Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's with all the line cutting?

What's with all the line cutting? 

Okay, this is one of my issues with Dutch life and I suppose European life in general. Line cutting, pushiness, and standing so close to each other. I don't get it. It was the same in Vienna and perhaps even worse. I don't understand all the pushing, shoving, and line cutting that happens pretty much everywhere. I know. I should not make general statements like this. So my thoughts on this subject are just my personal experiences. :)

My trip to Albert Heijn today ended with an elderly man (who had to be at least 75) cutting me off at the checkout. It was clear that I was approaching the conveyor belt before him, but he felt the need to make a mad dash to the cashier and beat me to it. The question is...why? I don't get it. It wasn't even busy! I could see this happening at the station where people are running places to catch a train. Or even at the airport if you're in a rush, but why all the time? It happens every where.

I called my friend Shannon in New York afterwards. Mostly because I miss him and I'm experiencing a bout of homesickness right now. He shed some comical light on the situation. "He's in rush because he's old and dying. He has less time than you do and he needs to get things done." Good point Shannon! Haha.
Here we are at our favorite NYC restaurant, Angelica's Kitchen. :)
A few weeks ago when I was at the post office a woman clearly tried to cut in front of me because I moved six inches to the left to put my purse on a shelf while I stamped my envelopes. It was ridiculous. She tried to make a swift move by moving around me on my right side, but I held my own. I felt like a six year old child trying to not left this woman cut me in line. When Trees and I took the bus to Aachen, I couldn't believe the disorder that took place getting on the bus. It was just a mob. No line, no organization. Every man for themselves! All I could do was laugh. I've literally scene fights break out on NYC buses because people cut each other in line. No joke.

The thing that bothers me the most is that I find myself becoming more pushy. I've learned to be seriously aggressive at the open market on Fridays. It's just survival. And if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em. Okay, enough Dutch bashing for now. I love the Dutch and I love the Netherlands. I love how they are so organized. But that makes me wonder why lines and personal spaces are not the same. Hmmm.... Moments like this make me miss NYC. Yes. It's crowded, busy and people are always in a rush. I'm still amazed by how many millions of people live in just those five boroughs. But there's still a level of respect and organization when hundreds of people are cramming there way into a subway car. :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Adventures with piccolo

Friday night was our final performance for the Gloria concert series with our orchestra. It was a busy week full with lots of late night rehearsals and concerts. Jaap's parents came into town for the concert and we enjoyed a nice dinner at Café Charlemagne in Onze Lieve Vrouweplein before the show.

To say I had an aesthetic experience playing the piccolo would be an exaggeration. All of my experiences playing the piccolo as an adult have been involuntarily. Undergrad, grad school, and now Maastricht. Flutes are a dime a dozen, not the same for piccolo players. Despite my issues with this instrument I really enjoyed making music this week. Who doesn't love playing quality literature in a 800 year old church? It was definitely a new experience for me. We performed at Sint-Janskerk in the Vrijthof. It's a red church and very unique looking.
September 2010
The Gloria concert series was a collaboration with our orchestra and the university's community choir. Each group performed one piece of their own and together we performed John Rutther's Gloria and a piece by a South African composer Peter Louis van Dijk, San Gloria, where I made my body percussion debut. What fun! It's the first time I've ever performed with the percussion section. That was a treat and it was nice to experience a performance from a different perspective and point of view. 

Despite my anxiety about playing the piccolo it turned out quite well. I take for granted how much less pressure there can be playing the flute. The piccolo is so exposed. There's no hiding your mistakes and you can't be afraid to take risks. It forces me to step out of my comfort zone. It goes along with the theme of moving to the Netherlands. :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Jansens visit

Jaap's family came to visit on Saturday and we got to spend the afternoon walking around Maastricht. Their previously planned visit had to be postponed because of all the snow we got in December. But Saturday was unseasonable warm and a great day to walk around. Here are some pictures from their visit. 

