All Articles (Page 103)

In this section, you'll find every article we've published on CheeseWeb in chronological order, starting with our most recent posts. If you're looking for articles on a specific travel destination, see our Slow Travel section.

On Saturday, April 2nd 2005, Andrew and I were winging our way back to the Netherlands. It was a year ago, to the day, that I wrote my last blog entry and stated that we would return to Amsterdam. I never expected that we would make that statement a reality so quickly … but here we are.

We’ve been in A’dam just over a week now. I have to say that it’s a much different feeling than our first week last year. At that time, we were so excited but also nervous. We didn’t know what to expect from this huge, bustling city. We had so many questions about communication, transportation, where and how would we find everything we needed. Our arrival this time was different. On our first drive through the city, Drew and I both commented on a feeling of coming home. It was that familiar feeling that I experience driving into Halifax or Saint John after spending time away; that relaxed, ‘ah, here we are… everything just as I left it,’ feeling.

But there are still some questions nagging at our brains about this journey as well; mainly about what our European future has in store for us and will we be able to handle it. Gone is the safety net of bailing out and going home to Stillwater Lake (the house closed successfully yesterday). Our accommodations in A’dam are only temporary and after 3 months here we will have to move again. Although we would love to stay here in the Netherlands, it looks as though we will have to move to Belgium, at least for the time being. We have left everything we know behind and arrived only with 4 unhappy cats (who are finally settling in), 4 (which became 5) huge suitcases, and 4 pieces of carry-on (airport drama story to follow). Somewhere on the Atlantic right now are 3 large trunks and 5 small containers of books… all that is left of our past life. Where we will be a year from now is anyone’s guess…

Many of you have asked about our flight over. Let me say that it was a saga and if anything could make us stay in Europe, the thought of reliving that flight could do it. While I would never, ever give up my animals to do this (would you give up your children?) I have no desire to fly with them again any time soon (nor, I am certain, do they ever want to fly again).

We left our house, for the last time, at 8am. We sedated the cats and piled them and all that was left of our belongings in 2 taxis. When we arrived at the airport 3 of our bags were over weight. We had to shuffle stuff around. The man who checked us in looked like he was going to be a stickler but he must have taken pity on us. He let our bags on and only charged us for two overweight. He did however, advise us that on international flights the cost would be much more and we should consider buying another suitcase in Toronto.

The flight to TO was fine, but our arrival at the airport began the stress. We had to get our huge bags and 4 cat carriers to another terminal by bus. You can imagine the picture we made. I had a trolley with 4 cat carriers and 2 carry-on bags and Drew had 2 trolleys with 4 suitcases and the remaining carry-on. This we had to man-handle on and off of a bus and to the KLM gate.

When we got there, we decided to take the Air Canada clerk’s advice and buy another suitcase. I was left in charge of cat sitting and Drew went off to see what he could find. Well, I guess a woman with 4 cats is not a common sight at the airport, because I attracted all kinds of attention. The cats were too drugged out to enjoy the attention and I was honestly to stressed and tired to repeat the story of our travels for the 30th time.

Drew returned with a suitcase and we shuffled stuff into it, thinking we were pretty smart. Only to find out, when we arrived at the counter, KLM’s baggage restrictions are much stricter than Air Canada’s and we were still overweight on 2 bags. More shuffling and lots of pathetic, pleading looks later, our bags were chugging down the conveyer belt. Then they had to tag our carry-on.

Well, KLM generally allows only 1 carry-on bag each as opposed to Air Canada’s 2. We had 2 laptops, my camera backpack and a roll-on bag with my slides and negative scanner. There was no way I was checking any of it and I was ready to fight. However as soon as I said ‘photographer’ it was like the seas parted and they tagged all of our bags for carry-on. They even double-checked the roll-on bag with the supervisor and he had no problem with it so we were feeling pretty good about that at least.

We had to keep the cats until the plane arrived so we had 2 hours to kill. Surprisingly enough, there is not much to do in an airport with a trolley full of cats, except sit and wait.

When the time came to drop off the cats, there seemed to be a problem. Someone was supposed to come and pick them up from us and take them on board, but no one was there. The supervisor had no idea what was going on. We waited, and waited and watched the security line we would have to go through to make our flight get longer and longer. Finally a guy arrived and zoomed off with the cats (zooming with the unbalanced load of 4 shaken up cats on a tiny trolley did not seem like a good idea to me…). We watched him head down a hallway and stop. Then he turned around and zoomed back, unloaded the cats and loaded them on to a different but identical trolley and zoom back down the hall, where he stopped again. We watched, we waited but he didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Finally he zoomed back and deposited the cats where he first picked them up… and then he left!! We rushed back over to ask the supervisor what was going on and was there a problem. He distractedly waved us on and said no, no we will look after it. Go get on the plane. Needless to say we were concerned, but we had no choice but to go as our flight was boarding.

The security line was all but gone when we got there (oddly enough they were all now boarding the plane). When we arrived at the gate Drew went to stand by the windows to make sure the cats got loaded on. I waited in line with our stuff to board. I handed over my boarding pass and waited on the walkway for Drew. I had 3 of the 4 bags and a stewardess (the same one who checked in my carry-on) came over to tell me I had too much stuff. I explained that I also had my husband’s bag and that they were laptops and camera gear. ‘Oh, didn’t I check you in?’ ‘Yes you did,’ I said thinking it would all be cleared up. But she had suddenly decided that my roll-on bag was too big. ‘Well, it was fine when you checked me in downstairs and it was fine when your supervisor approved it!’ (Suddenly I was wishing I was wearing my Bitch shirt) Luckily she got distracted by someone else and Drew arrived so we boarded the plane.

The plane itself was the biggest I had ever been on. It had an upper level for first class and the economy class was enormous. The lady that was sitting in our row was in the window seat but asked if I would trade my isle seat (score, I love the window). I spotted 2 of the carriers on the baggage cart outside. Thank goodness, 2 of them made it but where were the others. Then I saw them, on the tarmac, in the rain!! I was irate. But at least they were getting on the plane. I thought that would be the worst of it. However, after our seemingly endless flight I went to pick them up while Drew got our bags. They were alive and in one piece, or so I thought. It wasn’t until later that we noticed 2 of the carriers were damaged. The door to Dea’s carrier had popped a hinge. I was able to pop it back together but it is missing one of the plastic screw-thingies that hold it together. Then Drew noticed that Buddy’s carrier had a huge crack down one side, like something had fallen against it. For the amount of money KLM charged us to ship our pets, I would have thought they would be treated with first class care. As it was I am thankful they are alive. The only casualty was Orange and her wounds were self-inflicted.

Apparently she tried to escape her cage by clawing at the metal bars. In doing so, she managed to pull out 4 of her claws. Her feet were sore for days and we kept a close watch to make sure they didn’t get infected. She seems to be doing better although I doubt those claws will ever grow back.

We didn’t have much trouble getting through customs. In fact we tried to declare our things that are being shipped over and they didn’t care. One female agent started to inspect the cats’ health documents but a supervisor walked over and shooed us through. (Glad we paid all that extra money for micro-chipping). We had the usual money kafuffle at the rental car stand (I don’t know why that always happens) but eventually got our rental (hey, a Ford Focus wagon… what a new and different vehicle). With some help from Robert, we transported everything to our new, temporary home at the Sumatrakaade on Java Island.

