Sunday, February 27, 2011

Keep it short.

Today I fully intended to find a nice Internet cafe, you know the kind that has comfortable seats, is well lit, and serves you lattes, beer, or even wine, and blog about the last few days. Unfortunately, no matter where I walked or where I looked I couldn't even find the sketchy kind of Internet cafe - as this is the case and there is no way I'm going to do a full blog update on my phone I'm going to ask for your patience.

I will give you some minor details, by some dumb luck I booked this trip impeccably. Carnival started on Saturday when I was in Venice, this allowed me to walk around the city in a mask, view hundreds in costumes, and enjoy the general splendor. Then I came to Milano in the midst of Milan Fashion Week. Who knew? Not I, but clearly someone is looking out for me.

These past few days have been great and I promise you a lengthy update when I return to the Netherlands.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Walk. Train. Plane. Bus. Train. Walk. Sleep.

Unfortunately for me sleep did not come easily last night. I think I was up until at least one before I fell asleep. As such, getting up and out of bed at 3 was a near impossibility. In fact I woke up and turned both of my alarms off. I woke up again at 3:36 in a mild panic, not because I wouldn't have time but because I was going to be cutting it close.

Showering that early in the morning is always strange, but in Groningen it is when a lot of people are just getting home. I got myself organized, finished packing my bag, and left the house just after 4:30am. Yikes. When I walked out the door it had snowed! And it was even quite warm. It was the snow that is quite wet and sticky and it felt about plus 2. The walk was quite pleasant, I saw a bunch of people biking home from the bar.

I boarded my train and found what I thought would be a nice quiet seat. However, a number (say about 12) fellow young adults were on their way home from the bar to a city about an hour away. They party all night and then catch the first train home. This is not condusive to a quiet car to sleep in. However, drunk people who have been up all night tend to loose their steam so it didn't take too long for them to quiet down.

To give you a quick overview, I spent most of my day dozing in and out of sleep in the seated position. I made it to the airport and my flight was delayed, heavy fog had delayed the previous flight. I think we left over an hour late. I slept a bit on the plane, "enjoyed" a sandwich on the plane. I arrived at the airport in Milan, well the airport is actually outside of Milan so I caught a bus into the city centre. Unfortunately, the train to Venice was leaving at the same time I got there so I had to wait for an hour for the next one.

At first I thought I would walk around the city a little bit but upon exiting the train station I saw people sizing me up with all my bags. I was suspicious and unwilling to try my luck at finding my way around without having any of my stuff stolen. I found some cheap pizza and waited it out.

I boarded the train to Venice at 2:30 and took the 2.75hr train to the end of the line. I unfortunatly chose the wrong place to sit and did get a good view for a lot of the ride but from what I can tell I didn't miss too much and it just gave me another opportunity to sleep. Before the train made the final venture from dry land to Venetian soil I was wide awake and excited! Finally, almost 12 hours later I would be at my destination.

I was immediately taken by the sheer beauty of the place. Venice is gorgeous, it is a photographers dream. Not that I'm a photographer, but everything looks like a post card.

Fortunately for me the instructions to get to my hostel were both easy to follow and very accurate and my hostel is less than 5 minutes from the train station and right off the Grand Canale. Divine.

Although I was exhausted there was a little bit of sunlight left so I decided to venture out for a little while. I crossed one of the main bridges and made my way to a main shopping street, well I say that like it was one street but it quite literally went on forever. I followed it for almost an hour. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, I dropped my bags off and went in search of some gelato! It took me about 3 minutes to find. So good. I didn't even care that it was freezing. Then I started to walk forever. Within this time a very friendly Italian man stopped me in the streets to see if I wanted to go to his restaurant to chat. Clearly alarm bells start to go off, no matter how nice he may be. With each question he asked I flashed back to my predeparture meetings: "Are you here with a group?" "No" UofC voice: consider what kind of information you give people that might put you at risk. Ridiculous. Anyways, I shook him off and carried on my way.

So this gorgeous shopping street did just go on and on and on forever, although it was the same thing again and again it was still fun to just walk around. The "streets" which are more like narrow alleys seem friendly.

Initially I was planning on going back the way I'd come to avoid getting lost but by the time I figured out how far I had walked I thoguht it would be quicker and easier to do a full loop. This is where navigation got hazzy. These streets start and stop at their own whim, they curve and turn, get narrow, then turn into a piazza, then look like somewhere you could be murdered. I did a lot of fruitlessly looking at a map and following the flow of people and I don't know how I did it, but I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

When I got back to my lovely hostel I had to lay down and wrap in a blanket to try and get warm and because I hadn't properly relaxed in so long and I was running on little sleep. Shortly after I laid down the girl sharing my room came back from being lost herself, turns out she is from Calgary. Small world.

So the guy who owns this hostel has this deal where he makes dinner for you and you pay him €4.00. Best deal of my life. I joined everyone for a lovely pasta dinner and now everyone is headed off to bed. The room is cold but I am so very very excited to have a proper sleep. Tomorrow will be a full day of touring around and I'm really excited to start taking pictures, hopefully the sun keeps shining. I also have a tour in the afternoon of some of the islands just north of Venice which includes a glass blowing factory. Very exciting!

I'm not really looking forward to going back to Milan because it is so beautiful there and Milan felt like it had so much attitude and because my hotel is way out of the way and I'll be lost at night trying to find it. The worst.

Sorry if this was riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, the keys are different here in Italia, there is no automatic spell check, and I'm way too tired to do anything about it.

Oh and as an aside, I learned that Johnny Depp bought a house here in Venice just moments from where I'm staying, so I might have to stalk that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I weekend in Italy

In an attempt to get at least a little sleep tonight I'll keep this brief.

Tomorrow I'm headed to Venice and Milan until Tuesday so you can expect updates to be sporadic at best. I assure you I will have pictures and tales when I get back, although I might not post them until Wednesday morning, my time.

When booking my 9:30am flight I thought to myself, this'll be great, I'll get there earlier and have more time, not taking into consideration the 2hrs you need to be at the airport ahead of time and the 2.5 hour train ride I need to take to get to the airport in time. Luckily for me, if I catch the first train outta here (5am) I'll be right on time. This means I need to be up right around 3am, which leaves me about 4 hours between then and now. Like I said, I didn't really think this one through. Anyways, best of luck to me. Hopefully I don't get (too) lost.

Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The cold sets in

Mondays seem to pass me by without me even realizing they have come. This is the kind of thing I treasure when I'm on vacation, you know, when you get to lose track of the days and it doesn't really matter. But being here with so little to do is driving me mad. And it has been getting colder here. On Monday the windchill was -13. Ya, not all that extreme relatively but I assure you I packed nothing that would keep me warm while biking around at such frigid temperatures, and if you add the humidity it is enough that you never want to leave your house.

Being sick lately, I've been laying low, hanging out in my room, watching tv shows, doing homework, etc. Nothing really exciting. I went to the city centre on Monday to run some errands. In the evening a few girls and I made a nice dinner, it was delicious and so inexpensive when you cook big meals with other people. I think this is something we are going to have to do on a regular basis. And as a bonus there has always been enough left overs for a little bit of lunch the next day.

Outside of doing homework and generally killing time I've not been up to much.

Today, I slept in, then got up and went back to bed. Heck, if I'm sick and I've nothing to do I'm going to milk it. I organized a few things for my trip which commences around 4:30am Thursday morning - eek - as I need to catch a 5am train to get me to the airport in time to catch my 9:30 flight. I finished my readings in advance, painted my nails, and eventually out of need of something to do I ventured out for an evening at the movies.

Fortunately for me there is a theatre less than a 5 minute ride away from my front door. I went to see The King's Speech, I'm sure you've heard about it. It has consistently been sweeping the award shows. It was great. Absolutely lovely. I highly recommend it. I wasn't sure if a movie with a simple story line would really captivate me but the acting is beautiful, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are great together.