Most of our time was spent in City Park. The park houses some goats, sheep, geese, and birds. There used to be bears that lived in the park as well. After the last bear was moved to a proper zoo this statue was created. Note the sad face. :( 
Meeting the bear
Jasper, Mees & Tijn
They are too cute.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Utrecht :)

Domtoren in Utrecht
Last week was a special treat for me. First, I became an official resident in the Netherlands and picked up my residency permit in Eindhoven. Now that I'm a legal resident my employer can apply for my work permit and I am legally allowed work. I was able to meet with the HR manager at my new job and as of Monday have become a working girl again. Woo hoo! I'm not gonna lie though. Being a full time housewife for a few months was quite nice. Thanks to Jaap, I was able to 'take a sabbatical' from teaching for awhile and work on transitioning into my new host country. I'm very grateful that I had a few months off to explore Maastricht, meet new people, take Dutch classes, and focus on adjusting and not stressing about work. It really made these first emotionally charged months manageable.

At the same time it was nice to get back into something familiar. First week at the new job was a success. Finding an English speaking job, in my field, and in Maastricht is frankly... well as my father put it... "a miracle." I have to get back into balancing work and home. With that said, the house is a complete mess now.

So... last Wednesday I went to Utrecht to meet with Mari, my New York Dutch teacher. Last year when I was still in New York I started taking Dutch lessons with Mari in Brooklyn. She introduced me to this lovely language! It was a great introduction to learning Dutch and becoming familiar with it. If it wasn't for Mari I would have been completely lost in my Dutch courses. Seriously. I was amazed at how quickly my peers picked up things in the beginning of the course. I felt comfortable because I had some previous knowledge to build upon and was impressed by everyone's ability to understand what was going on. My course at the university moves at a very fast pace, so my lessons in NY were very helpful.

Mari was home for the holidays and we were able to catch up with some lunch and a stroll around Utrecht. I was only there for one afternoon and didn't have enough time to really see this beautiful city, so Jaap and I will have to plan another trip. We enjoyed lunch at De Bakkerswinkel. Um...delicious! Took a walk through St. Martin's, walked around the canals, and enjoyed some beers at one of Mari's favorite pubs. It was a nice quick view of Utrecht.

As for Dutch, I love listening to Mari's northern Dutch accent with those 'hard Gs'. Her Dutch is so clear (and fast). Jaap's from Brabant and we live in Limburg, the land of 'soft Gs' Hearing the northern accent is refreshing and in my opinion, easier to understand. (Don't tell Jaap).

I was disappointed that I didn't really speak much Dutch on our lunch date. I was excited to show her what I've learned since being here, but then I get so nervous and only spoke in English. Lamo! Not to mention I speak like an eight year old, so conversations are boring. But I know, I'm learning. You gotta start somewhere. Yeah, yeah. But to be honest, I've been getting lazy with my Dutch. Tsk, tsk. Just going to Dutch classes isn't enough. I have to speak more with Jaap and not revert back to English just because my brain hurts. I have truly commit! I'll let you know when that happens.
If you need a Dutch teacher in this woman!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bruges, Belgium: Part II

Warning: The subtitle for this post is Belgian Yumminess and perhaps I engaged in some gluttonous behavior while enjoying our vacation. :) Ooopps. 

Day 2/3 of our Bruges adventure began with our favorite part of the day. Breakfast. Jaap and I were a little obsessed with the hotel breakfast. Saying it was delicious is an understatement. I know. Who really cares? Trust me. If you stayed at our hotel you would take pictures of your breakfast as well. As you can see our trip to Belgium was mostly a culinary adventure for me. Best beer, chocolate, frites, mussels, and now the best hotel breakfast I've ever had. :) 
Hotel breakfast
A few blocks from our hotel was the Church of Our Lady. The church is beautiful, but the highlight and main attraction is the 16th century Madonna and Child statue by Michelangelo. Supposedly it's the only statue made by Michelangelo to have left Italy during his lifetime. It was brought to Bruges by a wealthy Flemish merchant.
Across the street from the church is the Memling Museum. Centuries ago it was a hospital that has been turned into a museum with artifacts and paintings from Flemish Primitives, mostly Memling. Lots of the paintings depicting medieval medicine make me appreciate modern day health care. Yikes! 

