Vacation Photos, Set 1 – Netherlands

This is Claudia. She makes me smile. She makes me laugh. Hi, Claudia.

Remember this face. It’s such a nice face. This face belongs to Claudia. Wonderful, funny, enchanting Claudia. She’s a reader of my blog and a resident of The Netherlands. Remember this face. She’ll be joining us again shortly.

I love to travel. Love, love, love it. And three weeks is a long time to be away from home, even for us. It’s a long time to be away from our kids. It’s a long time to be away from our sweet old smushy faced dog. But you know what? It’s a great gig if you can get it. Our three weeks away started with a business trip to The Netherlands for The Complete Package. The dates for his week-long business meetings came up sort of suddenly, but we were totally up for the challenge. And since his company was paying for his round-trip flights and hotel accommodations, we weren’t about to pass up this opportunity. I mean, he’s already going to Europe, right? So why not?

First up, business meetings in Den Haag (The Hague). If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that we were here last November as a first leg to our infamous German Christmas Markets Adventure. Boy, that was a great trip. This year, we found ourselves back in The Hague for a week and back at the Hilton Den Haag. If you’re visiting The Netherlands, I highly recommend it.

The Hague Hilton - what a lovely place to stay

I know I said this last year, but I L-O-V-E this hotel. The building is fantastic. The location is superb. The rooms are spacious. The bathrooms are luxurious. And the staff is friendly and helpful and engaging. It really is a dream hotel. And their beds are to die for. If I lived here, I’d rarely get out of this bed.

Big, fluffy king-size beds - the stuff dreams are made of

Just like last year, I planned to spend my days sightseeing and shopping while TCP slaved over a hot laptop, working (as usual, he would say). There are endless streets filled with countless shops, cafes, museums and interesting architecture in The Hague. There is just so much to discover here.

Sorry to hear about your demise but I love your view, Mr. DeWitt.

The Peace Palace - no photos inside, but it's a jaw-dropping type of gorgeous

The Royal Palace of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, right by the hotel

The Rizzerdaal (Hall of Knights) and its gorgeous gilded fountain

Restaurants on the shore of the North Sea at Schevenigen

The historic Kurhaus Hotel on Scheveningen's North Sea shore

As you can see, it’s beautiful here. And of the European cities we’ve visited, The Hague is the one I feel most at home in. I love it here. It’s a tranquil, historic, lovely place and the people are every bit as lovely.

And that brings me to Claudia. Dear Claudia. Last year, after I posted photos of our trip to The Netherlands and declared my undying love of oliebollen – (Dutch donuts), Claudia left a comment on my blog inviting me to spend a day with her in Rotterdam the next time I returned. What a fabulous invitation! This year as we planned our trip, I remembered Claudia’s offer and sent her an e-mail. True to her word, Claudia offered to take a day off and show me Rotterdam. Tuesday was a good day for her, and as luck would have it, TCP’s company scheduled late meetings and team activities on Tuesday. Perfect. And just like that, the stars aligned and I had a date to tour Rotterdam with Claudia. I can’t say this enough: I love my readers! So, let’s get back to this face.

This is Claudia smiling. Claudia has a very nice smile.

On Tuesday morning, I could hardly control my excitement. We’d exchanged photos prior to the trip so I’d know who to look for and she’d know not to let the wrong stranger get into her car. As soon as she pulled up, she jumped out of the car with a big smile on her face. What a great and accurate first impression. Claudia always has a smile on her face, and I love that about her. She whisked me away for a day in Rotterdam, and we spent the entire day smiling and laughing.

The real Claudia - always laughing. This is how I always think of her.

Our day started at a beautiful little cafe for coffee. Do you know what I love about Dutch cafes? They serve their coffee with little speculaas cookies. They’re spicy shortbread cookies usually shaped like windmills, and they are perfect for coffee dunking. You should know this in case you visit. Nobody does little gingerbread-style cookies like the Dutch. Seriously. Fuhgeddaboudit.

The best part of waking up is speculaas and a coffee cup!

The only thing that beats a good cup of coffee in a lovely cafe is a good cup of coffee with a new friend in a lovely cafe that overlooks a quaint harbor full of boats. This was our view from the cafe window. Nice, huh?

My local Starbucks does NOT offer a view like this. Not even close.

I'm in love with this boat. Think it will fit in my carry-on?

After coffee, we set out on foot to explore Rotterdam. Our walk took us along the banks of the Nieuwe Maas past the Maastunnel. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when this marvel was built. Opened in 1942, it is a deep tunnel used by pedestrians and cyclists to cross the river. And when I say it’s deep under ground, I’m not joking. I got a touch of vertigo just looking at the escalator that leads to the tunnel.

