Friday Mystery Place – vol 13

Be careful crossing the street!

Yes, folks, it’s that time of the week again.  Last week’s edition of Friday Mystery Place – vol 12 was a little bit tricky, although it was figured out by an intrepid reader: Boston’s very own Fenway Park baseball stadium, which is a historic location, as it is the oldest major league baseball stadium that is still in operation.

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That’s a nice tower with a classic vane!

This week is a bit tricky, but I think there are plenty of clues in this image…

Where are we in this image?  I’m curious to find out, if someone can give me the precise street location.

Have fun!

Monday’s Food Traveler

Something delectable!

This Monday, rather than going over a specific food, I’m going to take you on a journey to a food destination not to be missed in the country of my birth, the Netherlands.

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Poffertjes Kraam

We’re going to the Poffertjes Kraam Cornelis De Haan in Laren in the Province of Noord-Holland.  A Poffertjes Kraam is a semi-fixed establishment, where the delicious poffertjes are prepared.  First, let me explain to you what poffertjes are, in case you have never experienced them yet.

Poffertjes (POH-fur-tjes) resemble small, fluffy pancakes, that are made with yeast and buckwheat flour. Unlike American pancakes, they have a light, spongy texture. Typically, poffertjes are served with powdered sugar and butter, and sometimes syrup or advocate (a Dutch eggnog-like brandy).

Mainly in the summer season, temporary stands selling poffertjes are quite popular, and sell portions containing one or two dozen of them. Usually the cook prepares them freshly for the customer. They are sold on a small cardboard (sometimes plastic) plate and come with a small disposable fork the size of a pastry fork. Poffertjes are not difficult to prepare, but a special cast iron pan or copper pan (also available in aluminium with Teflon coating) with several shallow indentations in the bottom is required.

Supermarkets also stock mixes for poffertjes, to which only eggs and milk need to be added. Usually they contain some kind of leavening agent like baking powder.

They can also be served with other sweet garnishes, such as syrup, whipped cream or strawberries, for added flavor.

This particular Poffertjes establishment, Cornelis De Haan, is well-known in the Netherlands for the excellent quality of their poffertjes.  This establishment was owned by the De Haan family from 1837 through 1991, at which time it was bought by the current owner, Marcel Hilhorst.  The stand itself originates from 1875, although it has been expanded over time.  They are open from around mid-March to mid-September on all days except Monday; details can be found on their web-site (it is in Dutch only).

Technical Details

This image was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mk II and an EF 24-105 f/4L lens.  Exposure settings were 1/50 second at f/8 and 400 ISO.

Friday Travel Photos – vol 15

A taste of Scotland

You may have gathered that our 2013 vacation in Scotland was really enjoyed by both my wife and I, as an all-round great vacation for many reasons.  Along with today’s photo selection I’ll write a little bit about those reasons.

Of course, one cannot argue with the landscape, as it is truly stunning in many ways and continually surprises with every change of the light.  Even though in our 12 days we got to see great variety, there is so much more to explore, as we barely touched on the islands and didn’t go north beyond Loch Ness.

There are many wonderful little towns around Scotland, where we found the people always friendly and welcoming.  Staying at Bed-and-Breakfasts was a great choice, as we met more people that way than staying at hotels.  Every experience we had was nothing but positive, whether it was at the inn in Plockton, where we stopped for coffee and they provided us coffee and a snack even though they weren’t open yet, or the interaction with locals and tourists at a fantastic pub in Oban (best whisky!!).

And don’t let people fool you about the food, as we ate nothing but wonderful meals throughout our stay ranging from fresh salmon right out of Loch Linnhe in Fort William to a delicious Tikka Masala!

The historic sites are magnificent!  Anywhere you go in Scotland there are beautiful sites, that are either accessible for free or for a very reasonable rate, which usually includes a tour of the property.

Then there’s the wildlife!  This is a bit tongue in cheek, as there’s still a mystery bird that we haven’t seen: the puffin.  One of my wife’s requests was to see puffins, for which purpose we took a trip to the island of Staffa…only to find seagulls!  We were just unlucky, as shifting winds do cause them to go out to sea in mass.

