Tag Archives: Netherlands

Adventures in Amsterdam + Love in Limburg

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AMSTERDAM

First Impressions

After months of planning and almost a year anticipating, it was finally time for us to fly to Amsterdam from Pearson Airport in Toronto. We landed in Schiphol Airport around 1 pm on Monday, August 22nd. Let me just quickly say that I loved Schiphol airport. I’ve done my fair share of airport hopping (what with travelling to the US & Asia) and Schiphol is probably my favourite so far. It’s super easy to navigate, very well-organized plus it has a ton of cool shops and nice restaurants, some of which are open 24/7.

The number one great thing about Schiphol is that you can take a train from the airport to Amsterdam in 20 minutes. So we did just that and found ourselves in Amsterdam Central Station. As soon as we got out of the station, we got our first glimpse of the city. It was gorgeous. From buildings to the canals, everywhere we turned was picturesque.

Accommodation

We made our way to our base for the next two and a half days: Hotel Die Port van Cleve. For Keith’s very first European destination, I decided to splurge and book us a nice hotel that is central to everything. We can’t say enough great things about the service at this hotel. They went above and beyond to make sure we had everything we needed during our stay. They even helped us when Keith needed to see a tourist doctor for his toe. Long story short: it hurt to walk so he got it checked and the wonderful doctor prescribed a treatment that helped him survive the large portion of our trip spent walking around.

Fun fact about our hotel: it is the site of the first Heineken brewery built in 1864 before it was moved to its present-day location. They have a nice restaurant that we did not try and a more casual bar. Another quirky interesting about this hotel is the Delft blue artwork found everywhere: from the toiletries to above our bed to the world’s largest Delft blue tile tableau in the bar.

Getting Around

Cycling is king in Amsterdam but I had no faith in my biking skills so we decided to walk everywhere. Since I was saving my cell phone roaming for Paris where we were actually meeting up with friends, we had to rely on a physical map of the city to get around. It wasn’t easy because of several factors: a) My not-so-stellar sense of direction, b) Years of relying on Google Maps made me forget how to use an actual map and c) The spider web-like way Amsterdam and its canals are set up did not help. Another thing we quickly realized was that everything was always much closer than we thought. Street blocks weren’t as big as the ones in North America, so on the map it would look like something was very far away when in reality it was right beside you. But as our friend Chris told us, Amsterdam is super compact and after the second day, we were able to navigate the streets comfortably, or at least I was. Keith’s usually good sense of direction was not compatible with the canals.

Attractions

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On our first day there, we had time to go to the Van Gogh museum before they closed. My mom, the biggest Van Gogh fan I know, would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t gone. I enjoyed the Van Gogh museum more than Keith did. His issue was that some of the more famous paintings such as Starry Night and Café Terrance at Night aren’t even housed in it plus it contained paintings that weren’t by Van Gogh. It still houses the largest collection of paintings and drawing by Van Gogh so I consider it a must-see. I really liked the way the museum was laid out. Each floor corresponds to a period in Van Gogh’s life. Some things to keep in mind: the tickets are issued for specific time slots and you cannot take photos of the paintings but there are designated social media areas.

We woke up early on day two to cross out the number one thing on Keith’s list: the Rijksmuseum. The building itself is a work of art from the impressive exterior to the beautiful interior. While all the different works of art inside were super interesting, the main reason we were there can be found in the Gallery of Honour: four of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Keith has been fascinated by Vermeers since he watched the documentary Tim’s Vermeer, so we spent a large chunk of our time there. Of course, we had to admire the museum’s pièce de resistance: Rembrandt’s Night Watch. My one regret was not being able to visit the library. Also for such an impressive museum, their gift shop was smaller than the ones at Van Gogh’s.IMG_6751.jpg

After the two museums, we just basically spent the rest of the time just exploring the streets around us to see what we would stumble upon. Our hotel was located right beside the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church. We walked the 9 Streets and the Jordaan neighbourhood for a bit and saw the Westerkerk where Rembrandt is buried. We skipped the Anne Frank House because of the long lines. We passed Leidseplein a lot. We made our way to the 800-year-old Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building that just happens to be a church right next to the Red Light District. We also passed by but did not go into the Rembrandt museum right next to the house he lived in.

