Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sweden!

My increased travel continues! Last weekend, I went to Sweden. My program is set up such that for this semester half of my cohort is in Groningen with me and the other half is in Uppsala, Sweden. I have been wanting to go back to Sweden since the second we left at the end of summer school, but it kept not working out! It's tough to get to Sweden cheaply... But when we found out we had a long weekend between our second and third courses, a friend and I finally bit the bullet and payed more than we wanted to, but we got tickets!

So last Friday, we left out dorm at 8:45 AM. We then took a 3 hour train ride to Eindhoven (the only Ryanair airport in the Netherlands-Bremen, Germany is closer but didn't have good flights). After the train ride, there was a 20 minute bus ride to the airport. Then a 2 hour flight (and associated check-in and waiting time). Then a 1.5 hour train ride from Stockholm-Skavsta airport to the city of Stockholm. Then a 45 minute train ride to Uppsala. We didn't get in until 9pm... Same thing on the way home. It was a TON of traveling. But totally worth it.

Friday night one of my classmates cooked a Brazilian dinner, and we all hung out and ate until late, then grabbed a bus home and sat in the kitchen of our host's dorm floor and talked to some of his floormates-a Swedish guy and an Italian guy, both drunk. We learned the general rule that Swedish people will only really talk when they're drunk. And talk he did! It was a very interesting conversation though, and lots of fun. Went to bed way too late, of course.

Saturday we woke up and looked out the window to realize with shock and jealousy that our classmate's dorm room basically had the view you'd expect in a ski chalet-it was on top of a hill and his floor was just at the tree canopy height, with beautiful snow covered conifers everywhere. Really gorgeous. After gushing for a while, we bundled up and headed out. We were actually quite lucky with the weather. It was only around -10C/14F while we were there, whereas it has been as cold as -22C/-8F the week before. BRRRRRR. I'm not saying -10 is warm, but it's warmER. Weather is such a relative thing :)

Saturday was spent checking out the town, which I absolutely loved. Though it only has about half the population of Groningen, it feels both bigger and cuter at the same time. It only took me about half an hour to decide that I am DEFINITELY spending a semester in Sweden during my two years in Europe. The plan is to go Spring 2012. Plan your visits accordingly.

It was so nice to be in a place with both hills and forests! Uppsala is quite hilly, with several parks and gardens of various types, some cool university buildings and museums, a cathedral where Linnaeus is buried, a river running through the center of town, and more. It really was gorgeous.







And there is fika! Fika is a Swedish tradition where you have coffee and pie/cake sometime in the afternoon. I think you can do it any day of the week, but the big thing is to do it do the weekend. We had fika Saturday afternoon (ours included sandwiches for lunch). It was great! 

Saturday night was spent checking out the nightlife. Students in Uppsala join "Nations" which are social clubs. You basically have to join them, as they are the main social entities. Alcohol (and everything else) is expensive in Sweden, and the nations have cheap alcohol. Each nation has it's own pub/bar/dance area, but once you're a member of a nation (or a weekend guest) you can go to any nation. We did a bit of a pub crawl, checking out the nations of several of our classmates, which was really cool. There were also snowball fights. A lot of them. So much fun. So much fun, in fact, that we only got an hour of sleep Saturday night before we had to get up and leave to go home. That was not so wonderful, but as you probably remember, we had a lot of transportation time to sleep...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Best German Birthday Weekend Ever!

I had a birthday a few weeks ago. Not so comfortable with that. I am now undeniably in my mid-20s. BUT, to celebrate, some friends and I headed to Germany to visit the Christmas markets! The Netherlands has a weird holiday season. They have a guys called Sinterklaas (much more skinny and religious than Santa). He is an ex-Turkish bishop now living in Spain. Every year in late November, he comes from Spain on a steamship with his "Black Petes"  as helpers. They actually put on a huge show in Dutch towns, with a whole armada coming into town though the canals. It's cool. The Black Petes are played by white people in black-face and dressed up in bright costumes. So wrong. Note that this boat is from Spain.


So once Sinterklaas is in town, he hangs out for a while and then on the night of Dec 4/5 (Belgium) and 5/6 (Netherlands) you put your shoes in front of the chimney/radiator and the Black Petes come in and put candy in your shoes. Then, completely separately, there is Christmas with some presents. Not the US Christmas extravaganza, but a much smaller thing. And Christmas trees, but only after Sinterklaas (the 5th).

ANYWAY, the result of this, somehow, is that the Netherlands really hasn't felt very Christmasy. Germany, on the other hand, knows how to celebrate a religious-turned-commercial holiday--decorations and shopping! My friend came to visit and knew this, and so we went to Germany to check out the markets. Best decision ever! My birthday was on a Saturday, and another friend's was Sunday, so we headed over to Germany for the whole weekend.

Saturday was in Bremen. The market there is huge and wanders through several interlinked squares in the center of town. There were tons of stalls with great German food (sausage, pork sandwiches, candy, everything), Gluhwein (hot spiced wine which was very important given that it was several degrees below freezing the whole weekend and we were outside the whole time), jewelry, and tons of Christmas ornaments and other paraphernalia. Totally awesome. This picture is walking up to the market. The picture isn't very good, but once I got inside, I was too distracted to take many pictures!

We stayed Saturday night in Bremen and drank German beer and Gluhwein past midnight in order to celebrate both birthdays. It was fantastic. We also visited the statue of the Bremen Town Musicians (from a Brothers Grimm tale). I love this statue!



Then Sunday my friend visiting (sorta) from the States and I headed to Munster for another dose of Christmas
market cheer. It was a short, pretty train ride (I saw hills and forests for the first time in months)! Munster has a different Christmas market style, so it was fun to see both. Instead of having one huge market, Munster had 5 markets spread out along a ring around town. Each market had a general specialty, although you could get most things in most markets if you looked. We ended up with enough time to check them all out, which was great. Munster seemed more focused on crafts, which I really liked. I got all kinds of cool stuff! Munster was also a very pretty town. Tons of churches, and there is a small river that runs through town, but along it is a nice greenway. Nice way to cut through to the various markets!

Then, sadly, way too fast, it was Sunday evening and I was on a train home. But I got another birthday present Monday night-an awesome Foals concert in Amsterdam. The traveling, plus birthday wishes and great presents from here and home, made it a really amazing birthday!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dorm Thanksgiving!

Yes, this post is a little late, but I wanted you all to know that we did it! Dorm kitchen, no oven, and yet we created a really respectable meal! It was me, a visiting friend, and the other girl from the US in my program. Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and deviled eggs. We found a jar of cranberry sauce, but everything else was homemade. I think we all surprised ourselves!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A weekend in Belgium

When I was growing up, my family had first nannies and then Au Pairs (nannies that came through a formal program instead of through family and friends in New Zealand). The last Au Pair, Fatim, was from Belgium and spent a year with us when I was 15-16. She was only about 8 years older than me, and we were more friends than anything else, so when she found out I was going to be in the Netherlands, she immediately invited me to her place near Brussels anytime I wanted. Yay!

It took a while after the semester started, but I finally got a free weekend and booked a train ticket. I unfortunately picked the weekend Brussels almost floated away (more on that later), so the trains were late, but I arrived in Brussels on a cool and wet Friday night. Fatim and I wandered around a bit, checked out the Grand Place at night-beautiful, and had a nice dinner at a cute Italian place.


I also realized almost immediately that my French needs serious work. I took it for five years in high school, seven years ago, and haven't used it much since. Back then I was pretty good. Now though, while I could tell the French was in there somewhere, I was having a lot of trouble making sentences. My understanding was much better, but still rough. Fatim and her husband both speak English (each lived in the States for a year) but I tried to speak French with them. Unless of course, their cute four year old Elliott was listening and didn't need to understand! I did feel bad though, when he would talk to me in French and I couldn't understand. It usually wasn't too bad, as we would continue playing anyway, but I knew he wanted me to know what he was asking. Grr. Fatim reminded me though (sign of how long I've been away from young children) that at that age he wasn't using real words or sentences, which made me feel better.

