About Amanda Meyer
Amanda Meyer is the girl who loves to travel, but hates to fly. Shes does it anyway, because she can’t imagine staying in one place since this world has so much more to offer.
Amanda has lived in the Netherlands for most of her life and is currently studying Tourism & Recreation Management. She has traveled throughout Europe, but her summer travels always lead her back to the sandy shores of South-West Florida, Amanda's home away from home.
Latest Posts by Amanda Meyer
You might think the major benefit of growing up juggling two cultures has to do with clichéd ideas of broadening horizons, gaining major perspective, and mastering a second language.
I’ll admit while all of that is nice, the best part is the guilt-free doubling up on festivities. It’s kind of like how children of divorce get double birthday and Christmas presents to make up for some of the hassle of having to deal with two sets of everything else.
The sheer amount of holiday events I celebrate is enough to make your head spin and almost requires some kind of flowchart.
Halloween kicks off our holiday season. It’s something Dutch people don’t celebrate, but growing up, my family made a point of carving pumpkins and instead of trick-or-treating we’d gather at my Oma’s (that’s grandmother) house for chili and a VHS-tape viewing of the classic Charlie Brown Halloween special. Commercial-less and costume-less but to us (and especially my younger cousins who don’t remember the joy of trick-or-treating) it’s Halloween.
St. Maarten, November 11th, is the Dutch version of Halloween. Kids make lanterns instead of costumes and have to sing St. Maarten carols in exchange for candy, candy, candy.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I’m thankful that my family has always made an effort to celebrate it. You can’t purchase a whole turkey in Holland, so my Oma special-orders our bird from France. Other fixin’s like sweet potato pie, green bean casserole, creamed corn, pumpkin pie, stuffing, and cranberry jelly are things that aren’t typically found on a Dutch dinner table, so most of our Thanksgiving dishes are made from scratch. Not even a pre-made pie crust to help out a stressed holiday chef! There’s also no football, no parade, no four-day weekend, or door-busting Black Friday deals.
Just seven days later, it’s time for Sinterklaas. He’s the Dutch Santa (although any Dutch person will tell you that Sinterklaas is the real version of Saint Nick). Instead of a sleigh and elves, he has a white horse and Zwarte Pieten (“Black Pete”, but I swear it’s not racist) and instead of the North Pole, he hails from Spain and arrives by boat about three weeks before Sinterklaas night on December 5th.
During these three weeks of anticipation, little kids are allowed to put their shoes by the door and sing a song. If they’ve been good, Sinterklaas or Piet might stop by and put a sweet treat in the shoe. The big presents are brought by Sinterklaas himself on Sinterklaas night.
Families without small children will often exchange gifts. The most traditional way is a Secret Santa kind of deal for which the present is wrapped in a crafty way, and, as if that’s not intimidating enough, you’ve got to write a poem.
Be aware that there’s also an element of mocking. For a person who is always late, you might decide to give him an alarm clock. You’d then spend a Sunday afternoon getting your Martha Stewart on to make a big clock out of cardboard, slip the gift inside and then spend another couple of hours writing a poem about this person and his complete disregard for timekeeping.
The weekend following Sinterklaas, we put up the Christmas tree (mentioning Christmas before Sinterklaas is a no-no).
Christmas, to me, is a mix of American and Dutch traditions. We’ll unwrap one present on Christmas Eve and unwrap the rest on Christmas morning and watch Charlie Brown (we own all of the holiday specials on DVD) but for dinner, we’ll “gourmet”, which is kind of similar to fondue, though instead of long forks, there are small pans and you cook bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables on an electric cook top.
Dutch people also celebrate a second Christmas Day. I’m not quite sure what the reason is, but most people spend the day at IKEA, or visiting family. New Years Eve is a time for parties and copious amounts of champagne, similar to the way it’s celebrated in the US; however, instead of watching the ball drop, Dutch people are allowed to set off fireworks.
The amount of noise at midnight is deafening (and, honestly, pretty scary!) and the little red fire work wrappers line the streets until midway February. A bonus decoration for Valentine’s Day.
Public transportation has a bad rep in Holland. There’s an intricate system of busses, trams, metros, trains, and ferries which, in theory, can take you anywhere in Holland. We’ve got these new public transport “credit cards” so you don’t have to buy different tickets for each method of travel.
It’s a pretty cool system, but unfortunately it’s not a faultless one (and considering I live in the country of complainers you definitely know when people aren’t happy with the system!)
