Voorjaar

Despite the worst road/bike rage I’ve witnessed in a while, today was a beautiful day! I was able to stop in a park for a bit on my way to meet Gaby for lunch and take some pictures of the flowers in bloom.

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In other life news, I posted my last entry too early because my wonderful friends threw me a surprise birthday dinner on monday night! Paula cooked a delicious paella. I was completely surprised and expecting to eat Albert Heijn pizza with Natalie and watch Girls! Ignore my incredibly grungy appearance, but here’s a group shot from the night. I also accepted my internship for the Center for International Environmental Law on Monday night. It was a celebration for multiple things!

These people are wonderful!

These people are wonderful! Before I arrived, Natalie told everyone I’d show up in my lazy clothes which consist of leggings, a sweater, and birkenstocks with socks. Surprise, she knows me well.

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A “Dam” Good 21st Birthday

Currently sitting in my favorite Bagels and Beans drinking a birthday iced coffee, because the weather today somehow changed and it’s sunny and beautiful and warm. I even saw some tulips blooming today while biking. What a perfect day!

The weekend was pretty perfect as well. Natalie and I did a birthday day trip to Rotterdam, I celebrated on Saturday night with all my girls, and had a birthday brunch with Natalie today. Shout out to Nat for being such a wonderful friend and birthday coordinator, she made it the most special birthday.

Rotterdam is about an hour and half away from Amsterdam by train; we always get mixed reviews of the city because it’s pretty different from Amsterdam. The buildings are bigger and very modern (see photography) and it feels like a much bigger city. However, because it’s in South Holland, it was still beautiful. There’s a small historic neighborhood that does have canals, so there’s a little bit of Amsterdam charm. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it bad!  Our first stop was a conceptual cafe called Lokaal Espresso (see cafe bucket list page). We then managed to see the famous cube houses on Blaak, the Erasmus bridge, Witte de With Contemporary Art Museum, Het Nieuwe Instituut (The New Institute for architecture and design), Delfshaven, and a shopping area.

Some great Rotterdam street art

Some great Rotterdam street art

The cube houses were really neat and close to the water. I learned that my friend from Leiden has friends that actually live in the second one from the right in my picture. The Erasmus bridge was huge and we didn’t get too close but Nat thought it was important because she’s on an Erasmus program, and the bridge is named after Erasmus of Rotterdam. We stumbled upon the Witte de With museum which was free for us of course and had a really creepy exhibit called “The Crime was Almost Perfect,” all about the modern crime genre. We had planned to see the architecture museum because that’s what Rotterdam is known for, but it was somewhat underwhelming because a few exhibits were closed. We strolled through the wallpaper exhibit and that was pretty cool. They had the Warhol cows. Delfshaven is the historic district which we got somewhat lost on the way to but luckily Rotterdam isn’t that large. No shops were open but it was still a beautiful little area. After Delfshaven we headed home for a big curry dinner with all of our good girl friends, so yummy.

Cube houses on Blaak

Cube houses on Blaak

Classic study abroad bridge picture...

Classic study abroad bridge picture…

Neat street signs neat the Witte de WIth

Neat street signs neat the Witte de WIth

Witte de With exhibit, weird but enlightening

Witte de With exhibit, weird but enlightening

Delfshaven, a little bit of Amsterdam in Rotterdam

Delfshaven, a little bit of Amsterdam in Rotterdam

I spent time relaxing on Saturday before a big night out. Nat came over with champagne and gifts, so sweet. I had the rest of the girls over for some pre-drinks and we got ready to go to Chupitos, a famous shooter bar in Leidseplein (and of course the perfect place to celebrate a 21st birthday) that involves a lot of alcohol on fire and such. We met another friend while out and had a really great time at Chupitos then the Cooldown Cafe, a very dutch mini club/bar near Chupitos. Overall a great pre-brithday night and climax of my birthday weekend!

Gifts from Nat!

Gifts from Nat!

It's all legal (in America now, anyway!)

It’s all legal (in America now, anyway!)

Nat and I got up and went to a long and lazy brunch today in celebration of the real day. We found Bakers and Roasters as one of the best places for brunch in Amsterdam; brunch is my favorite meal and I wanted good brunch, not just pancakes! It’s actually an expat New Zealander establishment but yummy. I had the Huevos Rancheros (so NOT Dutch but so yummy) and Nat had the B&R churizo sweet potato hash with fried eggs. I wanted some of their amazing dessert but was way too full. Luckily my roommate bought me 3 adorable cupcakes from The Mad Bakers down Haarlemmerdijk.

Bakers and Roasters, de Pijp

Bakers and Roasters, de Pijp

Bakers and Roasters, de Pijp

Bakers and Roasters, de Pijp

Happy birthday to me! A perfect Dutch weekend and a birthday to remember.

My sleek backpack birthday present from the family on my Dutch black bike

My sleek backpack birthday present from the family on my Dutch black bike

Study Abroad Portfolio Statement Page

Greetings y’all,
I added yet another new page to the blog, find it on the top bar. Pitzer requires students who are abroad to complete and submit writing assignments with a variety of topics. Our final assignment was to reflect on our writing exercises (in a portfolio statement) and then reflect on our time abroad as a whole. My statement is only reflective of my first few months as the program is designed for one semester only students, but I hope to complete another reflection in June. This page (and essay) sums up my experiences/what I’ve gained/etc. and I haven’t decided if I will include a few of the individual assignments on the page as well. Check back in a bit, maybe you’ll see a surprise essay on environmentalism in Amsterdam in a few days.

