Italian adventures with a friend from home – Part 1

Here's the yacht she's on, the "Lady Allison"

In early August, I flew to Rome to meet up with my friend Lori. We’ve been besties since our university days, and she’s currently on a worldly adventure of her own as well! Earlier this year, just after I left for the Netherlands, she packed up her life to travel the world as a crew member on a rich person’s mega yacht (not too shabby). After doing some training in Fort Lauderdale, she got on with a boat that sailed to the caribbean in the spring, then crossed the Atlantic to spend the summer docked in Italy. She’s now on her way back across the ocean to spend the fall docked in Manhattan, but due to some hurricanes they’re on a detour and she’s “stuck” in the exotic Azores. Must be terrible.

Anyway, while the yacht was docked outside Rome, she had a few days free so we planned a trip! We spent a brief night in Rome and then headed by train through Tuscany up to Cinque Terre (“The Five Towns”). We drank wine, ate pizza and pasta, and generally lived like kings. It was a fantastic mini-vacation. Here’s some pics!

Rome from above!

The Colosseum!

Here's me :)

More pics! Click here!

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An anniversary in Edinburgh

This summer, Michiel and I took a weekend trip to Edinburgh, marking 2 years to the day that we first met in Scotland. A lot can happen in 2 years!

We had a nice trip, the Scottish weather cooperated with us some of the time… and when it was crappy outside we popped into the nearest Starbucks. Both of us having been to Edinburgh before, we decided to avoid some of the more tourist-y stuff and instead just focused on having a relaxing weekend break. We did sneak in one itsy-bitsy tourist attraction which was an underground tour of some of the caverns and vaults under the streets of the city. (Underground City of the Dead tour, here’s the link) Very cool — very spooky! I really liked that this tour had a more historic aspect to it, rather than costumed people just trying to pop out and scare you.

We also walked to the eerie graveyard at the top of Calton hill, and had a nap on the green grass at Holyrood Park at the base of ‘Arthur’s Seat’ — a volcanic mini-mountain right in the middle of the city. We went out for burgers and a pint at the local pub and ventured into dusty old bookstores.

Edinburgh is such an amazing city. Probably my most favourite. It seems to be vibrant and youthful, but also rich with history. It’s not so big that it makes you feel insignificant, but it’s big enough that there’s always hidden corners yet to be explored. I don’t know why but I get kind of an ‘at home’ feeling there. You forget how the city makes you feel until you return to it.

On that note, here are a couple of pictures from our trip:

A view of Edinburgh's Old Town, from the edge of the park.

Edinburgh Castle, right in the heart of the city.

More pics! Click here!

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A party in the name of pancakes

Michiel and I recently held a dinner party at our apartment. Not just any dinner party, it was a pancake party. That’s right, pancakes for dinner.

But these weren’t ordinary pancakes. Or at least, as I know them to be. You see, pancakes in the Netherlands are not the same as in Canada. They are made differently, and are not eaten the same way. As a person who has had a rare peek into the Dutch world of ‘Pannenkoeken’, let me elaborate:

The Dutch Pancake
Pannenkoeken are thin. Almost like crepes, but not quite. You pour a small blob of batter into a buttered pan, and swirl the pan so it covers the surface area. Dutch people like to put stuff on top of the pancake while it’s being cooked. Stuff like bacon or cheese. The bacon kind of works its way into the structure, and the cheese gets nice and melty. Or they can be made plain, with toppings like apples and cinnamon to be added later. Regardless of how you fancy your toppings, you’ll be drizzling a thick, sugary, caramel-y brown ‘siroop‘ over the thing. It tastes like candy.  Then you might want to shake some powdered sugar over it. Lastly, you ROLL UP your pancake (what?!) into a log and cut into slices before eating.

The Canadian Pancake
Pancakes in Canada are nice and thick. You pour the batter onto your pan and let it sit there and cook, without the swirling action. Sometimes the batter comes pre-loaded with blueberries or chocolate chips already mixed in.  If you do go for bacon, it’ll be on the side of your plate, not inside the ‘flapjack’. You get your pancakes in a stack, and you eat them in a stack (or one by one, if you prefer). Some people put a little blob of butter on top, and maybe even a little icing sugar. The essential pancake topping is the good ol’ Canadian maple syrup. It is way less sweet than siroop, and not as thick. Secretly, I like siroop better. But don’t tell anyone. That would make me a bad Canadian.

And now you know the intricacies of international pancake consumption.

Here’s a couple photos from our party:

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Baking in the Netherlands

After living here for over half of a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that most Dutch people are not really all that into baking. I’m sure there’s got to be a few that are, but I don’t really think it’s as much of a hobby here as it is for some people in North America.

This is the biggest bag of flour I can get at the Albert Heijn.

Being a person who likes to ‘get their bake on’ rather frequently… well, pretty much daily… problems can arise when certain ingredients are seemingly nowhere to be found. There are two main grocery stores where we live. One is the Lidl (like the “No Frills” of Canada) and the other is the Albert Heijn (like “Loblaws”). I think the only baking ingredients you can find at the Lidl are sugar, eggs, and cinnamon. That ain’t gonna get you very far. But the plus side of Lidl, though they don’t have much selection, is that what they do have is nice and cheeeeeap.

