Sint Maarten’s Fest

Sint Maarten Parade
It’s the time of year when the Sint Maarten Feest (St. Martin’s festival) takes place around town for about a week. There are theater groups, activities, plays, parades, and tonight there is a sort of trick-or-treat activity, in which little kids go around with lanterns singing songs and receiving candy.

It’s all in celebration of St. Martin of Tours. He was remembered for slicing off half of his military cloak in order to give it to a beggar in rags (the military didn’t allow him to give the whole cloak away). That night he had a dream that Jesus was wearing the half cloak saying that Martin had clothed him. Some versions of the story also have the cloak being whole once again when he awoke. Regardless, all of this was supposed to have played a major role in Martin being confirmed in his piety and being baptized.

St. Martin is a well-known Catholic saint and in fact, the cathedral in Utrecht is named for him. He’s also the patron saint of Utrecht and his sliced cloak of red and white is the symbol/shield of Utrecht. The lantern festivities aren’t just here in Utrecht, though obviously it’s particularly popular here.

Last weekend there was a parade with some truly beautiful and impressive lanterns of all sorts of figures and creatures, including a large St. Martin on his horse that lights up beautifully. Sadly, it was starting to rain and the crowds of running, yelling children were getting Charlie a bit anxious, so we didn’t get to see the parade with the lit lanterns, but we saw some of the preparation and enjoyed the other sights and sounds, including some great samba-like drumming. You can see more photos of all of the festivities on the official website and you can see a video of the drumming on my blog’s Facebook page.
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade

Utrecht Festival Survival

Festival season is upon us, ranging from street festivals to massive music festivals. Even in the city center of Utrecht you’ll find an increasing number of festivals going from spring until autumn. Some of the newest are the Trek Food Truck Festival and Klein New Orleans. Trek is coming up on it’s third year, while Klein New Orleans is going to be celebrating it’s second year in a couple of weeks. Both have been massive successes. Plus, there’s my absolute favorite, the autumn edition of the Bock Beer Festival.

Maximize is putting together a list of top festival hacks from a variety of bloggers for all sorts of festivals and they’ve invited me to get involved. You can get involved, too, by commenting here and using the #UltimateFestHacks hashtag. I’m particularly interested in learning about others’ tips for Trek, as that festival just gets bigger and busier each year! For now, though, here are some of my tips that work for pretty much all of the three festivals I’ve mentioned.
Klein New Orleans

Get there early.
You may be tempted to go to any of these festivals later in the day/early evening, but if you wait, you’ll end up in long lines amid a crush of people. We usually hit the Bock Beer Festival around 3 p.m. on the Saturday, and it’s still busy, but you can more easily find friends in the crowd and not have to wait in too long a line to try the various beers. For the Trek festival, the earlier the better. It’s busy almost right from the start and the lines just get longer and longer as the day goes on. As for Klein New Orleans, get there from the start, as well, so you can take part in the Second Line.

Scope out your options in advance.

Most of the festivals post information on their website or Facebook page about who and what will be there. If you’re limited on time and/or budget, or there with a group of friends, you can decide what is most important to you and aim for those areas first. Trek, in particular, has so many food vendors set up throughout the Griftpark that making that first choice can be overwhelming, especially if you’re with a group of people. If you can all agree in advance on one place to start, that will tide you over while you plan your next excursion.

Have plenty of cash.

Most festivals don’t take PIN cards and there aren’t always cash machines nearby (although there is one near the Bock Beer Festival, but the lines get long there, too). Try to get some smaller denominations and coins, too, so the vendors don’t have to use up all of their change. If you’ve done some advance research, you might have an idea of how much things cost. For example, there’s a set fee for the glass you’ll get at the Bock Beer Festival and then there’s a set price for the tokens you need to get the beers. Always buy more tokens than you think you’ll want. We ALWAYS end up buying more and the lines are much longer by then. You can turn them in at the end if you don’t use them and get your money back.

Share.

Especially when it comes to the food at Trek and Klein New Orleans, the lines can be long, and if you want to try lots of things, sharing is a great way to cover all your bases. At Klein New Orleans, we ordered both the gumbo and the jambalaya and then split them between us. Though there’s a crawfish boil planned this year, which might require a serving all to myself! At the food festivals like Trek, you’re bound to want to try so many things that if you share dishes, you won’t end up too full after the first few stops.17933083269_d8605e3727_m

Be adventurous.

One of the great things about sharing is that it’s a good excuse to try things you aren’t quite sure about. With two or more people eating, it won’t go to waste if you don’t like it, but it’s also a good way to try things you might not otherwise go for on your own.

Wear comfy shoes.

Be adventurous with the food, not your footwear. At most of these festivals, you’re going to be on your feet for a long time. You’re also going to be in some big crowds where there’s the potential to have your toes stepped on or to get splashed with spilled something or other. You probably want to skip the heels and delicate sandals, as boring as that may be.

So what are your favorite festivals and tips for surviving and making the most of them?

They Startle Easily

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

The Trek to the Utrecht Food Truck Festival

The title is a lie. It wasn’t a trek at all. The festival is so close I can smell the BBQ inside the house. But Utrecht’s first proper food truck festival is called TREK, and it’s been going on since Friday and finishes up tonight. The four-day festival has been a delicious way for Utrechters to enjoy the long Pinksterdag holiday weekend.

