Our first piece of mail in Amsterdam. Thank you M + C!

Ritual Coffee

Ritual Coffee

On a sunny Sunday an Amsterdam, Evan and I set out on foot to find the famed Brouwerij t’ IJ. As far as we know, there aren’t many other microbreweries in Amsterdam. Being from the microbrewery capital of the world, it was imperative that we seek out and sample their wares.

We did our research online and found out that the brewery opened at 3pm. So, we decided to make a day of it and stroll around the city to see what we could find. First to the train station, where Evan became the proud owner of a very official-looking rail pass for his month of 40-minute train commutes into Hilversum now that we’re living in the city. First, obtain pass photos in small photo booth, then to the service desk where the pass is dutifully assembled – rubber stamps, signatures, more rubber stamps, photos cut to exact size, then sealed permanently behind a window of clear plastic: the official monthly rail pass. But it’s more than a rail pass; it’s a souvenir of the highly organized and punctual Dutch rail system.

We took a different bearing from the train station than we’d gone before and headed in the general direction of our much-anticipated windmill. Botanical gardens, canal-side brick factories converted into chic apartment lofts, old boats moored to canal walls – some sinking, others with smoking chimneys, yet others teeming with photosynthetic life. On and on we walked, over bridges, past cafes, through parks, into neighborhoods that were distinctly different from the inner canals of Amsterdam. More peaceful, we thought. Fewer tourists, more hidden attractions, lots of families and noticeably different architecture.

Along one of the main streets, I noticed a sign indicating free entry. We weren’t aware of any museums in this area, but being Amsterdam, surely there were more museums to be happened upon. We had indeed found the old Jewish Theater in de Pijp neighborhood. Beckoned by the welcome of a free entry (something very unusual in Amsterdam where one cannot even get a free map from Tourist Information), we entered and began our self-guided tour through the museum.
Holocaust Memorial - Hollandsche Schouwburg
The museum used to be a theater. For nearly 100 years it served as any normal theater; prior to WWII transformed into a Jewish theater, Hollandsche Schouwburg; during WWII repurposed yet again to gather the Dutch Jews in one place as they were sorted and separated for expulsion to eight concentration camps spanning the European landscape. Most of the signs were in Dutch, but the messages were universal – remembrance, sorrow, hastily left-behind items, official badges, exclusion, expulsion and senseless murder. Amsterdam also houses the Anne Frank house, which we plan to visit during our time here. Contrary to the long lines, tourists and multi-language tours of Anne Frank’s home, the Jewish Theater was a place of solitude and quiet reflection. We felt honored and fortunate to have happened upon it and learn more about Amsterdam’s Jewish history.

Not even a block from the theater is an enormous zoo. On the map, we were sure we could walk through the adjoining park and more quickly reach our windmill destination. Upon closer inspection, amidst the cacophony of excited little shrieks and sugar-high thrills, we were proven wrong and amended our course. We crossed a canal lined with old boats and converted factories. Above each door was a placard with the names of Dutch cities in alphabetical order.

To the other side of the zoo we walked, across a courtyard and there it was: the stunningly curved blades of a giant thatched windmill. The brewery sits on the river IJ (pronounced eye), its logo an ostrich standing above its egg. We walked around the windmill, took photos of the windmill, and waited patiently outside the windmill doors with other eager microbrew fans. We were 5 minutes early. We peered in the windows, greeted by visions of beer bottles lining the walls and a homey, casual interior.

Windmill and Brewery
Then, the windmill doors opened. People rushed in to claim their seats among the long tables that line the beer bottle decorated walls. No doubt we found some Oregon beer representation: a collection of Rogue Ale bottles almost directly across from our table. We contemplated the draft selection in front of us. Not a single beer under 6%, most closer to 9% – equivalent to a barley wine. We settled on our choices and ordered a bowl of salty pindas (peanuts) to accompany our frothy brews. Sip, swirl, taste, repeat. Verdict: delicious. Within minutes our table for eight was filled with old and young alike, similarly enjoying an afternoon beer with pindas and kaas. Children, strollers, dogs, tourists, locals, regulars and us: all enjoying beer inside a windmill on a river in Amsterdam. Sundays don’t get much better than this.