Here are some lovely insights into the theatre culture in the Netherlands:
  1. They assign you a seat, yes ladies and gentlemen, you are given a row and seat number on your ticket. I suppose this ensures that groups will be seated together. It also takes away your freedom to sit where you like. Well, this isn't entirely true, I sat where I wanted and not where my ticket said and there seemed to be very little wrong with this, but then again the theatre was not busy at all and I was just one person.
  2. There is an intermission. I don't really like this. Sure it gave me the, somewhat unnecessary, opportunity to go to the bathroom but really? Can't we sit down for 2 hours straight?
  3. They serve you beer and wine. I guess they do this some places at home, but here it just seems so right. At home it seems weird. But why? I'd love beer with a movie. Heck, they even served the wine in wine glasses, made of glass. Classy.
  4. They serve tea, in mugs. Outstanding.
  5. When you buy a pop they give you the bottle. No worries about spilling. Although I would say that a general trend here is no fountain pop. This can be problematic.
  6. The seats are lush, roomy, and comfortable but someone forgot to introduce the concept of staggering the seats from row to row. So, if someone sits in the chair in front of you, they will certainly impede your vision of the screen.
Tomorrow I'll be packing for my trip on Thursday! I'm so excited to go! And who knows what else I'll be up to. At the moment I'm hoping for some quality time with my ear plugs and a good book.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Weekend. Plain and Simple.

In an attempt to maintain interest in this little blog of mine I figured I shouldn't wait too long to update. Happy Family Day, hope you are enjoying your day off :)

I was going to post last night but I fell into a deep sleep around 2am midway through the Heritage Classic and just following a very large very delicious Belgian beer. It was fun to actually watch some of the game, see commercials from home, listen to Ron McLean, it was fun. It would be nice to have some fellow hockey fans in the house to watch some games with but most other Canadians I meet are girls, and not as many girls are really that into hockey. At least the ones I know are more about partying. Regardless it was fun but I fell asleep before it ended.

I haven't been up to much this weekend, being sick and all. My main goal is to be on the up and up on the health front for when I leave on Thursday for Italy, but I'm getting skeptical about how well I will really be.

Saturday I went downtown and bought my textbooks (which don't look that exciting) and the entire city centre was packed! It was so busy, and it was even pretty cold out. I've heard that a lot of people from Germany will come on Saturday to do their shopping because it is cheaper here and isn't that far away. I did some homework, took a late afternoon nap, had dinner, then a few of us decided to watch Aladdin which actually turned into us watching Fight Club. I had never actually seen all of Fight Club, just bits and pieces and it was a movie I'd wanted to see.

When I came back to my room just after midnight I decided to Skype my Dad, (with the time difference this is only really possible on weekends) and I was lucky enough to catch my brother and his girlfriend at the house as well. I was sure glad I had decided to call when I did.

Yesterday (Sunday the 20th) I'm pretty sure I did even less. Sadly, I'd been running out of food - this tends to happen here a lot because you can only buy a very small amount at a time and it lasts you a couple days then everything is gone - and being Holland everything is closed on Sundays so that means no grocery stores, well except one and it opens at 4pm on Sundays.

Until 4pm I did some school work, wrote a draft of a paper, did some readings, then at 4 a few of us went to the grocery store. What a relief! When we got back we made a huge dinner together which was quite delicious. Most people had homework to do or other things like that, I watched Mad Men until the hockey game started then I enjoyed some Canadiana for about 2 hours before I fell fast asleep.

Today I am going to try and find a more comfortable chair for my room at the second hand store, do some reading about Milan, and other such activities. Tonight is Student Night at a bar but I think I'll have to forego and sleep again.

Friday, February 18, 2011

You make me sick

Most people here are out partying right now. I'd rather be with them then feeling sick like I do, but there isn't much I can do about that right now. Its Friday night and I'm headed to bed. Sad face.

I didn't do much today. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I was going to die because my throat hurt so much. Hope it isn't strep!

I did some running around with the girls today, printed things at the library, bought a uni hoodie, sat in a cafe for hours talking, we made dinner together, I watched some Mad Men, hung out and chatted for extended periods of time. It was quite nice.

It may be backwards, but that is how you spell University in Dutch. Yup, good luck saying it. Most people in these parts call it rug - and not like what you find on your floor. Think Roo, as in KangaROO followed by how they pronounce their Gs: throaty like.

R = University
U = Of
G= Groningen

Make sense?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Readers Digest Version

I think for your sake, and mine, I might blog a little less. I'll keep you posted with fun, new things. Try to upload pictures as often as I can and surely I'll fill you in about trips, but I think I'm going to move away from the daily blog. At least until things pick up. Although I might just be saying that because right now I don't really feel like staying up another 30-40 minutes to tell you I didn't do much today.

In short hand:
I went to another class - better than yesterday but I'm still skeptical. I think I've been spoiled by amazing subject matter and passionate profs who teach in areas that I love that to come into an intro level class about material I am indifferent to is a little saddening. That said, I'm in Europe so everything is good. This class has an 80% final - this place is crazy!

I purchased a discount card that allows me to get 40% off train tickets for travel in the Netherlands. This will be optimal in cutting costs when I fly out of Amsterdam and when I travel around the country.

Travel this weekend has been postponed. At least the girl I was going with can't go anymore. I'm thinking I might take a day trip on Saturday. We'll see.

The article about me in the student newspaper came out and can be found here. It is funny because she used direct quotes but none of it is word for word what I said, in fact she made it a narrative but I sound kind of silly. I still think it is fun, but kind of silly. There are also things I didn't specifically say that are in there. It is funny though because a bunch of the other people in the residence have been pointing it out to me. Fun.

I slept with ear plugs in and it was amazing. I thought I would hate it, but I loved it. So quiet!

They don't have a university bookstore which means that finding your textbooks is nearly impossible and most have to be ordered online. This is frustrating.

I was invited to watch a movie tonight. We didn't know what some of the titles were so the girl just picked one, Deception. I guess it came out in 2008, it has Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman in it. It was really slow and then really awful. The writing was just painful to watch be played out. I left half way through to go to bed. After the fact I looked it up and its only got 13% on rottentomatoes.

I've not much to do tomorrow but I have an assignment due in a couple of weeks I'll start working on and some readings to get to. Otherwise I might just resort to continuing on with Mad Men. Currently 6 episodes in. I have a lot of free time. A lot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Busy doing nothing.

Today seemed like a long day.

I spent most of the day out of the house, so that is likely why it felt so long. I ran errands around town - nothing too interesting but the sun came out and it was quite pleasant, around 9 degrees I think. It hasn't been that nice the whole time I was here. As such I decided to stay out longer than intended, to take in the warm sun and as much vitamin D as possible.

Upon getting home I stopped by the room of one of the girls I went to Belgium with to see if she maybe wanted to take a day or two trip somewhere in South Holland because we both have a ton of days off this weekend. Don't know where exactly we'll head but likely Friday or Saturday we'll go towards Rotterdam and tour around the area a bit. I guess the best place to see windmills is just a little outside of Rotterdam so it should be good. We wanted to go somewhere because we have so much free time right now that having 5 days with nothing to do here seems excessive.

We headed back into town to get some info from the tourist office but they were pretty useless, instead we bought a Lonely Planet Holland book. Should be good.

I came back to make dinner before I had to go to class at 7pm.

Class was ok. Well actually it was pretty disappointing. So it is called "Dutch Lecture Series" and we have a different lecturer come in each week to talk about an aspect of Dutch culture, then there is a final exam. I am actually really looking forward to a couple of the lectures, but this weeks was photography, which you would think could be really interesting but the lecturer just talked about different photographers but never really got into any detail. He kind of breezed over a lot of them and there wasn't really anything note-worthy. It was a lot of pictures and him saying "It is not easy to make a picture look this good." I suppose the reading material is where the exam questions will come from? Because I don't think I have any study-able material. The other thing I learned is that there is an 80% mandatory attendance level - so there is attendance (wha?) and there is one 100% final at the end of the lectures with 4 questions from each 2 hour class. Kind of wild.