In the meantime, look at my cafe page and gaze at this beauty:

Look at that face, Sjef!

Look at that face, Sjef!

Anna in Amsterdam

Having my sister around made me realize many things but mainly this: to see all the necessities of Amsterdam, you must be here for at least five days. Luckily she’s a good sport (except when it comes to rain) and an amazing researcher, so I didn’t have to do that much planning aside from choosing which of my favorite places I wanted to show her. I think we saw all of them… I could write a novel about what we did this week but for the sake of my time and yours, I’ll keep it to highlights. Only having one class during her time here helped tremendously and I was able to see some places and museums that I hadn’t gotten around to. Anna was here from February 7 to 13, and left in the early morning. The weather was horrible but what can you do. We did see the sun a few times, so at least she got to see a  few rare sightings while here. We split the days into areas of Amsterdam. It turned out perfectly.

Sisters in Amsterdam!

Sisters in Amsterdam!

Day 1: Bumming around my neighborhood/Haarlemmerplein/Kalverstraat
Day 2: Southwest/West Amsterdam (museumplein, albert cuypt/de pijp, burgers, a new coffee place, shopping)
Day 3: Jordaan/Nine streets (Pancakes!, Anne Frank Museum), more shopping (browsing, rather)
Day 4: North Amsterdam (the EYE), then Bombay Bicycle Club concert at Melkweg in Leidseplein
Day 5: South Amsterdam (FOAM, Utrechtstraat), then Anna went back alone to Museumplein for the Rijks and Van Gogh
Day 6: East Amsterdam (Jewish Historical Museum, Rembrandthuis), then went west again for poffertjes…

Museums were a huge part of her trip because Anna loves them. Me, not so much, but I hadn’t seen a few so I was happy to fit them in. The Stedelijk museum (modern) hadn’t changed but was still enjoyable. My favorite is the Null style of art that uses some neutral-colored plastics and white feathers. I was really happy to see the EYE film institute because the building stares at me every time I’m near central station from across the water. We didn’t know which exhibit was going on but it turned out to be what nightmares are made of. The Quay Brothers are American identical twins that do stop-motion animation. Basically Tim Burton if he did things with a 1920s style. The exhibit had other objects/films to enrich the experience, mostly surgical instruments or mummified hands… I highly suggest looking at their website. Seeing the mini sets, however, was super cute.

Sisters in the Stedelijk

Sisters in the Stedelijk

The EYE film institute from outside

The EYE film institute from outside

Quay brothers art, reminded me of "A Bug's Life"

Quay brothers art, reminded me of “A Bug’s Life”

I also enjoyed FOAM, the photography museum, since I hadn’t been either. The had a William Klein exhibit but I was having major problems with my contact lenses and couldn’t really see anything (typical) but from what I could gather, it was cool. I also suggest the Rembrandt House Museum because it’s huge and has paint-making and etching demonstrations. Rembrandt has a huge collection of worldly objects that I believe he had to sell because he was completely broke. Those artists… It’s close to the Jewish Historical Museum which has basic information on the religion and also the presence of Jews in Amsterdam/the Netherlands. Super informative and also interesting.

William Klein art

William Klein art

Food, obviously, was another huge part of Anna’s trip because she loves good food. Despite me telling her multiple times that the Dutch aren’t known for having good food, we found a few really great restaurants with tasty traditional Dutch dishes! We had both sweet and savory pancakes while she was here, so that took care of two meals. After a little research we found Wilde Zijnen in Javaplein, a more contemporary Dutch restaurant that was full of hip dutchies despite being in little Morocco. I had saurkraut soup and a rib eye while Anna had some type of fish roll and the wild boar stew. Definitely going back when a nice dinner is in store.

Wilde Zwijnen

Wilde Zwijnen

We also enjoyed a traditional Dutch meal at a very cozy restaurant, more in the city center called Haesje Claes. Anna got her seafood fix with some salmon with lobster sauce, I had saurkraut stamppot with ham, sausage, and a meatball, and we shared cheese croquettes (typical Dutch appetizer). While dessert there was tempting, we opted for cocktails at one of my favorites, Vesper Bar. A perfect and tasty evening.

Anna at Haesje Claes.

Anna at Haesje Claes.

Dinner at Haesje Claes.

Dinner at Haesje Claes.

My drink from Vesper this time.

My drink from Vesper this time.

Snacks were also plentiful, no one should be mistaken there. We enjoyed the classic fries with garlic sauce (that basically tastes like ranch dressing), Dutch apple pie, and plenty of cappuccinos. We passed a bakery and I told Anna that I had never had a French macaron before, so we did some research and found the best macaron place in Amsterdam, located in De Pijp. We got 8 different ones, almost too pretty to eat.

Apple pie in the EYE restaurant!

Apple pie in the EYE restaurant!

