Wednesday, June 27, 2012

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Five

The next morning (was it Thursday the 5th of April already?!?) dawned somewhat overcast – perfect for the day of photography that was anticipated. Waking at 7 AM we all ate breakfast at the included breakfast buffet downstairs. We were not expecting anything here to rival the breakfast buffet experience at Hotel-Pension Kassandra in Berlin. We were more than pleasantly surprised! The morning buffet at the Dali restaurant was even MORE extensive than the Kassandra’s –I especially appreciated the coffee machine that brewed everything from regular coffee to café au lait to cappuccinos and expressos – a miracle machine for early mornings! After mentally waking so very enjoyably over the leisurely and ample breakfast it was then off to the Keukenhof Gardens for a day of natural beauty among the famous flowers of the Netherlands.

On the short 10 minute drive to the Gardens (thank you, Vanessa!!) we ooohed and awed over the bright, multi-colored blocks of flowers in the numerous fields we passed by. Just when we thought we couldn’t be more impressed, we pulled into the parking field for Keukenhof. To say that cars were directed to park close together was a bit of an understatement, but just a short walk took us to the entrance gate for the gardens. Arriving just after the park opened for the day we were able to have our prepaid passes scanned at the ticket booth and then we zipped inside, looking forward to an amazing floral experience. After purchasing the Gardens booklet complete with map we chose which direction to wind our way through the various areas of the gardens. The morning started as chilly (9 degrees C) with a light wind, but progressively became warmer with the sun breaking through the clouds by mid-afternoon; it was perfect weather for a long, brisk walk while viewing the various colors and types of flowers in the gardens, complete with Europe’s largest fountain and a 700 tree labyrinth. When the weather started to get to nippy we would duck into one of five different pavilions of floral displays, each with their own distinct floral delights. But more on that subject in another article….

After a delightfully warm and filling lunch onsite of mushroom ragu over puff pastry to ward off the morning chill, Kaitlin, Chris and I shopped for a few postcard souvenirs while Randy and Nana elected to powerwalk the last remaining paths of the Gardens. After meeting near a side entrance, we spent the next hour or so driving around enjoying the vivid fields of blues, reds, purples, yellows, pinks and magentas of the hyacinths, daffodils and tulips already in bloom. Back at the hotel, after taking a short break to update my travel journal, we ventured to the hotel aquatic center. There we discovered a slightly heated indoor pool and a luke warm temperature “hottub” which we stayed in for less than ½ hour. At least the shower was nice and hot (twice as warm as the “hottub”)! After going back to our rooms to change, we explored our options for a late dinner (by American standards) at the hotel. Not seeing anything at the hotel that we could all agree on, we hopped into the Mercedes for the short drive into Sassenheim’s city center (Centrum) where we discovered a true “diamond in the rough” of dining --the EETcafe de Voogd.

The EETcafe de Voogd sat on a small quiet street in the Centrum, not looking like much from the outside. Once inside, the atmosphere of the restaurant was open and inviting. Our waitperson, Anika, was extremely pleasant and spoke perfect English. Once she learned that one of our group was gluten intolerant, she went above and beyond the call of duty to make a special effort in checking with the kitchen regarding “gluta” (or the lack thereof) in a couple of menu selections. The onion soup starter was very delicious and warmed us up nicely. Nana and I shared a traditional Dutch food, bittesballer, which was a potato croquette filled with veal, and served with sinus-clearing authentic stone ground mustard on the side. Entrees enjoyed by the others included a pasta dish, ribeye steak and another Dutch tradition, satay – a beef dish with a peanut type sauce which was quite tender and flavorful (and totally a traditional Dutch fav, Anika assured us). As a surprise ending to our evening dining adventure, Anika brought out a stellar culinary note – a complimentary dessert made of lemon, egg whites and prosecco – we don’t remember the name but definitely remember that it was devoured quickly and enjoyed by all. After reluctantly bidding Anika and the Café a fond farewell we arrived back at the hotel (Randy was really getting good at zipping through the roundabouts by then) for an early morning (6 AM) wakeup call the next morning.

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