Polders

Well, Ashbloem and I are back. I am trying to be happy about it. But before we get to the present, I have a few things to update from the trip, starting with the day trip Matthijs and I took down to De Hoge Veluwe National Park and the Kruller-Moller Museum.

According to the park’s website:

National Park De Hoge Veluwe is one of the Netherlands’ oldest and largest national parks. It consists of no less than 5,500 hectares of woodland, heathland, lakes and driftsand. Together with the Kroller-Muller Museum and the sculpture garden it offers a unique combination of nature, art and architecture.

The highlight was definitely the museum, even though part of it was closed for renovations. The museum houses Helene Kruller-Moller’s extensive personal art collection which she cultivated over a number of years. There is an exhibition of her favorites, and it was very interesting to see how her appreciation of art changed as she grew older became more involved in art collecting. It seems as though she started with classics like Van Gogh and Renoir, but then later moved into very modern pieces by Picasso, Mondriaan, and many others (some pretty wacky stuff, but then again, I am not a huge modern art fan).

The museum also has an extensive sculpture garden, and from my previous trip to Europe in May you all know how much I love sculpture gardens. The museum website says:

These were the first sculpture gardens in Europe, designed in the 1950s to showcase the museum’s collection. With shrubbery as walls and the sky as ceiling, the visitor mingles with the works of Rodin, Bourdelle, Lipchitz, Maillol and Wotruba, where each human figure in the collection expresses an emotion.

Here are some shots of the park:

The park also has this crazy “white enamel garden” that was rather surreal:

After having our fill of art, Matthijs had a great idea to take a drive up through Hardewijk across the polders to Lelystad and over the man-made dike that crosses the IJsselmeer to the picturesque town of Enkhuizen. For those of you not familiar with Dutch geography, here is a little map of our journey:

In my four years living in Holland, I had never taken this journey and thought it was fantastic driving on this little mound of land across this lake-like shallow body of water. The clouds were hanging particularly low, as typical in Holland, and there was even a rainbow from the recent rain showers. I had also never visited Enkhuizen. It was so lovely and small that I just wanted to eat it all up. There was this incredible park/garden, the Snouck van Loosen Park, with these amazing houses built in the park in the early 1900s. It looked like a miniature Eden with ponds and ducks and even little green houses for the ducks. Alas, none of the homes appeared to be for sale. Not that I could even fathom what it would be like to live amidst such peaceful perfection. Proving that there is a blog for just about EVERYTHING, I found one that specializes on the Snouck van Loosen Park! http://snouckvanloosen.blogspot.com

Here we are driving through the polders:

Driving across the IJsselmeer, notice the dramatic clouds:

Perfect little Enkhuizen. Even the sun came out as we arrived:

I couldn’t help but furtively snap this shot of Matthijs who never lets me take his picture.

The entrance to the garden of Eden:


The sun shone again brilliantly as we drove back to Amsterdam:

Tomorrow I will bring out more fun bar pictures and stories from our last nights in Amsterdam… that’s certainly enough for today.

Dark and Dreary

The weather has turned dark and dreary, similar to my mood…. tomorrow we fly back to Boston and I am sad to leave. Predictably, this week has flown by in a whirwind of vlaamse friets, biertjes, and biking along the canals.

Two days ag0 (Tuesday?) I got to visit with Ulrika and her two adorable kids, Samuel and Tilda. We went to the sand box in the Vondelpark and had ourselves a good ole time, except for Tilda who is suffering from the chicken pox. Oh and also except for the crazy Oma (grandmother) who kept yelling at her grandson at every turn. Well, when he hit Samuel over the head with a shovel for no apparent reason maybe he did deserve it. But I felt bad for the little boy anyway.

It is amazing to see Ulrika as a mommy… she was often my drinking buddy (and her husband as well) while I lived here and when I left was only just pregnant with her first… and now she has TWO! Here are a few photos from playing in the sand…




Afterwards Ashbloem and I met up wtih Tom for some lunch and a few beers. It was great just to sit in the sun and take it easy. Later that day Tom was hit on his bike by a guy on a scooter who wasn’t paying attention. Thankfully he was just bumped and bruised… still well enough to meet up later for drinks.


