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In this section, you'll find every article we've published on CheeseWeb in chronological order, starting with our most recent posts. If you're looking for articles on a specific travel destination, see our Slow Travel section.

I will call this my food blog since that will be the major theme of this installment. Many of you have asked questions about the food and market situation over here. Since we bought groceries yesterday, it’s as good a time as any to fill you in.

There are three ways to buy food in Amsterdam (and the rest of the country) and all of them seem pretty popular (At home we have a definite tendency toward the super market.)

Supermarkets – these are similar in size to those at home but there are some fundamental differences which I will get to in a minute. Specialized shops – produce shops, butcher, fishmonger, Kaaswinkle (cheeseshop), bakery, etc. (I haven’t shopped in these too much yet but that’s my next goal). Open-air / farmers markets – There is supposedly a huge one in downtown Amsterdam on Saturdays which I hope to get to soon.

The supermarket we shop at is the Albert Heijn, which is a large chain here. We call it the Hamsterwinkel because the mascot is a hamster and he is in all the commercials. The major difference you notice when you first walk in the store is the amount of produce (I touched on this before a bit in my observations). There are things that you can get at home, but they are fresher, better looking and MUCH cheaper. There are things that you’d be hard pressed to find at home in summer, forget January. And there are things you’d never, ever get at home. If your produce is not pre-packaged, you put it on a scale, press the corresponding picture button and hit enter and it prints a barcode with the price. Very cool.

The meats are much the same as you would get at home with the exception of the sliced meats. This is the land of the sandwich. These people will put anything on bread (more on this in a sec). So there are tons of sliced meats. Then you come to the cheese. I don’t think I have to tell you how important cheese is here. I think I’ve already eaten my body weight in the stuff. I’m not complaining. The cheese here is amazing. They don’t do weird shit like dye it orange and there is any kind of cheese you can imagine. Gouda is by far the prominent cheese and comes in all ages and flavours. I’m a fan of the super old (oude) stuff but Andrew likes the young (joung) cheese. There is also a lot of goat cheese / feta. If you don’t like dairy, don’t come here.

The breads are all fresh baked. No such thing as wonderbread here (thank God). Lots of different kinds (I’m partial to the sunflower seed bread) and it’s available in half loaves so it doesn’t go bad on you. There are also many rolls and pastries.

Remember how I said the Dutch will eat anything on bread? Well for breakfast and lunch here, typically, you have the same sort of thing – an open faced sandwich (i.e. a slice of bread with something on it), eaten with a knife and fork. Ok, so the sliced meat and cheese I was ok with … then I saw some of the other stuff … A favorite (keep in mind this is breakfast in the land of the healthy) is chocolate and/or hazelnut spread with chocolate sprinkles … ON BREAD ?!? Ok, I like chocolate … a lot … but really, on bread??? Anyway there is a whole aisle in the supermarket dedicated to things to put on your bread. There are tons of flavoured spreads in jars, and different salady type spreads (tuna, salmon, egg etc) that you can get to spread on your bread. The Atkins diet isn’t going to take off here.

There is also an aisle of veggies and fruits in cans and/or jars. I can’t for the life of me figure this one out… And there loads of crackers (in keeping with the bread theme). Cereal selection is pretty limited. There aren’t too many chocolate coated, frosted, rainbow, marshmallow things here, thank God. And the usual assortment of household items and toiletries.

Finally my favorite section … The Indonesian / Asian food section. This gets a whole aisle and is dominated by a company called Cominex. I’ve found all sorts of yummy looking things that I can’t wait to try (as soon as I can get the instructions translated).

And here’s the other thing. They don’t just hand out tons of bags. You buy them and they are actually well made so you can use them over and over. It’s a great system, I think that cuts down on a lot of plastic waist. (Kitty litter disposal would cause a problem though).

So After the excitement of the grocery store yesterday, we went to Robert and Marie-anne’s condo for a traditional Dutch supper of Boerenkool met worst. It’s a mixture of potatoes, ham and some cabbage-like veggie that nobody knew the name of in English, with a sausage. It was very yummy and very filling. In combination with a lovely white wine and some illy espresso for dessert, it was a great meal. Their condo is beautiful and again very Ikea (but much more upscale than ours) and it overlooks the harbor. They have two cats, Bugsy and Felix who were a bit shy. We were given lots of Netherlands survival tips. And overall the evening, as Marie-anne put it, was very gezellig. This is a word that has no direct English translation but is closest to cozy or comfortable, with a bit of laid back thrown in. It is used in many contexts to describe many aspects of Dutch life.

The other thing about supper here, that you notice particularly when you eat at a restaurant, is that it is an event. You start early and you go late. You take your time and enjoy each course. You have some drinks before and coffee after. Then you sit and chat. You will not get a bill at a Dutch restaurant without asking for it because they do not want you to feel rushed in any way (that would be very un-gezellig).