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For stroopwafels, we went to the Lanskroon bakery (which also had very good coffee and amazing cinnamon croissants). I bravely sampled and liked the raw herring from Frens Haringhandel near Bloemenmarkt, one of many herring stands in the city, while Keith got and loved their Kibbeling (cod croquettes). We also had traditional Dutch cuisine right beside the canal from Bistro Bij Ons which was tasty but very rich, if not too rich for our taste. We were lucky enough to have De Blauwe Parade as our hotel bar where we drank Heineken (because of course), ate Bitterballen and sampled jenever (Dutch gin). At the airport, go to Dutch and Delicious for their poffertjes (small Dutch pancakes). We found that some places were cash only and some were card only, so be sure to ask beforehand.

Souvenirs

If you love Van Gogh, the museum has multiple gift shops of all sorts of things featuring his artwork, but stroopwafels are definitely the one thing to bring home for yourself or as gifts.

LIMBURG

img_7299I will not be able to cover Limburg as extensively as Amsterdam but I still wanted to give it a special mention here since we did visit it, albeit for a day. It was at the halfway point of our trip after Brussels and Bruges that we made our way to this part of the Netherlands for the wedding. It took us three trains to get there which you think would be a pain in the ass but was actually super easy and efficient. I cannot say enough good things about rail travel in Europe. I’m sure if you live there, you can find things to complain about but as someone who has to rely on the ViaRail in Canada, train travel across the Atlantic is the absolute best. We stayed in Roermond which a small city, close to the border between Germany and the Netherlands that is funnily enough home to a huge outdoor designer outlet mall. Hotel Roermond where we spent the night after the wedding was a gem. They checked us in early so we can leave for the ceremony in nearby Swalmen and had complimentary breakfast. The reception was held at Restaurant De Busjop in Heythuysen. The venues and surrounding countryside were so beautiful. Everyone from the taxi drivers to the wedding guests from there was so friendly. All in all, it was a magical affair.

Final Thoughts

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We fell head over heels in love with the parts of the Netherlands that we were able to see. Everyone spoke English and was super friendly, plus super attractive. Seriously, they all looked like supermodels. And they were not kidding about the bicycles. Rush hour in Amsterdam was a sight to see. But as long as you watched where you were going, you shouldn’t get hit. The service in the Netherlands was hands down the friendliest, most efficient we have received the whole trip. We were really sad to leave Amsterdam and we cannot wait to come back and explore the rest of this beautiful country.

Next post will be on discovering Brussels!

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“Do you guys wanna see my itinerary?”

img_7443I am resurrecting the blog with a five-part post on our recent European vacation. Apparently one of the best ways to combat post-vacation blues is to share your experience. Plus it would be nice to have our memories written down somewhere so why not here? This first post is an introductory one followed by four posts that will cover the four destinations of our trip: Amsterdam with a bit of Limburg sprinkled in, Brussels, Bruges, and finally Paris.

Before diving into our first stop, let me give you the context of our trip. We were attending a wedding in the Netherlands in the middle of August so we decided to make the most of this joyous occasion by visiting a few cities nearby. It would be Keith’s first trip to Europe, his first time setting foot anywhere outside of North America. As I have been to Europe before, specifically Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich, I was in charge of the itinerary and did most of the planning. No pressure.

After weeks of researching (i.e. obsessively reading blog posts on all our dream destinations), we had decided that our trip would last 10 days mostly because we had a dog that I didn’t want to leave with the sitter for very long but partly because Europe is expensive and I also had a full-time job I had to get back to. Once we set our day-count limit, it was easy to pick and choose which cities to visit. We were initially going to do the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) plus Cologne and Dusseldorf but cut it down to just Belgium, the Netherlands and added Paris. We’ll save Germany for a separate trip in the future and there’s nothing to see in Luxembourg anyways (just kidding, I’m sure it’s a small but beautiful country worth visiting!).

