Thursday, March 31, 2011

Concessions Must Be Made

I knew this would happen, I just knew it.

So as I mentioned last post, I am leaving to travel very soon, I'm also planning - correction: was planning - on skipping my two classes on the week of the 18th to allow me to get more travel time in. I figured it'd be my only skipped class which would keep me above the mandatory 80% attendance level so no harm no fowl. Unfortunately I received an assignment (read: two assignments) today that are due in one of the classes I was going to skip. Bummer.

In class I said to myself, no problem, go home and do it right now. Well the necessary readings weren't posted until later that afternoon and they were long. Looks like this is going to take longer than I hoped. It isn't worth much but I'm not one to throw away grades, I wan'em all. What this means is that I will probably be traveling until the 17th, when I'll come back, work on my paper(s), hand them in and go again for 5 more days. This isn't really that impractical because the girl I am going to travel with is doing the exact same thing - she has a final exam, so in this way I will simply not have alone time, or extra time to sit in a field in Austria and just stare.

I was really upset about this earlier today. Then I thought to myself, I was never going to be able to see everything I wanted to, nor did I ever imagine I'd have had this much time to travel anyways. In that sense I'm very lucky. I'm also very lucky that the girl(s) I'm traveling with have the same schedule as me. So pretty much, this was how it was supposed to be. And that'll give me some time at home to do laundry, change out anything I don't need, and give me time to catch up on a group project and find out in my brother is actually coming in May (ahem, still waiting ;) ) and organize all that.

I guess I've decided to look at it like this, I came here for school, not just to travel around, take what I can get and be happy about it. Instead of being sad about what I can't do, I'll be ecstatic about what I can do.

I thought about taking my school work with me and working on my essay in some Starbucks or the like, I mean I did it in Mexico, I can do it here too right? But I remember how much I despised being stuck in a coffee shop for days working on a paper there, it would only add taint to my trip. Instead I'll have good school free days and hectic school full days at home. Yes, I'm content.

In other news I tried to go to the gym today. It only depresses me. Depresses and frustrates me, and angers me, and makes me feel hopeless. Ha. Wow, that is a plethora of bad things, but it is so true. I used to be able to run and lift more weights than other people, and be strong. Now every exercise I do holds this consequence of hours of pain and headaches. This is followed by people looking at me like a wuss, then incessantly telling me how I just need to be more active, because that helps everyone else, clearly I'm just not trying hard enough. That breaks my heart. I would like nothing more than to be able to do those things, I love those things. I've said in my head, and I'll say it here, if I ever get to a point that my back isn't an f'ing disaster I'm going to train and do some sort of long distance run, not a marathon because that's crazy! But maybe I'll start with a 10k and then do a half marathon. This seems like a goal I'll never achieve though. No one seems to know what's wrong with me and everyone seems to assume that I'm just not trying hard enough. Shitty.

Its been really rainy here for the past two days - especially when I am going/coming from/to class which is great because you show up soaking wet. Silly.

Otherwise things are fine, I'm keeping my mind focused on Monday when I'll be in the south of Portugal near a beach with my Mom. That'll be great. Until then I'll stick with my mood of discontent.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I'm in a haze. A bored, busy haze.

Its 1am Thursday morning. In about 2 days I head off for a near month traveling. This has meant that I also needed to get school work organized, as well as my plans for May organized prior to departure. When I get back at the end of the month I'll be in town for about 5 days before I leave to meet my lovely cousin in Berlin so there's getting that ready, and other trips as well. As summer approaches it becomes more important to book things in advance. April marks the very early start of high season here in Europe which means that things start to get busier, tours booked, hostels have no vacancies, and prices go up. May and June will be especially busier and more expensive so I want to get organized to get the most bang for my buck.

Today I booked my last trip - in the middle of June, after I'm done classes I have about 2 weeks before I fly home which will be split between Normandy (I fit it in!), Scotland, and visiting my cousin in England!

I've started to pile things that I need to pack for this next 25 days, the pile isn't too big yet and I hope it stays that way. This'll test my true ability to pack light - especially because the pack I bought and brought is more a 4-5 day pack at max, but basically I'll take the same amount of stuff and just do laundry more often. My main problem at the moment is what shoes to bring.

Anyways, its clear I'm rambling, and I need to be getting off to bed. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Teaser Trailer

I don't really have the energy for any proper updates today. Here are a few pictures of the beautiful flowers I saw at Keukenhof on Sunday.

I think I fell in love with flowers all over again. It was quite magical.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two Fifths. Forty Percent. Zero Point Four.