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Well, we survived our first weekend in Amsterdam. Even though nothing went as planned, we still managed to have a good time and find some entertaining things to do. Since we had both been to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh previously, I wanted to see the third major art gallery that hosts all of the modern works.

We set out late Saturday morning and decided to give the tram a try. The tram stop is just in front of our block of buildings and the #9 goes all the way to Centraal and passes most of the major sites on the way. We found it to be convenient, clean, and the conductors were very helpful. We road all the way to Centraal Station where we purchased our ‘strippenkarts’ for discounted future tram rides.

We decided to take the scenic route to walk to the museum quarter. When we finally arrived at our destination we discovered that it was closed … until May, for renovations. So much for that idea. We decided to hunt down some food and regroup so we hit the Leidseplein, a major tourist spot with lots of restaurants and shops primarily catering to tourists.

Our meal at the pancake house was rather uninspired but it filled us up. Since we were running short of time (most things in Holland close at 5 except on Thursdays when they are open until 9) we decided to be true tourists and partake in the Heineken Experience.

The former brewery has been made into a tourist attraction. It takes you on a tour of the beer making process (a feeble attempt at getting you to learn something before getting sloshed on free beer at the end of the tour.) It was cheesy but entertaining and Andrew enjoyed some beer (me not so much).

In front of the brewery we met Kate, a former New Hampshire resident now working for a comedy troupe called Boom Chicago. She convinced us to head back to the Leidseplein and see the dinner show. The troupe is made up of Americans who alternate between scripted routines (generally bashing Americans and the Dutch) and improv. It was well worth the cover price and despite being crammed in like sardines between two Dutch couples, we had a great time.

Sunday I had big plans to go to Artis, Amsterdam’s zoo complex, the oldest in the country. The rain had something to say about that. (Side bar, not expecting any sympathy here but it rains at some point every freakin’ day!)

We decided instead to go to Rembrandt house. Although there are few of his paintings here, as most are in the Rijksmuseum, there is a huge collection of prints by Rembrandt and other famous artists that he collected. You also get to see his house and studio. We found it quite interesting (although Andrew feels that modern art is ‘crap’ so it’s probably good that the Modern Art museum is closed. Bill did you teach this boy nothing??)

After Rembrandt house we went for a bit of a wander and found ourselves in Chinatown (should be Asian town really). We went to an Asian grocery and bought some goodies and then found a nice Thai restaurant for an early supper. The food was good and there were no fries in sight. Then we headed back to the tram with a quick stop at Gall & Gall (a liquor store chain) and picked up some wine (at 6 euros for the good stuff, I’m quickly becoming a wino). We called it an early night and watched a movie. Tomorrow the cable guy arrives to install our internet connection so hopefully this blog will be on-line shortly. Tot ziens, Al

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Here I sit in a condo which I’m sure has been featured in several Ikea catalogues. I’ve just spent the past half hour photographing the most gorgeous tulips I’ve ever seen. I bought 25 (although it was closer to 30 when I actually counted them at home) for 12.50. I can’t even imagine what they would have cost at home … not that you could buy tulips on the street in January, in Halifax.

I purchased the tulips on the way home from the market. There is a little (8-10 shops) pedestrian shopping area which is about a 10 minute walk from here. The super market is fairly large (not by Canadian standards but for here). The produce section takes about a third of the store whereas the frozen food section is half an aisle (a bit backwards from the Sobey in Tantallon). I’m sipping on my apple/raspberry smoothie, the first of many and I found my Illy coffee so all is now right with the world.

Last night, Andrew and I had a great supper at what I think will become our neighbourhood hang out. The Franken-something-or-other is close to the shopping area. It’s a cozy upscale pub (by upscale I mean no thumpy music or drunks passed out in the hallway), that serves good food and a huge selection of drinks. Andrew ordered a cherry beer which I ended up enjoying more than him (ok Jenn, you told me so). I had my Dutch staple, kipsate (chicken sate which is chicken on skewers in a thick peanut sauce, yum) and Andrew had a perfectly cooked steak. Of course both came with fries (so much for that aspect of the diet) and salad. By the end of the meal, we were both stuffed but we plan to go back just for dessert at some point as they looked sinful.

While on the topic of food, our diets (rather, lifestyle changes) have been going quite well, despite the being in the French fry capital of the world (I’m sure they should be called Dutch fries). I cooked the first meal in our condo on Monday night, once we figured out how to use the stove top (the oven is a whole other issue … how can something that microwaves have metal in it…?). I made a 3 cheese ravioli with mushrooms, garlic, feta and bokchoi on top. It was pretty good if I do say so myself. Cupboards and fridge are full of much healthier things than at home so hopefully we can both shed a few pounds while we’re here.

