Koningsdag – Hilversum

Last year we spent Koningsdag in Zwolle. This year (April 27, sorry I’m late posting this) we decided to stay in Hilversum and see what the Mediastad does for the holiday. Downtown was full of carnival games, rides, food vendors, DJs, buskers, vrijmarkt verkopers*, and revelers in orange clothing. People donned paper or plastic crowns, orange t-shirts, scarves, leis, and hats. Some people painted the Dutch flag on their cheeks and sprayed their hair orange. I even saw one guy wearing the Dutch flag as a cape.

Oranje kleding

Near the Raadhuis, a bunch of children’s games were set up: bouncy castles, pony rides, sack races, and aquabubble (see below). Kids could also visit the petting zoo or check out the fire truck. And of course, tents full of pancakes, burgers, and candy.

Water spelletjes
Water spelletjes
Me, enjoying fries from my favorite fry stand
Me, enjoying fries from my favorite fry stand

*Vrijmarkt – The rules for selling are relaxed on Koningsdag so you don’t need a permit to sell goods. Many people sell their old unwanted items in what is basically a nationwide yard sale. Kids often end up manning the stalls (aka a blanket on the ground covered in goods to sell) and some also sell cold drinks or homemade treats.

Vrolijk Pasen

Vrolijk Pasen! (Happy Easter!)

In the Netherlands, Easter or Pasen is two days long and consists of Easter Sunday and the following Monday. The second day is to allow people more time to visit with family. For weeks shops have been selling chocolate eggs* and bunnies, pastel party goods (napkins, tablecloths, candles etc), and spring decor. Stores and restaurants display signs stating if they are open one or both days of Easter. Shopping on Easter Monday is pretty popular and many places are open for the occasion.

Food
Easter brunch is also a big deal here. This makes me happy because I love breakfast food. Magazines have recipes and menus that include fancy breads, deviled eggs (gevulde eieren – literally filled eggs), pancakes (which are super thin), tarts, and quiches. Lamb and roasted chicken show up frequently on diner menus.

Paasontbijt - breakfast tart and wentelteefjes (French toast) with banana
Paasontbijt – breakfast tart, wentelteefjes (French toast) with banana, strawberry-orange juice, and coffee

At the market this week, I saw several people buying eggs to dye or paint. For those who are too busy to color eggs, grocery stores sell pre-colored eggs. Colored or chocolate eggs are then hidden for kids to find. One of the cafés in town hid eggs around town and if you find one you get a free drink.

Music and Events
Concerts and music are also part of Dutch Easter celebrations. Bach’s Matthäus Passion plays in churches and concert halls all over the Netherlands during the Easter season. (I only recently discovered this so I probably won’t get to hear it this year.) Paaspop, a pop music festival in Brabant, lasts Easter weekend. Some towns have parades, bonfires, or other special events that vary from town to town. For example, this year Hilversum has a music festival in the city center on Easter Monday.

*I bought an assortment of mini chocolate eggs this year. Many of the eggs available are flavored or filled (ex. mango chili, avocado, praline, and hazelnut to name a few).

Update: Added a photo of this year’s Easter brunch

Troppenmuseum

Troppenmuseum buiten
The Troppenmuseum is a multicultural museum located in Amsterdam Oost. There are exhibits showcasing the native cultures of Amsterdam immigrants from Southern Asia to Africa. The displays explore art, religion, and colonialism. As someone with a degree in anthropology, I knew I had to visit it.

The art and ritual artifacts were amazing! I enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences in the artwork especially the masks and puppets. The most difficult part to see was the section on colonialism. It is a challenging subject to approach but the exhibit handled it decently.

I really enjoyed the Muziekwereld room where you could listen to different instruments. The instruments ranged from wood and skin drums to sitars to accordions. It would be easy to lose hours in this room.

