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By alison - February 4, 2004 (Updated: June 18, 2009)

This will be a blog of tid-bits again. We had some interesting driving adventures starting on Thursday and spanning the weekend…

Thursday as usual I had big plans for shopping day. Andrew even decided to work from home so we could head out early before some of the smaller shops closed. Well, the weather had other ideas. Since being here, we’ve definitely gotten used to rain and usually will head out into the drizzle. Thursday however, was torrential. Neither of us felt like wandering around in the deluge so we decided to see what we could find by car. We found heaven … a magical place (possibly more magical than … dare I say it … Ikea). Its name is Intratuin. It is about the size of our Home Depot and it is a garden centre. Keep in mind that it is Feb. and this place is FULL of plants. Everything from spring bulbs to any house plant you can imagine. In addition they have a large pet section and about a third of the store is home decor items. The prices are crazy cheap for the plants and on par with Ikea on the decor. Down side … we forgot to get cash before we left the condo. So it was a browsing only trip but it still took over an hour. There are some pictures on the website (including the … get this … shopping carts!).

After that little adventure, we met up with Robert to grab some supper. He took us to a little spot in the Jordaan area, a calmer more residential area of central Amsterdam. Supper was yummy and relaxed. We had a nighttime stroll along the canals as well.

Saturday we had no set plans but wanted to do some exploring by car. We set out for the back roads and saw many interesting towns and farmland. One interesting thing we noticed is there are still some remains from wartimes. Various bunkers and such still dot the landscape. The truly interesting part of this is how the Dutch have incorporated them into their daily lives. We saw one bunker on a farm filled with hay for the cattle.

As we wandered we found yet another, even bigger Intratuin. This time we had cash and I had to buy a few plants for the condo. They are dirt cheap (pardon the pun) and the selection was overwhelming. I finally settled on some pink hyacinth (which I can smell right now and are gorgeous), some mini iris and some tri-coloured crocus. The whole lot cost just 5 euro … can’t beat that. But it got better. This Intratuin was having a HUGE clear out sale. All of their decor stock was on sale to make room for the summer stock. We found a few great deals, including two Saint Bernard glasses. Everything was an additional 50% off at the register so we can out with several bags for only 14 euro. Woo!

After all of that excitement, you’d think we’d be shopped out. But no. We then went to Maxis, a shopping centre Dutch style. It actually wasn’t that exciting but there was a huge grocery store, so we got our food for the week and then headed home.

After unpacking the groceries we realized it was very late and we were very hungry so we headed out for food. After an unsuccessful attempt at finding anything close to home, Andrew decided to drive in downtown Amsterdam. (see the movie on the movie page). This is NOT recommended by any guidebook but Andrew did a great job. As usual, Drew astounded me with his parallel parking prowess and actually managed to find a killer parking spot (unheard of in this city). Because we were so hungry, we weren’t up for experimentation … We wanted something we knew would be good, so we headed back to Los Pilones (see movie) and had more amazing Mexican food.

Sunday we decided to stretch our wings and head toward Friesland in the north. We had an amazing time exploring the back (way back) roads. We drove through many windparks and took loads of windmill pictures. We visited a little seaside town called Urk that was very picturesque and watched some people sailboarding. On the way home, we drove over the causeway between the ocean and the inland sea. It is quite amazing that this is the only thing keeping the whole country from being under water.

The only downside to the day was lunch. We didn’t want to spend the time getting a sit-down lunch so we decided to go to McDonald’s. I know, I know … it was a stupid idea. We both felt incredibly sick afterward and vowed not to do it again. I haven’t craved fast food since we’ve been here and I don’t think I ever will now. Hopefully I can stick to this resolve when we go back to Canada. Maybe alcohol and chocolate aren’t the healthiest foods in the world, but I think in general our eating habits have been much better here than they ever were at home. I’m looking forward to putting in a veggie garden at home so we can keep eating like this.

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Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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