…And Delft Again

Before I start with the promised second half of our trip to Delft, I must apologize for the hiatus. It’s been a little while since you have heard from the two little piggies and we are going to rectify that now. We’ve got lots of upcoming trips planned, along with a few voyages past that we plan to share with you over the coming months. We hope you will join us, and forgive our “slight” delay.

At the end of our last post about our visit to Delft we promised to tell you about some wonderful locally made artisan chocolate. Also, we’ll share our favorite restaurant for Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), and talk about the ultimate Dutch cookie, the stroopwafel. We promise not to keep you in suspense any longer so let’s get going.

Artists at work

It’s no secret that Bill and I are big chocolate fans. We have tasted some of the best varieties that Europe has to offer. Belgium has usually ruled as the victor in the chocolate taste test battle. There was that moment in Troyes, France at Pascal Caffet Chocolatier where we were transported by the most scrumptious chocolates, but I digress. Give me a moment to wipe the drool from my mouth. We were pleasantly surprised to find a wonderful chocolate shop where everything is handmade on the premises in the lovely city of Delft.

The wrappers are nearly as tasty as the chocolate!

We happened upon Van der Burgh Chocolate while blissfully wandering and peering into shop windows. Our chocolate radar is always on and the window display at the building located at Vrouwenregt 2 immediately set off our alarms. The array of lovely blocks of chocolate all neatly wrapped up in exquisite papers had us intrigued, so in we went.

As we walked through the doors of the building that dates back to 1610, we met Richard van der Burgh, the owner and Founder of Van der Bergh Chocolaad. He and his wife Joyce have been creating heavenly handmade indulgences since 2011. They pride themselves on working with small, Fair Trade chocolate producers and utilize only the best ingredients. You’ll bite into hazelnuts from Italy or taste the intense coarsely ground coffee from Ethiopia. But the taste is only one aspect of these delightful treasures. They look stunning as well. Each bar is lovingly created and then hand wrapped on the premises in some of the most beautiful papers. A wide array of bars are clad in designs from Italian Florentine, to images from famous paintings by Vermeer. They make wonderful gifts since they delight all the senses. You can peruse and order from their website at: https://www.vanderburghchocolaad.nl/

Indonesian Rijsttafel

When you think of Dutch gastronomy, some minds usually wander to the old standbys of herring or possibly Dutch pancakes. But did you know that it is also famous for its Indonesian cuisine? It was brought back to the Netherlands by former colonials returning from the Dutch East Indies during the 19th and early 20th century. The spicy and varied dishes which are almost ceremonially presented are a true feast! We made reservations at our favorite Indonesian place, Restaurant Redjeki at Choorstraat 50 in Delft for rijsttafel (rice table). We have enjoyed this banquet in several different establishments in the Netherlands, and Redjeki is one of the best. The rijsttafel is not for the faint of heart, or small of belly. The trick is to show up hungry, eat slowly, and enjoy every morsel. The meal consists of plenty of rice dished up with a variety of seven or more entrees of varying levels of spiciness served alongside accoutrements that might be pickled, hot, cold, salty, or sweet. The dizzying variety of flavors somehow all work together and make for a fantastic and belt-loosening experience. Interestingly enough, you might have a difficult time finding rijsttafel back in Indonesia where it fell out of fashion after that country proclaimed its independence in 1945.

A heavenly feast

Of course, after a meal you want something sweet. And nothing fills that role better than the Stroopwafel. They are not usually served in restaurants, so we have them with a pot of tea when we get home. This divine concoction is a combination of crisp, wafer-thin waffles filled and glued together with a special caramel syrup. They are usually about 4 inches in diameter and sold in packs of 8, stacked like a cylinder. They are heavenly eaten out of the pack or perfect to rest on top of a mug of tea or coffee, where the heat melts the syrup inside. Of course, the best way is to

Filled with crispy, gooey goodness

find one of the outdoor vendors usually out on market day. Your nose will alert you if there is one nearby well before you see it because they are usually found making stroopwafels fresh on hot waffle irons. Hot syrup from an open vat is spread on the freshly split waffle as it comes out of the iron. These are not the small crisp 4-inch models. They are usually about the size of a salad plate and handed to you in a wax paper sleeve soft, warm, and gloriously oozing syrup in the middle. They also sell packs of pre-made waffles in lidded porcelain jars decorated with traditional scenes of Dutch life. The containers make wonderful souvenirs.