The macaron place, Poptasi in de Pijp

The macaron place, Poptasi in de Pijp

I’ll end this post with a few more pictures from our time together. It was so nice having family here and I hope she enjoyed herself. My love for the city as well as my sister was replenished, and now I can’t wait to see the city from a new perspective in the coming weeks!

No explanation for this one...

No explanation for this one…

Bombay Bicycle at Melkweg

Bombay Bicycle at Melkweg

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy

Just a shorter update before classes start this week. I’ll have a nice long entry after my sister visits, can’t wait until Friday! I was so ready to announce that Amsterdam’s winter officially didn’t come this year, but now it has changed its mind again! My days fluctuate between sunshine and gloominess, but either way I try not to let the weather dictate my mood or activities. I’m still crossing places off of my cafe bucket list and getting ready for classes to start Monday. Just living the life of a Dutchie, and loving every day.

This past week has been slow but I’ve mustered up the energy and money for a few adventures. We went to ikea, always an adventure and one filled with fifty cent hotdogs after buying sheets for visitors. We met new neighbors (yay!) and then crashed the ISN introduction party for the newbies of this semester. Of course, being there reminded me how much I disliked it the first time around as it felt like high school. Yesterday, when the sun came out, Nat, Devon and I took advantage by strolling down to a favorite cafe called Two for Joy (see cafe tab for pictures!). It is so comfortable there and such a great place to talk. The name is based off of the nursery rhyme, I like this version the best:

One for sorrow, two for joy,
three for a girl, four for a boy,
five for silver, six for gold
seven for a secret, never to be told,
eight for a wish, nine for a kiss,
ten for a time of joyous bliss.

After we got home, Natalie and I walked along the dock right next to where we live. I’m unsure how I went all of last semester without exploring it, but it’s a beautiful place. People dock their ships there and most likely live there as well. The sky was clear and we could look straight out to see Amsterdam North. I can see many picnics taking place on that pier. I’m thankful I can uncover such beautiful places every day, and so close to home even. What a perfect friday afternoon.

Danglin out on the dock with Nat

Danglin out on the dock with Nat

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lil on pier
Devon alerted us that today, February 1, was the last day to ice skate in Museumplein. Somehow this activity got away from me last semester when the outdoor rinks around town opened (or I avoided them based on my dad’s skating accident back in the day), but since today was my last chance I just had to go for it. The Dutch people know how to do it yet again and supplied old wooden chairs for people to push around on the ice for balance if they couldn’t skate. I had never seen that! Fortunately none of us needed them. Devon is Canadian and worked in a hockey shop so she was a total pro while Calum had never skated before. I was somewhere in the middle and got into my groove pretty quickly. There was a pop-up cafe connected to where skates could be rented, and also where we enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate during a break. It felt like winter today, so maybe it’ll stick around for a little longer. I really don’t mind it, at least during these days when I’m not on my bike for 10 miles.

Being a dweeb in front of the I Amsterdam sign, what else is there to do.

Being a dweeb in front of the I Amsterdam sign, what else is there to do.

Posing with Devon.

Posing with Devon.

...and Calum, holding on for dear life.

…and Calum, holding on for dear life.

Although last week I hated the time spent alone in my apartment, I love now the time that I’ve had just living and being. There’s no pressure to sightsee or completely fill my days with activities. This is the time I knew I’d want here, just living as a local and seeing a city from a view that most kids my age don’t get to see. Even though we didn’t go out of the country on these two weeks off, I still enjoyed myself and am well-rested for classes. Looking forward to a great week. Tot ziens!

Amsterdam Cafe Bucket List Page!

Just announcing that I got fancy and made a page of my blog specifically for my cafe adventures, as to not clog up my regular posts with a bunch of pictures of coffee (although who could complain about that?) You can find it next to the “About Me” page.

Since I don’t want to waste my 30th blog post on that dumb little announcement, here’s a picture of what’s been carrying me around Amsterdam lately. Couldn’t do it without you guys!

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On Being Conceptual

The conformed Dutchie is back and in full swing. I am happy to announce that I’ve survived a week of suffering from brutal jet lag, cold rain, and feeling like maybe coming back to wet and empty Amsterdam was a mistake. You truly forget how great home is once you leave; fortunately, I got out of my funk and have fallen in love with Amsterdam once again. Friends from last semester will be returning this week, everyone is getting ready for classes, and I’ve started planning out my trips and activities for this semester. Finally, purpose once again.

Before I start I’ll explain the title of this blog. This has been a week of contemplation, regrouping, and attempting to define what I want my semester to be. Natalie and I have spent hours in cafes (see the coffee bucket list, below) jokingly being “conceptual” (because that’s what the Dutch are all about, with their concept stores and artsy cafes) but in all seriousness also doing serious thinking and finding more meaning behind our experiences here. So meta, but that’s what happens with rainy days, hours of free time, and a great cappuccino.