The good news is here in Holland they have something called 'resit' exams. It works like this, you go to your final exam and take it, get an awful grade, you can do another test two weeks later. Or say you get there and realize you don't know the answers, you just hand it back and take the resit 2 weeks later. This seems so silly. I plan to do no resits.

Tomorrow I have my second and last class of the week. My Friday class doesn't start until March. Its a hard life I lead.

Groningen Centraal
Central Station here in Groningen

Part of the extensive bike parking lot at the train station.
I've yet to find a car parking lot there.

The colour is kind of awful, but this is the second large square in Groningen or where the fish market is. The building at the end is a grocery store, which is in front of that large church. Yup, they even get their groceries at more beautiful places.

The Harmony Building.
I have a class here.
The glass/blue part is a great study cafe area. I fully intend to utilize it.

The Academy Building.
I also have class here. Crazy beautiful right?

On my way into the city centre I have to go over a bridge or two to get over the canals. This is the view from the bridge I cross to get into the core of the city centre.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And so it goes

I think the most exciting thing I did today was paint my nails. So be ready to be enthralled by my daily activities:

I woke up nice and early in the afternoon, around 12:30. I couldn't believe it. Well I mean, I did go to be after 5am so it wasn't that outrageous but you know what I mean. With a lack of motivation and activities I took my time doing anything. Eventually I got ready and went downtown to meet a friend to walk around the market that is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in the city centre.

It was quite a cold day today. The kind of cold that made me wish I had worn a toque while biking. The market was nice but not that full. I'm pretty sure that the weekend market has many more vendors. It is a fish market but it has lots of everything. The majority of the goods being sold are produce but there is fish, jewelry, flowers, spices, fabric, etc. Because it was mostly food we didn't buy anything - well except a giant warm stroopwafle which was delicious.

We spent some time walking around the stores in the area. The girl I was with was trying to find some gym shorts, which was oddly impossible. I'm still torn about joining the gym, I just don't know if I'll be able to get my money's worth, especially if I'm traveling a bunch and if my back gets hateful. That said I really want to join the gym so that I have something to do on my long days where I have no other activities to partake in. I don't know what my back will do so I'm hesitant to spend $50 on a membership. Decisions, decisions.

We parted ways around 4:30 when she headed to the gym and I headed home. When I got home all I wanted to do was watch a movie, however my macbook dvd drive doesn't work so I can't rent anything, this leads me to acquire entertainment online... namely I downloaded season 1 of Mad Men. I hear this show is awesome and has quite a following. I watched 2 episodes tonight and so far so good. It hasn't grabbed me too much yet but I do like the story lines thus far.

The rest of my night wasn't that interesting either, made dinner, made a budget, made a to-do list, real exciting stuff. Tomorrow I start class, but it doesn't start until 7pm so I still have all day to sit around wishing it was warmer out so I could go hang out anywhere other than my dorm. I'm excited for class to start so I can get this show on the road. I'll be able to better plan my travels once I know when papers are due and when my tests are. I will also have some structure in my life.

Thoughts: I just about bought an adorable dutch painted tea pot to use here, do you think it would make it home? Or would it just break? Decisions, decisions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Daily life

Today, oh today. Not much to tell you about.

After a busy couple days I decided it was best to sleep in a little, then sit around in my pajamas a little. I didn't really do anything productive until after 1:00pm. Well that isn't true, but I didn't do anything that was very strenuous. I booked a hostel for Venice and finalized some details for that trip which is coming up soon - I can't wait - it looks like it will be amazing. I hope the weather is nice. I can see why everyone comes here for the summer, everything is nicer here in the summer - much more expensive but much nicer.

In the afternoon I ventured out into the city to run some errands like finding ear plugs - a success, and other such little things I had to do. I also had to buy groceries because I had cereal, bread, and margarine. So nothing to eat except toast. Pathetic.

In the later afternoon I don't even know what I did - I'm sure it involved more travel business. It takes so long to coordinate things and I feel the need to be very organized for a couple reasons while traveling. First, I am only in these cities for a short time and I don't want to miss out on things just because I wasn't coordinated enough. Second, while I am traveling alone I feel like it is important to have a solid set of directions and know what I am doing, I feel like this makes me less of a target because I know where I should be going and what I should be doing. Lastly, it generally makes me a more confident traveler, which is always a good thing.

I later made dinner - this might not seem noteworthy for you - but I haven't made anything worthy noting since I arrived here. I wanted to make something like meatloaf but we don't have an oven, just many hot plates. So what I did was buy some ground beef - which they sell in half portions (I love this! It makes cooking for 1 so much easier) - onion soup mix and mixed it all together with an egg and some ketchup. I didn't have any bread crumbs so it was kind of a crumbly mess. I made patties and fried them in a pan. Although they didn't look all that appetizing they were quite delicious. So yay for me.

I've found that here I am really cooking by whim and memory. Usually you can follow instructions on the box of whatever you are making or you have a recipe or some direction. Here all the instructions are in Dutch and I have no recipes - recipes are difficult because I don't know what the grocery store has in it, often I don't really know what I am buying, etc. So I am learning to cook without instructions. This hasn't been awful and what I make is never that bad.

So as I finished making my dinner so did another girl who is down the hall from me, she was making dinner for herself and her friend. We sat and had a lovely dinner - a Valentine's dinner if you will. There was a candle and some wine.

After dinner I went to find a couple of the girls who I went to Belgium with to hang out with for the evening. As it is Monday here in International Student land and ESN (the International Student Association) holds an international student night at a bar every Monday the house was a twitter with party plans and alcoholic beverages. I had said I would go but I didn't know how keen I was to actually go. I wavered back and forth for quite some time.

Up until just after midnight a group of us just hung out drinking wine. At this time I was convinced that seeing as I really have nothing to do tomorrow I should probably go out. Trying not to be antisocial I agreed. I figure I have plenty time to be a stick in the mud when I have school, I best not start too early.

When we left it was pouring rain but it didn't seem too cold. We stopped at a bar, then off to the actual bar where the student night was. To be honest I was kind of hoping it would allow for some sitting and talking so one could have a conversation without yelling. Of course it was mostly just a dance club, but, they must play better music because they know the Internationals don't like the techno. The music was good and it was fun to be out with a group of people I live with. I'm still not huge on going out so late but I think there is just nothing I can do about it.

I got home just in time to catch the first period of the Flames game, they are currently dominating this crucial game. Good news.

I start class on Wednesday night.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Waffles. Chocolate. Beer.

As previously mentioned I spent Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 (today) in Antwerp Belgium.

A group of us, five girls from the house I'm living in, headed out just after 9am on Saturday morning to catch a train to Antwerp. The train ride took just over 4 hours and involved about 3 train switches and a slight delay. We arrived in the beautiful Antwerp Centraal Station around 2:30pm. The station is a thing of beauty and has three different levels for trains to come and go. It is quite a thing to see.

From the station we headed straight into the heart of Antwerp stopping along the way at a diamond museum - they are huge for diamonds. The tour was free for some strange reason, something to do with Valentine's Day I think. Although it had interesting bits we were all quite happy that we didn't have to pay as it was long. That said, if you were interested in the intricacies of diamonds - where they are found, how they are cut, people who created things which help create diamonds, etc. - this would be the place for you.

As we headed back out the sky started to mist on us, what a nice treat. It was quite cool and quite damp. We walked along a main shopping street towards the city centre. It is a lovely walk with beautiful buildings to entice your eyes the whole way along. We stopped in a few shops but none of us really wanted to (read: could afford) to shop much so we just basically perused the busy streets. I started to get hungry, and being in Belgium I figured the perfect snack to get me between lunch and supper was (naturally) a waffle. It was a basic waffle with no toppings but it was so delicious! Crunchy but soft and oh so sweet. I gobbled it up in a matter of moments.

