Waiting for Santa

Charlie Is WatchingThat right there is 30 kilos of Staffordshire terrier sitting on a cabinet by the front window. Usually, it’s the cats who sit there. In fact, Lola is not happy that Charlie has invaded her space.
Get Your Own Window
I would say that he’s just waiting for Santa, but honestly, he’s been doing this for about a week or more now. If you don’t know where Charlie is? Check the front window. I need to sit over there more so I can see if anyone notices him when walking past. I’ve seen small dogs and lots of cats in front windows, but I’ve never seen a big Staffie peering out. He’s such a silly dog, and I love him to bits!

Happy Holidays!

 

Charlie Is WatchingCharlie Is Watching

Bicycles Instead of Fireworks

Even after many years here, when I see the date of 4 July, my mind turns to the American Independence Day, even though I’m now more likely to write the date the way the rest of the world does. Typically we celebrate in some vaguely traditional way, such as grilling out and maybe setting out an Uncle Sam figurine I have.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
This year, though, it’s all about yellow instead of red, white, and blue, and bicycles instead of fireworks. This year, 4 July means the start of the Tour de France. The Grand Depart is being held here in Utrecht this year and there’s no escaping it. Rows and rows of pennants flap in the wind over most streets; trees are wrapped in yellow or white with red polka dots; flags fly from homes and businesses; large bicycle statues are in major squares; tour information desks are in the Centraal Station; and on and on and on. It seems like everywhere you look, you see something race related.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs

This week, I’ll be posting some photos of various decorations that have begun to take over the city. Some fans may have already arrived; the rest will be arriving throughout the week, with probably the majority coming in on Friday.

We’re also expecting a significant heat wave this week, with possible temperatures as high as 38 C/100 F on Saturday. Remember, there’s no air conditioning here. This may be my last week of blogging, as there’s a chance I may die from heat stroke this week. I don’t do well in the heat as it is, and working in a tiny hot kitchen in those temps may be the death of me. Just wandering around town today to get some photos had my head pounding from the heat.

So, with that cheerful thought, here are some of the photos I took today at Jaarbeursplein, the large square by the train station/theater and also the general site of the finish for the time trials on Saturday. (The actual Grand Depart is Sunday.) As you come out of the train station, you end up at the top of a massive set of stairs that give a great view onto the square and the painting that covers the ground. The bicycles in the foreground of the first picture are just normal Dutch bikes belonging to people probably having lunch sitting on the stairs. In the second photo, notice the tree trunk wrapped in yellow.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
On the left is the Jaarbeurs convention center, which houses trade shows, exhibitions, meetings, etc. on a large scale. It’s also the home of the Beatrix Theater, where you can see concerts, musicals, and more. They’ve recently decorated the building with a plethora of bikes. I can’t help but wonder if they’re some of the ones dredged up from the canals or other abandoned bikes that have been picked up around town. I should hope so, as that would be an affordable way of decorating. There’s no shortage of broken, abandoned bicycles in town.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tomorrow, perhaps some more trees, or maybe the Winkel van Sinkel. A bientôt!

Klein New Orleans Recap

Klein New Orleans
As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday was a warm, sunny day with plenty going on throughout the city. It was also a holiday, as was Monday, so lots of freedom to stay out and enjoy the day to the fullest. The result was that the Klein New Orleans festival was busy right from the beginning. We got there shortly after 3pm when it began and as you can see, it was already wall-to-wall people.

It was held on Breedstraat, which is also the street where the weekly Saturday fabric market is held. The festival was contained along the western end of the street, near the Predikherenkerkhof, where there’s a small square that was ideal for some of the music performances.
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
It’s a shame they didn’t have more of the street available to thin out the crowds slightly. It was hard to get around, especially when juggling food and drink, and with all the tall Dutchies, it was hard to see over the crowds! Hopefully, if they do it again next year, they can get more space. I’m sure the turnout exceeded their expectations.

The heavy crowds made it hard to see (or hear) any of the music coming from the second stage. A raised stage and a bit more amplification may have helped. As you can see from this next photo, the white tent is the stage area. I was standing on the opposite side of the street with my camera up in the air to get this shot and still couldn’t see (or hear) anything of the musicians, which was a shame. And as I mentioned, tall Dutchies make it hard to see anything, even if I’d gotten closer. I miss the days when I was tall enough to see over much of a crowd.
Klein New Orleans
We had headed to the opposite side of the street to find some room to eat. After all, food is a major part of Louisiana lore. The blend of French, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean cooking styles has created an outstanding cuisine.

