Tasting Amsterdam

It is almost impossible to describe a visit to a new country or city without discussing its food and Amsterdam is no exception. The morning we arrived in Amsterdam, we had to wait for a friend to meet us, so to pass the time we settled in at a coffee shop located beside the arrival gate. It could not have been a more perfect location to enjoy a cup of coffee and people watch.

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Koffie Verkeerd

 

Their coffee is fairly strong and served either black or white (Koffie Verkeerd), but best of all each cup comes with a small cookie called a Stroopwafel . These can vary in size, but they are usually thin, waffle-looking biscuits  with a syrup filling. These tiny treats really hit the spot. Dutch-food-Stroopwafels

 

 

 

Once we had settled into our houseboat, we decided to wander up the street to the local pub for some lunch. One of the girls order a favorite of hers, bitterballen. These are deep fried balls with some kind of mushy meat mixture inside and served with a mustard dip. I tried one, but was not a fan. It was quite bland and the texture did not appeal to me.

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The croquettes were another version of these deep fried appetizers.

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The Dutch seem to really enjoy their own version of French fries. There were numerous kiosks along the streets selling only fries. Theirs are cut a little thicker and often have a spicy taste and all are served with mayonnaise. I quite enjoyed them.

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Before starting our vacation, one of the girls had found something called poffertjes while researching Amsterdam online. It was the one food she was really looking forward to trying. These enticing treats were advertised everywhere and about our third day we sat down for the taste test. Now poffertjes are really just tiny, inflated pancakes. They are air filled little balls, but you can have them with a variety of toppings. I ordered mine with powdered sugar, whipped cream, and fresh strawberries, and of course, a chilled glass of pinot grigio to accompany this decadent treat. Delicious!!!! The picture on the left shows the poffertjes on the special grill.

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It would be impossible to talk about Dutch cuisine without mentioning their huge selection of cheese. One of my first purchases was cheese to bring home. I loved the gigantic displays with endless samples to try. It was difficult to narrow my choices. We also kept a good supply in the houseboat fridge for snacking with our wine.

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This gorgeous Smeg fridge held all our delectable snacks, including something I had never seen before…..

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It was very tasty! I mean how can you fully enjoy the cuisine of a new place unless you sample everything.

There are so many other typical Dutch delicacies, and their cuisine also includes a good number of Indonesian restaurants which reflect Dutch colonial times.

The next time you travel make sure to sample as many new foods as possible. It is all part of the experience, so don’t miss it. You can have McDonald’s any time!

 

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

Amsterdam….City of Cyclists

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I have spent most of my adult life trying to get in better physical shape. I now know the solution…. move to Amsterdam. Everyone there, both young and old, is in good shape because the entire city rides bicycles. If you don’t have one, you can rent one everywhere.

And although the city is quite walkable and beautiful, it is most definitely not safe for pedestrians. The main streets are designed like this…. pedestrian sidewalk, bike lane, car lane, tram lane, car lane, bike lane, pedestrian sidewalk. Walkers must juggle five busy lanes of traffic to cross the street. After my first close call with a bike, I became ultra aware and began shouting out, “Bike!”, “Car!”, “Tram”, to the others in the group. Or in some cases, “Run!” was our only option. I must admit it sharpened my attention skills and occasionally provided good exercise for my reflexes.  Smaller side streets are more manageable as bikes and cars share the same lane.

It will forever be a mystery to me why there are not more accidents. I witnessed one mishap that was actually caused by pedestrians.

The Dutch are ingenious with their bikes. They have designed every manner imaginable to carry things on their two-wheeled vehicles. My favorite was the children being delivered to school or daycare in a wheel- barrow styled box attached to the front of their parent’s bike. I saw as many as 4 toddlers crammed into these open boxes, smiling, waving, laughing, and eating with not a helmet in sight. Older kids doubled on handle bars, cross bars, or even on the fender rack.

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In Canada we have parking lots and garages for cars, but in Amsterdam there are two and three level garages dedicated to bikes. Everything from railings to trees are utilized to secure your bike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another rather interesting thing about this city of waterways is the fact that there are virtual few if any barriers along the canals. People parallel park mere inches from the edge. It was amazing to watch them maneuver into place. Of course, the lack of railings also resulted in this…

20180904_145158.jpg20180904_145209.jpgBarges with a crane on one end, regularly scoured the canals to remove bicycles that have fallen in. A guide on the Hop On Hop Off boat joked that the canals are one meter of water, one meter of mud, and one meter of bicycles. He is probably correct. These guys were working near our boat so it was interesting to watch what came up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cycling mecca absolutely fascinated me. While sitting at our favorite pub located on the corner of a busy intersection, it was fun to watch what I fondly referred to as a “bicycle ballet”. Riders passed each other in perfectly synchronized harmony without ever stopping, no matter what direction they were going. Car drivers on the other hand were often sitting helplessly waiting for a break in the dance so they could join the fray.

