So another wonderful day had been had on the 5th of the month and up early in the morn ready for more of the same. I was still feeling pretty down and my natural enthusiasm for travelling had not fully returned due to online issues as previously discussed although it was coming back slowly but surely. I was rather enjoying myself in a lovely place with very good company. My friend was working again so I had the whole day to myself and not much idea what to do with it. I determined on another quick wander round the centre and then the rest of the time attempting to get productive with my TravBuddy writing (as it was then) as I was already falling behind. It always seems to happen no matter how diligent I try to be.
I walked a different route to the centre but I was fairly well orientated by this stage and had a good idea of where to go. I got a closer look at the windmill I had seen from a distance the previous day and it really was impressive, it was absolutely huge. The canals looked splendid on a fine Spring day and I finally managed to get as far as the gate I mentioned previously which I had seen but never got as far as due to waylaying myself in the Rembrandt bar.
It is properly known as the Morspoort and is one of only two surviving gates in what was the old defensive system for the city of Leiden. The name originates from the Morsch which was an area of bogland just outside the city here and this was the Western entrance to the city. The name is also reflected in the name of the bridge you can see which is called Morspoortbrug which crosses the canal known as Morssingel. Not very imaginative I suppose but at least you know where you are!
The current building was built in 1669 to the design of a local architect called Willem van der Helm and it replaced an earlier wooden structure which had been built in the early part of the 17th century. I found it to be very aesthetically pleasing and did spend a bit of time just admiring it.
As it’s defensive function implies the Morspoort is associated with a military presence and was home to the Fourth Infantry Regiment up until the Nazi German occupation of the country in 1940. During that time it also served as the city prison. With the Germans defeated and removed the Morspoort continued it’s military association by becoming, of all things, the training establishment for the Catering Corps but this function was moved to Haarlem in 1981 thereby ending the long military association with the area. There are still several reminders of the German occupation adjacent to the gate and here are a couple of images.
It really is an attractive building and is well worth a brief visit for a photo op.
Well, that was quite enough sightseeing for the one day and I retired to my “office” aka the Cafe Rembrandt where I was greeted warmly by the relief barman as Tony was on the evening shift that day and also by a couple of the locals who recognised me from my previous visit, I really did feel at home there. I did not have much conversation with the barman as he had limited English and my Dutch runs to about a dozen words including, bizarrely, the Dutch word for a milk churn! That little story will be for a later journal entry however.
Some people castigate me for days like this when I am travelling and perceive it as wasted time but I really do not subscribe to that view. Apart from the fact that I got productive in relation to my writing, I was doing what I like to do best i.e. just getting off the beaten path a bit, interacting with the locals and generally immersing myself in local life. I really cannot be bothered with charging round five museums in one day just because they are there. I have long maintained that there is no right or wrong way to travel just as there is no right or wrong way to write about it. It is very much a matter of taste and this is just the way I like to go.
I had been talking to my friend on the rather wonderful Whatsapp thingy which my friend Jo had very helpfully loaded on my ‘phone for me and shown me how to use. It really is rather nifty and it must be really simple if a card-carrying technophobe like me can use it. We were discussing where we might eat that evening and my friend told me she had booked us a table at the El Gaucho restaurant which was very handy as it was about three minutes walk from the bar and only a couple of doors down from the Asian Palace where we had dined the previous evening and I have reviewed elsewhere in this journal.
My friend turned up after work and was made to feel most welcome despite being the only woman in the place. It really is very much a “blokes bar” but she told me she felt totally comfortable in there. After a few drinks we made our way to the restaurant.
I have absolute faith in my friend’s knack of picking a good restaurant as she has demonstrated an unfailing ability to do so over the many years we have known each other. Added to that, she works regularly in Leiden with many Dutch colleagues and they had spoken of El Gaucho in glowing terms. Having made the short trip to the premises we entered to be warmly greeted by a very pleasant young lady and seated in a window table. To be honest, we had plenty of choice as the place was completely empty. OK, it was a midweek night but my friend informed me that the Dutch like to take their evening meal pretty early and we had obviously missed whatever evening service rush there may have been. Still, there were enough staff on duty to have serviced a full restaurant and that ensured that service was very efficient and friendly but I have come to expect that in the Netherlands anyway.
