A Day in South Holland: Delft (Part 2)

The next and last stop of my journey in South Holland was Delft. The city is globally known for producing blue and white ceramics known as Delftware and it is where Johannes Vermeer lived. It has the Delft University of Technology, which is one of the Netherlands’ top schools. Delft is very close to the Hague so it made sense for me to go there. It took me 12 minutes to get to Delft from the Hague by train. Since Vermeer is one of my favorite artists, I thought it would be a clever idea to see what his hometown was like.

Grote Markt:

Like most Dutch cities, Delft has a huge square or Grote Markt. It has a city hall, shops and cafés, and Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). When I arrived, the square had a big carnival with plenty of rides and games for kids. The carnival made it a bit hard to walk around, which kind of frustrated me. On a good note, I went to a souvenir shop and bought a Holland t-shirt. I also saw a boutique that sold various types of Delftware china. Although I did not buy anything there, the pottery was beautiful to look at. One of the plates showed a brilliant image of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. It looked very similar to the actual painting despite the fact that the plate was blue and white.

Nieuwe Kerk:

Nieuwe Kerk is a marvelous attraction to see in Delft. It has a tall tower that overlooks Grote Markt and it is where past members of the Dutch Royal Family are buried. During the summer, visitors can climb up the tower and catch spectacular views of the city. Sadly, the tower was not open when I came to the church since I went in September. Even so, I was still able to see the extraordinary church hall. Nieuwe Kerk reminded me a lot of Grote Kerk in the Hague because they both have enormous pipe organs, colorful stained glass windows, statues of angels, and many tombs. One of the tombs I saw was the mausoleum of King William of Orange, who was perhaps the most important Dutch king. In the seventeenth century, King William formed the House of Orange-Nassau, liberated the Netherlands from the Kingdom of Spain, and helped his country become more Protestant instead of Catholic. To this day, the House of Orange-Nassau still rule the Netherlands and the country remains predominantly Protestant. His mausoleum is elaborate, and includes a sculpture of the king being laid to rest with his dog beside him, statues of him in various moments of his life, and the Royal Family’s coat of arms. Overall, it is a great tribute to a figure who had a significant influence in Dutch society.

The Canals:

What makes Delft different from the Hague is that it has more canals. They are similar to the ones in Amsterdam except they were narrower and did not have many of the iconic tall canal houses. On the other hand, I thought the canals of Delft were charming and a great escape from the hubbub of the carnival. They were quiet and their bridges and lamp posts were decorated with vibrant flowers. I noticed tourists going on a cruise tour too. Hey, it is highly likely that Vermeer sailed through those canals! There was also the city’s Oude Kerk (Old Church), which has a leaning tower since it was built on soggy land. Hopefully, the tower will not fall into the water!

Bakkerij de Diamanten Ring:

While I was walking around the historic center of Delft, I stumbled upon the Bakkerij de Diamanten Ring (or the Diamond Ring Bakery). It is a lovely bakery with a crystal chandelier and an abundance of scrumptious baked goods on display. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that I ate an appeltaart in Delft and the Diamond Ring Bakery was where I bought it. I liked the dessert for its crunchy texture and heavy cinnamon flavor. It really reminded me of the apple pie my family makes for Thanksgiving because it is crunchy and has a lot of cinnamon too. Maybe next Thanksgiving, I could make an appeltaart. My family loves the desserts I make so I am sure they would enjoy it!

In conclusion…

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I had a splendid time visiting Vermeer’s hometown. It is a city with plenty of historic charm. Like the Hague, Delft is a great alternative to Amsterdam because it has a lot of canals and historic sights as well as cute shops without the mega tourist crowds like in the capital. Since the city is smaller, Delft is easier to get around by foot as well. Usually when tourists visit the Netherlands, they just see Amsterdam and do not explore other parts of the country. In my opinion, they should venture out and see what else the Netherlands has to offer. It is a nation with a lot of wonders that are worth seeing.

