Tag Archives: The Hague

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.

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I’m baaaaaaack!

Thank you dear readers for your patience and support while I took a little time off from blogging. The Complete Package and I took three weeks off to explore Europe on what could easily be classified as the “trip of a lifetime.” Wondering where we went? Okay, I’ll tell you anyway {wink}.

First, we went here:

The Peace Palace - Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands

The Hall of Knights - Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands

Inside the Hall of Knights - Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands

As a special bonus during our week in The Netherlands, I got to meet and spend a day with one of my blog readers, Claudia. Together, we spent a fabulously fun day in Rotterdam. It’s a day I will never forget, and I’ll be sharing more about it in a later post. (Hi, Claudia! Love you!)

Then we went here:

The Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Inside the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Shopping at the ancient Spice Market - Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul was a revelation. It has been on The Complete Package’s travel wish list for years. I’ll admit, I had some reservations but I was not going to let them stop me from going. And now that I’ve been? Well, let’s just say I couldn’t have been more ignorant or wrong. Istanbul was fabulous and friendly and ancient and fascinating, and I LOVED it. My heart breaks for the victims of last week’s earthquake in eastern Turkey and my prayers are with them all.

And finally, we went here:

St. Nicholas Church, Bridge Tower & Castle - Prague, Czech Republic

Senate Building & Gardens - Prague, Czech Republic

A Sunset Walk below Prague Castle - Prague, Czech Republic

Prague was gorgeous. There is something lovely and ancient around every corner. I don’t think I’ve seen a better collection of fabulously ornate churches since Paris, and I’m not sure some of Prague’s aren’t better. Take the St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle, for instance. Holy cow (pun intended). Words can hardly describe it, so I’ll be sharing more photos later. Lots of photos.

Speaking of photos, we took over 7,000 of them in our three weeks away. I’ll need some time to go through them all, but once I do I’ll be posting separate stories for each of the cities we visited and I’ll also be sharing my day with Claudia in Rotterdam.

Which brings me to one last point I want to share. Blogging gives me the opportunity to share some of the craziness that floats randomly through my brain, and I love that you not only allow me to do it, you seem to enjoy reading along. But my favorite thing about blogging, hands down, is the friends I’ve made along the way. You, my dear readers, are why I keep writing. I love your input, your comments and your support. So thank you for sticking with me, for allowing me to take a few weeks off to enjoy some very special time with TCP, and for coming back again and again. I love you more than chocolate. And you know how much I love chocolate.

So stay tuned, kids! I’m going through photos and trying to wrap my head around the past three weeks. Once I do, we’ll be off to the races with tons of photos and stories to share. It’s good to be back!

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Vacation Photos, Part 1 – The Hague (that’s in The Netherlands, ya’ll)

Sorry it has taken me so long to get photos up from our recent trip. I’ve had trouble wrapping my head around how to get started. We visited seven cities in 16 days and took over 1,500 photos. I wasn’t quite sure how to put it all together, but I think I’ve finally decided to break it down by city. So first up is The Hague in the Netherlands. The Complete Package had to go for business, so I happily tagged along. We flew direct from Houston to Amsterdam and took the train out to The Hague. First stop – the Hilton Hotel near the city center. I have to say, I loved just about everything about this hotel. Loved the location, the staff, the modern decor, the room, and the bathroom with its giant soaking tub, slate shower and frosted glass walls. The only thing I didn’t love was the amount they hijacked us for on laundry service. We could have bought new clothes for what they charged, but I digress. I have to say, it really was a lovely place.

The Hilton Hotel in The Hague, Netherlands


The Hilton Hotel Lobby


Deluxe King Bed Room at the Hilton


Oh, how I loved this bathroom

The Complete Package and I arrived on a Saturday morning, which gave us two days to be tourists together. One of the places he took me to was Scheveningen, a resort town on the North Sea (and a quick 10 minute tram ride from The Hague). In the summer, this place is crowded with beach lovers and swimmers.

Scheveningen's North Sea shore

In November, it’s cold and rainy, but still beautiful. And we had the bonus surprise of running into Sinterklaas and Black Pieter. I had never heard of this combination, but it is a holiday tradition here. Legend has it that Sinterklaas and Black Pieter come over to The Netherlands by boat from Spain prior to Christmas. Sinterklaas rewards the children who are good. Black Pieter takes the bad kids back to Spain. It’s an interesting tradition that dates back over 200 years. You can read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas & Black Pieter visit the kids on the Scheveningen boardwalk.