It was nice though, to be in a (part of a) country where I could usually read signs and understand train announcements. They live in the southern French part of Belgium, but Brussels is French/Flemish (Dutch) and the northern half of the country is Flemish.  And whoa is the split weird. Half the country speaks each language and in Brussels everything is in both languages. The weirdest part though, was that each half translates the names of cities in the other half. And they apparently literally translate them, not just change pronunciation or a few letters. What does that mean? Antwerpen (which English speakers call Antwerp) is called Anvers in the French part of the country. Lille=Rijsel, Tornai=Doornik, etc. And once you're in a certain part of the country, they only use their name for the city, so if you're looking for the "right" name, you'll never find it.

After diner Friday night, we made the 45 minute drive out to Fatim's house in the country (everything in Belgium is 45 minutes from Brussels). The house was so cool! It's from 1817 and is beautiful on the inside--exposed wooden beams, tile floors, great upstairs for the kids' rooms. Loved it. And a nice large yard I never set foot in. It was a holiday weekend in Belgium, and unfortunately absolutely poured from Thursday morning (start of the holiday) until Sunday night. Monday was gorgeous, Fatim told me later. The rain ended up being a huge problem, as Brussels just doesn't get rain like that and so is not designed to handle it. Lots of road and tunnel closures and accidents. And slow trains.

Anyway. Saturday morning after an awesome breakfast of croissants from the local baker, Fatim and I headed back into Brussels. The family didn't come because the parents knew the children would last about half an hour in the cold rain before being done with it all. Our first stop was the Atomium, a huge atom-looking thing that is a leftover from the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels. It looks exactly like what was considered futuristic in the 1950s. So funny. But very cool-we got to climb inside it and look out for great view of Brussels.


After the Atomium we headed to the Renee Magritte museum, which was awesome. Google him, you'll recognize the stuff probably. A surrealist. It was a great collection, which we found out was because it was all loans from various collections and that the museum is only going to be open as long as people don't ask for the pieces back, which could be whenever, so I'm really excited we got to see it.

Saturday night was a nice dinner at home with the family. Good wine and cheese and conversation. And lots of playing savanna animals with the new lion toy Fatim had found Elliott since he couldn't come with us to Brussels. My favorite animal was the tiger that Elliott decided was "a lion made up as a tiger." He referred to it that way all weekend, without fail. Good memory! He also opened an imaginary restaurant where we tried his chocolate-carrot-coconut-something-else-really-odd soup. It was so much fun to be in a real house with a family again, instead of my impersonal dorm and with classmates around my age. The 10 month old was both teething and sick, so he wasn't happy, but the rest of us had a great time.

Sunday morning was crepes-delicious again! Then we got ready and headed off to Fatim's parents' house near Brussels. Her parents were really excited to finally get to meet someone from the family she had spent her year in the States with, and since they are Moroccan, they decided to show their excitement by feeding us. I've now learned that Moroccans do not feed you halfway. We ate skewers of meat with bread to dip in the juice, then couscous with chicken-vegetable sauce (and that you eat with sour milk, which was good), and then there was fruit and mint tea and cookies. But my descriptions aren't doing the meal any kind of justice. The food was amazing and the quantities were unreal. I'm pretty sure her parents could have eaten off the leftovers for a week. It was a lot of fun hanging out with Fatim's parents and a brother and sister. They were all very nice and understanding of my slow French. I'll also take it as a good sign that they kept talking at normal speed and I was following pretty well!

After stuffing ourselves to oblivion, it was goodbyes all around and then I was off to the train station. But my weekend in Belgium was fantastic and I'm looking forward to going back. I've discovered that there are  cheap flights from my future French town of Montpellier to Brussels, so that will be fun. I have to go back to try what I learned is a Belgian specialty-fries and mussels. And more beer and chocolate.

George is dead

There are awesome travel updates coming, I swear, but for now, I just want you to know that my latest plant-rearing experiment is now over. George the Aster is dead. I blame it on the lack of sun, which caused me to leave him on the windowsill over the weekend while I was gone in hopes the sun might come out and make him happy. It did not and George got cold. And when I came home and rescued him from the windowsill, I might have put him in front of the heater, which was on high due to it being unholy cold. How cold? The high temperature today was -6 Celsius (21F). The HIGH. With lots and lots of wind. They think it might get above freezing sometime next week...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

American enough?

Before coming to Europe, I hoped I would be able to avoid any ugly American moments and that I could maybe help remove (or at least soften) some stereotypes of Americans in my classmates or other people around me. I really shouldn't have worried though-almost no one can tell my nationality. I've had one instance of "Uh, duh, of course you're American," which was apparently based on "the way [I] talk" and another when a guy on the train knew because I had my Nalgene bottle, and "all Americans have those." Other than that though, people can't seem to figure it out. I don't have any of the American accents they've heard on TV or in movies and my behavior doesn't give me away either.  If anyone does venture a guess, which is rare, they usually go with British. And almost everyone seems surprised when I'm American. It's interesting. I did give myself away to a guy on my floor by mentioning Halloween--that did it immediately.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Hague

I've recently decided that while school is important, I've got to stop letting it keep me from other things I want to do, like travel. So last Wednesday, instead of running to Zwolle and running home to do the piles of work I had, I enjoyed the town. And I signed up for the ESN excursion to The Hague. I believe ESN is the international student organization for Europe, with ESN=Erasmus Student Network, and most of the international students here are other Europeans doing their Erasmus, which is a semester or year abroad. I think it's government funded... Anyway, they organize parties and international dinners and excursions, etc. And last Saturday was the excursion to The Hague. 

I had actually been to the Hague when I was here six years ago. I came with a friend who had lived here, and we stayed in Scheveningen, a beach town just outside the Hague. But we had mainly visited with her friends instead of seeing the city, and it had been a while, and I wanted out of Groningen, so I found myself waiting in the dark at 7AM on Saturday for a bus to take me and 50 of my closest friends to the Hague (I did go with a few friends from  my program).

Once on the bus I feel asleep immediately, waking up sporadically to either sunshine or torrential downpour. Each time, I hoped it wouldn't rain on us and feel back asleep. Three hours later, we arrived in the Hague. It was cold and grey, but not raining.

First was a city tour, given by an awesome skinny guy in a big leather biker jacket. We walked through the Binnenhof, and awesome castle-like compound where the Dutch parliament meets. It's also where the prime minister hosts the queen on Fridays (American giggle). 
 The place was a castle...
...with a church and some large meeting halls. Very cool.

After the Binnenhof, we walked through the city a bit, including going down a few big beautiful avenues I liked. 


We then went to the Queen's working palace. Of course she has separate working and living palaces--don't you??  I'm now done being amused by royalty, at least for this post, I swear.

After the tour was my favorite part of the day--the M.C. Escher museum! I had no idea he was Dutch, but he was, and the museum was awesome! It had a broad range of his work, including some early, more representational work I had no idea he'd done, as well as some of the famous tessellations. There was also a crazy but interesting exhibit of chandeliers by someone whose name escapes me. But there were everything from dolphins to bombs to a skull and crossbones hanging from the ceiling in the exhibit rooms. Very cool.

After the museum there was free/lunch time. On the cold day (it was now also drizzling) a friend and I decided to try something warm and exotic and stumbled into an amazing Indonesian restaurant. At least I think it was amazing. I haven't ever had Indonesian before, but we walked in, started at the menu for a while, and then the owner came and told us that since we had no idea what we were doing, he was going to give us a good intro. And did he. We apparently got one of the daily specials and some spare rice. But what came out was unbelievable. Small bowls of beef, bamboo shoots, green beans, soup, eggs, and all kinds of other things in great and various sauces/spices. Even the starches were amazing. One was a fried rice that was quite spicy and had lots of minced meat in it, and the other was friend noodles, which weren't really hard, but were just interesting and delicious. Definitely recommend Indonesian food if you come across it.

After that amazing lunch, we met the bus and headed to Madurodam, probably the cheesiest thing all day (you can decide after you read about the Binky Bear). Madurodam is a tourist attraction where they have miniature models of famous and representative (of time period, style, etc) buildings from Holland and they form a city and a harbor and a country area, etc. It's kind of interesting to see places you've been and maybe pick a few other things you want to go see, but it's really goofy. And they gave us 2 hours in this place, the longest we were anywhere all day. It's not big at all, and we really could have done FINE with about 45 minutes. Oh well, they had a cafe. By this point (5pm) I needed coffee.