Delft is a lovely and often overlooked destination frequently overshadowed by the larger cities like Amsterdam. It is certainly worth a visit and one of our favorite places. We hope it becomes one of yours as well.

Dutch Treat

Delft. For some, the name of this city conjures visions of expensive blue and white porcelain. Others may think of windmills and dikes or paintings by Vermeer. You can find those things, but this lovely and laid back town offers so much more. To us it’s a wonderful place to decompress, with meandering canals, inviting cafes, and imposing architecture.

Het Nieuwe Kerk

The main square is wonderful place to wander. The ornate town hall at one end faces the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) at the other. Even though it’s usually pretty busy, this is one of my favorite areas. Cafes, cheese shops, souvenir shops, and stores selling Delft porcelain of all grades are plentiful and varied. It’s the center of the city and on Thursdays the square is turned into a weekly market. There are more than 150 stalls selling everything from fresh produce and local cheeses, to all manner of household items and clothing. The antique and vintage market is open on Thursdays and Saturdays from April through October. On Thursdays, it’s located along the canals. On Saturdays, the market is bigger (including a book market) and spills into the main square. If you are looking for traditional Delftware, you are likely to find something to your taste here. You can find old hardware, artifacts, stained-glass panels, porcelain, posters, coins, stamps, antique kitchen items, and more. Language is rarely a problem since it seems like most residents of Delft speak English. They often start out by saying, “I only speak a little English.” This usually means they are superbly fluent.

Treasures awaiting discovery

One of the reasons for this particular visit was a bit unusual. We celebrated our 30th anniversary recently and wanted to give ourselves a little “something extra.” During a past visit to Delft, we had passed a costume shop that displayed wonderful historical looking photographs taken of people in traditional old-world attire. Since we are William and Mary, how about dressing up and having a photo session as the original William of Orange and his queen, Mary? The shop, run by the charming Barbara van Gelder, is called “Something Extra.” She came up with this idea several years ago. She liked the concept of period photographs but many of the studios that offered anything close to her idea, usually lacked quality costumes and accessories. She was determined to only use the finest fabrics and accoutrements so her subjects would really look like someone from the past. She designed the outfits to fit a wide range of body types. She picked out everything for both me and Bill and dressed us from head to toe. We all had a great time. Barbara loves her work and she really makes it a fun experience.

Water, water everywhere…

After some indoor shots, she asked if we might like to walk across the street and have our picture taken in front of the canal bridge. Most of the streets and canals in Delft look like they came straight out of the pages of a history book and she thought they would make a perfect backdrop for us. My biggest hurdle was managing to walk the 30 or so steps in a tapestry dress that felt like it weighed about 20 pounds. She posed us at the bridge and began taking pictures. In the blink of an eye, a throng of Asian tourists surrounded us and iPhones and cameras began snapping away. One lady grabbed my arm as she smiled for her traveling companion who was rapidly filling his memory card with images as he repeated, “take picture? Okay?” The clicking from all the cameras began to sound like a swarm of crickets. I empathized with some of the costumed street performers I see everywhere in Europe, but heck, they at least get paid to have their picture taken! Barbara quickly got us back to the shop as we reluctantly re-emerged into the 21st Century. It was a wonderful experience and Barbara is a great photographer. She does take walk-ins but only if she is not in a photo session. You can contact her at her website or send her a message on Facebook at “Something Extra.” Make your appointment to step back in time and live like royalty, even if it’s only for a few fleeting minutes.

William & Mary

In our next post, we’ll talk a little about food in Delft. We’ll taste some artisan chocolate, find the best Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), and figure out what exactly is a stroopwafel anyway?

