On October 19, 2010 I moved from the US to The Netherlands. This is a love story many years in the making.

photography

Schiermonnikoog – mooiste plek in Nederland!

Two things I want to mention before I jump into this: I made this post with the iPad WordPress app, and I am sad to say that in my opinion it is just awful. Secondly, this is a very picture-heavy post. It’s a collection of photos from one of the most lovely places I have been privileged to visit.

The Netherlands’ barrier islands are a very popular destination for the general Dutch population, as well as for a whole lot of Germans and some Brits and a subset of them all that are mad kite-surfers. We have only been to one and really see no reason to go anywhere else: Schiermonnikoog , which is also a national park, and is as close to heaven as Im going to get this side of Paradise (and Hawaii). For the dog it is sheer unadulterated bliss, and for us that also counts heavily. Watching her have that much fun is contagious. You can always be in the moment when watching that dog being allowed to just…be a dog. I am delighted that it is quite accessible from where we live, even as a day trip.

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There’s a ferry that makes the journey 3 times a day. Everyone gets a ticket, even the dog, and then it’s 45 mins of slowly making our way across very changeable sea-bottom.

We stay at a place that rents small apartments, which is happily located at the very end of the road, so it looks out at the sea. If you look at the map, the hotel is situated just at the elbow of the island, which affords a stunning view of endless skies, water, and beach.

The apartment we rent

The view…

The restaurant is very good and serves a first class selection of snacks, lunches, and full meals. As an aside, there was one notable occasion last winter when we were eating dinner, and the place was being plagued by an unchained little boy who had clearly watched too many war movies with his English father. He was running around “blowing things up”, shooting at invisible enemies, talking into his sleeve like it was a radio and generally conducting a noisy war all by himself. This was already annoying, but suddenly the kid shouted at full, ear-piercing volume, “Cover me in case any Germans are coming!” Carel and I froze, forks halfway to our mouths, and stared at each other in horror and disbelief – did we really just hear that?!! It was tremendously embarrassing; there’s an unwritten rule here: Dont Mention The War. And the restaurant had at least 3 German couples eating at that time.  His parents – amazingly- completely failed to shut the kid down. *gulp*.  I surreptitiously looked at our fellow diners. No-one said a word. We cautiously resumed eating as the kid called in an air strike on the lighthouse. Wow. Just….wow.

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The chocolate pie is awesome.

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The Belgian waffle is lovely too – crisp, lightly sweet, with a very tart-sweet red currant preserver and of course, whipped cream.

One of my favorite drinks when I’m cold and wet is a coffee with a healthy shot of Liquor 43 in it, topped with a large dollop of whipped Dutch cream.

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At night it’s really nice to sit by the fire and have a glass of wine, relax, and watch the sun set.

The whole island is a national park, and only residents can drive cars, so that means there are essentially none. Dogs are more than welcome and can run free on the beach, the dunes, and are also welcome in the restaurant. Most people just put their dogs under the table to snooze while they eat, but Daisy being the adored princess that she is, gets a seat by the fire, curled up in an armchair. After a long day of running in the frigid waters of the North Sea, and chasing rabbits over hill and dune, she’s usually limp with exhaustion and is happy to get into her chair and snooze.

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That is one deliriously happy dog.

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They have beanbags outside in the suntime, and they’re really nice to sit and snooze on when you’re just too tired to do anything else.


I mentioned kite-surfers, here’s one

There is a lighthouse on the island which is still very much in use, and watching the light sweep around at night is hypnotic and – to me – very soothing.

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That light in the photo above is the beam from the lighthouse, just beginning its evening’s work. If it’s not raining, the sunsets bring people from across the island, out of the restaurant, and out into the freezing wind to watch and photograph them.

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Wai?

Pfht. My feet are sore.

People often ask me “why NL?” and one reason I could give is that living here practically forces a healthier life on a person. And in reality it has done exactly that. We went for a 3.5km walk last night after throwing a round thing for a little dog for 20 mins.

A week ago I could barely walk; I qualify for the handicapped parking sticker right now. I’m still really sore; touching my toes brings sweat to my brow, but I *can* touch them and without holding onto something with one hand to take some of the weight.

The Little Dog is doing better too. When we left WV she was still needing help to get into the car, that much vertical pressure on her spine was agonizing. But now she’s got more energy and is more wiggly and definitely more limber. I’ve seen her get more vertical in the last couple days than she has in months.: she tried to climb into Carel’s lap. This is really good to see; the exercise is clearly helping with the spondylosis. She’s feeling perky.