Brouwerij 't IJ

I got a chance to go to Rome last weekend while Suzy was in Germany. It was a fun quick trip. I flew Airitalia. It seems like you are in Italy as soon as you step onboard. The Italians do not think the lines apply to them. The buzz on the airplane is a bit different than normal. After listening to Dutch for such a long time the sound of Italian is a welcome change.

Soon after getting my room and my bearings I headed down to the Trevi fountain for a slice of pizza. It lived up to expectations. I would be happy getting by on just the pizza. After that a quick drink at a pub.

The English have two great exports: the English language and their pubs. It seems like you can go nearly anywhere in the world and find a bit of comfort at a Brit pub. They are happy to have English speaking customers and there is a good chance to see a football or cricket match while you are at it. Rome is no exception.

I started first day full with a run to the coliseum. It is hard to believe it is real. It reminds me of something you might see in Las Vegas or Disney world. I am not sure how such a structure can be just standing there after a couple thousand years. Running is a great in a new city. You can see a lot in a short time. Even a crazy busy city like Rome can be see with a short run.
Rome

After a quick breakfast I was off the Vatican. With a bit of rain in the air it was good day to be indoors. On the way I stopped for coffee. I wanted a chocolate pastry but some how ended up with a cappuccino and hot chocolate. This turned out to be a good choice. It may have been the best cup of hot chocolate I have ever had.

Rome

Then a quick stop at a bakery where I ordered two cannolis. I ordered two mainly because can not remember how to day one and due it is fun to say Doo-ay!. So tasty. Onward toward St Peter’s Basilica. On the way there are many churches and statues that would be the centerpiece of most towns. Finally I arrive at St. Peters. It lives up to the postcards with soaring ceiling art, flamboyant marching Swiss guards and a church service in the middle of it all. I waited in line for the cupola with some Brits talking about their superior queuing abilities. The trip to the top is an adventure even for one who used to rock climbing. 500 steps to the top. The last 300 are within a narrow spiral staircase. The crowds and small space would give anyone claustrophobia. On and on we climb and then finally we arrive at the top. It was worth it with all of the Vatican and ancient Rome laid out below. The rain could not dampen to moment.
da pope's crib

Up next was the Sistine Chapel. A long walk around Vatican wall leads to the entrance to the Vatican museum. It is amazing what they built so long ago. It really puts the catholic religion into perspective. The hallway is covered in tapestries from the 1400s and the ceiling is an unending series of amazing paintings from the renaissance. Finally the chapel proper with the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo around 1500. Its scale is amazing but the images are smaller than imagined. I pulled out my camera for a shot. I was just zooming in on the sections where the god and man touch when the guards points to a sign of a camera with an X and almost takes my camera. I guess you have to pay attention to the signs and gates. I got warned a couple more times by Vatican guards. I think they thought I was going to steal the Pope’s oranges. They do not have much of a sense of humor it seems. The rest of the trip went quickly. I was able to take home an great stove top espresso maker. It is a bight yellow and shinny. It really is a Ferrari of stove top coffee. I think it might replace my French press at home.

Rome

There’s this oddly-shaped building right next to the Amsterdam Centraal train station. It looks like a big metal box with one end sinking into the ground. We noticed it on our very first train ride into the city. On our second ride into the city, we finally realized what it was: a climbing gym! We had done our research on climbing gyms before even leaving Portland, and we were so excited to realize that this was in fact one of the gyms we’d discovered in our search!

We vowed that once we lived in the city, we’d go and check it out. We did just that. One day, searching around the web for running routes in Amsterdam, I stumbled upon a MeetUp site devoted to Expat Netherlands Adventurers. That sounds about right. In my searching, I discovered an event on the very day we were moving to Amsterdam – climber’s night at Klimmuur Centraal.

It was an ambitious plan, but we signed up anyway. We nearly lost our motivation after getting comfortable in the awesome new apartment (post to come on that), but Evan rallied us and out the door we went.

Thirty minutes and a snowy walk later, we arrived at the sinking building. It’s right on the River IJ, and it has its very own footbridge to cross the river and reach the gym. We walked inside and instantly felt…at HOME. There’s something about climbing gyms that always feels familiar. Perhaps it’s the sounds of people comparing notes about a new route, or maybe it’s the smell of sweat and chalk, or it could be the unselfconscious grubbiness of climbers worldwide. Whatever it was, it was a very welcome feeling in a new city.

