Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's getting closer!

Carnaval fun continues and it hasn't even officially started yet. The Redt Band took part in a festival in Oisterwijk last night. It's a town in Brabant about 20 minutes from Oirschot. There were about twenty bands participating in last night's festival. The bar had two large rooms for performing. Each band played two sets in each room.  Lots of music , Carnaval decorations, beer, and unfortunately smoke. Cough, cough. I still don't understand the 'no-smoking' laws in the Netherlands and apparently nobody does. 
Despite the fact that I couldn't breathe I still had a great time. The Redt Band always delivers! Always entertaining and fun. They really have a stage presence that other bands don't. Again, I'm completely biased, but this is my honest musical opinion. I decided to leave a few hours earlier and Jaap's father came to pick me up. Thanks Jan! I'm not the party animal I used to be. Lamo! I was bummed I missed the last set. The Redt Band was invited up for an encore when the festival ended. I'm so proud. :) 

The real party starts Friday. I can't wait to see how colorful Maastricht will be. I was sad I missed Halloween in New York this year, but Carnaval is definitely making up for it. Alaaf!
I love this picture of Jaap. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Köln with Dr. Weber & Dr. Jansen

Kölner Dom
I love that if you drive 30 minutes in one direction from Maastricht you’re in Germany and five minutes in another you’re in Belgium. We really are living in the heart of Europe, so let's take advantage of the situation. 

She goes by Dr. Weber now.

My dear friend Jessie, from high school, was taking a course in Berlin and we decided to meet in Cologne for the weekend. I'm embarrassed to say that we could not remember the last time we saw each other, which is pathetic. We have lived on opposite sides of the country for the past seven years. Me in Boston or New York and her in southern California. Getting together is not always easy. Now I'm living in Maastricht, she's living in Montreal, so why not meet in Germany? 

First I have to say, Gefeliciteerd Jessie, who can now be referred to as Dr. Weber! The last time I saw Jessie she was in grad school working on her PhD and I said that I would call her Dr. the next time we met. Congratulations!

Jessie has a blog too called cooking and tunes. Check it out. Looks yummy!
I met Jessie at our hotel on Friday. Jaap was going to join us on Saturday, so we had a lot of time to catch up with some drinks and girl chat. First we visited the Dom in the city center. It was great riding the U-bahn. I'll take a train over the bike any day. We couldn't figure out how to validate our train tickets though. Ooopps. We figured it out the next day with the help of a local. In our defense, the 'ticket-validating-machines' were broken. It was just a coincidence that the three trains we got on all had machines that weren't working. Oh well. 

We really had no idea where we were going and literally ended up walking around the city twice. If we saw something on the map that looked interesting we walked to it. We mostly saw some remains of medieval fortifications, but kept wondering, where are all the old buildings? Old city center? Young people? Trendy spots? Okay, so it's not like walking through medieval Maastricht and we realized that Cologne was completely destroyed during the war, so the lack of old architecture made sense. 
We visited the cathedral first. I read online that the Kölner Dom is one of the most visited landmarks in Germany and it's easy to see why. The crucifix pictured below is said to be one of the oldest sculptures of the crucified Christ in existence. It was donated to the church by Archbishop Gero circa 970. Pretty neat. One of the main attractions in the cathedral is the Shrine of the Magi. (No picture here). The contents of what exactly is in the shrine are not explained explicitly in our little brochure. We're always suspicious of these holy relics though. :)
Gero Crucifix

We did find a cute café where we hung out for awhile, just drinking wine and catching up. :) 
Girl talk at Café Elephant
Jaap met up with us Saturday morning and we walked around a different area of the city center. We revisited the cathedral again for a more in depth tour with Jaap. Afterwards we went to the Römanisch-Germanisches Museum. The museum houses a massive collection of art and artifacts from when the Romans settled in Cologne. 
There is a great interactive exhibit that allows you to compare modern day Cologne to what it looked like 2000 years ago. It's really interesting. We were able to look at the fortifications we saw on our walk the day before and see what the complete structure used to look like. 

