Travel: Canalside in Amsterdam

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Last but not least: Amsterdam! With just one weekend left in my trip, I knew it had to be spent in Amsterdam. Thankfully, it’s only about an hour and a half train ride from Nijmegen, so after morning subject-running, I was soon rolling into the city. One of the things I’ve loved about the Netherlands is the universal transit pass (OV chipkaart), which allows you access to trains, buses, and trams all over the country. You just need to load it with money. It was an easy tram ride to the AirBnB, and I managed to just escape inside as the rain started torrentially downpouring. Once it had subsided, I took a walk over to the Foodhallen, an indoor food market, where I bee-lined for the bitterballen vendor and feasted on veal, goat cheese, truffle and even satay flavoured bitterballen. Delicious!

Foodhallen
Foodhallen

The clouds were starting to part as the sun set over the city. I hopped on a tram and made my way down to the House of Bols, purportedly the oldest distillery brand in the world. The tour was self-guided through a very glossy, interactive exhibit of the history and distillation of jenever, a traditional Dutch liquor and the precursor to gin. At the end of the tour, you received a cocktail of your choice and a couple tasting shots of jenever. My cocktail, a chocolate-honey mixture, was actually super tasty. I sampled the jonge jenever, called “young” because of its use of more modern distilling techniques, as well as a barrel-aged jenever. They were both rather potent (mind you I don’t tend to drink a lot of liquor straight up), but I did prefer the jonge jenever as it had a cleaner taste. I picked up a bottle of the barrel-aged for David, since its potency reminded me a bit of whisky which I figured he’d appreciate before heading out.

House of Bols
House of Bols

Just across the street was the Van Gogh Museum, which on Friday nights remains open until 10 pm. It’s so common for things to close at 5 or 6 pm, that it’s great when something stays open later. Nevertheless, the line was still quite long (and unfortunately outside in the blustery cold). My museumkaart unfortunately did not allow me to jump the line at this particular museum. Once I got inside, the lines were super long for the coat check, so I opted to carry my purchases around the museum. Photography wasn’t permitted, so I contented myself with taking in the collection. I’ve always been a fan of Van Gogh–his thick use of paint lending his work an almost sculptural quality. I saw his Almond Blossom painting, which hangs in the dining room, as well as his lilies and sunflowers. It’s great to see so many works by the same artist on display. You can really get an appreciation for the artist’s range, both of subject matter and techniques. They also had an interesting exhibition comparing the works of Edvard Munch and Van Gogh, where they would display thematically or stylistically related works side by side. In many cases, they were surprisingly similar. Ultimately, I preferred Van Gogh’s often glossier, textured paintings over Munch’s more matte work. After I’d had my fill, I did a quick search of the surrounding restaurants and decided to give The Seafood Bar a try. It seemed to be a popular spot, as it was bustling and full of folk (even had to wait for a seat at the bar). I started with a salad with smoked salmon and horseradish and, because I wanted to sample something else, their lobster salad sandwich. The nice thing about sitting at bars is that it’s often where solo travelers/diners sit, so I ended up striking up a conversation with the nice gentleman sitting next to me, chatting about travel, linguistics and fish.

smoked salmon salad with horseradish sauce at The Seafood Bar
smoked salmon salad with horseradish sauce at The Seafood Bar

The next morning, I ventured over to the Rijksmuseum and met up with Susanne, who hadn’t visited the museum in a long time. We grabbed a quick breakfast in the museum café and got her tickets (with surprisingly no line). We wandered through the collection, sticking mostly to works after the 1600s, as we’re both not big fans of paintings from the earlier centuries. Some of Rembrandt’s most famous works were featured, including The Night Watch, which were fairly heavily trafficked by tour groups.

Rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum

After we’d satisfied our cultural inclinations for the morning, we headed off in search of lunch. Susanne took me through De Negev Straatjes (the nine little streets), a neighbourhood with small shops, galleries and restaurants interwoven with the canals. I was so tickled by the narrow, often very slanted buildings. Things just seemed to be falling into each other, holding each other up. We chanced across Van Harte, a tasty looking eatery in a stylish space. The weather was blustery and cold (very Chicago-like, so I’m well-prepared), so it was nice to warm up with a drink and sandwich. From there, we wandered up through the Jordaan district, an upscale neighbourhood which Susanne noted many locals consider to be a reflection of a more real Amsterdam (relative to the more tourist-trafficked areas near the city center).

strolling through the Jordaan district
strolling through the Jordaan district

As Susanne had a prior evening engagement, I saw her off at the train station, a gorgeous building in its own right. I ended up booking an evening canal cruise, so I’d have something to do in the evening. I wandered my way back down Damrak, the city’s main thoroughfare lined with major brands and tourist shops. I stopped in at De Drie Fleschjes, an historic jenever tasting house for a tulip glass of it. I was told that traditional Dutch establishments like this one always have sand on the floor (to keep things clean apparently), no music and hardboiled eggs on the bar as snacks.

classic fare at De Drie Fleschjes (hardboiled eggs, pickles, etc.)
classic fare at De Drie Fleschjes (hardboiled eggs, pickles, etc.)

