Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A little something to tide you over...

This blog will be quiet for the next week or so, as Todd and I are off tomorrow on yet another adventure, this time a proper, full-length vacation to Italy! I’m the only one in my immediate family who’s never been; I was supposed to go when I was 16, but the still-new war in Iraq and fear of terrorists made my school cancel the trip (I’ve never really forgiven them for that), so this one’s been a long time coming. Needless to say I am quite excited, but in the spirit of a real vacation I will not be bringing my laptop, so I will have to wait to post anything til we return next week. I’ll do my best to remember to take pictures and diligent notes! Until then, here’s something to tide you over: a compilation of some of my favorite food blogs I follow. These people are more than just foodies, they are truly great writers, and have provided enormous inspiration for more own writing. After reading through years worth of posts from their archives, though I have never met any of them, they feel like good friends to me:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Farmer's Market Stir-Fry Recipe

It’s an exciting day today on the Hungry Traveler: my first recipe post! Actually this is more of a technique than a real recipe, and so rather than write up a conventional recipe formula, I’ll just describe what I did step-by-step. I am going to assume that most people reading this have a fairly good idea of how to cook up a basic stir-fry and know their own tastes and preferences; this is a recipe to be played around with.

This dish was inspired by a cooking demo I saw at the Markt outdoor market last Friday (hence the recipe title), an extremely simple stir-fry using the ubiquitous white asparagus that is still flooding the vegetable stands here. 

Notice the nifty asparagus peeler.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Christmas Flashbacks

Todd just got back a few days ago from a whirlwind trip to Lund, Sweden and Trondheim, Norway, where he was giving talks at universities there. After his talk at Trondheim and before his flight back home, he managed to squeeze in a visit to his family's ancestral town. 

He also managed to find the time, good boyfriend that he is, to pick up some presents for me. Naturally, my request was for souvenirs of the edible variety, and Todd came through with these typically Norwegian items:

A Farmer's Market Dinner, With a Side of Herring

Ok, so now we're back in Maastricht, on Day 3 of my parents' visit (not counting their arrival, which was really more of a half day). This happened to be a Friday and, as you know if you've been following this blog for a little while, Friday is market day in Maastricht. We decided, therefore, to go shopping in the morning and then cook dinner at our apartment with my parents later that night. So we set out bright and early (actually it was more like 10; the Dutch don't seem to really do "early") and headed to the Markt, where the market was in full swing:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Salty Licorice

I have mentioned the lovely blog The Dutch Table before, where Nicole, a Limburg expat currently living in Idaho, cooks her way through the Dutch culinary repertoire. While I have yet to try any of her recipes, they seem clear and well-written, and are headed by plenty of useful information about the specific dish in question and Dutch culture in general, with some personal stories thrown in for good measure. I’m really glad I stumbled upon it, as it has proved to be a great resource for my own blog (as well as a pleasant read in an of itself).

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Pretty Neat Idea

I think this is a record for me: two non-food-related posts in a row! Not to worry, my musings on Dutch cuisine and other such subjects will return shortly, but for now there's something else I want to talk about, involving, of all things, religion. Well, sort of.

According to Wikipedia, the Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in Europe, with less than 40% of the population affiliated with a religion. Roman Catholicism is the largest major religion in the country, but is declining rapidly (about 26% of the population identify as Catholic, down from 40% in the 70s). Only two southern provinces are still majority Catholic, Noord-Brabant and Limburg, where Maastricht is located. Even there, church attendance has dropped dramatically, with only a tiny fraction of Dutch Catholics going to Sunday services with any regularity.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Getting Away From it All (and conquering some fears along the way)

Growing up, I have been afraid of a whole slew of things at one point or another: the costumed characters at Disney World, putting my head underwater when learning how to swim, being upside-down, roller coasters and any rides with big drops (still don’t like them, actually), the dark, the laundry room in our basement (probably has to do with the previous fear), loud noises (including balloons popping but not including, oddly enough, thunderstorms). Needless to say, I was also a very cautious child, and tended to do my best to avoid any situation where I might be at any risk of getting hurt (and yet the first sports I participated in with any sort of commitment where skiing and horseback riding; go figure).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I Could Get Used to This

