Nara, Ohara, Sake and Sukiyaki

The featured image is from a ceremony I observed at Nanzen Temple. There was chanting, incense and a Buddhist leader praying for the many attendees by holding a card to his forehead and meditating for a short while. I was also lucky enough to see in my neighborhood two beautiful geishas on their way to an appointment.

Since I last posted I have been a busy gal. I went to the ridiculously picturesque town of Nara via a one hour train ride. It was easy enough with only one transfer. Nara was Japan’s first capital in the 8th century and has many significant temples and shrines. First though, I headed out of the station to see the beautiful Yoshiki-en gardens.

Interestingly entry is free for foreigners. The nice man asked to see my passport ( which of course I don’t carry with me) and when I said it’s ok, I’ll just pay, he said, no it’s ok you won’t pay. Next to the gardens is the famous Todaiji Temple which houses one of the largest bronze statues of Buddha.

But the real reason to go the Nara is the deer! The deer roam wild in Nara– over 1,000 deer. Everywhere you look there are deer.

But the cutest deer are those up by the Kasuga Grand Shine that roam the stone lanterns. I turned around while walking up the hill to the shrine and there was this trio just looking at me. Overloaded by all that deer cuteness, I head to a brewery called Harushika Sake Brewery. Oh yes please I’ll try the six sake tasting with these two gents from Osaka. I actually know very little about sake but I learned a ton and by the time I left ( actually they poured me seven tastings since I was enthusiastic) I knew enough to know I like it and want to drink more of it.Home in Kyoto that night I followed my Melbourne friend Eugene’s suggestion and headed for a local Izakara called Yururi for dinner. So glad I did. Tobe, the owner who loves Hawaii and has Hawaiian music playing and surfboards for decoration was so attentive and fun, plus the food was excellent! He and I really bonded. I loved this place so much that when new friends from California came to town, I suggested we go there for lunch. It was late afternoon and the 3 of walked in to find they had closed until dinner. I accepted that, but Tobe, said “no Shirley-San, I will make you and your friends lunch”. He reopened just for us. He called in two helpers and we had a beautiful private lunch.

The next day, I decide to go to the little mountain village of Ohara. It is a rural town straight out of a timeless bubble, nestled at the foot of Mt Hiei with great hiking and a beautiful temple. I hop on the bus and I’m there within an hour and set out on foot up the path. There are streams and waterfalls and little family run 3 seat cafes on the path. The Sanzen Temple there is beautiful. I sit at this tiny window in a small room with flowers, incense burning and candles lit, overlooking the forest and then when I’m ready I go thru a small door outside and look back through the same window– magical what I can see from that side.

Farther up the mountain, I meet Kimichi who makes her own matcha tea and sells it. She let me try a cup of it as well as a cup of tea made with dried seaweed, Kombucha. I purchase some of her tea. I got to get back because I signed up for a cooking class at 2 pm. Running back down the path, I come to a screeching halt and snap this shot!

I go straight to the class and find it is 6 guys and 2 other gals. The people are from Australia, England, South Africa and Ireland. Right away we fire up our individual stoves and the teacher guides us through making dashi from scratch and then 5 different recipes. I am amazed how well we all do.At this point, out comes the sake. We drink it “sake in a box style”. That means you fill the glass to the brim while it is sitting in a cedar box. You drink your glass and naturally some spills into the box. Then after you are done with your glass, you pour that back into the box and realize the cedar has given it a new twist.


A Bamboo Grove and a Kimono of My Own

Wednesday was my first solo day in Kyoto, as the last of my visiting siblings and friends left that morning. We had such fun together ( more on that later) but now it was time for me to do what I’ve been itching to do– get up at the crack of dawn and go out to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. An hour bus ride and a quick walk in the woods led me here and it was magical. There is such a strange quality to the light. Later there would be hordes of people but for now it was all mine. I took quite a few pictures as I just could not believe my luck to be alone in such a gorgeous place.

After a meditative walk in the bamboo grove, I headed down to the river to see the boats slowly go by. Later I visited the Tenryu-ji-Jim Temple with its beautiful gardens ( and more bamboo).