So about the disastrous flight we mentioned in the e-mail to the family….Ah air travel, how I love it so… We arrived at Halifax airport a bit early as it had started to snow and the road conditions were getting a bit dodgy. We walked about the airport a bit, had some chai and tried to kill time. Well, then we learned that our plane had been held up in Toronto (of course) due to a problem with the baggage system. We finally took off an hour and a half behind schedule. We were reassured that we would try to make up time in St. John’s.Well, we made up a bit of time, but in the rush, the headphones were left behind. Thins meant no music or in flight movie for anyone. So we decided to read … despite the fact that neither Drew, nor I had working lights.

When we arrived at Heathrow we were told we could still make our flight. I looked at our boarding pass to see that our flight boarded at 10:15. It was now 10:10. For anyone who’s never been through Heathrow … It’s a very big airport. So big in fact that you take a bus between terminals. So we ran for the bus. Then we ran for the security checkpoint, then we ran through the terminal to find our gate which was now on its final call. We hit another security check point and mercifully someone let us skip it. We boarded the plane with no time to spare. However, … Luggage dose not run.

We arrived at Schipol on time to meet Robert but our bags did not. We weren’t alone. In fact about 30 people waited in the line for lost baggage. So another hour was lost. Finally we met with Robert and got our rental car. We followed Robert to our condo and finally the world started looking a bit brighter (I know my plane story will get no sympathy from some people. Ahem…Anna and Cheri). We took a walk to explore our neighbourhood. We ate huge, odd, calzones at Le Papillion and then slept … with gusto … for 17 hours.

When we finally rolled out of bed on Monday, we headed in to Core to write quick e-mails to let the family know we were alive. Our luggage arrived a half hour before us and was intact and accounted for. Then we got some groceries and went home for our first meal. After supper we went to the greatest place on earth … IKEA! I swear if there were an Ikea in Halifax I would throw away everything in our house and start over. But since shipping furniture home is out of the question, I contented myself with a few purchases for the condo. A few big towels and a bathmat (bright yellow so they will match my bathroom at home), 4 espresso cups and saucers (for the aforementioned Illy), some additional coat hangers, a picture frame that looks like a strip of film and a lucky bamboo shoot.

We don’t have a lot of plans yet. We intend to play things by ear and travel around as much as we can. I think this weekend we will explore Amsterdam itself as Andrew has had very little non-work time to look around the city. They tell me by next Tuesday we will have internet access in our condo. So by the time you read this the weekend will have come and gone. I will apologise here for not having written everyone individually when we arrived but I hope this will keep you all informed of our comings and goings. Cheers! Al

Observations about the Dutch

1. Dutch is hard to learn. So far I have found the Dutch to be wonderfully friendly and eager to help out. This makes learning the language a bit of a trick, as once they realize you are English they quickly switch and speak to you in your language. They can’t seem to understand why anyone would even want to learn Dutch and laugh when you try to speak it or ask them how to say something (they aren’t laughing at you, just the shear absurdity of anyone trying to learn Dutch).

2. You can not dress like a slub here (and even when you do dress up, you still feel like a slub compared to many of the Dutch). The Dutch are very European in their dressing. Whereas I would normally go to the Sobey in my sweat pants or pjs (whatever I happened to be wearing around the house), I wore dress pants, a v-neck sweater and still felt under dressed to go to the market today (I knew I should have put on lipstick). I will have to buy a pair of long, high healed boots to fit in here. Thank God we’re here and not in Milan or Paris…I’d be too embarrassed to leave the condo.

3. North Americans are fat and lazy. Ok, I think we’re all aware of this, but man, is the lifestyle ever different here. On some levels the Dutch are much less healthy than us (chain smoking, drinking and French fries galore). But they walk, and walk and walk everywhere. If it’s too far to walk, they bike. And despite the fried food, they eat so much more produce and fresh food here. The don’t have isles and isles of pre-packaged, synthetic food. Because of these things, you just don’t see obese people here. The truly sad thing is you can see that the younger generation is headed down the road to the North American lifestyle. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Dutch kids want to be American. You see it in the shops geared to teenagers (Yankee, USA World, Tommy). And you see our fast food nation creeping in (or stampeding in depending where you look). And American shows are on TV just about all the time. Sad.

5. Environmental issues are being addressed here. Ok so not everyone rides their bikes to work. (traffic is actually quite atrocious) But a lot of people DO ride their bikes everywhere, or take the train, tram or bus (all are very efficient). Recycling and composting are very big here. We have bins right outside our condo. And packaging seems to contain much less plastic than at home.

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