Since I’m feeling comfortable with my city and I’m not a newcomer this time around, I’ve deemed this to be the semester of new beginnings on a more personal level as opposed to a situational level, although those two things are not mutually exclusive. As you can tell, the format of the blog has changed to something more practical and easy to navigate and see, at least I think so. I rearranged my room to no longer feel like a student room but a real place of peace, now with more room for my many-a-guest that will be visiting this semester. I–typical Lily–persuaded secretaries and registrars from multiple departments to get me into the exact classes I wanted. I’m feeling insanely organized, balanced, and ready to kick major butt this semester. This applies in a literal way, as well, since I just joined the school gym. Nothing wrong with having some time to gawk at fit Dutch people while getting healthier myself, right?

Although it took a few days, I finally persuaded myself to leave the apartment and get back into my hobby of exploring. What a privileged hobby to have… and I’m happy to take advantage of that. Nat and I already got poffertjes, thought I should share incase anyone was concerned that I was deficient in them after a month. And let me tell you, even in the spitting rain, it’s feeling great to bike again. I decided to start a grand Amsterdam Cafe Bucket List which gives me an excuse to do my absolute favorite activity more often, which is bumming around and acting cool in minimalistic-yet-rustic-Dutch-design cafes. I visited a few of the best coffee places in Amsterdam last semester but didn’t report on them; looks like I’ll be going back!

Cafe Bucket List stop #1: Six & Sons, Haarlemmerdijk
I found this cafe while walking around my neighborhood but was drawn to it more so by reading about it on one of my Amsterdam go-to websites, http://themakersamsterdam.com. The Makers project was started by one of my first Amsterdam contacts, and I’ve been thrilled to watch it grow as it launched pretty much right when I got here in August.

Nat and I saw the founder of Six & Sons while drinking our cappuccinos and thought of him as a celebrity because of what we saw on The Makers site. Anyway, Six & Sons is half cafe, half retail store. Everything is on sale, including the cafe furniture. The Makers site describes it as “raw and manly,” but it is also somehow quaint, not trying too hard, and clean. That’s actually exactly how I’d describe the typical Dutch man. The cappuccinos were absolutely delicious, their homemade hummingbird pie was to die for, but the baby sitting next to us was the real icing on the cake (or pie, rather). Our experience here made Nat and I contemplate the option of having a Dutch baby blog, but figured we couldn’t just ask to take pictures of people’s’ children and post it online. This baby was ridiculous in its neutral and minimal knitwear.

The menu, on the perfectly doodled-on and also for-sale table

The menu, on the perfectly doodled-on and also for-sale table

Hummingbird Pie

Hummingbird Pie

I didn’t take a picture of the actual cappuccino because unfortuantely, all cappuccinos look the same unless it has the fancy design. These ones didn’t.

Cafe Bucket List stop #2: De Koffie Salon, Utrechtsestraat
Utrechsestraat is a popular shopping street in Amsterdam (full of concept stores, of course) but luckily lacks the typical touristy shops. It is lined with cafes and restaurants, but I had read that De Koffie Salon was one of the better ones to try on various websites. While I was a bit underwhelmed with the quality of the cappuccino I had, the atmosphere made up for it. De Koffie Salon is in a canal house and has multiple seating levels. They have beautiful machinery and pastries, and felt more upscale but still casual. I liked De Koffie Salon because while there were still a few individual tables, it has 2 huge communal tables.

As Nat and I sat in the back of the upper seating area by a window, eating a fruit tart (and realizing I made the right choice to join the gym if this will be a regular activity for me), we talked about how the greatness of Amsterdam cafes is in the diversity of the customers. You see families taking breaks with their kids. You see two older men that could be discussing business or just taking time for themselves. You see a team of obviously creative types making big decisions about a project. And everyone is just minding their own business and being respectful. True community.

De Koffie Salon

De Koffie Salon

And now, a quiet Sunday to be spent planning more outings and errands while simultaneously watching Friday Night Lights. It’s my guilty pleasure and has been surprisingly healing during my week of adjustment. I even make Natalie watch a few with me to see what Texas is like and she finds them enjoyable, so I guess we Texans aren’t too ridiculous for the Europeans. Be on the lookout for more stories, coffee adventures, and photos of the semester. It’ll be a good one!

Amsterdam Winter Visit Guide

Some of my favorite places as well!

LAZERASS

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So you’re in Amsterdam for the weekend and Winter is in full-swing. What do you do? You’re keen to avoid tourist central and the oh-so-well-known museum, clubs, coffee shops, and prostitutes. Well, that’s great because so do I and after a year of living in this glorious and ever-surprising city I have some recommendations on how to make the best use of your weekend in Amsterdam.

First and foremost – I will not advise on places to stay. That’s your own baby. But I do highly highly highly recommend you take a look at what’s available on AirB&B. So many people here have their flats/rooms up for short-term rent – Pick an area you like, pick a budget, move in.

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The biggest appeal of this city to a majority of people is how chilled it is. Sure it has great attractions, parties and people work but all in all…

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Across the World in 2 Days

As much as I want to say I’ve become a great and experienced traveller, that just isn’t the case. I have had my experience, but I don’t think I’m any better at it! I’m back in Amsterdam after 2 days of travelling (basically straight from Hawaii). I figured I’d do a blog entry on my time spent there for a little switcheroo of scenery and not complain about rain for once. I’m not sure that I’m totally conscious right now and I keep forgetting what day it is (Friday, right?) but I can write about Hawaii by just prentending that I’m still there.