Eating out in Maastricht (and the Netherlands in general) can be vey expensive, especially with the dollar so bad right now. Which made us all the more appreciative of my parents when they came to town a couple weeks ago, because they insisted on treating us to pretty much every meal. Needless to say, we ate well.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Brussels Redux

I’m on my own for the next few days while Todd’s off giving talks in Norway and Sweden (with a side trip to the little town in Norway where he’s family’s from). Hopefully he’ll return with some souvenirs! We spent the weekend on the (extremely windy, somewhat rainy) Friesian island of Ameland in the north of the country, which I’ll post about soon, but now it’s time to (finally) wrap up my parent’s visit last week.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I’m gonna come right out and say it, this post is going to be nothing more than a chance for me to toot my own horn a bit. But I’d say completing a 26.2-mile race warrants a little horn-tooting, don’t you?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Amsterdam, Day Two (in which I consume raw meat without dying)

The next day dawned much brighter and a bit warmer. We walked over to the Van Gogh museum, stopping at a café first for breakfast. They're speciality was Dutch pancakes with a whole bunch of toppings to choose from. Here's Todd's kiwi pancake:

Dutch pancakes taste a bit like French crepes but a little different, perhaps eggier? I prefer the French ones myself, straight off the griddle, preferably eaten out of a paper cone while standing on a Parisian sidewalk, but that's just me.

After spending some time with Van Gogh, Picasso and friends at the museum (Dutch museums charge an arm and a leg to get into, by the way, makes me miss the free ones in London), we went wandering again, soaking in the sunshine, and some interesting sites along the way:

Do you think they sell gingerbread?

Anne Frank's statue, outside the house she and her family hid in during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. I went there my first time in the city back in '08, and found the experience highly moving. I definitely recommend it; there's always a line outside but it moves relatively quickly and is worth the wait.

On a lighter note: don't these lizard statues look real? The little park was full of them, all different kinds, for no apparent reason that we could discern.

And of course we saw plenty of houseboats, some with gardens on their rooftops!

Near our hotel we found this awesome little store:

The goods on offer made me homesick both for the U.S. and for London:

Look at all the cereal! If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can probably get a glimpse of the pop tarts and cake mixes back there too.

Notice the book in the display window? That made me laugh!

Eventually we got hungry for lunch, at which I had another brand new food experience (which you might have already guessed based on the title of this post): raw meat! That's right, this intrepid foodie took her life in her hands in the name of investigative research and consumed uncooked beef (just kidding, I doubt there was more than a slight risk for salmonella poisoning). Here's how this came about: at the Irish-themed pub/cafe were we ate outside (Amsterdam has a surprising number of these types of places), my dad ordered a plate of "Dutch snacks," basically Dutch bar food. There was cheese and pate, two kinds of lumpia (Indonesian spring rolls, remember?), one veggie and one meat-filled, and bitterballen, the ubiquitous Dutch bar snack*. There were also little patties of what was clearly raw hamburger meat (or something similar; it was definitely beef). 

Though it may sound disgusting to any Americans reading this, chopped raw beef is actually a classic French preparation called steak tartare or, when it originated in the early 20th century, steak a l'Americaine (why the French associated a raw beef dish with America is unclear to me). Traditionally it's a round of seasoned, chopped up raw beef (only high quality meat should be used, for obvious reasons), served with various garnishes (onion, capers) and a raw egg on top that acts as a kind of dressing for the meat (this has got health code violation written all over it...). Since this was supposed to be just a snack, my dad's mini steak tartares had no egg, but I was eager to try them all the same. The verdict? Eh...it tasted pretty much like you'd expect it to taste; that is, like raw hamburger meat, though very good quality hamburger, I will admit.

*There's no real English or American equivalent to bitterballen. The Dutch Table blog describes them as "deep-fried gravy balls," which is a pretty accurate description of how they taste. 

After lunch we wandered some more and ended up back in Dam Square, where the Liberation Day concert was in full swing. 