At this point we decided it would be best to check into our hotel/hostel. I say both because two girls joined our group last minute and we had to split up the bookings due to a time crunch. Three of us headed to a hotel on one side of the city centre while the other two went to find a hostel on the other side. While we found the tram station to take us to our hotel a nice, older lady found us. She was very excited to help us out and tell us all about where to go and what to do, and even helped us find our stop (it was the same as her's). Our entire tram ride she told us about what we were passing. It was lovely.

We parted ways and quickly found our hotel. It was a wonderful little hotel, especially for the price! Such a steal. When we got to our room we discovered there were beds for 5 so we called the other girls - who happened to be lost - and directed them to us so we could all stay together in the same room. So convenient.

While the two found the hotel the three of us found a sushi restaurant close to a huge gothic cathedral in the city centre. I know, I know - sushi while in Belgium? Shouldn't you be eating at a quaint little Belgian restaurant?! - you are probably right but we were so hungry and sushi sounded so appetizing. The sushi was great - even though it took forever to get to us, I think there was some sort of mix up in the back. It didn't even matter though because it tasted delicious when it arrived.

After dinner we went searching for a good bar/pub/restaurant to sit in to have some beer, you know they are quite good at making it. When we started to walk around we realized how many amazing restaurants there are, I've heard Antwerp is a foodies' heaven, the food is all amazing and all different. Each restaurant looked more wonderful than the next. So, if you are looking to go on an eating vacation I recommend Belgium.

We found a nice restauranty bar that looked out onto some wonderful scenery and sat down. From here we asked for the best local beer and some waffles. Ha, a great combo I'm sure but hey, tourists do what tourists do. I had a waffle with chocolate sauce and ice cream - SO good! I wish I could describe it. The chocolate sauce is so much better than home because it actually tastes like rich dark chocolate and not syrupy sugar. These are dangerous. We sat there for quite a while enjoying ourselves until we were totally stuffed and quite exhausted. From there we made our way back to the hotel for, what we determined would be the first quiet sleep we could get since we arrived.

We were all exhausted so it didn't take long for all of us to fall into bed.

The next morning we enjoyed a lovely free breakfast (I love free breakfasts!) at our hotel before venturing out for our second day on the town. Fortunately for us the nice lady on the tram had told us about a large market that would be taking place nearby so we already had a plan for the day. We walked to the very busy market and looked, shopped, and snacked for the next hour or more. They had everything from clothing to tools to chocolates to fresh produce. Everything. I bought a great new scarf.

We decided that to keep costs down we would try to walk around the city and not worry about paying to get into any museums and such. This was a pretty good plan. The day was much nicer than the day before as there was no rain.

From the market we walked to the train station to lock our backpacks in a locker and find out when the return train times were. After we had done this we walked around. A lot. We saw the old palace - where there is now a restaurant and a chocolate shop - where I bought 3 chocolates for €3.50. They had all sorts of flavours, I bought a peanut one (no actual peanuts), an Earl Grey Tea one, and told her to give me one other classic flavour. I had initially told her to surprise me with the 3rd one but she thought I meant with something crazy and offered me a fried onion chocolate or a bacon chocolate. As interesting as these sounded I was unwilling to spend my money on something so outrageous. [I just now, after getting home, ate the chocolates and they were divine! I liked my two flavours better than hers but the Earl Grey one was amazing. Good thing I didn't buy more because they would all be gone!]

We also went to the main Gothic Cathedral, walked to a castle, and generally took in the architecture. Eventually we stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant where I got a margarita pizza that was only €3.20 with a student discount! Talk about wonderful budgeting. We spent most of the day just walking about taking everything in. We eventually made our way to a second smaller antique market for a look but it was all quite expensive.

On the way back to the train to head home we stopped in a liquor store - more like a beer store - that had 280 different types of Belgian beers for sale. I picked out two to take home and try. I'm looking forward to it.

We caught the 5pm train back to Groningen which had us back at home around 9:30pm. By that time we were all hungry and tired. I made dinner, went through my pictures, and relaxed.

Quite a busy few days.

One thing I miss from home that is different from here is drinks at a restaurant. They don't serve fountain pop and they don't serve tap water. This means if you want water you have to pay almost $3 for a small bottle of water. Boo. This also means that if you want a pop you only get about 330 mL (I think). What if I'm thirsty?!

Ha. I think the highlight of the trip is the amazing food and treats. I didn't think waffles and chocolates could be so delicious. And the restaurants looked amazing.

Antwerpen Centraal
This is what you see coming up the escalator from your train. Gorgeous!

This doesn't really do it justice, but the architecture is outstanding. Very rich and detailed. This is along one of the main shopping streets.

A local beer.
Which one?
I couldn't tell you, the waiter recommended it.
I enjoyed it. Good enough for me.

Waffle before.

Waffle after.
(apologies for the horrid colour)

Chocolates in more flavours than you could imagine.

From left to right: Australia, Canada, Canada, Sweden.. oh wait, I mean...
From left to right: Tess, Sara, Bianca, Josefin

My chocolates.
So good.
So expensive.
I'd do it again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Another day in la la land

Because I went to bed so nice and early yesterday I set my alarm for a reasonable hour to get out of bed, but when my alarm went off at 9am and I thought to myself, I don't have much to do today, I quickly went back to bed for a few hours.

Shortly after showering I received a text from a couple of the girls who live in the other wing, you see we decided we wanted to go somewhere and we needed to plan it out. It didn't take long - because the options are endless - to decide to go to Antwerp, Belgium. Decisions were made then we decided to go into the city centre to walk around.

First stop was the Martinitower, the highest church tower in Groningen. It is about 97m tall. We trekked about halfway up, took some pictures, then continued up the narrow & winding staircase up to the highest point you can get to. This puts you just behind the clock. When we were up there we even got to hear the loud bells go off. It was enough to make you jump. We were lucky, and the sun even came out for a little bit while we were up in the tower.

While in the tower we made plans to meet another girl a little later so we went for coffee (kofie) in the meantime. It was quite nice to sit and chat for a bit.

After we met up with the other girl coming to Belgium this weekend we headed to the train station to enquire about the cost of train tickets - the website was very confusing and we were hoping to get a better price than we could find online. Much success! The tickets were in fact much cheaper when you know what you are looking for.

From there the two went to sign up for the fitness centre and I came to the grocery store near our house to buy some vitamin C. Sadly because I can't read Dutch I purchased the chewy kind and not the pills you swallow. Sad about it.

I spent a few hours fiddling around with pictures online. Soon I'll have all my pictures on flickr for your viewing pleasure but right now I only have Mexico and Moncton uploaded. I'll let you know when it is ready. I also spent some time uploading pictures on facebook so you can check there if you haven't already.

After that was done and I'd eaten dinner I headed over to finalize plans - turns out two more girls are coming with us - and now we have a hostel booked! I'm really looking forward to doing something because I've spent too many days sitting around doing not much.

We leave tomorrow morning and will be back on Sunday afternoon/evening. I'm not sure if I'll be able to update when I'm there so you might have to wait a few days for a post, but when I do you can be excited about updates about life in Antwerp and, I'm sure, chocolates!!

Martini Tower
If ever I'm lost I just have to find this tower and I know how to get home

One of the clocks
It is very convenient to have a clock outside that you can always see

Main city square

One of the main streets
I bike in that direction to get to my home

I tried to upload a video I took at the top of the tower but the internet they have provided us is outrageously slow for things like that. I'll try again later, sorry.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lazy Sunday.. I mean Thursday.