Once again I was asked by a student to be interviewed about my stay in Kyoto. Returning to Kyoto, I met up with a new friend Gaji, who invited me for drinks at the Kawa Cafe overlooking the Kamogawa River. Gagi took this picture.After drinks, we headed for a secluded restaurant, called Yamabun, in Gion where Gagi is friends with the chef, Aoki. What a meal! Course after course. Three different kinds of sake and loads of fun as Aoki conversed with us while we ate and drank.

You would think the night would be over at that point, but no….we needed to go to one more place. A sushi bar in a back alley called Tomizusi, run by the talented sushi chef Nobuo. We sat there while he took a knife and made art work of a cucumber. Such a fun evening.

Despite all the sake and food, the next day I’m excited to meet another new friend Momoko. A post-grad student at Kyoto University, I met her like Gaji through my “lines in the water” before leaving home. She arrived at my apartment with the idea that we should rent beautiful kimonos and spend the day doing what we want but dressed in our finest. Why not! We head to a lovely kimono shop, Kinhare, where Mr and Mrs. Akiyama proceed to help us choose our finest. Mrs. Amiyama then carefully designs our hair style to go with the Kimono we have chosen.

This is the finished look but you probably can’t imagine all the layers and ties and hairspray that went into this! We take off in our kimonos and Momoko takes me to lunch at a place near my apartment called Wabiya Korekidou that only has one thing—Oyakodon. The dish translates to “mother and child” because the two proteins are chicken and eggs. Depending if you like raw egg or cooked egg, the server presents the dish and then stirs and stirs the egg into the hot broth until you are happy.

After lunch we go to a beautiful temple and have matcha and sweets.

Everywhere we go we get stopped and people ask to have their picture taken with us. It is such a fun experience. We really hated to return our lovely kimonos at the end of the day.

Before I end, I want to shout out to John, Virginia, MJ, Angela and Jim who were visiting here before my kimono days. We had so many great meals and fun times. This is one of our first meals together at Tenyu, a 10 seat Michelin one star tempura restaurant. So many small tempura dishes and all of them perfect. My birthday dinner before they left was celebrated at Mamechu in a private dining room on tatami mats. Many courses, some of which we knew and some we did not, but all delicious and loads of laughing

Kyoto Arrival: Friends, Family, Food

I arrived in Kyoto to a delightful apartment, called the Gion House in Kyoto’s old historic district. My Shirleyfest home is over 100 years old, filled with antiques and before it was converted to a residence was a “ochaya”, or tea house where geishas entertained.

A beautiful flower arrangement from the owner overlooking my private Japanese garden greeted me.

I quickly unpacked as my friends Sandy and Harvey were in town and were bringing by champagne to kick off the trip.

We head out to dinner and are fortunate to see a geisha heading to an appointment.

The next day a walking tour of the Gion area reveals lots of information about the history and training of the geishas. Surprising they start their apprenticeship at 15 and for 6 years earn no money.

Our tour ends after the iconic pagoda of Kyoto.

I head home, go to the wine shop to stock up for friends’ visits and get ready for a birthday dinner on the 11th floor of the Kyoto Station overlooking the Kyoto tower.

After playing around at the Kyoto station with my friends, I head home to await the arrival of family and friends tomorrow. In the morning we decide to take the train to Fushimi Inari-Taisha temple with its magnificent gates and hiking trails. It is beautiful and mysterious and I love it! 

Meanwhile my sister has arrived so after the shrine, I head out to her hotel for a drink and we take a cab ride out to a restaurant I had learned of that specializes in ” burnt ramen”, Kyoto Gogyo. The ramen is not actually burnt. It’s called that because the miso or soy based broth is heated to 300 degrees C. It consistently is ranked as one of the best ramen experiences in not just Kyoto but in Japan.

Heading back to my cozy apartment that night I realized how much I will learn during this Shirleyfest. When I stepped off the plane I felt illiterate in that I could not read or write in Japanese. Then I felt mute and deaf as I couldn’t speak or understand Japanese. I’m starting to realize after this first 72 hours that instead of that being a hinderance, it is a blessing. I’m forced to use my intuitive senses and look for non verbal clues to understand my new home. One example of this– I noticed so often in these three days that young children were trudging off to school unaccompanied by an adult. I’m starting o understand that this culture does not embrace the “helicopter parenting” style you see elsewhere. I’m coining the term “slingshot parenting” to describe what I see as parents releasing their children into the world in a trusting manner. I’ll continue to observe and see if this is borne out during my stay.