I continued my wanderings and ended up walking so far that I came across the Nationale Opera and Ballet theatre. I had discovered last week that the Dutch National Ballet was putting on Giselle and had decided to seize the opportunity and grab one of the last tickets. I picked up my ticket and decided to head back to the apartment for a bit. While waiting for the tram, I did see the aftermath of a scooter-pedestrian collision. Thankfully, police and ambulance were quick to respond, but it was a sobering reminder of how easy it could be to get hit. Bike lanes also permit scooters, which I’ve never really liked since they typically move so much faster, so they can be easy to miss.

Amsterdam Central Station
Amsterdam Central Station

It had unfortunately started to rain when I headed back out to grab dinner at Haesje Claes, a traditional Dutch restaurant, with wood-paneled dining rooms and an old-timey feel. There seemed to be a mixture of locals and tourists. I started with a goat cheese salad and ordered chicken liver with mashed potatoes and bacon as a main (I’ve come to realize that starters here are really not meant for one person, as they are quite sizable). The American couple next to me started chatting with me, and we had a pleasant conversation about travel and my work. I must have been particularly charming because as were getting our checks, I discovered they paid for my meal! The kindness of relative strangers never ceases to amaze me. I thanked them profusely but had to run to catch my canal tour. The rain-streaked windows of the tour boat did make photo-taking impossible, so I just sat, sipping my mojitos (it was a cocktail cruise) and enjoying the view. One of the great perks of touring the canals on the water is the glimpse into house-boating life (apparently there are around 2500 house boats in Amsterdam), peeking into their often gorgeously-appointed water-bound homes.

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The next morning, I had a scrumptious breakfast at Gartine, a tiny, sweet little eatery that Susanne and I had tried to get a reservation for the previous day but had been all full up. What better way to start one’s morning than with eggs benedict and smoked salmon? It was just a short but rainy walk up Dam Square, which the Royal Palace of Amsterdam overlooks. Originally built as a city hall in the 17th century, it eventually housed King Louis Napoleon (the first king of the Netherlands). I’m a sucker for gorgeously appointed rooms and lavish furnishings, so the palace did me well. Most impressive was the Citizen’s Hall, with its soaring ceiling and ornate carvings.

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam

They were already starting to set up for the Sinterklaas parade in Dam Square. His helpers, Zwarte Pieten, are typically portrayed in blackface, a matter of some controversy. But there were plenty of them wandering about, handing out candy to children and repelling down buildings. I had toyed with staying to watch some of the parade, but ultimately it was a bit too cold and windy for me to stick around for a glimpse of Sinterklaas. I hopped on the metro, which has a stop right next to the Nationale Opera and Ballet theatre. I still had an hour to kill, so I stopped in to Café Langereis across the street. I lingered over my prosecco and sizable cheese plate, watching the busy traffic controllers directing a steady stream of cars and bikes. Various road closures, no doubt because of the parade, made things particularly hectic.

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I hopped over to the theatre to see the matinee showing of Giselle, their last show of the run. It was a beautiful performance–gorgeous and melancholic. The Wilis (spirits of women who were jilted by their lovers) were particularly haunting, row upon row of women clad in white romantic tutus and long veils. (see them here on the company’s website), bourrée-ing eerily across the stage. There’s nothing like watching a ballet to transport you out of the insanity of your own life into another world. I had left my overnight bag at the train station for the day, so it was easy enough to catch the train back to Nijmegen. I left the city to a gorgeous sunset behind the skyline. Dank je wel, Amsterdam, for a lovely visit. Methinks we’ll meet again.

Travel: Raw herring and a pearl earring in The Hague

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I arrived in The Hague from Delft in the late afternoon. As it is about 2 hours from Nijmegen to this part of the country, I figured I’d stay the night to save myself the commuting time. My AirBnB was steps from where my bus dropped me off, and I met with my lovely and welcoming hosts, who offered me a glass of wine and for me to join them for dinner later in the evening. I had a few hours to kill before dinner, so I took a walk in the area. The city felt much more like a city than the other places I’d been to–a little grittier, busier and more diverse. I came across Grote Markt, a relatively small square lined with restaurants and bars, which connected up with a maze of pedestrian streets. It was shopping central, with major international chains (e.g., H&M and Zara) along with a few I didn’t recognize. After I’d had my commercialist fill, with the sun setting over the city, I headed back to the apartment. There, I had a tasty Moroccan-inspired dinner and some lovely conversation with my hosts before calling it a night.

