The Adventure Begins

By alison - January 7, 2004 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

Here I sit in a condo which I’m sure has been featured in several Ikea catalogues. I’ve just spent the past half hour photographing the most gorgeous tulips I’ve ever seen. I bought 25 (although it was closer to 30 when I actually counted them at home) for 12.50. I can’t even imagine what they would have cost at home … not that you could buy tulips on the street in January, in Halifax.

I purchased the tulips on the way home from the market. There is a little (8-10 shops) pedestrian shopping area which is about a 10 minute walk from here. The super market is fairly large (not by Canadian standards but for here). The produce section takes about a third of the store whereas the frozen food section is half an aisle (a bit backwards from the Sobey in Tantallon). I’m sipping on my apple/raspberry smoothie, the first of many and I found my Illy coffee so all is now right with the world.

Last night, Andrew and I had a great supper at what I think will become our neighbourhood hang out. The Franken-something-or-other is close to the shopping area. It’s a cozy upscale pub (by upscale I mean no thumpy music or drunks passed out in the hallway), that serves good food and a huge selection of drinks. Andrew ordered a cherry beer which I ended up enjoying more than him (ok Jenn, you told me so). I had my Dutch staple, kipsate (chicken sate which is chicken on skewers in a thick peanut sauce, yum) and Andrew had a perfectly cooked steak. Of course both came with fries (so much for that aspect of the diet) and salad. By the end of the meal, we were both stuffed but we plan to go back just for dessert at some point as they looked sinful.

While on the topic of food, our diets (rather, lifestyle changes) have been going quite well, despite the being in the French fry capital of the world (I’m sure they should be called Dutch fries). I cooked the first meal in our condo on Monday night, once we figured out how to use the stove top (the oven is a whole other issue … how can something that microwaves have metal in it…?). I made a 3 cheese ravioli with mushrooms, garlic, feta and bokchoi on top. It was pretty good if I do say so myself. Cupboards and fridge are full of much healthier things than at home so hopefully we can both shed a few pounds while we’re here.

So about the disastrous flight we mentioned in the e-mail to the family….Ah air travel, how I love it so… We arrived at Halifax airport a bit early as it had started to snow and the road conditions were getting a bit dodgy. We walked about the airport a bit, had some chai and tried to kill time. Well, then we learned that our plane had been held up in Toronto (of course) due to a problem with the baggage system. We finally took off an hour and a half behind schedule. We were reassured that we would try to make up time in St. John’s.Well, we made up a bit of time, but in the rush, the headphones were left behind. Thins meant no music or in flight movie for anyone. So we decided to read … despite the fact that neither Drew, nor I had working lights.

When we arrived at Heathrow we were told we could still make our flight. I looked at our boarding pass to see that our flight boarded at 10:15. It was now 10:10. For anyone who’s never been through Heathrow … It’s a very big airport. So big in fact that you take a bus between terminals. So we ran for the bus. Then we ran for the security checkpoint, then we ran through the terminal to find our gate which was now on its final call. We hit another security check point and mercifully someone let us skip it. We boarded the plane with no time to spare. However, … Luggage dose not run.

We arrived at Schipol on time to meet Robert but our bags did not. We weren’t alone. In fact about 30 people waited in the line for lost baggage. So another hour was lost. Finally we met with Robert and got our rental car. We followed Robert to our condo and finally the world started looking a bit brighter (I know my plane story will get no sympathy from some people. Ahem…Anna and Cheri). We took a walk to explore our neighbourhood. We ate huge, odd, calzones at Le Papillion and then slept … with gusto … for 17 hours.

When we finally rolled out of bed on Monday, we headed in to Core to write quick e-mails to let the family know we were alive. Our luggage arrived a half hour before us and was intact and accounted for. Then we got some groceries and went home for our first meal. After supper we went to the greatest place on earth … IKEA! I swear if there were an Ikea in Halifax I would throw away everything in our house and start over. But since shipping furniture home is out of the question, I contented myself with a few purchases for the condo. A few big towels and a bathmat (bright yellow so they will match my bathroom at home), 4 espresso cups and saucers (for the aforementioned Illy), some additional coat hangers, a picture frame that looks like a strip of film and a lucky bamboo shoot.

We don’t have a lot of plans yet. We intend to play things by ear and travel around as much as we can. I think this weekend we will explore Amsterdam itself as Andrew has had very little non-work time to look around the city. They tell me by next Tuesday we will have internet access in our condo. So by the time you read this the weekend will have come and gone. I will apologise here for not having written everyone individually when we arrived but I hope this will keep you all informed of our comings and goings. Cheers!

Observations about the Dutch

1. Dutch is hard to learn. So far I have found the Dutch to be wonderfully friendly and eager to help out. This makes learning the language a bit of a trick, as once they realize you are English they quickly switch and speak to you in your language. They can’t seem to understand why anyone would even want to learn Dutch and laugh when you try to speak it or ask them how to say something (they aren’t laughing at you, just the shear absurdity of anyone trying to learn Dutch).

2. You can not dress like a slub here (and even when you do dress up, you still feel like a slub compared to many of the Dutch). The Dutch are very European in their dressing. Whereas I would normally go to the Sobey in my sweat pants or pjs (whatever I happened to be wearing around the house), I wore dress pants, a v-neck sweater and still felt under dressed to go to the market today (I knew I should have put on lipstick). I will have to buy a pair of long, high healed boots to fit in here. Thank God we’re here and not in Milan or Paris…I’d be too embarrassed to leave the condo.

3. North Americans are fat and lazy. Ok, I think we’re all aware of this, but man, is the lifestyle ever different here. On some levels the Dutch are much less healthy than us (chain smoking, drinking and French fries galore). But they walk, and walk and walk everywhere. If it’s too far to walk, they bike. And despite the fried food, they eat so much more produce and fresh food here. The don’t have isles and isles of pre-packaged, synthetic food. Because of these things, you just don’t see obese people here. The truly sad thing is you can see that the younger generation is headed down the road to the North American lifestyle. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Dutch kids want to be American. You see it in the shops geared to teenagers (Yankee, USA World, Tommy). And you see our fast food nation creeping in (or stampeding in depending where you look). And American shows are on TV just about all the time. Sad.

5. Environmental issues are being addressed here. Ok so not everyone rides their bikes to work. (traffic is actually quite atrocious) But a lot of people DO ride their bikes everywhere, or take the train, tram or bus (all are very efficient). Recycling and composting are very big here. We have bins right outside our condo. And packaging seems to contain much less plastic than at home.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
I loved my time in Riga, Latvia a few years ago and Adi's post takes me right back. It's a European travel... - 3 days ago
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