Shirleyfest 2019 is coming!

When I think of the Fourth of July, the first word that comes to mind is “freedom”, so it seems like a perfect day to announce my next Shirleyfest location. People who know me well, know that I believe that life’s essential three ingredients are health, love and freedom. Freedom can mean many things to people, but to me a big component is the freedom to travel the world. I don’t take it for granted and I’m grateful that this freedom is part of my life.

Now it’s time to reveal this year’s Shirleyfest. Can you guess from the photo?

That’s right–beautiful Kyoto. Once the capital of Japan, it’s famous for its numerous Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple precise dishes, and geisha often found in the Gion area. ( I’ve rented a beautiful place in the Gion area)

As usual, I look forward to publishing posts of what I find there and I hope you will follow along with me. Any suggestions are welcome in the comments to this post.

By the way, speaking of the freedom to travel, I just returned from Scotland. If possible I will do a post soon about this amazing trip. The people were so welcoming and believe it or not the weather was sunny every day but one. Maybe I’ll add a Scottish city to my potential Shirleyfest list! Until then, here’s a toast to my readers from a Glasgow pub!

Trailing of the Sheep: Sun Valley, Idaho

I’ve been going to Sun Valley since the summer I was pregnant with my daughter. She’ll be 27 tomorrow. In all those years I never thought to go to the Trailing of the Sheep Festival held in October and in fact fall is the only season I hadn’t travelled to Sun Valley. This year all that changed.

My sister, MJ, and I were greeted by the most lovely colors when we arrived a few days before the festival began. We were both so thrilled by the fall color that we spent an entire day searching out beautiful spots to walk and photograph.

The Trailing of the Sheep festival has its origins in a basic fact of nature. For 150 years in Idaho, sheep have trailed in the fall from the mountain grazing in north where they had spent the summer to the southern Idaho greener pastures.

Many of the sheepherders were people from the Basque region who had arrived in the US initially for the California gold rush but migrated to Idaho finding jobs as sheepherders and camp tenders . It just so happens that one of these Basque men who arrived in Sun Valley is my friend Alberto.

I didn’t know Alberto in 1968 ( pictured above) when he came to Sun Valley to join the sheep herding business but I did meet him exactly 40 years later in 2008 at Java coffee shop in Ketchum, Idaho. I had just arrived in town, got my coffee and picked up the local paper where the headlines said, “Sarah Palin picked as McCains running mate”. I couldn’t help myself and I blurted out loudly, “Oh wow–that’s a very bad idea”. Alberto was sitting next to me and he laughed and asked if I was ok. We spent the morning talking and we have been friends ever since.

Back to the history, at some point, the Sheep ranchers gave part of their herding right aways to the local community to create extensive paved trails connecting the towns for walking and biking. Conflict arose between the locals and the ranchers as the sheep trailed through in the fall and disrupted the trail system. ( The locals didn’t like all that sheep dung in their bike wheels.). A local rancher decided to help the community understand by inviting them to walk with the sheep and listen to the stories of the rich history, heritage and culture along the way. People loved the walks and it morphed into the official Trailing of the Sheep Festival in 1997. With many Basque people living in the Sun Valley area it became a celebration of the sheep and the Basque ( and Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Chileans and Scottish who also came to herd) cultures rolled in one fantastic festival.

First up on the festival is a lamb cooking class. Several of the good restaurants offered this so we signed up for the one with Chef Laurent.

We huddled in his kitchen and learned how to roast lamb tenderloin and make potatoes to top the tenderloins in a beautiful fashion.

Having mastered the art of cooking lamb, it is now time to do a walk about the town where 11 restaurants have For the Love of Lamb tastes. First up, lamb tacos and cupcakes decorated to look like lambs.

Then some lamb chili and then roasted lamb. Lucky for our stomachs, by then the other 8 places had run out of food, as the event was a much bigger hit than the organizers had planned!

Next day was the outdoor crafts festival in Hailey and nearby the sheep dog trials. We managed to get to everything on a beautiful day. At the crafts festival they had Basque dancers entertain.

Basque lady dancer, Alberto, me, Basque man dancer, MJ.

All of which leads up to the big parade on Sunday where 1500 sheep trail south down Main Street, Ketchum, Idaho. Thanks to Alberto, we got to be part of the few that led the sheep through town! What an adventure.