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Perhaps I should pull my bike out of the shed and pump up the tires. I may have been inspired!

 

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

Houseboat Living Part 2

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Living on a houseboat is not without its challenges. The fact that our boat was once an open deck freighter only added to its quirkiness. Most people we met found it rather extraordinary that four women ranging in age from 70 to 80 would choose this mode of living. After all, the deck was on a 45 degree angle, there were no railings except on the slippery metal gang plank, the stairs were narrow and steep, and we were given no instructions on how anything worked. We were left a list of rules. I still laugh when I read them.

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What could possibly go wrong?

Getting our luggage inside was our first ordeal. We worked like a chain gang passing each piece from one to the other down those stairs.

Our next concern was the washroom situation. We had chosen this boat because it had 2 bathrooms, but the second bathroom might as well have been in another country because there was no way to maneuver along that narrow passage to the far end of the ship in the dark of night or in rain. It’s a given that with age comes frequent peeing, especially during the night. To give some perspective, I took this photo from the doorway of the bedroom. Now imagine making your way in pitch dark (two were sleeping in the bed you can see) from the bedroom to that door on the left side at the far end, navigating furniture, loose floorboards, a substantial tilt, and a multitude of squeaks while under the influence of a little wine. We became experts!

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In the middle of the night, I would stand in the doorway until my eyes became accustomed to the dark then plot my course to miss chairs and tables, and hop over precarious floor slats. Then do the same in reverse. Our worry about 4 ladies sharing only one bathroom was completely unnecessary. We operated like a well-oiled machine.

The bathroom itself offered a challenge. The sink was so high that it required a small ladder to get your chin over the edge to clean your teeth. We nicked this one from the far bedroom since we were not using it. It was needed there to climb into bed.

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To get clean towels or bed linen, you had to climb on the roof of the boat from outside to access a large cupboard where supplies were stowed. Every once in a while the water heater would turn itself off when someone was in the shower, but we called and got instructions for resetting it.

We were very fortunate with weather conditions; however, one day it rained very hard. That was when we learned most of the skylights leaked.

20180829_184332.jpg We grabbed every pot and bowl from the kitchen to catch the drips. Mieke called the owner to report the problem. We were laughing so hard our sides ached. The very next morning, owner Paul showed up with a big box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne to apologize for our inconveniences. We were still laughing. 20180829_184313(2)

My favorite part about living on the houseboat was spending the time together. In a hotel, everyone goes off to their room, you order room service or have to get dressed and go out for breakfast or coffee. On the boat, we made coffee and breakfast together and sat around in our pajamas planning our day. Late in the afternoon, we would sit out on the deck drinking wine, snacking, and watching the activity on the Amstel River.

 

As I mentioned previously, houseboat living is not without its challenges and is certainly not for everyone; however traveling itself requires all of us to step out of our comfort zone and be open to new experiences. I had a fantastic holiday because the people I was with were amazing.

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

P.S. Stay with me for more about the trip.

Ship Ahoy!

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It has been several weeks since my last post as I have been busy fulfilling another item on my bucket list…. Amsterdam.

Well over a year ago, four of us decided to plan a trip to Amsterdam. Life temporarily got in the way, but in August we realized our goal. To make the trip even more fun, we chose to rent a houseboat instead of  hotel rooms. This is a normal practice in the city of canals. So back in January, I found a web site called Bookahouseboat.com . There are quite literally 1000’s of houseboats available for rent in this city. The first question we are always asked is, ” Who is going to drive it?” The boat does not move. It is simply a floating hotel minus room service.

Booking a houseboat, sight unseen, can be a little disconcerting even for the most adventurous; so, add to that fact that we are four senior women and you have an interesting situation. We are all seasoned travelers, so we are accustomed to a variety of accommodations from luxury hotels to smaller B&B’s, but nothing could have prepared us for our boat. We had of course seen interior pictures, but nothing above deck. I think we all had in our mind that we were renting something like this….