I’m feeling something like relaxed, I think. Maybe. I am not sure I would recognize the feeling. I look pretty happy though, don’t I?

Yeah, happy. Im pretty sure that’s what this is.


De Librije, Part 3 – Last one

And so ends our foray into the Dutch take on fine dining and luxury accommodations, and I was most impressed. I can’t wait for an excuse to do it again. May one come along sometime!

Not having forgotten my promise to Samuele the Italian bartender, we sort of staggered downstairs to the bar, where he seated us in a quiet candle-lit corner and asked us if we would like “un grappino” with our coffee? He looked so very pleased to be able to offer such a quintessentially Italian liqueur to a fellow Italian that I didn’t have the heart to say no (I dont like grappa!) but I was also curious what kind of grappa such a place would serve. I’ve had all sorts of the stuff, ranging from near-moonshine to…well, nearly drinkable.

Coffee and a grappa, ok. I was absolutely not expecting a second dessert course!

Cookies! and chocolate! and…something? Oh, lord have mercy. Of course, we had to eat it. And by the looks of this photo, we had each already had a chocolate by the time I remembered the camera. The white cubes were a sort of home-made marshmallow, sort of key-lime tasting, very light and melted in the mouth. The center ones were Madeleines:  soft, buttery, delicate. The stars of this show were the round ones, tied together with a cheerful bit of raffia: ginger-caramel! Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside with a little bite and a rich sweet caramel overtone that I fell madly in love with…and Carel either didn’t like his, or did a fine job of pretending not to so that I could have his without feeling guilty.

Mmmm, cookie!

Samuele came to see how we were doing, and Carel took our picture.

Of course, he asked if I would like another coffee, and looked mildly disappointed that I asked for decaf. Carel redeemed us by asking for “real” coffee, please.

Carel takes his chocolate very seriously. I find it both amusing and endearing to watch, so I took a series of photos of him doing his Chocolate Ritual.

First, he Inspects The Chocolate. This is a careful and thorough process.

Then, eyes closed, he takes a small bite.

A pause, while he lets it dissolve in his mouth and he gets the full impact of it. And then…

CHOCOGASM!


We sat and chatted with Samuele for a while – the guy knows 6 languages! Dutch, Italian, English, German, Spanish, and French! He’s been touring the world doing what he loves and appears to be one of the most content people I have met in a long time. I’d love to go back and let him give me more coffee, some time.  Finally, though, the cookies and chocolate were a gorgeous memory, the grappa a lingering warmth in our bellies, and the coffee was a lovely aftertaste on our tongues, so we took our leave and gamely tottered upstairs to the suite where the jetbath awaited us.

And that’s all you are going to hear about the rest of that evening, my friends.


De Librije Part 2

When we last saw our protagonists, they were heading down to the bar for an aperitif before dinner was served.

I was dressed as formally as I am capable of, in a little black dress, high heels in black Italian suede (like buttah!) and sparkling at wrist, throat, and ear. Carel was looking casually elegant in a slim black suit, starched white shirt and no tie. We looked good, if I have to say so myself. A butler escorted us to the dimly lit bar…

…where we were served glasses of a fine Prosecco with a splash of cherry juice in it.

We were served our appetizer, with the explanation: a foie-gras & apple “lolly”, a spoonful of piccalilli, a twist of something crunchy and cheesy, and “carrot ice cream”, which in the dim light proved to be a little baffling.

Carel figured it out – the carrot ice cream was literally a tiny cone, perched in a glassful of tiny black pearls of sand to keep it upright. We initially hadn’t been at all sure which part of that offering was edible! The ice cream was a delightful novelty and quite tasty, but the star of this plate was the lolly. It was another trompe l’oeil, perfectly reproducing a dark red lollypop, down to the ridge around the middle of it from the mold, and the shimmering sugary sheen. The outer coating tasted of apple, the interior was a creamy rich explosion of foie-gras, and it was altogether delicious.

(I do need to apologize for the quality of the photos – iPhone is not great in dim light, and it being somewhat gauche to photograph one’s food, I was doing it as surreptitiously as possible. The combination was not ideal. For really good photos of their food, go look at the website. They’re stunning and actually do the food justice.)

The bartender came to collect us after we finished our appetizer, to escort us up to the dining hall, and asked me where I was from. I explained as briefly as I could and his face lit up. My initial guess upon seeing him was correct – he was Italian, from Calabria. Yay! We exchanged a few pleasantries in Italian, and I have to admit I enjoyed the look of incomprehension on Carel’s face – role reversal all of a sudden! The bartender then introduced himself as Samuele, and insisted that we return to him after we had dined, so that he could make me a “proper Italian coffee”! I promised, and off we went to have dinner.