We didn’t stay long, as the crowds were thick and we were tired after two days of hiking all over the city. Soon we were boarding the train back to Maastricht, arriving in the evening just in time for dinner. And since this post is already pretty long and I want to do our dinner justice (it was a pretty memorable one, for completely different reasons from the one at Indrapur), I will save that for another day!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Amsterdam Adventures and a New Cuisine

The blog has been quiet this past week, because, as I said in the last post, my parents came to town!

 They actually just left this morning from Brussels, where we spent the last day of their stay (more on that later). We had a lot of fun, and I dutifully took notes and pictures the whole time (not really, I’m still getting used to this whole “document your thoughts and experiences” thing and I never really liked taking photographs on vacation. So bear with me if I missed some things.). Join me won’t you, for a look back at the week.

My parents flew in on a red-eye flight from JFK to Brussels, taking the train from there to Maastricht and arriving, tired but raring to go, around midday.  To help them get over their jetlag Todd and I took them for a little walk to show them the neighborhood (with an obligatory coffee and waffle break included). Our night was pretty low-key, and then the next morning we got up bright and early and headed to Amsterdam by train.

Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities; I’ve been there twice before on bus tours, once during each of my two sojourns in London. The architecture is just beautiful, the rings of canals provide a plethora of scenic vistas everywhere you go:

See the leaning houses? Click the pics to get a better view.

It is a bit difficult to get used to navigating the streets, however, especially after the calm of a small city like Maastricht. Like most large cities, Amsterdam has a lot of people in it; unlike many cities, Amsterdam also has a lot of bikers, bikers who go very fast with seemingly little regard for pedestrians who aren’t used to looking for them and so who tend to step out into a bike lane thinking it’s a sidewalk and almost get creamed.

Somehow we managed to navigate our way to our hotel (after a quick lunch break because someone (ahem) was hungry and getting cranky), which was right on the Prinsengracht canal. The hotel was spread over two different buildings, and we had two rooms at the very top of one of them, so we could look out over the rooftops of the city. We dropped our bags and right away headed out to see the sites.

Unfortunately, it was cold, windy and starting to rain. Fortunately, the national museum, the Rijksmuseum, was just a short walk away:

I'll confess I’m not a huge museum person, and when I’m in a new city, or one I don’t visit very often, I usually prefer to wander about and just soak in the atmosphere. When the weather’s not that great, however, a museum can be just the thing. I don’t know how big the collection of paintings in the Rijksmusuem normally is; the building itself is huge (and very pretty, as you can see), but it’s apparently undergoing some major renovations, so the actual part we could visit was pretty small. Which, as I said, I was fine with. We were mostly there to see the Rembrandt paintings anyway. In case you were wondering what Rembrandt looked like, here he is:

Did you know, by the way, the Rembrandt was actually his first name? I had now idea. In full he is Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. How's that for a mouthful?

After getting acquainted with Rembrandt and Vermeer and some other old Dutch painters (who are probably also very famous but I can’t remember any of them), we emerged from the museum to much brighter, though still chilly, weather. Next we walked to the Bloemenmarkt, the floating flower market which I knew my mom would get a kick out of:
The stalls line one side of a canal and rest half on the pavement, have on barges on the water. There are hundreds of types of plants, bulbs and seeds for sale:

And some other, um, products:

This is Amsterdam, after all! But the Netherlands is not only famous for its cannabis and brothels (we saw some of those too, but you can't take pictures of the girls in the windows or burly men will appear and take your camera away, apparently). When we passed a couple of cheese shops, I couldn’t resist peeking inside (and the other members of our party had no complaint, as you can see):

We bought some smoked gouda with herbs and tried many others, including bright red and green pesto varieties, which I was tempted by, but I looove both smoked gouda and cheese with herbs in it, so that flavor won.

To feel we really experienced the full range of Dutch culinary culture, we chased our cheese with frites.

