Fijne Kerstdagen 2015

Kerstraam
I came across this window on one of my walks with Charlie last month and thought it would be perfect for a Christmas post. It’s an impressive winter village display, and from a photo I saw on Instagram, I think it lights up at night.

We’re not having a white Christmas this year. It’s been unseasonably warm here as it seems to be in many places. Still, it’s Christmas and we’re looking forward to our long weekend. Happy holidays to you all!
Kerstraam

Touring Utrecht’s Christmas Markets

Domplein Kerstmarkt
The other weekend, Utrecht was overflowing with kerstmarkten (Christmas markets). Mariaplaats, Twijnstraat, Domplein, Stadhuis, and other winter festivities at Neude were among the offerings and fortunately the weather cooperated. It was a gorgeous sunny winter day. The Domplein was the newest addition to the kerstmarkt scene, and having seen some photos on Twitter, that was our fist stop on our kerstmarkt tour.

Although relatively small in offerings, there was a nice mix of stylish wooden stalls and tented tables, as well as two merry-go-rounds. One was a swing type for children, while the other slowly turning one was decked out with tables and chairs to enjoy a panoramic view of the square while you enjoyed some gluhwein (mulled/spiced wine), coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks.

Among the food and snacks seemed to be freshly smoked salmon. The salmon was on wood (cedar?) planks, held in place by metal clasps and stuck above a small fire pit (center left in the photo below). Picturesque and mouth watering, all at the same time!
Domplein Kerstmarkt
There were various vendors there selling everything from Christmas trees and decorations — I finally bought one of the paper stars I’ve been wanting for the past few years — and other gift items, many of which were handmade. As I said, it was a small selection, but definitely a nice mixture of items and in a great setting. I hope they continue to do a kerstmarkt in the Domplein.
Domplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein Kerstmarkt
There was also some entertainment on hand, including storytelling, donkey rides, and a bouncy “snow globe” for kids. The snow globe features a picture of Utrecht taken by the talented artist behind the Donker Utrecht photos. (He had a stall at the Stadhuis kerstmarkt.) It was kind of nice to be able to get a photo of the globe with the Domtoren standing out, right in front of the actual Domtoren.
Domplein KerstmarktDomplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein KerstmarktAfter the Domplein, we headed to Twijnstraat, the traditional kerstmarkt site. We always get some gluhwein when we’re there and this was no exception. It was fairly crowded and I didn’t get any photos of the actual market, though I did get some photos along the Oudegracht, where we paused to enjoy the scenery and drink our gluhwein, as is our custom.

After Twijnstraat, we headed over to the Stadhuis (city hall) to see the market there. It was a new market site last year and was a lot of fun. I think it might have been a bit smaller this year, perhaps because of the addition of the Domplein market. Still, it was a festive spot, and it even had a ferris wheel!
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
The poffertje van was back (literally a small car/van turned into a mobile poffertje making stall), but we had plans to get poffertjes at Neude, so we just did a quick look around and enjoyed the band that happened to be playing Christmas tunes as we arrived.
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
As we stood listening to the music, I suddenly realized that the trumpet player looked a bit familiar. Turns out it was Robert, the photographer behind the Kat in de Stad books! (I edited the English version of the recent Amsterdam edition.)

Utrecht’s markets may not be as massive and famous as some of the ones in other cities and countries, but they’re still a lot of fun. I’m so glad we got to get out and enjoy a nice afternoon in the city. With work and me currently suffering my second bad cold in the past month, we haven’t really gotten into the festive spirit this year, not even putting up the tree. But visiting the markets makes me feel like I got to enjoy a bit of the special celebrations.

I hope you and your loved ones have a happy holiday season, no matter where you are or what festivities you celebrate.