I take a bus-train-tram combination to work every day. While running for the bus, getting caught between train doors, and getting my heels stuck in cobblestone streets gets my heart racing, public transportation isn’t exactly exciting to me anymore. A train is a train and the only time it’s a good train is when there’s a seat available. Preferably one not next to a sweaty man or screaming baby.
Until Friday: The Venice Simplon Orient-Express was right there, waiting to depart from my usual platform – the PA lady made an announcement that my regular train was departing from a different platform and I swear I heard her sneer. Sorry Amanda, no fancy train for you today! Ha!
She couldn’t have known that I absolutely adore anything old-timey and fancy. I love the air of luxury and exclusivity that surrounds it. How exciting to be a 1920’s lady, with poise and grace rarely found in our society today, about to set off on a grand European adventure.
Through the window of my modern train, I caught a peek at the beauty of this elegant old train.
Gold lettering and finishing contrasting on navy blue cars, a pristine white roof. Inside, beautiful plush carriages (with wash basins; they didn’t have showers on trains in the 1920s!), fine china and crystal and starched linen table cloths in the dining room. Staff all dressed in beautiful suits. An excited buzz.
Oh, to be part of that world! To step back in time, all grand and luxurious, gently swaying back and forth as the tain rolls through Europe, dining on exquisite food, catered to hand and foot, taking in all the beautiful scenery. Sigh.
Amsterdam is not a usual destination for The Venice Simplon Orient-Express, so I was surprised to see it and how much media coverage there was. Later I found out it was the first trip ever to depart from Amsterdam Central Station!
Should you be inspired to book know that most journeys are overnight trips, including lunches, dinners, aperitifs and tea. Plus dress codes for each occasion. And tickets are a lot more expensive than your regular train fare!
This is clearly a case in which the journey is the destination, but what a journey!
Perhaps one day Amsterdam will be a regular stop for the Orient-Express? And hopefully I’ll have enough money in my piggy bank to go!
I can’t find the exact article, but I recently read in the paper that Dutch people were the happiest people in Europe because they complain a lot.
Apparently, when life is good, there’s a lot more time to focus on little things to complain about. Besides, by immediately dealing with these bursts of negativity, there’s more time to focus on positive things.
I’ll buy that. I know I feel better after I’ve had a bowl of coffee and exposed my complaining-self to my friends. I also know from experience that Dutch people are true complainers. And make no mistake about it, they are proud of it; embrace it.
I complain, therefore I am.
While the Dutch may be masters of the complain-game, they are not the only players. In my job, I’m confronted with complainers from Shanghai to San Francisco on a daily basis. Obviously, these issues must be pretty important for them to take precious time out of their day to relay these seemingly minor irritations to me.
I felt better than these complainers – the kind of people who’ve listed having just two choices of wine as a major complaint. Tapping away at my computer, I’d feel all superior, silently telling this fools to get some perspective.
(I really don’t like that word – it sounds so pretentious. “Ha, you may have your precious chardonnay, but at least I have perspective!”)
And then, I realized that I’m exactly the same! A typical day is full of “ughs”. Ugh, the bus is late. Ugh, my nail polish is chipped. Ugh, the line at Starbucks is too long for me to get a morning coffee and now I’m going to have to drink tea at work because I don’t like machine coffee!
Honestly, if that’s the worst that can happen to me, then what is my problem? Our comfortable lifestyles have spoiled us. We’ve come to expect that if we want something we should have it. Just because. And if not, we’ll complain about it, because we can. To make ourselves feel better.
But when does complaining stop facilitating a positive, happy attitude and start to breed more negativity?
I think we’re dangerously close to crossing that line. It’s so easy to slip into the negative, especially when so many bad things are happening. I think we’ve got to take a more proactive approach and consciously focus on the good. So now, when my bus is late, instead of grumbling, I watch the sunrise and admire how pretty the world looks in the morning calm.
You’ll never get me to drink machine coffee, though.
Best Friend and I both recently received our first paychecks from our first real jobs. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I feel that anything that holds any kind of significance ought to be celebrated, preferably with food and a good glass of wine.
Cue the first edition of Haarlem Proeft (Haarlem Tastes). Ten restaurants in Haarlem’s historic city center joined forces to create a culinary walk allowing people to “discover new restaurants or re-discover old favorites”.
Each restaurant offered guests a signature dish paired with a glass of wine. Though intrigued by the concept and the idea of discovering new eateries, I was a little apprehensive – first time events can be duds! – but I needn’t have worried.