After our extensive exploration of miniature Holland, it was time to head to Scheveningen and the beach. Only wait, it was now dark outside. And pouring. Why they planned the beach part of the trip last, and in the dark, I cannot understand. But anyway. As there was no need for the planned "free time at the beach," we headed straight to the restaurant. Which was called Binky Bear. When I saw that in the itinerary, I couldn't decide if we were eating in a strip club or a Chuck-E-Cheese. Really, I could have seen it going either way. Turns out there is a chain of restaurants in south Holland all named "something that starts with a B" Bear, as in Bella Bear, Bruno Bear, etc. We just happened to get the Binky Bear. Binky is a pirate. You know, seashore and all, it makes sense... The place turned out to be a kids restaurant. The decorations though, were so odd. The inside of the restaurant made me think it had been a ship-themed place before--thick wooden beams all over the roof and huge wooden columns. But now? Now there are teddy bears ALL OVER the walls. Hundreds of bears of different sizes all (nailed?) on the walls. And then weird creepy plastic chandeliers. I didn't get it at all. Either the decorations or why a group of college kids walked past several hundred yards of normal restaurants to eat there.

Odd, but great. It was an awesome day and trip! The Hague seems pretty cool, and I would be interested in wandering around there again.

But before I start going back to places, I'm going to see different ones! This weekend should be great--I'm heading to Brussels to see a friend and meet her family (husband and kids, all new since I saw her last)! Very excited. And I'm going to a concert in a few hours! Finally, the weekend (almost) arrives! I needed a break.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Zwolle

On Tuesday, I got an email that my residence permit was ready and that I had to go to Zwolle, about an hour away by train, to pick it up. Conveniently, Wednesday was our first day off! I slept late and enjoyed a bit of a lazy SUNNY morning, then headed to the train station. There, I ran into the other North American girls (one from the US, one from Canada) who also had to get their permits. We hopped on the train and were off.  It's a straight ride to Zwolle, so we relaxed until the ticket checker came and we discovered that the Canadian girl's ticket had absolutely vanished. We checked everywhere! The ticket later mysteriously showed up in the Zwolle station all on its own...But the ticket guy didn't come back around before we got to Zwolle, so all was well. We had to go to a boring industrial area near the station to grab the permits, but now I'm officially a resident of the Netherlands!

I had checked the map and decided that the rest of Zwolle might be fun to explore for the rest of the nice sunny afternoon, so we (just the other US girl and me-Canada had to go) headed into town. So glad we did! It was a really cute town in a classically European way-small windy streets with cute buildings and nice squares and churches.  We had a nice outdoor lunch in a shopping district and then wandered all over town. We also stopped for olliebollen, which are basically large balls of fried dough covered in powdered sugar, very much in the funnel cake style. Delicious!


I really loved Zwolle. It felt very different from Groningen, which I think has decided it wants to be a big city (since it is the largest one in the area) and so doesn't really feel cute and small and European the way Zwolle did. I do, however, need to explore more of Groningen before I can pass final judgment on it. I just need some free afternoons! This whole going to school in Europe thing is really getting in the way of my ability to just be in Europe.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

In the grocery store

I forgot to mention in my last post that the Dutch have both the best and worst inventions for in-store grocery carrying. The best? The wheels on the carts move in every direction. Simple, yet wonderful. No more backing up and re-aiming the thing. Just push it in the right direction.

The worst idea, though, is the basket with wheels. It is on a long handle and is the opposite of maneuverable. And people just pull them along behind, not paying any attention to where they might be and who they might be crashing into or tripping up.

It's interesting to have to watch out for the basket people and not worry about the ones with carts!

Monday, October 18, 2010

In de keuken (in the kitchen)

So cooking. I'm no master chef. I can feed myself quite competently, but I tend to get bored with my creations and am really bad at coming up with new things to try (so by the way, feel free/obliged to comment with easy recipes, noting the restriction below). 

One part of cooking that I had become reasonably good at/sort of enjoyed before I left the States was baking-both meals and delicious desserty things. So I get to the Netherlands, and guess what? There's NO OVEN in my dorm kitchen. So yup, back to eating only things I can make on the stove. Awesome. I particularly miss baking, both for stress relief and deliciousness, and the ability to cook certain large meals on Sunday that I can then take for lunch during the week, since the canteen in my building is very limited. Oh-side note: they do have soup every day, and one of them is a mustard soup that both smells and tastes like hot dogs. It's so wrong.

Another odd kitchen thing (which actually applies to any water tap, not just kitchen sinks) is the water temperature. If you turn on the hot water, it will burn the ever-loving whatever out of your fingers. Even touching the tap itself, or the pipes coming out of the wall, is enough to burn you. Example, you say? I was chopping up chicken on a cutting board yesterday. I put the board in the sink, turned on the hot water, and went two steps to grab the soap. When I came back, the board was covered in white stuff. What was it? COOKED chicken scraps. That's hot water. 

The microwave ("magnetron" in Dutch-awesome!) also keeps going after the time is up! It just beeps and goes right along nuking your item. I had at least gotten a bit used to that, as the microwave in my last apartment did the same. I thought it was just an old piece of junk, but apparently it was a fancy European import :)

The grocery stores here are interesting, as they have such a different focus from ones in the US. For example, instead of a deli where they cut meat (and some cheese) there is a whole counter devoted entirely to cheese, and meat only comes packaged. There is also at least twice as much grocery store real estate devoted to junk food as to fruits and vegetables! In the store near me, there is one small island of vegetables. One side consists of 4 types of tomatoes and red, green, and yellow bell peppers, and the other side has random things-leeks, broccoli, etc.-but just a really small selection of good fresh stuff. The rest is bagged. I usually go to the Saturday market, which is infinitely better, and try to stock up for the week. Maybe that's the idea behind the limited grocery store options, but I can't plan that far ahead! One thing I do like in the stores is the huge variety of jarred sauces-curry, sate (peanut sauce), and others. They are fun to try, and are so easy to throw into a pan with some diced chicken and onions for an easy, tasty meal.

Please don't think I don't appreciate the tons of junk food-I consider it an important part of a country's culture and so am making sure to sample it at every opportunity! It's just a little too easy to bypass the minuscule veggie selection and head to the junk food aisle. Don't worry, there will be a junk food post at some point. I just need to try a few more varieties first :)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An aster named George

I've recently had a strong desire to get a plant and name it George. I have absolutely no idea where this desire came from, but that's what I wanted. So today I bought an aster. It has purple flowers and is in a purple pot. I now have a gay plant named George sitting on my windowsill. I think we'll be good friends.

At least until my black thumb kills him.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Amsterdam!

Yup, I went. Amsterdam, the place everyone thinks of when you say "the Netherlands." It's like Atlanta--if I tell people I'm from Georgia, they say, "Oh, Atlanta." Or like since I'm originally from Massachusetts, I'm automatically from Boston. You know. THE city of a particular country/state/whatever.

I had actually been once before, six years ago. I hated it. I'm not usually a fan of large, crowded, hot, smelly, dirty cities. And Amsterdam is the king of large, crowded, hot, smelly, dirty cities, particularly in June, when I was there last. But living in the Netherlands, I knew I was going to have to give it another shot.

So, when one of our professors mentioned that instead of having class on Friday (Sept 24, forgive me, I've been busy!), we were going to go to a conference in Amsterdam, I knew the time had come. There were only a few issues. One, although we had been in Europe for more than a month, those scholarships they promised us still hadn't shown up. Two, we hadn't actually been signed up for the conference. We were on the waiting list, which was not good news to people who really didn't want to spend their last 50 euros on a train ticket to Amsterdam only to not get into the conference and not be able to afford a hostel for the night.

After much debate, nearly everyone went in hopes of good news. And good news it was! While we were waiting to see whether there was room for us in the conference, someone went to an ATM and discovered the scholarships had finally come in! And a few minutes later, we were let into the conference! It was a good 15 minutes.

The conference was called Biodiversity: The Decennium Assessment, because ten years ago there was a call to try to slow  biodiversity loss by the year 2010. We've failed miserably, and so 2010 is the year of biodiversity. Anyway. I won't bore you with the details, but I enjoyed it.

