a canal, and in the back a church 'A-kerk'

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Groningen; The student city

As it is my last day in Groningen, I decided to go for a city stroll. I went to this little café (coffee united) where I could sit upstairs in a nice chair, and look outside.  After my various cultural attractions in Groningen I must say it was a hell of a ride. (especially last night) During the last days, it became very clear to me that Groningen is a real student city. When strolling the pubs at night, there were many international students. But also in daily life the city is dominated by students. If you look at more exclusive cultural activities you already see less students, the culinary tour for example. If you look at the students demands, you see that Groningen fulfills their needs. Students are looking for cheap restaurants and cheap accommodation. Groningen has plenty. Look at the budget hostels for example.  That’s why Groningen is also a good city for low budget tourism. After all, most low budget tourists are students. Don’t think students cannot be tourists, there is much confusion about that.  As international students come to Groningen, they might not consider themselves as tourists, but in fact they are.

Also for non-students Groningen is a nice place. It is a good place for music lovers since they have the Eurosonic Noorderslag festival, and lots of other musical festivities. Also for foodies Groningen is the place to be. Lots of little cafes and restaurants with excellent food for an affordable price. But if you want to do the same sportive things as I did, you better have a good stamina. As for the other activities, I can recommend you to already start drinking so you are used to the amount of alcohol these students consume. Or just refrain from that, and don’t touch that poison ever again. You don’t want to have the same hangover I had, believe me.

So for all the students out there, come to Groningen. And for all the non-students; also visit Groningen!

Discovering my inner party-animal

As a preparation  for my night out, I slept well and ate enough food. I started off at a pub called; Pintelier. It was 10 ‘o clock in the evening, so I still had a long night to go.
I drank a nice beer called ‘Kwak’ which was served in a wooden stand. After 4 beers and a nice conversation with the gentleman next to me, I must say I felt rather tipsy. When I had a look at the bottles my tipsiness wasn’t so surprising. All the beers contained around 8% of alcohol.
That was my sign to move on to the next pub. Unfortunately I cannot recall the name of this pub. I only remember that I met some students who even offered me some free beers. I could not say no to that of course.

After those beers I suddenly got the munchies.  I went to one of the cheapest pizza restaurants you can imagine. It was a restaurant or something in the street called; peperstraat. As I was eating my pizza, which actually tasted quite good, I saw many people going into a building. It seemed there was a party going on there. A few people who came out of that people also ordered pizza, and stood next to me. They told me it was an open-party from their student association. I think it was some kind of fraternity/sorority but with both genders. And because it was their open-party, I could walk in there without even being a member. I think the association was called Dizkartes.
It was really crowded, but a nice atmosphere. Downstairs there was a bar, and a disco. Upstairs there was another bar, but with places where you could sit down and play some games. I ended up playing  dicing game, where I had to drink beer. But the beer only cost me 90 cents! That’s what I call cheap. And it was Heineken, so pretty good.

From that point my memories become a little bit blurry. Because I felt a little bit out of my comfortzone being surrounded by students, I went to another pub where I had some very nice conversations. Outside the pub someone offered me a smoke. I hadn’t smoked for 10 years, but why not. In the end it turned out it wasn’t a regular cigarette.. As I got a little bit dizzy, I decided to just go for another snack. I got myself a typical snack from Groningen called; eierbal. It is an boiled egg inside of a croquette. I had to insert a coin in some sort of vending machine, and I could take it out.  After I ate it I felt pretty good, and I decided to go back to my hotel room to sleep.

I must say that wherever I went, all the people were very kind to me, regardless my age. In the UK it is not very strange to see people getting in a fight, while sitting in a pub. But here you can have like really nice conversations with people even though it’s 5 o’ clock in the morning. I don’t even think pubs in the UK are still opened at that time. But here in Groningen it seems to be normal. I wished I could go back to back to my younger years and re-live my student life here in Groningen.
But.. after I woke up from this most entertaining night, my head was pounding and it felt as if I swallowed the complete Sahara. After I got myself a few glasses of water and some painkillers, I still felt very nauseous. The last time I had a hangover like this was after Christmas. I guess my body isn’t up to the amount of alcohol anymore.

