After ordering another coffee because mine got cold when I fell asleep at Starbucks, we walked to the Dom Cathedral. It loomed in front of us, darkened from bomb explosions during World War II (1). As we entered the Cathedral, our eyes adjusted to the dim surroundings. Light from outside trickled in through the massive stained glass, illuminating the wooden pews around us.
A feeling of solemnity came over me as I made my way to a seat in one of the old, wooden pews. It slowly creaked as I sat down. Only a select few respectful whispers punctuated the otherwise quiet Cathedral.
“Where do you want to go from here?” Kurt asked me.
“Do you know of any nearby sites?” I asked. “We didn’t bring umbrellas, so I don’t want to get caught in the rain when it’s already chilly outside.”
The gentle cadence of rain had started again. We could hear it falling from inside the Cathedral. We both looked at each other.
“Do you want to go back to Amsterdam?” Kurt asked. “I’m sure it’s still as dry there as when we left this morning.”
I paused to consider our options.
“Let’s go back,” I said. We had just experienced the whole reason I wanted to come here in the first place: The Dom Cathedral and German food. And although I didn’t get to try potato pancakes on this trip to Köln, it’s definitely at the top of my list for our return trip!
After leaving Koh-I-Noor, we walked south toward the Heineken Experience, which we learned had apparently sold their last ticket 15 minutes earlier. So, we turned around and walked to the Holland Casino in Leidesplein. After staying only an hour, we decided to return to our apartment and finish packing for our flight home the next morning. We walked slowly back to the apartment, enjoying every moment of our final evening walk of this trip.
Orange confetti gathered in corners where building met street, kicked to the side by celebrators’ feet. By dawn the next morning, the confetti existed only as a memory in the hearts and photographs of those present for the festivities.
The welcoming tinkle of a bell announced our arrival. The staff warmly greeted us, offering a choice among their few remaining tables. We chose to sit by the window to get a better view of the street. Candles crowned the tops of tables adorned in burgundy tablecloths and white napkins. Spiced aromas of unknown goodness filled the room while people sitting at various tables shared colorful food and entertained each other with conversation.
The atmosphere has consistently remained the same throughout our past experiences at Koh-I-Noor, which gives me comfort in knowing what to expect. Within moments, the friendly server appeared.
“Good Afternoon,” he said with a smile. He took our drink order, then asked us if we had previously visited the restaurant in October (2016).
“Yes,” I replied, happy he remembered us. “Good memory!”
“Vegetable Korma? Garlic Naan?” He asked, repeating my order from six months earlier.
“I cannot believe you remember,” I replied, extremely impressed with his memory. “Yes, that’s exactly what I would like, thank you.” .
“Shahi Paneer for you, sir?” He asked, turning to Kurt.
“Perfect,” Kurt said. “Thank you.”
Neither of us could believe he had actually remembered. He returned shortly with our wine, a Riesling from the Alsace region of France, a crispy type of sesame bread and two silver bowls of sauce for it.
The red sauce tasted sweet with a slight amount of heat, while the white sauce had more heat and tasted like green onions and cream. The candle-lamp on our table flickered beneath its glass dome, seeming never to burn away its wax. The candlelight illuminated my glass of wine as I took a sip. It tasted crisp, clean and refreshing – a perfect complement to our upcoming meal.
Our server returned with small candles and a warming tray. He placed the lit candles and tray in the center of our table, then brought a plate of rice, salad and our two meals.
The food, as always, smelled heavenly. It makes me wish I could photograph a smell.
The creamy, rich aroma of the korma intermingled with the tangy shahi sauce. Without a moment more of waiting, we divided the rice between us and took small servings of the main dishes so they would remain hot.
The first taste makes all life’s troubles seem to melt away. They have found the secret to achieving the perfect amount of spice and creaminess to their dishes. Cooked to perfection, the potatoes, carrots and peas in yellow-orange korma sauce and red-orange sauce of the tangy tomato shahi with white squares of soft paneer cheese combined to create an extraordinary flavor indescribable to those who have never tasted it. We used the last pieces of soft Garlic Naan to scoop up any remaining sauce.
The experience seemed to end as quickly as it began, for within 20 minutes, we finished all food in front of us. Feeling full and satisfied, we paid our bill, said goodbye to our server and set out to enjoy the remainder of King’s Day and our final evening in Amsterdam until we return in June.
Stories of a countrywide birthday party for the Dutch monarch have intrigued me for years. The idea of an entire nation mutually celebrating their leader’s birth really seems like a nice strategy to unite the people. I cannot imagine citizens of the United States jovially participating in any sort of birthday party for any politician.
I had heard rumors of crowds wearing orange, city-wide rummage sales and public intoxication. However, nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience.
Morning. Within the first few moments of consciousness, we could already hear muffled music coming from all ends of the city. I opened the window and stepped out onto the balcony. The music suddenly grew louder; I could hear it coming from everywhere. The Dutch flag flew proudly from the spire of the Westerkerk in celebration of King Willem-Alexander’s birth.
I went back inside to our front window, which overlooked Laurierstraat. People joyfully paraded down the street brandishing bottles of beer or cider and wearing black jackets with orange accessories. Some wore orange hats or shirts, while others wore feathered orange boas. Down the street, a band played rock songs in both Dutch and English.
We emerged from the apartment into the festivities below with no real destination in mind. Turning from our street onto Prinsengracht, we suddenly encountered a sea of people. A bridge ahead of us had some sort of message written in white, so we waded our way through the crowd until we found ourselves standing on it. The message read: Re-Vest Life. Apparently, they built the sign with life vests used by immigrants going to Europe.