My dad and I went to Hawaii primarily for his friend’s wedding, but also for me to see the Big Island that he and my mom have both fallen in love with in the past year. Although going to Hawaii a week before my trip back to Amsterdam meant that I was done with Dallas after only three weeks, I really couldn’t complain. We spent 4 days on the Big Island (in Kailua-Kona and Hilo) and our last day in Honolulu, on Oahu.  We got to the Big Island on a thursday night and had full days Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Our first full day in Kailua was spent in a helicopter viewing of the entire island, exploring the snorkeling sites around the hotel, eating a fish burrito at Kohala Burger, and relaxing. The helicopter ride with Sunshine Helicopters was really incredible; I’d never been in a helicopter and this was a perfect first time. We saw all of the geography of the island, from lava flow and burning forests to beautiful valleys and thousand-feet waterfalls. The Big Island, although the biggest by far, is the least inhabited. It was easy to forget we were still technically in the United States, but I quickly remembered upon returning to the resort. A lot of the places we saw were only accessible by air which made the ride 100% worth it. Below are a collection of some of my favorite shots.

Shots from the helicopter

Shots from the helicopter

After the helicopter ride and lunch, we rented our gear for the weekend. Mom wanted a special postcard from Parker Ranch, so we drove to the north of the island to retrieve it (you’re welcome, Mom!). The north of the island is dedicated to farming, the west  (where we stayed) is mainly desert with beaches, and the east is lush forest with rockier shores. I liked driving up north for a change climate (it was cooler and had more hills than our western side). We snorkeled at a site near the hotel where I immediately saw a sea turtle in the water. You can see them on the shore in the afternoon, but I was excited to see one of this size in the water. I have a thing for sea turtles (Sra. Wheeler, you know this already!) so any vacation with them is a good vacation. We rested up that night for a huge next day.

A turtle friend on the beach

A turtle friend on the beach

Sunset from the hotel room

Sunset from the hotel room

Saturday was our adventuring day where we started off by snorkeling with dolphins and ended the day snorkeling with manta rays. We first went out on a boat with Dolphin Discovery, and while I first assumed this would be a tacky “swim with dolphins that are trained” ride, that wasn’t the case at all. We searched and ended up finding a pod of 200-300 wild spinner dolphins that were slowing down close to shore to sleep (they are nocturnal). The boat knew to track where the dolphins were headed, stop about a mile ahead of them, and have everyone jump out as chaotically as possible to be in the water when they passed. We couldn’t touch them although many came close enough that it was possible. I had never swam with a wild mammal and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also hadn’t swam in water that deep (no idea how deep, but seeing the bottom was difficult), water that dark blue, or waves that strong. I got a workout.

Dolphin friends on their journey to shore

Dolphin friends on their journey to shore

We ate lunch as Annie’s burgers after the dolphins and stopped down at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, and here we saw the place of refuge. If sacred Hawaiian laws were broken, the Kapu-breaker could only be forgiven if they made it to the place of refuge and partook in a ceremony of absolution. This place of refuge had many significant statues, a native who was teaching tourists about fishing, and beautiful views of the ocean. We had to leave early in order for me to find a Hawaiian dress for the wedding in Kona before swimming with the manta rays. Although I’ve scuba-dived with stingrays, snorkeling with manta rays is completely different. First, they can be up to 1300 pounds and 13 feet wide. I had no idea how huge they were. They also eat only plankton and don’t have stingers, so I was safer than before. We went out with a company called Neptune Charlie’s to see these amazing creatures, and amazing they were. This was my first night swim, which meant it was colder than usual and wetsuits were necessary. We also weren’t allowed to swim on our own because the mantas’ sheer sizes could hurt us. All snorkelers held onto a raft with lights attached that would point down into the water. Plankton are attracted to this light, manta rays are attracted to plankton, and therefore they would swim right under us. I was definitely happy that both animals I saw in the water weren’t domesticated or baited in any way. They really were wild, and the lights just helped them find their own wild food. It was a good, and super adventurous, day.

Place of refuge, probably an offensive picture but it was silly

Place of refuge, probably an offensive picture but it was silly

Sunday was the wedding in Hilo, the tropical side of the island. No pictures from cellphones were allowed at the ceremony but I snuck some of the food. The wedding was beautiful, small, and very Hawaiian (lots of flowers and Hawaiian shirts). We drove across the island to get to the wedding which was probably as exciting as the wedding itself; the island is beautiful from the air as well as up close in a car.

The amazing food, catered by Sushi Rock

The amazing food, catered by Sushi Rock

Me, trying to be Hawaiian with this flower from the flowergirl

Me, trying to be Hawaiian with this flower from the flowergirl

Monday was a relaxation day and a flight to Honolulu, and Tuesday was for some sightseeing on Waikiki beach and flying home. My favorite about Honolulu was Cheeseburger in Paradise, a Hawaiian chain that was just silly. Waikiki beach was so incredibly touristy that it was hard to like, but we had an incredible view of the water from our hotel and it was worth seeing, even just for that one night. We flew out on Tuesday afternoon, had a layover in LA, then landed in Dallas Wednesday morning. I spent maybe 5 hours at home before heading back to the airport to begin my journey to back to Amsterdam.