Even though I’m having the worst hangover ever, I must say it was a splendid night. 

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Tasting local beers

As I woke up I was shocked. It was already 3 ‘o clock in the afternoon. I really do not know how it happened, but it happened.  Seems that my body needed some time to recover after my climb from yesterday.

After I had a very nice brunch at a café, I was thinking what to do today. I was craving for a beer to be honest, and that made me think about my next activity. I was wondering if they have a beer brewery in Groningen. When I checked the internet I read something about the ‘Hooghoudt’ brewery. When I talked to a guy in the café about the brewery he said that there was also a small brewery really close by, called; Martinus. They make their own local beer. That seemed very interesting. After I finished my brunch, I figured I ate enough to get me some beer.
After a little walk I found the little brewery. As I came In there were almost no people, but it was no problem to have a little tour. The staff was really kind and hospitable. Normally they give tours with groups of 4 to 16 people. But since they were so kind they gave me a tour with 2 other people. It was an old building with 3 floors. For the beer tanks to fit in they made holes in the ceiling. There were other holes in the ceiling as well, to transport the bags of malt to the attic. The building was really bright on the inside because they built a glass dome in the roof.

As for the beers; they were really tasteful. We got 3 beers; blonde, brown and pale ale. They were all included within the tour. The blonde one had a fresh taste, and the brown one had the sweet taste of caramel and chocolate. The pale ale was also really nice. After the tour, I stuck around some more and had a very nice talk with the tour guide, also a member of the family business. Later on other people started to come in as well. They just sat down and enjoyed their beer.  It seemed that they also had another kind of beer, the triple. Because I was curious, I also bought a triple.

The people that walked in after the tour were students. Later on a couple with a kid had a drink as well.  They were family of the owners. So when it comes down to profiling; There were lots of older people, but again, there were students. For the tour I only paid 10 euro’s, including 3 drinks. That’s a fair price to pay, and even for students very affordable. 

Even though the title of my blog is called; from eco-tourists to party animals, I have yet to find the party animals. It can't be that I leave Groningen without the nightlife experience. So for tomorrow I will let out beast in me and see what's out there. 



Sports on a higher level

After my trip to the Waddensea you would probably think that I’ve already reached the highest point of Groningen. As in the most northern part. Also climbing the martini tower was a highlight. But I want to take it to an even higher level. And as I already said in my previous entry, I want to be more sportive. Therefore the ultimate challenge for me will be climbing the highest free-standing climbing object in the world, located here in Groningen; The Excalibur. Sounds pretty impressive right? It is 37 meters high with 11 meters of overhang. I’ve got some experience when it comes to mountain climbing, but I’m not sure if I can take on this one. To make sure I would be able to climb it I called the head instructor in advance. Since I’ve got the necessary experience I am allowed  to climb the Excalibur, but only together with an instructor.  Of course you are never allowed to climb alone, but since I’m not an expert it is wise to have an instructor by your side.

When I arrived at Bjoeks (The place where the Exalibur is located), the instructor checked my skills. I had to tie the figure 8 bend, and I had to show him how I use the belay device. That was no problem. The only problem I encountered was my lack of strength and stamina, as I already expected. With my inner motivation and the directions of my instructor I got really far I must say. The only thing that was impossible for me was the overhang. My hand slipped, and before I knew I was hanging 10 meters above the ground. Slowly I went down, and as I went down I realized how high I had climbed. Lucky for me I’m not afraid of heights.
Even though I wasn’t able to make it to the top, I’m still very proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Rather surprising, was the fact that there were more tourists than I expected at Bjoeks. Probably it’s  the height of the Excalibur that attracts the tourists. Most of the tourists were between 20 and 40 years old. Again, I was one of the older ones, but it was not too bad. There were also groups of students practicing. They probably had a subscription, because they seemed very familiar with the different routes. As for the price, a day ticket only costs 11,-. For me it was more expensive of course, but I had an instructor. Really affordable I must say.

Well, enough sports for me on this trip. For tomorrow I’m planning to do something more relaxing.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

My first encounter with seals and Dutch eco-tourism

As I was ready to go to the Waddensea I encountered a challenge; the Dutch public transportation system. It actually looks a bit like the oyster card we use in the UK, but here they call it ‘OV chip-kaart’. Took me a little while to understand it but once you got it, it works quite well.
First I had to take a train to Winsum station, and after that a bus to Pieterburen. From my hotel it took me one hour to get there. 