Here they come at the start

Then closer.

Ok I’ll lead them for a while. Oh wait they got ahead of me while I was posing. Come back!

Ok I got the herd back.

I need MJ to help here

Now the priest is blessing the sheep. We run over. We want ( need) blessed too!

And just like that they have moved through town on to the pastures of the south.

We head home to pack up and take our flight back to San Francisco. Goodbye beautiful Sun Valley. We will return again for the festival…but I may not eat lamb for a few days.

Amsterdam You Make Me Laugh

I collect things that amuse me during my Shirleyfest. I am sure you recall the fill ’em up zip lock ice cube bags from Vienna last year. Amsterdam also provides lots of good amusement this year. First up is this….

Laura and I were eating at Scheepskameel restaurant when we first noticed next to us the table with the dark jacket on the chair and the glass with a little red wine in it. After a while we wondered where was this diner. Then we spied over our shoulder another table with a white jacket on the chair and also a slightly filled red wine glass. That diner didn’t arrive back at their table either. We outdid each other with hilarious guesses as to what was going on…. foul play?….or an instant attraction between 2 diners who had the urge to abandon their table and go somewhere together? We finally settled on our best guess and called the waiter over to see if we were right. Are you still guessing? We were right– this is how the restaurant reserves a table when a person asks for a specific table. The jackets belong to the staff and the wine is leftover from partially finished bottles of other patrons. It is amusing that a RESERVED sign was just too common for this restaurant.

Next….you know how it can be confusing to identify the men’s or ladies’ room in other countries?

At one end of the continuum we have the top two signs seen at a restaurant on the Spui– really hard to tell which is which at a glance I think. Then we have the bottom two seen at Cafe Verward. Interesting use of negative space but not confusing!

Amsterdam’s bike situation just provides a ton of amusement. Night or day, the sheer quantity of bikes is amazing. But it is also interesting what you find in the bike lanes. These are allowed in the bike lanes.

Also allowed in the bike lane are motorized wheelchairs and those tiny smart cars. I didn’t manage to get any pictures of those but can you imagine how “amusing”it is to have all these things passing you as you pedal along. Also given all the variety in the bike lane, I found this amusing,

Cops on bikes may have a hard time catching that fast motorized wheelchair.

Another amusing thing I see in Amsterdam–

No line thru the circle so do you think you should or should not drink alcohol near here? And what is the significance of the percentage sign?

The Dutch are great at so many things, but creatively naming things– not so much. The major churches in Amsterdam are Westerkerk, Noordermarkt, Zuiderkerk, Oude Kerk and Nieuwmarkt Kerk. That’s west church, north church, south church, old church and new church. Amusingly uncreative.

And here I am at the intersection of three streets

Bickers Yard, Little Bickers Street, Great Bickers Street. I’m sure Uber drivers love this.

Would you like some pickles with your pickled eel?

In Rotterdam, this Markthall was completed in 2014 and residents paid a fortune to secure the lovely high rise exclusive apartments above it. Turns out the next year the city allowed this giant ferris wheel to operate 6 months of the year right next to Markthall. So residents have strangers from every country looking into their windows!

This is an art piece made entirely of newspapers. As you walk by on the street you are encouraged to tear off some of the paper to demonstrate the disappearance of newspapers in our world.

I could go on for quite a while as Amsterdam is such an amusing city, but I’ll leave you with this one. I wrote about the Banksy exhibit I went to at Amsterdam’s MOCO. I saw this there.

In 2004, the artist printed 1 million pounds worth of his “Di Faced Tenner”– a play on words as Banksy substituted the Queen’s face with that of Princess Diana. He also included the words Banksy of England. He dropped all,the money into a crowd at the Notting Hill Carnival and created pandamonia.

So that’s funny.

A kaleidoscope of week 3 Amsterdam

Returning from Bruges, I awake to a rainy day in Amsterdam, yet it is somehow strangely inviting. I leave the apartment around 9:30 am with only a vague idea of what I would do and it turns out I’m busy until 11 pm that evening. That is how Shirleyfest goes.

I start with a breakfast at Teds in my neighborhood. It’s a lovely spot to get out of the rain, great servers and delicious eggs.