I will have to post other photos, including my day trip yesterday with Matthijs to the Kruller-Moller museum and Enkhuizen later. I don’t want to spend the entire last day here sitting in front of the computer blogging away…..

Canal Adventures Continue

Asbloem and I met up in the Center today to do a little shopping and relax by the canals with a beer. Since all our friends apparently have to actually WORK (bah! can you believe that??) we made do with just each other as company. And I definitely can’t complain when I have Ashbloem for company. She’s a laugh-riot, as many of you well know.

I got to make my annual pilgrimage to jewelry boutique Biche de Bere (sorry, the designer doesn’t appear to have a website to link to) and bought a fantastic silver necklace. Those of you who know me know that I am crazy for artistic silver necklaces and try to stop by and make a purchase whenever I am in town. I am crazy, JUST CRAZY, for their jewelry.

We went to de Jaren and had a perfect table in the perfect sun alongside a perfect canal. We shopped some more and just wandered about more or less aimlessly enjoying the day and the familiar sights. Ash seems a little down, but she just may be tired. I tried to cheer her up by snapping silly photos in the ladies room at de Jaren.

Did I mention that I tried herring for the first time ever the other day? I lived here for FOUR years and refused repeatedly to try raw pickled herring from any of the million stands that line the streets of Amsterdam. But on Thursday, I don’t know, I just gave in. And guess what… It was horrible and I was right not to try it all along!!! Just kidding. It actually wasn’t bad. Kind of salty but buttery all at the same time. I’d try it again.

Here is evidence that today took place:

Me by the perfect canal looking vaguely smug because I am on vacation after all. I should point out that I am wearing an older Biche de Bere necklace bought on my last trip to Amsterdam.

Ashbloem makes a cuter smug face than I do for sure

Gettin’ silly in the Ladies room. Hey, we had to pay to be in there so why not make the most of it?

More ladies room hysterics. Aren’t you hysterical just seeing these pictures? No? What’s wrong with you? That is pure comedy.

Finally, here is the shot of my new Biche de Bere. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it and if you don’t, too bad. Can you see how tired I look? I am exhausted. I am going to need a vacation from my vacation!!

I have no pictures of me trying the herring. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it actually happened.

Quick Update

Last night was the U2 concert and it rocked! Ashlee and I had a blast, even though we had to stand on our tippy-toes trying to see over the 10,000 or so Dutch giants standing in front of us.

The opening acts were the Killers and Snow Patrol. What is strange about the Amsterdam Arena is that is has a glass retractable roof. Since the sun doesn’t go down until very late this far north, when U2 started up after 9pm it was still light inside the stadium. The other strange thing is that I forgot that you can still smoke everywhere in Holland– including at concerts. It was tremendously smokey… so much so that it looked like there was a fog machine perpetually running on stage!

I stupidly followed the rules printed on my ticket which said I should not bring my camera. Of course I see when I get there that everyone and their mother has either a digital camera or camera phone. Dammit!! Oh well, the images in this post are borrowed from U2.com.

They played many of my favorites and of course the popular classics but also a few lesser-known oldies. I wish they had played more from their last album, like Walk On or In a Little While. I guess I have so many favorite songs that it would be impossible for them to play all of them in a 2 hour set. Bono and The Edge did a fantastic acoustic rendtition of Desire the last time I saw them, I wish they had done something similar this time around.

Here is the playlist as reported by U2.com:

15.07.2005
Out of Control Again in Holland

Vertigo
Out of Control
Electric Co.
Elevation
New Year’s Day
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
City of Blinding Lights
Miracle Drug
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Love and Peace
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky
Running to Standstill
Pride In the Name of Love
Where the Streets Have No Name
One
Zoo Station
The Fly
With or Without You
All Because of You
Yahweh
Vertigo

I think my favorites were Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own and of course Sunday Bloody Sunday (sorry to be so predicatable).

