Those who have read extensively in this blog will have come across the story of when I met Paul Zwama, a friendly and talented Dutch runner who opened his home to me on my first trip to Holland to for an ill-fated attempt at the Rotterdam Marathon. On this return trip, Paul insisted that Mindy and I plan on spending several nights with he and his girlfriend Stella; claiming insult that we spent even a single night in a hotel in Amsterdam. Today was a lazy day with Paul and Stella, recovering from the exhausting pace of our adventures these past few days (sleeping in, doing laundry, catching up on a bit of work, etc).
Well, it wasn’t entirely lazy. Despite a late night arrival last night, Paul had us up early (it felt early, anyway) for a workout at his gym. I haven’t run since the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct 18th, and it’s been even longer since my last strength workout. Nonetheless, I gamely tried to keep up with Paul during a core and strength routine, and was grateful when we moved on to the cardio machines. At least there any slacking on my part would be less noticed. There was talk of a late afternoon run with Stella to make it a double-workout day…but that didn’t happen. It was later afternoon by the time Mindy and I resumed the travellers’ agenda of discovery, making our way on borrowed bicycles into Utrecht city centre to admire the medieval streets and canals.
Culture shock isn’t normally too strong when travelling in western Europe; for Mindy, the idea that we were bicycling on the road without helmets – “Dutch style” – took a bit of getting used to.
Though there aren’t as many exciting things for tourists to do, Utrecht is every bit the equal of Amsterdam in terms of picturesque canals and beautiful towers. It was at the foot of one of those towers where Mindy and I met Paul and Stella for dinner at a Pannenkoeken, a Dutch pancake house. This restaurant, set right in the ancient walls and opening to the canal level, had already been visited by Mindy and me earlier in the evening. After we had spent a few hours wandering through shops and streets, we unintentionally settled at our ultimate dinner destination to try young and old jenever – the Dutch predecessor of Gin, and advocaat – the Dutch interpretation of a Caribbean liqueur originally made from avocados, but made with egg-yolk in the Dutch fashion. (Avocados don’t grow too well in the Dutch climate.)
Good company, stunning ambience, more excellent Dutch cuisine (we didn’t even have Jelte to explain the heritage of these pancakes), and the warmth of multiple shots of jenever and advocaat made for an excellent evening in the Utrecht city centre. After a bike ride home full of laughter, we finished our evening with another drink, and another plan to run the next morning.