Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holland, in greater detail

We are about to FINALLY wrap up spring break.  Here in the UK, students get 2 full weeks of vacation and, from a parent perspective, it's almost a bit too much.  I'll be glad to get back into the groove of our school routine on Tuesday when school cranks up again.

I wanted to add a bit more about our time in Holland because it was such a wonderful family vacation.  Along one of the many meandering paths that ran through Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, we found some round wooden lily pads that seemed to float on top of a pond and Annie snapped my pic.  In the second picture above, you will find the whole crew. This was our last day of sightseeing in Holland.  The gardens are only open for two months every spring to showcase the beautiful flowers blooming in this tranquil setting.  From left you see Ann Vensel Nolte (Tammie's friend), Annie, Tammie (Carrie's childhood friend), Jason and Callie.  They're all enjoying the ice cream Callie was insistent that we have as a precursor to lunch.  She worked up an appetite hoofing all over the pathways. 

Notice a trend?  The girls are enjoying some more ice cream with the North Sea as their backdrop.  Tammie drove us north to the tulip fields  on our first day out of the city.  We stumbled upon some beautiful beaches and stopped to stretch our legs.  The sand was pristine, without one iota of stinky seaweed or tar so often found on the beaches in Texas.  After Tammie told us the waters would be frigid at this time of year, we didn't dare dip a toe in it.  We were enjoying the view until we realized that it was a tops optional beach.  Thank goodness Callie wasn't wearing her contact lens or glasses and remained clueless.  Believe me, the views we were getting with the old saggy, baggy set were not worth the squint for a better look - not a perky pair for as far as the eye could see.

While in Holland, we sampled some of the local foods.  Jason and the girls munched on frites, which sounds fancy to my Texas ears but was really just fries in a paper cone with a mayo based dipping sauce.  Since the kids think ketchup deserves its own spot on the food pyramind, they always had to add some of that, too.  Ever the foodie, Callie couldn't be bothered to look up from the fries in front of her face to smile for the camera.

We enjoyed a morning spent at Zaanse Schans in the northern municipality of Zaandstad at an open air folk museum.  I looked up the spelling and have no idea how to pronounce it.  We got to walk along canals and check out the picturesque windmills spinning in the breeze.  I had a serious case of deja vu because most of Holland reminded me of Southeast Texas - flat with a lot of standing water.  I think its lacking in a mosquito population due to the colder climate, so that's a plus.  If they would just replace the raw herring sold by street vendors over there with some fried shrimp on a stick, it would be practically perfect in every way.

There were buildings that displayed cheesemaking and shoemaking.  The traditional wooden shoe in the picture above was just a bit too big for my husband's large foot.  

On our route that ran parallel to the mountainous sand dunes along the sea, we saw more fields of tulips.  This is probably my favorite picture because it gives some idea of the scope.  There were tulips in various shades of red, pink, yellow, white, and purple.  We also saw fields of beautiful hyacinths and daffodils.  

You can't talk about a trip to Holland without mentioning bikes - they were everywhere!  Riders have their own bikes lanes on virtually every street.  Out in the countryside, the paths are farther away from the road and travel through some beautiful places.  At this time of year, it was hard not to be seduced by the siren song of a bit of cycling, so we surrendered.  Or at least we figured it was best to give in to Callie's whining about how much she wanted to ride bikes in Holland, how no vacation would be complete without feeling the wind in her hair, how we would become known as the meanest parents on the planet if we didn't grant her this one wish.  

Tammie was our stalwart leader, inadvertently driving us right into an active construction zone near The Hague thanks to her idiot tom-tom as we seemed to go round in circles while she tried to get us to another beach for some cycling.  It was that or tie some sandbags to Callie and toss her in because she was gonna just die if she didn't get to ride like all the natives we had been dodging on bike paths all week.  Scheveningen was our destination - try saying that three times really fast.  It's said that locals used the name of this place as a litmus test, of sorts, because only native Dutch folks could pronounce it correctly and thus German infiltrators or spies during World War II would be discovered when they butchered it.  We saw bikes parked and chained all over the country - big cities, small towns and pretty much everywhere.  Jason took the second pic of us as we saddled up to ride down the boardwalk area along a very commercial strip of the coast.  Annie initially wanted to get a tandem bike at the rental place and later was very glad I declined her kind offer because I rode along as the caboose and wobbled all over the place.  

Under the category of miscellaneous...

So how do they keep their canals so clean?  I saw virtually no trash floating in any of the waterways and you can't toss a wooden show in that country without it landing in some body of water.  Do they have crews who come out at night and fish out anything that folks have tossed in?  It's a mystery to me.

See the cute black and white cat that Callie is petting in her lap, the one that would send US health inspectors into a tizzy because it's the resident animal in a pannekoeken (pancake) restaurant?  It was so sweet and, with a bit of here-kitty-kitty and finger snapping, we got it to join us for most of the meal.  The girls were charmed and since we're all animal lovers, we enjoyed this quirky side of dining in Holland that would not be tolerated stateside.  Never fear - there was a liberal splashing of liquid sanitizer and hand washing once the little furball departed to socialize with other diners.

Filed under "Teens Will Be Teens" is this pic of Annie standing in front of some local tagging near our hotel.  For all I know, it could be some really filthy words or slurs, but Annie thought it was cool and insisted that Callie take this picture of her.  I thought the box-headed character in black and white was comical with that mean face.  

And last, but not least, is a picture of a gourmet.  Tammie hosted us for dinner two nights and we all had a blast cooking on her electric gourmets.  Tammie told us that the Dutch call it a gourmet or gourmetten.  In America we would say gore-may, but it's called a gore-met in Dutch.  I was trying to find one to purchase for us to use here in the UK and discovered that it can also be called a raclette. 

Basically it's just a flat heating surface with anywhere from 4-8 individual mini frying pans, often triangular in shape, that are used to slowly cook food.  Tammie explained to us that it's a spring and/or Easter tradition to gather around a gourmet for the family meal.  It ensures a leisurely pace for the diners because everyone has to cook their own food.  Some of the things we cooked included marinated pork, chicken, quarter sized beef patties, catfish, salmon, shrimp, mini sausages wrapped in bacon, snap peas, potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus.  Tammie's son Adam was a whiz at fixing a Dutch version of mac 'n cheese in his little skillet.  Callie had a fabulous time flipping her food with the little wooden spatulas.  As for me, I was thrilled to shake on a bit of Tex Joy seasoning, another Southeast Texas deja vu moment.

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