Tot de volgende keer! (Until next time!)

Friesland Finale

This will be our third and final post (for now) about the wonderful province of Friesland in the Netherlands. Last time, we talked about our stay in Bolsward and our visit to the delightful fishing village of Hindeloopen. Now we will venture forth to the towns of Workum and Sneek. As with Bolsward and Hindeloopen, they too were filled with lovely historic architecture, waterways, drawbridges, and happy, fit, contented Dutch people.

St. Gertrudiskerk

The town of Workum is surrounded by water and meadows with traditional Dutch windmills dotting the landscape as they turn in the sea breeze. The newer, less pretty windmills are also sprouting up but I guess that’s progress. Workum’s a very pleasant place that was, until the early eighteenth century, a busy seaport. It has a nice little main street with a few shops that seem to cater to tourists and seafaring types. There is a quaint little square where St Gertrudiskerk, Friesland’s largest medieval church, stands with its prominent massive bell tower. It is quite a small town, although there is a lot worth seeing. We were able to walk from one end to the other in about 30 minutes, and we were taking our time. We spent a little extra time strolling around the boat docks and enjoying the blue skies and sunshine before we hit the road for Sneek.

A typical waterfront scene

As opposed to Workum, Sneek (pronounced “snake,” like the reptile) is a bustling city filled with wonderful historic neighborhoods and plenty of places to shop or pop in for a bite and a tasty Dutch beer. When most people think of Dutch beer, their world-famous light lagers tend to spring to mind. But The Netherlands has a rich brewing tradition and produces many varieties that compare favorably with those of Belgium, their near neighbor. Sneek is generally considered to be the tourist capital of Friesland. They are extremely proud of their heritage and have a superb museum dedicated to the area’s nautical history. The Fries Scheepvaart Museum chronicles the maritime history of the area. There is something for everyone. Ship models, paintings, maps, navigational devices, weaponry, globes, and more can be seen. It’s well worth a visit even if you are strictly a landlubber.

Rush hour

You need to be patient when crossing streets while wandering in a city like Sneek, where the canals compete with the roads for transportation. We found ourselves quite often surrounded by pedestrians and bicyclists waiting at intersections because the oncoming traffic was from boats that required the raising of a drawbridge. Not exactly something you

The Water Gate

see in downtown Los Angeles. The heaviest water traffic stops took place near the double towered Rijksmonument Waterpoort (Water Gate). It looks like a castle with a bridge that goes across the canal. It’s also a great place to take photos and watch the local version of rush hour. We stood there amazed as we watched residents in little motorboats transporting their bags of groceries home in the back of their launches.

The tourist information office has come up with a slightly off-kilter and amusing video on their site to promote Friesland and Sneek. It’s worth

The long road home

watching. It feels a bit like a cross between Money Python and a Dutch version of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a quirky stream of consciousness, narrated by someone who sounds like he picked up a pack of smokes in Amsterdam before his recording session. Be sure to check it

out at http://www.sneekholland.nl/en/. Even if you never plan to visit Friesland, you should watch their tourism video. Just click on the ‘play’ icon that shows a winsome lass in a skimpy bikini leaning forward on a horse. Need I say more? Actually, it’s all rather clever and informative. These are people who know how to poke a little fun at themselves.

A street (?) scene in Sneek

The pace of life in that part of the country is worth trying to emulate. Everywhere we went, locals were just enjoying life. All the towns we visited were so clean, you could eat off the cobblestones. Whole families were out riding their bikes together and nary a helmet on anyone. Wherever we looked, there was no trash, no graffiti, no excessive piercings, and no visible tattoos on any of the very well-scrubbed young people. In the evening everyone would be out drinking coffee or having a meal in an outdoor café while a singer performed for the customers and anyone else within earshot. We both agreed that we wanted this life, if only we wouldn’t have to speak Dutch. The Dutch language is very closely related to English and as we pointed out previously, the Frisian variety is even closer. If you close your eyes and ignore the actual words, it even sounds a lot like English—that is if English were being spoken in a parallel universe, and backwards, using random words. But just about everyone we encountered spoke English nearly as well as we did, and they were invariably very friendly. We loved every moment of our visits to Friesland and we plan to spend even more time exploring this marvelous region.