Two months. It was two months ago today, well almost today, that I moved here. It is actually after midnight here now so two months ago yesterday but considering that due to the time difference I arrived a full 24 hours after I left (the evening of the 27th) I'll count this as 2 months of me being in the Netherlands. That means I'm two months down, three to go and I'm certain that April will disappear before it arrives because I'll be gone for all but four days of it.

I wrote a much longer blog update today about all sorts of things but I don't know if I really liked it. I talked about how I found it odd that I find it so normal to be here and how I think that it is because I know that I'm not here for very long so I don't really get lonesome for home. I still think this is mostly true, life is pretty normal, I go to school, buy groceries, do homework, watch tv, etc., I just happen to do these things here. It all seems so normal sometimes. So here I was, not feeling homesick, then I went on to make a list of things that I miss from home and well, it made me miss home. Ha, good job right? What was I thinking.

I think I'm a little overwhelmed with all the plans I have. Tomorrow I'm headed to a giant tulip garden, then off to Den Haag - the capital and centre of politics and the royal family here in the Netherlands - for the night, then starting April I will be so busy that I think my head might explode and my body will give out. I mean, yes I'm excited and I know it'll be amazing but I always feel like right before I'm on the cusp of an adventure my head catches up with my heart and a little pang of "Is this too much for me to handle" creeps up and I get stressed.

It would be unreasonable for this to not happen. If I could just go traveling for a whole month without a little stress I wouldn't be normal. And besides after its done and I come back here, the stress'll be worth it and I'll be able to say "if I can do that I can do anything." The good thing is most of my next trips involve others so I won't be going solo, at least not for all of it. And I will have plenty of time to be lazy when I get home - family campout is going to be divine - so I just push those, "I'd rather be lazy" thoughts out of my head. I'm pretty sure it is just fear masked in stress playing as a desire to be lazy and to that I say, "Oh hells no!"

Well either way traveling is amazing and stressful. Its just part and parcel. "Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions" - Peter Hoeg

Below is the list I was making about what I miss, I left out family and friends because that is a given. I miss you guys tons. Nothing replaces a great friend or the comfort I have in the company of my family.

Things that I miss from home:
  • An extensive cereal aisle - I love all the options at home, here there is hardly a cereal section at all
  • Jemaine, as much as I wouldn't need a car here I do love having one at home - I will be excited to drive again, I do love driving
  • My kitchen at home - no matter how dirty we ever let it get it was never every not even close to as much of a disaster as the one I have to use on a daily basis
  • Knowing what you are buying in the grocery store, it takes so long to figure out what everything is and what brands to buy
  • The rest of my wardrobe - packing light sucks
  • Lazy nights in front of the tv
  • Saigon. Oh Saigon. I've yet to find a Vietnamese restaurant here
  • Breakfast dates - breakfast food just isn't the same here
  • A "comfortable" couch - that is in quotations because neither of the couches at my house are really that comfortable, but a couch to stretch out on is a luxury I miss
  • My brother's Keurig coffee maker - don't get me wrong, the coffee when you are out is wonderful but my instant coffee isn't, well it isn't awful, but it isn't good
  • Soccer! That sounds silly, because football is everywhere here, I mean I miss playing soccer with my team
Things I know I will miss from Holland:
  • Biking, everywhere
  • The peanut butter - I can't even buy it anymore because I eat it so fast, it is amazing
  • Stroopwafels - another treat I don't keep in the house because I eat them so fast
  • The ease with which I get to spend money here, it is a little liberating and slightly terrifying, but mostly terrifying
  • The fact that almost all of my weekend plans include being in a different country
  • Hearing church bells ring out beautiful songs/chimes periodically throughout the day
  • The fresh food market, it is so accessible and on every other day
  • Being called out every time I say 'out' with too much 'oot'
  • Cooking like I know what I'm doing, not being able to read instructions makes me a much more creative chef
Today I went to the library to get some school work done. The pictures are not that great because it was bright outside which makes all the dark silouettes but hopefully you can get the idea.

Josefin and Tess hard at work

The view from my seat, please note the spire on the left

From the inside looking out, 5th floor

Looking down from the 5th floor

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Don't be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of" - Charles Richards

I wanted to wish my BIG brother a HAPPY BIRTHDAY today! I was thinking about it and he is definitely a grown up now. He moved to a new city, got a real job, lives with his girlfriend who also has a real job. Wowzers, what an adult. Maybe that means that I'm not too far away from being a real adult too? Hope you are having a great day!