There was a really big line out front of this little place tucked away in a side alley, so we knew it would be good (I love the dubious grammar and the elision of English and Dutch on the sign, don't you?). And we were right!These were some quality Belgian fries, with over a dozen different sauces available (most of them obviously mayonnaise-based, my distate for which has been documented). Mom and Dad shared a cone with Belgian mayonnaise, which is like mayo on steroids, and Todd and I experimented with the Samurai sauce, which was salmon-colored and just tasted like spicy mayo to me. The fries were amazing, though.

After wandering about for a while, watching them set up for the next day’s Liberation Day* festivities in Dam Square (May 4 is Remembrance Day, a solemn day with a moment of silence in the evening, while the next day is one of celebration with outdoor concerts and – what else? – lots of beer), we headed back to the hotel to prepare for dinner.

*That’s liberation from Nazi control during World War II, for those of you not up on your European history (don’t feel bad if you aren’t, the only reason I knew it was Liberation Day was because the university where Todd is working during his sabbatical is on holiday that day.)

Dinner, let me just say now, was fantastic. We went to this place:

an Indonesian restaurant in Rembrandtsplein called Indrapura, which had been recommended to Todd by someone he knows who is actually from Indonesia, so you know to trust him. I don’t often get a chance to eat at an ethnic restaurant that is totally unfamiliar to me, but I’d never had Indonesian before. It was different from anything I’ve ever eaten, but if I had to compare it to another cuisine I’d probably say a cross between Thai and Chinese, which I guess makes sense considering where Indonesia is located. This is a very common ethnic food in the Netherlands due the two nations' former colonial relations. I was intrigued from the moment we walked inside, especially considering their choice of front-of-house decoration:
A dish of various seeds and spices

And another of fruits and vegetables that were clearly just picked up from the supermarket. The beans and asparagus are still in their packaging, and you can see a sticker on that mango and an apple. A lot of people might have been put off by this, but for some reason I was delighted.

I still feel a little weird taking pictures in restaurants, so I only have a few photos, but I managed to capture all of our dishes pretty well. You can order a la carte, but the most popular way to go at an Indonesian restaurant, at least when you’re dining with others, is to order a rijstaffel or “rice table”: basically a lot (and I mean A LOT) of little dishes that you all share, placed on a few burners in the middle of the table. It was a little complicated shuffling around all those tiny dishes (there was barely room on the table), but we developed a strategy that worked pretty well: anything that came with four individual servings, like the sesame balls, we divided up between us right away and stacked the empty dishes in a corner of the table, freeing up some space for the dishes like rice and stir-fries that had to be ladled out as the meal progressed.

First, though, the starter: spring rolls, or lumpia, a popular street food in the Netherlands:

These were pretty standard vegetable spring rolls (our meal was entirely vegetarian, due to the preferences of Todd and my mom), but very well prepared, with a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce and some pickled vegetables.

Next came the rijstaffel. We'll do this in two shots. First, one side of the table (as always, click to enlarge any picture):

Ok, we'll do this systematically, starting from the left. First up is a fried tofu dish, next to that on the bottom a baked tofu dish, both not on the menu (as far as I could tell), both dressed in the sweet soy sauce I was first introduced to in Maastricht and which I have posted about before. Above the baked tofu you see what I believe is the tumis harian, the seasonal vegetable stir-fry, which here meant snap peas (this wasn't my favorite dish. It wasn't bad, just not very exciting.). Immediately next to the snap peas is kentang balado, or spicy fried potatoes (these were also not my favorite, being mushy instead of crispy as I think fried potatoes should be, and not very spicy or flavorful). Below those you have gado-gado, vegetables in a thick peanut sauce, almost the consistency of pure peanut butter, with crunchy wafers on top called emping, or melinjo-nut chips (I have no idea what a melinjo is, but I think that is what these were. They were actually listed as a separate dish on the menu, but I didn't see anything that could have been them except for on these vegetables.). My mom didn't really like this dish, but I, being a peanut butter fiend, loved it. Next to that on the other burner is pepesan jamur, or mushrooms in banana leaf, kind of like an Indonesian tamale. Not great, I thought, but an interesting preparation. Below that are two things also not on the menu, a sesame ball like the kind you'd get at a Chinese buffet (except really good) and some sort of fried thing that was clearly meant to resemble a meatball in taste and texture, though what it was exactly I have no idea. Delicious though. Finally, above the tamales you can see some little brown balls, which are the pergedel jagung, or corn fritters, and pisang goreng, fried bananas (both very yummy, as you'd expect from anything fried so expertly) as well as a dish that you can actually see better in the next photo, so we'll move on. (Oh, and on the other side of my plate from the sesame balls you can just barely see a dish of pickled cucumbers [acar ketimun], which were on the sweet side, and, unseen in the pics, another dish of the same yellow, more savory pickled vegetables [acar campur] that came with the spring rolls and which you can see garnishing some of the other plates)