Oh late nights. Hmm. Oh late nights drinking. *sigh* Don't get me wrong, I had fun last night, but not nearly enough fun to warrant doing that too many times again. I have much more fun when I go out like that with great friends. Generally I think great friends make everything better and are the key element missing from this equation. I'm sure some of the people here will become great friends, but right now I miss my friends from back home - you guys are awesome!

I fell asleep shortly after posting last night then woke up for some reason at 6am and heard the end of the Flames game on the Fan960 - yay we won! - then went back to bed. I set my alarm for nice and late in the day but still woke up around 10:30 or 11. When I work up I had a sore throat, I reached for my bottle of vitamin C (as I always do when I have a sore throat) only to realize I left it at home. Alas, I will have to go get some (still haven't done that yet, today was a very lazy day).

In the morning part of my day I watched a new episode of Glee - lovely! - then made my way to start my laundry but ran into some friends in a nearby common room. I hung out there for a while, did some laundry, then eventually made a fantastic breakfast. Nothing fancy, but I made a huge scramble - you know scrambled eggs covering mushrooms, ham, peppers, onions, spinach, and the like. It was delectable.

This "breakfast" probably happened around 3pm, or later. At this time I decided it was time to commit to my next big adventure. I'd found a cheap flight to Milan on the 24th - and I don't have class then so I'll be in Northern Italy until the 1st. As it turns out the cheap flight wasn't quite as cheap as it was the day before. Lesson learned - this seems to keep happening - prices jump quickly so decision making is key. I then looked into hostels etc. The bad news is the trip is going to be more expensive than expected - I guess it is an expensive area to travel to, but I'm ok with it.

I decided to book a hotel while in Milan because most of the hostels I looked at had bad reviews and people complaining about their stuff getting stolen - a lot. I like my things and I would like to keep them. The costs was not too much more than a nice hostel so I'm ok with it. Hopefully it won't be too exorbitant when all is said and done. I am a little nervous to go back to Italy because although it was beautiful I found the people and culture intimidating the first time through. Hopefully, being older and wiser will help me through. The plan is to hit Venice and Milan. I was going to try to get to Florence but the train tickets bumped the cost of the whole trip up so much that I think I'll have to skip it.

Other than that I did a little looking into potentially doing a Turkey/Greece island cruise on my birthday weekend. I'm hoping to find a cheap 3 or 4 day thing. We'll see what comes of it.

I spent the rest of my day in and out of my room doing laundry, socializing in the common room, and I watched the most recent ep of House - not nearly as shocking as the commercial let on but whatever.

I just woke up (its 10pm) because I fell asleep on my bed for almost an hour. I'm so exhausted. People keep asking me if I'm going out tonight, ha. Not likely. I'm hiding in my room to avoid it and I'm going to bed!! So tired and feeling a little sick. Lots of people seem to be getting sick and I want to squash this thing early (don't worry Dad, I'm planning on getting vitamin C tomorrow!). It makes sense though, lots of really late nights out, cold and rainy weather, all mixed with being around lots of new people.

I think most people did about the same, if less today - so many hung over faces today. Hmm. Every time I think I've decided I want to stay in this building I find reasons I want to leave. I just think there is no right answer.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nothing new

I sometimes feel bad blogging about how I've done nothing all day, but in an attempt to keep up with my two weeks of daily blogs I'll tell you what I did today. But I feel the need to tell you that I am slightly intoxicated as I write this. I'm sorry - it was literally one long island iced tea that did me in, I'm pretty sure it was 50% tequila. So strong.

I didn't have much to do today, I slept late and took my time getting ready in the late morning. I made breakfast today which you wouldn't think is noteworthy but as I haven't really made much since I've been here - food wise - it was kind of a big deal.

I got myself together, downloaded and watched a new ep of Glee (awesome - double rainbow.. zombie double rainbow awesome), socialized, then made my way to the Arts Faculty introduction. It wasn't that interesting, but good to see the faces of a few of the administrators and staff. We were treated to another showing of the improv show we saw on Saturday, but I think this time it was better.

Afterward we were provided with drinks and opportunities for socializing. I met a few girls who go to school in Montreal. It seems like so many Canadians I meet are from Montreal. This was followed by a trip to the grocery store, which was followed by me making a mediocre dinner.

Tonight was our last 'intro week' function. It was a Pirate Party at Kokomo bar downtown. Before a group of us went down we hung out for a while here. When we finally went down it was close to midnight. We stopped at another bar along the way because one of the girls we were with knew a number of people who would be there. This was where I received the previously mentioned - toxically strong - long island iced tea. Eventually we made our way to the other bar for some dancing. I STILL maintain that music here in the clubs isn't that good. I had a good time, for the most part.

Tomorrow I am hoping to make it down to the market to peruse the aisles but I'm sure mostly I will be sleeping. School starts on Monday, but I don't have class until Wednesday. Who knows what I'll do until then, but hopefully it involves resting and not drinking large amounts of alcohol. ugh. g'night.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

And the beat goes on

As expected, I slept late. It was pretty good but I never feel that great the next day when I go to bed so late, almost like no matter how much sleep you get it will never be enough.

I sat around a little then showered so I could get some things I'd been putting off done.

By the time I left I think it was around 2pm (?!). The sun was finally shining and the wind had settled down so it was quite a nice ride around town. My first stop was at ING to open a bank account - what an adulty Dutchy thing to do. I am doing this because you need a Dutch bank account in order to get a discount train pass (40% off!).

After the bank I went to buy a phone - so now I have a Dutch phone number as well. I also went looking for ear plugs because last night, or maybe I should say early this morning a group of people came home at 7:20am and proceeded to play some form of tackle soccer in the hallway by my room for about 20 minutes. Sadly, I couldn't find any so hopefully tonight is quiet.

On my way home I stopped at IKEA.

After getting home I pittered around until a couple girls knocked on my door to see if I was interested in going out for dinner before our movie (the intro week activity for the evening). We headed downtown and found a nice restaurant. I had pork kebabs, they were quite good.

After dinner we headed over to the theatre to watch a movie premiere that was to be announced to use in the theatre. Keep in mind that all their movies come out about 1-2 months later than they do at home. The theatre was quite huge, like it stretched up and on for what seemed like forever. The seats were so comfy and roomy, I fully approve.

The "premiere" was of 127 Hours with James Franco, and it was wonderful. I went into it with few expectations and was a little worried that it would be a bad Castaway as it is just Franco for over 90% of the film, but I totally underestimated this flick. I would stongly suggest you see it. It definitely doesn't have to be viewed in theatres but is worth renting. Franco does a great job and it was truly heart wrenching watching him slowly realize he is going to die then will himself to cut his own arm off - sorry if you think these are spoilers, but the movie is based on a real guy who I'm sure you heard about a few years ago. So check it out.

I came home after the movie and fell back into my travel book. I'm finding the whole process rather exhausting. Mostly in the sense that I am trying to get the biggest bang for my buck so there is a lot of checking different websites, looking at plane vs. train, and everything else. I think I am getting closer to being organized and I'm just about ready to book a trip to Italy for the end of February. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Orange isn't flattering. And no my hair is not orange.

My motivation to blog right now is at about 20%, but I do it for you, no, actually I do it because I don't want to get "why didn't you blog yesterday" comments.

It is currently 3:41 am and I just (about 15 minutes ago) got home from the bar.

Today was a slow day. I'm sure I was up to some unreasonable hour doing not much of anything last night and as such I slept as late as possible. Unfortunately that meant only sleeping until about 11am. This doesn't sound that early but I've been going to bed around 3am here (I swear, the schedule here is the most ridiculous!!). But I had to get up because at a previous event a student reporter for one of the student papers had approached myself and a couple of the girls I live with about writing a bit on where we live and three things we brought with us or were in our room that were special to us. I guess she does this bit (kind of a UofGroningen Cribs deal) every week. So she was coming to meet us at Noon.