There's a department store here in town, as well as in every town I've been to in the Netherlands. It is kind of like The Bay in Canada, you know, it has nice stuff, name brand things and high quality goods. They also have a Sephora inside their store. Today they started their store wide sale and as part of their sale Sephora had their Sephora brand make-up on 3 for 10 euros, which for almost anything there is an amazing deal. I didn't really need anything but I thought I would go along with the girls who were going this morning for when the store opened.

It was pretty hectic inside. I quickly decided any make-up I purchased would simply be for the sake that it was on sale so I decided to go look at the luggage - as the sale was store-wide. I decided shortly after arriving that I would have to buy a different suitcase to take home. Well really I packed really well but both my bags were totally full. This wasn't a problem as my backpacking pack was one of those bags, but it isn't very big so it didn't fit very much stuff.

So I went and found this hardcover suitcase - they seem to be all the rage these days - and the best part was it was on sale for almost $50 off, well that wasn't really the best part, the best part was the colour selection. Ha, you can laugh now. It actually took me so long to decide between a gorgeous purple or a green. I always say green is my favorite colour but lately everything I buy is purple. I guess these things come in waves. I ended up picking the green one, I figured it was more gender neutral. ha. I'm excited about how easy it will be to find on the luggage cart at the airport. Anyways, I paid for it and as I was wheeling it out to find the girls in the makeup section I looked down and it matched perfectly to the shoes I was wearing. Ridiculous.

I had to leave to get the suitcase home before heading to class as I needed to stop to print my paper that was due today. So I biked my suitcase home, feeling really satisfied with how Dutch I'd gotten, carrying a suitcase on my bike. I made it almost the whole way home before my arm got so tired I was having so much trouble still holding on. I tried to pick it up a little more and shift it to make it easier. Then everything went awry. I don't know what happened but it got wedged in between my handlebars and my bike veered, I couldn't get it out of the handlebars, I was going down, and fast. Luckily for me I was around the only place that had grass, I veered and crashed hard into the soft muddy grass. Nothing was hurt, the suitcase came away with a few scratches and my bike handles were crooked, but I fixed it. Silly. I guess I've still got a lot to learn about being Dutch.

I went to class, then stuck around the cafeteria area to do some homework for a few hours because I had a group meeting shortly after. Nothing too eventful happened for the rest of the day, took a nap, ate some dinner, and I'm supposed to go out to a dress up party - something about fairy tales, but I've no costume and I refuse to spend my money on anything like that. Should be a pretty fun night.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Preparation and bookwormery

Today my package from Amazon arrived! It was full of books and I am really excited about it :)

I had a wonderfully productive day, I was up nice and early, around 8am and started in on some homework. (Anecdotally: I ran into a girl in the kitchen while I was making a cup of coffee, she asked me what I was doing up so early. It was 10am. ha. So many people here are never awake earlier than Noon, and for them that is early. She was up to study for a test, she informed me she is almost never awake before 1 or 2pm. I like my routine better.) I got my section of my group paper written, edited, and sent off, then edited my paper that is due tomorrow. From there I moved on to doing some readings for my other class. I'm trying to get ahead in every class so when I start the marathon travel extravaganza that is going to start in April and last until the beginning of June I won't have to stress about school.

In the afternoon I started looking seriously into my adventures in April. I'm not sure if you are aware, but my Mom is coming to visit me! Yay! She is going to follow me around on the first leg of my trip in April. We'll spend a few days in Amsterdam before departing for Portugal, followed by Barcelona, at which time she leaves to head back home. So I spent most of my afternoon looking up accommodations, things to do, and the like. It does take time.

Tonight I had evening class. I felt really sorry for the prof because he was an awful lecturer. He clearly loved the subject matter and wanted everyone else to care but the message was so lost in his lack of presentation skills - he just read off his paper for an hour and a half. I wanted to be interested but my brain was having none of it.

I think I'm fairly organized for the rest of my travels, but mostly it means I will be busy 100% of the time, either studying, traveling, or taking a test, oh and there might be the casual sleeping, but it is likely that will just take place on trains and planes. Ha. I'm not going to give you all the details yet because it will be more exciting if I just tell you what I'm up to right before I go. It will give the illusion of spontaneity, even though I know where I'll be almost everyday from now until July 4th - at least relatively.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sunny Tuesdays

Today a friend and I headed down to the city centre with our laptops to do some homework in the sun.

This was what happened:

Not really surprising.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Decor that Inspires

My Bookshelf

I told you about my last book after I finished it so I figured I could keep you updated in what I'm reading lately. Being on so many trains so often has granted me long stretches of time to fall into books and devour them quickly.

