Thursday, August 5, 2004

Not a Typical Market Day in Sittard

I haven't been to the market in Sittard for a little over a year, and I've been missing the experience. The smells of the food, the friendly vendors, people's not so much the shopping that I enjoy as it is the atmosphere of it.

So I slathered on some sunscreen and headed out. It is a gorgeous, sunny, fantastic day today, although it's very hot. Not unpleasantly so.

I got to Sittard around 11:45 and walked to the market square. It was jam packed with people who were either browsing, sitting at the sidewalk cafes, or discussing prices with the vendors at the various booths. For those of you who have never been to one of these markets, the outer perimeters usually sell perishables: meats, cheeses, produce, and flowers. The inner part of the market square has the clothing, housewares, and stationary vendors. I'm primarily interested in the food, but it's always worth looking at the other stuff too.

The entire area usually smells like fried fish. The Netherlands is a big seafood country. Herring is the particular favorite (the preferred method of eating it is whole, raw, with some onions and pickles on top...bleargh. You're supposed to slide it whole down your throat, but I don't know how anyone can do that without gagging). It's easy to get your lunch at the market...maybe some fried fish or some food from the Vietnamese can finish off your meal with a fresh hot Belgian waffle drizzled in chocolate or powdered sugar. The waffle man is always very friendly and speaks wonderful English. But I skipped him this go round since I hadn't had lunch at that point.

The produce always looks so beautiful and fresh. The flowers also look incredible and are amazingly cheap. The cheese...OH, THE CHEESE. European cheese is the greatest food on earth, I swear to God. I salivate just thinking about the huge wheels of Gouda and Edam.

I limited myself to some produce. A carton of gorgeous strawberries for one euro - had to have them. A couple of Granny Smith's nice to know for a change what kind of apple I'm getting (the ones at the commissary usually aren't labeled).

I stopped at a flower vendor. They were selling potted, not fresh-cut. I wanted a couple containers of mini sunflowers to put out on our little stoop by the front door. That area gets a lot of sun...other plants haven't fared so well there. The "sonnenblumen" were 2 euros per pot and were just gorgeous, perfect looking sunflowers ("sonnenblumen" is actually German, not Dutch...I think the Dutch word is "zonnebloemen," but the ladies working at the booth understood what I wanted). Of course, after I carried them around in a plastic bag for a couple of hours, they got a little wilted. But they're sitting out in the sun now, freshly watered, and should perk back up soon.

By this time, I was hungry. So I went to my usual place for lunch in Sittard - Bakkerij Bart ("bakkerij" being the Dutch word for bakery). I go there because I know the menu and because most of the staff speaks English. I ordered a tuna salad, but ended up with ham and cheese for some inexplicable reason. That's was still good. I got it on multigrain broodje (the Dutch term for roll) with "salad" on top (shredded lettuce, cabbage and carrots), cucumber, and tomato...oh, and some hardboiled egg. Yes, egg. And I didn't even order it with egg. *shrug* Whatever, it was a damn good sandwich. All they had cold to drink was Coca Cola Light with Lemon. I hate Diet Coke with tastes like Lemon Pledge. But this actually tasted better. (Cola Light is NOT Diet Coke. Diet Coke does not exist in Europe, with the exception of the British Isles. Trust me, they taste completely different).

So I get my food and I'm looking for a place to sit. There wasn't an empty table to be found in the place. I noticed a family was getting ready to leave. The mom was wiping the crumbs off the table. So I stood there with my tray and waited, only a couple that had been behind me in line went and grabbed the seats at that table before the family had even completely left yet. I couldn't do anything else at that point but ask if it was okay to sit with them. In Europe, this is a perfectly acceptable practice. If there is nowhere else to sit in a restaurant, you are expected to share a table with total strangers. That's just a little out of my comfort zone. But what choice did I have? So I sat with this young Dutch couple, who seemed nice enough but didn't talk to me, although we exchanged smiles occasionally over bites of sandwich. Well, okay...the guy and I exchanged smiles...the girl totally ignored me from start to finish. I finished my meal, said goodbye to them, and left.

I had nothing else on my agenda at that point, and still an hour before my parking permit expired. So I figured I would window shop for a bit. Oddly enough, I ran into a tour group from the Family Support Center on base (the FSC coordinates tours in the local area...that's how I got to go to Maastricht and Aachen earlier this year). I had no idea they were doing a tour of Sittard today. So I was invited to join up with them, as they were about to go and check out St. Peter's church. After getting a little history lesson on the church, we discovered that it was closed. And so was the Basilica of Our Lady, and St. Michael's. None of them opened until 2. So we walked back to the shopping area for some ice cream and then I had to get back to my car since my parking permit was about to expire. I was invited to stay longer and just pay more for parking...they were going to the chocolate factory too. But I was kind of hot and sweaty and I wanted to get home.

It was a good day today. I'm glad I went out and enjoyed myself instead of running errands, which is how I usually spend my days off. It was badly needed.

I tried to get some pictures of the market today. But none of them came out well. They don't really give you any idea of the local color and flavor of these markets. It's really something that you should experience in person anyway.