Our first week was relatively quiet. Drew was thrown into work right away on Monday and I spent the first couple of days unpacking and getting the apt. in order. We made a couple of trips to Ikea for furniture. Our ‘furnished’ apt. was pretty basic and we needed some more storage space. I spent most of an entire day putting together 2 night tables, a dresser and a cabinet for the bathroom. Thankfully Paul had lent me some power tools… (Whatever happened to just needing an Allen key?) By the end of the day I was feeling pretty Girl-Powerish but I think I’ll lay off the Ikea stuff for a while.

Last Thursday was our first shopping day (stores are open until 9pm) so Andrew took me out on the town. We couldn’t buy because of the shortage of funds until the house closed but I cased a few shops for future reference… (Very cute little skirt at Zara I may have to go back for… Jenn I miss your shopping advice already). We had our first supper out at Los Pilones. This is our symbolic restaurant that we try to eat at on each of our last nights in A’dam so it was fitting to begin there too. Our only other meal out, so far, was at a little Italian place on our block, a few nights ago. It’s a fabulous little place and I can see it becoming a regular haunt.

Saturday was a fun, and ‘educational day… Drew’s co-worker Paul was having a birthday so he and his lovely wife, Inge, invited us to come for the afternoon and stay for a bit of the festivities. We had visited Paul and Inge at their camping place, in Den Helder, in August and had a great afternoon. So we accepted their offer to visit them, at home, in Arnhem (site of ‘A bridge too far’ for all you history buffs).

We made it after taking ‘the scenic route’ (i.e. lost) through Arnhem. They have a lovely house, in a quiet neighborhood and a beautiful little fish pond. They also have two very pleasant sons, Tim and Jeroen. Tim is taking English immersion and did an excellent job of translating for his Grand-Mother who was also present. We had a yummy supper of chicken Tikka and then the other guests started to arrive. We fumbled our way through with lots of help and patients from Paul’s friends and family. Hopefully we didn’t drive them too crazy. But all in all it was a fun time. The following day, Sunday, we went to the Food and Wine show, put on by one of the Expat groups. It was called S’makelijk! And the guest star was Ainsley Harriet. I doubt any of you have ever heard of Ainsley but I think he’s great. As you know, I end up watching a lot of BBC programs here and he is the host of one of my favorites, called ‘Ready, Steady, Cook.’ It’s kind of a cooking game-show (A bit like Iron Chef without the wacky Asian guys). Ainsley is also a fabulous chef in his own right and cooked up a storm at the show. I have to say that the Food and Wine show itself was very badly organized, but I’ll chock it up to growing pains, as this was the first one they have done. All said and done however, we did have a fun time. We learned how to make Sushi and subsequently bought a Sushi making kit. We went to a cocktail making seminar (which Drew volunteered at) and then saw Ainsley do his thing, which in itself was worth the wait. You’ll find pictures and Videos of our day in the photo section.

This week has been rather uneventful so far. Drew has been in Madrid for 3 days, training some customers. He’ll be back Friday night. We plan to take it a bit easy this weekend and maybe do a bit of plant shopping. Now that we are staying here for a while, we can be Dutch and load our patio up with plants. I did already purchase an orchid which I am quite ecstatic about, as I’ve wanted one for a long time. Let’s hope it survives. I miss you all!

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I’m titling this blog “Things I’ve learned while living in a foreign country.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as there are just two weeks remaining to our time here. It now seems like such a short amount of time, when in reality, it’s longer than most vacations we’ve had in the past. But I guess that’s the point of this blog; coming to terms with the differences between vacationing somewhere, and living somewhere. In no particular order, here are some of the thoughts that I’ve been mulling over:

After being here for 3 months, we look at people wandering around Amsterdam, staring at maps while trying to find the red light district, and shake our heads and sigh …”tourists.” The biggest irony is not just that we did that when we first got here but that we were doing that last weekend while trying to find Sacre Coeur in Paris. I guess my whole point to these musings is there is a fine, yet very distinct line between tourists and visitors. Tourists hop off the bus (boat, plane, train) and start looking for the sights … museums, churches, towers, souvenir shops. Once they tick the five or six things they needed to see off of their list, they can say that they’ve “done” Amsterdam (Holland, Europe, whatever). I’m certainly not looking down on this way of thinking. Until this point in my life I had only been a tourist and I will continue to be a tourist in many places and I have no problem with that. When you first visit a new place, you should see the important sights. After all, they are famous for a reason. If you went to Paris for the first time without seeing the Eiffel Tower, people would think you were crazy. But once you’ve seen those things, you can look beyond them to the people who see them everyday. Robert has commented several times about how we are visiting things here that he has never seen. I think about Canada and how little I have seen of my own homeland. I had an interesting conversation with Marie-ann about perspective. She commented on some of the pictures I had taken of what I considered to be ironic sights around A’dam. One in particular was of a police station next door to a coffee shop. She remarked that she had walked by there countless times and never would have thought it odd. Looking at it through my eyes, she could see how funny it was. I had commented on a similar phenomenon that I had noticed. We (or I at least) rarely photograph the sights around our home town. As a photographer, when I think about shooting Peggy’s Cove or the Citadel, I think “that’s been done so many times before.” But yet I take a picture of the Eiffel tower … like no one’s ever done that before. I guess that’s why travel is so wonderful; you get to see things through new eyes. My time here has definitely made me want to see more of my own country. This brings me to my next thought. Travel always seems to inspire more travel, at least for me. When I get the itch to travel and I finally get to go somewhere new, I’ll think “well, that should hold off the travel bug for a while.” But in reality it just makes me want to travel more. After three months here, I’m not thinking of all the things I’ve seen and done, I’m thinking of all of the things I didn’t have enough time to see and do, thereby planning my next trip here already. Seeing the highlights of Europe by bus did not make me feel that I had “done” Europe; it makes me think “wow, there are so many more places I would love to see and I would love to spend time in those places I’ve only seen briefly.” In fact, I can think of very few places I’ve visited in my life that I would not love to return to (Pisa and New Jersey come to mind and even those I think maybe I just need to see them with someone who knows where the nice parts are). I can also think of few places I would not like to travel to (I’ll skip the war zones for now as that sort of “adventure travel” is not my thing). Of course there are some places I would rather go before others, the “top ten list” you could say (but could I really narrow it down to ten?) But if anything, I’ve learned to take the travel opportunities when they arise. When there was a possibility of moving here back when we were buying our house, I didn’t really want to do it. I didn’t know much about this country (it was never in my top ten) and frankly, I was sacred. When it all fell through, I was relieved. Given that same chance today, I would jump at it, (not just the Netherlands specifically, although I do feel like I’ve found a second home here.) Not that there wouldn’t be difficulties and things that I would miss about home; family and friends being the biggest. But I guess the thought of living the rest of my life wondering “what if I had done that,” would be too difficult. If I had been too afraid to leave Saint John, I never would have met my soul mate, not to mention some wonderful friends who I can not imagine not being a part of my life. I strongly believe that everything in life happens for a reason. Specifically related to travel, I believe that every journey can make you a better person. Which leads me to another thought… Travel and specifically living in a different country can make you more open minded, but only if you first open your mind (Ah ha, a catch 22). For example, you could easily come here and think to yourself … The Netherlands is different from home. They allow drugs and prostitution and dog shit on the streets … it’s crime ridden and dirty. Or you could come here and look at why these things are so and try to understand them. Well, really only pot is not illegal here and we’ve already seen in Canada a move to decriminalize it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to regulate and tax it if it’s going to happen anyway? Similar situation with prostitution, we’re not going to stop the world’s oldest profession, so lets at least make it a bit safer for everyone involved and for those who don’t want to do it, as with pot, just don’t do it. The dog shit, well it would be nice if people would learn to pick up after their pooches here, but having a dog friendly society is very nice. Imagine being able to walk to the grocery store with your dog and taking him inside while you pick up a few things, instead of tying him up outside or not taking him at all. Or owning a shop where your dog or cat is free to greet the patrons (this happens at home from time to time, but not very often and certainly there are not restaurant cats). I guess my point is that being open to the way things are done in different places, makes you more open to change and new things in your own life. It makes you understand that different is not always wrong, or right for that matter … just different. There can be more than one correct way to solve a problem. My final thought is that despite our differences, people are fundamentally the same everywhere (cliche, I know, but still very true). Everywhere you go, there are nice people and mean people; open minded people and closed minded people; people who love peace and people who would rather fight about everything; rich people and poor people. With our world the way it is lately, with the fighting and killing on the news at all times, it’s easy to forget this. Generally, people just want peace, happiness and safety. It’s the minority of people that want the wars and killings to continue, not the majority. If more people could open themselves up to see these similarities instead of always looking at our differences I think the world would be a more peaceful place (that, and if women ruled the world…)