A Day in South Holland: The Hague (Part 1)

Towards the end of my trip in the Netherlands, I ventured down to the province of South Holland and saw the cities of the Hague and Delft. Although Amsterdam is the capital and largest city in the country, the Hague (or Den Haag) is home to its government and it is where the Dutch royal family mainly live. The city also has the International Court of Justice, where they convict people who committed crimes against humanity. Many Dutch companies are headquartered there as well. I wanted to visit the Hague for one of its museums, the Mauritshuis because it houses “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” my favorite painting by Johannes Vermeer. I was also curious to see how the Hague was different from Amsterdam.

 

The way I got to the Hague from Amsterdam was taking the Sprinter train. It took over an hour to travel to the city. The train got held up in Leiden but I was not in a hurry. Soon after the train left Leiden, I arrived in the Hague. My first impressions of the city were that it had a more modern image than Amsterdam did. I noticed several skyscrapers as the train was arriving at the station. Also, the Hague is not as dominated by canals and does not get as many tourists. Regardless, I thought it was a nice destination. While walking to the Mauritshuis, I noticed a bunch of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and boutiques that looked appealing. Plus, it took me about 10 minutes to walk to the museum!

The Mauritshuis:

 

The Mauritshuis is a small museum that used to be a mansion. During the 17th century, it belonged to a wealthy Dutch merchant and his family. These days, it primarily features paintings by the Dutch Masters, especially Vermeer. It felt amazing to finally see “Girl With a Pearl Earring” in person. I was mesmerized by how the girl stared at me no matter where I was standing in the gallery. No wonder why they call it the “Mona Lisa of the North!” Other than that, the Mauritshuis was glamorous with its opulent chandeliers, fabric wallpaper, and frescoes. It also had lovely views of the Hofvijver, a large pond that is in the center of the Hague. Despite that the museum is a popular sight to see in the city, it was actually not too crowded. When I visited both the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, they were both packed with tourists and it was difficult for me to see the artwork up close. I felt relieved to visit an art museum that was not crowded. If I had not seen “Girl With a Pearl Earring” up close, I would have been very disappointed!

The Binnenhof:

 

Next to the Mauritshuis is the Binnenhof, where the Dutch government is based. It is a compound of different brick buildings with a massive courtyard/square for people to walk through and socialize. The Binnenhof even offers tours of the various parliament halls. I did not get a chance to go on the tour but it must be interesting to learn how the Dutch parliament works. On the other hand, I enjoyed walking around the square and checking out the Gothic/Neo-Gothic architecture and the beautiful gilded fountain.

The Hofvijver:

 

After visiting the Binnenhof, I walked over to the Hofvijver. It is a great attraction in the Hague to take pictures of. I thought it was spectacular to see both the Mauritshuis and the Binnenhof together with the skyscrapers in the background. The view definitely shows how far the Hague has come to be one of the Netherlands’ most important cities.

Shopping District:

 

In the Netherlands, the Hague is famous for its shopping. In the pedestrian-friendly city center, there are a variety of boutiques. There was construction on some of the streets but I was still able to get around the district. Some of the stores were ones I did not recognize from back home like Cavallaro Napoli, Marccain, and Purdey but the clothes looked nice. I considered doing some shopping but I did not want to spend too much money. Also, it was peculiar to see Noordeinde Palace (one of the royal family’s residences) in the neighborhood. Usually, palaces are not kept in such congested shopping neighborhoods but do not worry, the palace is heavily gated!

Church of Saint Jacob/Grote Kerk:

 

Later on, I stumbled upon the Church of Saint Jacob or Grote Kerk. It is a massive, medieval cathedral, where the royal family’s weddings and baptisms are commonly held. Since the church is Protestant, it is not extremely elaborate like how Catholic churches tend to be. Needless to say, I thought the interior was extraordinary with its stain glass images of stories from the Bible and statues of angels. There were several tombs, a tall pipe organ, and intricate wooden patterns in the ceiling as well. The church did not have pews inside at all, which made it easier to walk around. To be honest, seeing the Church of Saint Jacob was not originally part of my itinerary for my excursion to the Hague, but I feel glad to have seen such a fascinating cathedral and I would recommend it to anyone who visits the city.

