Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Liberation of the Netherlands, 1945

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."

More than 60 years on, the citizens of Otterlo still take the time to place flowers and wreathes. For the history, click here.

Footloose Fietser Furry Friends

At first, I didn't realize that this photo actually involves TWO kangaroos! When I took a closer look, I spotted Joey. Looks like it may be about time for him to move out of the pouch?

This link for furry friends photos.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Footloose Fietser Feathered Friends

In going through my photos, realized that I took a LOT of birds... is it possible that I am a latent ornithologist?

Click this link to see some feathered friends.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Things I want to do next with this blog...

I'm back enjoying life in the USA... but still have a lot I want to do with this blog. Some things --
  • Work on the photos... post a reasonable number of the best, maybe by topic... bikes, birds, views...
  • Figure out total distance cycled...
  • Figure out costs...
  • Give credit to the Netherlands' train system, which combined beautifully with cycling...
Did my commute today by car > Caltrain > Tikit.

Nice, but no windmills, herons or dedicated bicycle highways...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Little bikes, big locks

Kids in the Netherlands are on bikes nearly from infancy... certainly from 'toddler-hood'.

From the age of maybe 2 on up, you see kids riding as passengers with their parents... front of bike, back of bike, papoose-style, however you can imagine.

You also see a lot of kids of (I'm guessing) 3-year-old-up age learning to ride bikes on their own... frequently with mom or dad acting as their training wheels... parents with one hand on their own handlebars, one hand on the back or shoulder of a kid just learning to ride.

Along with learning to ride comes learning to take care of your bike... or at least making sure that it is still there next time you want to use it!

Most adult cyclists, at least in the cities, use massive chains and locks -- in some cases, so massive that they must weigh nearly as much as the bike frame itself. It is almost comical.

Kids take the same approach with their wheels: a big lock is the best insurance.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Frites Framework

I haven't written much about Frites recently, which may give the impression that I've been neglecting my research.

That is not the case. I've been quietly building a base of information, positioning myself to fully appreciate the complexities of the Frites situation and developing a framework of knowledge to position any particular Frites experience within the larger gusto-cultural context.

That sounds very high-flown, but the reality is simple. I discovered that Frites -- and Frituurs -- are a real cultural institution in the low countries. And I realised that, absent more experience, my critique of any specific Frites experience must be shallow at best. So I shut up, and did some basic field research.

One of my goals on this trip was to cycle to Lucienne en Eric, a highly-recommended Frituur in Belgium near Maastricht. I decided that I wanted to be more conversant with the cultural context of Frituurs before I visited L&E's. (See the post below, for details of my Lucienne en Erik visit.)

Friends, there is more to the Frites culture than just "gimme some fries". I'll give a brief description of my framework findings here.

First, naturally, the quality of the Frites themselves is paramount -- but good Frites are almost a given in this region. Look for texture, color, evidence of skins, served piping hot, with some 'crispys'. Sadly, not every Frituur hits the mark on all of these. You sometimes find Frites that fail on one or more points and are a bit of a disappointment. Most common problem is in the texture area, particularly with the fries near the bottom of the portion. In general though, you can divide Netherlands' Frites into "Wow, these are good!" and "Hey, not bad at all."

Second is the establishment itself. Frituurs (roughly, "Fry Houses") are divided into two main familes. I'll call them "Let's Eat! Frituurs" and "Neighborhood Institution Frituurs". The first has primarily a one-time, impulse-based clientele (people who are in the city for the day, citizens out for a day's shopping, or tourists visiting the local attractions). The second has primarily a repeat clientele (regulars who stop in frequently, primarily to get take-away Frites as a component of a family or workplace meal). Naturally, the expectations are different for each. For "Let's eat! Frituurs", the key is timeliness: does the Frituur appear at the perfect time, at almost at the exact moment you realize you are getting hungry? Too soon, and you pass it by. Too late, and you've already eaten. If perfectly timed, much can be forgiven on the quality front -- hunger truly is the best sauce. (Though Mayo, Sambal and Satay sauces are also excellent.) For "Neighborhood Institution Frituurs", the key is something else. I'm not certain precisely what, though I feel I'm close to the answer. (More research is required...)

Finally, there is an intangible component, that entails both professionalism and theatre. (I know this is a stretch, but trust me here!)

At this point, and based on my limited sample, I can nominate several Frituurs as truly exceptional:

First place in the "Let's eat!" category: for timeliness, consistent quality (sampled 3 times), and excellent sauces you cannot beat the little Frituur near the church in Haarlem (on Speckstraat?). Plus, they use paper cones rather than plastic trays... a small but telling point in the Frites experience.