Maastunnel Entry Mural - depicting commuters in 1942

Steep escalator - I'm woozy & this girl is texting AND holding a bike

The tunnel is 20 meters (approx 65 feet) below sea level.

Our next stop was the Euromast tower to take in the sweeping panoramic views of Rotterdam. Sadly, the observation platform was closed when we were there, but we were able to visit the restaurant instead, and the 360-degree views of Rotterdam were spectacular. Unfortunately, most of those photos came out gray due to the rain. No worries, though. The rain cleared as the day progressed.

The Euromast on a rainy morning is just as tall.

Lovely park view from the Euromast tower

Same house & gardens seen from the Euromast, from ground level

So we’ve taken the steep escalator down into the Maastunnel, and we’ve ascended to the heavens in the Eurotmast to see Rotterdam from the clouds. What’s next? The scariest part of the day (for me, anyway). Tackling Claudia’s promise to introduce me to a traditional Dutch treat – raw herring. You heard me. Raw. Herring. To help calm my nerves, we ordered white wine with our lunch. So here’s how it went down:

She took me to this lovely little shop where it was obvious they took great pride in their fresh seafood. It really was a delightful shop, and I was starting to feel a little better about what what going to happen here.

The plethora of fresh seafood dazzled me and lured me in.


As we browsed the menu boards, Claudia suggested a sampling of Dutch delicacies. I let her do the ordering while I secured the last remaining cocktail table for our lunch. She’s the local, so that makes her the expert here.

She knows I'm nervous about the herring. She suspects I want to run.

I've just promised that I won't run or throw up on the table. Maybe.

First up, the dreaded much-hearalded raw herring in sandwich (broodjes) form, followed by a plate of fried fish (cod, I think) which was fabulous.

Raw herring sandwich. Makes the fried fish & wine look better, doesn't it?

Claudia loves herring so much she strokes it & whispers sweet nothings to it.

I’m just kidding about the heavy fish petting and sweet nothings. Actually, I think she was just wiping something off of it, but I got a good chuckle over the idea of her enjoying that fish a little too much. Cutting off about one inch of herring, Claudia handed over the fork and I was faced with my first raw herring.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I get a little weak in the knees at the prospect of eating herring. I can trace it directly back to a bad experience involving my dad, a dish of pickled herring in a dill & sour cream sauce, and a German restaurant in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I tried one bite and almost threw up on the table. I was horrified. It was awful (the fish AND the experience). Check a map. Fort Smith, Arkansas is land locked. It is nowhere near a source of fresh herring.

I vowed to never let herring cross my lips again, and yet here I was with Claudia – smiling and laughing and drinking wine and staring down a piece of RAW herring on a fork. So I tried it, and you know what? I didn’t throw up. I didn’t even gag a little. More than that, I found it interesting in texture and flavor. Why, I’d even go so far as to proclaim that it was okay! Would I eat one again? Maybe not. But maybe I would. Especially if Claudia was there urging me to trust her. Because I do trust her. And I did enjoy trying all of it.

Oh, I forgot mention she also ordered a cocktail of the teeniest but tastiest local shrimp (garnaal). Mmmm… now these I would definitely eat again. I think I’d eat them from a jar. I think I’d eat them in a car. I think I’d follow them with jam. I love these garnaal, Sam-I-Am!

Don't let their size fool you. These tiny shrimp are packed with flavor.

Now here’s where my blogging photography gets sloppy. After our wine and seafood lunch, we walked to a fabulous museum and took in a plethora of local Dutch paintings, sculpture, pottery & glass, and even furniture and home accessories. It was all lovely, as was our coffee break in the museum cafe. But it seems I took very few photos inside the museum, so we’ll just have to skip to our ride through the harbor and across the river.

Our sweet ride - a water taxi through Rotterdam

A view of Rotterdam from our water taxi ride

Sailboats, fishing boats, tug boats - so many beautiful boats

Our water taxi takes us across the Niewe Maas to the opposite side of the river, across from where our tour started this morning. As we pull up to the dock, I notice the beautiful old building that now houses the Hotel New York.

The grand old building that now houses the Hotel New York

What makes this building notable is not the hotel, although the Hotel New York captures the spirit of the building. It’s the history that makes it special.

