Wintertime in Northern Europe means bundling up in scarves, putting the woolly socks on, and lighting some candles to cheer up the long dark days. This is all too true in the Netherlands, when winds can be fierce and rain is a given. Last week I passed through Holland for business and was delighted by the Christmas cheer hanging around everywhere. Catching up with friends and colleagues over dinner was a great way to try some new places and stroll around in Delft and Amsterdam.
Delft is always adorable, even more so at Christmas when twinkling lights line all the canals and a mammoth Christmas tree stands in the Market Place in the town center.
We tried a couple restaurants, the first being Van der Dussen, a bit more on the high end, with a set price of 46 euro for a four-course meal. The quality is outstanding and all the dishes were delicious, particularly the swordfish appetizer, with balsamic glaze, olives, and tomatoes. . .
And the cod main, with crispy skin and a complementary cream sauce.
On another evening, we went Thai, to Malee. Here, it’s also a set menu, three courses, at a very reasonable price of 17.50 euro. The starter was a spicy coconut milk and seafood soup, followed by a taster of four dishes – beef curry, crispy cashew chicken, veggies, and fish fritter, all served with sticky rice. The dessert was simple fresh mango, perfect after all the spice.
We strolled after dinner through Delft, marveling at the lights and Christmas atmosphere.
Amsterdam, as always, was packed to the gills with tourists – this city is in a constant state of noise and crowds. Right now, the Watercolors Light Festival is on, however by the time I arrived at 6 on a Friday night the line was horrendous and I decided not to wait. Next time! Instead, I walked around the hopping red light district and did some shopping.
Try Dwaze Zaken, a small eclectic restaurant just 5 minutes walk from the Central station. They focus on local and organic ingredients, and as such I tried a local beer and wild rabbit stew – fantastic. They also have a very cool bathroom ceiling (see below).
If you can manage to get up a bit early, while all the tourists are still safely sleeping after their coffee shop and red light visits from the night before, Amsterdam is amazing in the morning. Crisp air, glass-like canals, and sun rays lighting up the beautiful canal houses.
I just barely missed another Dutch Christmas tradition, the celebration of Sinterklaasavond, St. Nicholas’ eve, on December 5th. The famous Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is part of this celebration – in folklore of the Netherlands, Zwarte Piet is St. Nick’s companion. In early references, both Santa and Piet were actually presented as fairly iron-handed guys, being quite severe to badly behaved children. This doesn’t quite fit with the depiction of the Santa we know and love today, and in recent years the Zwarte Piet character has understandably become rather controversial. More info here and here.
One last stop before my train – the French bakery Gebroeders Niemeijer , just two minutes from the central station and serving up one of the best coffees and croissants of my life. Yum yum.
Merry Christmas from the Netherlands!