I had been a bit disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a crawfish boil. After all, that’s one of the quintessential food parties in Louisiana. They’re popular enough that even when people leave Louisiana, they’ll keep hosting crawfish boils wherever they are. I even got an email today about a Tulane Alumni Crawfish Boil in New York. I went to a few myself while living in New York and always passed a good time!

There were a handful of food stalls, including a few local restaurants. One was serving up hamburgers and one does more Middle Eastern food. Meh. That wasn’t what I was there for. I wanted Cajun and Creole cooking. One stall wasn’t doing straight-up traditional, but they had a beer-batter shrimp dish that I wanted to try. I mean, come on, fried shrimp! Awesome!
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
They were tiny shrimp, but they were tasty. The Cajun Butter wasn’t very spicy, but was fine (though it was also technically meant for the corn on the cob). Speaking of which, the corn on the cob seemed to be selling quite well.
Klein New Orleans
You can occasionally find vacuum-packed corn on the cob here, though I’ve found it to be a bit rubbery, unsurprisingly. But you don’t usually find corn on the cob sold loose in their husks the way we do in the States. So I guess that bit of exotica is why they’re popping up more frequently at food festivals here. I saw pictures of them at the Food Truck Festival that was also taking place this weekend. We didn’t order any, since it’s not something I haven’t made a million times.

I do have to point out that the girls running the stand had a cute little boat-shaped stall that they were working out of. A nod to shrimp boats, perhaps.
Klein New Orleans
Obviously, though, I was there for the gumbo and jambalaya. I knew this would be risky, but I had to take the chance. There was always the possibility I’d be pleasantly surprised. So we got a small bowl of each.
Klein New OrleansKlein New Orleans
Bless their hearts.

They at least had okra in their gumbo (the one on the right), but that was about the best I can say, unfortunately. It was lacking in any seasoning I’m afraid to say. The “jambalaya” had more seasoning, but there’s just no way that is anywhere remotely similar to a jambalaya, thus the quotation marks. It was more like a vegetarian chilli and missing just about every ingredient you’d use in a any variation of a jambalaya. Plus, the rice is supposed to cook in the jambalaya, not be served with the sauce on top. Maybe they misheard the order and gave us something other than jambalaya? I can only hope so.

I hate to be so critical, especially working in the kitchen part of a restaurant now, but I also don’t want people to think that’s how it’s supposed to be, especially if they’ve never had it. They’re going to wonder what all the fuss is about or be really shocked if they eventually try the real thing.

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but complaining — music too hard to hear/see — crowds too thick, food not right — but I think part of it is just growing pains. It’s the first time they’ve done this event and I truly hope they get to do it again next year and make it an annual event. There’s room for improvement, but I would absolutely go back again next year. And I’m sure plenty of people thoroughly enjoyed it all. I’m probably overly critical because of my time actually spent in New Orleans.
Klein New Orleans
The fact that so many people of all ages turned out means that there’s an interest and plenty of people looked to be having a good time. I’m glad an enterprising group put this together and I’m still happy to have helped out a small bit with the crowdfunding. I’ll help out if they do it again. Though I might make a few food requests or try to set up my own food stall. Po’ boys, anyone?
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
Oh, and a shout-out to the two guys I saw wearing Jimmy Graham Saints jerseys. What were the Saints thinking selling him to Seattle?!
Klein New Orleans

Klein New Orleans Intro

Klein New Orleans
Sunday was a glorious day and perfect for all of the festivals going on throughout the city that day. There was a food truck festival over at Griftpark, a Jazzfest over at Janskerkhof, and of course, the first Klein New Orleans on Breedstraat. For a new event, it was packed, even early on! I have plenty to write about — and lots of photos — but I also have a raging headache today, so I’ll save the details for tomorrow.

For now, some of the underwear bunting that served as decoration. Not, perhaps, what I would have thought of were I doing the decorating myself, but I suppose it still works. Certainly kind of funny. In the first photo, the two buildings in the background are named Castor and Pollux. That actually seems to fit New Orleans well, as the city has a number of references to mythology, including cross streets along St. Charles Avenue named for the muses.

As for this next photo, I couldn’t resist the combination of the corset and the cross. This also seems somehow appropriate for New Orleans and certainly takes me back to many a late-night discussion, especially one about the architecture of different faiths and our own quirky takes on the symbolism. Thanks for that late-night drive and discussion, Jenny and Lee.
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans

Utrecht on Easter

Paasdag
Utrecht is looking mighty fine today. The weather is glorious, though still with a bit of chill. But as you can see, the sun was shining in full force and the sky was a glorious shade of blue with the occasional fluffy white cloud.