The dining hall was not large; the tables we set discreetly at a distance from each other, the light was low and the candlelight struck sparks from the glass and silverware, glittered off the ladies’ jewelry, and shimmered from yet more acres of raw silk drapes.

We were seated, Carel explained to the fellow that I spoke no Dutch – English or Italian, please – and every single person that waited on us after that spoke English. They must have sent out a memo; truly superb service.  On the table was a little silver cruet in the shape of an apple (which I was starting to realize was the hotel’s signature image), containing some truly marvelous olive oil, so rich and fruity and smooth that I could have happily eaten nothing but that and the bread they served with it. But…our first course arrived.

A grilled cherry tomato, served with a clear gelatin that tasted wonderfully of tomato and basil, the aroma of it getting up into my sinuses, filling my head with the flavor and scent of summer – how could they possibly have known that one of my strongest childhood memories was of picking tomatoes and basil from the garden and eating them still warm from the sun? It was topped with a cloud of truffle mousse, to add just a hint of that unique, earthy and indefinable flavor. Stunning, and paired perfectly with a fresh, light white wine. Carel and I grinned at each other in absolute delight, and our second course was served.

(This particular dish *is* on the website, with a much, much better photo. Really, go look, it’s worth it)

It was set before us with a flourish, and the accompanying wine was served – a medium bodied red, flavorful but not heavy, and an excellent complement to the dish. Their sommelier was masterful, no question whatsoever. This course was slender strips of pigeon interlaced with strips of foie-gras, dotted with caviar and a tiny pickled beet roll, gorgeously decorated with flower petals, creme fraiche, and little black dots of olive-essence mousse. Alongside it was a small bowl of pigeon bouillon, in which floated tiny cubes of foie-gras. Dear god, it was sumptuous. I just let the foie-gras melt on my tongue, the richness of it cut by the salty tang of the broth, and then the main dish itself…oh, heaven. I tried different combinations of the meats with the various accompaniments, and decided that my favorite was a little cloud of crunchy thing that tasted of herbs, which was just perfect with the meat. The wine definitely added to the experience as well; it had been given time to breathe and ripen, and brought out the flavors of the food in a most wonderful way. A deep, happy sigh and a little water, some time to chat, and then the next course arrived.

The presentation on this one was a little lacking, in my opinion – since the course was fish, and therefore white, I think it should have been served on a contrasting plate, but that is a quibble. It was cod, wild-caught and local (the chefs are very much into using local products as much as possible), served with a lemongrass sauce, asparagus, and tiny pickled mushrooms. It was very light, very delicate and quite delicious. When I’d finished mine, a waiter came by with a pair of tongs and told me he had a surprise for me…and removed the pierced plate, revealing underneath it some more fish, swimming in the sauce that had been poured over the top layer and trickled down. Cheek, chin, and tongue, he said, and such was my faith in this chef that I actually ate it. The tongue was a mousse, so airy it dissolved in my mouth; not at all what I expected. The wine with this one was a white, the hotel’s own vintage – young, crisp, a little grassy, and perfect with the fish.

At this point we were in a state of luxurious delerium, and so what happened next seemed both entirely surreal and quite natural at the same time. Carel glanced up and his jaw dropped, and a young man came rushing over to our table. A spate of rapid Dutch followed, interrupted only by the introduction of me. It turns out that the fellow, who was the restaurant manager, was a school friend of Carel’s; they hadn’t seen each other in 13 years or more.  I think he brought us the next course himself.

An assortment of lamb prepared in different ways, it was presented with a wine so wonderful I asked the sommelier to come back and let me write down what it was – Cotes du Rhone Village Rochegude, Domaine Chapoton (I had strategically flirted with him from the beginning). He seemed very pleased with us and had poured us an extra glass here and there and I was extremely happy that he gifted us with a second one of this stuff – “life is too short to drink bad wine!” he said as he poured it. Oh. Oh. It was so very, very good. Dark ruby red, heavy, fruity, sensuous, powerful and a perfect backdrop for the lamb which was served with a little pickled cucumber-wrapped roll of creamy chevre, a dollop of creme fraiche, and a rich sauce that I can’t for the life of me remember the specifics of. The small tube at the top of the plate was yet more tongue, and yes, I ate it…and it was excellent. The combination of flavors was superb, and the decoration of the tiniest carrot I had ever seen in my life was enchanting. We lingered over the second glass of wine, basking in the glow of the food, the ambiance, and each other. After a time, dessert was served.  The woman set down two plates of artistically arranged…something…and another plate upon which was a banana, surrounded by chocolate crumbles and a puddle of chocolate sauce. She said she’d be back to explain, but the minutes passed and she did not return.