The turnout exceeded the organization’s expectations – more than 600 people attended – but because everyone had a personalized restaurant route it was never too crowded. Despite having to visit ten restaurants in five hours, we never felt rushed, even after we managed to get lost and rack up a twenty mintue delay!
Normally, I keep a notebook on blog-worthy events, but this time, I took pictures!
Ahi Tuna Steak with Wasbi Mousse and Candied Seaweed. Not too big on the mousse (not enough wasabi flavor) but very charming little restaurant and super friendly staff!
I had high hopes for this place as they don’t have a set menu, but cook what the guest desires (“wensen” means wishes in Dutch) but, for me, it was just okay. The deep-fried shrimp was excellent, but the Thai fish bouillonwas too salty.
Steak with Mushrooms and Cabbage. Super yum and one of the few restaurants that served red wine.
I had soft-shell crab this summer in Florida and it rocked my culinary world, so I was stoked when it popped up on a stick in Haarlem. The soy-foam bubbles looked cool (but didn’t last long) and tasted like salt, which gave the couscous a little kick.
After Truffels, we set off in search of Zuidam and got lost. If someone had told us it was next to the windmill, we would’ve known where to go, but no one did (until we gave up on the map and asked for directions).
Our little detour did allow for some scenic shots, though!
This Thai-style soup was out of this world. Made with chicken stock, chilies, spring onions, and coconut milk, it was creamy and just the right kind of spicy and almost made me ask for another bowl.
Here, we also discovered that the restaurant offered to take guests to the next restaurant by boat, which obviously beat walking and gave me a chance to take more pretty pictures!
Cold Couscous Salad and Lamb. Perfection.
Salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon is a little cliché, but Nobel is that kind of place in the best way possible. What they do, they do well and it’s classic, but approachable.
8. Spaarne 66
Not the best picture, which is a shame because it’s easily one of the best dishes. Mostly because it contains all of my personal favorites: beets, duck, and pumpkin. It’s Fall in a shot glass!
9. Vis & Ko
Paella and perch and I was excited to see it. I rarely eat paella (it’s one of those things I’d never cook at home) and I’d never eaten perch before, but after this deliciousness I’m going to start. Yum!
Tired and feeling a little full, we finally made it to our final destination at ten to six. We were welcomed like we were the first guests, handed our last glass of wine and served lamb with funny little croutons and cranberry jelly. It wasn’t the most spectacular dish on the list but with the venue’s plush seating and lounge-like atmosphere it was the perfect place to end our food walk of fun.
I’m positive they’ll put on the event next year, and I’m positive I’ll be attending. The only thing I’d recommend is to serve larger portions of food to offset the copious amount of wine.
And maybe dessert.
January 2010: Travel Trade Show Utrecht, with a group of close friends. We thought we’d check out the Travel Trade Show but dejected from our experience, we found solace in our Starbucks cappuccinos at Utrecht Central Station (the first Starbucks location in Holland!) and decided that we needed to salvage the day with a dinner out.
Utrecht is a bizarre place. The central station, which feels more like an airport than a train station, turns into a shopping mall, which you have to cross to get to the actual city center, which is a maze of cobblestone streets. Most city centers have a ‘restaurant street’ and we were confident that if we just turned left here, and right there, and maybe just one more left, we’d find it. We ended up on a street with exactly one restaurant – Le Bibelot – and a canal.
Suddenly, we were in the mood for French food and entered, only to be turned away. No reservation, and the place was packed, so no table for us.
The kind hostess did, at least, offer us directions to the “real” restaurant street and we feasted on tapas and sangria in a cool canal-front restaurant. That night, we decided we’d wanted to go back to Utrecht to go back to the French restaurant, which we finally did last Friday.
A friend was in Utrecht and fate allowed our schedules to align and off to Le Bibelot we went. My sense of direction didn’t carry us past the H&M store, but luckily, my friends are internet-smart-phone wielding business chicks and we trusted that the walking navigation app on at least one of the phones would lead us to the restaurant.
We were wrong.
Fifty minutes later, and dark rain clouds starting to build, we were lost, lost, lost. Cranky, too, because cobble stones and high-heels don’t mix. And not to mention starving. We’d called the restaurant that we’d be later, but unsure whether they’d hold the table for that long, so we finally caved and asked a nice, native Utrecht-man directions. Five minutes later, we were seated each with a nice glass of wine and freshly baked French bread.