Here you can see, next to the tamales, rujak manis, or fruit salad in cane syrup (not sure what kind of fruit, maybe mango and melon?). The dish my mom is holding is asinan, I think, which would be vegetables in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce (seemed like mostly lettuce, so kind of like a slaw). On the other side of her plate there is sambal goreng tempe, or fried soy beans, and you can't see them but there were also two other dishes of little fried garnishes: sambal goreng kentang, potato sticks, and serundeng, minced coconut with peanuts that you sprinkled on other dishes to add some crunch. On the burner you have the final dishes: sayur ladeh, vegetables in coconut broth (my dad didn't like this one much), and next to that two egg dishes. At the top is halved hard-boiled eggs in a thick almost grainy sauce (sambal goreng telor), on the bottom you have a dish of tofu and scrambled egg in sweet soy sauce (tahu telor). Last but not least, there's sate tahu, fried skewered tofu with a sweet peanut sauce.*

*Sate, like lumpia, has become an integrated part of Dutch food culture as a popular street snack, and is also sold in restaurants. Saturday night we ate at a little place in Maastricht that specialized in them. They can be made of various types of meat (or tofu) and either grilled or fried, but they are almost always served with "satesaus," or sweet peanut-based sauce.

So that's it: our Indonesian feast. All the dishes were tiny, but there were so many other them we were stuffed to the gills and couldn't even think about dessert. Worn out after all that walking and delicious food, we caught the second half of the Champions' League game at a nearby pub and then stumbled back to our hotel and bed. Stay tuned for Day Two of our Amsterdam adventure!

Note: Indrapura has a website (www.indrapura.nl) with an English-language option, but the menus on the site (or at least the vegetarian rijstaffel menu) do not seem to correspond with what is actually served in the restaurant (you get a lot more than the site says you do). Actually, as noted above, the written menu we were handed did not entirely correspond to our meal. The above description was compiled partly from the online menu, partly from a (very difficult to read and so not posted) picture of the menu I took in the restaurant's window, and partly from online research (thank you yet again Wikipedia, you almost never fail me!).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Homemade Dutch Pancakes

Or not.

On another note: my parents arrive in Maastricht today! They'll be here for a week, during which time we will spend a couple of days in Amsterdam and one in Bruges, and I will attempt to run my first marathon (God help me...). Lots of posts and pictures (hopefully with some exciting meals and discoveries) will be forthcoming!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A French Fry Rant

Yesterday’s post was all about the Queen’s Day festivities here in Maastricht, which included, besides the flea market and various street performances, a free concert at the Stadtpark. While the grassy spaces in front of the stages were left open for people to hang out and picnic, all around the perimeter of the fenced in concert area where trucks set up to sell street food, with folding tables and picnic benches nearby for people to park themselves at and eat either sitting down or standing up.

As restaurants in Maastricht are so expensive, fast food and takeaway joints provide a good (but not necessarily healthy) option if you want a quick, cheap bite to eat. And as at the concert, a lot of places, even the carts and trucks that set up pretty much every day in the Markt, will provide outdoor seating or at least tables where customers can relax for a bit to eat their greasy snack.

