Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tulip or not tulip, that is not the question because there are so many freaking tulips in Holland

Day 7-13 (April 15 - 21, 2012):

 Well, we just completed our first guided bike tour! It was fun, stressful, entertaining, beautiful, and filling. We had 5 funny ladies from Texas who wore hand warmers inside their gloves (granted, it was colder than usual), and three different couples who were all very pleasant.
Day 1 & 2 of the tour were in Tulip country. We picked the clients up at the train station in Leiden. I was a little nervous about how to interact with them, what there would be to talk about, but we started off with Oma giving a walking tour of Leiden so there wasn’t that much time for awkward pauses. Noordwijkerhout was the small town where we stayed, and I was just about drooling over the gorgeous warmblood horses that frequently passed by from the menagerie nearby.
Canal in Leiden

The tulips were spectacular, although they are early this year because they got the three weeks of summer weather that we got.

Although the tour is a “tulip tour,” we actually only see tulips on the first two days. After the millions of flowers we saw, two days was enough. You can only take so many pictures of flowers.  

Day 3 & 4 were in Delft. Now I’m sorry Leiden, but Delft is the clear winner in my eyes! Talk about a typically Dutch, adorable little city.

Cute corner with view of the tower of the new church

There are two churches, one of which is leaning like the tower of Pisa! The Dutch weren't content to let it become a tourist attraction like the Italians though. Even before they completed the church they realized it was leaning (Holland is all soft, sandy soil, what do you expect?), so they decided to create some optical illusions to make it look straighter. It didn't really work, but it was funny to find out that they built the right tower taller than the left (the church leaned to the right), and made a few other things bigger on the right.

I climbed to the top of the tower in the new church! Here is a view of the old church and Delft

I could see myself living in Delft if I were to ever live in Holland. It kind of reminded me of the North end except bigger, older, and quainter. My room at the hotel we stayed made me feel like Veneer himself, as I had two stories, the top equipped only with a bed, chair, and two windows.

Check out that sky!

They had a market on our last morning, where I actually paid to pet a horse. Technically I probably paid to keep the music flowing from the organ the horse had pulled into the square, but I wasn’t really aware of the music as I pet, scratched, and loved on the beautiful Halflinger cross.

Day 5 & 6 were spent in the farmland southeast of Amsterdam. We saw more baby lambs than we had battery life in our cameras. (The week was pretty gloomy, so I didn’t take very many pictures, since I have two more chances to get the money shots)

The hotel itself was okay, overlooking a lake which our room didn’t have a view of, but the food was absolutely spectacular. The first night Oma and Pop found out the appetizer was going to be smoked eel, and they suggested that the waiter describe it as “smoked fish from the lake”. Worked like a charm. The next night I actually started talking with the Texas ladies about eating different foods and we talked about eel, which they said they wouldn’t eat, and it was all I could do to keep my mouth shut!

Scrumdidliumptious Bulvarian Creme. I think the dutch word for it is "Kwark"
The biking was very beautiful the whole week, but seeing all the baby animals and open farmland made the 6th day of biking my favorite. My tailbone thought otherwise.

Overall it was a really great week. Stressful at the beginning as I fretted about managing the emails after a day of biking, before or after the 2 or 3 hour dinner, but I managed. I’m already scheming about how much I will need for an assistant to answer the phone and emails while we are away next year. But it’s really not that bad. The people were all older, but very interesting, and it was really neat to hear all of their different stories. One guy had biked from Alaska to California in something like 39 days! We were able to skirt the issue of politics for the most part until the question of the next president came up; but would you believe it, I suddenly had to pee really badly. (It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I was sitting with the Texans)

I could really get used to this life. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 6 (April 14, 2012):

Since I started telling people I was going to Holland, everyone has been nice enough to try and think of someone they might know in Holland for me to meet. A friend in Amsterdam, a boyfriend in Leiden, an old classmate somewhere in the Netherlands.

A good friend was nice enough to suggest that I meet up with her boyfriend in Leiden so that he could show me the sights, perhaps introduce me to a few people, and give me a break from my lovable grandparents. He was also kind enough to oblige, so off I went to Leiden for an afternoon off.