In other news, the trip is going so well. I rented a bike yesterday so I feel like a native again tooling around town on my 1-geared, back-pedal bike with a dodgy headlight. Tonight most of the gang is getting together for a semi-reunion. I can’t wait! There will be people there I haven’t connected with in several years, so that is really exciting.

It is bittersweet being here…. as much as I try not to, I have romanticized what it was like living here and visiting just for a few days reinforces all those positive memories.

Well, Matthijs and I are off to go to the center to do a little window shopping (that is, if I can tear him away from Tour de France coverage). I’ll try to send another update while I am here and hopefully upload some of my own photos.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming…for today anyway

There are lots of things running through my brain this morning at warp speed. And I am sure it has nothing to do with the extra large coffee sitting on my desk that was empty by 9:15.

First…. I leave tomorrow for my trip! Yay! First stop will be Tampa for a work meeting, then directly on to Amsterdam. Ashbloem and I have already started filling our social calendar and we’ll be able to meet up with lots of fun characters from our days living in the Jordaan….

Like Anita!


And Rene!

And Jason and Ulrika!

And Matthijs!

And Antonio!(that’s Ashbloem with him)

Maybe GJ will make an appearance! (again Ashbloem in the shot looking so Rock Star)


I’ve heard that Johan (the Roman) will be around as well!

There are bound to be others around as well…we just have to see when we get there. I am still playing with the idea to hit London again to see Frankie, but I haven’t yet decided. Depends on finances more than anything else.

The weekend was fun… especially the “Irish Wake” for the departed Little Blue Scooter over at casa de Superette. Just look how sad and despondent we all look:

Have you ever seen a group of people so sad and despondent? And then the party was invaded…. by rice-crispy treat eating beetles…also clearly sad and despondent clinging to hope for a better future and butter:


That’s Gross.

That’s even more gross.

Well, this is probably my last posting for a few days, although hopefully I can get on line at Matthijs’ house. Tot Ziens!

Life on Lijnbaansgracht

Most of you know that I spent 4 years living on the Lijnbaansgracht (pronounced Line-baans-gratt, or something like that anyway). It was a sweet little apartment formed in the shape of a little square doughnut. Every room had these huge windows; and the front room/kitchen and bedroom overlooked the houseboats parked on the canal (gracht). I used to spend hours reading and looking out the window in the chair pictured here:

The view was beautiful, especially in the summer when the windows, which you can see go almost floor to ceiling, were open as far as they would go (they were heavy bastards). Little metal pegs in the window sills kept them open. Swans were frequent visitors to my part of the canal and you could often smell the brownies (not the magic kind), muffins and cookies baking down the street at Gary’s Muffins.

Sometimes the evening the light would turn a funny shade of blue– especially in the summer when the sun didn’t go down until nearly midnight. I never understood this phenomenon but tried to photograph it once, seen below.

In a fit of manic energy, in the wake of my breakup with M., I decided to paint my bedroom a happy yellow color. I thought it would improve my juju. As you can see, it didn’t turn out so great. It was a little too lemon, and too little butter in color. But it was bright and it made me happy.

My kitchen, more like cooking corner, was pretty small. Check out the refrigerator under the counter by the window. That was it. Nothing larger. At first this really offended my big honking huge american refrigerator complete with ice-maker and water spigot sensibilities, but I got used to only being able to chill 15 items at one time… eventually. That reminds me, do you know you cannot buy ice anywhere in Amsterdam? If you throw a party you have to ask all your friends to BYOI.

Here is a shot of the living room. The apartment was 100% carpeted in this horribly ugly thin brown wall to wall carpet. It was hideous! I tried to hide it as much as possible with throw rugs and furniture. The basket on the floor used to hook to my bike… ideal for carting 15 items from the grocery store home to put in the micr0-fridge.

It was a sad day when I had to move back home and watch them remove all my worldly belongings from the apartment via the windows.

Even though I do love my apartment in Boston, nothing will ever compare to the gezellig little place I had for four years on the Lijnbaansgracht. Awww, yeah. It was great.

Bon Voyage…

I leave in an hour and 7 minutes for the airport and am freaking out a bit.