Trio Eethuis:

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The last thing I did in the Hague was have lunch at Trio Eethuis. It is an Indonesian restaurant in the shopping area. Prior to visiting the city, I heard that it was known for having the best Indonesian food in the Netherlands. I dined at Indonesian eateries in the Amsterdam, which I liked and I was eager to see how they compared with the restaurant in the Hague. It turned out that Trio Eethuis was better than any of the places I been to beforehand. The meal I ordered was filled with incredibly tasty and spicy flavors. I ate nasi goreng (spicy fried rice) with beef rendang, pickled cucumbers, sautéed string beans, and prawn crackers. It was so delicious that I consumed it pretty quickly.

Another thing I liked about Trio Eethuis was that I got to meet someone who lives in the Hague. When I came to the restaurant, it was crowded and this lovely woman offered to share her table-space with me. We got to know each other and she gave me tips on what to order. The lady grew up in Indonesia and she was very familiar with its cuisine. She thought the dish I picked was a great choice. The lady also told me that throughout her life, she traveled to over 80 countries! I had never met anyone who traveled that much. Hopefully I will get to travel to that many places. The lady was curious to know how my trip in the Netherlands had been too and she was pleased to know how much I enjoyed seeing Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans, Volendam, Marken, and the Hague. She told me that out of all the countries she had traveled to, the Netherlands is the best, which I could understand. For instance, the country has progressive laws regarding free healthcare, cannabis, and gender/LGBT rights. Also, it has efficient and extensive public transportation. If only the USA were more like the Netherlands!

All in all, I feel good to have met a local during my trip. Usually when I travel, I do not get a chance to meet and socialize with new people. In my opinion, it is always great to meet the locals when you travel because it helps you learn more about the destination you are in. For example, the lady told me that Amsterdam was more for younger people whereas the Hague is meant for the older crowd, which was understandable because Amsterdam is busy while the Hague tends to be calmer. Also, meeting locals can make you feel less lonely, particularly if you are traveling alone. I went to the Netherlands by myself and there were times when I felt kind of lonely. But when I met the lady at Trio Eethuis, I felt a little better. From now on, the next time I travel, I will continue to meet new people!

In conclusion…

 

It was a pleasure seeing the Netherlands’ second city. The Hague was easy to get around, had fascinating places to see and delightful food to eat. In many ways, the city is a good alternative to Amsterdam because it has many great things to see/do while not having as many tourists. Although I liked Amsterdam, the Hague was not as overwhelming. Sadly, it tends to get overlooked by tourists who visit the Netherlands. To me, the city should be considered as one of Europe’s most underrated destinations.

To be continued…

Exploring Waterland

During my Dutch vacation, I paid a little visit to the seaside villages of Volendam and Marken. They are both located in a region known as Waterland, which (as the name suggests) has a rich maritime heritage. Both towns are close to Amsterdam, making it easy to get there by bus. Even though I was not in Volendam and Marken for very long, I still had a good time checking them out.

Volendam:

Volendam was the first village I visited. My impression of the town was that it had a touristy image. I saw several souvenir shops selling t-shirts, wooden clogs, and porcelain dolls wearing traditional Dutch outfits. However, I walked by many eateries that looked appealing. I noticed cheese and stroopwafel factories too. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that Volendam was where I ate pickled herring, which I kind of enjoyed. It was served at this stand that served other types of fish, like smoked eel. Another positive factor about Volendam was that it has a ferry called the Volendam-Marken Express that people can take to Marken and back. I was in Volendam in the late afternoon/early evening and it was almost time for the ferry to stop running. I needed to visit Marken as soon as possible.

Volendam-Marken Express:

Takinge the ferry from Volendam to Marken was a lovely experience. Half of the ferry was outside and it felt refreshing riding it in the wind. I also liked that the ferry included a bar. It was relaxing to just sit with a beer in hand and watching the sea go by. I even saw a rainbow in the distance.

Marken:

The island of Marken was different from Volendam and far less touristy. I saw a souvenir shop that was closed but the tavern was open. I did not see many people there either. Though It was similar to Volendam because Marken had a lot of sailboats in the harbor but the weather was starting to get stormy so I did not spend much time in the village. On the other hand, I liked how quaint and cute Marken was. It has many of these wooden green and black cottages with red roofs by the sea and canals. I walked by a field filled with goats as well. My guess is that the villagers use the goats’ milk to make cheese. Towards the end of my time in Marken, I originally wanted to take the ferry back to Volendam but decided not to. Since there was a thunderstorm brewing, there was a bus from Marken to the Amsterdam Noord station, where I caught the train to head back to Amsterdam Centraal. I got there dry and happy in less than an hour.