Now that I’ve been, I know why Le Bibelot is so popular. It’s perfectly affordable, super delicious French food. And teeny-tiny (maybe 12 tables?) so reservations are a must.
The menu is quite extensive and covers all of the French classics; thick and creamy and hearty. I kind of wanted the orange-glazed goose or pigeon with pears and plums, but since it’s not really in season, I stuck to the most classic French dish I could think of: Coq au Vin.
Cliché, I know, but it’s the kind of food I love. Served piping hot and filled with delicious tender chicken, onions, and mushrooms, it’s got all the slow-cooked goodness and comfort and deliciousness delivered in a giant white bowl.
After dessert (for me: cream puffs with ice cream and chocolate sauce), we started on our trek back to the station. No navigation, no asking directions. Just a left turn there, and a right turn here.
You guys! I didn’t win a chocolate fridge. Sad, I know. I would absolutely love to have a chocolate fridge, though it may be a little impractical. I mean, how do you keep from eating it? Or melting?! Or eating it?
What’s that? Oh, it’s a special fridge to keep chocolate and cakes and the like?
Huh. Well, in that case maybe it’s for the best I didn’t win. Full disclosure: I didn’t even know I could win. It wasn’t until my best friend forwarded me a message from the kind people who organized Restaurant Week to find out how the dining experience had been, did I learn that I could win.
Restaurant Week which captured Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands between August 23rd and August 29th was absolutely fabulous, especially considering attending the event was decidedly unplanned.
See, I had just returned from my Super Summer Vacation to the world where a cell-connection does exist and friends are lined up and waiting to hang out (I’m lucky, I know). And as you know by now, everything in my life is a celebration and celebrations aren’t complete without food and so when it came time to meet up with my best friend we decided to go to dinner at “that place we always talk about going to but never really go to”.
Being the total control freak that I am, I offered to make the reservation and when I logged on, a colorful, blinking banner caught my eye: “We’re a proud Restaurant Week Partner”.
“What’s this? What’s this?” I wondered and a few clicks on, I learned that 1250 restaurants offer a 3 course fixed lunch for 20 euros or a 3 course fixed dinner for 25 during Restaurant Week. A quick text to the best friend we decided that we’d give Restaurant Week a go.
Why? Well, Restaurant Week menus are chef’s choice, meaning diners are completely surprised. For me and the best friend, it’d be an opportunity to cross something off our “life lists”. I’ve always wanted to go out to dinner and be completely surprised (maybe it’s the cure to my food envy?) but I always chicken out last minute. So, Restaurant Week seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out.
What’s more, it’s just too good of a deal to pass up. An inexpensive-but-ritzy dining experience? Sign me up! Since we were late to the game, a lot of the super swanky places were booked but we settled on “De Eetkamer van Haarlem”, a cozy French restaurant which would’ve otherwise been out of my then-student budget.
The vibe was perfect for a long night of catching up. Plush chairs, tables with crisp white table cloths, big gold framed pictures of flowery fields and soft jazzy music filling the candlelit room. Perhaps the food we were served (savory smoked salmon, deliciously tender steak and chocolate and coconut mousse) wasn’t typically French or in line with the rest of the menu (foie gras and duck breast) in terms of “fanciness” but it was good and the service was excellent. We weren’t rushed through our meal and I’m pretty sure we got extra chocolate mints when our waiter brought us our bill.
All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by Restaurant Week. Maybe even a little inspired to be a little more adventurous in my day-to-day life. Maybe not – but at least inspired enough to look up and bookmark next year’s Restaurant Week.
It’s 14 through 20 March, just in case you’re wondering. It’s another chance to check out a fabulous dining establishment. And obviously another chance to be in the running for a chocolate fridge.
By the lack of posts you could assume that I had a boring, uninteresting summer, or you could think that I was so busy I didn’t have time to post. In truth, it was probably somewhere in between.
Summer to me means Florida. And while most people define summer as the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, my summer is the six-week period I spend at my Dad’s house.
It’s the time where I get to chill-out completely. No cell reception, no responsibilities. I’m in vacation mode, pretending I’m Paris Hilton with endless shopping trips (Gap, not Gucci), delicious dinners (Olive Garden, not The Ivy) and pool-side tanning. Except while Paris Hilton’s mind is probably occupied with what name to give her next Chihuahua – I doubt she loses a wink of sleep over that drug bust business – my mind was buzzing with heavier things.