1) I don’t like to fly. Yes, it’s true I manage a large flights division for a major tour operator. But I don’t like to actually be in airplanes.

2) I have TONS to do and just don’t feel ready.

GET OVER IT. OK, moving on. By the way, stories of my adventures during the next two weeks will be posted by my good friend Ashlee’s blog: http://www.ashbloemstraat.com

I was thinking just now, as I was running (literally) to CVS to get Dramamine, about the time I flew from Boston to Amsterdam when I moved there in early January 1999. I was a WRECK. I was blubbering and crying and called everyone I knew from the airport so they could hear me blubber and cry. I even called my sister’s boyfriend (I had none of my own) to thank him for being so generous to me in the weeks prior. I was so afraid of leaving, and knew nothing at all about the place I was moving to. At the same time, I have to admit it was exciting. Looking back, I don’t know why I was so upset, I hadn’t lived in Boston long enough to put down a single root, but then again, maybe that was just the point of my distress. I wasn’t ready.

Two-years after moving to Amsterdam I was ready to come back. It was just too hard. I couldn’t read my utility bills, the cashiers at the grocery store were rude, and the sun never came out from behind the low lying clouds. Then I met a boy whom I liked and things got a little better. THEN I met a man whom I loved and things got a WHOLE lot better. I made friends. I found a community. Everything got easier. It was like I had been holding my breath for two whole years and finally figured out a way to exhale. I hate to admit a Man was the reason for things getting better, but that’s just the way it was.

Two years later I was standing (well, doubled-over) outside Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam about to move back to Boston. Faithful Frankie was by my side holding my hand as again I was sobbing and hyperventilating with grief. I didn’t want to go back, I had only just started to feel settled. I wasn’t ready to move again and leave all that I had found.

I don’t know why this all comes to mind right now. Often I am asked, “So, when are you moving back to Europe”. People just assume I am going back, although I guess I talk about it pretty frequently (especially after the last election). I don’t know. Someday? A year? Never? I don’t know. I really want to give Boston the chance I didn’t give it 8 years ago. Now it has been three years and still it’s a struggle to find roots here. I am beginning to doubt that it will ever really happen. And then what?

Good God. I need this vacation. Getting away right now seems like an absolute blessing.

See you in 2 weeks. Don’t miss me too much. And sorry for all the type-os and grammar errors. I don’t have time to spell check.

xoxo.

But Seriously…

Maybe I should actually blog about real life instead of just providing you all with portals to fun websites. Is that more interesting? I would suppose so. But talking about myself here seems a bit strange to me. But then again, not talking about me on my own blog, is probably a bit strange as well.

In two days I am leaving on a cruise from London and visiting ports in Scandinavia, Russia and Estonia. I am very excited, as you can imagine, but also stressed at the amount that I have to accomplish before I leave. I am going to be gone for two full weeks! (any volunteers to pick up my mail?) The best part is that I am going in the name of “work” (i.e. for free) where my sole responsibilities are:

 

1) Make sure the tour goes well (observe)
2) Interact with the clients (schmooze)
3) Report back to our sales team what the highlights and selling
points are for this tour (eat, drink, and be merry).

Here is a map of the itinerary:

The ship, The Jewel of the Seas, is so enormous I can’t even believe she floats. The passenger capacity is just over 2500 people, which is slightly larger (ummm 1900 more people larger) than the ship I sailed on with Semester at Sea. The ship includes:

  • Fitness Center
  • Day Spa
  • Rock Climbing Wall
  • Solarium with indoor pool
  • Pool deck with outdoor pool
  • Library
  • Disco
  • Lounge
  • Miniature Golf Course (are you shitting me??!)
  • “Adventure Beach” with real waterslides
  • Billiard Room
  • Champagne Bar (hello!)
  • Casino
  • Shops/Boutiques
  • Some Huge Theatre

The only sad thing is that I can’t take any friends/family with me (since it is in the name of work and all), so surely I will be hanging out a lot with the tour director leading this group, David W.– a fine british chap who I met while in London in March. But hell, with 2500 people aboard, I am sure I can find a friend or two who will sit next to me at the slot machines. I know I have been lucky to have traveled to so many amazing places… but I feel like I am always wishing there was someone next to me to nudge and say, “Hey! Look at THAT!”. Maybe I should just start nudging random strangers.