Last day in Honolulu

Last day in Honolulu

I flew to Frankfurt first and met the sweetest little German lady on the plane. I told her what I was doing in Amsterdam and she told me she worked at a radio station and was going to talk about me. She was going to go home and google water in the Netherlands to learn more about what I’m studying. I then flew to Oslo, Norway, and it was incredibly snowy there. After a short layover I finally flew to Amsterdam and made it back to my apartment.

Oslo airport, but still could fly! Dallas should learn from them.

Oslo airport, but still could fly! Dallas should learn from them.

Even though I’ve been here before and have done this exact same thing, it is still hard leaving home and being in a new place. I had a stressful and sad night thinking that maybe the next four months won’t be as great as I was imagining, but Zack thankfully reminded me that I can’t judge a whole semester on how I feel within the first 3 hours of being back, especially in the state I was in after 2 days of travel. I have two weeks until classes start and will use this time to get even more comfortable and travel a bit. It’ll take a little time, but I’ll keep everyone updated. Tot ziens!

A Goodbye to Holland… for now!

My last post before returning home for the holidays. This week has been a whirlwind of emotions, but what else can you expect. I’ll be re-entering a world that I know I love but am also hesitant to return to. I had to say goodbye to some of the greatest people I’ve met in my life. who were only here for the semester. But most importantly I have to leave the most beautiful and magical place I’ve ever been for a month.

The time from returning from Prague to Monday had been spent studying for my final and writing three gigantic papers, but this is typical for all of my friends as well. I luckily and somewhat unexpectedly finished two that are due when I’m home, and plan on finishing my last one (a project worth 100% of my grade, thanks Dutch schooling system) on the plane and at home. The time not spent studying was dedicated to planning what I’ll be taking home/bringing back next semester and what I’ll do during my 2 free weeks upon returning to Amsterdam. As you can tell, not quite ready to leave.

Monday night was our first goodbye to our dear friend Ivanna. I said goodbye to two more good ones yesterday, Kaitlyn and Divya. I can’t describe the feeling of saying goodbye to people you got to know so well in such a short period of time that you really aren’t sure if you’ll see again. I think these moments were so intense because I haven’t really had to say goodbye like this before. The last time was saying goodbye to my dear love from Claremont who will graduate before I’m back, Biz, but I’m a firm believer that if you’re meant to see someone again you will. And, quite frankly, I know I’m meant to run into her quite a few more times during my life. Ivanna, Kaitlyn, Nat and I made a pact that we’d meet up again in five years somewhere that none of us have been. I know I’ll see Kaitlyn and Jasmin during senior year (just a quick jump up to San Fransisco from Claremont) and I hope to make it to Canada to see my girls that live there, just to do it.

So, thank you, Amsterdam (and overall the world kind of) for supplying me with the best semester of my life. I’m thankful that this isn’t the real goodbye. Thank you for showing me that beauty exists every day in the city and all of its components, the people around me, my friends, the process of change, and in myself. Thank you to the woman who was roller skating down my favorite street a few days ago for making me smile. Thank you to all of the babies and dogs on bikes, sitting in complete bliss, for reminding me to be careless once in a while. Thank you for my friends for teaching me so much about the diversity of our upbringings and how to be grateful for everything each of have experienced, the good and the bad. Thank you to the cappuccino for nursing me back to a human temperature after freezing rides back from class. Amsterdam, I will greet you in January with open arms and can’t wait to share my city with my sister, Zack, and my family throughout next semester.  Tot de volgende keer! Liefs, Lily.

 

Praha in the Winter

Prepare yourself for a long one. I returned from Prague last night with my luggage full of gifts and my heart full with love–not even ashamed that I just used that expression. Over the weekend I rekindled my love for my four best friends here (Nat, Jas, Ivanna, Kaitlyn), saw a stunning city with a beautiful history, and yet again realized how blessed I am to be having experiences such as these.
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I went to Prague basically only knowing that it is “one of the best cities in Europe” and everyone loves it. I also knew that it wasn’t bombed out during WWII, so its beauty was preserved. I left Prague knowing it as a city of so much more. Despite leaving Amsterdam in the midst of a “code red” storm that was supposedly destroying Germany and Denmark (our neighbors…) we made it to Prague without much delay. We took a cab to the Old Prague Hostel from the airport and that’s when I realized that there would be a language barrier (similar to our time in Munich) unlike what we are used to in Amsterdam. We still made it with much help from Ivanna (fluent in Ukrainian) that claimed Czech was very similar to her language, score! For those looking at visiting Prague, the Old Prague Hostel is such a steal. It’s located right near Old Prague Square, which is the home of the huge Christmas market, astronomical clock, a few churches, and restaurants and some nightlife. We paid a little over 10 euro a night for a hostel that was scoured clean every morning, free breakfast and wifi, free towels and other goodies, and most importantly free sandwiches that we took with us every day for lunch and snacks. The employees were incredibly helpful and the nicest people. We stayed in a room that fit 8 (four bunks) and had the room to ourselves the first night, then had 2 then 1 roommate by the end of our stay. Super easy.

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At the Prague Beer Museum as the tasting began!

