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