How is it that after spending the largest part of my life “away”, Florida still feels like home? And yet, while I place my order at Chick-fil-a , the lanky, pimply kid at the counter instinctively knows I’m “not from around here”.
“I go to school in Europe,” I offered, because it’s the closest thing to the truth, without having to explain the not-so-tragic details of my bi-cultural living. Except, of course, this summer it was a lie – I graduated. No more school (cue scary music).
But even when I was in school, I couldn’t be placed. I wasn’t an exchange student (I live in Holland!), I wasn’t an international student (I went to Dutch high school!). And I’m not Dutch!
I’ve always comfortably drifted between all three groups. Flexible and accommodating, I can take on any of those roles. A bit hypocritically, I might add. I’ve become somewhat of a master in mocking Dutchness. The stereotypical cheapness, the complaining, the music , the TV shows…all while chomping down on a handful of licorice (a true sign of being Dutch, by the way).
I feel entitled to it. I live here, after all. And it’s good-natured mocking, because, ach, it’s Dutch. They can’t help it and I love them for it.
It’s a twisted kind of loyalty that works that other way around, too. It’s easy for people to go off on an uneducated, misinformed ramble about how evil the US is, but do so while eating a Big Mac and wearing Nike sneakers…My view is visit first, complain later – if you must – and put down the Big Mac in the meantime!
It’s complicated and interesting and it’s something that’ll always be fascinating to me. People are people and everyone shares different views on different things, but culture unites. When you find yourself in the middle of two cultures, you’re united and alienated at the same time.
On a day-to-day basis, you’re part of “their” world, but in the bigger picture there is always an underlying sense of “not belonging”. For birthdays, I’m asked to bring brownies, instead of “gebak”. I’m not offended (because I happen to make kick-ass brownies) and it doesn’t bother me, but it’s a reminder. A little ping of different.
Where ever I’ll go, those pings will follow. They belong to me. Just as much as my obsession with Gone with the Wind (oh, Rhett), celeb gossip, and mastering the technique needed for the perfect smoky eye.
Some days, it’s annoying and frustrating, but most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I’m used to the pings and it’d be weird if they’d fell away. Suffocating, perhaps, to know “just” one culture. But then again, I like options.
Maybe it’s not the code-cracking, know-it-all answer my pool-pondering days should’ve rendered, but it’s what I’ve got. And now that summer is over and I’ve got a real job, I can go back to focusing on more important things, like what I’ll wear to the office tomorrow.
In this world, there are two types of people: pool people and beach people.
When someone asks what I am, I typically reply that in Holland I’m more of a pool girl and that I’m a beach girl in Florida.
My friends will roll their eyes and try to make arguments as to why the Dutch beach is superior to “my” Florida beach, but I won’t budge.
“It’s such a long walk to the water,” I’ll say. “And besides, once you get there, it’s too cold to swim,” I’ll add with a dismissive wave.
They’ll sigh and the topic will change; we know when it’s wiser to agree to disagree.
However, I’ll admit that Dutch beaches are great for they are lined with casual beach restaurants with plenty of outside seating, providing the perfect setting for afternoons full of coffee and people watching.
So, as I spend my vacation days lazily watching the world go by as I float from one side of the pool to the other, I come to the realization that while I once may have been a beach girl, I am now a pool girl.
The beach is a hassle.
There’s the lunch to pack, the cooler to drag from the attic, and the quick stop at the gas station to fill the thing with ice to keep the beverages and sandwiches cool.
And then, the oversized beach umbrella, a beach tote full of towels, suntan lotion (that never sprays like the bottle promises!), another tote full of noodles, and a book.
Because I always need something to read.
And then, the decision making. Which beach? Because Siesta Key is nice – second best in the US in fact – but more than an hour’s drive away. So, after a lively debate and consulting the weather channel multiple times, we always end up going to the local beach, just twenty minutes away.
Once parked and unloaded, the fifty steps from the parking lot to the beach almost seem too far, until the beach peaks through the heavy (and gorgeous smelling) foliage.
And suddenly, it’s worth it.
Nothing really smells as good as the salty beach air. And nothing really feels as good as the hot tropical sun warming my skin.
And the vibrant colors are so pretty.
And the quiet beach, almost private island like, just adds to the euphoric feeling.
And the water is like bathwater, just softer.
At home, with sticky-salty and unruly beach hair and sun-kissed cheeks, I realize that, despite everything, I really, truly am I beach girl.