Then I spent the months leading up to our trip booking our accommodations, buying train and museum tickets in advance and seeking out advice and recommendations from friends. The great thing about being Canadian and living in Toronto is that there’s almost a 100% chance of knowing someone that is a) European, b) has family in Europe, or c) is currently living, has lived or recently visited Europe.

A couple lessons I learned during the planning phase:

  1. Airbnb is your friend but unless you are completely sold on a place, you should maybe abstain from booking it especially when the cancellation policy is strict. I booked a place in Paris that was cheap for a reason then found a much better option so I cancelled the first one but could only get 50 % of my money back.
  2. For my own peace of mind, I needed to combine all the travel information I needed (from our flight numbers to our hotel and Airbnb confirmations and addresses to our train times) in one place. Enter Excel. I found the templates that worked for me thanks to the following link: http://protravelblog.com/free-travel-itinerary-templates/. I used number 9 to have all the references I needed and number 4 for a day by day breakdown.
  3. Even though most everything nowadays has an app and can be accessed electronically through your phone, it is always a good idea to have printouts of your confirmations and tickets.
  4. Scan and bring a printout of the first page of your passport just in case. Luckily we did not need them but one of the guests at the wedding got her passport, credit cards, driver’s licence and health card stolen in Brussels.
  5. No matter how much you plan everything down to the minute, welcome the unexpected.

Our final itinerary looked like this: Two and a half days in Amsterdam, three and half days in Brussels with a day trip to Bruges, back to the Netherlands in Limburg for the wedding for a day, then off to Paris for three and a half days.

The next four posts will pretty much have the same format: First Impressions, Accommodation, Getting Around, Attractions, Food Recommendations, Souvenirs & Final Thoughts.

Next post will be on Amsterdam and Limburg. Hup Holland Hup!

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The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto

For today’s fashion post, I wanted to talk about my visit to The Bata Shoe Museum a couple weeks ago when my boyfriend’s family came to visit. It was my first time so I didn’t know what to expect. The museum has five floors and we started from the lowest and worked our way up. During the time of our visit, they had 4 exhibitions running.

All About Shoes: Footwear Through The Ages which takes you through the history of shoes from Ancient Egypt to Modern Day Hollywood. Here are a few highlights:

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I really enjoyed seeing the evolution of the shoe through history, even through fictional history. They had Barbie shoes and a section on the different Cinderella stories from all over the world.

The 2nd exhibition was Collected in the Field: Shoemaking Traditions From the World, which was, from my understanding inspired by the travels of the museum’s founder, Mrs. Sonja Bata. It features shoemaking traditions that are slowly disappearing. Because of our Dutch neighbor, I gravitated toward the Dutch section. But the entire exhibition, that also has India, Mongolia & Korea among others, was equally as interesting.
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The 3rd exhibit was particularly fascinating to my boyfriend’s family who has Native American ancestry. Entitled Beauty, Identity, Pride: Native North American Footwear. It was divided into the different parts of North America and the different tribes. It was also more interactive with shelves at each station to examine and feel. I was blown away by the details and the craftsmanship of each shoe, plus all the variations between regions.
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Last but not least they have a very funny, very beautiful exhibition called Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. Aside from showcasing beautiful dresses and shoes, they also talk about the dangers of the period, like the use of arsenic as a green dye.
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I highly recommend a visit next time you’re wondering what to do in Toronto!