First place in the "Neighborhood Institution" category: Martha's Frituur Cafeteria in Maastricht. Frites were excellent, but there are two things in particular that stood out here. First: while restaurants and take-outs on both sides stood empty, Martha's did a steady business (the neighborhood vote was clear). Second: pure genius in presentation. Picture this: Take a regular, medium-size frites container. Fill it up to the max, until Frites slide down and off. Then continue to ladle scoop after scoop of Frites on top, creating a virtual Niagra of Frites cascading over the sides of the tray. Pure genius! Friends, I can tell you, I felt well-fed before I ever got my hands on my Frites! And the server did this with a supremely casual straight face, although it was obvious they knew it was a 'theatre of the absurd' moment.

Finally, I offer the experience below. I won't presume to "grade" this, as the experience itself was part of my loosely-structured goals... but here it is.

Lucienne en Erik

Rogier recommended a particular Frituur -- Lucienne en Erik -- a favorite of his when he lived in Maastricht.

Even the most unstructured trip needs one or two goals! I thought that it would be fun to follow Rogier's recommendation, visit Lucienne en Erik, and check out their Frites. And eventually, I did exactly that.

Last Friday morning I left my big soaking tub in Maastricht -- clean, relaxed, and with a very open-ended agenda for the day: nothing planned! Decided that it would be a good day for a ride into Belgium, and a visit to Lucienne en Erik.

The bike ride was great! Easy cycling out of Maastricht and into the country. Crossing into Belgium was transparent -- no border formalities, no checkpoint, the color of the bike path changed and not much more. This is how all border crossings would be in a perfect world.

Eventually reached the destination town, and spotted Lucienne en Erik. But they were closed! I was desolate. I'd come thousands of miles for some of their fries... and the shutters were down. Then I realized that it was still before noon, and fries are not a breakfast food in any normal sense... so maybe I was just too early? So I hung out on a bench in nice little "pocket square" until noon, then had a very strange experience: bells rang for Noon, but rather than ringing 12 times..., they rung 100+ times! I started counting well into their extended performance, after I realised "this is odd"... then counted at least another 60 peals. What was that about? Maybe a church bell warning to the townspeople: "Frites forager on folding bike in town square, lock up your spuds!"?

Eventually the noon bell extravaganza stopped. I went back to L&E's, and they were open! By 12:15, locals were lined up at the counter, so this was very clearly a Neighborhood Institution, not a Let's eat! Frituur.

Brief conversation with the two people behind the counter: "A friend of mine in California comes from around here, and he tells me you have excellent frites! He suggested I try a medium portion, extra crispy, with Mayo. Possible?"

Here is a rundown on the experience:

Frites: Excellent! Crispy overall, some skins, with a 'bonus' surprising find: lots of good extra-crispys at the bottom of the portion.
Sauce: Mayo was fresh, light, slightly tangy. For all I know it came out of 50 gallon drum, but it was good!
Attitude: Very professional, down to earth, with pride in their operation.

Their question to me as I left: "So did your friend tell the truth?"

My answer: "Yes! Dank u wel!"

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Most surreal moment

As I get closer to packing up and heading home (tomorrow!) I find myself thinking about special moments of the last few weeks.

This was hands-down the most surreal moment: an Ostrich inspecting a Tikit.

Came across a flock of Ostriches one morning, on a farm near Afferden.

They are as inquisitive as they are large! This hen showed a real fascination with my bicycle. Is she showing normal Dutch interest in bikes? Or does she take it for some strange new Ostrich -- the visual impression of seatpost and seat do kind of echo Ostrich neck and head.

After checking out the bike, she took a specific interest in the pannier she could reach. Pannier now has Ostrich beak marks.

What are the odds???

Stayed Sunday night in Amsterdam with a neighbor of Enno's. Incredible deal: Euro 30, in the heart of the city, with the money going to support a plumbing project in Africa.

The carrying strap on my bike broke as we were schlepping it upstairs. The strap itself didn't break -- it is indestructible nylon web -- but the little grommet & bolt holding it onto the frame 'pulled through' the strap. I had seen it coming for a while, it had been getting looser and looser, and it finally just went. A very minor problem, more of an aggravation really.

I looked closely at it, and thought "all I need is a small stainless steel washer to fix this -- but I don't have one, so it will have to wait until I get home."

That evening, while walking home from dinner, I looked down at the sidewalk, and there it was: a washer of exactly the the right size -- and not made of brass, galvanized steel or plastic but actual stainless steel.

In 5 weeks of cycling, I have not seen any other stainless steel washers laying at my feet. What are the odds of finding precisely the random bit that was needed, exactly when it was needed?

(Also fixed my rear tire, using spare from stash at C/G/J's. Easy swap, took 10 minutes, no problem. Old tire was frapped... inside the carcasse you could see the damage, rubber was in bad shape at the 'goiter' spot, I'm lucky I was able to limp the last few miles on it without a blowout!)

So all is good on the mechanical front.

Going for ride to Haarlem this afternoon.