An Evening Look at Utrecht

Zadelstraat

Yesterday evening — or more appropriate, yesterday afternoon — we took a walk through part of the city to see some of the holiday lights. As has been the case for weeks now, it drizzled off and on throughout our walk, but that didn’t stop me from taking a few quick snaps. The streets were relatively quiet, as the day is officially a holiday here and many of the shops remained closed. This post is just a chance to share some of the photos I took so you can see what Utrecht looks like during the holiday season. Damp but festively lit!

5:20 PM
The Domtoren as seen from next to the Buurkerk (now home to the Speelklok Museum). You can see that it was 5:20 pm when I took this photo.

Oudegracht/Vismarkt
The Oudegracht, with blue lights that are part of the Trajectum Lumen art light installation. The Stadhuis, in the background, is usually lit, but the lights didn’t come on until later.

Domstraat Lights
The lights of Domstraat, heading toward the cathedral.

Kerstbomen
Two of the handful of Christmas trees throughout the city. These stand across from Janskerkhof.

Under the Domtoren
A view through the archway of the Domtoren, looking toward the lights of the Oudegracht and Zadelstraat.

Merry Christmas from Utrecht

Domtoren at Christmas
Before unwrapping our presents under our own tree, we took a walk over to the Domplein to see the various Christmas trees there. It was also a good excuse for me to go listen to the bells ringing and take a few photos. The service in the cathedral was about to start and we saw lots of last-minute arrivals, including one couple who was particularly late, having missed the first hymn already!

Whatever your plans for today, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope you have a wonderful day. Prettige kerstdagen!

Even the Santas Are Tall

Santa Hats
We went for a wander through the kerstmarkt on Twijnstraat today and had a festive time. The market was even bigger this year and there were some really lovely items, as well as lots of tasty food and drink. We had our first gluhwein of the season, sipped after heading down one of the narrow alleys down to the Oudegracht. It’s always a nice break midway from the crowds!

From the very beginning of the market, there were people giving out free Santa hats. I got one, which came in handy at times since it was misting with rain. One of the people giving out the hats was the giant Santa on stilts. Or is he just particularly tall and skinny? Here in the Netherlands, it’s hard to tell sometimes!

Dutch Saint Nick
However, there was also a more traditionally sized Santa on hand, and kids could sit on his lap and have their picture taken (by their parents). There was even a Mrs. Claus, as it turns out, although I didn’t see her until later and didn’t get a photo.

The market is taking place again next weekend, so be sure to check it out if you can make it into town. I think there will also be a market at Janskerkhof. They were there yesterday, in small numbers, but there was no market there today.

Also, if you’re in the Den Haag area and want to order some Christmas baked goods this season, don’t forget my dear friends over at American Baking Company! They’ve even made a little video to wish you all a happy holiday season.

Searching for Holiday Spirit

Stadhuisbrug
The Oudegracht and the Stadhuisbrug shortly after Sinterklaas sailed through.

I’ve been trying to get into the holiday spirit, but even with the couple of days of snow we had this week, I just haven’t felt it. Thinking that if I didn’t get the tree up this weekend, I might not end up putting it up at all, I set to work cleaning the house and getting the tree and decorations down from storage. Much sneezing later, I set to work, with a glass of homemade eggnog and some GenX Christmas songs to try to help set the mood.

The tree is up and it’s nice to revisit the memories behind each ornament and have the glow of the lights add such much needed light as the daylight fades so early now. I’m still not sure I’m in the holiday mood, but I’ve got a Christmas and Advent philharmonic orchestra concert to look forward to next weekend, and probably a visit to the kerstmarkt in town, either at Janskerkhof or Twijnstraat, since they’ll be set up in both locations in the coming weeks. Hopefully, all of that will help get me in the holiday mood. If not, there’s always gluhwein and oliebollen!

Tweede Kerstdag

Kerstmarkt in Amsterdam
The Netherlands doesn’t just celebrate one day of Christmas; they have Tweede Kerstdag, literally Second Christmas. That doesn’t mean you get a second day of presents, though. In fact, Eerste Kerstdag (First Christmas) isn’t even that big on presents, since Sinterklaas (Dec. 5) is the bigger gift-giving day. I’m not sure what the background/basis for the second day of celebration is, or if there are any traditional things done on this day. It doesn’t seem to be a big shopping day, either, as many of the stores are closed today.