That first night we spent some time walking around Old Prague (knowing we’d have a big day the next day) and stumbled upon the Prague Beer Museum which had 30 beers on tap. We got 3 trays of 5 beers as tasters, trying 15 beers in total. They were (mostly) all fantastic, but my favorite was Svijany Weizen which had a banana aftertaste. Drinking in Prague (as well as eating) is incredibly cheap, maybe just compared in Amsterdam, but overall it was a great weekend for trying new things. While in the beer museum, we spotted flurries starting to fall outside. First time seeing snow this year, and it made the rest of the trip pretty magical.

We woke up early on Friday to catch a free Prague walking tour. We missed the tour recommended by the hostel but ended up with Keith, an American from Santa Barbara that fell in love with a Czech woman 8 years ago and moved there (we heard this story twice, went on another tour with him the next day too). He ended up being a great guide and made our weekend even more enjoyable. Let me point out now that Prague was so cold  (about 30 degrees F) but with a bad windchill, and this is pretty obvious in my pictures. Along the tour we saw the Astronomical Clock and its hourly  “performance” of little wooden saints and puppets, the Saint Tyn church, the last standing building in the world where Mozart actually played, Saint James church, the Jewish Quarter, and the Prague Castle from across the water. We learned a ton on the tour but this is what I gathered in general. 1) The Czech have a thing for mummifying body parts of people that have done wrong and displaying them in public (a thief’s hand in the Saint James church, Saint John’s tongue in the Prague Castle), 2) I think Prague is the city in Europe with the most variety of architecture styles such as Cubism, Art Deco, Gothic style, etc. spanning tons of centuries, and 3) Prague is just beautiful in general. My two favorite things on this first tour was seeing that there is a museum in the Jewish Quarter that holds artwork that Czech children made at concentration camps (reminded me of my Girl Scout gold award project) and learning that the Americans going the moon were actually listening to the Czech composer Dvorak as they landed, and the Czech take a ton of pride in this.

Nat and me outside of the hostel on Friday morning

Nat and me outside of the hostel on Friday morning

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Astronomical Clock.

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Saint Tyn Church.

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Saint Nicholas Church.

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Kafka Statue near the Jewish Quarter.

That evening we ate at a traditional Czech restaurant that was just incredible. U Dvou Sester,  Czech Kitchen. I went for “Cmunda po kaplicku,” a folded Czech potato pancake filled with Prague ham and sauerkraut. The other girls had beef goulash, fried cheese (Dutch classic), and braised beef with a cream and cranberry sauce. We had cabbage salad, marinated brie, and homemade sausage to start with mulled wine. We called this our official feast meal and were ready to splurge, but we only spent about 11 euro each for all of the food and drinks we got. Incredible. After dinner we went to U Sudu, a wine bar that ended up being a bar underground with a network of smokey tunnels and seats throughout them.  I actually started feeling really claustrophobic but that passed when I realized how unique and cool it was. We thought it might have been built during the war, but learned it was from the 1600s and that Prague has an entire ancient underground city, and that this was common. There, we met a group of German guys there for the weekend that were all environmental engineers (shout out to Anna!), and we went to an “electro-swing” club with them afterwards, across the street. We danced the night away to a blend of Christmas music and oldies then three of us stumbled home late (from being tired, of course…), but we didn’t forget to grab a kobasa and sauerkraut sandwich on the way back. The other two showed up later.

Dinner at the Czech Kitchen.

Dinner at the Czech Kitchen.

Saturday we met up with Keith once again for his Prague Castle tour. While the first time with him it was us five and 2 older Australians, this time we had the pleasure of being with maybe 10 more American exchange students… and they were annoying. I don’t think we gave off vibes quite like them. On this tour we crossed over the Charles Bridge (super famous with a ton of creepy saint statues), saw where the Czech Republic is actually run from and some great views of the city, and I ran into MARGARET. I was staring up at the incredible cathedral in the castle and heard a loud “LILY!” followed by a huge hug. I love her so much and was so surprised. I ran into her AGAIN in Old Prague Square the next day, insanity considering there were so many tourists out and about during the weekend. Anyway, Keith left us at the castle and we made our way down ourselves, stopping at a little crepe restaurant for a snack before heading back across the bridge and back to rest for a bit. We grabbed dinner in the Christmas market (more sausage, potato dishes, fried cheese, cheap stuff!) and went to Popocafepetl afterwards. This was another bar tucked underground, much smaller than the scary labyrinth from the night before, but pretty gezellig.

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Before crossing the Charles Bridge.

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Pistachio, Honey, and Marscapone crepe

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View from the Prague Castle.

Food at the Christmas Market.

Food at the Christmas Market.