We found them just outside the Kurhaus Hotel, with it’s stunning architecture and views of the North Sea. A stroll through this hotel is a trip back in time. They knew we were tourists because my jaw kept hitting the floor.

High Tea at the beautiful Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen

I had five days to myself to explore The Hague while TCP attended workshops and meetings. I thought I would be doing it on my own, but I learned that another wife had also tagged along. That’s how I met my new friend Rabecca Ng. She’s Chinese, but lives in Malaysia with her husband and children. Together we spent 3 days exploring the city and surrounding area including museums, shopping districts, and a visit to the town of Delft. I am very grateful to Rabecca. Sightseeing alone is educational, but sightseeing with a friend is just pure fun!

One of my favorite places in The Hague was called “Escher in the Palace.” It’s just what it sounds like – a museum of M.C. Escher’s work located in a former palace building that dates back to the 1700’s. If you don’t recognize his name, you may recognize his work. I find it fascinating, intricate, and sometimes mind altering. You can look at it and see one thing, then look at it again and see something else. If you’re ever in The Hague, do yourself a favor and check this place out. Rabecca had never heard of Escher, and she loved this museum. We spent over 3 hours there, and loved every minute of it. Here’s a sampling:

Besides the artwork, the palace itself was beautiful. Every room featured a different paint color, murals and a unique crystal chandelier. I couldn’t wait to see what I would find in each new room. These are a couple of my favorites:


Next up, a quirky little tourist trap known as The Madurodam. It’s a miniature copy of multiple Dutch cities and landmarks set in a park atmosphere that has been drawing visitors for almost 60 years. I think most locals find it kitschy, but I found it charming. Thankfully, they give you a guide-book with your ticket and each exhibit is numbered, which helps you figure out what you’re looking at. I was stunned by the attention to detail, all in a 1:25 ratio. Judge for yourself:

I loved the architecture of The Hague. It’s a mix of historic and modern all blended together, but it works. Of course, my favorites were the older, more historic buildings with their trademark Dutch features. Here’s a montage of various landmarks I fell in love with:

The Hague's Benninhof (Parliament Building) Courtyard

Johan de Witt watching over traditional homes

The interior of St. Jacob's Church

The Hague's Parliament Buildings

Nieuwe Church, The Hague

The Escher Museum - Escher in the Palace

I have one last destination to share – a day trip to Delft. Do you know about Delft and its famous blue & white pottery? It’s lovely. The town of Delft itself is also very lovely, and the fact that they had a market on the town square each Thursday convinced me to visit. It was a quick 25 minute tram ride from The Hague, so my new friend Rabecca and I gave it a shot. Turns out all those photos on the internet don’t really do it justice. This place was beautiful. I won’t bore you by going on and on about it. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Delft's Nieuwe Church & Market with wooden tulips

Nieuwe Church Interior

Delft Flower Market Stall

The pottery that put Delft on the map - beautiful!

Canals - they're not a cliché, they're a way of life

My new friend Rabecca - thanks for 3 fun-filled days!

Finally, I’m going to wrap this up with one of the things I loved most about The Hague…oliebollen. Oh my heaven and stars above, these are the best fried dough treats I’ve ever eaten in my life. Words escape me. They’re sort of like donuts, but sort of like popovers. They have the most decadent texture.

Great googly moogly - I love me some oliebollen

When you pick one up, it feels heavy so you’d think it would be dense. But then you bite into it and it’s incredibly fluffy and wonderful. They make them plain, with raisins or currants, filled with cinnamon-spiced apples, topped with tart cherries…you name it. And they serve them warm with powdered sugar dusted over them. If heaven is a food, it’s an oliebollen. If I’m ever on death row, my last meal will be a plate of oliebollen. I’d give my left kidney for the recipe. Okay, maybe not, but if I knew how to make these, I’m pretty sure I could rule the world. God bless the Dutch. They now have a very special place in my heart (and stomach). Next up – a weekend in Amsterdam, so stay tuned!

Tonight I shall dream of oliebollen. Sweet dreams, indeed!

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