Café Briljant, Haarlem.

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Haarlem is a small city to the west of Amsterdam. Far more than just a satellite town, Haarlem has an important history itself, and provided the name for a suburb in New York. The heyday of beer brewing in Haarlem goes back to the 15th century, when there were no fewer than 100 breweries in the city. And it’s twinned with Derby, England.

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There are a good number of cosy and warm Dutch pubs (brown bars), and a jewel in the crown is Café Briljant. They stock around 50 beers, with a heavy Dutch and Belgian prevalence;  offer 5 changing taps; and 29 whiskies. They also offer a real community vibe, nestled as it is in a quaint suburb. There is  great window seat to watch people go by (above) or an equally appealing alcove seat at the back.

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Venue: 8/10

A relaxing venue, and perfect for gathering some energy after a wander around some very pleasant suburbs.

Beer: 7/10

A good range with 5 changing taps to keep you interested.

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The most wonderful time of the year

I love Christmas. Yes, I’m one of them. One of those people who gets a little excited feeling around mid-OctoIMG_2067ber, just as the air feels like it’s hardening and evening darkness encroaches upon the afternoons more and more. Whilst most are still mourning the lost of summer and have not had the heart to put away their flip-flops, I am already feeling nostalgic and looking forward to seeing fairy lights and eating mince pies.

If you do not share my feelings (i.e. you have a more rational perspective on the Christmas festivities) then you will no doubt feel the urge to hit people like me if we have the nerve to utter the “C” word before Decemeber 1st. Callum doesn’t share my love of the anticipation of Christmas so I have to keep my glee under wraps, as it were.

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Now we have almost completed our first week of December, I need hide it no more. The lights are up, presents have already been bought (some of them wrapped) and I’m playing Fairytale of New York on an almost daily basis. I have already made, written and posted all of my cards – but I didn’t take pictures, which was stupid because I was very pleased with them this year. However, for the past couple of years I have never been able to feel fully in the Christmas spirit because in Holland Christmas is still second-best; Sinterklaas is the big celebration over here and so gets the most attention from shops (and therefore shoppers).

As a result, my advent calendar is less typical than those we have in England (although not as much as Callum’s), I’ve had to hand make a ‘Happy Xmas’ banner and still haven’t eaten a single mince pie. (My options are to pay more than €5 for six M&S ones or make them. It’s practically a violation of my human rights.) Think this is likely to dampen my Christmas anticipation? Not at all. I just know that it won’t really feel like Christmas time until I reach jolly ol’ England toward the end of December…

PS. If you’re still feeling more Scrooge than Santa, have a listen to my newest favourite Christmas song by Aussie comedian Tim Minchin. It’s lovely:

The Best Cafe in the Netherlands: De Bóbbel

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The hotly contested accolade in 2012 was awarded to Sjinkeij de Bóbbel in Maastrict.

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A surprising choice really, as they only have one brand (Brand, as it happens) of beer and they play very heavily on their brandy-based, mysterious Bitter Bobbelke, which is poured at your table, as tradition dictates that one must initiate imbibing with a slurp.

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Unusually for the Netherlands, the interior is stylish, decadent and bespoke with, even more unusual for the Netherlands, attentive service. Quaint central Maastricht adds to the old-world feel of the place.

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De Brabantse Aap

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On the Spui, central Amsterdam, you can find a very recently renovated De Beiaard branch, of which there are four scattered around the Netherlands.

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The renovation is tasteful and carries a lot of cosy, gezellig, charm, despite how new everything is, apart from these beer bottles of yesteryear:

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There are ten or so beer taps and, judging by the acridity and reluctantly increasing ullage of my Brugse Zot, this is perhaps a few too many to maintain quality across the range.

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The layout especially favours small groups and, which is rare, caters very well for patrons visiting alone, who can benefit from the installation of a viewing shelf and stools along the window. There is also conservatory space, so the people-watching opportunities are rife.

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Venue: 8/10

Recently refurbished tastefully.

Beer: 8/10

Very wide and strong selection, with a laudable focus on local and seasonal brews.

 

De Drie Fleschjes

The Three Small Bottles is one of the oldest bars in Amsterdam: 1650.

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Little has changed since then, and the interior still proudly displays a wall of fifty wooden spirit barrels.

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Close as it is to Dam Square, it is still easy to miss this refuge tucked away behind the Nieuwe Kerk.

You've really no excuse not to go if you're staying at the Best Western.

You’ve really no excuse not to go if you’re staying at the Best Western.

De Drie Fleschjes has an excellent selection of Jenever to get drunk on.

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Venue: 8/10

Admittedly, this bar is tiny. There is a phone booth type private seating area and a wall of functioning spirit barrels- what more do you want?

Beer: 1/10

Jenever bar, innit.

 

 

Snow Falls on Haarlem

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The radar promised ten centimeters of snow overnight, and we awoke to see this still falling with the skies looking like they’ve plenty more to give.

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Almost as soon as dawn broke however, the snow started to rot away.

IMG_9560As the Siberian winds continue to blow over western Europe, there’s every chance of more snow kissed vistas.

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A few in Norway

There are few easier places to photograph.

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But at a price: 23 Euros for two beers. But as the Norwegians always say, “If there’s a more expensive way to do something: do it”.

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Living in Amsterdam, anything with hills great.

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A personal highlight was Oslo’s spanking new opera house (Operahuset).

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There would be more photos if it weren’t so dam cold.


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The ski jump looks formidable.

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