When she came she looked through the three of our rooms, but both girls didn't really have the time to give her for the interview etc. so it came down to me. From there we discussed the three items (read: she asked me questions) then a photographer came to take pictures of the items and me in the room. It was quite fun and quite bizarre. I will be in next week's paper. I'll let you know when the link is up for your reading pleasure.

After she left I was waiting for a girl I live with to come pick me up to go to find some orange clothes for the evenings Dutch Party - aka wear orange party. Sadly, and for whatever reason, she did not show up. Eventually I looked for her but she was nowhere to be found. As such I put off doing many things I had intended to do, but I'm ok with it. After I realized she was probably gone I had a much needed nap. After said nap I made dinner.

At 7:30pm we had a Dutch lesson as part of our Intro Week. It was quite fun, but also not easy. Learning new languages never are. I think I've got some basics but it is always different when people talk slow and you can see it in writing compared to how people really talk when you are out and about. It lasted just over an hour.

After I biked to Jumbo - the grocery store that is also in a football (soccer) stadium, which is attached to a gym, theatre, and school I think - to get some essentials that I ran out of (mostly milk). By the time I came home it was almost 10pm. The Dutch Party at the bar (the Great Pianos) was starting but because people go out so late I wasn't worried about making it there on time. I met a girl in my group who gave me an extra orange shirt she had and then met another girl from my group for some wine prior to the bar.

We sat and drank until almost midnight when we decided it really was time to go to the bar. On our way out we met a few girls going the same way but without a bike so we gave them a ride, here it is very common to see people riding on the back of others' bikes, kind of side saddle. They have a very sturdy back rack which allows for this.

So we get down there and go into a different bar for a cheap shot - not my idea - then go to The Great Pianos for the real party. It was fun but I maintain that the music isn't that great, and it was really loud! And I mean the kind of loud that just sounds like noise half the time and makes you cover your ears out of pain. I ran into a couple of girls from our group and we danced. It was quite fun. I can see how it is easy to stay out so very late when you don't leave your house until 1 or 2am. But I knew better and came home, which was a good thing because when I sat down I could feel my head pound and my shoulders tense, I'm tired.

Supplementary: Differences, food:
  • All the foods that now come in plastic containers for us (coffee grounds, peanut butter, etc.) still come in glass jars here. I find this strange.
  • Beer is served in such small glasses that I don't really know if it €1.50 is cheap for a beer or if for the actual same liquid amount I am paying much less. Either way I like not paying $7+ for a beer.
  • I don't know through what magic they have made their peanut butter but it is like nothing I have ever sampled and something I assure you I will miss when I come home. It is natural peanut butter (think the stuff that separate) but it never separates. It is the most delicious - tasting like real peanuts - but is fairly smooth and never gets crusty and never separates oil from the peanut butter, you never have to stir it. I don't understand, and I'm not sure I want to. The bad news is, I've been eating it like yogurt... or ice cream? I can't stop myself it is so delicious. Turns out I'm going to get fat not from the beer and cheese, but from the peanut butter.
And it is now 4:05am, g'night.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Supplementary Log: Cravings

So it is only natural to miss things you have at home all the time. I know it hasn't been that long since I left but when you have something on a regular basis and then stop - and you can't even get it if you wanted to it makes you want it more. Let me tell you about some of the things I've been missing, craving, and thinking about since I left.
  • Trident Freshmint soft gum - I don't know if chicklet gum is just all the rage but I can't seem to find one that I want. That said, I haven't done too much looking around and I am very picky about gum.
  • Vietnamese! I love Saigon and I need to find somewhere to serve me spring rolls over vermicelli rice.
  • Sushi - I asked if there was a good place to get sushi but no one seems to know, I've heard there is somewhere in town that serves it but I'm skeptical. But I've been spoiled with the amazing Globefish in Calgary.
  • Tim Hortons - of course - I miss the ease of walking in to Timmy's, ordering an XL steeped tea with 2 milks and knowing I will love it every time.
  • iPhone connectivity - I hate that I can't find wifi to use my phone - ha. I loved having the world at my fingertips, every piece of info, I could text my friends, play games, take pictures then post them immediately for everyone to see on twitter. I can't do this now and boy do I miss it! Technology is my crutch and I love it.
  • A huge cup of coffee - this might sound ridiculous because the coffee here is delicious - all made from espresso shots and just the right amount of water/milk but they are always so small. Can't I get an XL.. a Venti?! Something that will take me more than 2 minutes to drink? I need to do some further coffee shop exploration in the next few weeks to feel out this situation.
Obviously I haven't been here very long and I am sure I can find some good fillers for the next five months, or maybe something even better, but for now I would love to have a Sushi date followed by an XL tea from T.Ho's as I google map directions to the nearest store to buy some trident. Ha. Well it isn't that bad but you know what I mean.

Hungry Hungry Hippo

First of all, happy Superbowl Sunday, or Superbowl veryearlyMondaymorning from the way I see it. I was actually invited to a Superbowl party here so I don't feel that left out. There are a number of American's heading to a bar somewhere in town to watch the game but it should last until 4am ish in the morning. I don't really watch football let alone go to superbowl parties at home so why would I do it here.

Today was a very long day. I didn't go to bed until quite late because I was up pouring over my travel book, looking up cheap flights, hostels, and the like. I need to get myself together so I can get the most out of my time here.

I had to get out of bed around 9:30 - which felt really early due to my 3am bed time, and then I didn't sleep well. Regardless, a couple girls from my building biked down to meet our group and then we biked to the northern campus to go to the sports facility for the day. It is just on the northern edge of Groningen - it is where the business school is, as well as the other university I think. I don't know really, but it is about 15 minute bike ride, which for here seems like an eternity.

We had a very fun day - our groups were our teams, then we were split into divisions and we played a number or sports and we also got to try out some of the facilities in the building. We played volleyball, basketball, and floor ball - or as I like to call it - floor hockey (with a ball). My group did pretty alright considering most people were not very sports oriented and hadn't played the sports before. It was kind of sad though because we were a group of 6 girls and the leaders kept trying to recruit boys to play on our team because they said we didn't stand a chance (they were part of the 6 girls). I kept telling them we didn't need boys to win, and if we were going to lose it was because we weren't as good, not because we were girls. This rationale didn't go far. Either way I told some of the boys we didn't need their help. Get out of town.

We lost at volleyball but we managed to do alright at it in the end, we just had a rocky start. Floor ball was decent and because there was no goalie it was often a matter or luck, we lost 3-5. The good news is we won basketball with a score of 3-0. Two of those baskets were mine. Believe that, offensively challenged me - but I was playing against people who didn't know how to dribble so it can hardly be considered fair. Our team made it to play-downs but we missed the call to compete so we were eliminated. We weren't to broken up about this.

The cool thing about this campus rec centre is once you pay a small membership fee you can take as many courses as you want. You just put down a deposit of €10, then if you attend 80% of the class you get your money back. If you don't then they keep your money. So, if you sign up and go it is free! Isn't that great incentive. I don't know if I'll sign up, but the thought of free courses really has me hooked. I mean you pay €39 for the semester, but for a couple courses that is nothing. I might take tennis because I've always wanted to take a tennis class but we'll see.

After the tournament finished we were served dinner and then given a Salsa lesson. It was actually quite fun. Afterwards we had about an hour to waste before the bar for us for the evening opened up. We went over to one of our leaders' flat to hang out for a while.

Eventually we made our way to the bar. There was a Caribbean band playing downstairs and a DJ upstairs. I don't really like the DJd music here, it is all so techno-y.. I don't know if that is the right label but just a constantly changing beat. I much prefer a mix of top-40ish or huge hits that I can sing along to while I dance. Just a beat isn't as much fun. Anyways, although tired and hungry I held out because there was a rock'n'roll cover band coming on at 11:30. They were quite good but it was only so long before the tired and hungry part overtook me and I left to come home.

It was quite nice to ride home because the streets were quiet and the wind had (mostly) died down.