The chapel inside the church has lots of religious art. Since I know little to nothing about the Bible, Jaap explained the stories in the paintings to me. I felt like I had my own personal tour guide. I know that Jaap is not known to go to museums voluntarily on his own, so I was happy (and relieved) that he was genuinely enjoying himself. 
Below are some shots from our walk through the Begijnhof and Minnewater, a park filled with canals and swans. As you can see the weather was dark and dreary, no rain though. I thought it was very fitting for a stroll in this old medieval city. 
Back in the center of town we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood (12th cent.). It's famous because it houses a vial of Christ's blood, preserved in rock crystal, brought back to Bruges during one of the Crusades. Skeptical? It gets even better. Supposedly the dried blood would liquify every Friday for about 200 years and in 1325 it dried up for good. Suspicious? Me too. Jaap has a theory as to how they got the blood to liquify for that 200 year period. It's fun traveling with a chemist. However, we did get to see the relic up close. We caught the public viewing right before it closed. 
Basilica of the Holy Blood
The second half of the day consisted of drinking beer and playing Rummikub at a really old pub. A fun and relaxing way to spend a cloudy afternoon. Here comes another life changing moment. This time it was with beer. Belgian beer is incredible. There is definitely a history and appreciation for it here. It made me think of all the crappy beer I drank in college. What a waste of money...and calories!
For our last night in Bruges Jaap took me out for some Flemish cuisine. We shared mussels cooked in Belgian beer. Delcious. We had frites...again. Delicious. Followed by a classic Belgian dessert, dame blanche. That's French for hot fudge sundae. Delicious. It was heaven. A great way to end our trip in this beautiful city. Thanks Jaap. :)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bruges, Belgium: Part I

I'm not really sure where to begin with Bruges. Here's one word... AMAZING! Let's see. I have sampled the best chocolate and beer I have ever had in my life, as well as mussels and frites. :) We've seen (up close) a vile of Christ's blood brought to Bruges from the Crusades in 1150. (Skeptical about this one). We've visited a 13th century church that houses a Michelangelo statue, which is supposedly the only statue created by the artist to have left Italy during his lifetime. We walked through cobbled streets and along the canals admiring medieval architecture. And we got a good taste of some 'Flemish Primitive' art at the Groeninge and Memling Museums. We had such an amazing vacation.
Markt at night
Everybody says that Bruges is a fairytale city. Ever since my father visited Bruges a few years ago he has raved about this city. He says it's a must see. He's right. Even though the city is swarming with tourists I agree that when visiting Belgium this place is a must see. Tons of old architecture and history have remained intact for centuries and very little of the city appears modern. It's a very unique place and quite interesting to witness. It's understandable why so many tourists flock here, but we found a way to escape it all and truly enjoy ourselves and Bruges.

With Rick Steves as our guide we started exploring at De Halve Maan Brewery because it was very close to our hotel. The best part was going to the roof at the end for some panoramic views of the city, as well as some excellent beer at the end.

Afterwards we grabbed some dinner where I had some amazing rabbit and frites of course. The first frites of three. I know. That's excessive, but when in Rome! 
Touring De Halve Maan Brewery
Views from brewery
The next day the true sightseeing began. We climbed the Bell Tower and took some pictures from the top. The tower is under construction and because of obstructed views we got a free ticket to another museum, so we visited City Hall for free. Yay for free stuff! Jaap and I were recounting scenes from a movie we recently saw with Colin Ferrell called In Bruges. Has anybody out there seen it? The movie's a little weird, but it was fun to figure out where certain parts were filmed. There's a few scenes filmed in the Bell Tower and I was wondering how a film crew could fit inside such a small stairwell. Then Jaap pointed out that it's possible that not every scene was filmed on location. "Maybe it was filmed in a studio." Good point babe! (He's so smart). Despite obstructed views, we still got some good shots from the top.  
Happy to climb
Day 1 continued with a visit to the Groenige Museum for a van Eyck and Dürer exhibition followed by stop at Dumon, a chocolate shop recommended by our buddy Rick Steves. Okay. Here comes a life changing moment...eating Dumon chocolate. It's the best chocolate I have ever had in my life! No joke. There's a reason why this shop is recommended by every travel book. It's to die for. And it's reasonably priced compared to other chocolatier shops in Bruges. We bought a box with an assortment of different chocolates and slowly ate our way through them for a few days. I was sad when the last one was gone. Just another reason to return to Belgium.
van Eyck
Our afternoon stroll took us to some stunning spots. It was quite chilly so we stopped at a pub for some beer. I had a Kriek, which means cherry beer in Flemish. Very yummy, but the beer gets even better on Day 2. More about that in Part II. Here are some pictures from our walk.