Alicia’s Lonely Planet Challenge – Den Bosch Part 1

I’ve decided to throw things around a bit on the Lonely Planet Challenge (LPC) front. I have a bit of a problem sometimes; I have to do certain things in a certain order. Like when using a puzzle book I have to do the puzzles in order, so from front to back, I’m not allowed to pick out the ones I like and do those, which means when I get to a word search (which I’m not a fan of) I usually end up never picking up the puzzle book again. I have a similar problem with my LPC. I’m trying to go through the Lonely Planet in order. From front to back. So my initial plan was to do everything in Amsterdam first and also in order. Now I’ve scrapped that plan, I have a new one. I’ll be following two routes through the book from now on. Route number one will be what I was already doing, starting at the beginning and going through the book in the order it is put together. And route number two will be following a kind of logic route from whatever is closest to home, so starting in the province Noord-Brabant. And maybe every now and again I’ll even throw in a completely spontaneous trip to wherever. You never know ;)

So how did this change of behaviour begin? Yesterday, the plan was to go to Amsterdam, until I realised that the trains in that direction were all a bit messy this weekend, plus I needed to get back to Tilburg in time to see The Smashing Pumpkins at 013. So I decided to still go out and about, but closer to home. The result of which was Den Bosch, the first city mentioned in the Noord-Brabant part of my LP.

Now I know Den Bosch quite well, it’s one of those cities I go to when I want to go shopping and I want to get out of Tilburg. It’s a good shopping city and it’s also quite beautiful with its canals and medieval buildings. I’ve done a few of the things in LP before, but I will be doing them again to refresh my memory. Yesterday though, I did something new. The first thing LP recommends is Sint Janskathedraal (Saint John’s Cathedral). According to LP it’s Den Bosch’s main attraction, this is what else LP has to say:

“(…) one of the finest churches in the Netherlands. It took from 1336 to 1550 to complete, and there’s an interesting contrast between the red-brick tower and the ornate stone butresses. The interior is also of interest, with late-Gothic stained-glass windows, an impressive statue of the Madonna and an amazing organ case from the 17th century. Unfortunately, Protestants destroyed the cathedral’s paintings in 1566. Recent restorations uncovered a few 15th-century survivors. Take the opportunity to climb the 73m tower, with its carillon and great views.”

Now this is one of those places I’ve always seen, but never properly seen. I’ve walked past it, but never really looked at it. I’ve also never been inside. My plan was to go for the tower climb, which actually turned out to be a guided tour. I went to buy my ticket at a building a little further down the street. They cost five euros for adults, kids between four and twelve cost €2.50 and under fours are free. The tour is two to three times a day throughout most of the year (except on Mondays) and it lasts for about an hour and fifteen minutes. (For more information check out http://www.kringvrienden.nl, which is unfortunately in Dutch). I bought tickets for the two o’clock tour which gave me some time to have lunch and visit the comic book store (nerd, remember).

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The comic book store in Den Bosch, Silvester, is pretty good. They have a good English section. It was mainly just a browse, though. The problem is that I can get the stuff I’m interested in for quite a bit less money on the internet. And whilst I’m all for supporting shops, as in real-life shops you can walk into. I really don’t want shops to disappear! If the difference between the internet price and the price in the shop reaches a certain limit, I have to be honest and say I will order my stuff online. I am sorry! :(

Koffiehuis Voltaire, the café I planned to go to, was actually just opposite the comic book store, which was very convenient as well as being a complete coincidence. In LP’s words:

“The definition of funky. Settle into a table out front or amid the multi-coloured shambles inside for some fab veggie fare. The affable owner cooks up a mean house special: a grilled sandwich of organic cheese, pesto, arugula, avocado and more. Great fruit shakes. No smoking anything.”

Basically what is described above is a pretty good description. But to be honest I wasn’t overly convinced. When I walked in there were four people spread around the place and they all seemed to know each other, I don’t know if they all worked there, or whether they were friends or what exactly there relationships were with each other, but when I walked in it felt like I was interrupting something. They did all say hello, but there was a bit of a strange atmosphere which made me feel like I wasn’t particularly wanted. It’s a small café and it’s set up a bit like a living room, it actually felt like I was barging into someone else’s living room. I sat down anyway. There are all kinds of items lying all over the place from throughout the years, also piles of books and magazines, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge of things. The girl that helped me was actually very friendly. She came over and gave me glass of tap water and asked what I’d like to drink, I ordered and asked what they did for lunch as there was no menu to be seen. Basically she told us she could make us warm or cold sandwiches with a list of ingredients she could put on the sandwiches and she could also do an omelet. It was a bit strange. I said I’d like a sandwich, I went for a cold one with both goat’s and cow’s cheese and avocado. The sandwich was actually really good, very tasty and it looked great. I paid and left pretty quickly once finished, though. I don’t think I’d go back again, just cause the mood was so strange, I didn’t really understand the vibes. Also I didn’t really get the concept, if there even is a concept. It was as if you had to be familiar with the place and the people who work there/hang out there and then maybe you’d also be in on the secret of what exactly they serve. I didn’t get the point of not having some kind of menu. I saw someone on a table nearby receiving a smoothie, I know LP said they had smoothies, but I’d forgotten that and if there’d have been a menu I would probably have ordered a smoothie too… So, no, I wouldn’t recommend. I am sorry to say so. It makes me sad :(.

