Sunday, January 01, 2006

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! [Happy New Year!]

Snowstorm before New Years Eve

Dutch weather has been playing hide and seek with us this year. Well that’s nothing new really. There was no snow on the first day of Christmas, the 25th, but on the second day, the 26th, it snowed during the day and also later in the evening, making the Netherlands on the 27th a plateau of beatific whiteness.

Then it played a trick on us again, as terrible weather knock us on the 30th creating a frenzied malady in the flatlands. The train tracks hit to a stand still with thousands of stranded passengers and traffic on the highway was a nightmare. Blame it on the deluge of snow.

Dutchman and I on the other hand were warmly and nicely ducked at home but I thought it wouldn’t hurt us a bit to go on a short snow wandering outside, even if it was a -2C.

In some areas the snow was more than 10cm thick. I felt like a stuffed up mascot with this coat because of the layers of clothing tucked inside.

The weather trick ‘n treat didn’t stop, the next day the 31st, the temperature went sharply up, from a freezing -2C to a moderate 5C but with buckets of rain! Damn, all the thick snow was gone in the afternoon. So quick, i
t seems that April Fools Day was very much alive in December.

New Years Eve

For our pre-New Years Eve drink, a quick visit to our favorite hang out in the city Centrum was quickly arranged.

Although majority of the Dutch are a secular group of people, they are still, surprisingly, very conservative in their ways when it comes to celebrating special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and New Year. The average Dutch observe the change of the year at home with their fireworks, so it was not that upsetting to find that most of the cafes, bars and restaurants are closing early.

Red orange colored row buildings with café restaurants in the ground floor by the Neude square, very striking during the day by the way. Our favorite café is located right next to this.

There are however a number of bars open with a party theme to kick off for New Years, but these are exclusive and you would have to buy a ticket in advance to get in. We didn’t intend to spend New Years outside so we finished our cappuccino and red wine, got back out into the cold night and hit the cobble stone streets of Utrecht.

And if there is one special thing that is noticed all over the Netherlands today, it would have to be the wonderful smell, umm well appetizing, of oliebollen in the air. Oliebollen are typical Dutch round doughnuts but without the hole [imagine the size of a tennis racket ball] mixed with raisins and apple bits. They are popularly eaten during New Years Eve/Day in the Netherlands.

Oliebollen for sale! This is the traditional Dutch pastry stand [Hollandse Gebakkraam] that can be seen loitered all over the country during the holidays. They also increase in numbers just a few days before New Years.

This tradition of eating doughnut balls on New Years has been practiced for a good 500 years in this country. So as simple as it is, a Dutch home is not complete without these tasty balls at the strike of 12 midnight.

Another typical Dutch pastry eaten on News Years is the appel beignet [apple doughnut]. I think beignet is a French word.

Anyway, we chose to celebrate New Years with oliebollen so we bought 2 bags of 8.

At the strike of 12!

And of course, the oliebollen were quickly warmed in the oven for 5 minutes and at the strike of 12 midnight, they were ready plus a glass of Champagne with it.

At the strike of 12, pop the champagne, drink a glass and eat an oliebol! Oh, and kiss the liefe Dutchman too!

Oliebollen are usually eaten with sprinkled fine powder sugar on top. Champagne or anything similar [such as the Italian Spumante and Apple Cider] is opened with a pop, cheered with a clink and drunk on this special night.

The great thing about the place where we live is the vantage point in seeing all the amazing city fireworks during New Years Eve. I assure you, this is a sure-fire grand fireworks entertainment!

Because of the possibility of stray rockets, we dared not go out to the balcony to hang our butts. We are situated quite high up so the risk of meeting a strayed shoot is high. Watching the play of lights from our tall and wide glass panes was enough, although I sneaked out for a few minutes. Was I glad curiosity didn’t kill the cat, hehe.

It was a challenge to capture the string of fireworks on camera, as they happen rather quickly, so these were the only best shots that I can muster.

The fireworks lasted for a spectacular non-stop 1 hour show, which happens to be quite normal in Holland, and even after 1AM, you can still hear a few cracks and see bursts of colorful lights. Incidentally, I saw on TV that the sale of these dangerous items are strictly regulated. You can only buy them at authorized stores 3 days before New Years.

I told the Dutchman that we must invite the whole family next year to our place and share this exquisite experience.

Here are some recollection tidbits, albeit less nostalgic...

Last year, we spent New Years with KLM, 50,000 feet above sea level on a flight, Manila to Amsterdam. If am not mistaken, we were just right above China or Kazakhstan when the pilot first greeted us happy 2005. Oh wait, due to the time zones, we had to celebrate New Years a couple of times! I swear, I saw fireworks when I leaned on the window and looked down. The year before this, we were here at home in Utrecht but we barely enjoyed the change of year because we were busy doing our final baggage checks. The itinerary: Canary Islands. So at 2AM of 1 January 2004, we braved the littered smokey streets and the remaining firework activities, en route to Amsterdam Schiphol airport.

So this New Years is indeed a nice change, to be relaxed at home, with the champagne and the oliebollen. Ah, New Years Eve, well at least the Dutch way.

So I leave you with this simple message...

Ik wens iedereen een gezond en gelukkig 2006!!! Proost!

[I wish everyone good health and happiness in 2006!!! Cheers!]

Met veel liefs,

The Dutched Pinay

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