I am most looking forward to our 2 days inSt. Petersburg, Russia (not Florida). ST.P. has always been high on my list of places to go. I could spend both full days walking around the Hermitage, but time will be short so I will have to make the most of it.

The VERY GOOD news is that plans are now underway for my trip to see U2 in Amsterdam in July. I was lucky enough to win roundtrip tickets to Europe on Air France at a company function a little while ago, so I have cashed them in and am bringing Ashleewith me. We leave on July 13th, I just got the etickets 10 minutes ago. Only 64 days to go!

Speaking of Amsterdam, I have really been missing it lately, so knowing a visit in the near future is really lifting my mood. Maybe it is because I am reading a book called My ‘Dam Life: Three Years in Holland by Sean Condon right now. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but his expat stint in Amsterdam took place around the same time that I lived there, so reading the book has made me a bit nostalgic.

I am looking forward to two weeks away from my desk, and I will hopefully have some time to recharge my batteries and shake off my winter blues. By the time I get back June is here, and that means summer! While away, I plan to read a lot, relax a lot, get a few massages, see some amazing new places, eat some food, work it off, get gussied up during the three formal dinners, and flirt with random strangers. Life is good.

Pic of the Day: Westerkerk

This weekend I am definitely going to get my bike tuned up. It’s time to start riding to work again. I used to love zooming around the canals of Amsterdam on my little bike with back-pedal brakes, just the one gear, and a wicker basket to hold my parcels. That bike had personality, so much so she even had a name: Betty.


In Boston, biking is a whole different story. You need a lot more gear– a helmet, multiple flashing lights and, a rear-view mirror, and if you are smart, a glow in the dark bright orange jumper (OK, that might be taking it a bit too far). Drivers here just aren’t aware of bikers and I have heard one too many horror stories. Lucky for me, most of my work commute on the bike is on the quiet paths of the Esplanade, but those 4 or so blocks in traffic on Mass Ave are treacherous. Boston drivers are famous for their aggression and lack of care towards other vehicles, pedestrians, motorcyclists, small pets and bikers. Last year a car barely bumped me at a stop-light, and the driver had the nerve to yell at me.

The City of Boston even published this little public service announcement towards drivers:

Be Nice
City traffic can be slow and frustrating. Don’t take anger out on others. Threatening other road users with your voice or your vehicle is impolite and illegal. Bicyclists have the same right to the road as you do.

So why risk life and limb 20 minutes each morning and evening? As I mentioned before, the T just sucks the humanity out of you, and biking seems to do the reverse. Or maybe I have become addicted to the adrenaline rush of dodging maniac drivers.

And so it goes…

At a company party last night I won two plane tickets to Central America. I may trade with a colleague who won tickets to Europe, since I am planning a trip to Amsterdam in July to see U2 and still haven’t purchased my tickets. But it’s a tough choice. Costa Rica might be fun too. I’ve never explored Central America, but it might be tricky to find someone who would want to go with me (any volunteers?).

I talked to my 4 year-old niece last night, Hallie, who lives in Seattle.

Hallie and I had a long conversation about Easter eggs, candy, school, and her thoughts on what her sister, due in May, should be named. Her first choice: Kiki-binki. Thankfully, my brother and sister-in-law are considering some other names. Here are some of the names they had me rate:

Kennedy, Morgan, Eleanor, Joy, Maron, Alexandra, Jaqueline, Lindsey, Annalise, Jolie, Jane, Delaney, Megan, Jillian, Lillian, Trillian (no!), Kamryn, Elizabeth, Annika, Caroline, Isabella, London (what?), Gabriella, Ava, Reese, Amelia, Mia, Meredith, Corinne, Brinn.. God, I never knew it was such a tough choice. My mom almost named me Wendy or Robin… it makes you think, what’s in a name?