Happy 2012! We have exciting news…

We are back in Amsterdam after a wonderful two week visit in Louisiana and Florida with our family and friends for the Christmas holiday.  Our second year together in
Europe brought many adventures in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and of course The Netherlands.  And we added a few “new” countries to the list…Scotland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  It’s really hard to pick a favorite since every destination has been unique in its own way.  Our travels over the last two years have bought us to more places than I ever imagined I’d visit in my entire life.  But we’ve only scratched the surface with all the amazing places yet to be discovered.

Which leads to our latest update:  Another year in Amsterdam!  G is now officially a Dutch employee and we are excited about another year of European Adventures.  Here are a few highlights from 2011…we’ll see where the wind blows us in 2012.

Wishing you and your family good health and happiness in Twenty Twelve!

R&G

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.

PRIDE on the Amsterdam Canals

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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.

Family comes to town

After a very long hiatus from my blog, I am now trying to catch up with several overdue posts! Despite many rainy days over here, somehow those fun rainy day projects were upstaged by tasks of must-do-now. G’s parents recently came for a visit and we managed to squeeze in 4 countries in just 12 days. Whew!

As usual, I’ve taken more photos that I can manage to organize as one trip ends and I’m frantically getting ready and planning for the next one. For now, here’s a quick peek at some of our excursions in the Netherlands, Scotland, Germany, and Belgium with Kathy & Roy. Enjoy the slideshow…more to come soon.

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Spanish Sunday

On Friday night, G returned home from a week-long business trip in NYC and Paris.  During my ‘single’ week, it was pretty quiet in the kitchen preparing very simple meals for myself.  With G back home, I was ready to dirty some pots and pans and make a mess of the keuken.

Despite the freezing temperatures which began this weekend, we bundled up and biked to the markets and grocery store to prepare for some weekend cooking.  Saturday’s meal wasn’t very fussy.  Rosemary butter chicken, hand-mashed potatoes and some fresh green beans made for a cozy night in by the fire.  Super Lekker!

On Sunday, we spent our lunchtime at the gym building up our appetites for our Spanish Sunday meal:  Gambas Picantes and Tortilla Española.  After our long holiday in northern Spain this summer, I continue to be inspired to try to replicate all the tasty meals we enjoyed there.  It also helps that G bought me a Spanish cookbook with tons of great recipes.  Today we found two more keepers.

The Spanish tortilla can be served so many different ways—a starter, main course, sandwich filling, or tapa and either warm or cold.  It’s one of the most common tapas and I can’t remember how many times we ordered one during our trip.  While there are several variations and different ingredients can easily be added (various meats or veggies), the basic ingredients include potatoes, olive oil, onion, eggs, salt, pepper, and butter.   Easy.  The tricky part is the cooking, it’s all about timing…which is while I let G take the reins on this first stab.  He can make a mean omelette, so logic told me he was well suited for the tortilla.

Pan fry the boiled potatoes

Off heat: let the potatoes, caramelized onions , & eggs "marry" for a few minutes

Back on heat, gently swirl to cook the egg

The flip for cooking side two...and my cue to start the shrimp

Last night I began marinating the shrimp in olive oil with chili peppers and garlic.

 

Since shrimp are so quick to cook, I waited until G was on side two of the tortilla before tossing the gambas on the hot skillet.

Perfectly pink and ready to eat!

 

Paired with a fantastic Chilean Shiraz and a garlicky wheat roll, there was no doubt we had happy tummies tonight.

Great job G!

Full of flavor and not overly spicy

Eet smakelijk!!!

 

An American Sunday in A’Dam

I love living abroad, but sometimes miss the Sunday Funday’s I used to have in NYC with my friends.  Some Sunday’s were “healthy”:  run a 5 or 10k race in Central Park and then ingest twice the calories at brunch that we had just burned off.  Other’s were “holier”:  morning mass at the neighborhood church and then off to any bar that was televising the Saints football game (not always an easy find in NYC or Hoboken).  And in the summertime when it was too hot for a run and too early for football watching, we could easily make a marathon day out of eating and drinking.  Really.

I was thrilled when I heard about the Sunday pop-up brunch in Amsterdam called lovefood; click here to check it out.  I went once in the spring and have been eager to return.  Jason Hartley, an Englishman living in Amsterdam for 10+ years is a consultant during the week and a chef during the weekend cooking up a fantastic brunch and satisfying tummies of all cultures.  It’s a solid brunch menu with my favorite brunch beverage, the Bloody Mary.  Lovefood has had several pop-up homes in A’Dam and is currently serving up Sunday’s in the canal ring on the Prinsengracht.  Today was the 2-year celebration for lovefood which featured a special birthday pop-up at Tommy Hilfiger’s People’s Place; a new restaurant/bar/event space which  is exclusive to TH’s staff and business customers.

 

 

J at the Bloody Bar

Me and J mix our Bloodys

super lekker bloodys

Proost with J & E

With beverages in hand, it was time to order.  I love breakfast food.  And I appreciate the American breakfast more now that it is not at my disposal.  While my mom can make some fabulous dinners, I loved when we were in need of a trip to the grocery,  and she made breakfast for dinner because somehow there always seemed to be enough eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage or biscuits for a satisfying meal.

My patient friends can attest to the fact that I could never make up my mind when time came to place my brunch order.  Sweet or savory, sweet or savory?   Which begs the follow up question, ‘mimosa or bloody, mimosa or bloody?’.   Fortunately lovefood’s menu is equipped for i-want-my-cake-and-it-eat-too people like me.  It’s called The Full Mikey.  (catchy, eh?)  And this morning I was Mikey and I would eat anything, anything that Jason Hartely was cooking.

The Full Mikey

The Full Veggie & Eggs Florentine

Complimentary birthday cupcakes

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A few hours later it was time to change gears.  The NFL championship games were on and I was ready to support my Packer friends.  I had a gold scarf, but lacked a single article of hunter green to show my support for the cheese heads.  J had plenty of green in stock and happily loaned me a green shirt and dubbed me an honorary Packer fan for the night.  We are 7 hours ahead of U.S. CST, but found an Aussie bar in Rembrandtplein showing not only the Packers/Bears game, but the Jets/Steelers game as well as long as you were in the door by midnight.  It proved to be a game worth staying up late for.  I’m tempted to find a cheesehead hat for the big game.  After all, this is Holland…land of kaas.  Veel success to the Packers in two weeks!

Happy Fans!

Game Over!