There is an open kitchen which I love as a) I can watch pro chefs at work and I do love to cook myself. I would watch cooking programmes on TV all day, and often do. b) It shows that the kitchen has nothing to hide and this place was spotless and obviously well looked after.
El Gaucho is an Argentinian grill and it really is a place for carnivores. I fear that vegetarians will struggle here with vegans having no chance as this is a place for people that like to gorge on dead animals! We had been told that the portions here were generous and so we shared a starter of Chorizos @ € 7.50 which were billed as “Grilled Argentine sausages” (the menu is bilingual in Dutch and English). They were not chorizo as I understand them but they were very pleasant and the taste reminded me slightly of Cypriot pastourma although not quite the same.
For mains, my friend had chosen a steak which is obviously the house speciality but the merest glance at the menu was all I required. If there are ribs on a menu then it will take another exceptionally interesting dish to tempt me away from them and so I plumped for the linguistically odd “Costillas de cerdo all you can eat” @ € 23.00 and described as “Perfectly marinated spare ribs, all you can eat.” I am sure there must be a Dutch phrase for all you can eat but they chose to juxtapose the Spanish with English for some reason.
There is an option of a one-off serving @ €18 and honestly I suspect this would have been ample. All you can eat? The first serving would have been all three men could have eaten over two meals. As I say, I love ribs and have eaten them in different styles in many different countries but I have never before seen a serving that huge. As they say, the camera does not lie so judge for yourself. Again apologies for the quality of some of the images but even in an empty restaurant I just feel uncomfortable firing off flash.
The menu description is entirely accurate as they were indeed marinated to perfection although I could not put my finger on exactly what the marinade consisted of. They were cooked to a nicety and literally falling off the bone. Some of the best ribs I have eaten anywhere. The accompaniments of roasted onion and a whole roasted garlic bulb (which I love) were all that was required as further veggies would have been superfluous for me although my friend’s steak did come with some well-cooked carrots and green beans.
Needless to say, there was no way I could wade through that much food and so I had to send for reinforcements. Still, fair’s fair and I had had a couple of mouthfuls of my friend’s steak which was so tasty and very tender. I do not know if the meat is locally sourced or imported from Argentina but wherever it originates it is of absolutely top quality.
What I know about wine you could write on the back of a postage stamp and so I always leave it to my friend who is a bit of an expert and in collusion with the obviously knowledgeable server she chose a beauty (a Merlot possibly?) that complemented the meal perfectly. After having gorged myself so completely, the concept of a dessert was right out the window although I was tempted by the “Vanilla ice cream with fresh mango and tequila” which sounded like an interesting marriage of flavours.
Full to the neck, we took ourselves off into another pleasant Spring night to try to walk off at least some of the ludicrous amount of calories we had consumed. As always local knowledge had come up trumps and my friend’s Dutch colleagues had certainly not steered us wrong as el Gaucho, whilst certainly not a budget option, is an absolutely top-class place. The fact that it has been going for 25 years in what is a very competitive and uncertain market probably speaks for itself.
Yet another fairly short walk home and on the way my friend asked me what I planned to do the next day and this was more than merely a casual enquiry. She was returning to UK the next day and I would have to vacate the hotel room so what next? Good question.
I had only bought a single ticket to get here with a vague notion I might spend a day or two on my own when my friend took off. I am a single retired man with no dependents and no commitments at home so I can pretty much please myself. She literally laughed out loud and told me that I was crazy, which has more than a grain of truth about it. I had asked her where might be a decent place to go and visit nearby and she had suggested either Haarlem or Den Haag both of which she liked. Alternatively, I could go and see my friends in Aachen in Germany or other friends who live in Tongeren in Belgium or yet more friends near Den Haag or………. well, I certainly had no shortage of options.
I thought I had better sleep on it so if you want to know where I did end up then stay tuned and spread the word.