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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! Hope everyone had a great week with all that crazy World Cup action. My team, the Netherlands lost to Argentina on penalty kicks which is tough but that’s soccer for you. They still had a good run and it was so much fun cheering them on.
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This week I also met with my boss Crystal and the great thing about working with someone who writes about beer for a living is that our morning meetings look like this:
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On Wednesday, I helped her out at her Cider 101 class where we tasted the best craft cider. If you live in Toronto, you should definitely come to her last beer school of the summer at Tequila Bookworm in Queen West.
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Forgot to post my stars and stripes Fourth of July outfit, which can be worn in America whenever you’re feeling patriotic, which is probably every single day:
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Oh and last but not least, I had a major fangirl moment when Dominic Monaghan aka Merry from Lord of the Rings retweeted my tweet about watching his show between the two World Cup matches on Sunday:
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That’s a wrap for the week on my end. Have an awesome weekend!

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2014 World Cup Semi-Finals in Food Part 2

Yesterday, I did a post wondering what if the 2014 World Cup semi-finals came down to food. We all saw that Germany won at soccer but had it been down to bratwurst versus churrasco, who knows whose cuisine would triumph? Now let’s take a look at the second semi-final showdown.

Argentina vs Netherlands, July 9, 4 pm EST

Argentina
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If you read this blog, then you’ll probably know that I cheer for the Netherlands. But after looking up what kind of food they have in Argentina, I may consider switching sides. They apparently live for BBQ like I do. Plus they take their desserts super seriously. So it’s no surprise that my top two dishes are:
Asado with Chimichurri
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Maybe I should just get on a plane and go all over the world to sample every country’s take on BBQ because come on, just look at that. Plus they have an awesome sauce to go with it. What more can I ask for? Well maybe suggestions on where I can get great Argentinean food in Toronto. I think Kensington Market might be a good place to find some.

Dulce de leche
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I was not kidding when I told you they’re pretty serious with dessert. Give me anything that has this divine sweet sauce either spread inside or slathered on top. I don’t care. I’m so in love with this creamy confection that I just about lost it when my favorite cupcake store in the city filled their chocolate cupcakes with it. Alas it was only a limited edition flavor. Fingers crossed they bring it back.

Netherlands
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Ah, the Dutch, the team I supported from the beginning of this World Cup. They have been so fun to watch, if at times nerve-wracking, and I can’t wait to cheer them on later today. Hopefully they can pull out a win against Messi, but if they don’t then they can take consolation in the fact that they have some of the tastiest snacks I’ve ever had. For their game against Mexico, we went to The Ossington, a bar that served Dutch snacks. After sampling several, here are my top two:
Bitterballen
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My neighbor Jons wasn’t kidding when he told me that Dutch cuisine has a lot of deep fried food, which sounds pretty good in my books. Basically they take meat ragout, roll it into balls and deep fry them. Served with mustard, they make for the perfect bar snack with good Dutch beer.

Poffertjes
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I may not be able to properly pronounce it, but these are essentially mini pancakes, except way, way better. They’re somehow crispy on the outside yet super soft and fluffy on the inside. Witchcraft! Or maybe it’s the special pan they use. If I wasn’t so nervous about the game, I would’ve inhaled dozens more of these tiny pieces of heaven.

Happy Wednesday! May the best team win but Hup Holland Hup 🙂

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2014 World Cup Quarterfinals Preview

My World Cup coverage continues on Fashion, Food & The Fortress of Solitude with this preview of the quarterfinal matches on Friday and Saturday. This past few days we have witnessed absolutely amazing Round of 16 matches. I wasn’t a soccer fan when I started watching the World Cup but last night’s USA vs BEL match converted me without a doubt. If this sport can inspire this kind of intense feelings in me that normally only a good book, TV show or movie can, then sign me up! And if watching a game doesn’t do it for you, then maybe this and this will.

Now, enough about lamenting the US Men’s Soccer Team’s loss, let’s take a look at the teams that are still in the running to lift that golden trophy. On Friday, the 4th of July, four teams will play the beautiful game but only two will move on to the semis:

France vs Germany, 12 PM EST
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This match-up is definitely one of the most anticipated ones in the whole tournament. It’s an understatement to say that this will be a good game. Both “Les Bleus” and “Die Mannschaft” have been playing extremely well and it would’ve been a great semi-final or even final had the brackets been made differently but we’ll have to settle for an intense quarterfinal. They’re pretty evenly matched so I’m not sure who to give the advantage to. My heart says France but my head says Germany.