The former headquarters of the Holland America Line

Rotterdam has been a point of embarkation for passengers seeking a future in the New World since the 1620′s and the Holland America Line has been transporting pilgrims since the 1880′s. This beautiful building is the Dutch counterpart to Ellis Island in New York. From here, families loaded their hopes and dreams onto Holland America ships and headed to points far and wide seeking new lives. Now, Holland America is known as one of the world’s leading cruise lines and their former headquarters house the Hotel New York and a lovingly restored space that now serves as a bar and restaurant. As our day wound to a close, Claudia and I stopped here for high tea. And that’s where this photo of Claudia comes back into play. It was taken just before tea.

Thank you for a wonderful day, Claudia.

After tea, we walked back across a nearby expansion bridge just as the sun was setting over Rotterdam. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The sun sets over Rotterdam, but a new friendship dawns

We drank coffee, we sampled local delicacies, we took in spectacular views and stunning art. We walked under the river via the Maastunnel, we crossed over the river in a water taxi, and we ended with a sunset stroll over the bridge. And I enjoyed every single second of it. In fact, words fail to capture just how much I enjoyed Claudia’s company. I will be forever grateful that she found my blog, that we started a dialog over olibollen, and that she invited me to spend a day learning more about her city. But the greatest part of the day was gaining a new friend. A lovely, funny friend whom I will cherish forever.

And speaking of oliebollen, Claudia informed me just before we arrived that oliebollen, those awe-inspiring Dutch donuts I fell in love with last November, are a seasonal holiday treat. As such, oliebollen stands do not open until early November. I think she could sense the utter devastation in my response to her e-mail. I was heartbroken, since I had informed her that my favorite oliebollen stand would be the first stop once we got checked in at the hotel. Not one to be deterred, Claudia knew that we would be spending one last night in Amsterdam at the end of our vacation. When we left The Netherlands for other destinations in Europe, she contacted the local tourism bureau to inquire if any oliebollen stands would open early enough for our night in Amsterdam. Wow. Most people would say, “maybe next time.” Claudia e-mailed to tell me about stands opening early. Now that is a true friend.

And so, I’ll end this first chapter of our travels with one final treat from The Netherlands. Okay, two. First, The Complete Package enjoyed his favorite Dutch side dish – frites with mayonnaise. Don’t knock the mayonnaise until you’ve tried it. This ain’t no Hellman’s, baby. This is the good stuff.

Pomme frites with mayonnaise - TCP's ever-lovin' favorite

And just when I thought all was lost, look what I found at Schipol Airport:

That's right, baby! The oliebollerie is open for business!

And hot ones were coming out of the fryer as we walked up

But they're not done until they're coated in powdered sugar

And since Claudia wasn’t there to share them with me, I shared them with The Complete Package and another new friend.

I met someone who loves oliebollen like I do. I shall call her Claudia.

I wish Claudia could have seen me standing there, snarfing down hot oliebollen, covered in powdered sugar. I’m pretty sure I know how she would have reacted.

Yep. That's exactly how I picture Claudia's response.

Up next, The Complete Package and I live one of his travel fantasies – a week in Istanbul, Turkey. It was ancient. It was exotic. It was fabulous. And you will not want to miss those photos, so stay tuned!

Special thanks to our friends Kaki & Donny for taking such good care of Ziggy while we were away. And thanks to our other friends Pat & Carl who were willing to take Zigman if needed. Your care of our sweet boy is what allows us to travel worry-free, and for that we are forever grateful. Truly.

32 Comments

Filed under Travel Tales

32 responses to “Vacation Photos, Set 1 – Netherlands

  1. How fun!! I am so glad that you and Claudia were able to meet in person. Blogging makes the world seem so small, and friendships so great. That picture of you sharing with the bird-in-flight is amazing!! Methinks we need to somehow re-create oliebollen stateside.

    • That’s how Claudia and I met, Kirsten. She read my blog post about the Netherlands from last fall and shared her own love of oliebollen. And – drum roll, please – SENT ME HER RECIPE!!! It makes a ton of them, and there are only 2 of us at home, but I will gladly e-mail the recipe to you so you can try in on your house full of boys. You’ll have to let me know if you fall in love as well. I’m guessing you will.

  2. Claudia

    Now wait a minute… didn’t I take several pictures of you as well? Where are those? It takes two to tango, Jeanne! But we sure had truckloads of fun and I hope TCP will be summoned to The Hague again sometime soon. I’ll whisk you off to another city then and we can continue where we left off. Because one day just was nowhere near enough. Just be sure next time to leave some room in your luggage to transport that slightly suspicious-looking white powder… Big hugs, kisses & love to you!