I met up with him for the most Dutch of lunches: Pannenkoeken! I should have taken a picture of the giant pancake on my plate, but I had decided to be the least embarrassing tourist I could, leaving my giant camera at home and keeping the pointing, oohing and ahhing to a minimum.

After a koffie at a nice little place overlooking the square that used to hold the town’s gallows, we walked around the Botanical gardens where Cariolius Clusis first started experimenting with the tulips that now make Holland famous. A little later we met up with his brother for a beer and conversation about Bush, Obama, the differences between the American and Dutch education system, and the Dutch vs. the American toilet. (If you are curious, check this out:

It was a fantastic afternoon away, and Leiden is a beautiful Dutch city! (way better than Deflt, I hear)

The getting home part was a little more complicated because one train line was down so I had to take a train, bus, then train and train again. I would have been totally stuck if I hadn’t found a nice young woman who happened to be going the same exact place, so her and her cat kindly escorted me all the way to Heerhugoward and only occasionally laughed at my accent when I tried a few words in Dutch.

A late happy birthday to my little bro, Max!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Day 4 and 5 (April 12 and 13)

Day 4:

Already I am starving for the attention of animals. Yesterday I creepily went up to someone’s yard where there was a dog, and while I pet it a few times I saw that there was a toddler and sister or babysitter watching me. I smiled and waved, but I'm sure they think I'm a weirdo. There are a couple pit mixes or bull dog mixes down the lane who I am determined to make friends with. They barked one time when we biked by, but I can tell they aren’t actually mean. I also saw a girl feeding the horses that are just across from the campground, and I stopped on my bike to watch for a minute. She definitely saw me and instead of going over and explaining that I just miss MY horse, she probably thinks that a crazy lesbian was checking her out.

Today we went to Alkmaar, a beautiful town a half hour south of Oudkarspel. 

We walked down one street that was lined with all the delicacies of a good Dutch town. Cheese, chocolate, beer, and more cheese.

As I was walking around taking pictures, I heard someone say something to me. When I turned around with a dumb look on my face, the guy said again this time in English: why don’t you take a picture of us? So I did.

Cheeky dutchman!

Day 5:

This was an easy day of bike fixing, cleaning, lubing, and one panicked moment when a client said they were waiting at the train station in Chiusi, Italy and one of our associates wasn’t there to pick them up yet. It worked out. I biked to the video store to get a movie, Moneyball, which was good. (I mean, I’ll watch anything with Brad Pitt)

That is something that I love. Bikes are used all the time around here for transportation. (And yes I do have at least one friend who uses her bike all the time just for that reason.) That is their main function here, with the occasional rogue race biker. And there are bike paths everywhere, so you don’t have to worry about traffic or waiting for lights, you just go!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Holland - Day 1, 2, 3 (April 9,10,11):

Well I've made it to Holland. The flight was long, and it was split up into 2 four or five hour flights, which I'm not sure was better or worse. I wasn’t really able to sleep so I guess it was nice to be able to stretch my legs in between. Our layover was in Iceland, and talk about a BEAUTIFUL nationality.  I'm not into blondes, but my goodness did they have some goodlooking people there.

We reached Holland at about 13:30 (get ready for military time people), and took a taxi to pick up the van. The area surrounding Schiphol airport reminded me very much of suburban Boston, only the cars were smaller and signs in Dutch. The buildings next to the highway were nothing special, and there were small fields and trees that looked similar to those back home. But as we drove farther from the airport and north towards the van and Oudkarspel, where my grandparents live, it became clear that this was the Holland I was waiting for. Green EVERYWHERE. Green grass to be more specific. There were small, lush fields everywhere dotted with mostly sheep. I also saw many horses, lots of small ponies, and a few goats. Houses were quaint, built of brick, some with thatched roofs. On the road we took to get to the garage where the van was stored, everything was brick. The brick road was lined with brick houses on either side, a brick sidewalk and brick driveways. It felt like a village out of “Beauty and the Beast,” where everyone knows your name and calls you strange behind your back.

We got the van with no trouble and headed on to Oudkarspel. The scenery remained similar to that described earlier, although we did pass one area that looked more urban, with big grocery stores and lots of shops. People were not out biking that day because it was very gloomy and rainy.

The house where my grandparents live is in a “campground” which is sort of a glorified trailer park. There are a few actual trailers, one or two, but most of the homes are permanently built with decent sized yards and very nice landscaping. My grandparent’s house is bigger than the image they painted in my mind, with two small bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and good size dining and living room area. My room is pretty miniscule, but I don’t mind.

View from my window

That first night we all passed out around 9:30, 10 o’clock. I had one of the best sleeps of my life, but my grandparents were jetlagged and woke up in the middle of the night for a few hours.

Day 2:

My second day wasn’t too eventful. I caught up on business emails, we re-rented a storage unit to use while we're here for keeping extra bikes and things, and we went on a short bike ride around Oudkarspel. I was again struck by how close the houses were to each other in certain areas. Similar to what I described where we picked up the van, the villages we biked through had houses on either side, with a tiny or no lawn, so close to each other that I could see on my left and right what people were watching on television. And it seems that 8 o’clock is television watching hour in Holland. I suppose if I had cable in the US I might do the same thing. I was also amazed at how much I could see into everyone homes! Nobody seemed to mind that anyone walking or biking by could see directly into their living room and kitchen.  As we biked back the long way through the campground to go home, it was the same. Everyone watching TV, and you could see on both sides into everyone’s houses. One of the neighbors saw me gawking and waved. Oh and that's right, it is light until EIGHT THIRTY here! And in the summer it will be light until eleven!!! Okay back to the story.

Pop told me that another neighbor of his doesn’t like him, because he keeps his hedges “very” high so that we get some privacy. After that bike ride we took, I really appreciated it!

Know who that is?
My peaceful sleep the first night was made up for the second night when I couldn’t get to sleep until 6 a.m.! I think part of it had to do with the book I was reading, “Catching Fire,” the second Hunger Games book (thanks Lizzy and Karina!), but part of it was just jet lag.

Day 3:

So far I have found Dutch people to be kind, friendly, rude, funny, judgmental, and tall. The service here (and I believe in Europe in general) is very slow, and they don’t apologize for anything, because as Oma said “we are always right.” (and we are)

Bike Ride to Heerhugowaard, notice the old and new windmills!
I went biking on my own in search of a mini SIM card for my newly unlocked iPhone. The guy at the Vodafone place spoke English, and we discovered that my phone is not unlocked, but he kindly gave me the business card of someone who might be able to unlock it. I was in a mall, so I walked around and got a few necessities. I’ve gotten really good at saying “sprechkt u engels?” Most people do speak english. I've found out that no one has any idea what witch hazel is, which I will have to bring back with me from the states on round two. One woman at a store was a little rude, but mostly the cashiers were nice.

I can’t help but feel like an outsider. I don’t speak the language, and I don’t know if it is my imagination or not, but I swear people sometimes look at me funny like they know I am not from around here (before I open my mouth). I think it might be my clothes. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there is a definite Dutch/European style that I don’t have yet. I'm definitely not “in my element” here, which is a little lonesome.

Pretty Windy!
But soon I will be wishing for some alone time away from the old folk. We start our first tour on Sunday, so I also learned a thing or two (or twenty!) about bikes today. I was really impressed and amazed at how easy it was to do basic bike maintenance. Pop and I got about 10 bikes ready for Sunday, tires filled, brakes, gears, everything checked. I like the hands-on work and watch out because my triceps are going to be huge from pumping up tires. I look like a total dork when I do it though, because instead of keeping my knees straight and just bending my arms up and down, I keep my arms fairly straight and bend my knees. I think I must look like a strange dancing flamingo. 

To sum up: Holland is nice so far, quaint, beautiful, exciting, but I'm still missing you all. If you want to get a letter from a foreign country with a cool stamp on it, send me some snail mail! Go back to facebook for the address, not sure if random people can see this!