Tomorrow we don't have any activities until around 7pm when we have a Dutch language lesson. As such I will be sleeping in then hopefully getting some important things done like opening a Dutch bank account, buying a cell phone, finding where to buy books, and other things I've been putting off for a while, like cleaning up my room.

Maybe soon I'll have some more exciting tales to tell you about where I am traveling next. Hopefully.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

INTRO WEEK (cnt'd)

Today we had to meet at 11 in the city centre to go to our next event of the intro week. For me this was difficult, I mean, I got there on time, but because I went to bed around 3am I found getting up early enough to shower, eat, and bike there somewhat of a punishment. Upon waking up I thought to myself "this is why I don't stay out so late anymore." Little did I know that most people in my group didn't leave the bars until 4am. What madness.

So anyways, I made it downtown for 11am. We walked over the the building we would be taking in our "cultural events" in only to find out that we were an hour and a half early and we weren't supposed to be there until 1pm - we were there around 11:30. To kill time we walked over to a little cafe for coffee and treats. This cafe was especially known for their pies, or tarts, it was kind of like a classic apple crumble.. but you could also get other kinds. So I had a blueberry one, but it also came with apples in it. It was good.

When the time came we walked back over to the building and picked our activities. My group chose a Dutch quiz followed by a movie quiz. The Dutch quiz was quite fun and simple. The movie quiz on the other had was quite difficult and subsequently not that much fun. These ended around 4pm - we then had an hour to wait until we were allowed to go into our next venue.

On Saturdays (and a few other days of the week) there is a "fish market" in one of the squares in town. I put that in quotations because there are many things other than fish up for sale. We walked around this market for a while. A few members of my group got some fries - these seem to be hugely popular, they are sold in upside down paper rolls and topped with mayonnaise. Well you don't have to put mayonnaise on them but that seems to be what all the locals love. I tried it and wasn't a huge fan.

At 5 we were allowed into the theatre we were going to be attending an improv show at. We were the first ones in and got really good seats. The improv show was only so-so but what can you expect. It isn't very well like the cast of Whose Line Is It Anyways is hanging out in Groningen. After the show we were served dinner but there were so many people that it took forever for us to be able to eat. I'm not sure how much of the food was traditional Dutch cuisine for a buffet but the vast majority of it was mayonnaise and some form of potato based with different seasoning and ingredients. From what I've been told is there isn't much fancy to Dutch food and nothing too special about it. It isn't food that is craved by all.

There are however some very delicious sweets. One very popular sweet is the Stroopwafels. These are two thin waffle layers with a thick sweet syrup layer in between and baked in a press. I haven't had any fresh or hot ones from vendors but I hear they are delicious. I have had the cold ones and they are very sweet and very good. Yum! Another very Dutch flavour seems to be licorice.

So after the much needed meal at the improv theatre my group decided to head out to a nice bar for a drink. It was a lovely little place - I keep saying little, because many of these places are very small, but at the same time many of these places are in fact quite large it is just that they are narrow but they go two or three floors up. It was a nice place to sit down for a drink - just my kind of place. We left shortly before 10pm - just how I like it. ha.

Tomorrow we get to visit the rec centre, which looks both very nice and very inexpensive. Which will be nice.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Start your engines

This'll have to be quick because its 2:30am and I'm tuckered.

Today started early for me as I had to go down to the city hall and register. Oh bureaucracy, got to love it. The appointment was for 9:15 and I just made it on time. It was rather quick, they photocopy your passport ask you a few question and you are on your way. Because I got out of bed so late and was still tired I decided to return home right after and go back to bed. This was a good choice.

The weather here has been kind of up and down. A sunny day followed by a cool, rainy, and windy day. I think it is best described as a cold and rainy June in southern Alberta - if you know what that is like. The wind can be really bitting but mostly it is just kind of miserable. Luckily when you do get outside it isn't that awful cold. I've learned that this wind has been causing some stir and making all the news as having a wind this strong is not normal. It is enough that I occasionally wobble on my tall bike.

After my morning nap I had some breakfast, had a shower, had a cup of tea or two, read about traveling destinations, cleaned up my room, nothing too exciting. Eventually I made lunch.

At around 4:30 I decided to go to the city centre to try and get a cell phone for the time being. I was thinking this would be sufficient time to buy a phone before I had to be at our ESN welcoming kick off, I was wrong. The stores were quite busy and I didn't have time, so still no phone.

Our International Student Kick Off socializing week of madness started tonight. We started at the main Academy Building hearing about what the week would entail then split into small groups of about 10 people - we will be with this group the whole week - and had a city tour. I would say this was an abbreviated tour because the wind was quite cold. The tour concluded with us going to the house of one of our leaders for dinner. It was interesting to see a Dutch flat where students would live. There is one very noticeable thing about Dutch houses or even buildings in general, the staircases are often treacherous and deadly. These things are almost as steep as ladders and just as narrow often curving to make a triangle step, if you know what I mean. These things are crazy.

So you climb these two very narrow steep steps to get to the top floor of this building to get to a rather small room where we hung out. It was nice to sit around and chat with a number of other international students. We had a pretty wide variety or countries of origin. We had pizza and beers.

Shortly before 11 o'clock we went back down to the city centre to start a "pub crawl." I've put that in quotations because you should not think about this like a pub crawl you have been on in Canada or otherwise. First, it was organized by ESN, secondly, we all didn't travel in huge groups from one to the next, we stayed in our smaller groups. We were, however, provided one free shot at every stop. Supposedly there are over 125 pubs and bars in Groningen and if you do the math that means that if I went to one a day, every day I was here, I wouldn't be able to see them all. I guess an average night out here means running around to a variety of different pubs/clubs. This was pretty fun, for a while we ran in just long enough to get our shots before we left. I wasn't really taken with any particular bar - the music was very techno - a lot of unce unce unce unce beat and not enough songs - clubby music. Ha, this is where most clubs fail me, I guess I'm a music snob.

We went to a piano bar and in the basement was a little area painted in an Americana theme and they were playing a NY Rangers NHL game. I was pretty excited, from the sounds of it they play hockey often. The sad news is, it is unlikely I will ever be willing to stay up for the duration of a game as the earliest start time here for me is 1am.

The last bar that I went into then left to come home because I was tired is supposedly a bar that people usually go to around 4am - we were told that it being 2am meant that it was probably too early to go. hmm. TOO EARLY?!

The nice thing is it seems there is no cover anywhere and they have free coat check, and if they don't have free coat check they have hangers where people just hang up their coats and trust no one will take them. What a novel idea.

I biked home shortly after 2am. Tomorrow we have a number of other activities, I think first it is some sort of cultural activity of our choosing, but I'm sure I can fill you in on the details later.

Lastly, some general observations:
  • I miss smoke free bars, here everyone smokes inside - yuck
  • I miss my gum, and I can't seem to find any here that satisfies
  • Everything really is bigger back home - everything from the size of the beers to the size of pasta sauce jars or pop bottles comes smaller here
  • I like to try the different types of potato chips they have in different countries. The other day I bought a bag of Lays Paprika chips and they were really tasty
  • I'm making it my new goal to travel as much on the weekends as possible
  • In April I have 2 and a half weeks off of school! I am hoping to plan a long excursion - I hope I don't have too much school work!
  • I tried to explain Tim Horton's tea today, I don't know if it worked

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I apologize if this entry is somewhat scattered. I am deep in contemplation, I am contemplating a question I cannot answer and won't be able to determine the outcome until well after the decision is finalized. But I'll get to that at the end.

This morning I had to roll out of bed nice and early. Well for someone who has been sleeping in until 10 or 11 getting up at 7:45 was awfully early. I had to be at the main academic building by 9am in order to pick up my residence permit - fortunately I did not need a Visa, so this is essentially its equivalent for people from selected countries. I also had to book an appointment to register at town hall. This is something you have to do if you are staying in the Netherlands for longer than 4 months. I have to go tomorrow at 9:15 am. Gosh, what have I done to myself.