We got out of the conference around 6pm, and found ourselves free in Amsterdam with money! It was quite exciting. An issue though, was that since "the weather has been so nice lately" (I have no idea who decided that) nearly all accommodation in Amsterdam was full. When we couldn't find anything, the other girl in the program from the US called her boyfriend and had him do an internet search for us. The result? A Christian hostel right beside the Red Light District. You'll understand I had certain reservations. But, being desperate, we decided to go with it. Verdict? I am staying there every time we go to Amsterdam. It's cheap, clean, quiet, and breakfast is included. Jackpot. All religious aspects are optional. It was really a great place to stay.

So, accommodation acquired. The weather Friday night was actually within the standard (ie, not Dutch crazy person) definition of nice, so we decided to wander. It was beautiful. The hostel, while being near the Red Light District, is actually right beside an area called Nieuw Markt, which is a great square with lots of little outdoor restaurants and bars.  We had some fantastic Thai food, and then we set off. We wandered through the Red Light District, of course. It's a funny area to walk through. Lots of sex (toy) shops, strip clubs, etc, and then the few alleys with the curtains, red lights, and ladies. You've all heard of it.

After the Red Light district, we found a street with lots of bars. None of the people I was with really felt like drinking, so we just walked and people watched, which was great. Even early on Friday, it's clear most people who came to Amsterdam to get "messed up" have succeeded. We only lasted there for a little while.

One thing about Amsterdam is that is is built on concentric half-circle canals. What does that mean in practical terms? Keep walking and you'll end where you started. It was amazing the number of times that night we got back to a place we'd already been and had no idea how we'd done so. But it was fun. Really, when you're wandering around a scene like this, how do you not enjoy it?


So yes, we had a nice calm, boring night wandering around Amsterdam. And then slept in the nice, quiet Christian hostel.

Saturday

We started with FOAM, the photography museum. I had really high hopes, but was unfortunately disppointed. It was small, with only two exhibits, and I wasn't a big fan of either artist. There was also a larger exhibit area, but it was closed.

Oh well. Then it was on to the Van Gogh museum! It was enormously poplar (read crowded) but we were able to see tons of the great art. We also got museum cards, which apparently get us into tons of museums all over the country for free! Excited to try that later.

The diamond museum! Haha. This little building was across the street from the Rijksmuseum, a big famous art museum. After the Van Gogh museum, and seeing the line to get into the Rijks, we decided to go for the little diamond museum instead. Oh, come on, it was two girls, let us be curious! So after filling in the visitor information form, which included where we were staying (were they going to come search our place if something went missing? Hehe and the Christian hostel wasn't on the list :) we went in. It was a room with a few polishing tables, replicas of large diamonds, and some info about diamond qualities. Nothing special. But getting out of there? We deserve an award for that!! After the museum, you go first into a diamond sales room. Then a Swarovski crystal room. Then a fancy sunglasses room. Then general jewelry. Then nice Dutch pottery. Then normal tourist store Dutch souvenirs. Then postcards. Then a stand of diamond museum ponchos, and then finally a garden and a cafe. And then, just when we were beginning to worry we'd come out in China, the exit. Whoa. It was ridiculous.

After all the museums and wandering, we were exhausted. We sat down, got some coffee, and waited for our friends to be done with their conference. After we all met up, we had amazing Thai food again, grabbed a few beers in a terrace cafe, and finally headed back to Groningen. Quiet, clean Groningen. Only this time, I was leaving Amsterdam thinking it was a place I'd check out again, not somewhere I never wanted to set foot in again. Good trip!

And the weather? It was nice except for when it was hailing. Yes, hailing. I was still wearing my sunglasses and suddenly it was pouring. And even more suddenly it was hailing instead. Oh, Dutch weather.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Schiermonnikoog

Nope. Still not pronouncing it right, even after being on it for a week and asking every Dutch person in the field station to say it for me. Multiple times. I swear they all said it differently! And when asked what it actually means, I learned that monnik means monk and oog means eye... That was as far as the explanation ever got.

Oh well! The island with the above unpronounceable name is beautiful. It is located in the Wadden Sea, which is a tidal area running from the Netherlands across Germany to Denmark. Schiermonnikoog is conveniently located an hour bus ride and 45 minute ferry ride from Groningen.


We arrived Monday afternoon and immediately rented bikes to begin our island tour. Monday was, we would later learn, the only sunny day all week. But that allowed the island to make a great first impression! The island has one village and some associated farms, but the rest of it is a national park. The inhabited part of the island is surrounded by a high dyke to keep the sea out. Sheep are often put to graze on the dyke, which is of course quite picturesque. I didn't manage to get any sheep pictures (the whole biking with no hands thing just hasn't come to me yet) but here is the general idea of the bike paths around the island.


Those are the salt marshes to the right and the dyke to the left. Nice, right?

We spent a lot of Monday afternoon riding around getting bird and plant lectures from the professors. We also visited the village, in which several of the oldest houses had their year of construction on the front in wrought iron numbers. Oldest one? 1724. Impressive. It's a cute village with lots of outdoor restaurants. Would be very nice for a weekend getaway.

From Tuesday through Thursday, each day revolved around a mini project. Morning was data collection, afternoon/evening was for analysis, and the late evening was for a research presentation of the project. Tuesday we worked on the mud flats (a large enough system that you can walk to the mainland, 12 km away, at low tide!), Wednesday was in the marsh looking at cattle-induced vegetative patchiness, and Thursday was plant physiology in several different places on the island. None of the projects spoke to me, but I really enjoyed the work, even though most days were rainy, windy, and cold. I particularly liked the mud flat work, which was by far the messiest. Water is definitely my element. My classmates could tell I was really happy just being on the ferry heading to the island!

The projects were tough. It was particularly hard to get the data analyzed fast enough to make a coherent presentation that same evening!

We had fun though. After the presentation we usually had a few beers and then crashed into bed. The last night, we had some champagne that a classmate had been given by the program coordinator in apology for the horrible way they had handled her application (apparently several times telling her that she had both gotten and not gotten the scholarship)! The champagne was a great way to end a tough week.

We're now back in Groningen and most of the class is sick. I believe I've avoided the bug, but I have to say that a weekend of catching up on my sleep was fantastic!

Friday, September 10, 2010

My early times in Groningen

Hi! Sorry I've been slow to update. Starting the semester has been a bit crazy! We're hearing lectures from all the different units within the Center for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies to see what's going on and to pick a mentor. Lectures from 9-5 every day! I'm totally worn out (this may also have something to do with the fact that my ONE WAY commute to class is a 45 minute bike ride). Some of the lectures were very interesting, but of course depending on individual interests, a morning spent hearing lectures on plant physiology or microbial ecology can get quite long.  Next week though, we're going to Schiermonnikoog, a research island in the Wadden Sea. We'll be doing daily mini-projects on the mud flats and in the salt marsh, so it should be interesting, although we've been warned of very cold, wet weather and 6 AM starts to catch the tides... I'll let you know how it goes! And yeah, I can sort of say the name of the island, although my production of the hacking sound is not up to par. And yes, it's a sound, not a noise, as I was told quite pointedly by some Dutch people when I made the mistake.

While we're on the subject, Dutch is a crazy language. I'm usually pretty good with languages but am absolutely baffled by this one. I can see something written down and not even come CLOSE to pronouncing it right. And then I can hear it pronounced and not be able to reproduce the word 30 seconds later. It just makes no sense to me at all yet. I had hoped that when I trying to learn it from a book in the States that it would be a lot easier once I arrived here, but no. I hope we get our Dutch lessons sorted out soon. When I was coming here, everyone said "Oh, all Dutch people speak English, you won't have any trouble." Not the case. While most people speak at least some English, they assume you speak Dutch and often seem uncomfortable with speaking English. And sometimes a bit peeved being asked to do so. Which I understand-I'm in their country asking them to speak my language. It's just weird I was told several times that it wasn't an issue. Oh, and ALL signs are in Dutch.

