17 Jun

Discovering Amsterdam Through Our Stomachs

I think I’m in love with food tours. I have often said that walking tours are a great way to get a ‘lay of the land’ when we first arrive in a city; food tours take it up a notch by taking us into the cafes and restaurants, hidden treasures and hole-in-the-walls that make a place. Do I want to take a jaunt around a culturally significant neighbourhood with new friends while tasting the best that a place has to offer? Yes, please!

After love-love-loving the Eating London Food Tour a few weeks back we signed up for its sister tour Eating Amsterdam Food Tour as soon as we rolled into town. Best. Decision. Ever!

Amsterdam Food Tours

My favourite part about these tours – well, besides the amazing food, of course – is the work that has obviously gone into researching the neighbourhood and finding the best that it has to offer. In fact Annamaria confided that she had gained 5 kilos in her pursuit of the tastiest apple pie, the freshest herring, the best bitterballen, and the most amazing broodje pom in the area. A sacrifice to be sure but one I am most definitely appreciative of. :)

The Amsterdam tour takes place in the historic Jordaan neighbourhood; an old working class section of the city with narrow streets and alleyways filled with cafes, butchers, shops and markets. Though working class no more (it is now one of the more hip, and expensive, areas of the city) it retains old world charm that hints at its past.

We started in one of the oldest ‘brown cafes’ in Amsterdam. With dark walls and smoke stained ceiling it’s easy to see why it’s called a ‘brown cafe’ – it takes years and years to gain character like this and Café Papeneiland has the pedigree having been around since about 1642! They make a mean Dutch Apple Pie here…of course here it’s just called ‘Apple Pie’ ;) Part cake, part sweet apple goodness, and part crumbly topping, it was the perfect start to our day together.

Cafe Papeneiland Apple Pie

The Netherlands may be a small country but they have historically spread themselves across the world. It is inevitable that they would return with some of the best culinary secrets of the places they ‘visit’. Pom is one of the tastiest imports; chicken and malanga (a starchy taro-like veggie) are baked together for quite some time and then served on the freshest of bread alongside a pickly mixture with a spicy kick. Completely unexpected but absolutely delicious. This is a dish that I would have never discovered on my own but am so glad to have tried.

Broodje Pom

Another chance to try something we would not have otherwise – I mean, who walks into a butcher and just starts trying meat? We did! Louman’s has been around since 1860 and they know their meat! We tried the ossenwurst (a raw, smoked beef sausage) and the grillworst (a more traditional grilled sausage) – guess which won out? The raw, smoked sausage had a smooth texture and a sweet, soft, smoky flavour that was the favourite of everyone on the tour!

Amsterdam Food Tours

We were lucky enough to be in the Netherlands during the time of the Neuwe Haring (or New Herring) season – a chance to try the freshest fish the North Sea has to offer. Here they eat it raw with onions and pickles – being a huge sushi fan it’s no surprise that I loved this although others in the group were not quite so keen. It’s worth a try though – a fresh, oceany flavour that, for locals, heralds the arrival of spring.

Amsterdam Food Tours

Have you tried Dutch liquorice? They like it salty. Very salty. At Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje we tried a range – from the sweeter version saved for children to the salty versions (although not the locally favoured double-salted) and the flavoured treats also. I’m not ashamed to admit that the kiddy version was enough for me!

Amsterdam Food Tours

There are many ways to discover the secrets of Amsterdam but seeing it from the water is very special. Seeing it from one of the oldest salon boats on the canals is beyond special. We had noticed The Tourist from afar a few days prior; with its gleaming wood and stately presence it was hard not to notice as it docked next to one of the most prestigious hotels in the area. We had chatted about taking a canal cruise while in town and joked about how it most likely wouldn’t be on such a beautiful vessel. Imagine our surprise when Captain Bruné welcomed us aboard for a floating tour of the city!

While being treated to some of the best views and stories of the marine history of the area we enjoyed bubbly wine, Dutch Gouda cheese, beer from the local Brouwerij ‘t IJ, and other treats delivered to the boat from the canal side as we sailed along. What a treat!

Amsterdam Food Tours

Amsterdam Food Tours

Amsterdam Food Tours

The only other food related item on my to-do list in Amsterdam was the pannekoek, or pancake. Luckily Annamaria came through at our final stop where we were able to fill up on poffertjes with an excellent cup of coffee. These ‘little ones’ are dense and sweet – a full meal in themselves!!

Eating Amsterdam Food Tours

This was the end of the official food tour but, as is our tradition, we ended our afternoon at a local watering hole. Wynand Fockink is more than a funny name; it’s one of the oldest jenever bars in the city. As the lady behind the counter will tell you, jenever is NOT gin – the English tried to replicate jenever but used too much juniper and ruined it – THAT’S what gin is. Regardless, I have become quite a fan of having a glass of the clear, bitter, liquor along with a nice glass of pilsner. Now that’s how to end the afternoon!

Interested in taking a tour while in Amsterdam? (and you should be!) Check out the Eating Amsterdam Food Tours website or the EatingAmsterdam Facebook Page for more info. I can’t think of a better way to get under the skin of a place than through its food – definitely worth it.