On Sunday we decided to get up early and cross the Charles Bridge again, but try to catch it with less tourists. We were successful at this, and saw more of beautiful Prague than we could have the day before. On the same side as the Prague Castle, we were able to see the David Cerny baby statues and the John Lennon Wall. David Cerny is a controversial Czech artist that I think I’m in love with. These huge creepy babies and other statues are scattered around the city, but we caught a few in a smaller park near the Lennon Wall. The wall was fantastic to see. I knew it was super touristy, but considering my foot tattoo is a representative of Lennon’s song “Watching the Wheels,” I had to go, and sign it as well. We all left our marks. As we headed back to Old Prague Square, we ended up running into a Ukrainian protest which Ivanna and Kaitlyn joined and followed throughout the city as Nat, Jas, and I went exploring other areas. We met up later to say bye to Jasmin (left a night early) and rest up before our last night. That night we went to a well-known Czech bar/club, Chapeau Rouge, that was kind of voodoo themed and definitely represented Prague. I’ve had my fair share of trying weird things (I am a college student and now a traveller afterall) but Absinthe is quite possibly the worst thing I’ve tried. It is a huge thing in Prague and we decided to go for it. I can only describe it as  spicy Jagermeister literally on fire that continues to burn you for a while afterwards. But alas, we did it. We enjoyed our final night together but knew we’d have to get up and check out the next day.
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Cerny baby.

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Nat leaving her mark on the Lennon wall.

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My mark on the Lennon wall.

Chapeau Rouge.

Chapeau Rouge.

Monday was a day of relaxation, some homework, and travelling home. I was of course happy to be back in Amsterdam, but Prague was such a nice place to be. Arriving home was also the sobering moment when we all realized that real life starts again and the first semester finishes in now just nine days for me. I have plenty to do until then, but putting everything aside for a beautiful weekend was well worth it. Děkuji Praha, it was so nice to meet you.

...And I mean it.

…And I mean it.


Bijna Kerst

Almost Christmas. Once it turned December (yesterday) it really hit me that time has flown. As I say to myself every single day, thank God I have another semester here. I’m going to list a few highlights (or exciting things at least, some are bad) that made this week different from the past few. Feeling a little repetitive, but hey, this is normal life for me now!
1. I played tour guide (yet again) with Ryann, my friend from lower school (and still friend today)
2. I saw a woman laying in the street that was hit by a Vespa (ugh!)
3. I almost had a complete conversation in Dutch with an employee at a store until I caved and had to ask what her last sentence meant (another ugh!)
4. Christmas shopping is one of the most fun things to do in Amsterdam
5. My professor played us Dutch rap in our culture class and it was a lot cooler sounding than American rap
6. My first Thanksgiving not at home (and not in America) proved to be actually quite sad, and I realized the gift that is being with your family on holidays

So yes, Ryann came to visit me from Galway, Ireland from Tuesday until Friday of last week (Sra. Wheeler, she says hi!) I quite liked having a visitor during the week, as we were more low-key but still got out around the city. I let her explore on her own while I went to a lab on Thanksgiving, but I was also happy to take a break and see the Stedelijk museum, the modern art museum which I hadn’t seen yet. My Thanksgiving would have been even more depressing if she wasn’t here as my roommate was in London with some of her family. A few kids in my building tried to get a meal together but couldn’t (none of us have ovens), so Ryann and I opted for Kraft mac and cheese from the American food store (I hadn’t been there before!), added some bacon, I made an autumn salad, and we watched Louie on Netflix while we ate. Nat (not even American) was the first to tell me Happy Thanksgiving that day. I guess I’m just not very festive. It was definitely hard to see people with their families and friends on Facebook and Instagram, and it really made me miss home. It only took a few seconds for me to realize that not only do I have an incredible thing going for me here, I’ll be home before I know it and for longer.

Ryann and I on a canal, so classy!

Ryann and I on a canal, so classy!

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The Vespa incident was pretty traumatic; I didn’t see it happen, but I saw a bike, an old woman on her back, and a guilty Vespa driver walking from a few yards ahead of her. Those Vespas man, ALWAYS in the way. About 10 people on bikes stopped to help and it gave me goosebumps. I wanted to stop but realized the communication barrier would be troublesome and I didn’t even see the accident happen, so I continued on.  You never actually see the accidents (bikes hit by trams, buses hitting trams, cars hitting bikes, bikes hitting people) but they definitely have to be happening a lot. Just makes me more cautious, although I did manage to put gloves on while biking up a hill this evening…

I love being around the city during this time when there are so many lights and shoppers and things to see. I have found gifts for all of my family members from some of my favorite places, but I know I can find more. Getting them home will be difficult, but I will have to figure it out. Everyone is so happy and cozy. My friends and I are going to have a holiday party sometime next week. Luckily a few of my friends that are only here for the first semester will actually still be here when I come back in January, so goodbyes aren’t totally necessary yet. Callum’s birthday party was on Friday, and it just reminded me how close our building has become, and how nice it is to see everyone together (when I’m not experimenting and analyzing crop production per capita in China for the future…)

De Bijnkorf for the holidays

De Bijenkorf for the holidays

Happy Birthday Callum!

Happy Birthday Callum!

I’ll be headed to Prague on Thursday and it’s supposed to snow there. I’ve made a list of what I want to do and couldn’t be more excited. Puppets are big there, and so are other magical things. But I’ll leave all of that for my next entry. Stay tuned!

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.

Typical!

Typical!

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.

Panorama!

Panorama

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, http://www.awesomeamsterdam.com. 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.

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

Zwarte Pieten on the biggest department store in Amsterdam…

http://www.awesomeamsterdam.com/articles/86/sinterklaas-amsterdam

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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