As for adjusting--hmm. I think in some respects I'm getting there, although there's certainly a LONG way to go. The most immediately important thing is biking everywhere. In traffic. Groningen is apparently the biking capital of Europe, with something like 57% of people using a bike as their primary transportation. It's nice to be able to get places, but also really scary to see a bus flying towards you on a narrow street... Especially when you have only a vague handle on what the road signs mean. Yikes. Bikes are allowed on most streets, even going against one-way traffic, and there are bike lanes almost everywhere, so it's really nicely set up for biking, it's just odd to go from not having ridden a bike in probably 10 years to suddenly riding one everywhere.

As for the food, I'll save that update for later. No scholarship money yet and no time has led to eating lots of sandwiches. I have eaten from the vending machine walls though. You can get a hamburger, kroket (a fried tube of "you don't want to know what's in there" delicious meaty spicy maybe mashed potato goodness) and various other things from these walls, which are columns of individual doors. with the food in them. Awesome. Picture to follow.

I've also found the Belgian bar, De Pintelier. Amazing. I've only been once, but that will change tomorrow. They have a huge list of Belgian beers of all types. And Belgians are some of my favorites. The one below is called Kwak, which comes from the noise the special glass makes when you reach the bell at the bottom (which is rounded, hence the stand).

 
We had the international student intro week as well. it was fun! Nice to meet a different group of people than my classmates. I got really lucky and had a group I liked a lot. Some of the people are in the background of the above beer picture. Totally random: the guy in the middle spent part of this past summer in Athens! He did a study abroad in Spain at the same university as some UGA students and came to Athens to visit. Small world, as always. Intro week activities included a pub crawl, during which we visited several good bars, as well as an Orange party (the Dutch wear orange as their national color due to the historical ruling by the House of Orange), and a sports day, which was funny because several of the girls mentioned that they didn't have workout clothes, but I clearly didn't understand the magnitude of what they were saying until they showed up to play sports in dresses and heeled boots.

Living situation. Holy cow, I'm living in a dorm again. In case any of you don't know, I'm a person who absolutely requires time and space to myself in order to avoid insanity or harm to others. So far, I'm ok. We'll see how this goes! I'm on the 8th floor and so have a nice view-city to the right, cows to the left. So strange having to get dressed to go to the bathroom or kitchen though. And my building is apparently one of three recommended by the Chinese student underground (yes, I swear), which is very obvious in my floor's makeup. It's a bit unfortunate in that I am not part of the group and so have a tough time getting most of my floormates to talk to me. Oh, and strangest thing? We have separate elevators for the odd and even numbered floors... And they're such ghetto old elevators. The actual box you stand in is only closed on 3 sides--the side that opens is just...open, so you watch the wall in front of you move as the elevator moves. There is a metal door on each floor that you have to push open when you get there. And close again, or the elevator won't move, which sucks since I'm in this building with clueless/careless undergraduates who leave it open frequently. But overall, my room is clean, nicely sized and fine for me. One thing I like is that based on all the rooms I've seen, the Dutch are big on shelves running under windows. Nice in a dorm room with limited furniture.

Shops here are never open! On normal nights, they close at 6, so since I'm way south for class until at least 5, I can barely get anywhere. The only night they're open (and only until 9) is Thursday. Random. The stores are then all closed on Sunday and until at least 1pm on Monday. It's impossible!

Ok, this is a huge post. Last thing. The packaged cookies and store-bakery goods here are delicious. So many types, many involving good chocolate...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sweden!

Oh, Sweden was beautiful. We were at Klubban field station, a unit of Uppsala University located in Fiskebackskil on the west coast of Sweden. And no, I can't pronounce the name of the town.

We arrived after a 14 hour bus ride that involved several sleepy stops in rest areas as well as a 3am ferry ride from Germany to Denmark. Less than ideal :) But we got in on a beautiful day and had some free time to wander around. We checked out the beach and then for some reason decided to go swimming. And yes, swimming in the North Sea is at least as cold as you'd think it would be.

We then met the rest of our class which was fun! It's cool to finally meet the people after talking for so long on Facebook and wondering what everyone would be like.

Since we were at a field station, we had to cook for ourselves, which involved a trip to a Swedish small-town grocery store. This was my favorite discovery-fish paste! I think...


Most of the week was spent hearing research lectures from the professors from the four universities as well as more information about the programs at each of the universities. I won't bore you with the details, but it was a lot! We started at 8:30 each day and went until around 10 with an hour for dinner. Then after that we were socializing until after midnight each night. Yikes! And then there were the articles to read in our "free" time.

But it was an awesome setting to experience and a great way for us to hang out.

Now I'm back in the Netherlands and will post another update soon. But for your viewing pleasure, I present Sweden.

The view from my dorm room at the station.

The view from the mountain we climbed. One of the French girls called the view "scandalously picturesque" a phrase I am completely in love with.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I have arrived!

Hello from the Netherlands! I arrived yesterday morning and have wandered around, met a bunch of my classmates, attended a festival, and am now chilling in one of the very few places open on Sunday around here. A French bakery with wireless internet. Awesome.

There are so many bikes! It's crazy. And I don't really think many students are around yet, as school doesn't start until Sept. 6th. And none of them have had streamers or pink baskets on them.

Fashion: Lots of leggings for girls. Fitted pants, not loose. And I need a lot of new clothes. Mine aren't nice enough.

To buy beer, you first buy bottles and a crate to carry them in, then you just pay to refill the bottles, and that it very cheap. Curious to try that out once I get back from Sweden.

But yes, off to Sweden tonight and then I'll be back here on Saturday!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And I'm off!

On Friday I'm heading to Groningen to begin my program! Once I get there, I head almost immediately to Sweden for summer school, so I'll be out of touch for a while. I do promise though, that there will be great pictures and stories once I'm back. Keep checking in!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Three things I love

The first thing I love: Mangoes! I love mangoes in nearly any way they are presented. Fresh off a tree, super fake essence of mango in various products, mango sorbet, and many, many others. This is why I was so excited to find that Burt's Bees now has a mango chapstick. It has a nice, strong mango smell which I love. It doesn't taste at all mango-ey, which was a little disappointing but is probably good or I'd chew my own lips off! Oh, and it actually works as a decent chapstick too.

From: http://www.burtsbees.com/natural-products/lips-lip-care/nourishing-lip-balm-mango-butter.html

The second thing I love: This shirt. I found it in a Delia's in Ft. Lauderdale a few years ago. It was too small when I bought it, but I loved it so much I convinced myself it would do. Now that I'm cleaning out to move to Europe, I've decided it has to go. But I took a picture of it for your pleasure. It is a short sleeve girly tee.



The third thing I love: These shoes. Keep in mind that I don't "do" shoes. They are merely a functional thing for me. I did, however, actually love these shoes. They are the one of the cooler items of clothing I've ever owned. This picture was taken way past their prime, but think of the glory days... They were also my first Kangaroos. Great-looking, fun shoes with miserable quality. And yes, that's a zipper on the side. Very cool.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My new baby!

I got a new laptop!  It's pretty and fast and weighs about half of what my old one did. Don't get me wrong--the old one lasted me six years, which I think is some kind of laptop record, and it still works (mostly), but it was time for a new one to accompany me on my European adventure.

The new laptop is an HP 1060us. It has a crazy touchpad that will take some getting used to, but which allows some features I can already tell I'll like a lot. It also has Windows 7, which is a bit strange to me, given that I stuck with XP and skipped Vista.  So all kinds of new fun things to learn and play with. More review to follow, I was just so excited I had to let you know about my new toy!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

scary huge snake

I'll just leave this one as a link. If you don't like snakes, don't look at it. But AHHHHHH! I accidentally snorkeled up to a diamondback in a river one time, and he was large. Nothing like this though, and it still scared the crap out of me.

http://forum.gon.com/showthread.php?t=554054


Monday, July 19, 2010

Working out!

I'm trying to get back into shape. Until recently, I hadn't belonged to a gym since I graduated two years ago. I loved the university fitness center, because I would usually go at uncrowded times and so had no trouble getting a machine AND, big for me, it had a pool. I have been a swimmer since I was 6. I love to swim, and it's a great workout. Particularly if my cranky knees are misbehaving.