Brazil vs Colombia, 4 PM EST
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We truly are spoiled in this World Cup with one juicy match-up after another. Host nation Brazil will face the 2014 World Cup favorite Colombia. All throughout the tournament, “Los Cafeteros” won the hearts of the world with their great gameplay and their celebration dances. While still the favorite, “A Seleção” has not been as dominant as everyone thought they would be. The heart-stopping penalty kicks against Chile is proof that Brazil’s World Cup dreams are vulnerable. Throw in Colombia’s convincing performances during the group stage and against Uruguay and we got ourselves a game. I’m gonna have to give Colombia the edge because if it came down to it, I think James Rodriguez will put on a better show than Neymar.

On Saturday, July 5th, two powerhouses will face an underdog that wasn’t supposed to have gotten this far and a dark horse fighting its way to the top:

Argentina vs Belgium, 12 PM EST
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This will be…an interesting match. I’m sorry but except for their first group stage match, Argentina has put me to sleep, literally. I actually took a nap when they faced Switzerland and woke up to the same score of 0-0. In every one of their performances, Messi the Messiah swoops to the rescue seemingly always at the last minute, much to the relief of their fans and the chagrin of their opponents. But this is precisely the kind of mentality they’ll have to let go of when they face this World Cup’s dark horse, the Red Devils (insert angel vs devil reference here). Belgium has proven that they definitely belong in the final eight with their performance against the Americans. I was cheering for the USA but I’ll admit it. Can Messi pull off another miracle against the entire Belgian national team? For Argentina’s sake, I hope so. But if Belgium can pull off the upset, well, wouldn’t that be a sight to behold.

Netherlands vs Costa Rica, 4 PM EST
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If there ever was a Cinderella story at the 2014 World Cup, it would have to be Costa Rica. They were immediately dismissed as the odd team out in their group of death that included Uruguay, Italy and England. But apparently they didn’t get the memo that they weren’t supposed to get out of the group stage let alone reach the final eight but here they are. If I hadn’t been cheering for the Netherlands since the start of this World Cup, then I would’ve made a David vs Goliath comparison. But as much as I want “Los Ticos” to prove everyone wrong once more, I have a feeling the “Oranje” will pull off the win. And if they don’t? Then I’ll gladly cheer for Costa Rica to reach the final and face Colombia.

Like I’ve already said, this has been a terrific first World Cup for me. I’ve been enthralled from Day 1. My heart has been broken, put back together then broken again. After years of trying to ignore the world’s most popular sport, I finally understand what the fuss is all about. I’ve discovered a wonderful new thing to become a fan of and can’t wait to see what the final matches have in store for us. Happy Wednesday!

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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! It’s gonna be an awesome weekend in Toronto thanks to World Pride Week and the World Cup. But before we get to that, this is what I’m lovin’ this week:
I started my internship with Experience Beer! That means working with the awesome Crystal Luxmore and helping her out with social media, editing and yup, beer tasting! It’s pretty awesome.

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I also attended her beer school on Wednesday at Tequila Bookworm which featured five awesome beers from all across Canada. Her next beer class is July 9th on cider and if you live in Toronto, you should definitely check it out.

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Another thing I’m pretty grateful for, given the hot weather we’re having, is the fact that the only frozen custard joint (to my knowledge) in the city is located a few blocks from my apartment. If you’ve never tried frozen custard before, you’re missing out.

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We also continued cheering for the Netherlands and the USA. For those of you who watched the US-Portugal game, you’d know why this photo is relevant.

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But the USA live to fight another day since they made it past the group stage. I’m super excited to watch the matches this weekend and see the Pride Parade. Hope everyone has a nice and safe one!

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