People in boats displaying the Dutch flag floated under the canal where we stood, as a variety of music, singing and dancing came from aboard each skiff. People smiled and waved to each other, regardless of any cultural differences. The reason to celebrate united everyone under its one common goal of happiness.
We walked toward Dam Square to see the Palace. It seemed as though music played from every corner of the city. No matter where we turned, crowds had gathered to listen. As we approached Dam Square, the streets began to resemble a massive rummage sale.
Racks of clothing, purses and souvenirs lined the street as stores and citizens alike displayed their wares, hoping passerby saw something that caught their eye. Something definitely caught my eye, but not an item. A large crowd had gathered around a performance I could not see. As I approached, I saw a man covered in raw eggs preparing to fist-fight any egg thrown his way. People in the crowd purchased eggs to throw. Most missed him, but a few actually made their target.
After watching for a few minutes, we began to aimlessly stroll through the vast array of commodities until hunger finally overpowered us. Thankfully, Koh-I-Noor, a favorite Indian restaurant of ours since 2014, stood down the street, its dark red sign drawing us in. Without saying a word, we smiled at each other and headed toward their welcoming door.
The October rain began to fall as we quickly made our way across the square toward a sea of red umbrellas. Red letters hung above the entrance, proudly announcing the name of our warm, dry refuge.
“Welcome to Früh,” said a man as he came from around the corner. He took two menus from the podium and led us to a wooden table, saying he would return in a moment for our order.
The restaurant had opened for the day less than an hour before we arrived, so only one other patron sat nearby, drinking beer in silence.
I watched him momentarily, reasoning with myself that I wanted to participate in local traditions, especially on my birthday. When our waiter returned, I ordered a glass of Riesling. Kurt looked mildly surprised, but kept with tradition and ordered a beer. Soon our server returned, drinks in hand.
“Do you know what you would like to order?” He asked us. We each ordered three fried eggs with toast. He thanked us and disappeared around the corner.
I looked at my drink with mixed feelings of intrigue, excitement and hesitation. Kurt toasted to my birthday and took a sip of his beer. I raised the glass of cool, light golden wine to my lips and took a sip. It tasted so light and refreshing, I had to take another sip. By the time the server had returned with our food, I ordered a second glass of Riesling.
Steam rose from the plate of fried eggs topped with parsley. A smaller dish sat to the side, holding three slices of toast and a large pad of butter. Everything looked perfect.
The eggs glistened on my plate under the lights. The yolks actually looked orange and not yellow as they do in Tucson (plus, they tasted so much better than eggs in Tucson). Never before had I considered parsley as something to sprinkle over eggs, but I loved it as soon as I tried it. The warm toast complemented the perfectly fried eggs.
During the course of our breakfast, I ordered a third glass of wine, feeling as though I could totally handle it. However, instead of going straight to the Cathedral, we made a detour to Starbucks for coffee where, according to Kurt, I fell asleep for more than an hour.
The conductor’s whistle split the chilled, early morning air like the first rays of dawn as we ran down the platform toward our train, tickets in one hand and coffee in the other. It had taken longer than expected to find the correct train, but finally we jumped aboard right as the doors whooshed shut behind us. We found two seats by the window and prepared ourselves for the two and a half hour journey to Köln, otherwise known as Cologne, Germany. The train lurched forward down the darkened track, carrying us into the unknown.
“Happy birthday,” Kurt said to me with a smile. We had caught the very first train of the day with the intention of spending the entirety of it in Germany. I tapped my foot in anticipation as time slowly passed. We discussed our plans for the day, dreaming of all the possibilities ahead of us.
Pale sunshine flickered just beyond the horizon, illuminating the countryside as we approached our destination. Finally, the train began to slow its pace, eventually easing itself into the station and letting out a sigh as it came to a halt.
We excitedly stepped from the train, the cold October wind and gunmetal sky forewarning us of a nearby storm.
“I hope we can find the Dom Cathedral,” I said, studying our map to determine the best exit from the station.
“Let’s just start walking,” Kurt replied, heading for a random exit.
No sooner had we left the station than the massive, gothic structure of the Dom Cathedral filled our entire field of vision, looming ahead and beckoning for us to come closer. “And I worried we wouldn’t find it!” I said, laughing as we walked forward.
We approached the bottom of the stairs that led up to the entryway of the massive structure.
We climbed upward, entering not the Cathedral once we reached the top, but its gift shop. After looking at and purchasing a few souvenirs, we decided to get breakfast before exploring the Cathedral at a restaurant recommended to us by the gift shop cashier.
One night after we left the casino, we started walking back to the apartment. Suddenly, a foreboding green glow came from a sign hovering above a doorway as our path immediately diverted into the entrance of an open Starbucks. I do not drink Starbucks in the United States, but have discovered that in Europe, their coffee tastes much better. However, I forgot that they can sometimes make it different, too.
I ordered us each a flat white with an extra espresso shot, expecting them to have as much milk as the drinks back at home. The barista complimented my name, telling me that she named the main character Meghan in a story she wrote. When they announced our drinks, we both looked at each other in alarm, for the size of the drink they gave each of us seemed so small, we wondered how they fit any milk into it with the four espresso shots. With some sugar, I didn’t mind it too much. It tasted like one of the strongest cups of coffee I ever tried. However, Kurt looked sick. “I’m getting a white mocha,” he said with pale annoyance. “Do you want one, too?” I agreed and waited at a table for him to return. He came back a few minutes later with two drinks that tasted a lot more like what we expected. We stayed until they began putting chairs on the tables, a sure sign they had closed. We had no real destination, so we decided to walk back to the apartment with the sole purpose of enjoying the lovely scenery. Warmed and caffeinated, we faced the night with liquid courage of a different kind.