I didn’t mean for this to end up being so preachy, and I guess it was more to sort it all out for myself than to share, but I’d be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on anything I’ve said here (as long as you agree with me … just kidding). These are also not specifically things that I’ve only discovered while being here. I’ve believed most of it for a long time, but they certainly have become more clear during our stay. 10:25:48 AM Ok, now for what everyone was really hoping to read about, rather than my diatribe about “what I learned on my summer (winter) vacation…” Paris. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Paris has this reputation of snobbishness and rude people. On my two brief visits there I have found nothing but wonderfully warm, helpful people. Paris also has a reputation for being dirty that I would also refute. Sure, I wouldn’t eat off the sidewalks but we’re talking about a city with millions of people, so there’s bound to be a bit of dirt. There are beautiful areas and seedy areas, just like any other city. Without trying to be too melodramatic, I would compare Paris to a handsome older woman; someone you see and think “she will be regal and beautiful until the day she dies.” Sure there may be winkles and grey hair but they are hard earned and tell the story of a long and tumultuous life. On many of the streets in Paris (the side streets away from the main tourist areas anyway) I felt that if I blocked out the cars and power lines, in my mind, I could be existing in any time period. The wrought iron, pealing paint and flower draped balconies seem to be the same as they were a hundred years ago or more.

As we had been to Paris on our bus tour, and “done” the major sites (see bitter tirade above) we wanted to do some things that were a bit different. We did do some typical touristy things as well, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We go first to a seedy hotel on the outskirts of La Defense…

The disadvantage of booking hotels on-line (or any other way but in person I suppose) is that you can pretty much take a picture of any building in the right light, slap it on the net and make it look not too bad. Note to self … if a hotel is significantly cheaper than other hotels in the area, there is probably a reason… Ok, so it wasn’t that bad, but it was no Park Plaza that’s for sure. We stayed at the Comfort Inn near La Defense, a new, skyscraper filled side of Paris. Aside from the carpet containing a complete microcosm of lower life forms and the door not having a lock on the inside of any kind it was relatively clean, and cheap. It could be worse. I’ll leave it at that.

We arrived late Friday night so we ventured in to Paris early Saturday morning. We had to take a bus to La Defense which in itself was rather uneventful except that it made us realize how very “white” we are. At La Defense we took a quick look at the Grand Arch. This was built as the modern sister to the Arch de Triumph on the Champs. If you go to the top of one of the arches, you can clearly see the other, directly in front of you. After a quick photo, we hopped on the metro (yes I said I wasn’t going to do this after the recent events in Madrid, but you really can’t get anywhere in Paris without taking the metro and frankly, you can’t live your life in fear of what could happen or you’d never leave your house.)

We got off the metro at the top of the Champs, surrounded by Japanese tourists all trying to take pictures of each other in front of the Arch de Triumph (what is it about Asian tourists that makes them feel compelled to stand in front of every monument ever created and have someone take a picture?) Then we did what every girl must do at some point in her life … walked down the Champs d’Elysee. Honestly, there are much better places to shop in Paris, places where you aren’t surrounded by other tourists and eyed suspiciously by hundreds of security guards (the street has more security that fort Knox I’m sure). But we walked it (the shopping district of the street is really much smaller than you would imagine) and then had lunch at a cafe. Sure a cafe on the Champs is probably twice as expensive as a cafe one street away, but there are some things in life you just have to do).

There was one store in Paris that I had to go to…Boys, skip this paragraph… It’s called Sephora, and girls, I’m getting the catalogue shipped home as we speak. Sephora is the largest make-up and perfume store in Paris and has outlets all over Europe and the States. It is huge… and the best part is you can test everything. Scratch that, that’s the second best thing … the very best thing is all of the free stuff they give you. If you go to a make-up counter at home, your lucky if they give you one of those little scratch and sniff perfume cards. At Sephora, I walked out with more free stuff than purchases. There is just about any line of make-up here you can think of, from the very expensive (Chanel, Gaultier, Dior), to the very inexpensive (Maybeline, and the cheapest which is Sephora’s own label). Just about every brand has it’s own consultant who will do your entire make-up (get this) for free! Oh sure, they hope you will buy the stuff if you like it, but you don’t have to. And they are so nice. I had my make up done by the Make Up Forever consultant (French company with nice, professional stuff). She was very sweet and when I was done gave me free trial sizes of lip stick, concealer and cleanser. Then I went to find some nail product. The woman who worked in that department was an absolutely gorgeous African-Parisian woman named Gala. They were offering French manicures for 18 euro (can you imagine what you’d pay for that at home?) I asked if I could have one and she was VERY apologetic that she was just about to go for her lunch. I said it was no problem and that I could come back later. Well, she was so sorry she started filling my basket with more samples (hand cream, Chanel perfumes …) I made an appointment for later and left with my purchases (and samples).

We then went to the Pompidou Centre. This is the museum of modern art. This was my idea and I take full responsibility for the disaster that ensued. To be honest, the main reason I wanted to go there was because the building itself is extremely cool and has a great view of Paris from the top. Also, I feel like I really should appreciate modern art more and was hoping to gain more understanding of it there. Well, the lines were rather insane. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer. The building was cool and the view was good … then we went in to the gallery. Well, maybe if I had of planned it out better and we went through it chronologically from the oldest to newest works, we would have got more out of it. As it was I didn’t get it and I think Andrew was bored out of his mind when he wasn’t laughing out loud. Sure there were some things I liked, although I was never really sure why, but most of it we lumped into the “my kid can draw better than your artist” category. When we did get to the older stuff, that I actually knew stuff about (Picasso, kandinsky, Matisse, Dali) we were tired and our brains hurt from trying to figure out the newer stuff. We laughed at our uncultured-ness on the way out (I, with the resolve to learn more about modern art before I do this again)

Then it was time to head back to Sephora for my manicure but not before buying and eating a crepe from a street vender (a definite must). Gala was a delightful manicurist. Once she realized we understood French, there was no stopping her. She was hilarious and did a great job on my nails, although it did take a lot longer than advertised and I think there was some reluctance to go back to work on her part, which was fine by us. She had a particular affinity for Andrew because he was so patient during the whole procedure, unlike some of the other husbands she had encountered. He got his share of sample products when we were finished (and I got even more…see the picture). By this time we were starved so we had some supper and caught the metro back to La Defense. From there it was back to the hotel and early to bed to prepare for a long Sunday.

