Beethoven, Bikes, & Behinds


Cabin fever can lead to overzealous planning which later leads to physical pain.

With rain nearly every single day last week, I was like a prisoner at my parole hearing and ready to get out.  The forecast for the weekend held partly sunny skies, mild temperatures, and NO RAIN!  Finally—a rain-free weekend.  To G’s “excitement”, I was set on spending as much time outdoors as possible.  I lined up an outdoor movie, a bike ride to a nearby town, and an outdoor music concert…not once giving a second thought to the cumulative effect this would have on my behind.

August sunsets are still as late as 9pm and the perfect time for a post-dinner movie.  The Oscar nominated movie Easy Rider (1969) was scheduled for  Friday’s Vondelpark’s Sunset Film Festival so we packed a few adult beverages and biked to the EYE Museum…as did many other Amsterdamers.  Tickets (read: seats) were sold out; however, you were welcome to cop a squat on the pavement in front of the screen at no charge.  And we did.  And after 10 minutes, the lower half of my body was quite uncomfortable.  Having just run 5k in the park didn’t help either.  Fortunately we live close by and a quick trip home procured two, albeit thin, cushions making the next 95 minutes possible to bear.

With partly sunny skies on Saturday afternoon, I was not going to miss the opportunity for a long bike ride.  Oh, and photos.  I suggested Naarden for our bike ride, but with an ulterior motive.  The World Press Photo Exhibit is currently on display at the Grote Kerk and with World Photography day the day before, I thought a perfect opportunity to indulge…regardless of the fact I had already seen the exhibit in Amsterdam (shhh, don’t tell G!).

The ride to Naarden was typical of the Dutch countryside complete with our own bike lane 90% of the time…I LOVE biking in this country.  A lot of cows, sheep, goats, and farmland for our viewing smelling pleasure.   Getting to Naarden required passing through the town of Muiden.  Our ride was slowed to a walk due to their Spiering Festival in full swing on the main street coupled with draw bridge traffic from large ships entering the canal.  Another 9km stretch of farmland and we made it to Naarden.  Click here to see the route.

Naarden is small town southeast of Amsterdam with well-preserved fortified walls, an encircling moat, and a distinctive star shape best viewed from above.  Dead center in the town is the Grote Kerk (large church) rising tall above the surrounding buildings.

Aerial view of Naarden, NL © http://www.naardel.nl; photo editing by Connie Ricca

We refueled with traditional Dutch broodjes (sandwiches) and Belgium beir.  The larger Uitsmijter  for G and a smaller tosti for me.  With full tummies, we entered the Grote Kerk and enjoyed the photo exhibit.

I continue to be inspired by the amazing photographs captured by photojournalists and documentary photographers.  Each photo at the exhibit is like reading a short story.  Each photo captures so much information, detail, and history that I could spend hours at the exhibit.  And at least one photo, even if you only glance at it for few seconds, will resonate with you after you leave.  A new exhibition begins each April so try to catch one in a town near you.

After satisfying my sweet tooth with some ice cream, we were back on the bikes ready to conquer another 25km to head home. But no time for a leisure ride home.  The Prinsengrachtconcert was starting at 8p and we hoped to arrive early enough for a nice spot canal side to enjoy the live classical music.  With a quick change of clothes and a stash of adult beverages, we arrived 45 minutes early…nearly half the town of Amsterdam was already there.  Once again, we plopped our behinds on the pavement (sans cushions!) and enjoyed the people watching until the concert began.

Despite a physically worn out body come Sunday, I was mentally rejuvenated and prepared to take on another rainy Amsterdam week ahead.

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Vertically challenged in the tallest country in the World

In college, one of my friend’s boyfriends nicknamed me “squirt”.  At my last job in NYC, two of my colleagues I worked with daily were over 6 feet tall.  When I take group photos with friends, I am again reminded I am still the shortest one…despite the height of the heels I may be wearing.  On the other hand, it does come in handy as airplane seats seem to get smaller and smaller.