One thing that was not familiar was the restaurant and bar in the middle of all the action, serving up a mixture of Belgian and Dutch beers on tap and climber-friendly snacks. Oh, yes, you heard me right – beer in the gym. I know it seems a little strange to have a bar in a gym, but at a climbing gym it just makes sense! Climbing is so much more social than a regular gym. Serving food and beer definitely helps foster camaraderie among fellow climbers as they discuss the night’s routes, complain about sore muscles, and swap bragging rights over a piping hot bowl of pea soup and pint of La Chouffe.

Kilmmuur cenraal

Evan and I were in heaven. We were so excited to climb that we hardly even met the MeetUp crew that inspired us to come in the first place. We introduced ourselves to the host and got down to business. We climbed for 3 hours, until our forearms couldn’t take it any longer. We were surprised when we were the first ones to sit down at the tables in the center of the gym. Were we lazy since the rest of the group was still climbing? We didn’t really care. We went up to the bar and each ordered a pint of our favorite Belgian beer. Once you take a sip, you’re done climbing for the night – that’s the rule. Seems sensible, doesn’t it?

The rest of the crew quickly followed. They joined us around one of the three big wooden tables that sit in the center of the gym and we got to know our fellow Expat Netherlands Adventurers. We sat next to a few girls who had lived in the Netherlands for a few years and picked their brains for tips on the city, sights to see, places to go and adventures to pursue. We also talked about windmills and canals and beer and Dutch food. And then they brought it all home in one recommendation:

Brouwerij ‘t IJ – a Dutch brewery INSIDE a windmill that serves Dutch food overlooking a canal.

Guess what we did the next day?

Last Tuesday night in Hilversum, Evan and I decided to go out to our favorite little pub, near the main shopping street in town. It also happens to be the single non-smoking bar in all of Hilversum. I’ve been told that all bars in Amsterdam are smoke-free, but apparently Hilversum hasn’t gotten the message. Or maybe the stars who live here have enough pull to keep the smoke police out.

In any case, our little smoke-free haven was a welcome sight on Tuesday night. We nabbed our favorite corner spot with three low stools and tucked in for a few tasty Wieckse Witte Biers – brewed in the Netherlands by Heineken, but oh so much tastier.

Within minutes, a crowd descended on The Guardian and our extra stool was drawing attention to our little table. Soon enough, a group of eight Dutch people were sitting next to us, also on these low stools…but they only had seven. So, we were neighborly and handed over our coathanger/stool. When two girls approached us with tickets in their hands speaking Dutch, we realized what we had happened upon: Pub Quiz! We politely asked if the quiz would be in English (seeing as this was an English pub), and got the impression that it probably would not. So we passed and decided to stick around and see what it was all about.

The 8-top to our left kept peering over at us, trying to discern if we were competition or not. Finally I caught one of the guys staring and assured him that we weren’t playing, nor did we speak Dutch, but we planned to just hang out and watch. That put him right at ease and he decided that he would co-opt our intelligence in case it might come in handy for his team – a group of IBM employees. We struck up friendly conversation, but once the first question was announced over the loudspeaker, he was fully focused on Pub Quiz!

Amazingly enough, Evan and I realized that we could understand some of the questions! Not to say that our Dutch is that great, but a lot of questions had English words in them, or actors/songs/lyrics/titles/geographies that we recognized! We were so excited. And so were our neighbors! How lucky for them to be sitting next to non-players who wanted to help them out! When they couldn’t get an answer, they leaned over to us, translated the question fully for our understanding, and hoped that they had been so lucky as to sit next to American TV watching, movie-remembering, star-gazing people. Well, we’re not really any of those things, so our help was limited to the number of stars on the New Zealand flag (4), the name of the longest river in Australia (the Darling), and identifying lyrics of the Cheers theme song.

