Often on the weekend I find myself daydreaming about what I would do on a Saturday in a certain city. Usually it is the cities I have lived in and I can vividly picture what I would do, where I would go, and what I would eat on this imaginary Saturday. It is a Perfect Saturday because the weather is perfect, I’m wearing that pair of shoes that makes me happy (we all have them), my hair is cooperating, and there is no limit to how many meals I can have on this fantasy day. Do you do this? Or am I the only one who is terrible at ‘living in the moment’, not to mention ‘living in the same continent’?
Let’s have a Perfect Saturday in Groningen, The Netherlands, where I lived for 4 years. This is gonna be….well, perfect!
- Let’s leave the apartment and walk 50m to the Vismarkt where the Saturday market is already bustling. There are vegetable and fruit stalls at one end, cheese and meats in the middle, and fish and “frites” down the other end. We’ll go to the bakery stall and buy some fresh ham and cheese croissants still warm from the oven. Then we’ll cross over the cobblestones to the flower stalls that stretch all the way down the street. We go to our flower guy who we buy from every week and choose bunches of peonies or tulips. Check the change he gives you for counterfeit coins (yes, it happened. I went back the next week and bought a bouquet from him. I paid him with the same coin and a knowing smirk. Ka-ching).
- We go home and eat our croissants on our roof-top patio in the sunshine. We drink our coffee, listen to Keane (their album will be forever linked with our time in Groningen), and look out at the Aa Church steeple and the sugar beet factory chimney in the distance. On the wind we can smell the sweet, earthy scent of sugar beets being cooked. It pervades the city in the Autumn and is strangely comforting. It is far better than when the wind blows from the tobacco factory and the city unfortunately smells like wet cigarette butts.
- Out we go again to walk the diverse shopping streets (with names that translate to “Big Crooked Elbow” street). We will watch with amusement as Dutch men happily buy red pants. This is a genuine phenomenon: read about it here. They love some red pants, and to their credit, they can pull off that look with relative ease. Not possible for the rest of us, though, so don’t get any fancy ideas.
- Let’s stop at a cafe for lunch. I always liked Het Land Van Kokanje where we can sit beneath huge chandeliers and Art Deco stained glass windows. There is no question that we have to order a bowl of snert. The name is terribly off-putting, but hold fast because it is delicious. Snert is a thick split pea soup with slices of pork sausage in it. Thin slices of dark rye bread usually come alongside. It is traditionally served in the winter as a hearty, warming meal. Now, my Perfect Saturday in Groningen is not in the winter (let’s be honest, that would be less than perfect), but due to freedom of fantasy I can have snert whenever I want. (Never thought I would type those words…)
- We’ll take our bikes now and cycle north out of the city centre. Our bikes are proper upright Dutch bikes with maximum 3 gears, a “dynamo” wheel generated light, a bell, and a luggage rack on the back. The second-hand bikes clunk and rattle as we go over the cobblestones, but we have an easy jaunt along crowded streets past the University and to the canal that rings the city centre. On we go, through leafy residential neighbourhoods until we reach the green haven of Noorderplantsoen. This is a large public park with meandering paths and duck ponds. We’ll sit awhile under the big trees in the afternoon sun working up a thirst for our next stop.
- Back on the bikes and back into the main square (Grotemarkt) where we will sit outside and order a beer and bitterballen. These are deep-fried, breaded balls of meat ragout. Appetizing, right? Right? Again, just hold fast because with a touch of mustard and a cold beer to wash it down…it will be great. We have prime seats to watch the comings and goings of the city against the backdrop of the impressive Martini Tower. The pub we sit at may well be De Drie Gezusters (The Three Sisters) which is cleverly interconnected with multiple pubs along one side of the market square. Once inside you can weave through tables, passageways, booths, and serving bars until you stumble out of the front door of a property 100m away. Funny. Or, if it is after a particularly dubious night, extremely disconcerting.
- As the market winds down and the shops close, we can make our way to dinner which will be without a doubt at Cervantes, a tapas bar (okay, okay, it’s not Dutch, but how much snert and bitterballen can one handle in 24 hours??). You know how I love my menu-stoppers (remind yourself here and here), and at Cervantes it can only be dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon, then breaded and fried. Spicy, sweet, salty. Amen.
- Because my Perfect Saturday can weave through months and seasons, we will go back to Noorderplantsoen after dinner for the annual arts festival, Noorderzon. You can hop on the luggage rack of my bike and ride side-saddle . It is a sight often seen, but we will have to work on your running mount onto the back of my bike. The Dutch make it look effortless and smooth, but we can all imagine just how VERY wrong that could go.
- At Noorderzon we will enjoy the free music performances while eating poffertjes: small, puffy pancakes served with butter and icing sugar. A dozen of these little gems sit on a paper tray with a Dutch flag toothpick stuck in the top. Eating these morsels under the glowing lanterns hanging from the trees with Groningen gently winding down around us, we give thanks for a Perfect Saturday…and for our large appetites.