When I arrived at Wadloopcentrum Pieterburen I informed about the different possibilities. It was possible to walk all the way to an Island in the Waddensea. Since my physical abilities aren’t as good as they were before, I decided not to go for the full walk. I chose to do a little tour instead. First we took a boat to the west side of the island ‘Schiermonnikoog’ and then we went further to ‘lutjewad’.  The boat trip was really nice, and I enjoyed the fresh air. As we got off the boat, the water was just below my knees. Snice the water was really cold, it felt as my legs were frozen. From there we walked 1,5 hours on ‘Lutjewad’, the sandbank. They told us it was the shortest route, but as I had already expected, it was a though walk. There were also a few children who did the same route, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble with it. At one point a child gave me a bloody heart attack when she suddenly started to scream. I thought it was something bad, but it turned out it was a scream of joy. On our right you could see a few seals laying on a sandbank.  I have to admit that I was pretty excited as well. They appeared to be laying there enjoying the sun.

our boat; The Boschwad
On our way back on the boat, I took some soup called ‘snert’. Apparently it was some kind of pea soup, with a sausage in it. I think you have to be a real Dutch to enjoy it, because it wasn’t my cup of tea. Anyways, when I got to shore I was really tired, but I still had to go back to my hotel in the centre of Groningen. Maybe it would’ve been better to just book a hotel over here, but never mind.

When looking back on this adventure, there were more people from my age again. I think it also depends on which route you take. If I would’ve chosen the longer one, I think the people would’ve been younger as well. There weren’t many foreign people. Besides me there was one other lady in her 40’s from Ireland whom I had a very nice chat with. The price was really okay. It was only 20 euros, so it is pretty affordable.

For tomorrow I haven’t decided what to do yet, so we will see. After today I have discovered that I may have to work out some more. So maybe I’ll go for some exercise tomorrow.

Music for all people; Eurosonic Noorderslag

After my culinary tour through Groningen, it is time for some music. There is a festival going on called ‘Eurosonic Noorderslag’. Since I didn’t buy any tickets I thought it was impossible to go there. After some investigation I found out that there were also performances that were free, and you don’t need a ticket. Basically there are lots of performances all day long at several locations in Groningen. For most of them you need a ticket, but there are a few which are free. 

The Common Linnets; Sound Checking
The performance I went to see was on ‘de Grote markt’. The artist performing there was called ‘The common Linnets’. It is a Dutch band who  also became second in the Eurovision song festival of 2014 with the song; Calm after the storm. I was rather surprised by the fact that Waylon (the male singer) was replaced by a band. I don’t really know the band that well, apart from the Eurovision song festival, but I was still surprised. Nevertheless it was a great performance that gave me goose bumps all over the place. They had a remarkable sound, with certain influences from country. Normally country isn’t really my thing, but I must say this was very beautiful.  I wasn’t the only one who thought it was beautiful. The whole crowd was silent and waved their hands in the air.

I also saw another Dutch artist called Typhoon. The genre was rap, and even though I don’t really like rap, it was still an amusing performance. The rapper was quite funny and got the crowed jumping. I’m happy nobody knew me back there, because else they would have made fun of me I suppose. I was one of the oldest guys standing in the crowd.

If I do some profiling I must say that at the performance of the common linnets, the audience was really diverse. People of my age, but also students and even children were there. But if you look at the audience of typhoon, there were mostly high school students and college students. I think the overall audience of Eurosonic Noorderslag is pretty diverse because of the broad variety of music genres. If you look at the price it isn’t really expensive, and there are even free possibilities. It is affordable for  all people. There were many tourists from other European countries. The young people who didn’t have too much to spend were satisfied with their cheap accommodations such as  budget hostels. Other people who had a bit more to spend would go to a hotel.

Eurosonic Noorderslag is a festival for all people.

For tomorrow I’m planning to leave town and discover the wilderness of the province of Groningen.