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With just one day in The Hague, it was a bright and early morning for me. It was an easy tram ride to the center of town, where I grabbed a quick bite to eat. My first stop of the day was Mauritshuis, a renowned art museum housing Dutch Golden Age painters, including works by Vermeer, Rembrandt  and Rubens.

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The museum had recently been renovated, and its lower levels were modern and clean-lined, which stood in contrast to the older, more ornate upper levels that housed the art. I bought myself a museumkaart for 60 Euros, which gains me unlimited access to a whole bunch of museums around the Netherlands (apparently it pays for itself with about 4 or 5 visits). The museum was lovely with a beautiful, and not overly large, selection of Dutch art. I admired Vermeer’s famed “Girl with a pearl earring” for a time, which had a wonderful luminous quality to it as well as Rembrandt’s darker portraits. They also had a special exhibition on Dutch Self Portraits – Selfies of the Golden Age, where it was interesting to learn about the different self-portrait customs (e.g., in the middle of painting, playing a role like that of a lute player) of the period.

inside Mauritshuis
inside Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis is right next to the Binnenhof (Dutch Parliament), which is the oldest parliament in the world still in use. I walked through the complex, largely empty apart from a few tourists, and admired the imposing Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights). It’s perched  elegantly on Hofvijver lake, which was pleasant to sit out next to and bask in the (apparently unseasonably) warm autumn sun.

Binnenhof
Binnenhof

It was a relatively short walk over to my next stop, the Escher Museum. I’d always been a huge fan of M.C. Escher’s–I remember hanging his work up in my bedroom as a kid and just being fascinated by the complexity and impossibility of his work. I had never actually realized he was Dutch until I researched this trip! It was great to be able see the full range of his work on display.

inside the M.C. Escher museum
inside the M.C. Escher museum

From there, I walked through golden leaf-laden streets to catch a tram out to Scheveningen, a nearby seaside resort. My AirBnb host had recommended checking it out, as so many tourists forget that The Hague is basically the only major city in the Netherlands located by the ocean.

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It wasn’t long before I was smelling fresh, sea air and walking along the bustling esplanade, lined with restaurants and shops. It was amusing to see folk out on the beach in their coats and scarves, but I could understand taking in the sunshine before the long cold of winter arrives. I was hungry for lunch, and my host had recommended trying the seafood in Scheveningen, particularly at Simonis Aan Zee. It was a bustling sort of place, and I pointed out what I wanted (fish & chips) and asked if I could just have one herring. Raw herring (Hollandse Nieuwe) is something of a Dutch delicacy, so the gastronomical adventurer in me figured I should give it a try. They have not been cooked though apparently it is subject to a degree of curing. The fish and chips ended up coming in a massive portion (I think originally intended for two people). I did appreciate that it automatically came with not only tartar sauce for the fish but also mayonnaise for the fries. Love Europe! The herring was surprisingly delightful–meaty and flavourful, without being overpoweringly fishy-flavoured. After I was stuffed full of fish, I made my way back to the tram and headed back to town.

seaside at Scheveningen

seaside at Scheveningen

I hopped off and took a peek at Paleis Noordeinde, which houses the working offices of the Dutch king, before taking a stroll around the area. Filled with boutiques and restaurants (a surprising number of Italian), it was still surprisingly lively despite being Sunday. I took my time meandering my way through the pedestrian streets back to the apartment to pick up my overnight bag to train back to Nijmegen.

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Travel: Delft

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I planned to take the weekend in the eastern part of the Netherlands, specifically Delft and The Hague. Armed with free wifi on the trains (which I love) and some train station snacks, it was a very pleasant, sun-soaked two hours to Delft. I had intended to leave my overnight bag at the train station, as I would be going onto the Hague later in the day but their lockers were not available. Thankfully, I remembered reading that one could leave luggage at the tourist office, so I made my way into town. Cobblestoned streets and tree-lined canals made for a charming walk to the office, which happened to be located in the town square. The square was dominated by the imposing Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and City Hall. Before venturing into the sights, I figured I’d get the lay of the land first. Warm and sunny, it was a perfect autumn day for a walk around town.

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The largely pedestrian-filled streets were lined with cute shops, cafés and restaurants. There were a goodly number of tourists about, which made the increase in English signage (relative to Nijmegen) not so surprising. It was a short walk over to the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which you’ll note has a rather distinct lean to it (in fact it leans about 2 meters from the vertical). The interiors were relatively austere–white walls with minimal ornamentation and a few stained glass windows–which actually gave it a quiet sense of elegance. It is also notable for being the resting place of Johannes Vermeer (who spent his life in Delft).