I put up my umbrella and head to the Amsterdam Museum which has a well done timeline of the development of Amsterdam and from there I go to an Amsterdam icon–Tony Chocolonley’s flagship store.

This is a chocolate company that not only produces delicious chocolate but is at the forefront of battling the horrendous child labor issues in Ghana and the Ivory Coast where 60% of the worlds chocolate is from.

I take a trip way out near the Olympic Stadium ( Amsterdam hosted the olympics in 1928) because I have heard that the cheese shop L’AMUSE supplies all the best restaurants in Amsterdam with their cheese. I have a wonderful chat with Karin and I sample ( then buy) lots of different cheeses. That of course leads to me inviting people over that night for a cheese tasting- which leads to wine to have with the cheese– which leads to ordering pizza…..”If you give a mouse a cookie…”

Another day, I bike over to Jacob Hooy in the old city which was established in 1743 and is still owned by the same family. They sell medical potions and spices and are known for the best licorice in town. I actually don’t like licorice but I buy an assortment for Laura who is coming next week.

Afterwards I stop for a cappuccino. I don’t know how this coffee shop does this but the coffee art lasts all the way to the end of the drink! I am sitting outside with my coffee and three lovely ladies are chatting together. One is so knowlegable about the happenings in Amsterdam that I blurt out– ” I wish you had a blog”. “I do”, Shoshanna says. “It’s called Awesome Amsterdam.” I’m invited to join them and they are really fun. Shoshanna tells me she has dozens of books on Amsterdam and Dutch art and she wants me to have them. When I get home later that day she has delivered them to my apartment!

I’m biking home to get ready to meet a friend for dinner when I pass the floating flower market and it looks so pretty today that I stop and take this picture.

My dinner with my friend is at Scheepskameel. A really terrific restaurant and a hard reservation to get. My friend, Laura, manages to get us in and we have such a great meal. I have to say the madelines at the end are my favorite part!

I managed to go to a lot of museums and art galleries this week because of the rain. I was passing the Museum of Purses and Bags and while it wasn’t on my list of must sees, I was right there so I went in. There was an interactive display where you answer questions and it designs the perfect bag for you with a message. Ha ha ha see below.

I am invited to the season opening of art galleries and I really enjoy going to many galleries and meeting the artists. One artist designs sculptures out of truck mirrors and then puts a neon backing in the installation. When you take a picture you get this shadow affect. That is the artist in the picture.

The opening night is fun and lots of people come– some with their dogs.

Another day I take the train to Rotterdam. Rotterdam was utterly destroyed during WWII and when they rebuilt they did so in a modern striking manner. These cube houses are lived in and are above shops. It was harbor day so I took a walking tour around the city and the harbor.

I ended up at a cool bar called Cafe Veward ( Translated Cafe Confused). I am not. I order a beer and enjoy talking to the locals.

Afterwards I have amazing octopus at a restaurant recommended to me called Ayla.

The next day I have not such a healthy eating day. You be the judge.

I also want to check out the main branch of the library. It is right on the water and there are great views from the top floor. Also on the top floor is a food bonanza like I’ve never seen in a library. I mean what student wouldn’t hit the books if they could choose from all these delicious things while studying.

I end week 3 with a fun evening with my friend Paul. After a ride on the canals we hit the Sky Lounge overlooking the city. Crazy bartender and fun way to end the week!

In Bruges

The movie In Bruges came out in 2008. It portrays Bruges as a fairy tale city used by two assassins ( Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) as a hide out after a botched hit. While I have a few things I remember about the movie after 10 years ( a body count of epic proportions and a record breaking frequency of use of the f-word) what I remember most is that the city of Bruges was gorgeous. Ever since then I’ve wanted to go see this magical city. On Sunday and Monday I did just that. I decided to take the fast Thayls train to Antwerp and change trains there because I read that the Antwerp train station is one of the prettiest in Europe. It is.

It is only a short train ride from there to Bruges and as I walk out of the train station the local bus to the city center is right there so I jump on. I somehow hit the jackpot in this two day trip as everything went perfectly– including two uncrowded blue skies days. A little research a few days before led me to the Grand Hotel Casselbergh, a beautiful hotel right on the canal. When I made the reservation, I also registered for their loyalty program and because of that I got a super duper upgrade to a great room in the historic wing.

