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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.

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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Ok, I have a lot of blogging to catch up on. First of all is my Thursday night shopping excursion. Boys, feel free to skip over this unless you want to learn about Dutch shoes….

As I’ve mentioned, Thursday night the shops here are open late (usually until 9pm) so we decided this would be a good time to go shopping. When Andrew got home from work we hopped on the tram and got off in Dam Square. This square contains, among other things, the palace, Mme. Tussauds and Bijenkorf. Bijenkorf is the famous Dutch department store, kind of like an Eaton’s or Harrods. We did the requisite run through but like Eaton’s and Harrods, everything was severely overpriced.

My mission was to find of pair of what I call “witch toe” boots, which are the rage in Europe right now. The toe extends several inches beyond where your real toe is inside the shoe and come to a very narrow point. The effect rather than making your feet look huge, actually makes them look slimmer and your leg look longer. So with this quest, we set out down Kalver-straat. I was excited and eager to find my boots.

Well, I started off excited anyway. As we walked I found a similar phenomenon to the malls at home. Girls, I know you hear me on this. All of the shops either cater to the teeny-boppers who want to be scantily clad in their size 1 pants or to rich old ladies who want to pay over 200 euros for a blouse. Being in neither of these categories I quickly became discouraged. Then disaster struck. I actually found a pair of boots in a shoe store that fit the bill, and I discovered my formerly blood-clotted leg is still too swollen to zip into boots. AHHHHH! After figuring out that I am a size 39 here, I tried in vain to zip several pair of boot over my calf. I left the store dejected and with no more desire to shop.

Just when I thought all hope was lost, I spotted it … Vroom and Dressman. You’ve heard me mention it before I’m sure. My current handbag came from there in November. Well, if I couldn’t have shoes maybe I could console myself with another bag. As I walked in, the first glimmer of hope shone: a purse covered in St. Bernards. Cutest bag I’ve ever seen. Hope carried me to the second floor and to the shoes. KORTING! read the sign. And there they were, my boots, in brown and only ankle high … The zip test … and yes they zipped!!! They were on the high end of my price scale but I couldn’t resist.

Then I saw the shoes… light brown suede, pointy toe, strappy and perfect for summer. Another good fit and these ones had a red sticker. Not being able to resist the sale I clutched both boxes with some encouragement from my hubby who was ready to spend any amount on shoe therapy at this point to cheer me up. I headed to the cash with bag and shoes in hand, expecting to pay 150 euro or more, and then it happened … the icing on the shopping cake … additional discount at the register and my total was only 70 euro!!!

Happy at last, we headed to the Bloemen markt to refresh our now wilting tulips. We found some gorgeous Callas in orange and red and some orange and purple parrot tulips that matched perfectly. Then Andrew, with the help of a guidebook, found us a fabulous Mexican restaurant for a late supper. I’m not talking tex-mex here, this was mex-mex, run by two Mexicans. The food was divine and the atmosphere was cozy. A disappointing day, saved by good food, gorgeous flowers and a fabulous Sale.

Bruges Blog

Saturday we had our first trip out of the country. We were headed to Bruges, Belgium on the advice of the trusty guidebook. We were told to expect a picturesque town and loads of photo opportunities. Besides photos, our goal was consumption: Beer, waffles and of course chocolate. We had a very early start since there was a lot of driving ahead of us. We were on the road before sun-rise, sans coffee, as there is no concept of drive-thru coffee here. It was grey and misty, as per normal, so we were hoping the rain would spare us enough time to explore the town.

As we arrived in Belgium, our hopes were not that high. The area we were driving through was industrial and rather bleak. The countryside was similar to The Netherlands, without the picturesque canals. And of course, there was the road we were traveling on. It was not the smooth pavement of The Netherlands, but concrete. Ka-thump … Ka-thump … Ka-thump … Ka-thump. At this rate we would both need to be put in traction.

Finally, as we approached Bruges, the concrete streets gave way to cobblestones (no less bumpy but defiantly prettier) and the factories gave way to beautiful houses and the occasional mansion of castle proportions. We passed through a gatehouse and into the heart of Bruges.

Well, first things first, we explored by car, which is to say we got lost trying to find a place to park. That taken care of we headed for the main square. As promised, it was breath-taking. Digital and film cameras snapping we wandered about. We decided to take a trip up the belfry that dominates the square for a Birdseye view of the city. We paid our admission and started to climb…and climb … and climb … (I am so out of shape and the swollen knee wasn’t helping) I was beginning to wonder if it was worth it, as my claustrophobia was kicking into high gear as the spiral stairs became increasingly narrow. Finally after the 366th step we made it. And it was well worth it. It was a perfectly clear view of the town and made for some gorgeous shots.

Going down was much faster although no easier on the knees and the claustrophobia was not helped by the people passing on their way up. When we finally reached the bottom we decided that we deserved some lunch.

We headed for the pancake house, as recommended by our guide book, in search of waffles. They had stopped serving them and what they had on the current menu was out of our price range. Serendipity found us the perfect spot around the corner. It was beautiful inside, the service was friendly and we had the best waffles I have ever tasted. Andrew chose banana and chocolate and I had mixed fruit. They were as beautiful as they were delicious. Unfortunately in our haste to taste, I failed to take pictures (you can’t be on the job all of the time.)

