Friday, May 29, 2009

Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego?

Lisbon is located at the mouth of the Tejo River, so it has amazing water views from any of the the million and one hills in the city. The hills themselves were such blessed sights to behold, and were definitely a welcomed treat. Oh! how it allowed us to work some muscles that, for me, have been on hiatus since arriving in the Netherlands. And our room, which was in what's considered a B&B (without the breakfast), was located on the most famous hill- the Barro Alto.

Now, before I go on I have to admit I had a hard time remembering the fact I was in Lisbon. It was so easy to feel like we were climbing the hills of San Francisco, with it's cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Or, that we were across the water from Pao de Acucar looking at the Christus in Rio de Janeiro. Or even that we were strolling the streets of Jerusalem while inside the Sao Jorge Castle walls. To be quite honest, I'd often stop and exclaim "this is totally tripping me out!"

We spent the first afternoon relaxing at the look-out points, walking the streets/hiking the hills of Lisbon, and discovering the multiple views of the city from the castle walls. We were actually amazed at how much we had seen in just a few short hours. The city is absolutely beautiful and completely charming.

Tile work graces almost every building and the rest of the city is painted in vibrant, albeit chipping, colors. Guitarist serenade you where ever you are, old men play cards under shaded trees, and it takes every ounce of willpower imaginable to not eat your way though the city - because the food is just THAT GOOD.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fala Portugues?

I often find myself stopping to think of how fortunate I am to live in Europe. The beauty, the varying cultures, the history, the food, ....the weekend trips to Portugal. "What?"- you say, "weekend trips to Portugal?" Ok, so let me rephrase: the beauty, the varying cultures, the history, the food, the occasional weekend trips -- this past one being Portugal. There really is no better way of life.

We arrived in Lisbon on Friday afternoon and I was basking in the sound of the Portuguese language from that moment on. I loved.... LOVED... walking down the street and hearing nothing but Portuguese being spoken. And, since my friend Mathea doesn't speak the language, I was able to play translator the entire weekend.

That said, Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese from Portugal differ slightly in a few words, and a lot in pronunciation. The Portuguese make a lot of "sssshh" sounds when they speak, so I had to listen carefully and filter out all the excess "sssshh-ing" in order to understand everyone. I'm sure if we had spent more than 3 days down there my ears would have acclimated and I would have understood every word. But, that just provides yet another reason to return.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Much better than a history book.

History was one of my least favorite subjects growing up. I dreaded learning about one war or another that had occurred well before I was born, and the last thing I wanted to do was read about things that had happened hundreds of years ago.

But as time changes, so do I and my dread of learning about history is, well... history. The best part about living in Europe is that I don't have to try to visualize locations, I can see them first hand. From the Roman ruins to the aftermath of WWII, Europe is a living history book. Although Holland doesn't have 2000 year old buildings, they have a history rich in heroics during Hitler's rein.

Corrie Ten Boom happened to take part in this rich history. She and her family helped save the lives of over 800 Jews and many underground workers. During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6-7 people illegally living in their home, Jews and Dutch underground. Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a few hours or a few days until another "safe house" could be located for them. Corrie actually became a ringleader within the network of the Haarlem (city) underground.

On February 28, 1944, the Ten Booms were betrayed. Four Jews and two members of the Dutch underground were in the house, and hid in behind a false wall in Corrie's bedroom - the cramped hiding place - for 3 days. The Gestapo never found them.

It's such a moving experience to go inside the Ten Boom home and sense the love and sacrifice they had for their fellow men - regardless of the risks they knew they faced. Their house is just one example of many around here, and I feel so lucky to learn of their history in the exact location where it occurred.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No one is exempt!

Due to the fact that I was a part time Dutch resident last year, I have until July 1 to complete my taxes. I received a 30 page tax form in the mail with 91 page instruction book to accompany the form. Both are in Dutch.

Knowing that it's a bit more complicated than my rudimentary proficiency in the Dutch language, I requested the assistance of a colleague for translation purposes. We had gone through the first 30 questions with relative ease, but on question 31 my colleague felt it would be better to check the tax website for a direct translation.

As he was searching for the correct documentation, he reached a link that showed two columns. One provided a series of documentations for individuals and the other for businesses. Under the business column there was tax documentation for prostitution.

Enough said.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


A few years ago I was listening to a comedian on the radio talk about how Americans have many quirks, one of which being their phobia of germs. (I sunk down in my seat a bit as I acknowledged that: yes, I'm a member of that club). But he went on by giving a few examples of what we do to prevent us from even the slightest possibility of catching germs. We carry around hand sanitizer and use it 10 times a day, there are anti-bacterial wipes at the grocery stores to wipe down your cart before handling it, and death row inmates who are on the execution table have their arm cleaned with an disinfecting swab before the needle is placed in them. Because, heaven forbid, they get some infection due to the needle that killed them.

Point being, we have our quirks. But it's always fascinating to discover what things are considered "normal" for another country. In Scotland men wear 'skirts' and call it tradition. In some African tribes women wear rings around their necks in efforts to elongate them. And in not-so-long-ago China, young girls went through the gruesome process of getting their feet bound, all in hopes of becoming more eligible for marriage.