We took a walk along the canal that rings the old city center on the eastern side, planning to drop off some recycling, see my dear friend the Spoetnikkijker, and then head to the Domplein to check out the Streekmarkt, in hope that there would be some fresh asparagus on offer.
Paasdag
The walk along the canal was perfect, with daffodils sprouting everywhere and the water reflecting the sunlight like a mirror. Although the trees are still bare, greenery is popping up elsewhere, making everything look lush and welcoming.

It was a joy just getting out and enjoying the city and the scenery, camera in hand. It’s been too long since I’ve had a chance to walk around on a nice day, without work obligations hanging over me. I think I took something like 200 photos, so there should be plenty of new pics to post for the next few weeks! I even got a couple of shots so I can do some more Time Travel posts (and close a few more tabs in my browser). Oh, and lots of cat photos!
De Streekmart
Eventually we made it to the Domplein to visit the Streekmarkt. I think it’s the first time the market has been held in the Domplein. It’s been on Twijnstraat and Mariaplaats in recent years. It’s a nice market, typically focusing on organic food and other items all made in small batches. Sometimes there’s fresh produce, so I was hoping to find some asparagus for tonight’s dinner, but sadly I didn’t see any. There were a number of food trucks of one sort or another, including an Argentinian grill truck and a tosti truck. The aromas in the square were mouth watering and everything looked delicious.

Since we were in the area, I decided to stop by the VVV (tourist office) that’s there in the square. I knew they had begun carrying some 3D-printed Domtoren necklaces and earrings and I was interested in getting a necklace. I’ve had a VVV giftcard in my bag for more than a year and figured now would be a good time to use it. In the end, I got the necklace, a Tour de France-inspired Domtoren T-shirt (don’t forget, the race starts here in Utrecht, 4 July), a Domtoren print, and a mug that matches one of my favorite Utrecht prints. All in all, a very nice day!
Domtoren

2014 in review

I keep seeing so many end-of-year comments and posts today that I have to keep checking that today is really the 30th and not the 31st. Fortunately, there’s still a day or two left of 2014 to get things sorted, including the purchase of oliebollen tomorrow, not to mention the Hoppin’ John that needs to be made for the first. And today is my first day back at work at Vino Veritas in over a week. We’ve been closed for part of it, due to the holidays and normal days off, but I’ve been out due to round two of the cold from hell. I’m feeling much better today, though, thank goodness.

Anyway, WordPress has gathered up their statistics for the year, and I thought I’d share them for lack of will to do research on other topics. And I still have to do my Rotterdam Markthal post, but there are so many pictures from which to choose! Maybe next year. If you’re curious about some of my stats for the year, you’re welcome to check out the report below. The most interesting thing to me, as I discovered the other day doing my own stats review, is that the BBC article that came out more than a year ago is the largest referrer to my blog, outside of search engines, Twitter, and Facebook. I still get at least one click-through from that article almost every single day, and often many more. It seems to be doing the rounds again this past month or so, as the number of daily visits has increased recently.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 53,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

If I don’t get around to blogging tomorrow, here’s one last photo of the sun setting over Utrecht and 2014. Thanks to all of my visitors this year, both new and old.
Winter Sunlight

The Dog Days of Christmas

I am irresistibly drawn to dogs and regularly find myself admiring the many dogs we see while out and about. Occasionally I can get a quick snap or two of some of them, but dogs being dogs, most photos end up like this:
utrecht dogsFortunately, I did manage to catch a couple of dogs at the kerstmarkten the other weekend, and on this second day of Christmas (Tweede kerstdag, as it’s called here), I thought I’d share a couple of the photos. Because, dogs.
Domplein KerstmarktOne of the first dogs we saw was this giant Newfoundland dog, AKA a Newfie. I knew these dogs were big. I’ve even seen them before in person, but it’s still easy to forget just how big a dog they can be. I don’t think the picture even gives the true sense, as he’s sitting down and fairly relaxed. I just wanted to throw my arms around him and burrow my face into his fur. He looked like a giant teddy bear you just want to cuddle!
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
This next dog was all too familiar to me in his straining enthusiasm to lick some fallen morsel of food off the ground. Well, I say food, and in this case it probably was, but often it just has to be something that smells good to a dog. Imagine walking an enthusiastic six-month-old dog through the streets of New York and all the inevitable stuff that littered the ground, edible or not. I still remember the game of tug of war when it came to keeping my Pippo away from a dropped slice of day-old pizza on one of our morning walks through Manhattan.

This little fellow managed to lick up whatever had fallen, as seen by the round wet mark just to the right of the dog in this next photo, before continuing his scavenging.
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
It’s been just over two years since we lost our sweet Pippo, an enthusiastic scavenger and licker. Our dishes just aren’t as clean as they used to be.
Lekker!