Bellies full and bladders empty (always take advantage of restaurant bathrooms in Europe as it’s usually the only place you don’t have to pay and they are typically very clean) we headed in search of our other quest items. First stop (other than the requisite browsing) was the Arti-choc (haha) Choclaterie. Oh my God ladies, the smell alone would kick your hormones into overdrive. I purchased a box of assorted hand made chocolates (see the picture and weep) and Andrew bought a bag of mocha beans (yummy and caffeinated). Two down one to go.

We found a beer store and the owner was kind enough to give us a quick overview. Andrew picked up a sample pack and a few others and I hit the flavoured beers. Since I enjoyed the cherry beer I had before I picked up raspberry, peach and grape. (So far I’ve had a raspberry and the peach and both were yummy.) Our quests fulfilled and daylight slipping away we decided to head back to the car (making many photo stops on the way). We rounded the corner and noticed some Tintin figurines in a window. We looked up and found ourselves in front of the official Tintin shop! So present for Charlie taken care of we found our car and headed home.

After crossing back into the Netherlands (blessed land of signage) we proceeded to get lost in Breda looking for a place to have supper. It ended up being the Sate Hut (things on sticks are good to me) and we had the best sate I’ve had so far with rice and veg. A nice ending to a great day.

Artis Zoo Blog

Since Saturday had been a long one, we decided to not set the alarm Sunday. When we rolled out of bed and looked outside, there was a strange sight indeed … blue sky, with this large, round, bright shiny thing in it … My God, it was SUN! For the first time since we arrived it was sunny! So we gathered our things, hopped on the tram and headed to the Zoo.

Artis is Amsterdam’s zoo and it is the oldest in the country. It’s been here since the 1800s. It’s definitely nothing like the mega zoos that are popping up over North America, but the animals are well cared for and have surprisingly large enclosures and the zoo architecture is part of the attraction.

Many of the animals are what you would typically expect to see in a zoo. Big cats (my personal fav), elephants, giraffes, polar bears, monkeys and the like. There were a lot of birds, many we had never seen before, including pink pelicans (pictures for Amy). We were also lucky as there were many new babies to view, including: a chimp, a gorilla, wallabies, a giraffe and some baby turtles. Of course, being the first sunny day in forever, and a Sunday, the zoo was busy. Lots of screaming children and haggard looking parents. You had to constantly be on guard so as not to get run down by a stroller or stampeding children. Nevertheless, we were very impressed by the zoo and I shot several rolls of film and tons of digital pics and videos will be on the site.

We headed home once the zoo closed and I made us a warming potato and leek soup to stave of the chill from being outside all day. It was a fun and relaxing Sunday.

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I will call this my food blog since that will be the major theme of this installment. Many of you have asked questions about the food and market situation over here. Since we bought groceries yesterday, it’s as good a time as any to fill you in.

There are three ways to buy food in Amsterdam (and the rest of the country) and all of them seem pretty popular (At home we have a definite tendency toward the super market.)

Supermarkets – these are similar in size to those at home but there are some fundamental differences which I will get to in a minute. Specialized shops – produce shops, butcher, fishmonger, Kaaswinkle (cheeseshop), bakery, etc. (I haven’t shopped in these too much yet but that’s my next goal). Open-air / farmers markets – There is supposedly a huge one in downtown Amsterdam on Saturdays which I hope to get to soon.

The supermarket we shop at is the Albert Heijn, which is a large chain here. We call it the Hamsterwinkel because the mascot is a hamster and he is in all the commercials. The major difference you notice when you first walk in the store is the amount of produce (I touched on this before a bit in my observations). There are things that you can get at home, but they are fresher, better looking and MUCH cheaper. There are things that you’d be hard pressed to find at home in summer, forget January. And there are things you’d never, ever get at home. If your produce is not pre-packaged, you put it on a scale, press the corresponding picture button and hit enter and it prints a barcode with the price. Very cool.

The meats are much the same as you would get at home with the exception of the sliced meats. This is the land of the sandwich. These people will put anything on bread (more on this in a sec). So there are tons of sliced meats. Then you come to the cheese. I don’t think I have to tell you how important cheese is here. I think I’ve already eaten my body weight in the stuff. I’m not complaining. The cheese here is amazing. They don’t do weird shit like dye it orange and there is any kind of cheese you can imagine. Gouda is by far the prominent cheese and comes in all ages and flavours. I’m a fan of the super old (oude) stuff but Andrew likes the young (joung) cheese. There is also a lot of goat cheese / feta. If you don’t like dairy, don’t come here.

The breads are all fresh baked. No such thing as wonderbread here (thank God). Lots of different kinds (I’m partial to the sunflower seed bread) and it’s available in half loaves so it doesn’t go bad on you. There are also many rolls and pastries.

Remember how I said the Dutch will eat anything on bread? Well for breakfast and lunch here, typically, you have the same sort of thing – an open faced sandwich (i.e. a slice of bread with something on it), eaten with a knife and fork. Ok, so the sliced meat and cheese I was ok with … then I saw some of the other stuff … A favorite (keep in mind this is breakfast in the land of the healthy) is chocolate and/or hazelnut spread with chocolate sprinkles … ON BREAD ?!? Ok, I like chocolate … a lot … but really, on bread??? Anyway there is a whole aisle in the supermarket dedicated to things to put on your bread. There are tons of flavoured spreads in jars, and different salady type spreads (tuna, salmon, egg etc) that you can get to spread on your bread. The Atkins diet isn’t going to take off here.

There is also an aisle of veggies and fruits in cans and/or jars. I can’t for the life of me figure this one out… And there loads of crackers (in keeping with the bread theme). Cereal selection is pretty limited. There aren’t too many chocolate coated, frosted, rainbow, marshmallow things here, thank God. And the usual assortment of household items and toiletries.

Finally my favorite section … The Indonesian / Asian food section. This gets a whole aisle and is dominated by a company called Cominex. I’ve found all sorts of yummy looking things that I can’t wait to try (as soon as I can get the instructions translated).

And here’s the other thing. They don’t just hand out tons of bags. You buy them and they are actually well made so you can use them over and over. It’s a great system, I think that cuts down on a lot of plastic waist. (Kitty litter disposal would cause a problem though).

So After the excitement of the grocery store yesterday, we went to Robert and Marie-anne’s condo for a traditional Dutch supper of Boerenkool met worst. It’s a mixture of potatoes, ham and some cabbage-like veggie that nobody knew the name of in English, with a sausage. It was very yummy and very filling. In combination with a lovely white wine and some illy espresso for dessert, it was a great meal. Their condo is beautiful and again very Ikea (but much more upscale than ours) and it overlooks the harbor. They have two cats, Bugsy and Felix who were a bit shy. We were given lots of Netherlands survival tips. And overall the evening, as Marie-anne put it, was very gezellig. This is a word that has no direct English translation but is closest to cozy or comfortable, with a bit of laid back thrown in. It is used in many contexts to describe many aspects of Dutch life.

The other thing about supper here, that you notice particularly when you eat at a restaurant, is that it is an event. You start early and you go late. You take your time and enjoy each course. You have some drinks before and coffee after. Then you sit and chat. You will not get a bill at a Dutch restaurant without asking for it because they do not want you to feel rushed in any way (that would be very un-gezellig).

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Well, we survived our first weekend in Amsterdam. Even though nothing went as planned, we still managed to have a good time and find some entertaining things to do. Since we had both been to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh previously, I wanted to see the third major art gallery that hosts all of the modern works.

We set out late Saturday morning and decided to give the tram a try. The tram stop is just in front of our block of buildings and the #9 goes all the way to Centraal and passes most of the major sites on the way. We found it to be convenient, clean, and the conductors were very helpful. We road all the way to Centraal Station where we purchased our ‘strippenkarts’ for discounted future tram rides.

We decided to take the scenic route to walk to the museum quarter. When we finally arrived at our destination we discovered that it was closed … until May, for renovations. So much for that idea. We decided to hunt down some food and regroup so we hit the Leidseplein, a major tourist spot with lots of restaurants and shops primarily catering to tourists.

Our meal at the pancake house was rather uninspired but it filled us up. Since we were running short of time (most things in Holland close at 5 except on Thursdays when they are open until 9) we decided to be true tourists and partake in the Heineken Experience.

The former brewery has been made into a tourist attraction. It takes you on a tour of the beer making process (a feeble attempt at getting you to learn something before getting sloshed on free beer at the end of the tour.) It was cheesy but entertaining and Andrew enjoyed some beer (me not so much).

In front of the brewery we met Kate, a former New Hampshire resident now working for a comedy troupe called Boom Chicago. She convinced us to head back to the Leidseplein and see the dinner show. The troupe is made up of Americans who alternate between scripted routines (generally bashing Americans and the Dutch) and improv. It was well worth the cover price and despite being crammed in like sardines between two Dutch couples, we had a great time.

Sunday I had big plans to go to Artis, Amsterdam’s zoo complex, the oldest in the country. The rain had something to say about that. (Side bar, not expecting any sympathy here but it rains at some point every freakin’ day!)

We decided instead to go to Rembrandt house. Although there are few of his paintings here, as most are in the Rijksmuseum, there is a huge collection of prints by Rembrandt and other famous artists that he collected. You also get to see his house and studio. We found it quite interesting (although Andrew feels that modern art is ‘crap’ so it’s probably good that the Modern Art museum is closed. Bill did you teach this boy nothing??)

After Rembrandt house we went for a bit of a wander and found ourselves in Chinatown (should be Asian town really). We went to an Asian grocery and bought some goodies and then found a nice Thai restaurant for an early supper. The food was good and there were no fries in sight. Then we headed back to the tram with a quick stop at Gall & Gall (a liquor store chain) and picked up some wine (at 6 euros for the good stuff, I’m quickly becoming a wino). We called it an early night and watched a movie. Tomorrow the cable guy arrives to install our internet connection so hopefully this blog will be on-line shortly. Tot ziens, Al

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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! Al

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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