Since graduation, I had been trying to get my workouts in by walking/jogging and doing crunches. I finally had to admit to myself that that wasn't doing it. If my knees weren't bad and I could really run, I think I would have been fine, but that's not the case. (Side note-I had a dream last night that I could run. Three miles to be exact.)

So I finally joined a gym. I only joined for two months, as that was about how long I had before going to Europe, but I did it! And I've been so happy since then. I love working out on my own and have been doing a lot of that, but the new thing I've been doing since I joined the gym is classes. They're awesome! I have tried Zumba (love it, makes me feel like a complete klutz), Hip-Hop (too much choreography, even more klutzy-feeling), Group Groove (also choreography and klutzy-see the pattern?). I have also tried yoga, which I love with one instructor and don't care for with the other.

The two classes I have most recently tried, however, may be my favorites. Last week I tried Pilates. I really liked the class itself, and the next morning my stomach looked great! Then tonight, I tried spinning. And WHOA. Spinning kicked my butt like it hasn't been kicked in a long, LONG time. I'm so tired right now I almost think I started this blog entry so I wouldn't have to get up... If you haven't tried spinning, I would suggest being in some kind of shape before you go, but definitely give it a shot!

And now that I'm back in m workout groove, I really hope the European universities have good facilities!

Friday, July 9, 2010

MORE lawnmower drama!

Remember that a few months ago, I wrote about the lakehouse lawnmower fire? New story! This past weekend was the 4th of July, and while I was unable to make it to the lake, the rest of my family went. All was going well until Dad brought out the lawnmower (this time a push model, not the riding one our neighbors borrowed). He was mowing right along when it started showing "small flames." His description.  Never one to be deterred from his decided course of action, he kept going under the assumption that it would burn itself out! Needless to say, it did not, and he apparently only stopped mowing when the flames reached "8-12 inches" and neighbors from both sides ran at him with fire extinguishers! So sad I missed the spectacle.

Kate?

My first name is Katharine (yes, spelled like the Hepburn). I have, however, been Katie since I first arrived on the scene. I remember one time in middle school I told a friend and her mother that I was thinking about going by my middle name. They both laughed and said I couldn't just decide something like that. I was discouraged. I realize now I should have told them to shove it, but alas, it was middle school and such confidence was lacking.

Recently however, I have thought about being Kate when I start my adventure in Europe. I've tried it out, giving it to restaurants to call out when my food is ready, putting it on the dressing room with my clothes, etc. I would love to be like Evangeline Lilly (who I think is beautiful) as her awesome chick "Lost" character :) I may just need to give it more time, but I can't get Kate to feel right...  I've also been told numerous times that Katie suits me well. I'm just beginning to feel a bit old to be a Katie. Hmm. IDENTITY CRISIS!!!! :)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

World Cup Mania!

First of all, if any of you are here on The Pink Chick's recommendation, welcome!

Second, I must admit that I am obsessed with sports. I'm definitely a guy in that way.

Now, I haven't tried my hand (foot?) at soccer since I signed up for the school team in 7th grade, then promptly got bronchitis and was out for the season, yet was still forced to attend ALL the practices because I had signed up. That made me angry at soccer for a long time. Plus, I'm a sprinter, and soccer requires endurance. It would never have worked out. And soccer just isn't a big deal here. I went to a huge D1 school, and we didn't even have a men's soccer team (there was a women's team). And the MLS? Really? I have no idea what teams exist except the LA Galaxy (David Beckham went there. It was on the news). And I think there's one in DC, although I couldn't be sure about that.

But WHOA! The World Cup has eaten me alive. This is better than the Olympics! You always have to love international competitions. Lots of friendly jabs at the friends who are foreign/have foreign allegiances and plenty of country pride and camaraderie. I have watched probably all but 4 of the matches so far (that's 26 of 30 matches for those of you not following closely). I can credit a lot of my watching to a flexible job, which has been awesome, given that games are at 10 and 2:30-right in the middle of the US workday. I have enjoyed watching the US play at a British pub (sadly not while we were actually playing the British, but I digress) while drinking a beer and eating the "English breakfast" at 10:30 in the morning.  I have also loved watching at home, sometimes alone and yelling anyway, sometimes forgetting I'm not alone until the bewildered dog comes to see why I'm suddenly screaming, sometimes being out-yelled by the boyfriend.

It hasn't hurt that it was a good cup for my teams! I was cheering for the US and New Zealand (Dad's a kiwi) early on. New Zealand totally stole the show! They're a small country with ONE pro soccer team (they have to play in the Australian league). But they not only made it to the cup, they held their own against Italy, the past champs (and losers of their group)! Very exciting. The US made it to the round of 16, which I believe was the goal of the team in the cup. I did not, unfortunately, get to see the US-Ghana game that knocked us out (I was a crazy kayaking adventure).


But, while the World Cup was on, I found out I am going to the Netherlands for the first semester of my Master's. This of course means that I am now cheering for the Dutch! And cheer I can do. Plus, I visited in 2004 and came back with a shirt and flag, which a future Dutch classmate has assured me are spot on!

All I can say now is Hup Holland and I can't wait until Sunday!!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I'm going to the Netherlands!

So I finally found out where I start my program, and lucky for me I got my preference! I'm going to Groningen, The Netherlands. Awesome! As I know only two Dutch phrases--how to ask for one ticket to Scheveningen and how to ask someone to have sex with me in a kitchen (it rhymes, don't judge me)--I got a Lonely Planet phrasebook (recommended by a trusted travel advisor) and hope to become at least proficient enough to get around town.  Looking at it has been a little discouraging so far, as all the words have far too many letters. Particularly consonants. That don't go together. Example, you say? Alsjeblieft. No, I didn't just fall asleep on the keyboard. That is the informal form of "please." Yikes... I'm going for speaking proficiency mainly though, and it apparently is pretty easy to hear and understand. We'll see!

I also get to go to summer school in the most stereotypical-looking Scandinavian fishing village! I can't wait to start!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why do I always want Aveeno?

I don't know what it is, but I have always been drawn to Aveeno products. It started back in late middle/early high school, with a face wash. It had pretty leaves on it and promised to even out my complexion. It didn't (although to be fair, nothing could help my skin in that era). After that, I will admit, there was a break from my Aveeno cravings.

Then recently, they released the new Nourish+Moisturize, Revitalize, etc line of shampoo and conditioner. I filled in the form and got my free sample. I was, for no reason, so excited about this new product that I waited to use it until I was going out some weekend and wanted to look great. Bad call. Neither the shampoo or conditioner did anything for my hair. Oh well. They sounded good anyway...

Next product. This year, I've been good and finally started using a daily moisturizer with SPF in it. When I made this decision, I remembered that Aveeno had just such a product-their Daily Moisturizing Lotion with Sunscreen (SPF 15). I decided that I would try it--I mean, Aveeno is known for its lotion, so at least that has to be good? Right? Wrong! This stuff is awful. I had in my mind a lotion that was like normal lotion, only with sunscreen in it. This stuff is pure sunscreen-and the sticky stuff, not a nice sunscreen. It even smells like sunscreen (poor boyfriend who usually likes my the way my lotions smell-he got a noseful). It's pretty thick and gross and you usually can't rub it all in, though the white film absorbs reasonably quickly. It also doesn't feel moisturizing at all, and instead makes me feel dried out. Since this was my first exposure, I assumed all sunscreen lotions were similar. That is, until I went to buy an aloe after-sun lotion and found the Vaseline Aloe Fresh protecting lotion, also SPF 15. This stuff is less than half the price of Aveeno ($4-5 versus 10+) and actually feels and smells like a lotion. I'm now trying to convince myself to use up the Aveeno one I bought when I really just want to use the Vaseline one!

At this point, I was so discouraged! Aveeno had let me down. All the pretty packaging and claims of being natural and wonderful had led nowhere. And why do so many people love it? One day, I found a tiny trial size of the just plain, normal lotion that people rave about. STILL not impressed. It just feels weird on and doesn't seem to moisturize well. It has one redeeming factor-it absorbs quickly and so is a decent hand moisturizer. No greasy marks on your keyboard or trouble opening doors/packages after using it. It also doesn't feel like it all washes off if you wash your hands. But that's it.

For a whole line of products, one redeeming factor! I'm done. This is probably a good lesson-no package in the world can make a good product. I'm sticking with boring bottles for a while!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Weak.