From the Rondom Azië exhibit, Indian Cinema
From the Rondom Azië exhibit, Indian Cinema

Troppenmuseum trap

Afternoon in Amsterdam

This past Saturday, we started off the afternoon having lunch with friends at De Hallen Amsterdam. De Hallen is home to a food hall (where we had lunch), film theater, library, studios, and more. Today they also had an artisan fair where you could buy anything from tea to art to raincoats. The food hall is an indoor food market with a variety of stalls serving different foods: Vietnamese spring rolls, Australian pies, French pastries, American burgers, and gourmet bitterballen to name a few.

De Hallen Amsterdam
De Hallen Amsterdam

After lunch, Mike and I saw a movie at Theater Tuschinski. It is a beautiful theater built in 1921 by a Polish man, Abraham Tuschinski. The theater’s architecture is a mix of Art Deco and Jugenstil. The building is opulent but also very cozy with multiple zaals or theaters tucked in throughout the building. They also give daily tours if you want to see more of the building.

Theater Tuschinski, Amsterdam
Theater Tuschinski, Amsterdam
Lobby of Theater Tuschinski, Amsterdam
Lobby of Theater Tuschinski, Amsterdam

Clubbing

Recently, a friend invited me along to a club (discotheek) in Utrecht. I was really excited since I love to dance but rarely have a dance partner. (It had been 10 years since I had last been to a club of any kind.) The club had several rooms, each room played a different genre. During really popular songs, everyone would sing along. I was a little surprised when YMCA played and no one did the hand motions. Maybe the hand motions are just an American thing. There weren’t as many Dutch songs as I expected (most of them were English/American songs that I knew). It also surprised me that smoking was allowed in the club. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves and plan to return.

Dance floor at the club.
Dance floor at the club. It was really dark, as you can see, so most of my photos didn’t turn out.

Holiday Decorating

A week or so ago Mike and I went out to pick up Christmas decorations. Mike is a HUGE Christmas fan so this was an important errand. Last year at this time we had just moved in and had no furniture or decorations. Now that we were all moved in (obviously) and had the space, we could get a full-size tree with all the trimmings. In town Christmas trees, or Kerstbomen, only come with their roots so Mike decided to get a fake tree instead. (Not to mention you can’t buy real ones until after Sinterklaas Dag.)

kerstboom
We picked up colored lights for the tree but they weren’t bright enough for Mike. So I went back to the store for white lights which are currently on the tree. (Still not completely sure what to do with the multicolored ones…)

ornaments
All our Christmas ornaments are in storage in the States so we had to buy new ones. (We didn’t think the ornaments would make it to the Netherlands in one piece.) We kept it simple and went with red and gold balls. The crown and thistle ornaments are from our travels to the UK. Mike was indifferent to garland but I really wanted garland on the tree. I’d seen a tree wrapped in ribbons somewhere and thought it was a nice garland idea so I bought some ribbon. Below is the end result.

Kerstbom met decoratie

Homemade tree topper
Homemade tree topper

In addition to the tree, we have other holiday decorations scattered around the house: a poinsettia at the market, a silver sleigh to hold cards, a cheery bird garland to decorate the bare wall in the living room, and a Lego Advent Calendar.

Homemade garland
Homemade bird garland
Mike's Lego Advent Calendar
Mike’s Lego Advent Calendar

Happy Sinterklaas Dag

Tonight is pakjesavond (gift evening) where children get gifts from Sinterklaas in their shoes*. There is a lot of singing songs too. This morning I awoke to a chorus of children singing to Sinterklaas. (I live by a school and Sinterklaas and Piet** visited the students today.) While the holiday is mostly for children, Sinterklaas and Piet have been known to visit businesses from time to time to hand out treats to the employees.

Sinterklaas zakje - or Sinterklaas sac
Sinterklaas zakje – or Sinterklaas sac – decorating my wall.

*Some people replace the shoes with burlap sacs featuring a cartoon Sint or Piet design.
**This year not all Pieten are zwarte or black but many colors including stroopwaffel (not kidding). It is a big debate that I won’t get into here but if you are curious there are plenty of articles elsewhere explaining the debate.

