The Dutch don't always brag about their food. In fact, if you ask them to define their food, they may tell you it's nothing special, or that there are no Dutch delicacies (at least none that weren't first stolen and improved from other cultures). And our first day and a half in The Netherlands, spent in Amsterdam on our own, we didn't really sample Dutch foods. Of course, we didn't mind that. We didn't know what we were missing, after all! After a rushed and exhausting two days in Paris, we found ourselves in Amsterdam, where everyone is friendly and welcoming to tourists, most people speak English, the city is really beautiful but not in that “we have so much history and it only makes sense you felt the need to travel across the world to see it” way that Paris is, and the whole vibe is relaxed and liberal and environmentally friendly, somehow. We spent a day and a half enjoying the city on our own (helped the first day by a fireball redheaded tour guide who led us around the city and enlightened us about the red light district). One of the highlights for me was our visit to the Anne Frank house on Sunday morning, but there will be a complete blog post just about that in the future.
But the best part about the last leg of our trip? Sunday afternoon, we boarded our last train and went to Haarlem, just outside of the city, where we spent our last 24 hours with two real live Dutch girls—Mirjam and Annemarie. I’d met Annemarie last year on the Inca trail in Peru, and we’ve kept each other on facebook since then. When I told her we’d be in Amsterdam and the dates, she recommended we get outside the city if possible and mentioned that her cousin Mirjam opens her home up to couchsurfers in Haarlem. And that’s how we found ourselves with the best two hosts we could have hoped for! (Annemarie was just starting her holidays, so it worked out for her to come and stay with Mirjam as well and spend Monday with us).
Sunday night, the women greeted us with big smiles, and told us they’d been busy making plans on their drive. Mirjam took us first on a “Dutch food tour,” and really the whole trip became a continuation of it. Walking around Haarlem to get a feel of the picturesque city, we stopped first and had Patat, which is Dutch French fries served in a paper cone and smothered with mayo. Hot, fresh, and quite delicious.
We continued, joking as we went about the practicality of the Dutch when naming things. As we passed a church, Liz asked about it. Mirjam didn’t really know, so she did as any good tour guide would do, and made up a plausible answer (all in good fun). “Oh that? It’s…the New Church!” But then 30 seconds later, we passed the placard over the door, and “Oh my gosh, it really IS the New Church!!” Sure enough…we’d just passed Nieuw Kerk.
We arrived at the Big Square (practical name!) and stopped at a café for bitterballen. Thanks to a love of John Green (YA author and video blogger…check him out), Liz and I had both heard of this food and were pumped to try it. It was delicious. Hard to describe. Try it yourself and save me the trouble.
Next stop: the Jopenkerk. It’s…the beer church. If you’re like me, you’re going, “huh??” If you’re not, then gold star for you, smarty pants. It’s a brewery/bar housed in a former church. The high ceilings and stained glass is still there, and the interior is really cool. The food’s not bad either! We had a cheese plate (the Dutch are famous for their cheese) before moving on.
The last stop of the night was the “city beach.” It’s right on the water in the city, and in the outdoor seating area, they’ve put sand and benches. We sat around a small bonfire (and learned of Mirjam’s hidden scouting talents as a skilled fire-tender) and indulged in nachos and drinks. The nachos were interesting—they came with melted cheese and jalapenos, but also sweet and sour sauce. They was so good! Different than I’d ever had before, but really delicious!
The next morning, after Mirjam made us a tasty breakfast of poffertjes (small puffy Dutch pancakes made in a special pan--which she told us is not a usual breakfast food, but she likes them), we were off on the next leg of the girls’ plan for our Dutch experience. Mirjam secured bicycles for all of us, and we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the beach. Our route took us through town, then into the countryside and eventually into a national park. Talk about beautiful! It was a different landscape than I ever expected to see, but truly breathtaking. And I loved being on a bike—what’s a trip to the Netherlands without joining the masses on their bicycles, after all? And it’s so nice to bike in Haarlem. There’s always a bike lane, and not even close to the amount of traffic (both bikes and cars and pedestrians) as in Amsterdam.
The beach was beautiful, with clean, soft sand. The water would have been a bit cold, but the temperature on the sand was just right for sunbathing. And for lunch, we continued our Dutch food tour with typical candy, called drop, which is sort of like black licorice but with an added dimension. Kind of a salty/buttery flavor in addition to the anise…? It was definitely a different flavor. And, in addition to egg sandwiches, raisin bread, and cheese, we also had stroopwafels. OMG, stroopwafels!! The best cookies ever. They are thin, crisp waffle cookies coated in sugar, and in between, a layer of caramel. They taste like Christmas.
And then, after a stop at a super cool beach café for liquid refreshment, we biked back to town, showered, and bid our new friends goodbye at the bus stop. It was everything I could have hoped for in our last day in Europe. Culture, a new experience, nature, good food, relaxation and new friends!