Andrew decided Sunday morning that since we had to drive in Paris that day, he wanted to drive around the Arch de Triumph. For anyone unfamiliar with this, it is a round-about with the Arch in the centre and 11 (could be wrong on that) streets that enter into it. Most notably, it is cobble stone with no lane markings whatsoever. We drove around it completely (there is video evidence) and then down the Champs. There was also an incident with a one-way street and a very frightened taxi driver that we won’t get into. We managed to find our destination, Sacre Coeur, and get a great parking spot (thanks to Andrew’s Zen-like parallel parking skills). The church sits atop a hill in the Montmartre district (famous as an artist hang-out throughout the ages). It is huge and the view of the city is stunning … and the hordes of people swarming it are unbelievable. But even the hordes of tourists here don’t detract from the beauty of the church. We happened to be there as a mass was starting and we sat and watched the nuns singing in awe. The acoustics inside the church are unbelievable. All I can say is it is a very powerful experience, religious or not, that must be seen to be understood. You will see no pictures of the inside of the church on my website as they were not permitted. This didn’t stop most people from flashing away but I felt this was not only disrespectful for the people worshiping there, but that there was no way I could accurately capture the beauty of this building on film.

After our experience at the church we had lunch at a nice little cafe around the corner and then went in search of our final destination. Le Buttes de Chamont Parc. This was an interesting park built on the site of an old quarry. Most of the rock formations you will see in the pictures are man made but it is a beautiful park nonetheless. You will have to see the photos to get a sense of what it is like. We had an enjoyable walk all the way around and through the park and then we settled in for the long drive home.

We decided on one last detour on the way. We went back to the memorial at Vimy, which we had visited briefly on the bus tour. This time we visited the small museum as well. Most interesting though, was the recreation of the trenches of the front line. It was amazing to see the actual craters left by the bombing and how close the Canadian front line was to the German front line. I’ve tried to demonstrate this in the pictures but I don’t think it really does justice to the site. The Vimy memorial in general is a place where you feel very proud and lucky to be Canadian.

Our journey was topped off by a third and final trip to the Sate Hut in Breda, a town we have never actually visited except as a supper spot on the way from other destinations. The food was great and we just kept going back. Mmmm…sate. Mmmmm…Paris.

8:36:56 PM Quick update … if you have the chance go see Cirque de Soleil it is fabulous. These people are the best of the best in the world. The costumes, choreography and music, in addition to the actual acts, is amazing. All I can say is see it and then see it again.

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Germany turned out to be a fun weekend but it did not turn out as we had planned. We did manage to haul ourselves out of bed early on Saturday morning and get on the road, but that may have lead to our downfall.

We drove across the Netherlands and entered Germany near Arnhem with little fanfare. Since we were traveling the back roads the only thing that announced our arrival in Germany was a small sign. The country side we drove through was rural and similar to the Netherlands, although slightly lumpier. As we traveled south we did begin to notice differences in the architecture as well. We arrived in Cologne (Koln) around 1 and it took us quite some time to find our hotel. I had found a very good last minute deal on-line at the Park Plaza. Normally this would have been way out of our price range and it was quite a difference in quality to most of the hotels we have stayed in.

When we finally found it, we were hungry and tired and the weather was rainy and bleak. We decided to eat lunch at the hotel rather than wander around in the rain. Over lunch we admitted reluctantly that we were both exhausted and didn’t feel like exploring Koln in the rain. We were pathetic and went up to our room and had a nap. It ended up being a rather long nap and when we awoke it was starting to get dark. The weather had still not improved but we felt much better. We decided that since we had the opportunity to stay in a posh hotel, we would enjoy the experience to the fullest. We used the very nice gym and followed our workout with a very long sauna. We then had a late supper that was rather swanky. The afternoon / evening turned out to be just what we needed.

The next morning we were well rested but the weather was still not on our side. I made a snap decision to skip sight-seeing in Koln and drive the romantic highway to see the castles on the Rhine. We had done part of this drive on our bus tour of Europe and it was breathtaking. We agreed that this would be much nicer than wandering around in the rain. We were right. The drive was spectacular and the sun even peaked through a few times. The towns along the Rhine look like fairy-tale villages. It is impossible to describe in words or pictures how incredible this area is. Without exaggeration I would say it is easily one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Along side the town and castles, there are vineyards that scale the hillsides. I’ve tried to show this in pictures but I don’t think they do justice to how steep the vineyards are. Like all beautiful areas, there are definite signs of tourism and I’m sure that in the dead of summer, it would be a dreadful place to live. We drove as far as St. Goar, which was the town we visited on our bus tour, and then took a ferry across the Rhine and drove back up the other side. You can really only see the towns on the opposite side of the river when you are driving as everything is so steep. We had a nice lunch of sausage and German potato salad with apple strudel for dessert (how much more touristy could we be…). During our travels we decided that if the opportunity ever arose for us to come back to Europe, we would love to explore Bonn, Koblenz and of course Koln.

After completing our Rhine tour it was time to hit the highway and head home to the Praterlaan. One little over-sight on my navigational skills … German highway = Autobahn. I have two words to describe driving the Autobahn … “WHAAAAAAAAAAAA!” … “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” (a la What would Jarred do Subway commercial). Generally on the Autobahn, if there is a posted speed limit it is 130 and in many places there is NO speed limit. My knuckles remained a ghostly shade of white during this drive. When I dared look at our speedometer it was around 160 and endless BMWs and Mercedes were blowing past us like we were standing still. It was … an experience. I was relieved to return to the Netherlands, and the reasonable 110 limits.

On Wednesday, Andrew’s trip to Prague was unfortunately a disaster. He was up and gone to the airport at the crack of dawn. At 8:30 AM my phone rang. It was Drew. He had learned a valuable lesson … Canadian’s need a visa to visit the Czech Republic. He wasn’t allowed on the flight and he was coming home. About 15 mins later my phone rang again … they were trying to arrange a visa for him and maybe he could make the next flight. 15 mins after that, the third and final call … Visas take 5 working days to arrange. A few hours later a disappointed Drew was home.

Because the boys were supposed to be away, I had arranged to go out with Marie-Anne for the evening. We kept our original plans as Drew had loads of work to catch up on anyway. We met at Centraal and she took me to a place called The Movies. It is an old, Art Nouveau theatre that has been converted into a restaurant and theatre. You eat your supper and then go next door to a movie. It is a great idea and I think it would be a wonderful way to save some of our old theatres at home. We had a delicious supper and then went to see “Lost in Translation.” (No, the irony was not lost on me) It was a good film, but definitely not mainstream Hollywood fare. After the movie we had a killer dessert of 3 kinds of chocolate. It was nice to have some “girl talk” and we discovered that there are definitely universal themes. After supper, Marie-Anne kindly drove me home in her Mini (Drew was jealous).