I’m ready for some eco-tourism, and therefore I will go on a tour to the Waddensea.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A culinary journey through Groningen

My culinary journey actually started back at my hotel when I tried the Dutch breakfast instead of my usual ‘English breakfast’. I had some dark bread with old Amsterdam cheese, and another slice of bread with Ham. Since I’m used to eggs and bacon in the morning this was quite different and plain. But I have to say that the taste was good.

Before going on my culinary journey called Wijn en Spijs, translated: wine and food, I checked the locations, and I looked up how to get there. The first location was “eetcafé Schuitendiep”. I have no clue how to pronounce that, but never mind. It was located close to my hotel, only a 2 minute walk. When I came in I could take a seat with two other gents, who appeared to be friends. They were very open and I had a nice chat with them. They were from the Dutch city The Hague. They were in their fifties and visited Groningen just for this particular event. As we got our appetizer I understood why.
The presentation was pretty spectacular, with smoke coming out of the bottom of the plate.
We got a piece of black salsify, with a little bit of mayonnaise dressing on top. I never heard or tasted black salsify before, but I tell you it was very tasty. I’m sorry if I fail to describe what I’m actually eating, or if I fail to describe the exact taste. I’m not a food expert, and I normally do not write about it. This was probably the only course I fully remembered.

The second ‘meal’ was a with fresh salmon tartar with couscous, surrounded with a little layer of crème fraîche, and caviar on top. There was a lot more going on the plate, but it was delicious.

black salsify with smoke
The salmon tartar 

The next restaurant we visited was a little bit further away, but it was nice to walk because you could see more of the city this way. I tagged along with the nice two gentlemen and together we found the restaurant. The funny thing was that they were actually preparing the pork belly outside on a barbecue. The dish however was different than I expected. In a good way of course. We had coquille with pork belly in a mousse with little pieces of bacon. It was again
very tasteful. And oh my, I totally forgot to mention the wine. The wine was in perfect harmony with the dish. A nice touch to this restaurant Voila, is that the kitchen has a dominant and open spot in the restaurant. This way you could see what was going on, which was a pretty sight to see.

I notice while writing this I get kind of carried away, so I won’t go in to detail that much.
All of the restaurant really had their own particular atmosphere and style. I visited 7 restaurants in total; Schuitendiep, Voila, Houdt van eten, De Pauw, Vive La Vie, Moro, and Boccaccio. You have to imagine that an old fellow like me, has got a little alcohol intolerance. After 7 glasses of wine I have to say that I was a bit tipsy.

Houdt van eten had a more ‘manly’ atmosphere with meat and strong, spicy red wine. De Pauw had a very prestigious atmosphere with white table clothes and sculptures, and with excellent food. The food in combination with the wine was a real feast in my mouth. Vive la vie was cosy and we had some homemade Munster cheese ravioli. The wine was a little bit sweet, I bet my wife would love it. Moro was very hospitable, and the waitresses were very kind. It could be that my judgement was already a bit clouded because of the wine. Anyways, we had a delicious paella and because of the great atmosphere I would’ve loved to stay longer, but we had to go on to the last one; Boccaccio. Boccaccio was also very nice. It had a cosy Italian atmosphere. We had all kinds of wildfowl with a fresh pear salad. To complete the picture, they put the wine bottle on the table.

The dish at 'Houdt van eten'
simmered pork and roasted pork belly
The dish at 'Morro'
Paella with shrimps and a cheese croquette

Now that I discussed all of the restaurant I will end this blog entry with a little bit of profiling again. Let’s say that if you are a real foodie, Groningen is the place to be. Unfortunately, as a foreigner you probably won’t be able to get this kind of experience, because there is little advertisement for activities like these. I was a lucky man to be part of this culinary experience. As for the price of all this, it cost me 55 euro’s.  For me it was totally worth it, but people with little to spent, this would probably be too expensive. I think that it is also the main reason I didn’t see young people doing this activity. Most people were between 30 and 60 years old. That being said, I felt really comfortable being around these people because most of them were my age.

For the next activity I will enjoy the European music festival; Eurosonic Noorderslag. I heard that it is all around Groningen with lots of different genres. With my belly full of wine and delicious food I will retreat to my hotel room, and prepare myself for tomorrow.

Thank you for reading my blog, and enjoy my next entry.