There’s much more to write and share with you about this magnificent country and its people, but I don’t want to bore you 🙂

Stories of the Zuiderzee

Scheepjongens van Bontekoe

Growing up in the Netherlands, one cannot help but be drawn to the water that surrounds you everywhere you go; as you may know, much of the country is below sea level, which is only possibly through a system of dikes and managing the water level with great care.

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Eel Fisherman in Volendam

As my mother’s family hails from the town of Hoorn in the province of North Holland, I spent quite a bit of time in that town visiting my great-grandmother during Summer during my early years.  These times were magical, as I heard the tales of her youth and also traversed the town and its annual fair with my great-uncle, which was always a lot of fun.  As a result of these wonderful times, I have always been drawn to Hoorn and the towns, such as Volendam, of the Zuiderzee, as the Ijsselmeer used to be known, and its storied history.

Founded in 716, Hoorn rapidly grew to become a major harbor town. During Holland’s ‘Golden Age’ (or ‘Golden Century’), Hoorn was an important home base for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and a very prosperous centre of trade. The Hoorn fleet plied the seven seas and returned laden with precious commodities. Exotic spices such as pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and mace were sold at vast profits. With their skill in trade and seafaring, sons of Hoorn established the town’s name far and wide. Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587–1629) is famous for his violent raids in Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), where he “founded” the city of Batavia in 1619 (now Jakarta). He has a big statue on the Rode Steen square in the center of Hoorn.

In 1618, Willem Bontekoe (1587–1657) undertook his first and only voyage for the VOC. His story of his travel and hardship found its way into the history books when he published his adventures in 1646 under the title Journael ofte gedenckwaerdige beschrijvinge van de Oost-Indische reyse van Willem Ysbrantsz. Bontekoe van Hoorn, begrijpende veel wonderlijcke en gevaerlijcke saecken hem daer in wedervaren (‘Journal, or memorable description, of the East-Indian voyage of Willem Ysbrantz. Bontekoe of Hoorn, comprising many wondrous and dangerous things experienced by him’). In 1616, the explorer Willem Corneliszoon Schouten braved furious storms as he rounded the southernmost tip of South America. He named it Kaap Hoorn (Cape Horn) in honour of his home town.

The Zuiderzee (now Ijsselmeer)

In classical times there was already a body of water in this location, called Lacus Flevo by Roman authors. It was much smaller than its later forms and its connection to the main sea was much narrower; it may have been a complex of lakes and marshes and channels, rather than one lake. Over time these lakes gradually eroded their soft peat shores and spread (a process known as waterwolf). Some part of this area of water was later called the Vlie; it probably flowed into the sea through what is now the Vliestroom channel between the islands of Vlieland and Terschelling. The Marsdiep was once a river (fluvium Maresdeop) which may have been a distributary of the Vlie. During the early Middle Ages this began to change as rising sea levels and storms started to eat away at the coastal areas which consisted mainly of peatlands. In this period the inlet was referred to as the Almere, indicating it was still more of a lake, but the mouth and size of the inlet were much widened in the 12th century and especially after a disastrous flood in 1282  broke through the barrier dunes near Texel. The disaster marked the rise of Amsterdam on the southwestern end of the bay, since seagoing traffic of the Baltic trade could now visit. The even more massive St. Lucia’s flood occurred 14 December 1287, when the seawalls broke during a storm, killing approximately 50,000 to 80,000 people in the fifth largest flood in recorded history. The name “Zuiderzee” came into general usage around this period.

The size of this inland sea remained largely stable from the 15th century onwards due to improvements in dikes, but when storms pushed North Sea water into the inlet, the Zuiderzee became a volatile cauldron of water, frequently resulting in flooding and the loss of ships. For example, on 18 November 1421, a seawall at the Zuiderzee dike broke, which flooded 72 villages and killed about 10,000 people. This was the Second St. Elizabeth’s Flood: see Sint-Elisabethsvloed (1421).