To recap, since I've been here I've finished:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - coming of age story, the realities of life and love but with a dark twist, recently made into a movie; not really what you expect, short and sweet

Secret Daughter by Shipli S Gowda - story about family and seeing the blessings you have in life; really lovely, I'd recommend

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali - personal memoirs of Ayaan's struggle growing up Somali and moving around Africa to avoid war, finally running away to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage; controversial and thought provoking, there were descriptions of her own forced female circumcision as a child that were difficult to read and impossible to forget

And most recently, Hungry by Crystal Renn
I found this book by accident while walking through Costco and picked it up. It is a memoir of Crystal's experiences in the modeling industry. As a tween she was told she could be a model, if she lost some weight. So she starts dieting and looses tons of weight, throwing herself head first into anorexia, but she gets a modeling contract and moves to New York. The book is about her childhood, her struggle, and eventually how she decided to be happy over thin and is now the number one plus sized model in the world. You've probably seen her in magazines.

It was a simple read and pretty interesting, I liked how she tied in a great deal of research on disordered eating and the modeling industry into her story. At times I found it difficult to carry on reading with what seemed like endless descriptions of photo shoots she was on but generally the story is uplifting and she talks about being healthy and most importantly happy with the body you are given.

I'm kind of torn about this book, there were many parts that I could have cheered what she was saying while others that I questioned her logic. Definitely had me thinking about things a little differently, and that is never a bad thing. It was a good, simple read.

For right now I'm impatiently waiting for a package from to arrive with a set of new books for me to get my teeth into.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lovely Delft

Yesterday morning I struggled to get out of bed. Lately I've been staying up quite late, not really on purpose but it seems like all of a sudden it is 1:30am and then I head to bed. Friday night I was tired but couldn't really sleep so when my alarm went off at 7am I was having none of it. I knew I had to get up so I could catch the 3 hour train in order to get to Delft at a reasonable hour but it was so hard. I did it, eventually; got out of bed that is. I even made it to my train on time.

Delft is quite near Den Haag (The Hague) and Rotterdam and as previously mentioned, it takes about 3 hours by train.
The prospect of 3 hours on a train isn't a great one, especially not one way for a day trip. It'd be like driving to Edmonton from Calgary for a few hours of sightseeing before heading home. The difference, of course, is that I don't have to drive and I don't have to buckle up. I've taken to reading - a lot - on the train. Its been good for holding my attention and making the time pass.

Delft is primarily known for its typically Dutch town center (with canals), the painter Vermeer, Delft Blue pottery (Delftware), and its association with the Dutch royal family (the House of Orange-Nassau). -wiki

Vemeer Painting you might recognize; Girl with a Pearl Earring


Well, enough of the lesson. I arrived in town just before noon and it was lovely out and the city was bustling. I think city centre's tend to be really busy on Saturdays here for the obvious reasons, but on top of the fact that its the weekend, everything is closed here on Sundays so people have to do their shopping on Saturdays.

The town lays out quite small and was perfect for walking around. I took in all the sights, bought a fresh stroopwafel the size of my head, and enjoyed the sunshine.

I knew I wanted to get something 'delftware' to take home and I'd set my mind on finding a set of tea cups and saucers. This was a great idea I thought. I'd love an adorable tea set. From what I've read you have to search and make sure that the pottery has actually been painted there because otherwise it has probably come from China. So I looked and the prices were huge - no surprise really - lovely and the attention paid to each item deserves the high prices. I ended up getting some other things instead of a tea cups and saucers but I'm really happy about them. I am also almost certain that they are from China, but I'm ok with that too. Poor students can't be choosers.

I spent most of my day strolling around or just sitting in the sun watching everyone else stroll around. It was a lovely day. I was glad that I had gone to a small town because it meant that I could get home a little earlier than planned. I have to say the train ride there is always better than the train ride home. I think at the end of the day I'm always tired and just want to be home. I got back to Groningen around 7pm, had some dinner and planned to go to bed early, which of course I did not do.

Today I'll be doing homework, working on a group assignment, tidying my room, etc.

Hope you are having a great weekend.

Here are a few pictures from my day in Delft.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Budgets are good but annoying.

Happy Belated St. Paddy's Day! Hope you had a good one.