Today I am planning our Paris trip. We purchased a map and guide book (we have a steadily growing collection if anyone plans to come to Europe anytime soon) yesterday. We have seen many of the must-do sights already, when we were on the bus tour. We’re planning to visit some of the lesser known spots and of course I will try to squeeze in a bit of shopping. Love to All! Al

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So last weekend was the last of our low-key weekends in A’dam. The rest of our stay seems to be planned to the hilt and time is going to fly by even faster than it has been. Saturday was great though. We slept in a bit and then headed in to the city to do some shopping. I won’t bore you with all of the details again but as usual Vroom & Dressman was a success. I also discovered the joy of scarves … People don’t seem to wear scarves at home anymore. I’m not talking about winter scarves either, but flowy, silky, girly scarves. Anyway I found a couple of nice ones and yet another pair of shoes (the new suitcase purchase will be happening soon). I also talked Andrew into buying a really nice shirt and tie. We had lunch at the Pancake House (yummy) and then headed home for our evening.

Saturday night was the last of my birthday festivities, dinner at De Kas. I had read about this restaurant on several websites and it was something I really wanted to try. The head chef had once worked at the Moosewood and earned a Michelin star. Also, conveniently, it’s right down the street from the condo. Since this was the closest I am probably ever going to get to Michelin Star greatness, I had to try it out. Andrew was game and we convinced Robert and Marie-Anne to join us.

Robert and Marie-Anne decided to bike over to the Praterlaan and join us for drinks before hand, as Marie-Anne had not yet seen the condo. They arrived with the most gorgeous bouquet of flowers I’ve ever received and a box of chocolates for my birthday. We were also instructed on the traditional Dutch three kiss greeting. Marie-Anne gave me some instruction on dealing with the flowers and then we settled down to the first bottle of wine. Good company and good wine lead us to be a bit late for our reservation, but Andrew called and it was fine.

We had planned to take the tram to the restaurant as it’s only about 3 stops away. Marie-Anne suggested we go Dutch and ride the bikes. Well, after a bottle of wine this seemed like a good idea. Keep in mind that the last time I was on a bike was the first time I was in the Netherlands, on the bus tour, 3 years ago. Before that it was in High School. Anyway, here it’s quite common for someone to sit on the back of the bike, on the little rack for packages, while another person drives. Keep in mind also, that we’re dressed for a fancy diner which means pointy shoes (It’s not uncommon here at all for women to bike in skirts and high heals, but not something we slobby Canadians are used to). Anyway I managed somehow to get on the back of Marie-Anne’s bike. The woman must have legs of steel because she biked like I wasn’t even there. We did quite well. Despite feeling like I was going to fly off at any second, I actually only had to jump down twice to regain my balance. I did however, discover stomach muscles I hadn’t noticed in a long time. Andrew and Robert did not fare quite as well. Marie-Anne blamed it on Robert not biking very often. I blamed it on Drew’s lack of balance. Either way, the girls won that race and looked a lot less silly…

De Kas is situated in Frankendael Park. It is a huge green-house that has been partially converted into a restaurant, however part of the building still functions as its original purpose and fresh veggies and herbs are grown there for use in the kitchen. The decor is simple. The high glass ceilings give a sense of space and the restaurant feels very open and airy. We settled in, ordered some wine and the food started to arrive. Any stereotypes about fancy restaurants and small portions of food went out the green-house window. I suppose some would say the individual servings of each dish were small but we had more than enough food.

The concept of De Kas is that all of the food is fresh, organic, local, and has as little impact of the environment as possible. There is no menu. You eat what they give you, the only choices being vegetarian or not and what to drink. There were three appetizers: pumpkin and cream tart, marinated veggies with thinly shaved ham and (and this is going to sound disgusting but was wonderful) marinated giant shrimp on a bed of pasta coloured with squid ink. There was also fresh bread and butter. The main course was a beautifully grilled steak with more veggies (and a second bottle of wine [third counting the one at the condo]). Then we had a cheese plate … and more wine. Then there was dessert, which was a cake with fruit in it, followed by coffee and cookies. We were full, loud and happy. It was an all night affair. Drew and I caught the tram home and Robert and Marie-Anne biked back to their place.

The next day Drew and I had big plans to go see Den Haag. We ended up sleeping in and when we finally crawled out of bed I was suffering a Chianti head-ache. We ended up going for a drive, neither of us feeling like getting out of the car. We explored some of the beach resort towns, which are already getting crowded on weekends. Our supper was a hard earned pizza and we hit the bed early.

Last night, we had another culinary experience (yes mom, all we ever do here is eat). We hijacked Robert and went to the cafe Bern, which we had attempted to go to several times previously to no avail. The cafe Bern is a tiny little pub (about 12 tables if that and a bar) that is famous for Swiss fondue. I’ve only ever had chocolate fondue, and being in the land of cheese it seemed like a good thing to try. Dipping bread in hot cheese … what could be bad about that? Well, I can understand why we needed reservation because the Cafe became packed. It was the only time we were given the bill here without asking for it. So, having got the boot and not wanting to go home, we crossed the street and found another relatively quiet cafe to have some drinks. By the way, cafe is the general term here for what we would call a pub; Pubs here serve food; Coffeeshops are for smoking pot and Koffieshops are for drinking coffee (confused?) Anyway a few drinks (I got to be the BOB) at a nice spot, good conversation and a cozy atmosphere (Dare I say Gezellig?) and then home to bed.

Tomorrow morning we are off to Cologne or Koln, Germany in search of more stairs to climb.

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Alright, so I have two weeks of blog to catch up on. I’m not making any promises here because my memory is terrible. I’ll do my best at remembering but feel free to e-mail me any questions you may have too. So we left off on Valentines Day…

My Valentine’s Day gift was Andrew making me supper. This was his first cooking attempt in Holland and without a BBQ. He settled on a stir-fry so we decided to do the Dutch thing and go to the Albert Cuyp market for supplies. The AC is a HUGE street market that runs every day except Sunday. It is about a km long and you can get virtually everything there; Veggies and fruit, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, spices, clothes, fabric, toiletries, plants, furniture … you name it, chances are you can find it there. We strolled through, invigorated by some fresh, hot spring rolls and found everything we needed…and then some. My two favorite stalls were the spice stall (literally any spice, herb or tea was available here) and the Tapas stall … we went a little nuts here and got hummus, babaganoush and cheese stuffed hot peppers (delish). We also bought veggies, fruit, fish, tea and breads. You can see the pic of our purchases in the photo section.

After the market there was one more stop I wanted to make. We went to Nieuwmarkt, the Asian section of town. I wanted to go back to the Asian grocery and pick up some more Miso… I ended up with more than miso but it was fun.

The rest of the day was a relaxation day for me and a cooking extravaganza for Drew. He did a fabulous job, by the way. The stir-fry had tons of veggies and shrimp from the market. Very yummy indeed.

Sunday was a bit of a patchwork of things we wanted to see and do. Our first stop was Rotterdam … ok so some of you are well aware that I had a bad first impression of Rotterdam (Andrew Roode). We won’t go there except to say that Rotterdam was bombed heavily in the war and therefore is very modern looking. Many parts of it could be any generic North American city. There was one area I hadn’t seen and wanted to explore. The old quarter where the artists colony is…. I wanted to see the Cubes.

The Cubes are rather hard to describe so I suggest you take a look at the pics if you haven’t already … basically they are Cubes with one point cut off, tipped sideways and stuck on a column, then they are mashed together with a bunch of other cubes and pushed so that they tip forward…and people live in them…Between the Cubes is a sort of courtyard area that you can wander through. It is surprisingly peaceful. Surprising because the Cubes are also situated over a major street. Just as I was marveling as to how people could live in these things, we discovered the museum Cube. Basically one gentleman who lives in the Cubes, opens his house up when he’s home and charges a euro for you to take a look through. Great idea since anyone would be curious what these things look like inside … Well, they are small… claustrophobics need not apply. Also if you are afraid of heights, don’t wash dishes here because you are looking straight down at the street below. The stairs are narrow and the bathroom is tiny. By far the coolest room is the little pyramid on top. This was a sitting room with windows all around. The view is basically the other cubes, but also the street and depending on which cube you live in, I suppose the water as well. All in all, quite fascinating but definitely not for me.

Our next stop was Delft, another place I had been already but Drew had not and I thought he might like it. It’s a fairly small city, with a nice downtown and main square. It is of course famous for the hand painted pottery, mainly in blues but also available in other colours. True hand-painted Delft is wickedly expensive but also one of a kind and very beautiful. Unfortunately, this time of year, the factory is not open to the public. We did drive over to check it out and it is quite huge. We had a mediocre lunch on the main square, explored the Royal Delft shop and then headed out of town.

Our next event of note was our Wednesday night football game. Football here, for those of you who don’t know, is what we call soccer. There is also a football team here that plays what we know as football. The Dutch call it American football … they have cheerleaders which I’ll get to. The game we went to see was the Dutch (oranje) vs the Americans. This is like the All-star team for Holland. The stadium we were in was the Ajax stadium. Ajax (pronounced I-ax) is the Amsterdam team and you can’t actually go to their games at the stadium unless you are a member of the club. Back to the Oranje … why orange? I dunno. It is, accept it and move on. Because the team is called oranje, of course all of the fans wear orange. And we are talking day glow orange here. So basically it looks like a stadium full of hunters and death-row inmates (could be actually). And they are nuts! Frankly I think all hard-core sports fans are nuts but it is definitely infectious. Anyway of course my camera died before the game even started but there are a couple pics of the field. The game was pretty good. The first half, no one scored. Then we had the American Football cheerleaders … definitely wouldn’t make it in the states … these were no Laker Girls. They looked like they were having fun and I guess that’s what counts, but frankly, they sucked. Jenn, you would have laughed your butt off. Anyway, second half, Oranje scored, USA didn’t. We won, the world was happy (well, the Dutch anyway) and we went home. Only it wasn’t quite that easy. A tram had derailed on our route and caused a huge traffic jam. It was cold, we were tired. We had no idea what was going on. After 2 trams getting us part way and a lot of waiting, we finally gave up and got a cab. Not a great ending to a pretty fun night.

Ok, so the next great day was Friday, my Birthday! Yup, I’m still 24! heh. Andrew took the day off so we could do fun b-day type things. Our first stop was the not so fun b-day blood clinic. It went fine and actually I didn’t feel a thing. I had just commented on how easy it was, as we were walking away, when I realized I was bleeding all over my sweater. Once that was under control (did actually get the stain out later too) we walked down the street to my next errand. I wanted to develop a couple rolls of my slide film, just to make sure my camera was working properly. The photographers at home will get a kick out of this next bit … the rest of you feel free to skip ahead. Ok, so you know how you get used to going to the one camera shop you trust and it’s hard to just walk in somewhere new and hand over you film … Well, my experience was rather interesting. I had done a bit of research on-line because I didn’t want to just take it any old place. The place that I settled on was on our tram line and recommended to professionals. So I walk in and it’s a big posh room … with nothing in it but a counter … no cameras, no film. Just a counter, a sofa and a couple of photos on the walls and the place is BIG. Kind of like going to a really posh clothing store where the models come out wearing the clothes… Anyway I go to the counter, do my thing and they say it will be ready in 2 hours … 2 hours!!! Not weeks, not days, Hours!! for slide film! Anyway by now I’m thinking I’m going to be paying BIG bucks for this. Save you the suspense … it was 5 euro a roll. 11.40 euro total for 2 rolls. They came out great btw and I’ll be taking more there this week.

Ok, back to more interesting things … what I wanted to do on my b-day… I wanted to go to FOAM the Foto Museum of Amsterdam. It was a nice spot and had 2 major exhibits going. One on a Dutch photojournalist that was excellent and another on Man Ray and Lee Miller that was very interesting. It contained lots of contact sheets as well as prints so that your could see his original crop marks and notes. Quite neat. Then we went to the English bookstore to get a book on Barcelona (yes we are going at the end of March). We found that and Andrew got a computer book and he got me the latest Jamie Oliver cookbook. Then we picked up the film, dropped stuff off at home and went for my b-day supper. It’s been tradition the past few years that we go for Indian food on my b-day so we found a great Indian restaurant and ate so much we literally hurt when we left. The food was delish.

The next morning we got up bright and early and headed to Belgium for the Third and final time. This time we had reservations at a cheap hotel for the night so we could actually see some things without having to rush home. Our first stop was the Atomium. This was built for a worlds fair and is now kind of a symbol of the city. It’s basically a huge blow-up of an iron molecule. Inside you take an elevator to the top and have views of the city. Then you take a series of escalators down through the various spheres where there are art exhibits. It’s rather odd but an interesting, one time sort of thing. We avoided all of the other tourist traps at the fair ground, except to have an over priced lunch.

Then we headed to another part of the park where the Japanese and Chinese pavilions were left as museums after the worlds fair. These were both beautiful inside and out and the pictures show them better than I could describe so take a look.

Afterwards, it was high time to find our hotel. We drove around a bit and I remembered something about it being near a church. Well we found it, and what a church to be near. After checking in to the hotel, we had to check out the Basilica. It is an ENORMOUS art deco style church and is absolutely breath taking inside. The simple lines and domes to me are much more beautiful than the over the top gothic style of many of the grand churches here. There was some fantastic stained glass and the view from the top of the church rivaled the view from the atomium.

We decided to head down to the grote market again for supper and be herded in to one of the many restaurants there. I had a very tricky to eat stuffed crab and Drew opted for mussels. We then went back to our chocolate shop to stock up and back to the hotel. We had picked up some little cakes at the bakery across the street and I had my b-day dessert a day late.

The next morning we went back to the bakery for breakfast and then got on the road to Waterloo. We went to see the Butte de Lion a huge grass pyramid with a lion statue on top, commemorating the Napoleonic war. After climbing a gazillion stairs we had a nice view of the surrounding farm land. Vowing never to climb things again (a vow I seem to keep making and breaking on this trip) we headed to Ghent.

This city came highly recommended by Drew’s colleagues and we weren’t disappointed. The city boasts four magnificent churches, some fantastic old architecture and a castle. We had to see the castle for ourselves. So after a very nice lunch at a little coffee house we went trekking through the castle. Well, that blew my stair vow again but there was a beautiful view of the churches from the castle walls. There was also an exhibit inside showing various medieval torture devices (lovely). After the castle we went on a short but interesting boat tour of Ghent. It was interesting to see the buildings from the water level. .

After Ghent we had one last mission… and it was a difficult one. We wanted to find where my great-uncle was buried in Antwerp. My Grandfather Fair’s brother had been a signalman in the war and was buried in a graveyard in Antwerp. We had vague directions from the Canadian Government web site. Frankly it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I think the directions had been written when the graveyard was instated, as none of the streets seemed to exist any more. It took an hour or more of searching until we found the graveyard… and it was closed. Well, never being one to let little things like locked gates stand in the way of a mission… we parked the car (illegally). To actually get to the grave we had to: 1). Rescue a very grateful dog 2). Scale the fence and 3) avoid the police. All of that is true, but not really that dramatic. A woman and her dog had gotten stuck inside the graveyard when they closed the gate. She was waiting for a friend to come and help her lift the dog out. We helped and the puppy was very happy to be free again. Then we hopped the fence (I figure if they really didn’t want us in there, they would have made it taller). Finding the actual grave was much harder. We had a number V.D.63 which didn’t seem to correlate with anything. I finally figured out that V actually meant 5 and Drew discovered that the graves were more or less in chronological order. Finally we found it. I have to say, as far as eternal resting places go, this one was beautiful. It was right by a canal and the graves were very well tended with herbs planted around them. Very peaceful and lovely. As we hiked back out of the driveway we noticed the police driving by and were worried they would stop and check out our car so we jumped behind some trees. They didn’t stop and we made a clean getaway with pictures for evidence.

Then we settled in for the long drive home. Both of us were exhausted but it was a very fun and interesting weekend.

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Ok, so I didn’t think anyone was actually reading these regularly, but when this one was late, everyone started complaining. So you’d all better be reading. I will start with our trip to Brussels on Saturday.

We were late getting on the road and for the second time in a row, headed to Belgium in a downpour. Shortly after we crossed the border (about as eventful as crossing a provincial border at home), the sun came out and stayed with us for the day. (Oddly enough on the drive home, shortly after we crossed back into the Netherlands we were hit by a freak hailstorm…)

Brussels is much more spread out than central Amsterdam. It is an interesting mix of architectural styles with a very French feel. There are a lot more modern buildings here and the Art Deco period really took hold. We parked in the Old town not far from the Market Square, by far the most impressive square we’ve seen in Europe. As you enter the square, you are literally surrounded by some of the most stunning architecture imaginable. The crown jewel is the magnificent gothic town hall with its huge tower. Across from the town hall is the museum which is also spectacular and the rest of the square is filled with the union guild buildings, each trying to outdo one another with their splendor.

We were looking for a spot to have lunch but stumbled upon the chocolate museum and had to detour in. It was small but interesting and smelled delish. We got a free speculaas, hand dipped in hot liquid chocolate, YUM! After that we decided to head toward the Belgian Comic Strip Museum and grab some food on the way. Well, the food didn’t pan out and the museum was in a very odd, rather run-down, part of town. When we finally found it, it was a gorgeous Art Deco building and had a cafe. We ate a super meal there and then proceeded to the museum.

We expected the requisite tribute to Tintin (which of course there was) but we had no idea that the museum and Belgian comics in general were so extensive. We gave it a good effort, but after over an hour our non-French / definitely non-Flemish brains were starting to hurt, so we gave up. We did see sections on Tintin, the Smurfs and discovered a new French comic called Les Triples (the triplets) which we enjoyed and bought a book of in the comic book heaven gift shop.

By the time we emerged from the museum it was almost 4 and already the sun was setting. We decided the only way to find all of the major sites was to do a bus tour. The tour was the last of the day and did hit all of the sites we had wanted to see and some we didn’t know about. Unfortunately the windows were scratched to death and made photography next to impossible. We decided we definitely have to go back and spend more time there.

Supper was another good experience. We headed down a little side street that was nothing but restaurants. It reminded us of eating in Lyon in France. You walk down the street, looking at all of the fixed price menus, and are accosted by people trying to lure you in. This may sound pushy and off-putting but it’s part of the culture and you just go with the flow. We decided on one and had a cozy window seat (where we could watch the accosting process). We had a 3 course fixed-price menu for 12 euro each including a drink and it was quite tasty. We also could not go to Belgium without the requisite beer and chocolate stop so we have more flavored beers to experiment with (chocolate beer bad, lemon beer good).

The following day was my day … CAT DAY!!! Yup, I’m really missing my kids. So we dedicated a day to them. This story is better told by the pictures but our first stop was the Peozenboot (cat boat), a floating cat shelter. The website is interesting so I’ll let you learn about it there … The woman who founded it has passed on but there is a lovely old Asian gentleman who runs it now. We had a good chat with him and got to play with the kitties. They keep all of the cats until they are adopted and from the sounds of things they get lots of visitors and cats are adopted quite quickly.

After the poezenboot we went to the Katten Kabinet, an Art Gallery dedicated entirely to cats. The collection was quite impressive, as was the building it is housed in. The building is a tradition grand canal house and was lovely to explore. There were also many ‘curators’ on hand, willing to give tours or simply have their heads scritched.

After the gallery we headed to the bloemen markt to pick up some flowers. We had a pit stop at the Pancakehouse for some traditional Dutch pancakes. These are more like what we would consider giant crepes and are filled with fruit or cheese. … very yummy. Then we bought some more tulips and headed home.

Other events of note occurred on Wednesday when I decided it was high time we both got haircuts. We headed to the seven streets district, a collection of little shops and businesses. We prowled around for a bit and then settles on Sissorhands, a funky little spot with antique Barbour chairs. I was the guinepig and went first. The girl who did the cut was very sweet and did a great job. She didn’t quite believe me however when I explained that at home it was below -30 with the wind-chill. She thought that people couldn’t exist in such cold and we must live near Alaska.

After our cuts, Andrew wanted to find a vegetarian restaurant we had read about called Green Planet. We had to wait for it to open but it was well worth it. They use only organic products, including their beer and wine. The food was fantastic. Andrew had an amazing looking stir fry and I had Spatzle, a Nordic Gnocchi, covered in a 3 cheese sauce. We also had delish bread with pesto and hummus. So good we got some to take home.

That’s all I can think of at this point. We don’t have huge plans for the weekend but we do have some fun things upcoming. The 28th we are heading to Restaurant De Kas for my belated b-day. Andrew scored ticket to Cirque de Soleil’s Dralion in March, which I am extremely excited about. And there is a good possibility that we’re going to Barcelona for a few days at the end of March. Yay! Sun! Also starting March 21st the world-famous Keukenhoff gardens will be open and there is no way I’m leaving the country without seeing them. Tulips Galore! Stay Tuned … we miss you all! Al

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This will be a blog of tid-bits again. We had some interesting driving adventures starting on Thursday and spanning the weekend…

Thursday as usual I had big plans for shopping day. Andrew even decided to work from home so we could head out early before some of the smaller shops closed. Well, the weather had other ideas. Since being here, we’ve definitely gotten used to rain and usually will head out into the drizzle. Thursday however, was torrential. Neither of us felt like wandering around in the deluge so we decided to see what we could find by car. We found heaven … a magical place (possibly more magical than … dare I say it … Ikea). Its name is Intratuin. It is about the size of our Home Depot and it is a garden centre. Keep in mind that it is Feb. and this place is FULL of plants. Everything from spring bulbs to any house plant you can imagine. In addition they have a large pet section and about a third of the store is home decor items. The prices are crazy cheap for the plants and on par with Ikea on the decor. Down side … we forgot to get cash before we left the condo. So it was a browsing only trip but it still took over an hour. There are some pictures on the website (including the … get this … shopping carts!).

After that little adventure, we met up with Robert to grab some supper. He took us to a little spot in the Jordaan area, a calmer more residential area of central Amsterdam. Supper was yummy and relaxed. We had a nighttime stroll along the canals as well.

Saturday we had no set plans but wanted to do some exploring by car. We set out for the back roads and saw many interesting towns and farmland. One interesting thing we noticed is there are still some remains from wartimes. Various bunkers and such still dot the landscape. The truly interesting part of this is how the Dutch have incorporated them into their daily lives. We saw one bunker on a farm filled with hay for the cattle.

As we wandered we found yet another, even bigger Intratuin. This time we had cash and I had to buy a few plants for the condo. They are dirt cheap (pardon the pun) and the selection was overwhelming. I finally settled on some pink hyacinth (which I can smell right now and are gorgeous), some mini iris and some tri-coloured crocus. The whole lot cost just 5 euro … can’t beat that. But it got better. This Intratuin was having a HUGE clear out sale. All of their decor stock was on sale to make room for the summer stock. We found a few great deals, including two Saint Bernard glasses. Everything was an additional 50% off at the register so we can out with several bags for only 14 euro. Woo!

After all of that excitement, you’d think we’d be shopped out. But no. We then went to Maxis, a shopping centre Dutch style. It actually wasn’t that exciting but there was a huge grocery store, so we got our food for the week and then headed home.

After unpacking the groceries we realized it was very late and we were very hungry so we headed out for food. After an unsuccessful attempt at finding anything close to home, Andrew decided to drive in downtown Amsterdam. (see the movie on the movie page). This is NOT recommended by any guidebook but Andrew did a great job. As usual, Drew astounded me with his parallel parking prowess and actually managed to find a killer parking spot (unheard of in this city). Because we were so hungry, we weren’t up for experimentation … We wanted something we knew would be good, so we headed back to Los Pilones (see movie) and had more amazing Mexican food.

Sunday we decided to stretch our wings and head toward Friesland in the north. We had an amazing time exploring the back (way back) roads. We drove through many windparks and took loads of windmill pictures. We visited a little seaside town called Urk that was very picturesque and watched some people sailboarding. On the way home, we drove over the causeway between the ocean and the inland sea. It is quite amazing that this is the only thing keeping the whole country from being under water.

The only downside to the day was lunch. We didn’t want to spend the time getting a sit-down lunch so we decided to go to McDonald’s. I know, I know … it was a stupid idea. We both felt incredibly sick afterward and vowed not to do it again. I haven’t craved fast food since we’ve been here and I don’t think I ever will now. Hopefully I can stick to this resolve when we go back to Canada. Maybe alcohol and chocolate aren’t the healthiest foods in the world, but I think in general our eating habits have been much better here than they ever were at home. I’m looking forward to putting in a veggie garden at home so we can keep eating like this.

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I don’t have a whole lot of interesting blog topics, as we had a relatively sedate weekend. Saturday we went to Utrecht to do some (mainly window) shopping. I didn’t take a whole lot of pics as it was raining pretty hard and you’ve all seen my gazillion pics of Utrecht at home anyway. We did have lunch at Bond & Smolder, my favorite little bakery. Dessert was to die for (see pics). We had supper in Amsterdam at an out of the way Pub.

Sunday we went to the Tropenmuseum which is just several tram stops from the condo. It is a museum of civilizations/anthropology of tropical and sub-tropical cultures with an emphasis on the Dutch colonies. It was quite interesting and well presented. There was an exhibit on Urban Islam in the centre which you can see in the pics. We spent the day at the museum and then walked back to our hang-out, The Frankendael Cafe. They had a live jazz band that wasn’t too bad so we hung out for a while and then had supper.

Monday was my adventure in the Dutch medical system. Through Andrew’s sleuthing we found a Dr. close-by who would take patients without appointments between 8:15 and 9 am. We tracked down the office which was quite small but nice enough and waited to see the Dr. While his English wasn’t the greatest (much better than our Dutch) he was very nice and helpful. He gave me forms to have my blood tested and was interested in where we were from. He was rather appalled when we told him it was -20 degrees at home. Then we headed to the blood clinic which was also very close-by. We talked to the receptionist who was very nice but she had never heard of our street and was convinced that we were spelling it wrong. Eventually she gave up and let us in anyway.

For those of you who are used to blood-clinics at home (Anna & Cheri) you know how long the wait is… a good hour at the least. I waited for maybe 5mins to see one of the 7 (that’s right, 7!!!) nurses taking blood. We had to explain my situation for the third time, but like most nurses, she seemed to have a better idea what was going on than the Dr. She was also confused about where we lived but eventually figured out we were in the new condos on the old Ajax stadium (Yay! We exist!). She took the blood and sent us on our way. The whole ordeal, including the Dr. visit and drive time was an hour (try that in Canada). Within a few hours I had the results, now we just have to wait for the bill (hrmm…)

Observations On the Dutch Part 2

The Dutch love their animals: If you don’t like animals, don’t come to the Netherlands. The Dutch are less restrictive about pets than in N. America. For example, you can take your dog anywhere … literally. Malls, shops, restaurants, public transport; there are very few places that you aren’t allowed to take your dog. In addition, many businesses have their own pets. We’ve seen shop dogs and cats and several restaurant cats. One particular little black cat greeted each table at an Italian restaurant we ate in. Around the corner from our condo is an emergency hospital, complete with half a dozen ambulances … for animals. Yup, if Fido gets sick you can call him an ambulance. The downside to the abundance of animals and lack of green spaces is doggy-poo … everywhere. You have to watch you step in the city because the lack of grass means dogs do their business on the sidewalks … not that pleasant. The Dutch don’t drink water: And neither will you unless you want to pay $1.80 euro for a tiny bottle. That’s the average restaurant rate. (often more than a glass of wine) If you do splurge to quench your thirst, be sure to order spa blauw, or else your water will be carbonated. I don’t know what European came up with this wonderful (not) idea, but they like their water bubbly. The Dutch are surrounded by water; they live on it, they commute in it, but they just don’t drink it. Beware Febo! Febo (pronounced Fay-bo) is a scary thing and with all of the wonderful food options in the Netherlands, I can’t quite figure out why they are so popular. It is basically a take out food establishment, with one BIG difference. Instead of ordering you food, all of the various food items are in individual little lockers. You put money in the locker and take out the food item. Kind of like a giant vending machine. The food ranges from sandwiches (of course) to crockets, fries and various other deep-fried items. At busy times, I’m sure it’s relatively fresh … but there’s no way of knowing how long your crocket has been baking under the heat lamp in its locker. I can only assume that after extreme alcohol and/or pot consumption, Febo seems like a good idea…
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