Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tulips, picnics, and friends...OH MY!

Guess what?! It's finally spring! People are out, everyone is smiling! And yes, they are turning their shoulders for you! What a difference +8°C can make!

It's spring!! (L) Enjoying sun at Het Park in R'dam (Top) my new friend 
(Bottom) fresh hyacinth from the market
The day we returned from Portugal (flying into Brussels) we met wonderful California friends, Jess and Jordan, who just happened to be hanging out in Paris whilst we were in Lagos. After a bit of cell phone-email chaos, we finally rendez-vous'd at Brussels Central Station, where we jumped on the next train to R'dam. We enjoyed some chilled Champagne on a packed train while we caught up over the last few months. Ah, friends from home!

Picnic at Keukenhof gardens!

The next morning we all headed out early to Keukenhof--an enormous garden about an hour northwest from Rotterdam. Actually it's the world's largest flower garden--about 80 acres of so many types and colors of not only tulips--and it's only open in April and May every year. And it was stunning. The best part about the garden is that you can bring in all your picnic supplies (even the wine!) and enjoy the flowers and the spring sun -- and of course some good ol' California friends! Aw.

The next day, we bid farewell to Jess and Jordan and welcomed Elliot's mom to Rotterdam! One day while Elliot was in school, Mary and I took a day trip to Breda, an adorable, well-churched, 11th century town about 45 minutes south. We saw the old castle (now a military base) and climbed the 320' church tower. On the tour, we learned about the impressive soapstone walls (imported from Portugal, by horse!) and from the top, we could see all the way to Utrecht and Antwerp, Belgium.

A few days later, I skipped off to Brussels to meet Bethany! We stayed one night at a charming B&B near the center of town. In one day, we nearly saw all the sights (gorgeous city!) and almost caught up on what I missed out on from December 16 to December 31 -- thankfully we still had 7 more days!

The famous Mannekin Pis!
Grande Place, Brussels Brussels

We ordered beer and a 'cheese plate'--we got a bunch of hunks of cheese,
 some mustard and celery salt...what?!?!?!
Grande Place, Brussels

After Brussels, we came back to Rotterdam for 3 nights and did Rotterdam, Keukenhof (even better the second time!), and Utrecht day trips--busy bees! I hadn't been to Utrecht since the winter, so it was lovely to see the city's newly leafing trees and freshly planted flowers.

Utrecht from the Church tower...and the road to Belgium


View of Utrecht
Yum...bitterballen (deep-fried Dutch goodness)

Voted 'Craziest Tulip' by Meredith and Bethany 
Fields of tulips!
Surfing in clogs
Keukenhof gardens
The final major stop, before heading back to Brussels for the last night, was Amsterdam. I found a superb apartment for three nights in the heart of the enchanting Jordaan neighborhood. It was literally the last available room in the entire city--every single hotel, B&B, hostel, you name it, was booked this weekend. Anyways, we also had a third come join us! Bethany's childhood friend, Rachel, now lives/works/plays in Basel, Switzerland, and came to join in on the mega-girl-time-weekend-in-Amsterdam fun.

We had a blast...from popping in a fetishism art gallery to wandering the stores of the Nine Streets...tapas and Indonesian cuisine...cycling through the Vondelpark...and just enjoying a beer (or two or three!) at a true locals spot. Fantastic company and homey cafés made for rolling conversation and smiles all around.

I came away from the weekend totally loving Amsterdam. Yes, it's known for reckless partying under De Wallen's supernatural red lamps, hazy alleyways with red-eyed youngsters, and Brit stag parties 'bloody'-ing its name, but underneath that mess lays a calm, composed, and captivating city that oozes coziness.

(Top) Classic gables (Bottom) Vondelpark
Finally, we had one last night at the same B&B in Brussels--with the same adorable House Mom who fried us up some delicious pain perdue and didn't speak a word of English. (Those four years of high school French finally came in handy!)

And, yes, we ate mussels in Brussels. What a lovely visit, I was so sad to say good bye!

When I returned home, Elliot's sister was on her way to Rotterdam from Copenhagen. We all met in Utrecht and strolled the tree-shaded streets and the views of the Domtoren. The next day, we gave her our one-day-in-Amsterdam tour, starting at the Jordaan's Saturday Nordmarkt...the adorable Nine Streets shopping...Dam Square...De Wallen's red lights and Oude Newmarket...tea on the Amstel at De Jarin Café...and finally an exquisite dinner on the terrace at Hemelse Modder (my new favorite restaurant in A'dam). And with full bellies, we bid yet another farewell to our final guest of April! What a month!

I'll close this entry with the excitement of the last weekend of April--Queen's Night and the subsequent Koninginnedag or Queen's Day. Queen's Day originally celebrated Queen Wilhemina's birthday before WWII on April 31st and then her successor's birthday on April 30 became Queen's Day in 1949. The current Queen (Beatrix) decided to keep this Queen's Day since her birthday is in the middle of winter (and thus no fun!). On this day, everyone wears something orange--commemorating the Royal House of Orange--and even drinks orange beverages (Fanta was a huge hit!).

And since we're in Holland, we just had to go to Amsterdam for the day.

Queen's Day flair
The outfit: hand-sewn skirt and matching flower, feathered tiara!
People selling their old stuff!
...even beer!

Other than one huge, orange street party--and totally reminded us of UC Davis Picnic Day-- Koninginnedag is the one and only day in the year that the Dutch government allows people to sell goods on the streets without a permit and without sales tax. In short, this means that all the sidewalks and streets were lined with garage sales. As one Amsterdammer described the day, "People are selling their shit and then other people buy their shit--it's basically a big exchange of shit." I have to say I agree to some point; however, I found a couple excellent finds for under €1 and wish I knew where I'd be living in 6 months so I could stock up on some cool, vintage shit. Lucky for Elliot, we don't know where we'll be living, or I definitely would have purchased those 47 adorable jars and 32 miniature spoons.

Boats on Prinsengracht canal
The best 'boat' we saw!
This one's about to sink!
Other than garage sales, people took advantage of the day to sell anything including soda, water, pizza, even cups of coffee right from their own Nespresso (if you dont know what a Nespresso is, these things are HUGE here). We headed to the Vondelpark for a picnic and to view some of the craziness. Turns out, Vondelpark was where all the little kid stuff was, but it was still entertaining. Kids were set up with their violins and drum sets, playing away, with a small hat in front of them for change. Younger girls were selling orange juice and teenage girls were selling manicures and homemade earrings. One 20-something woman offered up a raw egg toss at her head  for €1 -- WHAT?!?! Needless to say, she always had a line and must've made a killing! P.S., she wore a snorkel mask and stood behind a chin-high piece of plywood.

Jordaan neighborhood
The high-light of the day was walking through the Jordaan neighborhood (yet again!) but this time it was really for the people-on-the-boats-watching. Incredible! There were so many boats you couldn't even see the canals! Each boat was jam-packed with people singing and dancing -- and, of course, dressed in orange and generally acting silly. What a sight!

Next up:
Portugal II: meeting Crystal in Lisbon (!)

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful pictures! You were the hostess with the mostess. Love you Mere!


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