Dutch and Belgian street food (and many other food items, for that matter) tend to be very similar, which makes sense considering how close the two countries are (I can run to the Belgian border in about 15 minutes, to give you an idea). The fast food of both nations (and we’re talking local fast food here, not the ever-present McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC, which I assume most readers are already familiar with) primarily consists of, besides the famous waffles, things that have been deep-fried. This includes fish (kibbeling if it’s in chunks, lekkerbek for a fried filet like you’d get with British fish and chips) with tartar sauce, a hot dog-type thing called a frikandel, and little breaded meat and/or cheese balls called kroket or bitterballen (also popular bar snacks). Indonesian foods. But probably the most ubiquitous and well-known of the Dutch/Belgian fried foods go by the name of frites (in Flemish or French) or frieten (in Dutch), a.k.a French fries (or chips if you’re British).

Credit for the invention of the classic French fry is often awarded to the Belgians, and throughout Belgium and the Netherlands you can find them on offer at informal eateries usually conveniently located on the main squares, and generally intended more for takeaway than as sit-down places (though as mentioned above most have some sort of indoor and/or outdoor seating area). These are called either friteries in French or frituur in Dutch, and usually offer a range of other fried items (mostly meat) besides French fries. Here's some examples:

A note about this place, called FEBO: this is a fast food chain that can be found all over the Netherlands. While you can order fries, drinks and sometimes soft-serve ice cream at the counter, the restaurant is also what is known here as an automatiek, similar to an automat in the States. Those of you who weren't around in the first half of the 20th century or who don't read obsessively about food (ahem) might not know what an automat is, but apparently they were really popular in the U.S. for a while, especially the Horn & Hardart franchise, the most prominent chain, which closed its last store in 1991. They're basically like a restaurant in a vending machine: you walked up to a wall of windows, put some coins in a slot, and lifted the window of your choosing to reveal your meal, which has been backloaded by workers in a kitchen behind the wall. While the rise of the suburbs and fast food chains in the States led the automats to fall out of popularity, in the Netherlands the concept survives with FEBO, where besides counter service you can choose from an array of burgers, sandwiches, krokets and frikandellen from the vending windows. Just something I thought was cool and might invoke some nostalgia for any people who may have ever experienced the automat in the States.

Can you see the fries piled up behind the guy at the FEBO counter (who was really amused that I was taking pictures, by the way)? Dutch frieten are twice-fried as classic French fries should be, once in big batches to partially cook them, and then again when the customer orders in small batches until they're nice and hot and crispy.

Belgian or Dutch frieten are a bit different from the ones you’d get a McDonald’s or Burger King; they are closer to British “chips” in that they are rather thickly cut, making them excellent vehicles for the various sauces normally available at the friteries. Now, as Todd will tell you (I’ve complained about this numerous times since arriving here), I take issue with the classic Dutch/Belgian way of consuming fries: namely, in a paper cone or square plastic container with a huge, ice cream scoop-sized dollop of mayonnaise plopped directly on top. I’m not really a fan of mayonnaise; I don’t mind it in a sauce, like tartar sauce, or mixed into tuna or egg salad, but the taste and mouthfeel of just plain mayo kind of grosses me out. It feels like eating just pure fat, which it basically is, especially when the vehicle for its consumption is a stick of deep-fried potato. Fat on fat = not good on the tummy (or the arteries, but I’m a runner, so I don’t need to worry about that. Right? Right??).

Plus, and here’s the real turn-off for me, when you dump room-temperature (gag) mayo onto a pile of hot, fresh-from-the-bubbling-oil fries, what do you think happens? I’ll tell you what happens: the mayo absorbs the heat from the fries, while the fries absorb the moisture from the mayo. What you’re left with is warm mayo on top of soggy fries, a.k.a a goopy, fatty, icky mess. Yes, they give you a little fork to eat the fries with (isn’t that adorable? But I always start with the fork and then end up resorting to my fingers, it just feels more right to me, you know?) but it’s still a mess, and not in a good way.

So hold the mayonnaise for me; I’ll take ketchup any day. On second thought, make that curry ketchup, a mildly spiced version of the former that I love so much I would eat it with a spoon. Sure it still makes the fries go soggy pretty quickly, but if I view them as merely a way to shovel as much curry ketchup in my mouth as possible, I don’t mind so much. I might have to bring back a bottle of this stuff too, along with the Indonesian soy sauce I’ve discovered (my luggage should smell great!).

