Friday, July 31, 2009

Far from home

Maybe gondoliers are like birds and head north for the summer. Otherwise, this guy has lost all sense of direction and is in great need of a TomTom.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We're having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave...

Beach weather is a rarity around here. We get our beautiful sun filled days, but sun filled coupled with warmth is few and far between. On the weekends when the temperature does happen to reach the upper 70's (or the extremely rare lower 80's) the entire Dutch population heads in only one direction - west. Trains slowly chug their way to the ocean due to the massive amounts of flip-flop wearing beach-goers crammed inside of them. And the sand on the beach is no longer visible since every square inch is covered by towels, beach bags, and semi-clad bodies.
But what, you ask, happens when the rare warm days occur during the work week? Well, as the (unspoken) Dutch motto dictates: when you can't go to the beach, bring the beach to you. So, instead of the beaches being full of people, the parks are used as a temporary substitute. Adults lay out in their swimming suits next to one form of water or another; be it a canal, pond, you name it. The children, on the other hand, run nearly (if not fully) naked through the fountains- splashing, squealing and having a grand ol' time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Reality check

For most things in life, familiarity makes even the most beautiful of things lose their luster after a while. And I fear that after having lived here for over 16 months now, I've started taking Amsterdam's beauty for granted. There are moments however when reality sets in and I again realize how special it is to be here.

On warm summer evenings, around 9 o'clock at night, when the sun is still an hour away from hiding and there are only a few people on the streets... .
When a light breeze blows as I'm biking home along the canal at night while watching a team of rowers glide across the water... .
As the glow of the evening sun gleams off the windows of 200 year old buildings making the city look magical... .
Those are the moments that take my breath away.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Green Acres

I love city life - the hustle and bustle of it all. I love being in the center of the action and having everything I need within a close proximity to where I live. As much as I love it though, I savor the moments when I'm as far away from the city as possible where the only thing that can be heard for miles is the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and birds chirping. One such moment was provided me this weekend when I went to one of my colleague's farm in the southern most region of Holland. I'd gladly take a 3.5 hour, round trip, train ride for an occasional weekend of peace and relaxation.

The main purpose of my day trip was to help him clean up his garden, since he had been sick in the hospital for a few weeks and then went down to Spain for a few days. Growing up, my mom would choose the hottest day of the year (90+ degrees Fahrenheit) for us to work in the yard. When we'd moan and groan she'd say: "come on guys, if we all spend just 15 minutes outside we can get everything cleaned up". 15 minutes always (ALWAYS) ended up being an hour and a half. So you can understand my delight when I realized what a treat weeding can be when the ground is so soft the weeds come out with the slightest tug, the garden you're working in is stunning, and the weather couldn't be better.

But in addition to being able to work in his garden, I was also able to play with some of the animals on his land. Theo, my colleague, has 4 "circus" deer - deemed thus since they can stand on their hind legs. Plus, there are about 12 sheep, 2 horses and a pony who's owners rent Theo's land to keep their animals there.

Since arriving in Holland I've had an overwhelming desire to pet and play with sheep, since they're everywhere. They seemed like the cuddliest of animals. But not knowing their temperament or if they'd allow some random girl come up and pet them without biting her fingers off, I decided to avoid trying my luck... that is, until I received the go ahead from Theo. A few of the curious little animals came up to me as I'd hand them a leaf to eat. Then when I shook a bucket containing food, the rest ran at me like a pack of wild dogs - salivating at the mouth - and pushed each other out of the way in order to be the first to reach the bucket. That's when I fell in love with the furry creatures. Their passion for food is as big as mine(!!!) and they look cute to boot. I felt like the abominable snowman in the Bugs Bunny parody from Of Mice and Men, and wanted to "hug 'um, and squeeze 'um, and call 'um George".

After I grudgingly separated myself from my new found friends, Theo and I tried to get the deer to eat out of our hands. Being rather spook prone animals, they didn't trust us much. So we ended up throwing pieces of bread to them... and shortened the distance between the bread and ourselves each time. The deer weren't fooled though -- those clever animals came up to the bread as close as they dared, stretched their heads out to grab the food and then ran back to a safe distance with the piece of bread safely in their mouth. So, feeling defeated, we moved onto the horses which we knew (or thought we knew) would comply to our requests.