In conclusion…

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Even though my excursion in Waterland was cut short, it was nice to see another part of the Netherlands. Both Volendam and Marken are rich in scenery and charm. It was fun to take the Volendam-Marken Express too. Visiting Waterland is a moment I will always remember about my trip.

Zaanse Schans

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When people think about the Netherlands, they typically think of its windmills. They can be found all over the country. Because the Netherlands has always been prone to flooding due to its flat terrain, the windmills worked to prevent floods for hundreds of years. They would help pump the flood water to make it return to the rivers because people needed the land to farm. By using the windmills, civilians could also use wind power to make oils and dyes and carve wood. In this day and age, the windmills are popular with tourists. When I was on vacation in the Netherlands, I visited Zaanse Schans, a neighborhood in the town of Zaandam with well-preserved Dutch windmills from the 1600s and 1700s. It also has a couple of workshops that produce chocolates, wooden clogs, cheese, candy, and baked goods. Zaanse Schans has many museums as well. Some of the attraction’s employees wear traditional Dutch attires with wooden clogs. It is a great place to learn about old Dutch life.

The Windmills:

Three of the windmills I saw were De Bonte Hen, De Zoeker, and Het Jonge Schaap. De Bonte Hen and De Zoeker are both oil mills (they mainly produced linseed and peanut oils) and Het Jonge Schaap is a sawmill. Inside De Bonte Hen and De Zoeker, it was interesting to see the machines crushing the peanuts and the linseeds to make the oils, particularly that it was all achieved by wind power. These machines date back centuries ago and are still being used today. I was also amazed by how gargantuan and sturdy they were when crushing the seeds and chopping the wood.

The Shops:

Zaanse Schans has a variety of old fashioned stores. There is the Cocoalab, where you could buy chocolates, make hot chocolate from scratch, and learn about the history of chocolate making. In fact, Zaandam is known for its chocolate and has been producing it since 1886! I thought their hot chocolate was pretty tasty (more dark than sweet) and it was nice of the cashier to heat it up for me. I also thought it was clever that the walls are decorated with chocolate molds. The bakery museum has a sweet shop, selling many candies. I bought a bag of cherry sticks, which were pretty good. I loved the shop that sold a lot of different cheeses and offered samples of them, especially their garlic and herb cheese. I enjoy anything with garlic, in general.

Dutch Countryside:

One of the great things about visiting Zaanse Schans was seeing the Dutch countryside. Prior to visiting the attraction, I spent most of my time in the busy, congested city of Amsterdam. Although I loved Amsterdam, it felt pleasant to get away from the hustle and bustle for a while. The lands surrounding Zaanse Schans were beautiful, serene, lush, and of course, flat. There were also little canals that ran through Zaanse Schans, with cozy wooden and brick cottages alongside them. I can imagine how charming it is to live by the water!

The Museums:

When I arrived at Zaanse Schans, I first stopped at the museum that showed many kinds of wooden clocks. They each have grand designs with figurines of angels, images of ships at sea, and twisted wooden carvings. One of the grandfather clocks had sail ships that would move, which delighted me. I had never seen such an animated clock! Next up was the Albert Heijn Grocery museum. It is a replica of the first Dutch grocery store chain in 1948. The chain actually began in Zaandam. The museum is a small building displaying models of coffee, eggs, candies, and cheeses. The store even has a balance scale that is used to measure the foods. It astonished me that the Netherlands’ No. 1 supermarket chain started out at this one small shop. Although many big companies like Albert Heijn have a humble beginning, it is nice to see that it has grown to become such a successful business worldwide.

Overall…

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Zaanse Schans offers a perfect day trip from Amsterdam. It is a wonderful place to see the windmills still in action and experience old Dutch life. I highly recommend you include Zaanse Schans on your list of places to see in the Netherlands. You will be totally satisfied!