    • I’m crossing every body part in hopes that we’ll return again soon. I have big hopes for us seeing that top-secret parliamentary library and many other sites. I’m thinking of all kinds of cheese shenanigans in Gouda. Or pottery puttering in Delft. Not to mention the trouble we could get into in Amsterdam. The possibilities are endless. You may have to take a week off next time, Claudia! And I found a shop one hour north of my home in Houston that sells Dutch products. Next time I’m in that area, I’m stopping in to look for oliebollen mix (the slightly suspicious-looking white powder you mention that has nothing to do with fully-suspicious and illegal drugs, Mr. DEA). And you know you and your hubby are always welcome at Casa NanaBread when you decide to visit the states. Even if you’re just passing through to other locales, we’d love to see you. As for the pictures you mentioned, I’m pretty sure they turned out really blurry. Or distorted. Or deleted. Okay, maybe not deleted, but…. oh, never mind! ;+p

  3. Thanks for the tour! Great post and I loved all the pictures. If I ever go, I’ll be e-mailing you for Claudia’s contact info!

    • She does make an excellent tour guide, but she’s My Precious (she says as she snarls and rubs her hands together). How’s that for a visual? Ha! I hope you make it to The Netherlands, Michael. I absolutely love it there.

  4. What a fabulous day! Now I’m hungry for donuts (but definitely not for herring). And the shot of the bird at the end is wonderful.

    As for long escalators – there are several METRO stations in DC where you might as well sit down for a while, the things are so long. Am looking forward to the Istanbul post.

    • Thanks, Lisa Bear. The Complete Package took that photo with his new super-duper pocket camera. It has a high-speed function that worked beautifully. He took an entire series of shots that just blew my mind. One bird even tried to take a piece of oliebollen as I lifted it to my mouth. It was hysterical. Turns out they love oliebollen as much as I do!

      • Oh! You just wrote about speculaas and last night I came across a recipe for them. It was a spur of the moment decision to bring this cookbook home from the library yesterday. While I was reading through it last night I found a speculaas recipe. I’d never heard of them before your post, and there was a recipe. Timing is everything.

        The book is Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito. Don’t read it while hungry! It’s all sweet stuff and I’ve copied a bunch of recipes out of it to try.

      • Talk about timing! How weird AND cool is that? I guess you were meant to make speculaas. Thanks for the tip on the cookbook. I may have to see if I can run down a copy of it!

  5. Kat

    Things that are fantastic about this post: Everything.

    I’m SO glad that you got to meet-up with Claudia and experience the city with her! What an incredibly cool way to enjoy. Your words and pictures say so much but still, I can only imagine you two were practically dancing!

    And I loved the bird shot :)

    • It was a blast spending the day with Claudia. As Forrest Gump was fond of saying, we went together “like peas and carrots.” Never have two women from across the globe had so much fun over a dead fish. Claudia absolutely made my week in the Netherlands with our day in Rotterdam. Fun doesn’t begin to describe it, but ‘practically dancing’ is a good start. TCP will be happy to hear that his bird shot is a crowd pleaser. I may have to throw in a post on the sequence of shots he took. It plays almost like a slideshow. Pretty cool stuff.

  6. The Baby

    Thank you Claudia for treating my sister to what sounds like a wonderful day! I can’t believe you got her to eat that raw fish. I have to admit, my jaw tightened up when I saw it. I was expecting little shaved pieces, not THE fish sans head and guts. You go girls! This Fort Smith raised girl will stick with the oliebollen and the shrimp. FYI… Emmy’s finally closed it’s doors.

    • That’s sweet of you, Baby Sis. It was a truly wonderful day, and the raw fish wasn’t nearly as hideous as I expected. In fact, with a squeeze of lemon and a few capers, I might be persuaded to eat it again. That’s what happens when you open yourself up to new things. One blog comment, one invitation, one day with a reader – it all lead to a wonderful new friend and new experiences. Sorry to hear that Emmy’s closed, although it hasn’t been the same since that sweet old couple passed years ago. Don’t suppose you got the recipe for that house salad dressing by any chance?

    • Claudia

      It was entirely my pleasure! If everyone in your family so much as remotely resembles your sister, then your Hoegaarden weekends must be nothing short of hysterical.

  7. I’m with you: No to herring, Yes to Shrimp! I love the pic of the bird eating out of your hand.

    • I fear I’ve given herring a bad name here, and that was not my intent. I hope Dutch herring lovers don’t decide to occupy a herring stand somewhere and protest my blog. For the record, herring are perfectly lovely fish. Hundreds of thousands of Dutch herring lovers can’t be wrong. It’s not them, it’s me. Great. Now it sounds like I’m breaking up with a herring.