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When in reality we had actually rented the huge green freighter at the top of the page. Yes, the “Everdeen”, built in 1928 and used to haul sand and gravel up and down the canals, became our home away from home. It was tethered to another huge freighter on the Amstel River in an excellent location beside the famous Magere Brug better known as the “Skinny Bridge”.

After flying all night and arriving at 6:30am in Amsterdam having had no sleep, we were very anxious to check into our accommodations and put our feet up. Unfortunately, our check in time was 12:00 noon, so we stowed our baggage in lockers at the train station and went for breakfast. After eating, no one felt like wandering aimlessly, so we called our contact number and asked if we could move into the boat sooner.  He was very kind and said he would call the cleaning lady and give us permission to wait on the deck until she was finished.

With some difficulty, we found a cab to hold the four of us and our luggage. It was no more than a 5 minute drive. I would love to have had a picture of our faces when we first set eyes on “our boat”. Someone finally said, “What have we done?” Like the blind leading the blind, single file we pulled our suitcases over the gang plank.

There were four chairs on the tiny deck with a gas fire pit in the middle. Sounds lovely, right? I need to mention that the deck is on a 45 degree tilt. I quickly learned to brace my chair legs against the edge of the fire pit lest I sail across the deck, over the open edge,

20180827_182231 and into the water. And there we waited contemplating our situation until the cleaning lady finished.

She finally gave us the okay to come inside. Once through the door, there was a narrow stairway to navigate down to the living quarters. The interior was exactly as we had seen in the advertisement; it was very spacious, clean, and bright.

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However, the main reason we had chosen this boat was because it had two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

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We found the first bedroom easily. The second was going to be a bit of a challenge especially after a glass or two of wine.

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The second bedroom was located in the stern of our ship. As the picture demonstrates, one must make a precarious walk along the narrow, railing-less footpath to reach said bedroom complete with its own toilet and claw-footed bathtub. Needless to say, we decided to use the pull out couch in the living room instead.

The initial shock gradually wore off and we looked at the bright side of our rental. Less than half a block away was a great little pub that became our local. Around the corner was a nice little grocery store where we stocked up on breakfast essentials and all the wine we could carry. The tram stop was only two bridges away and restaurants were plentiful in every direction. But best of all, there was always something happening on the busy waterway by our boat.

The morning we were leaving our “old girl” was bittersweet. She had grown on us all with her quirks and groans and loose, squeaky floorboards. We all miss her and would go back in a heartbeat. Sometimes in life you have to throw caution to the wind and just take a chance.

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

P.S. More to come on our adventure.

 

Regrets I’ve Had A Few

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Just like the song says, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention…..la, la….la, la, la”. We’ve all had at least something that we wish we had done better, or not said, or not done at all. At this point in my life, I am prone to reflect back and wonder “what if” I had made different choices.

So many of the decisions that I made throughout my life were based on other people like my parents, my friends, my husband, and yes, even my children. That’s not to say that they were to blame for my choices because they had no idea what went on inside my head. I, alone, am responsible. In all honesty, my family and friends were very supportive of me. So, why did I always feel I needed to put them first?

After all these years, I have come to the conclusion that it was my self-confidence. I somehow made decisions that were safe because I was afraid to let anyone down. Never mind that I was letting myself down. The signs were all there if I had cared to open my eyes. Every once in a while, I would step outside the accepted proverbial box, but then I would give in to pressure.

When I was in high school, I told myself adamantly that I was not going to get married, and at the first opportunity, I was moving to a large city. Well, I did get married, and I still live in the small city where I was born. I could easily have changed those decisions, but I didn’t. I was pretty much one of the last of family and friends to walk down the aisle. At the time I remember questioning my decision, but went ahead because I felt it was expected of me. How foolish!

Now, before you start to think that I regret everything in my life, I assure you I do not. Many good things came from those decisions, like my two kids. They are my world! But what if, I had decided to become a writer like I had always wanted. Or what if, I had moved to the south of France or Italy like I had always dreamed of doing.

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Would my life have turned out any happier or more fulfilling? I will never know.

I do know you can’t go back, but you can decide to take charge of your future and do it your way. I am glad that with age came self confidence. My hour glass still has enough sand in it to enjoy.

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So what do you regret? I know there is something.

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

 

 

Ahhh! Spa!