There have been a number of food(truck) festivals taking place in other cities for the past few weeks, so it’s great to see Utrecht get involved. Although I was sad that the Mac & Cheese truck that appeared in Leiden didn’t make it here. I’d really been hoping to be yet another American making a beeline for their truck. Instead, G and I tried a couple of other American classics: pulled pork and nachos. bbqporkThe pulled pork was cooked in a proper big smoker/BBQ and was moist and soft and really quite good. The only drawback is that I think it was lacking in seasoning. It needed a proper rub and the BBQ sauce was pretty unnoticeable, too. I may be extra picky, though, as I’ve spent a lot of time smoking/cooking pork on the grill and making my own rubs and sauces. This is serious stuff in the south!nachosnachosfoodThe nachos weren’t quite Doritos with salsa (as is common here in the Netherlands), but it was all a bit sweet, particularly the salsa. Nice enough, but definitely needed some deeper, richer spices and some heat. They did have bottles of hot sauce available, though. Still, definitely different from what I’m used to in the US.

There was one last southern staple that I was tempted to try, but I was hesitant after the first dishes that weren’t as hoped for, and the slightly higher cost eventually stopped me from giving it a shot. Because if you’re going to make fried chicken, you’d better do it right, especially when you call it the ultimate comfort food. Because it is. Don’t mess with comfort foods! Having seen what was being served, it looked more like chicken fingers. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE chicken fingers and they may have done a great job, but for €6.50, I just didn’t feel like taking the chance. They were probably awesome. Oh well. kipNext time maybe I’ll stick with the Dutch classics, including croquettes, poffertjes, and the ubiquitous saté. I really was tempted, but after a less-than-healthy food weekend, I figured I’d be good. Plus, it was getting really hot! Still, despite the complaints, it was fun and still more than edible and I hope we get some more food festivals like this. I joked with G that maybe we should do the wine bar during the winter months and start up our own BBQ food truck for the summer months to show how it should really be done!sate(Apologies if I sound like an annoying expat, but pulled pork is where I get fussy. I generally recall the words of my great-grandmother who was known to say, “It’s different. It’s good, but it’s different.” That’s what these dishes were, but when you have certain expectations, it can be a bit of a let-down. But more power to them for working that grill all weekend in these really hot temperatures!)

It’s not all food at the festival. There have been musical performances, and even a DJ booth (spinning real vinyl) in the shape of an old tractor going by the name De Witte Snor (The White Mustache).djAnd if you were feeling a bit shaggy, you could also get an old-school shave and a hair-cut, although for more than two bits. G was particularly sorry to have shaved this morning, as he’s always wanted one of the proper barber shaves. Fortunately, Pappas is here in town. I think I might know what to get G for his birthday this year!shave

Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013

Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
Are you in or near Utrecht? You have until this evening to enjoy some delicious mussels, oysters, wine and beer at the annual Utrechts Mosselfestival on Lucasbolwerk. The weather has cooperated so far and we got to stop by for a brief period today to see the official opening while devouring the mussels and enjoying a beer from local brewery De Leckere.

Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
As well as the food and drink, which can be enjoyed sitting on any of the terraces of the four organizing cafés and restaurants, there are two springkussen (bouncy castles) for kids, and there has been singing from a local men’s choir. The official opening was brief, but included an “ode” to mussels and Utrecht, from what I picked out. Unfortunately, I missed the name of the gentleman who wrote/performed it.
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
As for the men’s choir, the 30 members perform under the name Tusken Waat en Wild. They performed a mix of Dutch and English language classics, ranging from Utereg M’n Stadsie to Let It Be.
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
However, my favorite was probably their rendition of Oh! Susanna. That’s such an American classic, one which lots of Americans probably grow up singing, so there’s something wonderfully charming and funny hearing it being sung at a mussels festival in Utrecht.
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
The festival continues to grow each year. The tents for the food and drink were bigger and fancier and there were two springkussen instead of one as in past years. The food and drink remains consistently good each year, so it’s a pleasure to see this neighborhood event succeed. If you can’t make it this year, plan on attending next year! Dogs and children welcome.
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013
Utrechts Mosselfestival 2013

The Darkness of Summer

Gothic CathedralOn a dark night when the moon hovers behind red-tinged clouds and the only sound is the a pair of footsteps ringing out behind you on the brick streets, it’s not hard to believe that the cathedral’s gargoyles may come to life to serve some dark figure that haunts Utrecht. The city is a Gothic paradise.

Not surprisingly then, it’s been the home of the annual Summer Darkness festival that swarms the city every July/August. Goths, Lolitas, Steampunks, and other inhabitants of the underworld arrive from across Europe to connect, find new fashions, and listen to lots of music.

If you’re out and about in Utrecht this weekend and it all seems a bit darker and yet more colorful than usual, that’s because the Summer Darkness festival is back this weekend.
Patat Met Goth [Day 224/365]
Strike a Pose

There will be events around the city, as well as the usual market and stages at the Domplein. If you have an interest in portrait photography, it’s not hard to find willing subjects and the Pandhof offers a great setting. Plus, there are numerous fashion shows in the Domplein, with a crowd that’s often as interesting as the models.

Summer Darkness 2012
purple

I would have loved this festival back in my teens/early 20s, and to be honest, I still get a thrill from it all, even if I don’t recognize the names of most of the bands nowadays. That said, I do recognize a lot of the vinyl on sale in the market. Corrosion of Conformity, Christian Death, Tones on Tail, The Damned, TSOL, and so on.

Insanely hot weather be damned, I’m sure I’ll be back in the Domplein at some point this weekend with camera in hand and old memories in mind, and perhaps cash in pocket to buy some purple hair dye once again.

My Favorite
Haar