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


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.


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.