But when you are only 5’2” (1.57 m) and move to the country which has the tallest people on average, it’s time to digest some extra patience.   However, I’m not taking my own advice very well.

The Dutch, on average—yes AVERAGE, are 6 feet tall (1.83 m).  Recently the Dutch government adjusted building codes to increase the height of doorways. I’ve read that doors must now be 7′ 6.5″ inches (2.30 m) high.

Last summer we went to Museumplein to watch the Dutch play in the semi-finals of the World Cup.  A jumbo screen TV was set up and we arrived early to stake out a “good spot”.  We were there early enough to plop down right in front of the screen, but it didn’t seem necessary as I noticed everyone was camped out on their blankets sitting on the ground.

As soon as the game was underway, it was like a whistle blew and everyone suddenly stood up.  I thought it was just to get things going, cheer on the Dutch team, and then everyone would sit back down.  Nope.  I was dumbfounded when I realized that everyone was going to stand for the entire game.  Foolish me to think the protocol and manners would be anything similar to the Philharmonic Concerts in Central Park or Film Festivals in Bryant Park.  My unsuccessful attempt at standing on a crate only brought more frustration which led to anger which prompted pouting which called for more beer.  Luckily by half time, my (normal and tall sized) friends were annoyed as well so we walked to one of their apartments to watch the rest of the game.

My view...while standing on a crate

On a daily basis, I am cursing the top shelf in our kitchen or the top shelf at the grocery.  Our kitchen is typical European with open shelves.  No cabinets or pantry.  Just open shelves for the dishes, cups, food, etc.  Sometimes my cereal (and a multitude of other things) gets shoved to the back and I can’t reach it while standing on my tip toes.  I’m left with the option to forego the cereal or climb up on the counter like a 5 year old trying to steal from the cookie jar.  Either way, the words coming out of my mouth at this hour of the morning are not pleasant.  The grocery renders the same fuss.  I usually step up on the bottom grate so I can reach what I need…all the while some 2m tall Dutch person is giggling away.

But after nearly 2 years here, I’ve come to terms with it all and have adjusted.  Until tonight…when it crossed roads with ballet.

The Grachtenfestival  has been going on this week and I had been looking forward to tonight’s performance.  While the festival is mainly a classical music event, a few of the performances this year include dance and tonight’s performance had excerpts from Swan Lake performed by The Dutch National Ballet. It began with an ensemble playing Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.  The live music was lovely and I had a decent view.

Then they prepared the floating stage for the ballerinas and I was eagerly waiting.  The dancers placed themselves on stage, the music began…

…and suddenly everyone stood up.  Why?!?  You are sitting on the edge of the canal with an completely unobstructed view of the stage…why must you now stand up?  After bobbing around in an attempt to reposition myself, I felt like I was participating in a sparring session rather than enjoying a classical performance.

Foiled and frustrated, I left.  Fortunately, the same friends who offered their apartment to watch the World Cup semi’s last summer were the same friends waiting to meet me for dinner…and a beer.

Nero Pasta con Frutti di Mare e Salsa Fra Diavolo

You don’t need Google Translate to decipher this tasty dish.  Just as our holiday last summer to northern Spain left us craving more of their culinary delights once we returned home, our recent return from Italy has been no different.  We haven’t wasted anytime popping open bottles of wine, using rosso pesto on everything from sandwiches to pasta, and savoring the sweet honey on fresh bread.  Now it’s time for the squid ink pasta.

As many people know, squid excrete a black ink as their defense mechanism to confuse and elude predators.  As many cooks know, it’s a wonderful element to add flavor and color to a variety of dishes, pasta being the most common.  The flavor is described as “briny and seafood-y”.  Big surprise there.  And naturally, best paired with seafood.

Amsterdam has been nothing but a daily soggy mess for over a week.  But we managed to hit the fish market to grab some fresh squid and clams during a brief dry moment.   The recipe is really easy and takes under 30 minutes to prepare, especially if you buy seafood that has already been cleaned.