Hope you enjoyed a little bit of history on this fine Monday!

Friday Travel Photos (Late) – vol 14

Perfect weather everywhere!

One of the factors beyond our control during our travels is the weather; you can go during the time of year when the weather is usually nice, but still not be lucky enough to enjoy sunny days.  Scotland, as it is part of an island and consists of many islands, is known as one of those places to visit where you can not count on the weather.

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Beach on the Moray of Firth

This first image shows how wonderful the weather was during our stay.  This is a lovely beach view east of Inverness in a small town, whose name escapes me at this writing.

We knew that visiting Scotland during the end of May and beginning of June was no guarantee for perfect weather.  Lucky for us, we saw just a couple of showers during the 12 days that we were there with the sun being visible during the most of our stay.

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Carriden House garden

As you can see here, this weather was just stunning!  This view of the garden at Carriden House, where we stayed for the final 3 nights of our visit, is just stunning.

You have also seen the weather on Skye in Friday Travel Photos – Skye, so I’m closing this post with a rather unusual view that I caught in a castle yard on Skye:

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Tub in Field at Duntulm Castle

Friday Mystery Place – vol 11

Late for lunch!

Dear Reader, last week’s challenge was a bit devilish, but clearly not hard enough, as several of you figured it out; you are impressive!  This week’s location should not be too hard to guess…

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Which lovely place is this?

This location was one that I almost overlooked in my travels, as I had not put it on the itinerary.  As my wife and I were driving to our next stop on our travels, and in truth we were looking for some spot to eat some lunch, I caught this beauty out of the corner of my eye, as it was a bit obscured by foliage.

We figured out where we could find access to the location and had a fun time exploring it; lunch was served late, and delicious!

Where are we?

The City of my Birth – Rotterdam

Sterker door strijd!

When people think of visiting the Netherlands, they always think about Amsterdam and, possibly, The Hague, but relatively few think about visiting Rotterdam.  Each of these cities has their set of attractions with Amsterdam’s museums and canals, and the beach and parks of The Hague, but for my money you can’t beat the variety of what Rotterdam offers!  And, as the mystery slide for this week is set in Rotterdam…

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Centraal Station

The best way to visit Rotterdam is by public transportation; if you’re coming from outside the city, you’ll likely arrive at the central train station, or ‘Centraal Station’.  This completely modern transportation hub combines train, street car, bus and metro (subway) in one convenient package.  When using public transportation in the Netherlands you’ll want to get get an OV-Chipkaart, which is used for all modes of transportation; as a tourist you can buy an anonymous OV-Chipkaart, which comes preloaded and can be loaded at many check-points using your credit/debit card.  Just don’t forget to swipe your card when you get off you disembark!

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Skyscrapers!

A unique feature about Rotterdam’s architecture is the presence of skyscrapers in the center of the city.  Every other city center in the Netherlands consists of older architecture.  This is due to the fact that during the early days of World War II, the center of the city was flattened by German bombs during the so-called Rotterdam Blitz.  The notable surviving building from this onslaught is the St. Lawrence Church (St. Laurenskerk), which was damaged, but was restored and still stands proud surrounded by modern architecture.

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De Koopgoot

The center of Rotterdam is well-known for its shopping district that extends along the Coolsingel and the streets surrounding it.  As the Dutch love walking in their cities, the center has been set up to minimize the need for crossing the street.  An example of this is the Beurstraverse, which is better known as ‘de Koopgoot’ or, literally, the shopping gutter; as you can see, one just walks down the incline and continues shopping at the stores below ground level, as you cross the busy Coolsingel to get to more shops.

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Delftsevaart

As Rotterdam is a major port-city (‘Gateway to Europe’), water is never very far away.  As the port has expanded over the years and ships have become larger, some of the old harbors are no longer used for shipping, such as the Delftsevaart above.  They have either been filled in to make room for building or preserved as picturesque living areas right in the center of the city.

Hope you enjoyed this little overview of the city of my birth!