The horse's compliance only went as far as allowing us to harness her and letting me sit on her back. She humored me by walking around, but every time I told her to gallop she'd start off in a semi-run for about 10 seconds and then slowed down to a walk again. After the third time of trying to be in charge, I finally gave up. Sometimes you just have to be the bigger man and accept the fact that you don't wear the pants in the relationship.

{Fun (non-useful/semi-informational) fact about sheep: although they make a "baaa" sound when communicating with each other, if you listen carefully, you can recognize a difference between the sound of communication or the very similar "baaa" sound of gas being released in the form of a burp.}

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to visit Russia: step 1

Obtain an invitation to visit their country.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Awesome find of the year

...and it does in fact taste like (nearly) fresh corn on the cob.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Fast Flying Ferry

Seriously. Does a name get any cooler than that? Well, permit me answer for you: no, no it does not. And because it doesn't get any cooler than that, there's no way you can pass up going on the 'FFF' when an opportunity comes a-knocking. And for me, that opportunity came last week.

In my year and 4 months of living here, I hadn't heard of the 'FFF' until 9 days ago. (Odd, since the name alone is awesome). And my friends Bryan and Lis, who suggested the ride to me, had only heard about it a few weeks prior. So, on to the ever so important question: how could something so cool have stayed hidden in plain sight?! That, unfortunately, may be a question that I'll never have the answer to. But I will make it my mission in life to ensure that the Fast Flying Ferry will never, EVER, stay a well kept secret again!

The ferry (which is more like a hovercraft) is actually for commuters and not just an idea they came up of for tourists -- crazy, I know. It came into existence because of the increasing amounts of road traffic going from Amsterdam to the coast. The 65kph boat ride takes 25 minutes from one point to the other. That may not seem like it's a very fast boat, but when most boats go a maximum of 15kph you feel like you're whizzing by.

So for just a little over 5 Euros, you and your bike can make a round trip journey to the North Sea from Amsterdam. And if you're lucky, you can get front row seats with a 180 degree panoramic view.

Monday, July 6, 2009

the red, white, blue... and oranje

Ah, Holland... and the beautiful green pastures, the endless canals, the cheese, the flowers, the windmills, the 5 weeks of paid vacation, the ease at which to travel to surrounding countries... it really doesn't get much better. It's such a great blessing to live in a country brimming with culture and rich in history which dates back for centuries. And although I've said it before, I'll say it again... living in Europe is the best.

But at certain times of the year I do take a moment to think back to my roots from across the pond. July 4th happens to be one of those moments. On that warm summer day there's nothing better than a pool party/picnic including bar-b-que, cold watermelon (with the juice dripping down your face as you spit out the seeds), strawberry shortcake, and fireworks... lots and lots of fireworks. The real magic, though, comes in combining the pool party/picnic including bar-b-que, watermelon, strawberry short cake, and fireworks with the green pastures, endless canals, cheese, flowers, windmills, 5 weeks of paid vacation, and the ease at which to travel.

How is it done you ask? Well, it's quite easy actually. First you find fellow Americans. Then come up with the mutual decision that it really doesn't matter which day you celebrate on, since you're not in the US anyway, and settle on celebrating on the 3rd of July. Prepare and pack the food for your picnic, meet at the Amsterdam central station to take the high speed ferry over to the North Sea. Once near the North Sea, attempt to make your way over to the coast in order to have a picnic on the beach while watching the sunset. When that attempt fails, resign yourselves to the fact that maybe not all plans will follow through and come up with a spontaneous plan B - because, after all, you live in a free country and are able to do whatever you'd like. Decide at this point to eat on the dunes (which you're already walking on) and pretend you're looking across a large expanse of water as the sun descends below the horizon. Then go around in a circle telling each other what you're grateful for ... and stop half way around when you all realize that expressing gratitude is a part of an entirely different holiday. Finally, laugh about the silly mistake and enjoy the sunset.