So, even though there are odder things in the world, I was still quite taken aback when I discovered a few things in the past year that I wasn't quite used to. For example, the Dutch don't rinse off soap suds after washing dishes. Kind of strange, yes, although I'm sure the soap residue just adds to the flavor of the dish. But what I (coming from a country infiltrated with the do's and don'ts of fashion) found more interesting is that the Dutch wear the same outfit 2 or sometimes 3 days in a row. It actually makes me wonder why, over the past 28 years, I have occasionally stopped in the mornings when picking out an outfit and posed the question, 'Wait, did I already wear this on Monday?'

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why I love living in Europe, reason #572

The Work Environment.

One of my colleagues and I have been at war for the past few weeks. War of the window blinds that is. He likes them shut; I... don't. Granted he does sit by the window and there is a glare on his screen due to the sun, but I don't particularly like the feeling of working in a dungeon.

A few weeks ago, in the afternoon when the sun wasn't so strong, I requested my colleague to open the blinds. He replied with a twinkle in his eye, "Come open them yourself." So I grabbed my crutches and hobbled over to the window near his desk and opened the blinds. When I was half way back to my desk he stood up and closed them again. Everyone laughed, me included, but I stomped (as well as I could manage with crutches) back over to the window and opened the blinds again. The blinds stayed open that time... until I sat back down at my desk.

After he left I walked back over to his desk and while opening the blinds again told my manager that I have half a mind to take down the blinds all together. He laughed and said, "That'd be funny. Just make sure you do that when I'm here."

The war has continued over the last few weeks. But today I decided to take a stand. This morning I heard my colleague close the blinds. I turned around and threw a childish glare at him. He responded by childishly sticking his tongue out at me. That proved that the childish route failed. It was then that I realized, being the mature 28 year old adult that I am, that I need to do what any other mature grown up would do... retaliate. So, during lunch while both my manager and colleague had gone down to grab food, I took down the blinds.

A few other colleagues said I was a goner. They suggested I make my last requests and told me it was nice working with me. But they laughed right along with me the entire time. And that's exactly what both my manager and colleague did when they arrived back into the office.

Ah, there's nothing better than having fun to relieve the stress of work!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Queen's Day 2009

This year marks the 100 anniversary of Queen Juliana (the current Queen's mother), who was born April 30th - aka., Queen's Day. So yesterday, in commemoration of her mother, Queen Beatrix and the rest of the royal family decided to hold celebrations in the same manner as Juliana would have. In Juliana's day the people would come to her, as she'd stand at the palace and wave to passers by. (Today the royal family goes to the people instead, by visiting one or two small villages).

Since I had experienced the major party in Amsterdam last year, I figured I'd go to Apeldoorn and take part in the commemoration ceremonies. Plus, the festivities which included the Queen were to end around 1:30pm, providing ample opportunity to return to Amsterdam and party a while longer.
So, yesterday morning I dutifully put on my orange shirt and made the 25 minute trek to Amsterdam's central station, since there was no public transport going in to the city center. When I finally arrived in Apeldoorn an hour later, I was greeted by volunteers pointing people in the right direction. One even handed me a goofy orange hat, which I cheerfully placed on my head -because it is a celebration after all - then made my way over to the park which was the first stop on the royal family's list. The park was packed as onlookers cheered on their Queen who walked around from one performance to another.

I grew weary of dealing with the crowds after a half hour and started towards the palace. People were lined up and down the street all the way to the Loo Palace in order to watch the parade which showed the way of life from each decade of the past 100 years, along with catching a glimpse of the royal family as they made their way back to the Loo on the royal bus. Stopping half way to the palace, in order to give my foot a rest, I watched part of the parade until the bus passed me by.

I followed the bus along the rest of the way to the palace and as I nearly reached the Loo I passed the bus, crossed the street to the palace grounds and headed down the lane. A minute later people on the lane were cheering and bands playing as the royal family made their decent to the Loo. All of us oblivious to what had happened 20 seconds prior, only 500 meters away. The royal family had put back on their smiles and waved to the crowd, although quite shaken from what they had just witnessed. But even with the royal family trying to put on a calm demeanor, word spread quickly and the mood grew quite somber as we all learned of the horrific accident a few feet away.

(video does contain some graphic scenes)

I passed by the scene 10 minutes later, as I was returning to the train station. By that time all the injured were taken to the hospital and the monument was partitioned off. The rest of the festivities were canceled in Apeldoorn and a few other cities around Holland. However, the party was still strong in Amsterdam when I made it back, although most people knew of what happened and held a high concern for those who were injured. I would have joined the party, to feel a bit of the joyful spirit, but my foot wasn't co-operating so I made a leisurely walk through the crowds of people back home and spent the rest of the evening allowing my foot to rest.
I arrived home to see an email from my dad asking if I was ok and as I arrived at work today I was greeted by colleagues saying they were happy to see me alive and well. Their concern was very sweet. It's just unfortunate that one person can change such a happy day into a nightmare for so many people.