Four quiz rounds later, we had made great friends with our fellow Pub Quizzers, though they admitted that we never would have posed any serious competition to them, regardless of the language. They even invited us back next week. We didn’t have the heart to tell our new Dutch friends that we’d be gone by then, living in Amsterdam starting this weekend. Somehow it just didn’t seem right after singing the following lyrics together with them:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Tot ziens, Hilversum. We’ll miss you.

Oh Peanut Butter.  I thought I’d overcome my addiction to you.

Now I come to the Netherlands and I find you again, but under a different name: Pindakaas.  Cheese of the peanut.  That seems more accurate since you share many of the great qualities of cheese: that perfect balance between creamy, sweet and salty.

At first I resisted.  I’m over you, I thought.  I have graduated from pre-school peanut butter to more sophisticated Sunflower Seed Butter.  This butter I cannot find in the Netherlands, sadly.

One day alone at the grocery store, I see you standing there on the shelf.  I look around, try to walk away, and find I cannot resist you.

I buy the biggest jar of you there is.

I eat the contents of that jar in one week, just like the old days.  I’m hooked.

Pindakaas, you may have tempted me here in the Netherlands, but once I’m back in the land of Trader Joe’s, you’ll once again lose your grip on me.  You’ll be just regular old peanut butter and I’ll have my Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Butter to help me forget about you once again…

Pindakaas

 

Living in our small town I bike to work. It is only 4km which is a quick bike commute but a bit too long for walking. Most days it is really pleasant to ride to work and back. The upright riding position of the Dutch bike and lack of gears always seems to put a smile on my face. Then the days get cold. People still ride with snow on the ground. On a couple occasions the roads have turned quite icy. I could walk to the train station and then wait and take a train or just walk but I still want to take the bike. It is easier and all the Dutch seem to bike in the snow. So I just get on the bike confident that my excellent bike handling skills will carry my through.

I rode a couple blocks before seeing a girl on the ground with her bike. A guy walking by said something in Dutch that seemed to be about ice and then the next moment I was on the ground with the bike on top of me. Ouch. My arm was bruised but I managed not to get hit by a car. Same thing happened today – same place even! I rode a couple blocks and then – wham! Down on the ground sliding. The road was coated like a froze kipfilet (chicken filet).

I got up and the woman standing there starts talking to me. “Morga morta moarta mor icy something morg a mor”. I smile and reply “Ja, ja”. She says “morga morga” and then walks off. I like conversations like this. I feel proud that I did not let on that I am a stupid American that doesn’t understand Dutch. The rest of my ride was uneventful since most bike paths had grit to make it easier. I even had a smile on my face when I arrived at work.

As a kid, I lived for weekends when my family would take me to Elmer’s for my favorite breakfast treat: a Dutch Baby.  I loved getting the puffy, steaming, cast iron pan-shaped delight and dousing it with maple syrup, lemon and powdered sugar.  The maple syrup part was my own invention and would not have passed the Dutch pancake authenticity test, but I preferred to think that it brought out the complex flavors of the caramelized pancake crust.

Now in the Netherlands, I have of course been fascinated with Dutch Pannenkoeken.  I got my first real introduction to them a few years back in New Zealand of all places.  Prior to that, my only Dutch pancake experience was limited to my beloved Elmer’s Dutch Baby.

Evan and I were staying in a hostel at the foot of Mt. Cook – New Zealand’s highest mountain.  We had just returned from the semi-harrowing experience of descending an adjacent peak in extreme winds and white-out conditions.  As with other guests in the hostel, we prepared our meal in the shared kitchen.  Next to us were two blondes – a Dutch couple we discerned from their hushed talking – whom we’d seen at a few other hostels in other towns along our journey through the South Island.

The couple was making pancakes – piles of pancakes.  Nice thin little mini-crepes and they just kept piling them on top of one another.  I found myself staring and finally had to satisfy my curiosity.  ‘What kind of pancakes are those’?  They answered simply, ‘mmmm…just pancakes’.  Of course they’re pancakes!  But they look different than the results of the Krusteaz mix my mom used when I was a kid and you’re piling them a foot high!  So, I continued pestering this nice couple as they tried to go about making their dinner in peace.  ‘So, they’re just pancakes?  What do you put on them?’  They finally realized that the simple fried goodness they were making was a novelty to me and answered, ‘cheese – I guess…they’re cheesy pancakes’.  Aha!  Dutch cheesy pancakes!  It all makes so much sense now!