I start with a boat ride along the canals and I fall in love immediately with this town. All along the canal are colorful medieval buildings and I feel I’ve been thrown back into the Middle Ages. The city is like one big breathtakingly beautiful postcard. It is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Leaving the boat, I do a walk about town with its amazing squares and markets. Right outside the Stadhuis, I see, and more importantly hear, this.

I realize I need to eat early because I booked a night tour of Bruges. The hotel recommends a place and makes me a reservation, but I go there and it is dark inside and a band is erratically tuning up for a show later. I politely tell the waiter, “I don’t think this is for me for tonight.” He nods knowingly. Off I go, when I remember I spied a place on the canal from my boat ride. I find my way there– Pergola is the name and here is the view from my table. Now this is more to my liking.

Here is my view AFTER I order! Even better.

The place is filed with locals and people talking about the Bruges Triennial 2018 that is in town. Fifteen contemporary artists have been invited to put up outdoor installations. The theme this year is Imagining the Liquid City. In the 14th century Bruges was known as the liquid city of Northern Europe, dependent on the seas and its economy driven by the tides. After dinner, I see about half the installations before it is time for my night tour.

My student led night tour goes outside the tourists area and I learn a lot about Bruges’ history. I learn that because of a window tax many of the frugal homeowners bricked their windows while the wealthy showed off by adding windows. Mostly I just drooled over how Bruges got even prettier with the setting of the sun.

The last stop was the beautiful Koeleweimolen windmill on the outskirts of town. It is a functioning grain- grinding mill built in 1760.

I am a bit thirsty when the tour is over around 11:00 pm so I head back to the cozy bar at my hotel. Julien, my bartender, recommends the locally brewed beer Brugse Zot. The name means “the fool of Bruges”. Julian says the name comes from a time in 1488 when after a revolt against their harsh king Maximilian, the people of Bruges made peace with a celebration honoring Maximilian. Afterwards they asked him for permission to build a new mental hospital and he advised them to simply close the gates of Bruges because the town was already filled with fools.

A funny story to end a lovely day.

Monday morning is another beautiful day. After breakfast I take a walk around town as I want to sample the Belgian chocolate and waffles at some point.

Many of you know I am a San Francisco City Guide and I do a tour of the “painted ladies” or “seven sisters”. I think I found Bruges’ equivalent of those beautiful row of houses.

One thing I definitely wanted to see in Bruges was the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed ( Basilica of the Holy Blood). The beautiful 12th century chapel houses a revered vial containing cloth stained with the blood of Christ. We are told that following the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and the cloth was preserved. The artifact was kept safe in the Holy Land until the Second Crusades when it was given to The Count of Flanders who took it to Bruges.

Across a bridge is the Begijnhof of Bruges, the most silent spot in Bruges. Founded in 1245 as a place for the religious Order of the sisters of St Benedict, only 8 nuns live there now. It is occupied by widows or single moms who, while not of a religious order, establish a community of women to live together and help their neighbors. A sort of commune-type living.

I walk to Depla the famous family run chocolate shop and sample and buy lots of Belgium chocolate.

Not satisfied with that gluttony, I find a Belgium waffle place that has been recommended and sink my teeth into the classic waffle.

Finally it is time to head back to Amsterdam. A taxi to the train station and a train which connects thru Brussels this time. I am very happy to have spent two days In Bruges. Tomorrow I’ll really have to eat only salads!


This past Saturday, I woke up early and had a nice coffee in my apartment. It’s beautiful and I want to take the short 15 minute train ride to Haarlem. Haarlem gave America’s Harlem it’s name back when NYC was New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony.

I walk towards the tram, noticing this interesting business on my way.

As fate would have it, someone comes up to go inside so I ask, “are you counseling millennials or counseling companies about millennial? And why are you going into work so early on a Saturday?” She tell me she is the boss and this is a booming business advising companies on how to market to millennials. Ok!

Onward to the tram.

As we speed towards Haarlem, I see this out my window. It’s everywhere!

At the station in Haarlem I’m once again impressed with the sheer magnitude of bicyclists in this area.

Now a short walk to the center of town. For 700 years Haarlem has had a wonderful Saturday market. It Is far larger than any of the markets I’ve been to so far in Amsterdam and filled with locals doing their weekly shopping.