Thus ends my French fry rant. Thank you for listening.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Forget the Royal Wedding, How About a Yard Sale?

While on Friday the rest of the world was tuning in with great excitement to the Royal Wedding, the people of Maastricht were eagerly anticipating another royal holiday. Yesterday was Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) in the Netherlands, the annual celebration of the Queen’s birthday. First observed in August in the late 1800s (under the reign of Wilhelmina), the date changed to April 30 when Juliana took the throne in 1948. When her daughter Beatrix ascended in 1980, the date was retained even though the new Queen’s actual birthday is at the end of January, because honestly, wouldn’t you rather have a holiday in the spring when the weather’s nice?

Actually there is a practical side to celebrating this holiday during a time of year when sunny weather is more likely, and that has to do with what has come to be the traditional way for the Dutch to honor their queen: with a yard sale*. That’s right, on Queen’s Day, people are allowed to sell things on the street without a permit and without having to pay a tax; this has spawned the rise of a nationwide vrijmarkt (free market or flea market) on this day, as hundreds of people gather in public parks and squares to sell second-hand items.

* The British call a yard/garage sale a “car boot sale”; maybe because originally people sold their junk out of the back of their cars?

In Maastricht, there were a few people selling things in the Vrijthoff square, but by far the most popular spot to gather was in the park on the outskirts of the old medieval city walls, conveniently located right around the corner from our apartment. Take a look:

 Basically it’s just a lot of junk (as most yard sales are) but the scale was incredible. I couldn’t imagine actually trying to find something to buy there, it was just too overwhelming, with literally hundreds of vendors spreading out their wares on blankets or card tables and thousands more people cramming the narrow paths, jostling to get a look. It was madness, I tell you, and only minutes from my front door!

Free outdoor concerts are also an increasingly popular part of the festivities, and Friday and Saturday the Stadtpark was converted into an arena with a couple of stages, a big bouncing toy for kids, and some stands selling street food and (of course) beer.

These pics were taken in the middle of the day before things really got going and the crowds started swarming. I went back at around 5 or 6 and it was a madhouse.

This shot makes me laugh: see those posters? They're for some sort of fitness club. See what they're hanging on? A beer stall. Ah, Holland!

There were also marching bands and street musicians regaling people throughout the city:

If you look closely (trying clicking the picture to enlarge), you can see that the bus in the back isn't actually a school bus. It was at one point, but now it's a Maastricht City Tours bus. Why you would want to tour this beautiful medieval city in an ugly, ungainly yellow bus with pretty much zero visibility is beyond me, especially when they also have pretty little trams and and horse and buggy ride options for those who don't want to walk around (and really, why don't you just walk? The historical, medieval portion of the city, where I live, is maybe one square mile all together, if that.).

These guys were my favorite: an all-percussion band conducted by a guy with a whistle, they were really good, an interesting mixture of younger and older people, and they all looked like they were having a lot of fun. Caused quite a bit of a traffic jam though, as everyone had the same idea I did and stopped to listen and take a picture.

The party actually started Friday night, with the concert and live music in a lot of the bars, and continued the next afternoon and evening. The atmosphere was rather St. Patrick’s Day-esque with all the revelry and music, especially because, in the same way everyone dons something green on St. Pat’s Day in the States, here people honor the royal family (the House of Orange-Nassau) by wearing orange (sometimes in the form of crazy wigs or balloons on their heads, the less free-wheeling perhaps with an orange t-shirt).

I of course went in search of some sort of unique Dutch food item associated with this holiday, but there really isn’t anything specific. Again like St. Patrick’s Day, Queen’s Day food usually just means regular food dyed orange or with orange icing (the Albert Heijn grocery store was having a special on Fanta).

 Of course, if you’re like me and you subscribe to the belief that anything dyed a different color from the normal version tastes better, you’ll be just fine with that! Happy Queen’s Day!