Well, now. It certainly looked like a banana, down to the little brown spots and streaks of impending over-ripeness…but the Apple Experience left us wiser, and so we cut into it: Not A Banana! It turned out to be another gorgeous fake – the “skin” was made of mango mousse, the interior was a creamy banana-vanilla-y stuff over a shortbread cookie. Wonderful! The “something” proved to be vanilla ice cream and some fruit jellies that were light, tart, and just sweet enough. The wine was also fabulous, sweet without being cloying, with a complex fruity flavor that I loved.  Replete, we sat and talked for a little while, and then the hostess asked if she could take our picture, indicating my phone. I was too full and too blissfully happy to be embarrassed about being so obviously idiotically in love that she would suggest such a thing, and handed over the phone.

We sat and sipped and talked for a while longer, and then when we felt like we could move, Carel’s friend escorted us back downstairs to the bar to where Samuele awaited us.

(…)


Geliefde

(The Art Director objected to the photo I chose. So I changed it.)

I want to go home.


Coyote (Temporarily) in The United States

My house in the USA is in Charles Town, WV. As I am now back here for a month to get the final details sorted out for my move in October, I figured I’d better keep up with the walking I started doing in Groningen, or else I’d be very sorry when I got back. The one really great thing about being back here is being re-united with my dog, whose name is Daisy (I did not name her, she came with this name and it doesn’t fit her at all. “Monster” would be much better!). She’s 5 years old, extremely intelligent – as in “can work the windows in my car and open my oven and the garden gates”, intelligent – and very energetic. She was recently diagnosed with spondylosis, which is a tragedy for her and heartbreaking for me, but I’ve been doing research and …anyway, the one thing she needs to do a lot of is “walking”. Same as me!

I’ve always known that the Appalachian Trail crosses the mountain I drive over every time I go to Virginia, but I never actually stopped to check it out. Today, I dressed the dog in her spanky new purple padded harness (that matches her collar, and which was also a gift from a perfect stranger when I posted about her spondylosis diagnosis) and took off for the Trail. We parked at the trailhead, and set off. It’s gorgeous! We met a couple with a big Boxer mix that was loose, and since Im never sure about her with other dogs, I just stopped on the trail and waited. The woman went and collected her dog, and once she had a grip on it I called to her, asking if it was male or female. “Male”. We have pretty good luck with boy dogs, so we came ahead and sure enough Daisy didn’t try to eat him. His name was Otis, he was very wiggly and happy, and he was wearing a screaming orange scarf. Smart people. They told me there wasn’t anyone on the trail ahead that had dogs, so I let Daisy go.

She was the perfect trail dog, never getting too far ahead or out of my sight, waiting when I called for her to wait, always keeping an eye on me to make sure she knew where I was. She’d venture off to the side a little, but never more than 50 feet, even when chasing a squirrel. She really enjoyed it. We did meet another set of -dogless- people, Samoans. The man was HUGE. Daisy was petrified of him and leaped away like a deer when he took a step toward her. I felt bad, cos he clearly liked dogs, so I explained that she’s very much afraid of men. The lady made distressed noises, and he looked sad, and then did the right thing – ignored her entirely. We passed them going down the trail and coming back up, so she got to meet the scary big man twice and not get hurt, so I hope she’s filed that one away in her head. Most people really aren’t that awful, after all.

In all we did two miles of the trail, one out and one back, and on the way back I found that Otis’s people had left a bottle of water and a little bowl on the side of the trail (trail magic!) so I poured Daisy a little bit, figuring they wouldn’t mind…because I was a complete MORON and didn’t bring any water and it wasn’t like I was taking it for myself, though I really needed some.The dog comes first. I hadn’t planned on walking that far. Next time, I know better. Stupid me.

Anyway it was a lot of fun and I think we will do that again regularly – with water! since fall is coming and the trees will be simply stunning soon. And it’s good for both of us.


Leaving, on a jet plane

I’m heading back to the States for a month and a half to wrap up house-stuff and job stuff. I don’t want to go, but I have to if I want to be able to come back to stay, so…pfffht. I go.

Awww, look. Guidance paths for blind drivers, isn’t that sweet?