Also at the market, I see these 3 cute kids in a bike basket and the little one was just saying over and over “mama? mama? mama?”–not crying–just sort of in a wondering way. No parent was anywhere near. No helicoptering parenting in Holland apparently.

I’ve never seen this before. I guess the very practical Dutch like buying only the part of the pineapple they can actually eat.

Another great thing about Haarlem is the Grote Kerk, a 15th century gothic church with Holland’s greatest pipe organ ( Handel and Mozart played it).

My favorite thing though was the Frans Hals museum. On Shirleyfest New York, the Met had a huge exhibition of Frans Hals and I think I went 5 times. He painted everyday people life size with all their warts and glory.

One unusual thing in this museum is they took these paintings and side by side with the paintings they had modern day medical doctors diagnosis what the subjects were likely suffering from based on the details Hals put in the painting. Getting to the museum is a short walk from the market through a residential area that was colorful and neat as a pin.

After lunch in Haarlem I had to get back to Amsterdam as I was meeting my friends for a Bach concert in Den Bosch– an hour train ride in the opposite direction. The concert was really lovely. My friend Ivan got us front row seats as he was responsible for obtaining the soloists for the concerts. It was an hour long and the odd thing was– no clapping- no no no, not until the entire concert was over. Also the audience sang at the end! We had a great dinner nearby and then headed through the town square for the train home

I would have loved to stay in Den Bosch longer but tomorrow at 7am I am taking the train to Bruges, Belgium. I’m very excited! I write up a draft of my post while having a nice glass of wine at home and then bed.

Week 2: Amsterdam Shirleyfest: Food, friends and family

I realized I haven’t told you how the rest of week two Shirleyfest went. I finish off that second Saturday with a bike ride along the canals to the exquisite Hermitage museum where I see Canova’s wonderful marble of The Three Graces, three sisters who were the daughters of Zeus and Venus and represent beauty, joy and elegance. (I have two sisters and I’ll be happy to have them pick first which of the graces represent them and I’ll modestly take whichever one is leftover.)


During Shirleyfest, I try to find a Catholic Church that does weekly mass in English. This time I bike over to the beautiful Krijtberg church for mass. A pedal through the Jordaan area after with a great meal at Koevoot completes the day as the sky turns quite beautiful as I lock up my bike.

Sunday I have in mind to bike out to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery. Situated along a canal and housed in a windmill, the brewery produces organic beers in a friendly setting.

I have a great conversation with Joran and his friend Martijn who works there. Joran works in television and expertly scripts a shot of me at the bar with his friend in the background.

There was more to Sunday but I want to move on to Monday when my sister MJ arrives! MJ has been to every Shirleyfest except Melbourne and I love it when she comes. On Monday we walk all over Amsterdam and that night eat a great dinner at Belhamel where afterwards Nick and Ivan come by for drinks. A gorgeous walk home ends our first day.

With the weather looking good the next day we take the early train out to Zaanse Schans , a picturesque village, famous for its iconic windmills. As we get off the train we smell the aroma from the chocolate factory that is there.

We walk through and up into the windmills, most of which are still operational. There is another building where wooden shoes are being made right in front of us.

It is such a charming place. We are wise to have gotten there so early– it’s charm attracts many people so when we see the tour buses pull up we head back to the train.

That evening we have one of the best meals I’ve ever had—–Amstel 212. It is a restaurant recently started by two Michelin starred chefs and all the seating is bar seating. There are about 20 guests and the 4 chefs are working right in front of us and the fantastic front of the house man is Kevin.

I had gone over to Amstel 212 a few days before MJ arrived and had a great conversation with Kevin. His attention and that of the chefs made this an extremely personal experience. We had 3 amuse bouches before we even began with what we had ordered. Three delicious courses later we were presented with the opportunity for an amazing cheese course.

Of course we said yes. Don’t we look so very happy?

On MJ’ s last day we take in the Rijksmuseum and FOAM, the photography museum and do some shopping at De 9 Straatjes, the nine little streets that connect the main canals. One last dinner at Klepel where we are delighted with conversations from our fellow diners at the bar. MJ departs the next day and I look at my step counter for the 3 days she was here.

I have already posted about Thursday and Friday of that week so I will pick up my next post with the Saturday Haarlem market and my trip to Bruges, Belgium. Until then, can I leave you with something I saw along the canal near my apartment?