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I still had a bit of time to spare before the climb, so I had a bit of a drift through the shopping streets. I bought a few tops from America Today, it’s sale time, so there are bargains galore! I arrived in front of the tower on time and was met by the lady who would be giving the tour. She was very friendly and seemed genuinely interested in the people on the tour. There were twelve of us in total, including two men from Israel, so she did the tour in Dutch but translated into English for the Israelis. Her English was perfect, I was very impressed! I can always appreciate it when someone not English has such a good command of the language. :) So kudos for that! The tour was pretty amazing, very informative and interesting. There are enough breaks in between climbing and you get to see the carillon actually playing, very very cool! The climb goes up to 43m, so not all the way to the top, were you get to look at the wonderful view from three different sides of the tower. It was all very fascinating, definitely worth it. My compliments!

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After the more scary climb back down I went inside the cathedral, which is just WOW! I think it’s probably one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen when it comes to interior. There’s an awesome organ which can only be a humongous honour to whoever gets to play that thing, again WOW! The windows are dazzling and the ceiling is magnificent! I have to agree with LP, for now, that this is Holland’s finest cathedral/church! I was pretty flabbergasted, I hadn’t expected something I’d pretty much ignored whenever I was in Den Bosch to be so amazing.

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Next I went for the acclaimed Bossche Bol, it’s the local speciality when it comes to pastries. The original ones are made by the baker Jan de Groot, I didn’t actually eat at the Jan de Groot establishment as it’s near to the station and was a bit out of the way, but I did eat a real Jan de Groot Bossche Bol. There are cafés all over Den Bosch that sell the real thing, you just have to look for the signs. They are delicious, though very heavy on the tummy. Oh yes, a little explanation may be of use here, the Bossche Bol is quite a big ball of pastry filled with whipped cream and covered in chocolate ;). If you’ve never had one and you’re in the area, you should really give it a try.

Next up was some more shopping. Of course I ended up going home with four new books. <3 I don’t have a problem, really I don’t! I rounded off with a drink on the terrace of a local pub/bar. I had a Kriek (cherry flavoured beer, my favourite).

Then it was time for more food! Tea time (or supper, or dinner, what you call it depends where you come from). The plan was to go to a restaurant called Puur, which was in the LP but in the address where it was supposed to be was a different restaurant. I didn’t know whether it was the same with a different name or whether it was something completely different. Also there wasn’t a menu hanging outside, which was a sign that this restaurant was probably quite expensive. Also it was in a street shared by all the most expensive looking shops. So I decided to try something else. The next few things in the LP were also a bit too expensive for my liking, so I ended up finding something myself. I came across Nul73 (Nil73, which is the telephone code of Den Bosch, just like 013 is the telephone code of Tilburg), it’s opposite the church and the menu seemed very promising.

I sat in the garden and went for the four course meal for €25. The first thing that attracted me about the place was the choice of vegetarian meals. So I went for the four course veggie meal. The first course was bread with two dips (a pesto dip and a mustard/lemon dip) and a herb butter. It was scrummy! Second up I got a veggie salad with lettuce, brie, gorgonzola, green olives, walnuts, pine nuts, figs, dates, green grapes, tomatoes and cucumber in an orange flavoured dressing. Which I enjoyed as far as I could, the problem wasn’t the food, it’s me. I don’t like the combination of sweet and savoury. I also have a bit of a problem with blue cheeses, it’s fine if they’re in a sauce or melted on a pizza, but I still have to get used to them just as they are, I am learning though and I forced a few pieces in. Anyway like I said my problem, not the food. ;) Now for the main course, here it comes… The one in the menu was a pasta with a chilli sauce, as you will know if you’ve been following this blog from the beginning (when it was still on blogger), I am allergic to chilli peppers. So I told the waiter and he said they would make a different sauce for me, “great!” I thought. :) But I took one bite and I was pretty sure there was chilli in there, as I got the feeling I get when I eat chilli, even if it’s a tiny tiny tiny bit of chilli my mouth sets on fire and I don’t have any taste left at all. So I asked the waiter if there was chilli in my pasta after all, he phoned the kitchen and everything, but they said there wasn’t any chilli in there. I went back and tried again, but I just couldn’t eat it. We had to ask again and I have to say the service was brilliant. Without a problem the waiter and also waitress, this time, arranged for a different pasta for me. Later the waitress told me they’d tried the pasta themselves and they both thought it was definitely too spicy. But still there was no chilli in there, so it seems I may be allergic to a type of pepper as well. The new pasta I received was a creamy mushroom pasta. It was heavenly! I am a big fan of mushrooms, always have been, if they were officially a vegetable, they would be my favourite! I couldn’t resist the crème brûlée for dessert. When I received my plate my mouth almost dropped open, the crème brûlée was HUMONGOUS and next to it were three large scoops of ice cream with a massive dollop of whipped cream on the top. The  crème brûlée was exactly as a crème brûlée should be, very tasty! All in all it was a very enjoyable meal. The service was excellent and not just because of my chilli adventure. The prices were astounding and the food was as you will have already concluded above pretty much perfect! The only thing I can point out is that the portions were way too big, which isn’t a negative for the guest per se, it’s just a shame that they’ll probably end up throwing a lot of uneaten food away. The portions of each course, if eaten alone, or maybe in a three course meal, would be fine, but in a four course meal it was just way too much! Apart from that though I was very impressed, so for the second time today my compliments! I will most probably be back and will definitely be recommending Nul73. :)

References: Quotes used from Lonely Planet The Netherlands 4th Edition, (www.lonelyplanet.com)

More info: Cathedral (http://www.kringvrienden.nl, http://www.sint-jan.nl), Nul73 (http://www.nul73lunchendiner.nl)

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