That's how my arm feels! I did not remember a tetanus shot feeling like this. I guess last time I got one, I had earned it and so was more focused on the pain in my pinkie. Stupid sledgehammer. And the concrete block was in my way. And who puts re-bar there, really? At least I eventually grew a new fingernail :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ah, Friday. And lawn mower drama.

I took last Friday off and had an awesome day! I got a cute haircut, found a cute pair of boots for $15, had a tasty lunch with my mom and brother at a new restaurant, and had a nice meeting with my high school's headmaster (in which he described my siblings and me as being very different but having a "red thread" which made us all related!). After all that, I headed to the lake house :) So excellent.

I was in such a good mood when I got there that I decided to mow the lawn with our reasonably cranky old machine. I managed to not only get it started, but to mow the front and back yards without much mishap (side note: fire ant mounds make an interesting sound and red cloud when you run over them). While I was mowing, the neighbors showed up and started doing the same. When their newer, fancy lawn mower broke down, they asked to borrow ours. All was going well until...it caught on fire! The grass clippings caught in the blades ignited. Yikes! Glad I was done by then...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Success!

Alright, first, let it be said that I am not having children for a long time! My sister is 15, and it was still exhausting taking care of her for a week. Me with a baby would be no good.

Now, to the cleaning!  I'm calling it a huge success. I have cleaned out the whole closet at my parents' house, which was STILL a lot of stuff even with numerous previous attempts at cleaning it out. I now have a trunk and one of those long, under-the-bed style tupperwares in the attic. And a few more under the bed... But the ones in the attic are really my things. The bits under the bed are just notes from sciency or interesting courses that I'll either keep or chunk one day. If I ever figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I can decide what will be relevant! But for now, I'll keep everything :) Now I'm down to office supplies, a mini disco ball, pink stationery, and other very odd bits and pieces to deal with. Maybe next time...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A mission!

As part of my preparations for moving to Europe, I'm working on purging all the unnecessary stuff I own. Turns out, there's a lot of it! I am a huge sucker for decorative things, and actually do want to settle down someday, just so I can have a place of my own to decorate :) No other reason really motivates me to stop moving.  Just as a side note about how I work: I moved every year in college and have moved 4 times in the last 1.5 years, and that doesn't bother me. I like being in new spaces and tend to get bored quickly with anywhere I live, particularly if I can't set it up the way I like. Another reason my European program is perfect for me-we move to a new country every six months! I do think that the urge to move constantly will go away once I find the place I really want to be, but we'll have to wait and see! I may be permanently nomadic.

But, back to my mission. I've done well with purging stuff from my apartment, mainly because I trim it down a bit more each time I move :) A lot has been pitched or given away, but I have a bad habit of moving things to my parents' house if I'm not totally sure what to do with them. That changes this week. The parents have gone to Europe, leaving me in charge of the little sister. While I am staying at the house, I'm cleaning out my junk. That is my intent. If you don't hear from me in a week, please start searching the basement, then the attic...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

We'll call it even...

This was a kind of strange week. I couldn't ever really get focused, and with a great weekend planned, I was very ready for Friday. Ok, I won't lie. I was ready for Friday end-of-work time! And to make that waiting even harder, I did some package tracking and discovered that both my new iPod and new Teva sandals were arriving that afternoon.

So you can imagine that when I left the office, I was ecstatic. But I suppose that my day was going a little too well for the universe, so on the way home, I both stabbed myself on a spork and was hit in the cheek by a piece of gravel that came in the open window.

But in the end, I won. All the packages I arrived, I was indeed done with work for the weekend, and I had raw oysters and buffalo shrimp for dinner :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The New Zealand food and drink update (lots of beer)!

One of my favorite things about being in any different country is, to no surprise to anyone know knows me, the food and drink! I am a huge fan of eating and drinking. I'm not picky, and will try nearly everything once. That being said, New Zealand is not one of the countries that pushes the frontiers of crazy food. Just different enough, and awesome.

One of my favorite things about food in New Zealand is the lamb! Not only is it good, but they have it frequently.  It's their standard everyday meat, which is awesome to the visiting Americans who usually only have it for Easter and Dad's birthday. It's funny-they consider lamb to be such a usual thing that whenever kiwis entertain, they serve another meat. It led to an awful situation last time we visited where, because we were guests, we were actually fed ham over and over again. I'm not a ham fan to begin with, so getting ham when I expected lamb was crushing. This time though, the hints were dropped (not at all subtly) that we wanted lamb, and lots of it! Legs, chops, we got it all. It was amazing. One meal was TWO roasted legs of lamb. I was so happy.

Another thing we always eat way too much of in NZ is fish and chips. Now, this isn't Captain Ds or some restaurant frying up a piece of fish they couldn't sell any other way. This is real, wonderful fish fillets (of all kinds) and hot, fresh chips (fries) and sometimes even oysters! And it's all wrapped in the classic newspaper, sometimes even tied with twine. I had at least four fish and chips meals.



The seafood overall deserves mention. There was tons of it, and it was fresh and amazing. Particularly awesome were the bluff oysters, which are from southern NZ and are totally amazing. We had them fried a few times, but the real deliciousness was having them raw, dipped in pepper-laden malt vinegar. Unbelievable.

Another interesting side note on food-they eat something called kumura, often as kumura chips- it looks like a sweet potato on the outside, is a bit darker than a regular potato on the inside, and tastes kind of like yucca. It's actually very good! I don't remember seeing it on my previous trips...

Last food: fried, meat-filled pastries of goodness and heart attacks. We're talking mince pies, sausage rolls, and all other manners of fried things. They are absolutely one of my traveling trash eats! I think we grossed out my NZ family by actually eating that kind of stuff...Kiwis in general are a really health conscious people, and don't usually eat such crap.

On to beverages! I won't lie, I focused on the alcohol, but first, there are a few non-alcoholic ones that need mentioning. The first is classic-their lemonade. It is not like ours, all actual lemon and sugar. Theirs is carbonated and clear to very light yellow. It's maybe more what we would think of as a lemon Italian soda or a Sprite even, but not as sweet-just really good and refreshing. And one drink we had on this trip that I didn't remember was Lemon&Paeroa- an awesome lemon drink sort of based on their lemonade.

Alright. So I will preface this next part by saying that I was sent to New Zealand with the mission of assessing the beer situation. This all started when my Mom and I asked my Dad one day about the beer in New Zealand and what it was like. When he couldn't answer (beyond the fantatsically helpful "it's just beer, it's like beer") we gave him choices--were there stouts, wheat beers, light beers, all kinds? He still looked confused, so we went to brands. Which one did he stop us on? Bud Light.  So NZ beer is like Bud Light. Ok. It might be good to know that my dad will only drink really crappy beer, and only in a can-he's a real fan of Natty Light and Coors Light-but still. Could he be right? I told some friends and was told to check it out, and that if that was the case, we were opening up a microbrewery in NZ ASAP. So, while on this trip, I tried as many beers as I could. Here's the list as far as I can remember:

Tui (named after a bird, has absolutely hilarious billboards-google image Tui beer ads-they have three books of these bilboards. I read through one and laughed the whole night).

Mac's Golden Lager
Mac's Coudy Wheat
Mac's Sassy Red
____ Armageddon IPA
Canterbury Draught
Monteith's Radler
Pilsener from Sewell's Brewery(?)
Speight's
And I know there were others...

The verdict? I was actually disappointed. By far the most interesting was the Radler, and it was the first one I had, so I was excited. It was really light in color but had one of the most complex flavors I've ever had. Awesome. The others were mainly just bland! Several relatives (and future relatives-Trent!) gave me beer tastings, which was awesome. I was at one point warned that my next one was a really strong beer that I might not like (one of the IPAs-Tui maybe) and it was really nothing at all. They told me that there are a lot of microbreweries (they call them boutique breweries) down there now, so maybe some of those would be more interesting. I do wonder if maybe US beer has a lot more sugar, preservatives, etc, in it and so has more flavor? Don't know. It was definitely fun to try all the beers though. And, knowing that NZ is big into wine now, I made some room in my schedule for that! I mostly had sauvignon blanc, and it was excellent.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm back from the (smaller) land down under!