Oude Kerk (Old Church)
Oude Kerk (Old Church)

Much of what I love about traveling is the people-watching, so it was nice to just sit along the canals and watch bikes roll by with flower-filled baskets or the darling old couples sitting out at cafes in the sun.

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I continued my wanderings through town and stumbled across the Saturday market. Bustling with folk, admiring cheeses, flowers, meats and all those good things. I just love walking through markets, even though I don’t typically buy anything. It’s just such a lively place, full of activity and color and smells (the smell of the stroopwafels was absolutely heavenly!).

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It was just a short hop around the corner to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). Paying admission for one church gained you access to the other, which was handy. This particular church, while not possessing a particularly noteworthy interior, does house the tombs of many members of the Dutch royal family, including William of Orange, who was assassinated in Delft in the late 1600s.

Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)
Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)

I wanted to grab a snack before heading out to the Hague, so I did another lap of town in search of a cozy spot. In my wanderings, I came across what looked to be a grand opening party for a concept store. They were passing out glasses of wine (and who I was I to pass that up?). It was a hip kind of store, selling clothing and other lifestyle items. After I enjoyed my free wine, I eventually settled on Kek, a funky little café/restaurant that seemed to have a cheerful amount of character and enthusiasm. I ordered a slice of cheesecake and a hot chocolate, which were both super delicious. The cheesecake in particular was perfectly creamy. Filled to the brim with sweets, an ideal state to be in really, I picked up my overnight bag and waddled my way out to the bus station to take a 40 minute bus ride to the Hague for the night.

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Travel: Exploring Nijmegen

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On the road again! I have the great pleasure to be visiting the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands for a 3-week research trip. While I do plan on getting (hopefully) a fair bit of work done while I’m here, it won’t be all work and no play. Things won’t be in full swing until Monday, so I took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring of the town I’ll be calling home for the next 3 weeks.

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

The transit system here is, perhaps unsurprisingly, clean and efficient. I got myself an OV-chipkaart, a country-wide transit pass that you pre-load and use and top up as needed, when I first arrived, which makes things even more convenient. It’s an easy 20-minute bus ride into the center of town from the Max Planck, and it wasn’t long before I was strolling through the bustling pedestrian thoroughfares. Nijmegen is considered the oldest towns in the Netherlands (over 2000 thousand years old!), though not many of the original buildings are left, as it was ravaged during World War II. It wasn’t long before I came across Grote Markt, the grand market square in the center of the town. Beautiful cobblestones and tiny, narrow buildings. I was amused to see the open-air patios spilling out onto the square. Nearly November and folks still out on the patio!

Grote Markt
Grote Markt

I wandered down to the river Waal and along the riverfront to find the Velorama, the only bicycle museum in the Netherlands. I’d always heard about the prevalence of bikes in the Netherlands, but I don’t think I could’ve really appreciated it until I got here. Bicycles truly are everywhere, ridden by young and old, on ubiquitous, beautifully-maintained biking paths. It seemed fitting then to visit a museum devoted to this well-loved machine. It was a quirky, if not a little musty, place. Three floors documenting the strange evolution of the bicycle, with some pieces dating back to the early 1800s. The signage was all in Dutch, so I settled for just appreciating the art of the machinery. That is actually a surprising thing I’ve noticed elsewhere–despite the prevalence of Dutch speakers knowing English, there are actually relatively few English translations posted.

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After I’d had my fill, I went in search of a snack. We do have kitchen facilities at the Max Planck guesthouse, so I will be doing my best to not always eat out. But it is nice to try out a few fun spots. I came across De Bruijn in Grote Markt and grabbed a seat on the patio. In addition to blankets, the chairs had heated cushions (which is genius!). De Bruijn is a kind of small lunch plates place, so I ordered a couple sandwiches (tomato/mozzarella and brie/walnut/honey) along with bitterballen. A bitterbal is a Dutch meat-based snack, akin to a croquette, filled with a beef or veal mixture in a roux, breadcrumbed and deep-fried. Super delicious! I happily munched on my snacks, sitting next to another solo traveler, who I later learned spoke Finnish, Swedish, German and English. I just love the kind of casual multilingualism that you get here in Europe.

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From there, I hopped over a few doors down to Cafe in de blaauwe hand, the oldest pub in Nijmegen (founded in 1524). Candlelit and wood-paneled, it was a warm, cozy spot. I enjoyed a cool glass of wine before making my way back to my guest house.

the oldest pub in Nijmegen
the oldest pub in Nijmegen