So this morning I go and wait in line, pick up my card, make an appointment then have 1hr to kill before the rest of the welcoming ceremony starts. Oddly enough I was in line behind 2 other Canadians. Not that you have to cling to other Canadians but it does make some things easier and it gives you an immediate connection. Anyways they were both from Montreal so it wasn't even like we were all that similar. Ha. Ohh. (that was underhanded). No, they were lovely people. SO we decided to take a perusal around the city centre as both of them had arrived just the night before. This was good. It was even sunny and the sun was even kind of warm.

Just before 11 we showed up at the main "Academy Building" for our welcoming ceremony - you know when the higher-up, coordinators etc tell you you're going to do great, they hope you love it here, and then poke fun at themselves and their culture. Yes. From there we went to a building close by for a free sandwich lunch followed by a sort of international student fair where they had information booths set up. It was here I picked up my faculty information about my courses and stuff. They also had an information session that could was not really that informative but it was ok. This was also the time for us to sign up for the ESN Introduction Week. ESN is an international student organization that plans social and cultural activities for us, the welcoming week starts tomorrow and goes until the 9th. It includes things like a city tour, dutch lessons, a dutch meal, a pub crawl, sports activities, and the like. It is a real cornucopia of Groningen experiences crammed into 6 days. It sounds like lots of fun.

So with this you are given a ton of information. I spent about an hour sitting in one of the buildings I will have class reading through all sorts of information about the gym, my program, registering for exams (cause they don't do it for you), and every other thing you need to know. The building I was in is one where I will have class and it was really nice, I look forward to studying there. At around 3pm they provided drinks and snacks for us and it was real drinks, as in I had 2 free Grolsch - which I didn't know was a Dutch beer, but it is everywhere over here. They also had wine and other drinks. At this time a couple of girls I live with came back and we sat around chatting for a few hours.

When we finally left we returned to the house - accidentally biking the wrong way down a very tight one way street, narrowly missing a bus, and getting instructed by the police we weren't to do that. They were very understanding when our English came out.

From here we went to the grocery store, I came home and made dinner and hung out. I finally got to go onto some of the school's online web services to look at course outlines and the such. I am pretty sure this semester is going to be quite easy which leaves me hopeful that I will get in a good amount of studying but it is sometimes hard to judge how much work assignments and courses will demand before they actually start.

Today went by quite quickly.

Now back to the beginning, with my dilemma. As I've mentioned in the last few posts I'm a little dissatisfied with my residence experience at this point. I have met a few nice people but it seems difficult to break into the group of people who already know each other. This of course isn't my main concern but I will say that some of the early friendships I've formed are pulling on me to stick it out at this place. I think the issue is I have actually been put in the loudest room on this floor. Whenever I tell people where I am staying they grimace and say how loud it must be. The kitchen on one side, the loudest guy on the other side, and the entrance on the other side.

I don't want to miss out on precious opportunities as an exchange student by moving somewhere that takes me away from these social experiences but I can't imagine spending my nights being woken up 3 times a night for 5 months. I will probably kill someone. I've put in a request to move to a smaller building but it is my understanding that most houses are party houses. When I talked to the housing lady today she suggested perhaps trying to get into a private apartment which I can't see as being the best choice.

I don't know. I'm so torn. I like the people but at the same time I cannot imagine that I will want to party nearly as much as they do. Some people don't seem to get that just because you have nothing to get up for the next morning does not mean that going out at midnight is the only option a person has. I don't want to skip out too early but if you wait there is less chance you can move if it is actually awful. Thoughts? I value your opinion.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Old Soul

I think I am going to start at the end of my day.

It is just after midnight here. And I just walked away from a brewing party. Well it was more like a gathering. I love a good gathering, a sit around and drink wine well talking about whatever happens to come up. What I don't love is that the gatherings here seem to start around midnight, followed by going out around 2-3 until about 5 or 6. Maybe I'm just getting old but this sounds exhausting and ridiculous. Also, because my room is beside one of the kitchens and the main entrance it is where a lot of people hang out at night. Sitting, drinking, getting progressively louder. I also have been informed that I am living in "The Spanish Corridor" also known as the hallway with all the loud Spanish guys.

I don't want to sound like an old lady but this kind of makes me sad. Its not that I don't want to go out, and it isn't like I even mind staying up late, but I hate that it isn't my option if I sleep or not. If I want to sleep I want my room to be quiet, dark, and I would even prefer if I wasn't woken up at least once a night with drunk people coming home from the bar. You know, I like to do those things every so often but it sounds like that is just how things are around here on a nightly basis. I keep going back and forth about moving to another building but as far as I can tell, all the buildings are essentially the same. Young students in a foreign country have come to party. I am just surprised by the number of law students here who go out all the time. We'll see what happens, but at this point I am going to try to go to bed.

So, now to go back to the beginning, this morning I woke up at a reasonable hour but then I realized that I didn't really have anything to do today so I went back to bed and didn't get up until around 11:30. This wasn't that awful, I can't seem to break the habit of getting up late but I never have anything in the morning so maybe I should just embrace it.

My goal today was to buy a bike and pay rent. Both things I was supposed to do yesterday - oops! I had been told that the best bet for buying a bike legally (as many bikes are stolen and resold by homeless and junkies in the city centre) was to go to the bike centre at the Groningen Central train station. They rent bikes, store bikes, resell bikes, fix bikes, general how-to kinda thing. It was actually a really great experience. Going in I knew little about bikes, what to look for, how much to spend, what I need on it, etc. The man there helped me out a lot, I test drove a few bikes - all cruiser style with peddle brakes. Cruiser bikes are so different in every way, especially how they steer. They don't respond near as quickly as the mountain bikes I'm used to.

After I picked out a nice bike for €95, then the guy fixed the squeaky breaks, gave me a new bell, showed me how the lights worked and threw in a lock for less than the regular cost. All together it was €105 or about $140. This seems like a lot but this way I don't have to worry about it breaking or falling apart and I will use it everyday I'm here. I'm hoping I can sell it back at the end.

After I picked up the bike I nervously biked into the city centre to find the large ING branch to pay my rent. From here I biked around the city centre for what seemed like hours. I was trying to find the building that I need to get to tomorrow morning but I never did. I didn't have a map or an address but every street looks the same. Either way it was a good experience, I got the feel for my bike, got more comfortable biking around, and I feel like I am more familiar with the set up of the city centre. To anyone who says Calgary streets are confusing I say you are crazy anyways, but after being here, those people are extra crazy! Here streets don't go straight, every intersection turns the street into a different name, and there is no clear direction for anything, no go up 5 blocks, over 3. It is such a jumble here. I'm sure it won't take long to get more used to it. It was also quite cold with the wind blowing in your face, I don't look forward to biking in cold rain.

When I gave up in the city centre I biked back past where my house is in order to find a rather large, rather inexpensive grocery store. It was quite nice and quite large. By the time I got home I was damp because the humidity is actually 100% here all the time so even if it isn't raining the air feels like it is. I changed and crawled into bed to warm up. The cold just steals your energy!

I made dinner, then did laundry. How exciting right. It was ok though because I sat out in one of the common rooms and chatted with a bunch of people. It is odd how few new residents I have met, most of them are the ones staying a full year. Funny thing about my laundry is upon putting them in the dryer and checking in on them they were literally steaming. I took them out and decided to hang them up but because it is so humid I am skeptical that they will even dry, especially a fleece jacket I have because the washing machine didn't do a good job spinning it and it was drenched when I took it out. eeps!

I spent the rest of my evening hanging out with a couple new students in a common room. I did my best to avoid the "are you going out tonight" questions. Clearly no one appreciates a quiet night in as much as I do. heh.

Oh, I named my bike Joaquin because it is a Pheonix bike. It only seemed right.