02 Jun

Cycle Tour Europe: Not All Flat Is Not Created Equal

It would seem that, after cycling through the hills of northern France, we should have been grateful for the flat lands of the Rhine Valley.

I am here to tell you though that not all flat is created equal. As with everything in life there is always a hierarchy and flat has one too.

Although I’m not one to usually look a gift horse in the mouth, flat is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Yes, it’s easier on the legs than an uphill but it doesn’t offer the resting opportunities of the downhill that usually accompanies the up. Every inch of road gained must be worked for – there is not coasting, no lifting your tired, achy butt up off the seat, and no ‘woooo-hoooing’ down the other side. Every revolution counts, there is no free ride.

After many hours of traversing many kilometers of flat (and not-so-flat) terrain I have developed the following Flat Dictionary:

Downhill Trending Flat: This is the Queen Bee of flat. Click into the highest gear and speed along the landscape feeling like Superwoman with legs of steel and a grin that can’t be beat. It’s almost better than downhill…(1) because I didn’t have to climb a hill to get it and (2) because I often don’t realize it’s downhill trending and I feel so strong whereas I know when we’re really going downhill and just let gravity do it’s thing.

Flat Flat: True flat. Riding is easy but getting into the highest gears takes effort. We’re grateful for it after an uphill section but, after a while, grow weary and miss the variety of up and down. You really can’t please some people, can you?

Uphill Trending Flat: Definitely one of the worst. I often cannot see that it is uphill trending; my legs feel like they are filled with concrete, the bike feels like it has a dead body on the back, and I’m constantly downshifting in order to keep moving at a slug pace. Unlike true uphill where there is a summit to focus on and sense of success to be gained no matter how steep the hill, this flat is soul sucking, misery-inducing, and confidence-shattering. We even did one section of Uphill Trending Flat that actually appeared to be Downhill Trending – farmer fields on either side belied the truth and had me preparing for a Superwoman section…only to be doubly confused as my pace slowed and my legs screamed. I had to look behind me to be sure that Jason hadn’t grabbed on trying to pull me backwards. Tricky Uphill Trending Flat…tricky!

Smooth Flat: Smooth flat is where it’s at. The smoother the better.

Tailwind Flat: Nothing better than a helping hand from Mother Nature. A tailwind can make a riding day pass easily as we sail along whistling Dixie (well, not really) and enjoying the ride.

Headwind Flat: A headwind, however, can suck the fun out of a day faster than well I-don’t-know-what, but fast! It actually doesn’t take much of a headwind to make a difference but if there’s a storm brewing it can make riding downright nasty. Like pedalling in sand, or uphill in sand, or uphill in sand with a flat tire. Not only is the riding harder but it pretty much also heralds the oncoming rain – yay, now I’m tired and wet. Not my favourite.

Rough Pavement Flat: You know, pavement that maybe didn’t have the right mix of wet to dry ingredients. The pebbles stick out and the surface is anything but smooth. Friction counts and riding on Rough Pavement Flat is more difficult than trying to determine the coefficient of friction in physics class.

Gravel Flat: A tiny bit worse than Rough Pavement Flat, Gravel Flat now has small rocks to negotiate. This isn’t so difficult but is wearing as the bike is a little bit less stable so it takes a little more energy to manage that dead body on the back of my bike.

Grassy Flat: There is, of course, a whole hierarchy of Grassy Flat alone. Short grass vs long grass. Tufted grass vs carpet type grass. Fortunately we don’t do much Grassy Flat riding and it’s usually accompanied by beautiful country-side views so we’re happy.

Broken Pavement Flat: Another one of the worst. Broken pavement has no pattern, no defined way to tackle it, nothing to redeem it at all. It slows us down immediately. Time riding on Broken Pavement Flat is spent zigzagging across the road trying the find the smoothest route through the minefield of pot-holes and uneven surfaces.

Farmer Field Flat: Farmer Field Flat is an amalgam of many flats. Never really flat, it’s often uphill trending (are we always going the wrong way?) and sometimes will downhill trend. Often grassy (of the tufted variety) but sometimes there is a track of mud, hard-packed earth, or cobblestone. Usually accompanied with amazing country-side views but also with the earthy smell of cows. It is peaceful and relaxing.

Cobblestone Flat: Sounds quaint, but it ain’t. Cobblestones are tough to ride on and will slow us down faster than just about anything else as we try to find a path through that is smoothest and offers the least resistance. I love the way they look and appreciate the hardiness of the style but it is tough on the butt!!

Rocky Flat: Rocky Flat’s rocks are larger than gravel rocks. There are usually more of them but not as many as on a rocky beach. The effect is the same though – the tires must ‘swim’ through the rocks as they don’t actually ride over them but sink just a little. It’s tough to navigate and stay upright and, thankfully, we have so far only seen very short sections.

So, as you can see, the absolute best flat you could find would be downhill trending, smoooooth, and with a tailwind. That would be heaven!!


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