Happy May! So we’ve reached about the two-to-three week mark again - time for an update. Also my mom requested one (I’ll be honest, this is probably the biggest reason).
Queen’s Night - This is a big deal here. I think it is fair to say orange and Queen’s Night/Day is to the Dutch as green and St. Patrick’s Day is to the Irish. On Queen’s Night, or Koninginnenach (yeah, good luck with that one), there was a big music festival in the center of The Hague. At different venues all over the city live music was playing. I met up with friends and we stopped at a couple different stages to listen from everything from reggae to alternative rock. It was pretty cool because some of the bands I had heard of before. My favorites were: Mister and Mississippi, Re:Freshed Orchestra, and Kensington (the festival headliners).
Queen’s Day - This year was history in the making. On Queen’s Day the Queen abdicated and the Dutch inaugurated their first king in 120+ years, Willem-Alexander (aged 46). So, this made it the last Queen’s Day for a long time (Willem’s oldest daughter is set to inherit, so I’m fairly certain it will be back, but it will take a while since she is only ten). King Willem-Alexander changed the national holiday for next year, making it into “King’s Day” and moving it a few days earlier to fall on his actual birthday. So this year was special. I visited a typical flea market - it’s the one day a year that the Dutch are allowed to sell their junk on the street without a special permit. And hundreds of them do. There are designated streets and neighborhoods were people sell the stuff they don’t want any more, play music, sing, sell baked goods - it seemed like most everything was fair game. I bought a 2000 piece puzzle for one euro, that was my only purchase, a successful day. After this I went to a friends house to watch the inauguration ceremony on TV.
Vogelpark - Wednesday we went to a bird park about 30ish minutes away. It was a regular-size zoo, but only for birds. I had never seen so many different kinds of parrots/parakeets in my life. Of course the big birds were highlights, along with the birds of prey demonstration (condor!), and the huge playground!
Kinderboeken Museum - Thursday I went to a book museum for kids with the boys. It was interactive and they enjoyed it. There was very little to do with reading, or history, so I was a bit confused as to the general purpose, and everything being in Dutch didn’t exactly help.
Delft - Friday we went to Delft. It was my second time, but the first time while the sun was shining. It was beautiful. We climbed the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, all 376 steps up! The kids did great in the little tiny windy stairwell, and they handled the height really well. From the top we could see The Hague in the distance.
Today is May 5, Bevrijdingsdag, or literally “Liberation Day.” Here the Dutch celebrate their liberation following the German capitulation. I think this is kind of cool since most countries just celebrate V-E Day on the 8th. It’s often celebrated with music festivals, there was one here in The Hague. Yesterday was the Dodenherdenking (Remembrance of the Dead). This commemorates the civilians and members of the armed forces of the Netherlands who died in wars (or peacekeeping missions) since the start of WWII. At 8pm they hold two minutes of silence, stopping public transportation and traffic.
In other news - I had my bike stolen. A huge downer, but my host dad told me not to be to worried, and that after all it was a “national sport.”
Coloring in the Lines
Today Annemoon and I were coloring a beautiful picture of Ariel, the Disney mermaid. All of the sudden she looked at me, but with “the look.” Immediately I knew what was coming. She then proceeded with a four year old’s version of a lecture: “kijk hier op dit. En nu kijk op wat je hebt gedaan… je moet kleur in het lines”(look at what I have colored, now look at what you’ve colored… you need to stay in the lines). She was just so darn cute, and worried that I was messing up her picture with my lack of dedication and sloppiness. I couldn’t help but start to laugh, which then got another look, because it obviously wasn’t the right response either. I just couldn’t believe I had been lectured by a four year old on the topic of coloring in the lines. Apparently I really need to start putting more effort into my creative endeavors, no matter what the scale.
One day in numbers:
Kilometers/Miles Traveled: 700km/435mi (approximately)
Hours on the train: 8 (approx., total travel time exceeds this estimate)
Euro Amount (versus paid): 70 euros (15 euros)
Stations w/ a stopover +20 min: 5 (Den Haag, Groningen, Winschoten, Leer, Zwolle, Utrecht)
A month or so ago a friend and I bought these discounted tickets for the trains here in The Netherlands. For fifteen euros you can ride anywhere in the country within one day. The original plan was to visit Groningen and Leeuwarden, two towns in the very north of The Netherlands. We left Den Haag at 8am, Starbucks in hand and ready for the three hour train ride. The weather was a little cloudy and foggy, but we could still see the country side around us. At one point my friend remarked that we were in “the middle of nowhere.” While this statement was partially true (we were in a woodsy area), I found it amusing since even the trees had, at some point long ago, been carefully planted in rows. The Netherlands is so small that every inch has been carefully planned and accounted for, so much so that this area in the ‘middle of nowhere’ couldn’t escape the tell-tale signs of human intervention; and besides that a few hundred meters away was a bike path. There were pedestrian paths and bike paths through what looked to be hiking/nature areas. But of course, everything is flat (when I think of hiking I always include hills/mountains in my mental picture), and randomly you’d see a bench or picnic table here or there.
