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Archive for the ‘Sights’ Category

Then we drove to Connecticut for a relaxing vacation…

Sunrise Set3, Old Saybrook, CT

…Followed by a brief visit to New York

Grand Central Station, Breakfast!

And then…

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World Cup fever is raging here in the Netherlands. I have been totally remiss in documenting the build-up to the first match (NL 2 – DK 0!), but the country is just covered in flags, signs, banners and pendants in red, white, blue and orange. A week ago we went for a drive around Wouter’s old neighborhood… and I mean ooooooold neighborhood, where he was born and lived until he was 3. The houses were totally decked out for the upcoming tournament. After seeing this, it seems funny to me that people would think that Americans go crazy/weird decorating their houses with lights in December. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera handy to document any of it.

But, as luck would have it, I am not the only expat blogger to notice how nutty things are getting around here. And so I bring you Isabella’s fantastic YouTube creation “Go Holland Go!”

In the first part of the video Isabella documents some of these “Super Fan” neighborhoods. In the following section you’ll see a wide array of adverts featuring orange products.

No surprise, companies develop all sorts of “Oranje”-themed gimmicks to get people into their stores around the World Cup. The top grossing crap items so far this year are furry little caterpillar-looking things called Beesies at Albert Heijn grocery stores (you get one free for every €15 you spend… we might have two already) and an orange dress produced by Bavaria beer. Apparently the dresses are causing a stir at World Cup matches in South Africa.  FIFA officials had 36 Bavaria-dress clad Dutch female fans ejected from the Netherlands-Denmark match, accusing them of ambush marketing. Never mind that the women didn’t work for Bavaria and the dresses didn’t have any Bavaria branding on them. (UPDATE: Now it’s come out that Bavaria did pay for the tickets, accommodation and travel costs of the ladies! Ooo, scandal! Here’s a link to the story (in Dutch).) A similar incident occurred at the tournament in 2006, when officials forced fans wearing Bavaria-branded orange lederhosen to strip. Well, no matter. You really can’t keep the “Orange Army” down.

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On Queen’s Day (April 30th) the municipal waste removal workers in in the Netherlands went on strike in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Their demand? A contract (they’ve gone a year without one) and a 1.5% pay raise (basically a cost of living increase). The strike was originally supposed to last for 24 hours– just long enough that the great masses of Amsterdam could, upon recovering from their hangovers, wallow in the filth they had created the day before toasting the Queen with Heineken. (And boy was it filthy!) And after the 24 hours was up, we got our clean city but the worker’s didn’t get their raise.

Garbage Strike 2010, Before1

Inspired by a longer-term Dutch railway cleaners strike earlier this year and in solidarity with municipal workers in Utrecht, the Amsterdam workers announced an indefinite strike beginning on Thursday, May 6th (kindly after the city’s Liberation Day celebrations).

Garbage Strike 2010, Before2

Things got very dirty, very quickly. Huge piles of trash bags formed at collection points. Glass and paper recycling containers overflowed onto the streets. Garbage that wasn’t secured in bags started to blow around, lining the sidewalks and spilling over into the canals. Fortunately it’s been on the chilly side or else things would be getting pretty stinky too. One little strike and we’re back in the 16th century! How quickly things fall apart.

Flash forward 10 days to Sunday May 16th. The demands are met! The municipal workers are back on the job! And by Monday the streets are looking clean again. Thank goodness.

Garbage Strike 2010, After

But in hindsight, I wonder if people moderated their behavior? Did people pay more attention to what they consumed and threw out when faced with visible (and smelly) evidence of the waste they produce? Did the piles grow at the same rate as the underground trash bins normally fill up? Did people adapt, finding new ways to dispose of their stuff– recycling, composting, Ebay, private waste disposal services? (Side note: Why don’t we recycle plastic, tin and aluminum here???) Or maybe 10 days wasn’t enough time for change?

Well, I’m glad the municipal workers got their 1.5%. The strike proved the worker’s point to me– we need them because at the moment there is no other infrastructure set up for removing waste from the city. And further evidence that they are a classy bunch: despite the strike they agreed to keep the Giro d’Italia routes clean. Nice.

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It is amazing how much stuff there is to do when one lives in a world-class city. Sure, no matter the size of the city, there is always something to do– it’s only a matter of keeping your eyes peeled. But it seems like fun just finds me here– like this Sunday when a world-class bike race just happened to come within 3 blocks of my house!

Tête de la course in the Victorieplein! The Giro visits the 'hood!8 (Farrar, later to win!)

This year the first three stages of the Giro d’Italia took place in the Netherlands. No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the Tour of Italy should make a quick visit to the Lowlands, but I’m not going to argue! State 1, the opening time trial (pdf), took place in Amsterdam, beginning at Museumplein, winding around through the city, over canals and the Amstel (and right passed your hotel, Mom!) before ending up at the Olympic stadium. Stage 2, from Amsterdam to Utrecht (pdf), was a wild ride with loads of crashing, but an American at the front at the end of the day! This was the stage that visited the neighborhood– as a result of continuing knee problems, I was out of commission, but Wouter got out there to take some photos! And finally Stage 3 on Monday started in Zuidas, just outside of the Zuid train station, before heading south along the North Sea to Middelburg in Zeeland, the south-western tip of Holland. Stage 3 (pdf) was another bruiser, with heavy crosswinds coming off the sea and another big crash with 10km to go, making a total mess out of the general classification. I feel a bit bad– these fragile Italian racers, high-strung but with sensitive temperaments, probably weren’t prepared for such chaos in what they though would be a leisurely jaunt up to Holland before the real racing began in Italy. Haha, it takes a different kind to race in the Lowlands, boys!

Jerseys Il Diavolo! The Giro's littlest fan. A bit of Dutch w/ your Italian Bike Race?

Despite continuing knee problems, I wasn’t about to let Dutch Giromania pass me by so I carefully (and somewhat painfully) made my way over to Zuidas for the start of yesterday’s stage. It was quite a show– loads of bikes, pink everywhere and great turnout among the Dutch fans, even if it was the middle of a Monday morning. This was the first time I’d attended a bike race as merely a spectator since my days hanging with the Mavic boys, but it was great fun. Apart from the sponsor tents, everything was open access. Fans walked up and down between the team buses while the racers warmed up. The riders were glad to offer up autographs and had extended chats with the emcee at the sign in. Apart from fences around the start, the course was 100% open and the race staff seemed more than happy to let us edge in a bit to snap photos. Racing in Europe really is different!

Simoni signs in1 Evans turns the sky pink3 Cadel Evans in La Rosa

So that was it, the Giro has come and gone from Holland. But the Grand Tours still have a lot more love to show to the Dutch in 2010– Le Tour 2010 in Rotterdam, baby! Bring it on!

And they're off...3 Rabobank Just another day at the office...

See the whole photoset on Flickr.

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Last Friday the 30th was Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), the Dutch national day. It is celebrated every year in honor of the queen’s birthday… well, actually the queen’s mother’s birthday. One the first acts of the current queen, Beatrix, when she was crowned was to declare that Koninginnedag would remain on April 30th to honor her mother. But really I think it was strategic– you’re more likely to have nice weather at the end of April than in the middle of January, on Beatrix’s birthday.

The centerpiece of the Koninginnedag experience is the Vrijmarkt, a nationwide garage sale. On this one day of the year, you don’t need a permit to sell things, so people flock to the streets to sell their old junk. I find this to be totally weird– to celebrate the queen by trying to get rid of old children’s toys, clothing and vhs tapes. But people are crazy about it– heading out days ahead of time with chalk and tape to mark off their space on the sidewalks. And those vying for primo real estate even camp out the night before to be certain that no one steals their spot.  And great effort is made to get the kids out there selling so they can get some extra pocket money– centrally located parks and streets in Amsterdam are set aside for the kids. Our downstairs neighbor’s daughter made 90 Euro selling cake! Now that’s some serious pocket money!

Apart from the Vrijmarkt, the day is just one big street party. Everyone dons some orange and hits the streets for shopping, eating, drinking(, smoking), and general merriment. This year Wouter and I, along with his brother, sister-in-law and another good friend, hit the canals on a party boat with a group of about 60. This thing was massive, built to hold 100, complete with many kegs of beer, crates of wine, small snacks, a DJ and two toilets (OMG, thank goodness!). We toured the main canals of Amsterdam, blasting dance music and generally making a spectacle of ourselves. I cannot imagine a better way to spend Queen’s Day!

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Flickr Koninginnedag 2010 photoset.

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I’ll be paying a visit to my home university for the next two weeks. This trip feels very different from previous ones– I wasn’t so sad leaving Schiphol yesterday. Sure, I’ll miss Wouter. But it’s only two weeks and, after all, I live in Amsterdam now. Wow, it still seems weird to say it, but it does feel that way!

Pulling into Madison was so exciting! I thought about all of the friends, cafes, restaurants, shops, parks and activities that are waiting for me here. In someways it felt a bit like visiting Stockholm– it’s somewhere I’ve lived, I know it like the back of my hand, I’ve a long list of favorites (people, places and things), but I don’t think it’d want to move back right at this moment. I suppose that means it’s the right time to be moving. I hope that’s what it means.

More news and adventure to come about the trip, I’m sure.

But a quick side note: On Saturday night, before I left Amsterdam, Wouter and I had dinner out at La Maria, a small Italian brasserie-style restaurant in the neighborhood. We’d been meaning to try it since it opened in February. Simple, miss-matched furniture, wine crates and bottles scattered about, tall candle stick holders, earthen ware vases and an unfinished wood floor– love it! But back in February and March, I wasn’t sold on the ambience– the walls are painted a stark white that was positively ELECTRIC under compact fluorescent overhead lighting. But as the days grew longer and the overhead lights were no longer a necessity, the owner’s vision of clean white walls in the afternoon sun came to fruition. With the wide windows providing ample views of spring’s budding leaves, narcissus and fluffy white clouds, the setting was absolutely perfect! Well, until the sun set far enough to directly enter my line of sight… but never mind about that.

The menu is simple– a couple of starters, three pizzas, a fish dish and a meat dish. All food is prepared in a steenoven (brick oven). The food was delicious and was complimented by a very nice wine list. A perfect “good-bye for now” dinner in the neighborhood!

P4100116P4100118
Left to right: Broad window view and white walls; fresh bread and olive starter.

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I arrived this morning early (but hardly bright), back in the Netherlands for another stint of cohabitation. So from here on out things should be a bit more active in this space.

Today felt like a real move-in day. Part of this was due to the fact that I brought WAY more crap than usual. Relatedly, Wout met me at the airport which was a fantastic change of pace– usually I have to wait (woe is me, haha) until after work to see him. The morning also involved some phone calls and trips about town to make my living here official. Unsurprisingly, we discovered that this wont be an entirely straightforward process… although it seems like it will be manageable.

Sorting through shoes
Readying for the move sorting shoes shoes shoes!

Still it was nice to find that somethings stay the same and I can slip right back into my life here– knowing how to get home on public transit without looking at the timetables, popping into the neighborhood shops for favorite snacks and supplies, knowing exactly where everything is in the apartment and where most everything in my suitcase should go, not expecting (or getting) a single ray of sunshine (ah spring).

Howdy Neighborhood!

And maybe best of all, the silent greeting from the across the street neighbor who spends hours everyday looking out his window. He just stands there, watching what’s going on in the street but never speaking to anyone. Always wearing a white top and occasionally donning a stripped hat (a la Where’s Waldo) when it’s cold. Our own local zen master. His ritual appearance was a nice “welcome back.”

Howdy Neighbor!Howdy neighbor!

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