This is how much Jaap enjoyed the exhibit. Who says you can't take a little cat nap in a museum?
Römisch-Germanisches Museum 

Every good trip to Germany has to have beer in it. We tried the local brew Dom Kölsch. Not our favorite brew, but you gotta go local when traveling! Thanks Jessie for meeting us in Germany!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Carnaval!

Please sing along: It's beinning to a look a like Carnaval, everywhere you go! It's that time of year. Here in the south the Carnaval season has officially begun. Festivals, parades, Carnaval music, red, yellow, and green decorating the streets of Maastricht and of course beer! 
Can you find Jaap? He's the one playing the valve trombone. I'm a music teacher and I didn't even know what that was. Apparently it's perfect for playing in pubs with crowds of slightly drunk people. (Less chances of damaging the slide). 
The rest of the Netherlands does not take part in these celebrations. I can say that the party is really only happening here in the dirty south. The Netherlands is basically divided into two parts. The north and south. Protestant and Catholic. Noord Brabant and Limburg are the two southern provinces that are predominantly Catholic and celebrate Carnaval. Maastricht is famous for it's Carnaval costumes and celebrations and I'm so happy that we live here to be in the center of it all. 
For years Jaap has played with the Redt Band, a Carnaval party band from his hometown. Since we only live an hour from there he is able to still play with them for Carnaval season. Last Sunday was my first time experiencing the joys of this holiday. There was a festival in Oirschot and the Redt Band made their 2011 Carnaval season debut. I'm officially a Redt Band groupie. The festival took part in several pubs with bands from Oirschot as well as surrounding cities and towns. Lots of beer, loud music, and good times. Note to self: Bring earplugs next time. Ouch. Saying I had fun is an understatement. I had a blast! There were lots of Carnaval bands participating throughout the day, but I must say the Redt Band was my favorite. I know I'm biased, but they really know how to entertain. 
Warning: It's advised to have at least one beer before watching the following video clips. It's easier on the ears. :)

I'm looking forward to all the festivities happening during the next month with the Redt Band and in Maastricht as well.  I really feel far from home because of all these different experiences and traditions.  At the same time I'm happy to be here because you won't see any of this in New York!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A day in Den Bosch

Noordbrabants Museum
On Saturday we traveled to Den Bosch ('s-Hertogenbosch) with the Jansens for a nice little day trip. Den Bosch is a city in Brabant and very close to Oirschot (Jaap's hometown). Less than thirty minutes in the car and we were exploring a new city. Very exciting!
First we stopped for some drinks at a cafe. I'm really getting used to the perks of European lifestyle. The Dutch are serious about their coffee. Nothing happens for more than two hours without a koffie pauza. :) Even work. Everybody at my job  has a fifteen minute koffie pauza scheduled into their day. I'm not kidding. And why not?

So... "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." And "when in Den Bosch, eat a Bossche Bol." I love this quote because it gives me an excuse to try all the yumminess Europe has to offer. It's a creme-filled-donut-like pastry dipped in chocolate. It's very similar to a Boston creme donut. Apparently it's a Den Bosch speciality. Lekker! As a side note, when in Maastricht, eat some vlaai! Oh, and don't forget mustard soup in Groningen.
Afterwards we crossed to the street to visit Sint-Jan. Of course I was struck again by the beauty of another cathedral. The Basilica of Sint-Jan is massive and stunning. Early construction of the church dates back to the 13th century. The size is massive and it made me think, "What inspired people to build a structure that is so gigantic?" Stepping inside makes you think about how important faith and religion were to people in the Middle Ages. It's beautiful.
Our next stop was the Noordbrabants Museum, which is currently showing an exhibition on Flemish expressionist art from 1885-1960. (The collection is actually from the Groeningemuseum Museum in Bruges. Another one of our museum stops this year). Upstairs there was collection of Bruegels and some early van Goghs. The van Gogh's were a collection of some of his earlier pieces. Mostly dark, serious, and lots of earthy colors. That's my official art critique. I need to take an art history course. However, I learned something new too! Did you know that van Gogh is from Brabant? Just some fun Brabant trivia for you. :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy 60th Mom!