When we arrived in Groningen the sun decided to shine for us. We visited the two Sunday markets and walked around the centrum. Sightseeing included: part of the university, the Martinitoren, Grote Markt, Prinsenhof, and the canal around the centrum. It was an open Sunday (meaning shops were open, contrary to normal) so the town was fairly busy. We had a nice lunch (outside!) and then decided to head back to the station. Once we arrived at the station we saw a train headed for Germany and got an idea. We talked to the man at the information desk and he said it was possible with our tickets. We hopped on the train and headed East.
We had one change/stopover at this train station called Winschoten. As we pulled into the station we both looked at each other and were like “where in the world are we?!” We had one hour, so we decided to explore. I have never been in a town so dead before. We saw a handful of people, but everything was closed (which made for some great pictures!). In the hour we had I think we saw all, if not a very large percentage of the town. We wandered around, found a holocaust memorial, a couple pretty churches, and a very nice windmill - not too shabby. Finally we got on the last train that would bring us to Germany. We were sitting there, enjoying the scenery, when we saw what we thought was ticket control coming towards us. This would be our fourth time having our tickets checked, but as they got closer, we realized they were, in fact, customs/passport control. My heart decided to rocket up into my throat. This was a spontaneous trip, and as such I did not have my passport on me. As coolly as possible I dug out my Dutch Residency card and handed it over. The officer asked if I had my passport, and I explained that no, I hadn’t brought it, and that we were only planning on being in Germany for a few hours. The officers looked a little confused, but we showed them our valid-only-today tickets, and thankfully they let us continue.
We got into the station around 5pm, ran into a couple German stores before they closed at six, and then took a few pictures at the station. We were only able to stay for a little over an hour because of the train schedule, but it was still pretty cool that we made it that far! The way back took us five and a half hours. At one point we slowed down and came to a stop on the tracks. It turns out it was because the train had hit a pigeon, and somehow it got stuck just right that they thought someone had pulled the emergency brake because it had caused the train to stop. A slight delay, but we still managed to make it back to Den Haag a little after midnight. A ridiculously long but highly successful adventure.
A few things -
I spent Amsterdam in Easter with my friends the Walter’s. I had a great time. We took a canal tour and then braved the freezing cold, walking around, enjoying the sunshine and the city.
Thursday morning it was snowing. Today is was 45. I went for a run today past a very busy park where I saw everything from shorts to winter parkas.
The bike paths here have those black cable traffic counters that we string across roads in the US.
Two Weeks Later
It’s been two weeks since my last update so I will see what I can come up with to tell you.
First Bribe - A couple of weeks ago I used my first outright bribe with Annemoon (the four-year-old). We were walking back from the speeltuin (playground), and I was with her and one of her friends. Her friend had very generously lent Annemoon her step (like a version of the Razor scooters that were so popular a few years ago) on the way over. This step was new and big and fast, while Annemoon’s model was probably one of the first ever invented, small, bulky, slow, hard to operate… you get the picture. On the way back Annemoon threw a major temper tantrum about the fact that she had to take her own step (heaven forbid). We walked four blocks with her half-riding, half-walking, complaining, crying, taking her sweet time, and screaming for her mom, since the world was obviously unjust, and her friend ever so selfish for not letting Annemoon use her step… yet again. I finally couldn’t take it anymore, no amount of reason was going to win this battle. I told Annemoon that if she stopped crying and rode nicely back to the house I had a surprise for her. It worked. It worked so well it was a bit scary. I didn’t even have to tell her what the surprise was. When we finally dropped her friend off and returned to the house I told her that we were going to go to the candy store and she could pick out five pieces of candy for herself. I may as well have told her that she had forgotten her birthday was tomorrow! Needless to say she thought the surprise had been worth her cooperation. So far there have been no negative repercussions from this bribe, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t change.
Flat Stanley - I currently am hosting my first visitor from the US, Flat Stanley. He’s originally from Texas and came here via a colleague of my dad’s in Everett. It’s great because he doesn’t take up much space and is always smiling and happy when I take him places. If you’re not familiar with the idea of Flat Stanley he is a paper cut-out of a boy that grade school students color in and then send to friends and relatives to take pictures with in places around the world (or US). I think it’s a great project and had fun making a few friends help me take pictures of Flat Stanley around the city.
Lincoln - Watched the film and loved it. I highly recommend it. They do an excellent job of portraying Lincoln and of shedding a new light on the 13th Amendment and the effort it took to pass it.
Basketball - Two weekends ago my friend who I visited in Paris for Thanksgiving made it up to The Hague with a colleague of his. They were up here because his friend’s daughter was playing basketball at the American School of Paris and it was the end of season tournament, hosted by the American School of The Hague. It was wonderful to see a familiar face, catch up, and swap American-living-in-a-foreign-country stories. Friday evening we did a driving tour of The Hague (due to bad weather) and then Saturday I got to watch some basketball! It was the first basketball I had watched in at least a year and it was great. It was so nice and got me warmed up for March Madness. Even though I’ve been terribly out of touch with collegiate sports this year I have filled out my bracket and am planning on keeping tabs on the tournament.
“Phoned” - The other day I was Skyping with a friend, and told her that I had “phoned” someone. She started laughing and to my dismay corrected me and said, ‘you mean called?’ Yes, yes I did. If that’s the worst thing I’ve done, other than reply ‘nee’ instead of ‘no’ then I think I’ve done fairly well keeping my English the same for seven months.
And lastly - I miss sunshine and warmth and cannot wait for another European summer!
Here is a picture of Flat Stanley touring Den Haag:
Stockholm, and March
Part 1 - The Journey
On my way to Eindhoven from Den Haag I was at the main train station when an elderly woman wandered up to the group of people that were boarding the train with me. She turned to me and asked, in Dutch, if this train went to Rotterdam, I replied that I didn’t know (again in Dutch) and then she proceeded to turn to the woman standing next to me and repeated her question. The woman answered, “Dit is Rotterdam,” to which I, without thinking, turned, looked straight at her, and said, “nee, dit is Den Haag.” Thankfully she handled it really well, and laughed. While I was right, I was half appalled and half surprised at myself for being so matter-of-fact and answering like that, and in Dutch without hesitating. I managed the bus to the airport just fine, got checked in for my flight and started going through security. They pulled my carry-on to the side and asked if they could open it. I said ‘of course.’ I had packed in a hurry and probably done something regarding liquids wrong, but wasn’t too worried. I showed the man my bag of liquids, and he said no, that wasn’t it, but that I had a bottle or something glass. Then I remembered. Sarah had asked me to bring her Speculoos. I found the jar and handed it over. Everyone around me in line was smiling and laughing softly. I heard a couple ‘lekker’s’ and it seemed that if the line could’ve taken a vote I would’ve been allowed to bring it, but unfortunately airport security is not a democracy, and the man walked straight to the garbage and dropped it in. My flight (2 hours) and the following bus ride (80 minutes) into Stockholm City were uneventful.
Part 2 - The City
My friends Sarah and Maddie met me at Stockholm Central Station. It was so good to see them!! We had dinner and walked to the hostel I would be staying at for the next few days. Thursday Sarah and Maddie had to work, so I explored. It was a beautiful sunny day, right around freezing. I mapped it out, and I ended up walking around 10 miles. The highlights included: watching people walk out on the frozen rivers, Old Town (Gamla Stan), catching the changing of the guards, observing that the Swedish are making up for the rest of Europe not procreating (as everywhere I looked I could see at least four baby buggies), slipping on ice and having no one see it, and visiting places that I had seen when I was in Stockholm a year and a half ago (although I would recommend going now, there’s something magical about seeing a city covered in snow and frozen, and right now it’s not too cold :) or busy with tourists). Friday was a little more exploring, and then just hanging out at the hostel with Maddie (she works there). Saturday all of us girls went out to a palace/home used by the royal family. We had fika, which is a Swedish coffee break, at this really cute cafe there. Then we wandered out onto a frozen lake because I really wanted to walk on natural ice. It was a first! Afterwards we did a little shopping and then drove to Maddie’s house. On the way we stopped at the town church. It overlooked a lake and had an extensive cemetery as well as its very own Viking stone! Maddie’s house was great. Her parents were excited to meet me because they had never hosted an American before. We watched a Swedish singing competition, talked, made (and ate) yummy Swedish treats and had an amazing time. In my opinion these types of experiences make a good trip great.
Part 3 - Miscellaneous
My return to Den Haag was fairly uneventful. I had a bit of a mix up with the trains since they were working on the track to Den Haag that day, but after a few delays and an extra stop or two I managed to make it to Delft and hopped on a tram that brought me home. When I got back to the house I dropped my suitcase, changed my shirt, and then went bowling until midnight with friends.
I would like to thank my dad for being good at fixing things, and replacing my iPod battery. I probably listened to it for 15-20 hours over the course of my trip, and it’s only at 75%. Thanks dad.
The Netherlands knew that my sanity couldn’t handle too many more gray cloudy days, and so yesterday was a balmy 50 degrees and sunny, and today was 60 degrees and sunny. Hallelujah. I ran down by the beach today. They are setting up the cafes and restaurants for the summer season. They brought in a bunch of new sand and all the construction has drastically altered things down there. I was exploring and trying to figure out how to get to this World War II looking thing and this old construction guy starting talking to me in Dutch. After we made the switch to English he asked if I was training for a marathon, I was flattered but told him no. Maybe someday. I asked how to get to the building I had seen before and he gave me directions. It was at the edge of the dunes. I will have to bring my camera next time because the view is so unique. One side is the sea, on another you can see the city in the hazy distance, and the rest are these incredibly desolate dunes that look like they belong in a different country.
The kids are going through a huge singing phase. They like to sing the top hits that are played on the radio. The problem is 95% of the time they have no idea what they are saying. Right now the 8-year-old boy cannot stop singing the chorus of “Only Girl (In the World)” by Rihanna. And the 10-year-old boy cannot stop singing “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. I’m in no rush to start explaining song lyrics to them.
Things have resumed a certain level of normality here in Den Haag. Which means, simply put, that nothing much has happened since my last post. It was trying to snow there for a while, and while the temperatures have still been cold the weather has been gorgeous. I’ve been to the beach a few times with friends - to enjoy the sun, a cup of coffee at a cafe, and the emptiness of a winter beach. I am going to go on vacation next week and am looking forward to having something exciting to write about. :)
This just melted my heart. Before going to bed, Pepijn came in my room to see what I was working on. I let him mess around on my computer a bit; he discovered my lists and decided to make his own sticky note. It basically says he loves me. The affirmation makes it all worth it.
I am back in The Netherlands. The place where “What Not to Wear” airs on Animal Planet and nine hours ahead means I wake up starving because I slept through two meals (I have high hopes that this second part will change soon). Regardless, exciting things are happening. Queen Beatrix is set to abdicate on Queens Day (April 30), which will render one of the most popular Dutch holidays non-existent, since the next monarch will be her 45-year-old son, King Willem-Alexander. The Queen is 75, and has reigned (more or less ceremonially) for 33 years. This is a bittersweet occurrence since I have heard much about Queens Day, and the new Kings Day won’t be established until next year, however I will be in-country to witness a coronation (set to take place in Amsterdam).
Home was fantastic, and at the same time I’m glad to be back. The kids helped me unpack, loved their kadootjes (gifts), and so far, aside from the hunger and night-owl tendencies, my internal clock is slowly resetting. The insane amount of snow we had before I left has melted, which I’m kind of glad about, because this means I can bike again without worrying about falling on the ice. Tomorrow I’m excited because I get to flip the page on both of my calendars. Both my mom and aunt sent me one and they have multiple pictures of my family for each month. They spruce up my room and are nice to look at.
Brittany and I at Eaglemont Golf Club - where the wedding took place. It was beautiful, you can see all the way to the Sound. I think I started with wedding things 11a Friday, and climbed in my own bed 4a Sunday morning. It was worth every minute, and penny. I wouldn’t have missed standing up for this beautiful bride for anything. I’ve known Brittany for 11ish years. Her wedding was great. I wore a pink dress and gave a toast, there were improv entertainers, dancing, a photobooth, delicious cake, and lots of friends.
This past weekend I went on a mini-road trip with friends to Antwerp, Belgium!
New Years Eve was insane. For the week leading up to it I could hear fireworks going off throughout the city, and the day of…. well, lets just say there were several times when I fought the urge to suddenly scream, “I’VE BEEN SHOT!” I went to a house party about 10 minutes from where I live. We all went outside for the countdown and once the clock struck midnight everyone lit their fireworks. I had never seen anything like it before. All the surrounding streets must have been just as full of residents setting of fireworks, because there was a collective roar and continuous flashes, followed by enormous smoke clouds (despite the rain). Afterwards, as things began to quite down a little, people brought out their Christmas trees to burn in the streets. At one point during all of this, the police went by on their bicycles and just waved at us.