Monday, September 29, 2008

Brussels

Early last Saturday morning, L and I boarded a train for a weekend trip to Brussels. We stayed with our friends (and newly engaged couple) DP and TZ, who also graciously took us around the city (many thanks again DP and TZ!).

I took a lot of pictures of the Grand Place, but my photography skills weren't quite up to framing the scenes aptly. Here are some of my better pictures:

We also ate well in Brussels, as DP and TZ made sure we tried the local fare. I had the following for lunch, dinner and lunch the next day (all good!):

Vol-au-vent

Moules et frites 

Lasagne Chevrette (okay, this doesn't sound like traditional Belgian/Brussels food, but how can you skip lasagna with goat cheese? See also TZ's steak tartar on the right):


I wasn't able to take pictures in the Royal Museum, which had a fantastic collection of paintings by Brugels and Brughels (only the elder Brugel spelled his name without the "h") and by Reubens. For lack of time, L and I unfortunately didn't see the modern collection, which we are definitely going back for some other time. 

I did, however, get to take some other interesting pictures:



The Palais Royal, a Brussels cafe and a dog on a balcony.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Europe-y looking scene

Do you know that if a picture of this scene was taken in the seventeenth century it would have looked exactly the same?


Awesome, but sort of creepy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some sort of stew

I cooked what was supposed to be Irish Stew tonight, and L said it was delicious. I'm not sure if he was being just nice or earnestly truthful but I liked it too. Here's my recipe (apologies, I'm not a fan of strict measurements):

Ingredients:

Two packs of stewing beef
A handful of potatoes
A handful of carrots
Two swigs of extra virgin olive oil
Two spoons olive butter
Five stems of thyme
Two onions
 A bulb of garlic
Three spoons (or more) of Worcestershire sauce
A spoon of Tabasco sauce
A small can of tomato paste
Stems of parsley
Water enough for your pot, with a beef bouillon
Two bay leaves

Procedure:

1. Heat olive oil. Add beef and saute until brown on all sides. Then add garlic. Continue to saute for about a minute more.

2. Add beef bouillon (dissolved in water), tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until step 3 below is done.

3. In another pan, saute potatoes and carrots in olive butter until your arm gets tired and the onion becomes sort of golden. Then, add the vegetables to the stew. 

4. Continue to simmer for about the time it takes to read forty pages of a book (roughly around another hour). Stir occasionally and add salt and pepper to taste. A little tabasco helps too.

5. Remove bay leaves. Serve in a bowl and add parsley on top. 

6. Eat with toasted semi-hard bread (like ciabatta).

Voila!


This recipe is enough for one dinner serving for me and two dinner servings for L, and one lunch serving for me the next day (these servings might be a little more than those of the average person).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bicycle Story

Barely three weeks after arriving in the Netherlands, and I already have a bicycle story.

A and her parents graciously lent us, along with their home, two bicycles. L and I rode the bicycles everyday to the train station, padlocked them to posts at the bicycle shed, and got on a train to wherever we had to go. It's true what they say about the unrelenting flatness of the Netherlands - biking is enjoyable here, and really part of the lifestyle.

On the supposed last night of our stay in A's home and village, L and I found that the back tires of both our bikes were locked. We couldn't move the bikes, so we had to walk about a kilometer or so back to A's house. Suffice it to say that out idyllic perception of the Netherlands was shot with that one bike incident and the sad realization that punks are everywhere, even in the Netherlands where they breathe fresh air (there goes that theory).

After unglamorously wheeling the bikes on the road (on one wheel) to a bike shop, walking two or so kilometers to get back to the train station and, five days later, taking a train from the Hague, walking two kilometers to the bike shop, taking one bike and riding it to A's house, walking again to the bike shop and riding the other bike to take it home, I've decided that I miss subways.

The only upside to all this - I was able to take a picture of this pony:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Royal Sighting

I woke up this morning to the sound of drums and chatter. I looked out my window and saw hundreds of people wearing orange, crossing in front of my street to the Parliament Building. Despite the major cleaning I had to do in the apartment, my nosy self (and perhaps my lazy self as well) got me pulling on a sweater to check out what was happening outside.

It turns out today was the annual Queen's parade around the Hague. From what I gather, today is the only day in the year that the Queen goes around the Hague and says hello to her constituents. 

I blame the Dutch for being too tall for me to see anything. I was behind everyone, so I wasn't able to see past heads when the royal caravan passed by. Thanks to the unique location of our apartment, however, I was able to see someone who looked important while I was on my way to the grocery. See my mystery royal (in purple):

She looked rather young, so I'm thinking she's one of the Princesses married to one of the Queen's sons. 

Lesson learned for today: I have no paparazzi skills. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Free Internet

L. and I just moved into our new apartment last weekend. The owner is still fixing a few things, including the internet connection.

Being an internet junkie and with no permanent job at the moment, I have been prowling the streets of Den Haag for a free wi-fi connection. I am currently at a Subway sandwich shop across our apartment, where I bought a bottle of diet coke. I have been sitting here for over an hour.

I am the only customer in the shop, and it might just be my imagination, but the store guys have been looking at me weirdly. I'm trying to google "free internet etiquette The Netherlands" but I'm not coming up with results. 

I think its time to buy a sandwich. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunny day


There rarely are days like this. 