Christmas tree-cutting: November 2010
First of all...Happy 60th Birthday to my fabulous mother! We wish that we could be with you to celebrate this great milestone with you. You're a wonderful woman! We'll make up for it in Paris! We love you.
Pardo family picnic: August 2010
Friday afternoon walk by Onze Lieve Vrouweplein
Busy, busy, and more busy! I feel like I'm getting back into the groove that I was used to in New York. I'm starting to get more settled into the job, my second Dutch class at the university started this week, and I'm beginning to find my balance between work and home again. It's been a busy week, but I'm starting to feel like I actually live here and not just visiting. I took a walk this afternoon into the city center and it was one of the more enjoyable times I've had walking around on a Friday. Where are all the tourists? The city was not crowded and it was wonderful.
Before my busy week, we had a nice and relaxing weekend. We attempted to go to the movies last Saturday and try out a Thai restaurant we heard about. Black Swan has finally made it to the Netherlands and we were excited to see it. We're quite the movie critics and Jaap has turned me into a movie buff. As for the Thai restaurant, several people recommended this place on Boschstraat and we finally got to test it out for ourselves, unfortunately we had to wait until Tuesday. Bummer. 
Our date night was detoured when we realized we needed to have a reservation for the Thai place and the movie was sold out. Although, seeing that the movie was sold-out gave me that New York feeling again. We showed up to the restaurant at 6 and were rudely turned away. I thought nobody would be out for dinner on a Saturday night at 6, but then I forgot that we're in the Netherlands. Saturday night dinners in New York don't happen before 8. Oh well. Just another thing to get used to. And now I sound like a New York snob. 

We got to relive date night on Tuesday. Thai food and Black Swan take two! The food was very good. It doesn't beat my favorite places back home, specifically Song in Park Slope, but it was yummy. I am relieved to know that there is good Thai food in Maastricht. I finally got my pad thai fix. Very lekker!

These pictures are from my afternoon walk today. I love how the cafés in Onze Lieve Vrouweplein are putting the chairs back outside. I think there was a good solid three months where the plein was empty. But the sign of outdoor chairs eventually means that spring is coming!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Exploring the north

Last weekend we spent a beautiful (and chilly) three days all the way up north in Groningen. It was nice exploring this university city and learning more about the other side of the Netherlands. 
Jaap's friend Dave lives in Groningen and we were able to stay with him on Thursday. While Jaap and Dave went to work together at the hospital, I was free to explore Groningen on my own. I had big plans to walk and explore as much as I could. I bought a map at the VVV in the Grote Markt and started my day exploring the city. The Martinitoren was closed until noon, so I strolled through the Prisenhof Gardens, which must be beautiful during the spring and summer. After 45 minutes of walking around I decided to take cover from the cold. I did some shopping and enjoyed a yummy cappuccino at V&D. It was freezing! 
Afterwards, I climbed the tower of the Martinikerk and enjoyed some views from the top. And despite my ambitious plans to visit museums and walk through the city park for the remainder of the day, I went to the movies instead. :) Once I lost feeling in my fingers I wanted to hibernate. A 90 minute movie would do the trick. 
Dinner at t' Pakhuis
Even though pancakes are not a Dutch breakfast tradition, we enjoyed some banana/apple/raisin pannenkoen for Saturday's brunch on one of the canals. Definitely the best pancakes I've had in the Netherlands. :)
The weekend highlight for me was visiting the Groninger Museum. Right now they are hosting an exhibit called Russia's Unknown Orient with collections of paintings from places like Armenia and Uzbetkistan and other countries south of Russia. For me it was something very new and unique to see. I have not seen a lot of artwork from this 'orientalism' genre. 
Groninger Museum
The museum itself is beautiful and houses lots of interesting modern art pieces as well. The Groninger is definitely a must see when visiting the city.
And just when you think you're looking at another medieval crucifixion, you look closely and see that it's a BigMac, Ronald McDonald, and the Hamburglar. 
BigMac, Ronald McDonald & The Hamburglar

Our first trip to Groningen was a success. I'm looking forward to returning when it's warmer outside.