With a clothespin to show ridiculous size.

As for the Albert Heijn, they do have a small baking aisle. You have 1 or 2 types of flours, an array of vastly expensive nuts/seeds in ridiculously tiny containers, and a crapload of mixes, mostly for pancakes (Dutch people love their pancakes). You also have baking powder, yeast and vanilla. Let’s stop for a moment and talk about the vanilla. The photo to your left is the absolute biggest container of vanilla extract I have been able to find. I buy like 5 at a time. I don’t know whether to blame this on the fact that baking isn’t popular here, or the fact that most items in the grocery store are smaller than I’m used to. Bulk or economy sizing just doesn’t happen here. But maybe (definitely) I’m just spoiled since I grew up with Wal-Mart.

Moving along…

Icing sugar in a tube!

It took me a long time to figure out where the other essential baking staples are. Things like cocoa powder and sugar are just in completely different aisles. They don’t put this stuff together in one aisle because people don’t use it for the same things. Sugar, even brown sugar (called “basterd” sugar here) and icing sugar (which comes in a tube, believe it or not!) is to be found near the coffee. Cocoa powder is with the chocolate. I guess that’s logical. But not if you’re baking cake, like I was, for Michiel’s birthday last month. I also wanted to write “Happy Birthday” in coloured icing on top of the cake, but that was not easy since they don’t do food colouring here. I asked a girl in the baking section if they had it, and she looked at me like I had 5 heads and said “oh… no… that would be very hard to get here.” It was as if I had asked her to find me a rare and exotic black market delicacy.

Then there’s the elusive baking soda. This tricky little ingredient evaded me for the entire first 6 months I lived here. It is not in any grocery store, and trust me, I’ve asked. (even using my iPhone as a translator, in case there was a Dutch word for Baking Soda I was missing). It’s not at the drug store either. At first, I gave up. I decided to live with the fact that I wouldn’t have light, fluffy muffins. And it wasn’t so bad, they weren’t too dense, they just didn’t rise during baking. Eventually I forgot about it all together.

And then came the banana bread disaster of July…

To continue reading, click here!

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Our trip to Haarlem & the beach

Oh, the neglect!

I haven’t posted anything here in a while, have I? My bad. I don’t know what happened there. Sometimes when you have so many things you want to write about, and so many tidbits jingling around in your brain, that it becomes too much to organize into cohesive thoughts so you just don’t write anything at all. Or is that just me?

Anyways, let the posting begin!

The weather hasn’t been so good here lately. And by ‘lately’ I really mean ‘all summer’. Boo. The temperature here sits around 18-24 degrees, which is okay… but it’s not really warm. My skirts and sun dresses sit in the dresser, longing to be worn. Usually it’s cloudy, and there is frequent rain. Today it was a torrential downpour. But, in Holland’s defense, we did have a really great spring.

Ahh, yes, spring. I remember back to a sunny, 30 degree day back at the end of June. Michiel and I decided to capitalize on the weather by going to the beach! We had an unlimited day-pass for train travel in the Netherlands, so we rode up to Amsterdam and from there to Zandvoort aan Zee. Much of the coast of Holland is sandy, and this Zandvoort place (that I lovingly call “Sand-fart” since that’s what the name makes me think of) is a real hot spot for beach-goers.

It was a little crowded, but there was enough sand and sea for everyone. I even took a little dip in the ocean! Afterwards, we found our way to Haarlem, a town with the charm of Amsterdam but without the crowds. It has the same quaint buildings and winding canals, but it is less crammed with tourists. My parents went to Haarlem when they were here and loved it, so we had to check it out. To be honest I prefer Amsterdam, but maybe that’s the city girl in me talking.

Here are some photos!

Zandvoort aan Zee!

Reeeeeally crowded...

But what a nice day it was!

More pics! Click here!

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Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery

(You can click on the picture to see it bigger and read the text)

A few weekends ago, Michiel, his mom and I went to Nijmegen to visit his grandma. On our way back, we stopped at a Canadian War Cemetery.  Many of the 2,338 soldiers buried here died in Germany in the Rhineland battles.

A General in WWII ordered that none of the Canadian dead should be buried on German soil, so the soldiers’ remains were brought to the Netherlands. The Groesbeek cemetery is unique because it represents one of the few instances where bodies were moved across international borders. Today, thousands of Dutch children tend the graves of the soldiers buried here.

It was very moving to see all the white headstones lined up in rows, and also sad to walk through and read how old the soldiers were when they died — a lot were in their early twenties. The grounds of the cemetery are immaculately kept, and it was touching to see the amount of honour, respect and remembrance given to the fallen Canadian soldiers.

Here are a few photos I took:

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In Bruges – the sequel

While in Bruges, my parents and I watched the movie “In Bruges” in the house where we stayed (great movie). When I was on my walking tour, the guide showed us where some of the most notable shots were filmed, and in this post I’ve included a couple screen grabs from the movie to set the scene next to my own photos.

So, without further adieu, here are the rest of my Bruges photos!

The cutest little chocolate shop

My parents :)

Some really wonky old buildings

More pics! Click here!

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