The sun on an ancient plaza, beating down with equal intensity on the statue of the hero, the old woman on the park bench, the young couple drinking coffee at the cafe, on my upturned face.

I sit on a bench, sipping coffee, listening to Chopin, a book to read on my lap. No one looks, no one cares. And its only me and the sun and the wind and the peace it brings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Housewifey

L. started work last Monday, and so I've also started "keeping house."

My first challenge: Laundry. The machines are entirely in Dutch:

So far, with the help of my macbook translator, I've discovered that met voorwas means "with preliminary wash" and kort means "short". Some words when translated don't make sense (e.g. kastdroog means "cupboard dry") and some words don't translate at all (e.g., hoofdwas).

I started pressing buttons, and so far it worked. Hopefully they all still fit after the wash and dry.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Amsterdam

My father was in Amsterdam over the weekend. Perfect timing, as L. and I needed an excuse (and a place to stay!) for some hard core Amsterdam exploring.

We spent the entire weekend wandering the streets of the city. Amsterdam is old, and you sort of have to marvel at how well its held up despite being built below sea level and on very marshy land. Take a look at the leaning buildings:

Pretty cool, actually.

Good thing the weather cooperated, and we got a bit of sun. Here's a lone rower on one of the hundreds of canals that line the city.

Aside from taking in the historical city, we were also able to visit many of the city's *other* attractions. 

I wasn't able to pick up earlier on the difference between "coffee shop" and "cafe". In search of coffee at around noon, L., my father and I wandered into a respectable looking place with "coffee shop" painted in big bright letters on the front window. After seating ourselves down on the outdoor porch, I noticed a distinct smell, and noticed the people at the table beside us rolling up. With our asian features, gigantic guide books and cameras, we epitomized anachronism. Betcha I'm the only one among you who has ever inhaled marijuana smoke beside their father and husband too! (By the way, did you know these places don't sell alcohol?!?)

After a round of museums, we made our way to the Red Light District (because we were curious!). That place is a true sociological experience! I didn't take any explicit pictures (I thought it would be rude) but here are some interesting shops we saw:

While the *other* attractions of Amsterdam have given the city its reputation among the common tourists, this wonderful town actually has so much to offer. Amsterdam really is a very beautiful, very noble city. I am a fan.

We found an apartment!

It's at the Hague center, on The Plein. Here are some pictures:

We start moving in sometime this week. Its located near the Parliament, the Queen's Palace and, more importantly, the shops and the train station. L.'s place of work is only a five minute bike ride away.

As you can see, it's just one big room with a loft for a bedroom and quite different from the box apartments I lived in previously. It's a bit bare, but when the stuff we shipped from our old apartment in Hong Kong arrives, we should be all set. 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mauritshuis

L. and I have been scouring the Hague for apartments. The apartments here are almost the same size as those back in Hong Kong, but they differ in room sizes: HK has smaller kitchens and bigger bathrooms, while the Hague has smaller bathrooms and bigger kitchens (I'm trying very hard not to make a deductive generalization from this).

Between apartment viewings, L. and I visited a museum called The Mauritshuis, acclaimed as one of the best small museums in the world. It only has two floors, but houses very famous paintings from the Dutch Masters. My favorite Dutch painter of the Baroque period is Johannes Vermeer, and, lucky me, I finally saw the Girl with a Pearl Earring.

I'm no art connoisseur, but I was riveted. You can't stop looking at this painting. Apparently its a trony - work used by the artist to practice, or to show off a particular skill. This is not a true likeness of an actual woman, and the turban and pearl earring are embellishments.

The painting above is Vermeer's View of Delft, also quite awe inspiring. Vermeer is a genius of light and shadow.

Of course, this being the Netherlands, the museum had  A LOT of paintings by Rembrandt. Here's my favorite, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (it's also the most famous at this museum, so I'm quite un-original when it comes to my artistic preferences):

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hello, the Netherlands!

The Netherlands welcomed us with glorious weather - it was a nice and sunny 26 degrees, with not a rain cloud in sight. My friend A. picked us up at Schipol airport and took us to the house she grew up in. With her parents away for the summer, she generously allowed us the use of their beautiful home while we looked for a place to stay. (A., thanks again so much!)

We've been here three days, and I think I'm over the jet lag (after forcing myself to stay awake twenty hours for two days in a row, I think I've nailed it now). It's early in the morning, and we're not due to be in The Hague until 11 a.m. today for ID purposes. We had a really busy day yesterday, as we tried to get a feel of the transportation system (bicycles and trains), looked for an apartment (Dutch brokers are very different from HK brokers - they'll only show you the apartment whose pictures you saw on the internet, unlike HK and Singapore brokers who'll show you that apartment and thirty other places) and sampled the local produce (i.e., cheese and beer). Here are some pictures:

Canals are everywhere!


This is the village where we are staying, about thirty minutes from The Hague. I don't think I've seen so much vegetation since I left Singapore almost two years ago!

This is the Dutch version of a parking lot.

It was 17 degrees, and for people from the Tropics (like me!), that sounds like winter. Here, it's very much summertime, and people were happy and smiling and enjoying their lunches at cafes in the Hague like this one.

Here's an impressive looking square - the entire structure (which was too big for my camera to take) is called the Binnenhof, originally the 13th century hunting lodge of the counts of Holland, but now houses the parliament and government buildings of the Netherlands.

And here, folks, is where L. will be working for the next year. The Peace Palace: