Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ordinary Miracle

This week has been crazy weather wise. Monday and Tuesday threatened rain, but that rain never came. I was slightly disappointed, because I was deceived and took public transport instead of my bike. I just haven't become Dutch enough to brave the 30 minute ride in the rain, since I apparently have enough trouble riding in perfect weather.
Wednesday morning I was determined to ride my bike... I was craving it, in a sense. So, when I looked out my window in the morning and saw the dark clouds, I thought the skies were teasing me yet again. I decided to chance it...; nothing happened the two days before. As soon as I started peddling though, the raindrops began to fall. By that time it was too late to put the bike back, gather all my things, and make it to the bus stop before the last tram I could take to arrive at work on time left. Instead, I suffered through it. Fortunately it was a light rain and was only slightly soaked when I got to work. About an hour later, the skies cleared and the sun came out... and I had a beautiful ride home.
This morning was no different than the rest.. still cloudy. I figured that since I didn't melt yesterday, I'd be ok today too... if the rains came. And that's how I found out that the heavens love me. The rain held up until the moment I rode into the bike-port at work. Not a second later the rain came in the form of a torrential downpour. So, I'd just like to say thank you rain... thank you for not soaking me on my way to work today. I'm quite grateful.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Twisted logic

Due to some recent bike mishaps where I've ended up doing bodily damage, my dad has HIGHLY recommended (on a nearly daily basis) that I get myself a first aid kit. Both my parents claim I've never been very good at riding a bike. However I like to think my inability to stay upright has to do with years of not riding, and the death traps strewn around the city, such as construction sites and tram tracks.

Anyway, in my attempts to be an obedient daughter, I went in search of the needed items to create a basic first aid kit. So, I headed off to my local drug store. I knew I wasn't going to have much luck in the oral medicine department, from my cold/flu experience... but I was undeterred. The main item on my list besides Band-Aids was any form of a triple antibiotic ointment I could find, so I figured I'd at least have some luck. And I did, actually... in finding Band-Aids. But I searched the shelves for a type of antibiotic ointment to no avail. So I thought I just wasn't finding it due to my language barrier and not knowing the Dutch word for it. That wasn't the case either, because when I asked a sales associate if they had ANYTHING like what I was looking for, he said that it's something I'd have to get a prescription for. My mouth dropped... literally. I had to physically shut it again. He added after seeing my response that he agrees that it is much easier to get medicine in the States.

What I find hard to comprehend is: you need a prescription for a cream that kills the germs on a flesh wound, but you can meander over to any of the coffee shops that aren't more than 300 feet from one to the next and easily buy some weed. Twisted logic? Yeah, I think so.

By the way dad, can you put Neosporin on your list for the next package that makes it out here?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hidden Treasures

A few weeks ago I found a pretty neat site that had a list of "to do's" in Amsterdam. There were a million and one categories, one of which was entitled Hidden Treasures. On the site they share information about numerous hidden treasures in the city that one would literally miss unless they know what they're looking for. For example, there is an area here called the Begijnhof, which is an enclosed courtyard of houses, first inhabited by women called Beguines. They were like nuns, except they didn't make vows of poverty and could leave the convent and marry whenever they chose. In the early 1400's there were 2 great fires that destroyed nearly the whole courtyard and buildings. And although the majority of the houses are from Amsterdam’s average housing era (1600-1700), one house from the 1400's remains standing to this day. It happens to be the oldest house in the city, and has gone through extensive restoration throughout its long life. So, although it may have a longer shelf life, it looks newer than its much younger counterparts which only date back 2-300 years. Today the houses are inhabited by your normal every day woman... no men.

Anyway, getting back to my main point, the Begijnhof really is hidden away. You have to know what you're looking for, since there is only a small entrance into the courtyard with an even smaller sign on the door telling one where they are at. Example number two is the Marionette Opera. Located at the end of an alleyway where no one would go down except for the sole purpose of high class puppet-filled entertainment, it too is considered a hidden treasure. It's a well done production and neat to watch how a person can make a wooden puppet appear so life-like, just by manipulating a few strings attached to it. I went with two friends and although it was quite good, we all thought 2 hours was a bit long and it would have been nice to see a little more action scenes... to see what the puppets could really do. We just didn't see a suggestion box.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Playing tour guide

I have a friend from Brasil visiting this week, so since I had the day off yesterday I gave her the whirlwind city tour ala Claire. Items on the itinerary included: a walk through the red light district, watching a free opera rehearsal (performed every Tuesday from 12:30-1pm), an hour long canal boat cruise, a walk down Leidsplein, a Belgian waffle drenched in chocolate with ice cream and whipped cream to boot, the insiders look of a canal boathouse, pictures in front of the I amsterdam sign at Museumplein, a leisurely stroll through Vondel park, and Chinese food to end the night on a good (tasting) note.

Yesterday was my first trip down the HISTORIC red light district. Although last week as I was minding my own business while walking down the road, in an area a distance away from the notorious red light district, and found myself smack dab in the center of red lights. I felt deceived. There may be some people who are pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the half naked women in the windows, but I'm not one of them. Call me old fashioned, but I personally like to be forewarned. It is interesting (and I'll add down right sad) to see these semi-clothed women standing in front of glass doors which have a corral-esq like feel to it. There is one glass door after another with dividers in between. How these women can degrade themselves is beyond me. Not only do they defile their bodies, but then they have the added embarrassment of looking like an animal in a stall.

I highly recommend the canal boat cruise to anyone who visits Amsterdam. It's only 7-8 Euros for an hour long ride. Try to find one where the very back is open to the elements. Otherwise, even though you're encased in a glass boat, you end up with pictures that really aren't that great. That is unless you like to see your reflection in the picture as well. Also, another word of advice, don't sit in the very front seat. That way the lady driving won’t keep telling you to stop talking while the audio (informing you where you are) plays, even though every other person in the boat is talking louder than you are.

The pursuit for the best Belgian waffle sundae continues. I took Cassia to Australian homemade... which again, is my favorite chocolate store. And I am now able do some comparisons between theirs and Ben and Jerry's Belgian waffle sundaes. Ice cream is great at either store. Whipped Cream is better at Australian. Chocolate is divine at Australian (since it's from Belgium). But, the waffle is nice and warm at Ben and Jerry's. It was room temperature at Australian Homemade. That was the only kicker. Next time I'll see if they can't warm up the waffle a bit before they add the toppings. Either way though, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I just wish it was calorie free and I'd have one every day.

And I quickly realized once I entered the canal boathouse, that I was too hasty in finding a place to live. I obviously didn't check all my options. Not that I'm complaining about where I live, because I absolutely love it. But talk about cool. The boat has very modern utilities... plus there is a lot more space than you'd think. Ah... maybe my next house will be on the water... literally.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Strategic location

Since I've been here for over two months, I think it's high time I write about where I work. After all, it is the whole reason I'm living here.

The building I work in is quite nice. Thanks to all the windows and skylights, it's flooded with light and makes the outdoors look even more inviting. Although, it's only fooling your senses into thinking it's warm outside, when in reality it's bitter cold. (Well, except for last week when it was in the 70's). The guys I work with are extremely nice. I get 5 weeks of vacation plus every national holiday. Needless to say, I am quite content.

So now we've finished with the preliminaries, let's move on to where my work is located. Now, one could think that Verizon found a free spot of land in an area that isn't very expensive, which is why they built where they did. However, I like to think that the building is strategically located, right smack dab in the middle of the crazies for a reason.

You see, directly behind us we have the psych ward to the penitentiary which is located across the street from us. The prison is actually behind some container houses where students live. Now, I personally wouldn't want to be next door neighbors with criminal masterminds... but hey, to each their own. The farther down the street you go, the prison is more visible to the street, since there is nothing blocking its view. It's sometimes amusing walking past it, as you see a message in one of the windows stating "lonely guy looking for love." Or the occasional cat call (by women walking down the street) to whomever may be near the window listening.

However, that is not all my friends. Oh no. For the finishing touch we have our very own Hell's Angels Headquarters just down the road. Yes, I can't help but think... strategic location, because everyone in IT has a little bit of "crazy" within them.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My neighborhood shopping mall

It's a nice place to walk through... but I can't afford a thing!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Love at first sight...

That's right folks, I'm in love. It happened over the weekend, and was so unexpected. But in that first moment, I knew... I knew there was no denying what I felt in my heart. The only problem is, it's going be a long distance relationship... for now at least. But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder... right? If you could only see Germany in person, you'd be in love too. The tree filled mountains, the yellow flower fields, the picturesque landscapes, the castles... oh it's all so much. Yes, I am definitely in love.I went to Heidelberg over the weekend for a church singles conference. When people asked me where I was from, I told them I was living in Amsterdam. Some may have assumed I'm Dutch because I came over with a few people from Holland. 4 of the people who asked where I'm from told me I had a great American accent. I laughed and told them I've been practicing... and then I'd let them know that I am American.

We all stayed at a youth hostel. First time for me. My question is, why don't we have them in the US? They're cheap, clean, quite practical, and did I mention cheap? You even get continental breakfast. There may be the slight chance you could end up sharing a room with someone who snores louder than a steam engine inevitably keeping you up until 4am which is when you can't stand it any longer and climb down from your bunk to tap her, mover her arm to another position, and finally violently shake her awake to ask her to move her head in hopes of decreasing the volume of the noise coming out of her mouth. But that also can give you a chance to bond with the only other normal girl you're sharing the room with, giving you a new connection in Vienna and a place to stay when you make a trip out there.
Before I left my mom gave me an assignment which ended up turning into a quest. She had said, "Oh, Claire, when you get out there, you need to go to that one restaurant where they have a picture of your great grandfather." So I asked: "Ok, what's the name of the restaurant?" To which she replied, "I don't know, but it's famous... just ask around." It's so famous in fact, that I had to ask one person after another if they knew of any restaurant where they had pictures of people on the walls. (Actually, I had my one normal roommate ask, since not everyone in Germany speaks English). After asking more times than I could count, we were finally told that there are 2 possibilities. We had to go all the way down the main street, through the center square and past the local castle up on the hill to finally reach one of the two restaurants.
Sure enough there were pictures of the locals all over the walls. Actually, they were of people in the military. My great grandfather was in the military, so I figured it could be it. There were way too many pictures to find him, and since i didn't have 10 hours to spend I just took a picture in front of a wall and called it good. Then again, I could have taken a picture at the entirely wrong restaurant... but I figure it's the thought that counts.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The 5th of May

Some people call it Cinco de Mayo, but we Dutch call it Liberation Day. It's in commemoration of the end of WWII for Holland. On May 4th the country has a memorial for all those that died during the war. Yearly on the 4th, the queen gives a speech at the Dam, places a wreath on the monument located in the square followed by 2 minutes of silence at 8pm. I wasn't able to attend because I get to talk to my family every Sunday night which happened to be the same time it occurred this year. However, all was not lost. While May 4th is the Memorial Day, May 5th is the day of celebration. Among the parties that go on around the city, Queen Beatrice attends the final event of the evening, and of course I was there... along with thousands of other people.

At 9pm a symphony played at the Amstel River amongst the many canal boats and a floating long and narrow gazebo for royalty and the lucky. The rest of us get to cram into any available spot on the road across the river. Since I arrived late, I got to see a split second glimpse of the queen, between the heads of those in front of me, as she took her seat. Later on I found a less crowded spot a bit farther away. I met a lady from Finland on vacation for her birthday. Lucky her got to see the queen only 4 feet away as she had walked out of her hotel, and had pictures to brag about it. No... I wasn't jealous... not one bit. Ah well, I'm sure I'll have other opportunities.

It was nice to be able to enjoy the symphony that evening amongst all the European architecture and the beautiful weather. I left 10 mins before it ended, and was able to make it home in time to turn on the TV and see the Queen sail away on her boat, up close that time.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Botanist's idea of heaven?

Thursday I had the day off of work and went to Keukenhof gardens. Who knew a flower park could be so neat? I got a free ride nearly the whole way there and back on public transport, because they didn't have any change/tickets. Can't beat that.

I took about 80 pictures. I know, I know... you're thinking "holy cow, 80 pictures of flowers?" But in my defense I can say that there were millions upon millions of varieties and arrangements. So in actuality, 80 is hardly any at all.
I spent hours meandering down one path and up another as the smells of tulips and other flowers drifted past me in the breeze. I gazed over the small partition fence to see rows of tulips creating a rainbow of colors as you looked across the field.
I also found the infamous black tulips my Grandma had once told me about. So Grandma, here's a picture of them... just for you!I had a great time watching the daughters roll their eyes as their dad's had them pose for the upteenmillionth time to take yet another picture in front of yet another set of flowers. As I reached the gates once again, I took one last look around me and then headed out. That's when I discovered I was on the completely opposite side of the park at the North entrance. I had to go back down to the South entrance to get on my bus. The park was enormous. As I was walking back down to the correct exit I wondered if I'd ever make it out alive. It was like I was in a labyrinth of flowers, doomed to wander around forever, never knowing that freedom is only a few feet away. Hope was in sight though, and couldn't have come at a better time. It started to rain. As some people ran for cover under the pavilions (named for the past and current Queen), I embarrassingly pulled out my semi-functional, lop-sided umbrella and headed for the gates. (I bought a new umbrella on Saturday). By the time I got under the over hang while waiting for the bus to arrive, the rain turned into hail. It was perfect timing for me,... but not for the cars that were pulling into the parking lot.