Amsterdam’s Brown Cafés

v%XSpA3sSX+ixhhW7lgw+QThroughout Amsterdam, it is likely you would encounter its traditional pubs known as, “brown cafés.” The majority of them have been in business for hundreds of years. They are called brown cafés because of their brown walls, mostly due to stains from cigarette ash. They have always been places for Amsterdammers to meet, socialize, or sing along to old Dutch pop songs. When I was in the city, I went to a few of them.aKZAaWrsTZO7ArkjiSixAQ It felt fascinating going to pubs that have been around for centuries. For example, Café Karpershoek was established in 1606. None of the bars where I live in New England are that old! Most of the beers they serve are Dutch and Belgian like Affligem, Brouwerij T Ij, and La Trappe. The bartenders were nice enough to give me beer lists and I was eager to know what btAMYWWkSnqBaT2EhhUGkQthey tasted like. The beers had a sharp yet sweet flavor and were served in a goblet, which is the traditional way to serve l09FiMjvQEWeCh5qGSRNfAbeer in both the Netherlands and Belgium. I know most people in the US prefer to drink beer from the bottle but I like to have it served in a glass. Somehow, beer in a glass tastes a lot better. For those who do not care for beer, the brown cafés serve wine and cocktails too. They have all kinds of wine and liquors. Overall, I recommend any visitor in Amsterdam to go to any of the pubs. They are great places to experience classic Dutch pub culture. Below is a list of the brown cafes I went to:

  • De Twee Zwaantjes: Small pub on Prinsengracht. Has outdoor seating. Very close to the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk.
  • Café Karpershoek: Spacious pub across from Amsterdam Centraal.
  • Café Pollux. Located on the Oosterdok. Not too far from Amsterdam Centraal.

The Canals of Amsterdam

Amsterdam is widely known for its canals. Truth be told, the city has more canals than Venice does! Tourists in Amsterdam love to explore their beauty and history. Most of the canals are lined with trees and plants and some of the bridges are illuminated at night. You would also come across historic attractions like the Anne Frank House and Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder along the canals. Many of the tall brick canal houses date back to the seventeenth century, when they were home to the city’s merchants. These days, the canal districts are popular places to live in Amsterdam. They have a variety of restaurants and shops as well.

Tips:

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What makes the canals in Amsterdam unique in contrast with the ones in Venice is that you can drive along them. However, it is probably best to walk or ride a bike because the streets are narrow and parking is limited. The canals all have bike lanes and sidewalks, making it easy to get around by foot or bike. They can even be nice places to go on a peaceful stroll, particularly if you want to get away from busy districts like Dam Square and Rembrandtplein.

Canal Cruise:

One fabulous way to get around Amsterdam’s canals is on a cruise tour. There are a lot of different tours that go throughout the city and they are very relaxing. Prior to the tour I had done a bunch of walking, and on the cruise, I got to rest my legs. Also if you go on a cruise, you get a chance to learn more about the canals’ history. For instance, I learned that Keizersgracht had the city’s wealthiest residents in the 1600s. Meanwhile, Prinsengracht had poor citizens, which is hard to believe because the canal is now an expensive place to live in Amsterdam. During the tour, we went under the bridges and the majority of them were pretty low. Fortunately, we were able to go under them with no problem. Going on a cruise is a wonderful way to take pictures too. I took so many and I was cautious not to accidentally drop my iPhone into the water, which would have been a nightmare! Below is a list of many of the canal cruise tours in Amsterdam:

  • Hop On Hop Off Boat Tour
  • Amsterdam Canal Cruise
  • 100 Highlights Cruise
  • Amsterdam Circle Line
  • Dinner Cruise
  • Lovers Canal Cruises
  • Museum Line
  • Stromma
  • Candlelight Cruise
  • Dutch Masters and Marvels

Food in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is globally known for its scenic canals, historic windmills, and progressive laws towards cannabis and prostitution. Unfortunately, it gets less attention for its food but it does not mean that it is bad. In fact, the food is delicious. When I was in the Netherlands, I enjoyed almost every meal I had there. Whether it be Dutch or international cuisines, the country has everything when it comes to good food.

Dutch foods:

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Dutch food staples are traditionally meat, potatoes, and seafood. One delicacy that can be found all over the Netherlands is pickled herring. It is a street food found in Dutch cities and towns, served with chopped onions and pickled cucumbers. In the fishing village of Volendam, I was hesitant to try it since I never had pickled fish before but I ate it anyway. Pickled herring turned out to be pretty good. I thought it tasted great with chopped onions even though it made my breath stink afterwards!