Verse Bloemen

One of things I love about Dutch town markets is the availability of fresh flowers. You can find fresh flowers all year round and for cheap. Roses, tulips, orchids, and heather can always be found at the Hilversum market. The supermarkets and even the Albert Heijn to go at the train station always sell flowers. On any given day (but especially market days) you will pass dozens of people carrying flowers. My friends will tell you that I am not really a flower person (unless we are talking dead flowers). I think that is changing after a year of watching people pass by with armloads or bike baskets full of flowers.

If I am honest the flower bug first hit me back in March. I bought a bunch of tulips and a vase. On the way home from the shop I walked slowly, afraid of squishing the buds or breaking the vase. That afternoon I spent time carefully trimming and arranging the tulips. I debated putting them in the front window or on the dining table. The latter won. The bright colors popped against the dark finish of the dining room table. I was pleased with the effect and enjoyed the flowers while they lasted. But as flowers do, they died and I tucked the empty vase into the back of my cupboard.

The first flowers I bought in the Netherlands.
The first flowers I bought in the Netherlands.

During the rest of the spring and summer I enjoyed walking past neighbors’ gardens and the wildflowers in the city. Eventually they became background and I noticed them less and less. Fast forward to early October. One afternoon my doorbell rang. It was my neighbor with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. After she left I realized just how big the bouquet was and that all the flowers would not fit in my vase. I set the flowers on the counter and ran to the store to buy a second vase.

Flowers from my neighbor.
Flowers from my neighbor.
Flowers from my neighbor.
The other half of the bouquet from my neighbor.

The flowers lasted an amazingly long time, especially given my track record with killing plants. I had them at least a week possibly two. When they died, I was prepared to pack away my vases again. That is until I saw a perfect fall bouquet in the market that I had to buy. Then friends brought me more flowers. In short, for the last two months my table has been constantly decked out in flowers. And whenever my current bouquet dies, I have my eye on some poinsettias…

Herfst bloemen
Herfst bloemen
Flowers from my friends.
Flowers from my friends.
Roses
Roses
Today's fresh flowers from the market.
Today’s fresh flowers from the market.

Utrecht

One of my favorite cities nearby is Utrecht. It is a charming city with canals, good food, and lots of things to do. It is pretty obvious why so many people choose to live there.

Recently my husband found a charming wine bar, Vino Veritas, that we just had to try. All the wine and food is imported from Italy. We’d been missing having a nice wine bar nearby.

Lekker eten en buiten zitten.
Lekker eten en buiten zitten.

The Dom is a lovely place to visit.  It has a freestanding tower and a charming little garden courtyard, Pandhof. I thought I had taken more photos of the Pandhof but I can’t seem to find them. That just means another trip is needed for more photos.

Last flowers in the Pandhof garden by the Dom.
Last flowers in the Pandhof garden by the Dom.

As much as I love the city, it does have one downside: it’s a challenge to figure out how to leave the central train station. The train station has lots of restaurants and shops – essentially it is a mall with a train station at the center. Cool but somewhat annoying. I am getting better at navigating it though.

Herfst

Fall or herfst in the Netherlands is full of gold leaves, pumpkins, and (like the rest of the year) rain. Now that I have experienced all four seasons in the Netherlands, I can safely say fall is my favorite. The market and stores are full of small pumpkins (only a few pounds). After seeing them everywhere (and finding some recipes I wanted to try), I bought a pumpkin. One night I made a nice pumpkin risotto and a pumpkin curry another. Savory pumpkin is definitely the way to go. I wish I had tried them sooner.

pompoen

Believe it or not this is the first year I have cooked or carved a pumpkin. Over Halloween I carved my first jack o’lantern. Mine is the one in the middle. It wasn’t as difficult to carve a pumpkin as I had imagined but it wasn’t exactly easy to guide the knife either.

pompoen gezicht

While I have been enjoying the pumpkins, I do miss being able to get fresh apple cider and donuts.