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For Christmas, our kids gave my friend and I a gift certificate for a day at the wonderful Elmwood Spa located in the heart of downtown Toronto. The gorgeous building built in the late 1800’s was originally home of the Y.W.C.A. The exterior has been beautifully restored to its original condition while inside houses four floors that are a mix of the old with modern aesthetics. When you enter, there is an immediate sense of calm that pervades the reception area.

Our reservation was to begin at 10:00am and we agreed to meet at the Elmwood since I was driving in from just outside the city. A drive which would normally take me 45 minutes stretched into double that time due to morning traffic and after searching for parking, I found myself scrambling to get there on time. I needed this spa day more than ever at this point.

We checked in immediately and were escorted to the change area on the second floor to doff our belongings and don their wonderful white robes which would become our uniform for the day.

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First on our agenda was a facial. Our personal technician guided us to the treatment room. While relaxing on the warm bed, my face was scrubbed, waxed, plucked, squeezed, massaged, steamed and lubricated. During the treatment the technician also massages your scalp. When it was time to leave, I peeked in the mirror by the door to find my hair standing on end like an oily mop. Any attempt to tame the mess was in vain, but luckily everyone wandering the halls looked the same, so I felt right at home.

Next on our schedule was lunch, so we headed up to the 4th floor. We chose a seat outside on the patio in the shade. The warm breeze felt lovely.

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Included in our package was a three course lunch. I chose a beet, arugula and goat cheese salad to start. This was followed by a NY sirloin steak with sautéed parsnips. Delicious! For dessert, I chose warm pumpkin pie with cinnamon whipped cream. It was lovely to relax and eat at a leisurely pace. I was very surprised to see almost an equal number of men and women; some were couples, but many were alone or with a friend.

After our leisurely meal, it was massage time. Surprising to me was the fact that most of the masseuses were men. The room was dimly lit and soft music played in the background. As I lay on my very full stomach, it was clear that the timing was not ideal. I eventually settled in and thoroughly enjoyed the experience which was enhanced by the scent of lemongrass that I had chosen for my oil. A second head massage left me looking frightful, but I couldn’t have cared less.

Lastly, we headed back to the second floor for our pedicures. Our technicians were so much fun and we laughed the entire time. Screenshot_2018-08-02 Elmwood Spa (Toronto) - All You Need to Know Before You Go - UPDATED 2018 (Toronto, Ontario) - TripAd[...](1)

We gave our newly polished toes some time to dry before heading for the change room.

It had been a truly, lovely day. Everyone needs a day like this every so often just to be pampered and cared for. So, remember to take some time for yourself. You deserve it!

 

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

 

 

 

Bucket List

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On the small bulletin board in my home office hangs a yellowed and dog-eared sheet of paper. It’s my bucket list.

Not long after my husband died, almost forty years ago now, I sat down and made a list of all the things that I had ever wanted to do or try. Some were very simple, while others required a lot of planning. Some seemed ridiculous when I looked at them written down, but I decided they should remain on the list. Some shocked me. My paper filled up quickly, but I continued to add items as they came to me. It gave me a sense of direction that I needed at that time. It made me feel secure for some strange reason. Bucketlist

I had become a single parent virtually overnight, and I remember feeling almost paralyzed by fear. I knew it was time to put my “big girl” pants on. Three people were depending on me…. my two kids and I.

There is a quote from “Dead Man Walking” that comes to mind, “you had better get busy living, or get busy dying…..”. My bucket list got me busy living again. It gave me goals beyond just the routines of everyday life. I had something to look forward to accomplishing and I really needed that. Besides, my kids needed a role model.

Making the list was fun actually. It made me really think about myself for the first time in many years.

First on my list was “Graduate from university”. I had been taking courses over the years, but it was time to buckle down and get this important item out of the way. And so I did. The fall of that first year of many changes, I graduated from Trent University with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. It felt amazing to look into the audience and see my son and daughter clapping for me.

Well, that was the first of a long list of items and at my first opportunity, I marked it off as completed in yellow highlighter. 20180726_134828As I accomplished each thing, I marked them off as well. As you can clearly see, there are entries that are as yet unmarked, but I’m working on them, and it is very gratifying to see how far I have come. I continue to add to the bottom when a thought strikes me.

So, then, do you have a bucket list? If not, take the time to sit down with paper and pencil and make your own list. It might surprise you the things that turn up on it. They do not have to be grand and complicated, just significant to you. TheBucketList

 

 

 

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo