Saturday in Den Haag

27 days left in my first semester of being abroad. I have the countdown going not because I’m excited to be home and see family and friends, but it helps me keep track of my timing with everything I must do before I leave. 5 of those days will  be spent in Prague (oops) but I’ll manage. The city gets cozier and cozier every day. I’m still taking the city route home from Science Park so I can admire the Christmas lights throughout the city. This week, on my way home on Wednesday, I caught the middle of the Dam Square “Turn on the Lights” light festival, which is technically the “opening of the festive season” in Amsterdam. The part I saw was the performance artist troupe Plasticiens Volants, and here is a video of the show I saw. Getting my bike through the crowd was less than fun, but it was festive!

Nat and I had been wanting to take an inner-Netherlands trip this semester and finally got around to it on Saturday. We went to The Hague (den Haag), the seat of government in the Netherlands. It’s technically in South Holland. The city at first definitely has a different feeling than Amsterdam (a lot less people, more real business buildings, much less water) but we saw some beautiful parts and an absolutely incredible sunset over the parliament buildings. Different, but still the pretty Dutch landscape we’re now used to. Before I even get to the actual city I need to discuss the Dutch parents and baby that sat next to Nat and me on the train. I hadn’t been that close to one yet, but I quickly realized I want one. I don’t know how to guesstimate baby ages, but I’d guess two. She could speak in a little Dutch voice and pointed out trains, and also learned how to say “appelflap” right in front of us! I realized our vocabulary is the same level, so I could actually understand her. When the mother got up to let us out of our window seats, Nat noticed she was pregnant with another amazing little creature! We started the day off right.

Parliament buildings and Nat. Church on the left.

Parliament buildings and Nat. Church on the left.

We got lost in Chinatown upon entering The Hague but found our way pretty quickly. We first stopped at the Escher museum, Escher in het Paleis. It’s a permanent collection of his work, located in the winter palace of Queen Mother Emma of the Netherlands. The building is the only public building in The Hague where the “original royal ambiance has been maintained,” according to the palace website. M.C Escher was a genius, and while his art suggests maybe some mental disorders, that isn’t the case. His work is based on mathematics, eternity, and infinity. This quote sums up Escher and our experience at his museum perfectly: “In my prints I try to show that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, not in formless chaos; I cannot resist fooling around with our established certainties. It gives me great pleasure, for example, to deliberately mix up the second and third dimensions, flat and spatial, and to make fun of gravity.” How Lacanian of him!

Some of Escher's work. Yes, little Zwarte Pieten were all over the place for kids to count.

Some of Escher’s work. Yes, little Zwarte Pieten were all over the place for kids to count.

One of my favorite sketches!

One of my favorite sketches!

We found the US embassy shortly after our stop at Escher, so naturally I took a picture. Later in the day, however, we saw people in bright ponchos in front of the embassy and while Nat thought they were a choir, I quickly realized they were protesters that show up on Saturdays– these are the people my alert emails warn me about! They looked harmless, and everyone thinks I’m Dutch anyway, so no big deal. According to my email, this group must have been “Support Human Rights,” formerly Iranian Academics, and they were raising awareness about Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Very interesting. Here’s my classic jumping picture though, pre-protest.



Next, I came across my mecca. Nat and I squealed when we entered Madurodam, which is an interactive miniature park that has Holland’s most famous buildings, businesses, housing, etc. in miniature form! I could not get over how adorable everything was. There’s a miniature Schiphol airport, Rijksmuseum, tulip fields, greenhouses (see pictures), mini canals for Amsterdam, mini beautiful architecture for Delft, the first modern home, everything. Maybe my imagination is just going wild but I honestly think it’s hard to see that the pictures are of fake miniature places. It’s obvious when you see the little people on little bikes around the buildings, but other than that, everything is so realistic. Another thing we realized about The Hague is that the tourists are all Dutch. Amsterdam is where international tourists go, and The Hague is where families go to learn more about Holland. Adorable, and clean, and respectful, and even more Dutch.

Look at this place!

Look at this place! That girl I’m talking to is much larger than the actual exhibit.

Miniature housing, cute!

Miniature housing, cute!

Mini Dam Square, in love!

Mini Dam Square, in love!

No they aren't real!

No they aren’t real!

The woman from the Madurodam suggested we walk to our next museum, which ended up being quite the trek but worth it as we walked through a miniature forest. I was praying that I’d see a hedgehog, didn’t happen. The biggest art museum in The Hague would have to be the Gemeentemuseum, which reminded me a lot of the DMA. We got to see a Coco Chanel exhibit (we just happened upon it, per usual), The Anatomy Lesson genre (ranging from Rembrandt to Damien Hirst), the masters of the Maurithuis museum that’s currently under renovation in the city center, modern photography, and even this really bizarre interactive basement that had a miniature museum in it (not sure what’s up with The Hague and miniature things but I’m not complaining!) We spent a good deal of time here before realizing how much art we had absorbed and how tired we were getting.

Chanel's LBD

Chanel’s LBD

The mini museum in the museum, with more of the weird Dutch animated displays (can't see them though)

The mini museum in the museum, with more of the weird Dutch animated displays (can’t see them though)

Our last stop was the Panorama Mesdag, which is the largest painting in the Netherlands. It is a 360 degree panorama by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, and it’s 120×14 meters. You climb up some stairs into a little round bungalow-type room, and are immediately blown away (or at least I was). The room is set up with the painting all around you, but you’re technically on a dome, so there’s real sand and beechwood that eventually runs into the painting from where you stand, but you can’t see where it ends and the painting begins. Not sure if my photographs will even do it justice. You can’t see where the paintings bottom is (because of the sand) or the top (because of this bungalow-structure roof) but you can tell that there are windows in the ceiling of the room, and the lighting changes based on what the day is like outside. I was very impressed, but unfortunately the information on the painting was only played in Dutch. More research is needed.



Nat and I had a wonderful trip to den Haag. It was also relatively cheap, our museumcards worked at half of the places we went, and I highly suggest The Hague to my UvA friends looking for a little escape. I came home and slept like a baby. That happens frequently here. The week will be busy, I’ll have a visitor Tuesday-Friday and projects to work on, but I still take advantage of every moment here. Tot ziens! IMG_4386

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Coco Chanel (I’m not one for Chanel quotes, but I loved this one)

A Dutch Semi-Christmas

Sinterklaas came this past Sunday, which signifies the start of the holiday season in Amsterdam. He brought along his helpers, Zwarte Piet (still don’t know if they are supposed to be one single entity or multiple? Either way they are frightening), and plenty of cookies. I’m adding my own pictures for this post, but getting information from my favorite cultural website, My favorite fact, perhaps, is that if you’re bad, supposedly Sinteklaas (or Zwarte Piet, who is sometimes known for beating children) will put you in a bag and take you back to Spain with him. Enjoy, and try not to judge. Watch the video as well!

Who is Sinterklaas? Sinterklaas, also known as Sint Nicolaas, is a traditional Dutch figure based on the Catholic Saint Nicholas who was a Greek bishop in the third century. He is the patron saint of children, sailors, travelers, thieves, virgins, prostitutes and … the city of Amsterdam! Sint Nicolaas is a white-bearded man who wears red and white bishop’s garb and holds a fancy gold staff. Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas is not fat and jolly, rather he is a tall dignified gentleman who decides which children were naughty or nice in the past year. Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands in mid-November on a boat from Spain. After disembarking on Dutch soil he hops on his white horse, Amerigo, and makes his appearance in streets, schools and hospitals around the country. As mentioned above, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands each year in mid-November by steamboat from Spain. It isn’t known exactly why he lives in Spain, but theories abound. Perhaps it is because the Catholic Saint Nicolas was buried in Spain or Italy, or perhaps it is because he brings Spanish oranges as gifts. Maybe he just prefers the sunny weather there. It is said that the Sint travels to the Netherlands on a steamboat because he is the patron saint of sailors. The steamboat was also an amazing new technology when many modern Sinterklaas songs and poems were written. In the Middle Ages, Sinterklaas was a holiday for Dutch school children to honor Saint Nicolaas and over time it also became a village festival. The holiday was both an opportunity to give aid to the poor as well as a time for wild revelry, similar to Carnival.

Sinterklaas. He seemed like a nice guy!

Sinterklaas. He seemed like a nice guy!

Who is Zwarte Piet? Zwarte Piet (or Black Peter, plural Zwarte Pieten) is a helper of Sinterklaas, somewhat like Santa’s elves. These colorfully dressed helpers follow Sinterklaas and assist him with distributing candy and gifts while entertaining children with silly antics. The Zwarte Pieten carry a chimney sweep’s broom which is used to spank naughty children as well as a big sack used to ferry the worst brats back to Spain. Newcomers to the Netherlands might be shocked by the appearance of people dressed in blackface with dark curly wigs and clownish outfits. Some find it racist and offensive but the liberal Dutch mostly view it as a charming and harmless tradition. There are various explanations for the origins of these helpers. Some say they symbolize a freed slave boy who became a grateful servant to Saint Nicolaas. Others believe the Pieten are simply Moors from Spain. In newer versions of the story, the Zwarte Pieten are black because they are covered in soot from climbing down chimneys to deliver gifts. Similar to the Smurfs, there is a Piet for every function. Some specialize in entertaining children, others in climbing down chimneys and a few are skilled navigators for the boat trip from Spain.


Zwarte Pieten on the biggest department store in Amsterdam...

Zwarte Pieten on the biggest department store in Amsterdam…


Welcoming Stew and Sinterklaas.

While I did welcome one of my best friends from home, Sarah Stewart, and the Dutch legend Sinterklaas this past weekend, this post is dedicated to my fabulous but incredibly short time with Stew. Before I get to her visit, I’ll mention another fun activity I did this week which was going to get coffee with an exchange student from Hockaday from Lithuania, Gaby, that was in my advisory and now goes to Amsterdam University College. We had talked about getting together all semester and finally did; I actually saw her twice this week, once for the coffee and again for the AUC open mic night at Science Park. I invited Nat to come with us to hear Gaby recite some orginal poetry, and we saw some of Nat’s AUC friends there too. Gezellig!

Gaby at AUC.

Gaby at AUC.

I found out that not only am I a skilled hostess, but Stew is a smart traveller. This made us a killer combination and we ran around Amsterdam like the two crazy, cultured, twenty year olds we have become. She came into Amsterdam at around noon on Saturday and had left my apartment by 5:30 Sunday evening, but we still somhow covered so many Amsterdam traditions and I learned even more about my city while being reminded of home. I told Stew that Saturday we would focus on the Amsterdam that tourists come to see (she sent me a list ahead of time of things she wanted to do, so smart!) and on Sunday, I would show her the Amsterdam I have grown to love. I had another Pitzer friend in the city also this weekend, but she was so busy with the travel tips list I sent to her that we didn’t end up meeting up. I will be giving this list to anyone that visits in the future and base my friends’ visits on it as well. Stew and I started off at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum (second time but still awesome), and we got through them so fast by just seeing the necessities. We then travelled through Leidseplein and Kalverstraat to see Christmas lights and extremely packed streets of shoppers–the touristy we got this weekend. In between our sights, Stew and I caught up with each other and shared what it’s been like being abroad; we’ve had really similar experiences and adjusting to home will be easier with her so close.

Museumplein with Stew.

Museumplein with Stew.

From Dam Square we went to the Red Light District and I’m pretty sure Stew is now scarred. I think Amsterdam customs go straight over my head and I don’t realize some things really are bizarre. Stew had the assumption that the ladies in the Red Light District were more of strippers/showgirls than prostitutes, but this just isn’t the case. We saw customers entering rooms, and that was something I actually hadn’t seen yet. Later that night when we were with friends that have taken the prostitution class at UvA, we learned that the purple lights above windows signify transvestites and side streets have specific purposes, some are more expensive because they don’t use protection, things like that. I wish we would have seen some purple lights but I think Stew was thankful we didn’t stumble upon them. To the district again this weekend!

After we kind of lost our appetites, or Stew did at least (I’m used to this life!), we returned home to rest, eat, and get ready to go to Trouw, the biggest and best club in Amsterdam. Electronic music started in Amsterdam, so Stew had to go to the best place to hear it. We met up with friends and travelled to East Amsterdam, the part of the city with more warehouses than canals. The night was fun but given Stew had woken up at 4:45 that morning, we lasted until about 3am (turning in early by Trouw standards…) and that was enough. Sleep felt like heaven. We had to get up 4 hours later, which didn’t feel so great.

A typical view of the RLD, obviously not my picture as I don’t risk taking out my phone for a picture at all there!

Up close and personal at Trouw.

Stew went to the Anne Frank Huis on Sunday morning while I hung out in a cafe close by. We went to my second favorite pancake restaurant for a quick breakfast then wandered around Jordaan. Unfortunately the stores are closed on Sundays but she got the idea of what shopping is like here. We didn’t have much time anyway because Sinterklaas would be arriving soon! See next post for details on this special man. We did get to see him, along with plenty of Zwarte Pieten, then had to sprint across a few canals to catch a boat tour. Considering my first boat tour didn’t include any information, I was happy to hear about some history that I wasn’t aware of, for example: a street was named specifically because the breweries were on it (Brouwersstraat), we rode on the Amstel which I don’t think I had actually been on, we passed the mayor’s house, and we even saw Sinterklaas again on a bridge. Stew definitely dosed off a few times on the tour so we returned home after for quick naps before she left for the airport. I died on Sunday night; my muscles were sore from running or standing around, but it was so worth it.

I finished my work for this week early. Every day I have to remind myself that I’ll be home in less than a month. That only means the next four weeks will be busy and stressful, and there’s a trip to Prague in the middle of it. The weather is significantly colder now, doesn’t break 45 degrees, and the fog has moved in significantly. I had major bike drama earlier in the week (bought a new one, didn’t like it, traded it, broke my old one, got it fixed for seven euro, selling it) but I am officially set with a new bike with pedal breaks AND gears which makes a huge difference in my commute to class. I’m going to paint it soon as its matte black at the moment. In other exciting news, I have realized (specifically today while looking at Christmas gifts in the shops) that people really do think I’m Dutch. A shop owner was speaking to me in Dutch, I kept up until I couldn’t understand, and he told me he was surprised because I “definitely don’t look American.” I’m taking that as a compliment. I told him I try hard to hide it, and his response was “just don’t start talking.” Thanks. Time for a cup of avond (evening) tea and more internship applications. I’m trying to keep myself busy or I’ll keep getting these flashbacks of California weather! Maybe that’s a good thing or I’ll just forget what the sun looks like altogether. IMG_4286

A little bit of love arrives in Amsterdam

Block 2 of classes has started and I welcome the change in my schedule. My mondays are a bit busier (Dutch Culture and Society in the city center and then World Ecosystems in Science Park shortly after), but other than that I have one class during the evening each day of the week and usually one day a week off. Unfortunately I have practicals on friday afternoons, but I’ll take it. My first week went well and I finished classes in time for Margaret’s arrival on Thursday evening. Then I had friday and the weekend off to enjoy the city with her.

Dutch Culture and Society is a simple course that so far has been interesting. We do weekly blog entries (so many blogs!) about Dutch news, entertainment reviews, important Dutch people, whatever we want to research independently. We also have weekly group projects pertaining to a topic we cover in class; our first project was creating a brochure for a specific region, my group got Utrecht (which I know about all too well from being stranded there!) but we did well. I like little activities like that, they are very different from my other two classes! World Food Systems is a class that focuses on political/social/economic aspects of food around the world, and like my food production class, we have different lecturers every week that specialize in a certain aspect of society and relate this to food production and consumption. Super interesting. Last class we talked about the American influence of “convenience” on the Dutch, and how the American ideal of food in the 1950s and 1960s transformed how Europeans started thinking about food. I’m curious what we’ll discuss tonight! World Eco Systems is a science-based course but without labs, which is nice. We study different landscapes and types of soils and how they affect plants and animals. I have an exam in this class, and a project that I’ll be doing with my friend from Louisiana where we have to pick a country or state and talk about what type of soil and environment it has. We are doing either Texas or Louisiana, or both. I don’t remember studying the geography of Texas, so I’m actually really excited to learn about my own state. I find myself relating my studies in the US to Europe and my studies in Europe to the US, but that’s what I’m supposed to be doing!