For us, it’s just an excuse to enjoy another fun meal. Tonight we’ll be doing another round of gourmetten. I think the cheap one we bought last week has more than paid for itself already! We used it first while my friend was visiting and we used it again after she left. It’s a fun way of grilling at the table and gives you a variety of different dishes to enjoy. Tonight we’re having chicken in Thai chili sauce, steak in a sesame/soy sauce, and mini slavink, along with mushrooms and red bell peppers.

To round out this second day of Christmas, I figured I’d post a few more of the Christmas-y photos I took in Amsterdam last week. These were all taken around Leidseplein, an area I’ve gotten to know well due to seeing shows at Melkweg and Paradiso. The first photo above is a small kerstmarkt (Christmas market) set up on one side. The second photo is the other side of the square and shows one of the many oliebollen stalls you’ll find throughout the country. The last one is just a side street with some of the typical lights you’ll see hung across the street. Many of the streets in cities and towns all over have similar lights, varying only in design.

Leidseplein Oliebollen

Amsterdam Xmas Lights

Oh, and one last photo of Pippo in front of our tree. Just because!
Pippo en de kerstboom

Christmas in the Dam

Damplein
I thought I’d share a few photos I took in the Dam, one of the squares in Amsterdam, since it was particularly festive and lit up for the holidays. There was a huge kerstboom (Christmas tree), as well as lights suggestive of trees. The department store, Bijenkorf, was impressively lit, with lights on the walls that actually twinkled! With street musicians performing and everyone bustling about, it was quite charming and reminded me of New York City.

Rush Hour

De Bijenkorf

Night Life

Kerstdagen Roundup

Ik Geloof
I hope you’ve all had a great few days, whether celebrating or not. We kicked off our celebrations Friday night with a delicious dinner of octopus (looks like an alien, tastes delicately like shrimp/lobster). Afterward, we headed over to the Potdeksel for a special Music Quiz Night. There were two games of five rounds. We didn’t do so well the first game, but the second game was a different story. We were getting correct answers left and right and eventually won the game with a tie-breaker thanks to our knowledge of local music sensation Sjarrel en Sjaan and their performance of the classic “Christmas in Cupertino”. 😉

We were ridiculously thrilled to finally win! Thanks to our Dutch team member, Mer, for her help with translation and famous Dutch voices, as well as her fine company! Our prize for the evening was a large bottle of Palm beer and an accompanying glass, as well. Rather snazzy! I think we might be cracking open a bottle this evening.
Palm Prize
Christmas day itself was lovely. A bit of a late start to the day, a bit of present unwrapping, and then a lot of food and wine! We went with what has become a tradition with my parents and me, skipping the massive turkey dinner and instead having a variety of finger foods/appetizers to snack on. We had deviled eggs (natuurlijk!), smoked salmon, cheese-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, chicken pieces wrapped in bacon with a honey mustard glaze, blue cheese tartlettes, eggplant balls, and crepes filled with a cheesy spinach mixture. All lekker, if I say so myself, since I was the chef! Later in the evening, we did give a nod to the Italians at the table with some pasta and some pan d’oro for dessert.
Christmas Lunch

Our furry kids seemed to enjoy themselves, as well. They dined with us on a few nibbles and Pippo certainly enjoyed helping me unwrap presents. He never tries to tear paper any other time of year, but he seems to understand Christmas. He immediately grabbed a bit of wrapping paper from the gift I was unwrapping and started to pull. He did a fine job!
Xmas
Our Tweede Kerstdag has been quiet and mellow, with bits of sunshine popping out on occasion. A nice way to spend the day! I hope you all have had equally pleasant days, no matter what you’ve been up to!