I'd hoped to post here tonight saying that tomorrow I'd be heading into Northern France to visit some important WWII D-Day Beaches in Normandy. Sadly, hostels or hotels of any reasonable price could not be found and it turned into two full days of travel with very little time of actual touring. It is still on my list but this weekend I think I'll stick close to home. Well I'll stay in the Netherlands that is. Tomorrow I've decided to head to Delft. I've heard it is adorable! This way I can still come back here tomorrow night and avoid paying for a nights stay. This will also allow me to do some homework that I really do need to get to. I have a group meeting Tuesday morning so I would have had to cut my trip short anyways.

On Sunday there is an international dinner here on my floor, that means everyone is going to cook something that is typical from their country. I have to find something Canadian. I've had some requests for pancakes (of the fluffy variety) with maple syrup. I of course, did not bring maple syrup, but you can buy it in the grocery store - for a high fee. I think I'll make blueberry or chocolate chip ones, or maybe I'll make a batch of each. My friend Meghan suggested I make poutine, I'll be honest, poutine is delicious, but I've only ever had it twice in my life and I don't really know if you need some sort of special cheese curds..? If I knew how to make Beaver Tails I might do it just for the hilarity of the thing.

Do you have any suggestions for some "Canadian" food I could make?

Oh, PS, thanks for all the book suggestions :rolleyes

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rotterdam and Kinderdijk

Yesterday I took the train, well actually if you count it out I took 5 trains (total, there and back), to Rotterdam. The other day I mentioned that it was largely destroyed by bombings during WWII and as such the city is much more modern than other areas of the Netherlands. In fact I kept forgetting that I was in fact in Holland. It was disorienting.

I tried to follow a walking tour of the city that was in my Lonely Planet The Netherlands travel book but it was quite confusing because the streets weren't labeled very clearly and I was too cheap to buy a map. Sometimes guided tours are great, but other times I think that they just confuse the joy of discovery. Anyways, I found most of the items on the walking tour rather uninspiring. I think that if you were a fan of architecture, well new architecture, you would have liked it but to me it was just a lot of tall office buildings.

There were a few things that had me stop and take notice but generally I felt like all the walking was for not. Rather unrewarding. I skipped a lot of the things I was supposed to see. Not like it was awful, but I think if you go to Rotterdam you need to take your bike or rent one. It isn't really a walking city. There were some really nice parts though.

After I walked around the city for a few hours I boarded a waterbus that would take me in the direction of Kinderdijk, a Unesco World Heritage site that has maintained 19 windmills, some of which date back to the 18th century. All of which is surrounded by canals. It really was a sight to see. So you take this waterbus for about half an hour, then catch another smaller ferry boat to Kinderdijk - which I think is actually a town?

It was great, I guess in the summer time when tourist numbers are high almost all of the windmills will be running. They are all kept in working order. I'd say, from where I went you could see about 4 or 5 running. They wooshed and just looked majestic. They were also scattered, or at least looked scattered. I'm sure there was some order to them but having them all over facing different directions added to the charm.

By the time I made it to the park area my back was dying and I was tired. I didn't walk too far in but it was ok, they had benches so I just relaxed and took it all in. Seeing these windmills definitely made my trip to Rotterdam worth it.

Eventually I made my way back to the ferry to catch the waterbus. Although there was a park I wanted to see, I wanted to get home more - it is about 3hours on the train and it was almost 5:30 at this point.

I caught the train just after 6pm. Lucky that on the way back I only had to switch trains once. It is kind of nice riding the train, I get insane amounts of reading done, and the book I'm reading held my interest the whole way. I love that, when you can read a book forever and never get tired of it. Some books become tiring to read. I will admit that the last two hours on the train always seem exhausting and I always want to just be home already but its ok. You see there is always at least a 2 hour train ride between me and any travels I do. That is an exhausting thought.

I made it home, watched more Mad Men, and went to bed.

I was actually quite excited to be able to have a quiet - sit around - morning/day that didn't involve me getting on a train. ha. It is tiring sometimes.

So back to my book; it is Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which is her memoir of growing up Somalian and moving around in Africa to avoid wars until she eventually runs away to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage. I heard about her on CBCs Q. I didn't realize how influential she was in the Netherlands when I started reading the book and didn't really think about it much, I was more interested in her personal story but she's actually been mentioned in my classes here. She has since had her Dutch citizenship removed and lives in the US, she is a activist for women's rights. It is eye opening, thought provoking, and shocking book. It was interesting to read because her ideas are controversial so it really makes you look at yourself and consider your own point of view and knowledge on the matter.

I'm practically done and I'm looking for something else to read. Suggestions? Keep in mind that it'll have to be a popular book in order for me to find it in English here so I don't have to pay high shipping prices from the UK.

Otherwise, here are some pictures from yesterday (facebook for more):