I was so happy when Margaret arrived in Amsterdam. I went to meet her at Central Station and we couldn’t find each other for over 20 minutes but we survived (there was no wifi or way to communicate). We spent the night catching up and resting before our big day on Friday where we went to the Van Gogh museum (finally!), got more poffertjes, and looked for Halloween costumes around the nine streets. We took the tram but spent a TON of time just walking around the city, which was exhausting but the best way to see it. We got to Van Gogh only to see the longest line ever, so I asked a worker if we got to be in a different line because we had museum cards (Marge borrowed my roommates) and we were immediately let in! VIP access is great. I was impressed with the amount of art in the museum and enjoyed seeing the special exhibit (around until January) that had Van Gogh’s tools, palettes, and famous Sunflowers painting. We also saw the newest Van Gogh painting discovered earlier this year, how exciting! Fun fact, I painted a Van Gogh style painting in middle school and it was chosen to be hung in the main office of my school, so I felt a special connection to the museum. I also want my painting back now… Hm…

Made it to the giant "I Amsterdam" sign in Museumplein, too many tourists to get a full shot though

Made it to the giant “I Amsterdam” sign in Museumplein, too many tourists to get a full shot though

Me and Van Gogh

Me and Van Gogh

I really liked the colors in this one.

I really liked the colors in this one.

We rested up for a Halloween party on friday night where Margaret got to meet the majority of my friends. She somehow lucked out on spending very little money this weekend since the museums were free, and this night out was free (no club cover as it was at an apartment). She went as a flapper and I went as Rosie the Riveter, and we thought it was funny that of course we would both go as symbolic American females (probably due to Hockaday’s subconscious influence), but the costumes were easy.


Saturday was spent exploring more, of course, the best thing to do in Amsterdam. We had planned to go to Anne Frank but the line was incredibly long midday (I should have known) and our museum cards don’t let us cut that line unfortunately. Instead we went to see the Old Church and the hidden Catholic church again, saw the red light district, and went for the absolute best burgers at The Butcher on Albert Cuypstraat. Neither of us had eaten good burgers since being abroad and these ones were particularly incredible. I had a burger with bleu cheese and truffle oil (and died shortly after eating it) and Margaret had the “Big Daddy” which is a 250g burger with bacon. Good girl. Walking around with Marge led me to discover SO many shops and sights that I don’t notice when I’m biking around, especially around the nine streets (particularly Fair+Fair and The New Label Project). Unfortunately I can’t afford all new furniture or an entire new jewelry collection from the stores here, but I am collecting so much inspiration for my future home.


Guess which one is the 250g burger!

Saw this fitting sign while walking through the Albert Cuypmarkt, "Margo's Flowers"

Saw this fitting sign while walking through the Albert Cuypmarkt, “Margo’s Flowers”

She had to try the fries!

She had to try the fries!

Margaret, as a neuroscience major, had a ton of work this weekend so we allotted a few hours for homework. After working we checked out a bar I had heard a lot about, Hannekes Boom (translation is Hannekes Tree), which is a little bungalow bar on the water. It is incredibly hip and owned by the same people who own my favorite bar, Bloemenbar, and we got plenty of good people watching in. Margaret has Dutch in her, and she looks very Dutch, so she was so amazed to be in a place (and city) where she actually looked so much like the people.

We made it to Anne Frank on Sunday at 8:30am (it opens at nine, and luckily we got there when we did). Within 15 minutes after we got there the line had grown by easily over 150 people. We got into the museum by 9:20. I highly suggest this museum to visitors, especially girls that kept diaries or journals. So many quotes from her diaries reminded me of things i would have written as a young teenager and it really put her experience in a different perspective for me. I was surprised with the size of their hiding place; two stories of the building were dedicated to housing 8 people. Still, the story is incredible. After the museum we went to the Westerpark market (that I’ve already blogged about) and ate good food and saw plenty of Dutch dogs and babies. By the time we got back and rested, it was time for Margaret to head to the airport. I know she had a great time and I was so happy to see her. The days are getting shorter, the weather is definitely getting colder, and that little bit of love really helped. The sun even came out for a little bit on Sunday (then it hailed, while it was sunny…) but at least it was a little brighter.

Until next time. I’ll end on this Van Gogh quote: “I know how much I still have to learn myself, but all the same I’m beginning to see light ahead of me and one way or another, by practicing on my own, by learning anything I can use from others, I’ll continue to paint with passion.” Replace “paint” with “live” and you have a description of my time here.