I have been fascinated by these savory pancakes ever since and was so excited to try the real thing now that we’re in the Netherlands.  Lucky for us, the town we’re living in is conveniently located a mere 14-mile round-trip run away from the Shang-ri-la of Dutch Pancakes: Lage Vuursche.  Evan nicknamed this place Pancake Land upon his first visit here before Christmas. People kept telling him about this little village in the forest where all the restaurants served pancakes.  He attempted a bike ride out there one afternoon, but turned back due to the fading daylight.
This past weekend, he got the chance to return.  We decided we were going to run to Pancake Land!  We suited up in our warmest running gear, as the weather has been frigid and forecasters were calling for what we learned in Syracuse was called a “wintry mix”.

We set off through Hilversum, through the deserted main shopping streets, past the Hilversum Sport Park and onto a straight, flat road with wide bike lanes on either side.  We saw not one, but two runners on our path there – an exciting sight for us!  We waved our runner hello’s and continued on into a path through the forest.  Evan had been here before on his bike and we found the little Thee Huis (Tea House) that caters to outdoors folks looking for a place to warm up inside post-adventure.  We sped past it after a quick glance through the windows. We followed the conveniently-posted signs for Lage Vuursche through the birch forests with wide bike paths until finally our path dumped us off on the one road leading into this little dorp (village).  The first thing I saw was the cutest Dutch farm house imaginable, complete with red-and-white painted shutters, a thatched roof, smoking chimney, sheep in the front yard grazing, and a horse-drawn carriage painstakingly painted in all shades of blue just hanging out under the cover of a hay barn.  Unbelievable.  The cars in this town were nice – the nicest we’ve seen so far in the Netherlands.  It was clear that we had entered a different world over here in little Lage Vuursche.

The second thing I saw, across the street from the picturesque farm house and sheep, was the most heinous thing I’ve seen since our arrival here: a completely fenced-in, barbed-wire protected, security-camera laden fortress.  This poor Dutch farmer has to look at that awful thing?  I couldn’t believe this overzealous protection and isolation – and from what?  The sheep across the road?  Since Hilversum is known as the home of the Dutch stars, we figured that some overly-paranoid star lived there.  How obnoxious.  Evan came to find out later that the Dutch Royal family actually owns the literal compound behind all the fencing.  Oh.  Well, I guess maybe they need the security.  But come on – it’s freaking Lage Vuursche and there’s only sheep and pancakes against which to protect oneself!

My protection against the famed Lage Vuursche pancakes was a lack of funds.  We purposely left our money at home knowing that if we sat down at one of the SEVEN pancake restaurants that line the main street, there would be no way we’d be able to run the 7 miles back to Hilversum!  Instead, we peered in all the windows, looked at all the menus, and even found multiple stores selling AUTHENTIC GARDEN GNOMES!  Like, antique ones.  Original garden gnomes.  Is the Netherlands the home of the gnome?  I have no idea, but it sure seems like it.  And they all live in Lage Vuursche.

At 11-15 Euros a pancake, I was kind of glad we didn’t bring our funds with us.  Seems a little steep to me for pancakes, but I guess they are serving the Dutch Royal Family so maybe they can afford to jack up the prices.  And anyway, none of the pancake places were open for breakfast, another thing I found strange.  We verified upon our return to Hilversum that pancakes are more a lunch or dinner item, which also explains the seemingly high price for these delicacies.

Once we were home, Evan and I made our own Dutch pancakes with a Pannenkoeken mix we bought at the grocery store.  We followed the example of our fellow Mt. Cook Hostel guests and piled them one on top of the other, and enjoyed them with a sampling of Dutch goat’s cheese and fresh Gouda from the market.  Delicious and well-deserved after our 14 mile run!

Looks like everything is all set to move into our place in Amsterdam. I am am super excited  to moving in. It is great location right in one of the inner canal rings, just a few minutes; walk from the train station. Sweet!

Map:  http://maps.google.com

Video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/geisthaus/4304301530/

Polder – Low lying land that has been reclaimed and is protected by dikes
Lopen – Walking or Running

Polderlopers – ones who run in the lowlands between dikes.

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