 

I enjoyed eating a Dutch pancake at one of the pancake houses in Amsterdam. It was large and crispy, filled with sliced apples and cheese. I made sure to put honey and powdered sugar on it, which enhanced the flavor. I also tried traditional Dutch cheese. The country makes all kinds of it, especially in the town of Gouda. Gouda cheese has a tasty, sharp flavor. Before returning home, I remembered to buy some.

Another popular street food in the Netherlands are fries or ‘patat.’ They are mainly of Belgian origin but they have become a huge part of Dutch cuisine. You would find many stores selling them offering a range of toppings like ketchup, mayonnaise, and satay (peanut) sauce. One time, I ate fries with both satay sauce and mayonnaise, which is an odd combination. Even so, they tasted well together. Croquettes are also a common fast food in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, I bought one from a vending machine and it was crispy and delicious, with ground meat and potatoes and spices inside.

Dutch desserts are scrumptious too. A popular Dutch treat is a stroopwafel, a waffle cookie filled with caramel. It is sweet and gooey and tastes great with a cup of warm tea. When I was in Delft, I ordered an appeltart (apple tart), another common Dutch dessert. It was savory, packed with cinnamon. I like that the apples still kinda had their crunch too.

International foods:

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The Netherlands is very multicultural and has plenty of international restaurants. Indonesian food is popular in the Netherlands mainly because Indonesia was a Dutch colony. When the Dutch were in Indonesia, they liked the foods there. Also, many Indonesians have emigrated to the Netherlands and have opened up restaurants serving traditional dishes like nasi goreng (spicy fried rice), beef rendang (beef simmered in a fragrant sauce), and chicken satay (grilled chicken skewers with peanut sauce). Some of these restaurants have been in business for generations. It is common for customers at Indonesian eateries to order rijsttafel, rice served with several different meals. Since I was traveling alone, I did not have the actual rijsttafel because it is meant for two or more people. On the other hand, there were some places that had mini rijsttafels. The mini rijsttafels were tasty with both spicy and sweet meat and vegetable dishes. Some of the Indonesian restaurants I recommend are Cafe Kadijk and Kantjil and De Tiger in Amsterdam and Trio Eethuis in the Hague. Actually, the Hague is known for having the best Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

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In Amsterdam, I tried Surinamese food for the first time. Like Indonesia, Suriname was a Dutch colony and the Netherlands receives a lot of immigrants from there. I thought Surinamese cuisine was unique, being a blend of Dutch, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and West African foods. There was a Surinamese place near my hotel called Kam Yin, where I ordered an exquisite roti bread with chicken curry and green beans. It tasted very similar to the Indo-Caribbean rotis and curries I had in the past so it was pretty spicy.

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Amsterdam has a lot of Argentinian steakhouses and Turkish restaurants as well. I went to an Argentinian restaurant called Villa Maria, where I had delicious, juicy steak with fries and a spicy yet tangy tomato sauce. I was full after I finished my meal! Also, the restaurant is located on Lange Leidsedwarsstraat, where there are many other international restaurants.

As for Turkish food, I ate at Ali Ocakbaşı. It is on Herengracht, one of the city’s prominent canals. Herengracht has many of Amsterdam’s finest, historic homes, thus, the restaurant has great views of the neighborhood – plus, the food was good. They have a wonderful variety of mostly vegetarian appetizers like köpoğlu and kısır. Köpoğlu is a dish consisting of fried eggplant, green pepper, and potatoes cooked in a tomato sauce with a dollop of fresh yogurt. Kısır is a spicy salad of bulgur wheat, parsley, and green pepper. Both tasted well with warm bread. I also had Bardak Altı, a little flatbread comprising of ground lamb seasoned with different spices and topped with pine nuts. To drink, I just had Turkish tea. It was a chilly, rainy night and the tea made me warm.

In conclusion…

The Netherlands is a country with delicious food of all types. Wherever you go, you will have a savory meal. I feel so proud to have tried the food there. In my opinion, the Netherlands should be known as one of Europe’s best culinary hot spots!