A Day in Hindeloopen

Following on from last week’s post, we’re going to stay in Friesland in the tiny village of Hindeloopen. It almost sounds like the something the doctor would conclude after he looks inside your mouth and asks you to say, “Ahh!”

Main Street
Main Street

Hindeloopen is actually an often overlooked fishing village of about 800 residents on the IJsselmeer in the Netherlands. In former times, the IJsselmeer (pronounced approximately Ice-ul-mair) was the Zuiderzee, a shallow bay of the North Sea, teeming with fish and providing a nice living for this picturesque little village. Then in 1932, an 18-mile wide dam was built across the mouth of the bay, creating the largest freshwater lake in western Europe. In the warmer months the breezy lake is filled with parasailers and sailboats. Sheep appear to be the next largest group of inhabitants. They can be seen laying on the dykes watching all the water sports and happily munching on huge swaths of what looked like the

Sun and fun on the IJsselmeer

perfect shade of green grass. Wool seems to be a major industry here, along with black and white dairy cows that dot the landscape everywhere. In the winter, ice skating is a popular activity and the locals use the many canals that crisscross the village to skate on when it’s cold enough. This has been such way of life that there is a small museum dedicated to the town’s ice skating legacy and it’s well worth a visit.

There was a special art and culture day happening on one of the days we visited. Vendors were set up throughout the streets spinning and dying wool and demonstrating various traditional crafts. The merchants sold everything from hand-knitted sweaters and scarves to hand-carved wooden items and jewelry. Many locals were decked out in their traditional folk costumes. It was a rare treat for us.

The whole family out on the town

Speaking of traditional crafts, Hindeloopen is also known for its distinctive style of furniture painting. Its colorful and intricate designs are

The Zweeds

among my favorites. I was able to renew an old acquaintance with Harman Zweed, a local painter who has since retired. I have purchased several of Mr. Zweed’s painted items on past visits. He and his wife are lovely people and they posed for some photos in their shop dressed in their traditional finery.

Pannekoeken is a wonderful restaurant where you can grab a table outside and sit along the canal. They specialize in sweet and savory paper thin pancakes (crepes) served up in a large skillet. It makes for a delightful lunch. We were entertained by a few of the local sparrows that perched on our hands when tempted with a bit of pancake. The restaurant and ice skating museum are owned by the Bootsma family which includes Gauke and Gretha Bootsma along with their three grown children Pieter, Gretel, and Hendrika. Attached to the restaurant is a magnificent store filled with furniture painted by Gauke and Pieter in the workshop in the attic. I defy anyone to go through the store without purchasing some treasure to take home. This particular style of painting is unique to Hindeloopen. Many of the traditional local artists are gone or have retired, so it’s wonderful to see the next generation keep this cherished legacy going.

Whenever we’re in town, there’s one place we try not to miss. It’s an antique barn which is always filled to the rafters with tons of neat stuff. We LOVE this place and always make a stop. It has a little bit of everything and there’s no way to see it all. There’s a very steep staircase (these seem to be a specialty in the Netherlands) that you must climb to see all the other bits and pieces on the upper floor. This is done at your own risk but it’s worth it to see all the treasures. When it’s time to descend the stairs you have to walk down as if you are a ballerina in first position with each foot pointing as far out as possible on each narrow tread. We scored an 86” wide vintage hanging schoolhouse map of Europe in Dutch that was dangling from the attic beams (our bravery climbing those stairs paid off). We were able to buy it for a paltry 50 Euros. Now it hangs in our bedroom on the one wall in our house that’s tall and wide enough. We got an added bonus on one visit to the barn. When we asked the proprietor if he spoke English, he told us “of course!” Then he gave us a lesson on the close connection between English and Frisian, pointing out a number of words that are either very similar or exactly the same in the two tongues. A little research after the fact revealed that Frisian actually is the most closely related language to English and that linguists group the two together in the Anglo-Frisian language group. So the next time that comes up when you’re playing Trivial Pursuit, you can thank us.