Sauté

Add Chianti

Add tomatoes and seafood of choice

Mmmm, squid!

Nero pasta, al dente

Mix it all together...

...and enjoy!

There are several great recipes on the web using squid ink pasta, we just happen to choose this one and somewhat halved the recipe to accommodate two people.

  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) black squid ink pasta (regular pasta can be substituted)
  • 2 lb whole baby squid (or 1 lb cleaned baby squid bodies or pre-cut rings)

[we also added clams; I think any kind seafood will pair well if you don’t prefer squid]

  • 1- 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, use the best you can find
  • 1/2 c Chianti Wine
  • Olive oil as needed
  • Garlic, 2-3 cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • Lots of crushed red pepper flakes for heat

[we love heat and added a chili pepper as well]

  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Garnish:  Fresh or dried parsley and/or grated parmesan

Preparation:  Before you begin anything, clean and prep the squid by gently but firmly grabbing the “head” of the squid and pulling away from the body. This should remove all insides including the ink pouch. Careful to not break the ink pouch, it will get EVERYTHING black. Next, rinse out the squid body and pull out the “bone” – it runs down the body of the squid and looks and feels like thin clear plastic. It should come out in one clean piece. Next, gently tear off the “flaps” on the body and this should bring all the skin with it. You are looking for a shiny, white, clean squid body which you then cut into rings, rinse one more time and set aside. Want less mess and a time saver?  Buy cleaned squid or pre-cut rings (we did!).

Next, cook pasta to al dente, drain and reserve about 1/2 c cooking liquid. Meanwhile sauté garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes in olive oil, careful to not burn garlic. Add wine and bring to a boil, reduce by about half…add tomatoes, simmer, adding salt and pepper as needed (to taste).

Add squid to tomato sauce, along with drained pasta and reserved cooking liquid. Simmer, tossing frequently, and turn off heat before mixture nears dry (and before seafood becomes tough). Squid, like shrimp, cook within minutes and will be tough and chewy if you overcook it.

Garnish with crushed red peppers and chopped parsley, serve immediately (preferably with your favorite Chianti Classico!).

Eet smakelijk and Buon Appetito!

PRIDE on the Amsterdam Canals

[click on any image to view larger]

In NYC, the Pride parade marches along 5th Avenue. In New Orleans, its the streets of the obvious French Quarter. Always on the street, always in June.

Hop on over to Amsterdam in August and experience the parade on the water. Come on, its Amsterdam…you had to figure it was a bike or a boat, right? The parade of barges and boats begins at the top of the Prinsengracht and then cuts up the Amstel River before ending around the Oosterdok. And this is when living on the canal (or knowing someone who knows someone!) has advantages. We were fortunate to be a +2 add-on with our friends and enjoy the parade from their colleague’s canal house.  This meant the luxury of a clean bathroom and not having to improvise our own vantage point like these two.

We missed the parade last year as we were stateside, but I heard it was a washout with rain. This year, the day began with sunny skies—quite a rarity this summer—and the Prinsengracht was packed with spectators along the canal walls on foot and boat.

Some had choreographed dances…

Some a color theme…

And several with confetti…

And if you were a large barge, you required a boat on the front to steer:

And one on the back to push:


A good time was being had by all, and then Amsterdam had to be AmsterDAM[n].

However, the celebration on the boats continued!


After about 15 minutes of hard rain and high winds, the clouds moved on and the umbrellas were folded.

The week was filled with various events around the city, but the Saturday parade was certainly the highlight.  The night before, we also attended the Drag Queen Olympics.  Quite interesting!  I did’t have my camera on hand (shocker, I know), but you can catch some great photos and video posted on my friend’s blog by clicking here.

All fun times come to an end, but I’ll leave you with some other parade fotos…and a promise to have updates from Italy posted soon.  CLICK HERE for foto slideshow.