  8. OK, thats it…. I want to work where your husband works… trips to Europe, yes please!! Recruit me! I will gladly leave the life of social work behind, lol.
    Loved the photos and learning about so many new places!

    • That’s the beauty of being 48 and having a grown child who supports herself & a husband that invites me to tag along. Hang in there, Katie. There’s a light at the end of that toddler tunnel! Speaking of… how’s your little Bugaboo doing? You need to post a new photo soon.

      If you like seeing new places, wait until you see the Istanbul and Prague photos. Both cities were incredible!

  9. Deb

    Oh pretty please post the oliebollen recipe!!! I am pretty sure that I will need to eat several of them in order to be happy : )) My hubby has traveled there (and possibly eaten one, but of course he wouldn’t remember it) and I love to make things from countries where he has been for him. Not to mention the fact that they sound YUMMMMMMMYYYYY!!!!! Blogs are amazing ways of finding new friends!! Gotta love the era that we live in! Can’t wait for the next post…..

  10. Your trip looks amazing!!! If only my starbucks had that view… i’d never leave. I ate many oliebollen’s during my time is Europe, and I can hardly wait to have another one when I return this spring.
    xx

    • Thanks, Ashley. I’m with you. My Starbucks has a view of a McDonalds and a now defunct former Arby’s. That’s a far cry from Dutch bikes and sailboats, but at least I have my pictures to help cheer me up. Do you mind if I stow away in your luggage next spring? Happy to pay the extra weight fee. heehee Oh, hey… Claudia told me oliebollen are holiday treats that are made and sold from early November until New Years. I hope you can find them next spring. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

  11. Amy

    I would SO try that herring!
    Beautiful pictures. I never really thought about traveling to The Netherlands, but after seeing these photos and hearing about all the wonderful sites, it is definitely going on my list of “must see” places.
    That pic of the bird eating out of your hand is amazing!

    • Yes! Amy would try the herring!
      If you love canals and boats and cheese and donuts flower bulbs and history and pottery and canals and friendly people, you have to put The Netherlands on your bucket list. It is a wonderful place. Wait until you see the rest of our trip photos. You’re going to want to add a few more cities to that list. Promise.

  12. I love this post so hard! Isn’t it awesome how bloggy friends are like a more awesome version of pen pals?
    I really hope to meet a blog friend in real life someday. Maybe even you!
    Also, the food looks insanely delicious. 90% of the reason I love to travel is for the new foods. I’m pretty sure that makes me crazy. Whatever. Worth it!
    Sorry, none of that was grammatically correct or made any sense. :)

    • I’d love to come out to California some day and kidnap Josie visit you! One of my favorite things about travel is trying all the local/regional foods, too. Wait until you see the photo of our favorite doner kabob from Istanbul. De-lish.

  13. What an absolutely wonderful post! I love all of the pictures of your vacation. But how awesome that you got a chance to meet Claudia. Isn’t funny that people you talk to over time, but have yet to meet, begin to feel like friends. So nice that you actually got a chance to spend a day together. And what a wonderful day it looks like you gals had! And so happy for your Olliebollen!

    • Thanks, Anne! Meeting and spending a day with Claudia was the greatest gift from this trip. After only one day together, I felt like we’ve known each other for years. It makes me wish we lived much closer to each other. I’ve always said my favorite thing about blogging is the friends I’ve made, and Claudia is a wonderful example. I feel extremely lucky to have had this chance to meet her, and I will always cherish our day together. I hope I’ll get the chance to return to the Netherlands so we can do it all over again. And if that fails, I hope I’ll talk her into visiting the states. We don’t have oliebollen in Texas, but we do have killer breakfast tacos. And we could always tackle making oliebollen together. Ahhhh… a girl can dream.

  14. Pingback: Vacation Photos, Week 3 – Prague | Inside NanaBread's Head

  15. gapgrad

    Oh my gosh. I’ve been out of the blogging scene for a few months, so I’m a little behind on your posts–but your vacation pics are beautiful! What an amazing trip! I am laughing–I bet I know which company TCP works for that sent him to the Hague–my dad lives and works in Houston (Alvin :) and goes to the Hague for work all the time, too! In fact, one summer in college I went with him and bummed around all day by myself while he worked. It was the best week EVER. I LOVE the Netherlands, the Hague…The summer was so…green…and though it rained often it was a very happy rain. I found a tiny little museum (I can’t remember what it’s called) that I LOVED! I love Prague, too!! You make me want to return!! Thanks for sharing!!

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