Hello! Sorry it's been a while-I was so busy in New Zealand I didn't really have time to sit down and post. I'm now realizing I should have though, since I've got a lot to say! I'll just start at the beginning.

Haha, first, I'll note that I am very attached to my music. I almost never leave the house without my iPod, just in case. The morning we were leaving, I was going to load a few last minute songs onto my iPod. I went to turn it on--and nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. I frantically went online and looked for what to do. I figured out how to reset it and finally got the little apple to come up. I was unbelievably relieved until it started making a strange noise and the saddest image popped up--an iPod with "X"s for eyes and an unhappy smile with the apple support webpage URL below it.  

 From www.ipodtest.com

I tried everything I could find on how to fix this, and finally came to the sad conclusion that my iPod had died on me. Right before a 30 hour period when I would be only in airports and planes. I was not pleased. But, the show went on! I left for the airport.

So, to save the misery of the flying, I'll (mostly) skip it. Just know that we flew from Atlanta to Dallas to LA to Auckland to Wellington to Christchurch. That's five flights, plus a 5 hour layover in LA. That's inhumane. The bright spot is that our flight across the Pacific was only half full so we could spread out a bit and actually sleep.

We left Atlanta around 2 in the afternoon on the 6th, and arrived in Christchurch sometime in the afternoon of the 8th. Damn the international date line stealing my vacation days!

It was so nice to arrive and find family waiting in both Auckland and Christchurch! My dad is from a large family, so I have a healthy set of aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins once removed (children of my cousins) scattered around New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia.

We arrived in Christchurch, as I mentioned, in the late afternoon. It was great seeing everyone, but we hadn't eaten anything real in WAY too long, and so basically growled that we needed food and were immediately offered fish and chips. DELICIOUS fried goodness.

Then it was on to Ashburton, where my Dad's oldest sister and husband live, as does one of their daughters and her family. The drive was interesting-we hadn't been to NZ in seven years, and a lot had stayed the same but a lot had changed as well! First, there were drastically less sheep and more cows. Apparently the only way farmers can make money anymore is through dairy, not sheep. And from what I've always seen, NZ is more livestock than crop oriented.

They also have something called "lifestyle blocks" which, to us Americans, looked like incredibly compacted neighborhoods.  Another thing about NZ is that the houses nearly all have fenced in yards. Good fences make good neighbors, I guess! But these lifestyle blocks have the fenced-in houses fitted together to take as little space as possible, leaving very little personal space. But kiwis seem to like them a lot. Something new.

My aunt and uncle have a great house that is fenced in with vegetation instead of, uh, a fence. They call the vegetation boundaries fences or hedges (which led to an interesting story when my parents, still dating, first visited down there, and my dad's mom told them that Dad's father had gotten drunk and cut down the fence. Mom though that was strange until Dad replied, "Oh, that's ok, it'll grow back). But anyway. The house is very cool, and the garden is amazing--lots of roses and other cool flowers, as well as fruit trees, including a plum tree I nearly harvested all by myself, and this cool prehistoric monster plant! I'm short, but otherwise human sized, so you can tell that's a big leaf.


While in Ashburton (a small town about an hour from Christchurch, the largest city on the much less populated South Island), we visited a random man-made lake, went to my dad's nearby hometown, visited my uncle's farm in Darfield, where we got the amazing view below, and really got to see a lot of the family which was great. It was my Uncle's 77th birthday while we were there, so we had a great meal of TWO roasted lamb legs, and then had another great dinner the following night where my dad and his four surviving siblings got together.  My awesome cousin Michelle hosted both dinners, which is amazing. Keep in mind there were 18 people there the second night! Oh, and I learned to drive a dirt bike without harming myself or anything/one else!


We also split up one day, sending the boys down to Dunedin so my brother could check out the paleontology program at the University of Otago (I hope he goes so I can visit!) while the girls did some damage in Christchurch. We wandered, shopped, ate, shopped some more (there was a craft fair, come on!), and checked out the cathedral. The cathedral was pretty nice, but then we noticed something strange. There was an enormous fake seagull/albatross hanging from the ceiling in the front. We were very confused and asked an usher about it. He told us that that was Gilbert, and that he had had something to do with the previous Sunday's service, but that they had forgotten to take him down...



Though most of my dad's family has stayed near Christchurch, his youngest sister headed up to Auckland, so we flew up there for the weekend to catch everyone while they were off from work and school. Their family is fun and matches ours pretty well in terms of ages of the kids (except for their fourth, a nine-year old), so we always have a good time together.This time was no exception!

Our first full day we drove north out of the city through beautiful hills. We went to a farmer's market in Matakana (aside: I love Maori words, and it seems like everywhere in New Zealand either has a really English or Maori name). The farmer's market was awesome-really it was more like a food fair, with every stall cooking something, from pork buns to whitebait fritters (small whitefished cooked with  egg and served on break with lemon, salt and pepper-amazing!) to chocolates and coffee. We ate ourselves to death and then had to run to our lunch reservations :) We ate up at a brewery in the hills, which was really pretty. We then went to the beach. First was a rocky one we had to hike a bit to get to, but it was beautiful!


The next day, we went to downtown Auckland. We shopped on Queen St for a while and then got on a ferry to Devonport, across the harbor. It was a lovely little place to wander around on a Sunday afternoon-we got meat pies and ate in a park by the beach. Then it was home to watch Charlotte (the 9 year old) play flipperball, which is water polo for younger kids. That inspired her and so she dragged us older kids to the pool to play real water polo, which none of us Americans had ever done before. The kiwi cousins beat us soundly, but we all realized together quite how out of shape we were! Water sports will do that...

After dinner that evening, someone demanded we play SingStar. I didn't know what it was, but the title gave me reason for guessing that I wouldn't like it. My voice is something best used for speaking and singing in the car. Alone. With all the windows up. But no, this was family karaoke, and I was a participant. A forced participant. It was funny and terrible. I was awful, as expected. To punish the people who made me sing, I did  "A thing called love" by the Darkness though :) That was fun. We played SingStar for two nights. At one point, my cousin got a text from a friend five houses down asking what on earth was going on!

Then, suddenly, it was our last full day. My sister went to school with a cousin, and the rest of us headed to Muriwai beach-a beautiful black sand beach that we visited on a cool and misty day. We then got some absolutely amazing fish and chips and headed home. Our final dinner was another roast lamb leg! Oh so delicious...


Alright. There's more than that, and I'll do more NZ posting, but for now, that's enough! This is an essay!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Going to New Zealand!

So now that I've started a blog about traveling adventures, I think it's time for me to travel so that I can practice the whole blogging thing.  And voila, I'm going to New Zealand! How convenient. My dad is from NZ, and we go every so often to visit the many relatives we have scattered around the country. This will be my fourth time there, but I haven't been since 2003 and am so very excited. Such a great country, and I happen to know good people! We'll be on the South Island first, visiting Christchurch, called the Garden City, as well as the surrounding towns of Ashburton, Methven, and Darfield. We then fly to Auckland on the North Island, where there has been talk of a beach house being rented...

I'm also on a mission. I am to assess the beer and BBQ situation in NZ. My father has led me to believe that NZ beer is on par with Bud Light. Terrifying. I did though, get a six-pack of a beer (Steinlager) from there and it was truly awful, so he might not be totally exaggerating. But I'm better at finding good beer than he is, so we'll see how I do.  The BBQ part of my mission is related to the decided lack of pigs in NZ--in fact, ham is a delicacy there, much as lamb is one here.  Oh, how I would love to eat lamb on my sandwiches every day and never see ham again! 

And so I am off! This will be a great trip, but you should not have to take my word for it. There will be pictures and almost certainly some good stories.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why we're here...

I am going back to school in an exciting way! I received a scholarship to move to Europe and get a Master's in Evolutionary Biology. While I'm in Europe, I will move around and live in a few different countries (not telling you where yet both to retain an air of mystery/suspense and because I'm not totally sure). I haven't had a blog since my friends and I tried LiveJournal in high school, but I think this will be the best way to keep everyone updated as to my great adventures in Europe! I'm not leaving until August, but I thought I would get some blogging practice in before I left!


And so it begins...