There's treaure buried in here
There’s treasure buried in here

Hindeloopen may have an odd sounding name but you will not be sorry to visit this charming fishing village. Enjoy the scenery, the people, the history, and you just might get invited to have lunch with some of the local birds.

A Different Bit of The Netherlands

Many people tend to use Holland and The Netherlands interchangeably, even some people who live there. But North Holland and South Holland are just two of the twelve provinces that make up The Netherlands. We have traveled pretty widely from one end of the country to the other but the province that keeps drawing us back doesn’t seem to be on most peoples’ itineraries. When we point the car north, it seems like more often than not, we wind up in Friesland (or Fryslân in the local West Frisian dialect). I think it’s because more than any other province, Friesland seems to capture for us the essence of Dutch life. It’s a little more relaxed than its southerly neighbors and it really allows us to leave the outside world behind, in a way that very few places do.

Evening in Bolsward

Friesland really lends itself to touring by car, provided you are not in a rush. The roads are very well maintained and it’s easy to get nearly anywhere quickly. But the entire region is crisscrossed with canals, and they aren’t just for decoration. It’s not at all unusual to wait for several minutes as a drawbridge is raised to allow a boat (or two, or three) to pass. But the scenery is uniformly pleasant and if you’re in a hurry, you would probably be more inclined to a weekend in Amsterdam anyway.

For our last couple of visits, we have chosen the charming town of Bolsward as our base of operations. It’s central and very accommodating to visitors. We stay at Het Weeshuis (http://hotelhetweeshuis.nl/), a very

The town hall at dusk

pleasant hotel located in the Kerkstraat in a historic orphanage dating back to 1553. The rooms are large and comfortable, and it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the beautiful, friendly town center. The proprietors, Mylan and Manon Lin, are a young couple and he is a talented chef, always taking advantage of local produce at the peak of freshness. It is worth your while to book a table for dinner for at least one evening of your stay. The menu is fixed for each evening and it’s a very nice dining experience indeed.

A five-minute stroll will take you to the heart of the old town, where the impressive city hall (completed 1617) stands at one end of the town square with the Hotel/Restaurant De Wijnberg at the other. A canal bisects the square, with shops and restaurants lining either side. The railings next to the canal were festooned with flower boxes overflowing with colorful cascades of blooms. The emphasis here is on relaxed. Local families looking like they just stepped out of a tourism brochure, can be seen enjoying the evening air. Norman Rockwell would be hard pressed to portray a more idealized looking family group. Several times we noticed that shopkeepers would sometimes step out for a quick bite without bothering to lock up or even move their wares in from the sidewalk. It was a very nice change.

A stroll into town

One experience really underlined the relaxing, low-pressure nature of the place. We set out early one morning in our Honda Odyssey to explore some of the nearby sights. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn and found myself driving the wrong way down a one-way street. But this wasn’t just any one-way street. To my left was a canal, with tiny little parking spaces for local residents. To my right, pretty gabled brick houses left no room at all. Of course, someone turned into the street coming in the other direction. I was clearly in the wrong here. I couldn’t go forward and I wasn’t sure I could back up without smashing something. I had visions of the other driver jumping out of his car and yelling at me for being the goof-up that I very clearly was. Instead, without missing a beat, he whipped into one of the impossibly small parking spaces that I had assumed was not big enough to accommodate a Smart Car. Then he smiled broadly and signaled me to proceed, waving as I went by as if he was expecting us to stop by for a beer later. What had looked like a very stressful start to the day turned out to be one more exercise in slowing down and relaxing. It set just the right tone for a pleasant day in this least stressful part of The Netherlands.

The “Kerk” in Kerkstraat

I had intended to cover more ground in this post but I’m afraid I got pleasantly lost in Bolsward. In a future post (or posts), we’ll look at a few other places, such as Sneek and Hindeloopen.