I awoke to my cousins and their neighbor coming into the dining room for breakfast. They gave me a silky blue pin-striped robe to wear around the house while drinking coffee and sharing a traditional Dutch breakfast of toast, ham, sunny-side up eggs and cheese. In my blue robe, I tasted the strong coffee and felt the cool black-matte tiles and Turkish carpets beneath my bare feet. Their central-canal houseboat was absolutely adorable with light minty-green walls decorated with multiple sizes of Dutch ceramic-blue plates and mirrors of many shapes and intricacies; and the shelves were lined with healthy cookbooks and abstract lino-cut paintings of naked men.
The real boss of the house is a giant yellow cat with the cutest smushed face, a crooked smile and big pumpkin eyes. My cousins are both part of a men’s choir, so they’re always singing little choruses to the cat and it actually sounds pretty nice! Whenever he enters the room, you hear, “You are so beautiful to me, Frankieeee,” or another famous song replacing the lyrics with the cat’s name. They meow at him, talk to him and brush his hair 3x a day they said. Beautiful swans swim up to the open doorway on the boat and peer into the house. Frank doesn’t like the swans invading his territory, so he hisses at them from under the couch. Swans are actually really mean vicious creatures and they like their necks into the house and terrorize Frank, hissing back at him in his own house. My cousins scramble to grab Frankie and shut the door so he doesn’t get dragged into the canal by the big evil birds.
The canal they live on is super cute with little brick buildings and painted white window frames. They live a few blocks from the central “Niewmarkt” which is a revolving market changing from an organic market, to a flea market, to a souvenir market from one day to the next. I noticed that the houses all were leaning in toward the street, which I thought reminded me of Venice so I asked whether they were sinking. Actually, they were purposely built bending out toward the street, with a hook protruding from the peak of each roof in order to hoist furniture to the upper levels without breaking the windows on the bottom floors–interesting architectural fact!
One cousin, that was born in Amsterdam, took me exploring to the Albert Cuyp Market while the other practiced his weekend pieces with the choir. They both speak fluent Dutch and have been living here on their houseboat for the last 15-years. Markets are honestly my favorite parts about visiting different places as you really get to see how people work, play and eat. He pointed out vendors grilling mini puff-pancakes (poffertjes) and browning honey-filled Stroopwaffel (two flattened waffle cones surrounding a sticky layer of syrup). Sweet smells from these traditional delicacies filled the market air and attracted customers. We sat eating fried Lekkerbek fish with their type of tartar sauce as young neighborhood boys twizzled raw Harring covered in mayonnaise into their open mouths. Trying local cuisine is also one of my favorite parts about traveling.
The market stalls had their street-facing tables set up, but if you wanted to see more, they were connected to an actual store at the back. We poked in and out of flower stalls, looking for bouquets to bring for his friend’s birthday that evening. There were many unique flowers and combinations I’d never even seen before, which really surprised me after living in Hawaii. We decided on a really unique “Fall” bouquets with pine cones, crimson leaves, and a tall dried corncob as the focal piece. He bought flowers for his friend, and some more flowers to add to the collection that’s currently occupying their living room (they now have sunflowers, purple mums, bright pink roses, and light pink roses).
We caught the train out of the city to the sweet suburban house of the birthday girl. Their modern white house was decorated with huge colorful paintings and heaping glass bowls filled with real red apples, orange mangoes, purple onions, and ripened bananas added to the decor. She had three giant bouquets of roses about 3’ tall, standing in late cylindrical glass vases on the floor. They welcomed me warmly with three kisses on the cheek per guest (once you get through greeting an entire group of people, that’s a LOT of kisses!). Everywhere I’ve been has a different greeting culture and seems to add one kiss to the cheek every time! The Croatians kissed once, the French kissed twice (besi besi), and the Dutch do three (and if they’re really close with someone they do a forth one on the lips!).
The partygoers started pulling out their food contributions and I swear by the end, I’ve never felt so full in my life. Upon arrival they had nuts, berries, cheese and crackers. There was zucchini (courgette) soup with a dollop of crème fraîche and loads of cilantro to start. They brought out fresh crusty baguettes with French butter and crystallized salt, then they baked a huge bread-flower that was sliced in opposite directions and stuffed with Brie cheese in every crack, creating a pull-apart-flower of cheesy goodness. Beef skewers with tzetiki sauce and grilled wings chicken with peanut sauce were pulled off the barbecue and lastly we were presented with three desserts–homemade blueberry cheesecake, a nut pie and tart de tartar (my absolute favorite, a thinly-sliced Apple pie baked upside down without a top crust). We corked wine bottle after wine bottle and after a few too many glasses, everyone was hugging me saying, “New family! New family!” I really felt like family! 🙂
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato