Best apple pie in Amsterdam (day trip)

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, where you can easily while away the time absorbing the vibe, looking at centuries-old buildings, and watching people. Yvonne and I met at central station and our goal was a leisurely stroll through the Jordaan and then to partake in a high tea; the English tradition being surprisingly popular with Dutch ladies.

We made our way to the Jordaan, where the Farmer’s organic market is held each Saturday. Magic seeing lots of lovely fresh produce, as well as other goodies. All the browsing left us a little thirsty, so Yvonne recommended coffee and the ‘best apple pie in Holland’ at Cafe Winkel 43. She wasn’t wrong as we patiently waited our turn to grab a piece of steaming pie fresh out the oven. YUMMY!

We meandered¬†our way to PC Hoofdstraat; the¬†high street to be seen shopping in. At those prices, I was more than happy only sticking my nose in to take a pic. We visited all kinds of interesting stores and stopped to listen to the ‘draaiorgel’ a traditional mobile organ.

Still satiated from the unexpected apple treat, and expecting scones and cucumber sandwiches, I was a little disappointed with the high tea. The pastries were a tad greasy, the sandwiches a little weird and I could only swallow one spoon of the overly sweet cake. Note to self: go to London and see how it’s done there!¬†Fortunately it didn’t dampen our day out. The sun was shining, we’d enjoyed fab markets, caught up on some natter.

Amsterdam is very entertaining with people from all over the world, doing their own thing. I love the canals, trees, pot plants, buildings and especially the house boats! A wonderful day out …

Day trip from Punta Cana to Samana, Dominican Republic

Good morning! Yes… once again we’re up before dawn during our holiday… “What is supposed to be a relaxing time to rest and recharge from a long year of hard ‘graft’, feels rather less-so at five a.m!” I think to myself, standing in the open-air foyer of the hotel … but it’s about 23 degrees – nice and cool – and the stars in the sky mean it’s going to be a sunny day. The busses arrive and we manage to get the front seat of a twenty-seater and settle in for the three-and-a-half hour journey to Saman√° – where the humpback whales are. Maybe we’ll get lucky and manage to find them.

A rather large gamble to be driving half a day on a ‘maybe’… But what a great country! Rather larger than you would expect. Thick bush and forests. Palm trees, sugar cane, dirt roads… We pass little shacks built from board and tin. Old buildings probably built by the Spanish and never been renovated. Litter all over the place. Potholes everywhere. Meat hanging by the roadside. Small farmshacks cobbled together from driftwood and selling fruit. People walking along the road in the middle of nowhere. Houses that are but empty shells. A general appearance of unkempt-ness (is that a real word?)…

It reminded me of Mocambique when we used to go diving in Ponta d’Ouro. The Portuguese colonials had invested a huge amount of time, energy and money to build roads and some rather large houses. When they left, and as a result of the civil war, it was just left to crumble. Nowadays the shells of the houses are still there – windowless, doorless, shutters hanging and the roof only partially covered. They are inhabited – by the locals – but maintenance seems to be put on hold, permanently.

Everyone is smiling and even waving though, as they lie under a tree or on the beach and let the day develop. Naturally, if I were looking for a reason, it might be a lack of funds to keep the infrastructure going. Although, what was noticable were the bright colours. Yellows, greens, blue-painted walls… There always seems to be time and a couple of dollars for a tin of paint. No matter how dilapidated your house is, at least it looks good in the sunlight!

Colourful is another word I would use to describe the Dominicans… And teeth – a lot of smiling. Maybe all that rum?… One senses that Africans and also the decendants in the Caribbean are unencumbered by the European instinct to keep everything ordered and tidy. This I can only describe as admirable and enviable. Nothing wrong with that! I guess the weather also plays a huge role. Why rush around when it’s another beautiful day! As well as the countryside. To our eyes it looks wild, but our reference point for the last ten years has been Holland. Having to do without the luxury of space and a large population living in close proximity sort of forces you to be stricter about things. It’s clean, neat and tidy everywhere: roads, cycle paths, gardens, verges, parks, even the forest is tidy… In stark contrast with the Dominican – as seen from our little bus.

The pace is rather different to the mad rush in Europe as well. Nobody seems to be in a hurry. From the smoking scooters in town, ancient cars and pick-ups way past their useful life, old American schoolbuses, to the donkey cart ambling along in the countryside. The relaxed atmosphere sort-of creeps up on you. We start to mellow and take it as it comes. The bus dodges a pothole and clambers up another hill. A boy on horseback trots past us as we stop to stretch our legs. And a lot of people just sitting around. But the palm trees, banana trees and √áana trees just kind of ‘make’ the backdrop a picture postcard. Lovely and green – a beautiful setting if your going to hang out under a tree…

Uncovering our Euro-African roots

“No matter where you come from, as long as you’re a black man, you’re an African. No mind your nationality, you have got the identity of an African”. Albeit in reverse Peter Tosh sings about the way I felt a lot of the time while growing up in South Africa with my pale skin – I felt out of place in my country of birth. The old apartheid “European Only” signs indicated that a white skin meant that we were European, but we felt African. So, who and what are we? Are we South Africans? Are we English? Are we Dutch? What about the French influence?

In June 2004, we embarked on a quest to discover the similarities and differences between Holland, England and South Africa. The most obvious similarities are the names of cities and towns that you also find on the South African map and of course the Afrikaans language (one of South Africa’s 11 official languages), which stems from Dutch way back when. Driving through the flat countryside in The Netherlands somehow reminds us of the Karoo. Just a lot greener. With well-fed cows and horizontal horses (not knowing they CAN sleep lying down, I thought they all had colic and were going to die). And of course there are loads of sheep, which remind us of that succulent Karoo lamb. The biggest difference between Holland and South Africa is the water. South Africa is sunny and dry and Holland is the land of water and canals. In our limited knowledge, we vote Amsterdam as one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its canals and willows accentuating stunning gables on buildings dating back hundreds of years.

We swiftly moved on through Belgium – the roads enroute to France aren’t very different to Holland. Flat and boring, uh … industrial. But hey – we’re in another country! Then we headed into France, and just having watched the WWII memorial service, we were excited to be leaving the Continent from Dunkerque. We’d organised a late arrival with the hotel, but with 10 minutes to spare and panicking slightly, we got lost (in France in love … remember from the song?). The hotel staff didn’t speak English or Dutch, but handed the phone to an English guest who gave us directions. That’s when it really strikes you that you’re in a different country!

We got an early start to catch the ferry to Dover. I’d been wanting to see the White Cliffs as far back as I can remember. The ol’ English country songs and scenic movies (from whence many a soul had flung themselves) and Dover Street in Randburg with its office block ‘ White Cliffs’ (corny, I know). The real cliffs did not disappoint. They seemed so small at first but loomed ever closer, changing from white to a multitude of pastel hues. I was in my element!

We headed due North, past London, waving hello to Essex (where Dad was born) and ambled up country roads reminiscent of Cape Town and KwaZulu Natal (no wonder they became English strongholds). Quaint is a good word. All our childhood picture books appeared before us. Scenic Christmas cards without the snow. Stone cottages, farm houses and well-fed cattle are a sharp contrast to scrawny cows and shanty-towns dotted around South Africa. Skirting past Sherwood Forest, we craned our necks to spot Robin Hood, but not enough in fear of catching an arrow.

As dusk was falling, we entered Newcastle and joined our family for a private celebration. From Newcastle, we took the scenic coastal route to Edinburgh. We love this epitome of mediaeval, even the soot on the buildings is centuries old. The city-tour bus is an absolute must, with its dramatic recall of history. You can hear the cry of people on the bandwagon en-route to being hung. As a South African/Dutch couple speaking English, dining in an Italian restaurant in Scotland, served by a French waiter, we’re beginning to wonder if perhaps the world is too small to worry about which nationality we belong to?

Further north we wanted to pop in and visit Nessie at Drumnadrochi, so decided on the high road to Inverness and then back down the other side of the Loch. The more North we went the more isolated the roads became, a dejavu from our road trip in SA where the Northern Cape is just as lonely. But warmer. Midsummer, you think you wouldn’t need a jersey? HA HA. We didn’t pack one! And froze our socks off. We missed the last Nessie-ferry by two minutes, and tried to find her from the roadside, but she was swimming elsewhere. So we went to the pub for a whisky instead. Yummy. A definite must-come-back!

The next day we needed to “fly south” for our return trip as we were spending the night in Brighton. So munching on shortbread, we darted through loch-hugging hills and vales. The images still flash before my eyes. We passed through Glasgow and then back into England. The low stone walls criss-crossing the landscapes are gorgeous. A hectic day of solid driving followed – 12 hours in the car, with just enough time to get a drive-by-lunch.

The English countryside has a soft, gentle feel. South Africa is bright, sharp and intense. Fortunately it was still light when we arrived in Brighton (no, it wasn’t the reflection from the pier). Our hotel was grand, on the corner, right in front on the esplanade. Definite old-school Colonial feel. Popular with the old-folks. Optimistically I brought my cossie (swimsuit) for a dip in the sea. Taking a look at the murky water we realised how lucky we were with the beaches in SA …

The rest of Brighton reminded us of any Jo’burg or Cape Town suburb. Same style houses, gardens, parks, road signs, it was quite startling. We had an amazing dinner at a Thai restaurant where you could also buy the decor and furniture, like the one in Riebeek’s Kasteel during our SA road trip. The pier did seem a little cheesy though, like a freeze-frame from the 70’s.

Our last day of the whirlwind tour was another mammoth 12-hour day of driving. Back over on the ferry to Dunkerque. Then retracing our steps, we contemplated our past, our present and the future. Had we achieved our goal? Did we feel more European? Could we see where we’ve come from? Had we identified the influences on our lives? Well we’re a few steps closer.

A lot of what we have seen feels like home, and at first glance we belong here. People assume we’re local. Until we start speaking and our accents betray us. A cross-pollination of South African, English, Dutch, and worldwide exposure, sometimes we’re even mistaken for Australians or Americans (obviously not by Australians or Americans).