague or Scheveningen and looking for a meal with a gastronomical feel, but without the hefty bill.

A few practical notes:
To access the Brasserie, you have to enter through the school’s main entrance (right across from the Nieuwe Scheveningse Bosjes). Here, you are led by a welcoming, professional and impeccably dressed student to the restaurant, crossing the cafeteria on your way. (It is a school after all.) You may feel a bit weird about this, but don’t! They are delighted to have non-students as it provides more realistic training.
If you have any special dietary restrictions, ask about dishes before you order them (I know – duh – but still). I considered getting the salmon on a bed of paella, but then decided on the salad. My mom however did get the salmon, and the paella turned out to be full of chicken AND pork even though the menu made no mention of this. Fortunately, she isn’t pescatarian and happily devoured the dish.

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 …

P1010245

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 …

P1010248

P1010246

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 …

P1010260

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.

P1010264

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 …

P1010266

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.

P1010268

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.

P1010269

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

P1010270

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!

Manuscripts & maki

For our second day of cultural fun, Pieter and I chose the Meermanno museum – the house of the book – in the Hague. After a ferocious (and highly cultured) game of Mario Kart, we bundled ourselves up as best we could and stepped out into the cold in search of discovery.

Our initial route was blocked off by (insane people running) a half-marathon, and we were forced to trace back most of our steps. If you ask me the difficulty was well rewarded …

IMG_7784

Is there anything more charming than walking in a crowd on abandoned Dutch railway tracks?

IMG_7785

IMG_7790

Maybe the little crocuses that, just like me, were a bit too eager for spring this month and are now struggling with all their might to hold on against this horrific wind!

We made it to the Meermanno more or less intact, and after a necessary warm-up in the very cosy little café downstairs, we began our visit. The museum is set up in the house of an old collector of books who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. The building is beautifully maintained and houses a large collection of medieval manuscripts and early print books – the perfect opportunity for me to do a bit of showing off with the limited knowledge I could remember from my manuscripts class last semester (and perhaps also invent a little something).

SAMSUNG

Cupboards full of huge old volumes line the walls, and certain books have been opened to interesting pages under glass to allow for greater scrutiny.

SAMSUNG

This guy was also hanging around.

SAMSUNG

In the next room, an exhibit of the recent history of the book, starting with the industrial revolution, offers a stark contrast to that manuscript-filled study.

SAMSUNG

iPads are hooked up to the table and display recent e-book developments. I was particularly excited to ‘flip’ through Alice in Wonderland, which is a constant source of discussion in my program.

SAMSUNG

App or book? The philosophical discussion continues …

Once we’d done a good bit of learning, we (bravely) ventured out onto the museum’s grounds.

SAMSUNG

A teeny tiny bit of goofiness may also have taken place – as much as could be allowed by the frigid wind and the impending snow!

IMG_7792

Needless to say we booked it back home as fast as we could. It was getting late, and after a short bout of work, we were going to end our weekend of cultural fun with one last hurrah …

SAMSUNG

(As always, excuse the poor quality of that picture. I am an incorrigible show-off when it comes to food.)

Sushi it was! Pieter and I are fortunately both huge fans of this Japanese goodness – to the point where we have entire conversations about how, when we have ‘real jobs’, we’re going to eat nothing but sushi day in and day out. Totally normal.

Hidden beside a McDonald’s, on the far end of the Beestenmarkt (animal/cattle market), is a goldmine of deliciousness – Ichiban. It is decidedly uninviting, and the staff can be a tad rude. But if you can get past this occasional affront (which really is not much worse than the typical I effin’ hate you service customary around here) and take your sushi to-go, it’s just fantastic. Nowhere in the Netherlands have I found more delicious sushi at such low prices. (Of course, it’s nothing compared to the prices back home, but I’ll take what I can get!)

Also, their California rolls are just … divine. And HUGE!

It was another successful weekend, and part of me secretly hopes it’ll be another rainy one so we can continue our museum tour … On the other hand, if it’s nice out, we’re going for deep fried fish on the beach, so it’s a bit of a toss-up.