Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend with the Jansens

My weekly blog update schedule is starting to become difficult to keep up with. Perhaps it's a good sign that I have other things to do, but I do miss writing about our happenings in Holland. I'm starting to feel more settled in Maastricht and like I actually live here, as opposed to just visiting. Hanging out with friends, different projects at work, finishing my third Dutch class, and even learning how to drive stick has kept me very busy. With that said, here is my very belated post about some recent happenings we had in the north. Jaap's parents rented a vacation house for a weekend away with the Jansen clan in a small town called Lemelen. It's in the province of Overijssel, in a northeast section of the Netherlands. Het was gezellig! Thanks again Trees & Jan!
The nephews, Frans & Annabel
Happy birthday Trees!
Jaap came home Friday morning from his conference in Montreal and a few hours later we were up and on the road! It took about three hours to get to our vacation house in Lemelen, which is about 25 km from Zwolle. When we arrived we were greeted with some lekker tapas, drinks, and dinner. It was so nice to show up and relax! 

Of course, no Jansen event would be complete without games. After dinner we played a round of Kolonisten, my new favorite past time. The good news is.... Ik sprak Nederlands met de familie van Jaap. Maybe just a little bit here and there, but it's definitely getting better. I always wish that my Dutch was more advanced at this point, but there's only so much my brain can handle. I'm just happy that it's improving, even if it is at a slow pace.
Jaap's sister, Mieke, with the nephews
Tijn, Mieke, Mees & Annabel
Our weekend was very relaxing complete with a walk in the woods, visit to a park, and some rounds of Sjoelen. (See the pictures below). We also celebrated Trees' birthday with some nice vlaai and of course singing. Gelfeliciteerd Trees! And dank je wel to Jan and Trees for hosting a great weekend with the Jansens. 
Jasper & Jan concentrating on a game of Sjoelen
These photos below were taken by Jaap's brother, Frans. 
Willem & Mees
Mieke, Mees & Trees

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Queen's Day & Tulips!!!!!!

Queen's Day, lots of tulips, and clogs. It's been a very Dutch week for me. Last Saturday was Koninginnedag, an official holiday that celebrates the Queen's birthday. Technically Queen Beatrix's birthday is in January, but the holiday remains on April 30th (the previous Queen's birthday) so the Dutch can celebrate in warm weather. 
Koninginnedag in Maastricht is pretty tame. The real party takes place in Amsterdam with more music, people, and drinking. However, we still managed to enjoy the day with warm weather and the largest flea market (vrijmarkt) I have ever seen in my life! On Queen's Day the Dutch government allows people to sell their goods (more like junk) on the street without paying a sales tax. It's a very kid-friendly holiday where kids sell their toys and baked goods throughout the park. We also saw a lot of young musicians performing on the streets. We threw a couple of euro cents to some beginning flute players playing at one of the vrijmarkts. It was very cute. Jaap and I bought some CDs and another kitchen good for myself. We spent a whopping 3.50. Woo hoo!
Vrijmarkt at the Stadpark. Jaap wearing the Dutch color.
The Stad park had some pavilions set up with live music and food. We listened to a big band perform while enjoying some drinks. Here's a picture of Jaap enjoying the holiday. I'm not sure if you can tell, but he was dancing in this shot. One of his signature moves. Now...on to the tulips!
When most Americans think of Holland they think of clogs, tulips, and windmills. Oh, and of course legalized marijuana. I have yet to experience the joys of coffeshops and smoking pot in the Netherlands, but I can now check the Keukenhof off my list. What a sight! The Keukenhof is very unique and like nothing you have ever seen before. Jaap's parents treated me to a day at the Keukenhof. I'm glad I was able to go there with Jaap's family and enjoy it with others. Jaap was really sad he missed it. Just kidding. :) Special thanks to Jan and Trees for the trip! Het was gezellig!
The Keukenhof is famous for large fields covered with huge blocks of color from different types of tulips. Unfortunately, we were about a week or two too late and the tulips in the fields have come and gone. However, there is still a lot of see at the Keukenhof and the gardens are really spectacular. Throughout the park there are different pavilions that house more exotic flowers as well. 
Did you know that the Netherlands is the number one exporter of tulip bulbs in the world? These people really know their flowers. It's one of the many little things I love about living here. I once bought 50 tulips at the market for 5 euros. That's ridiculous! I've gotten into the habit of buying flowers at the market once a week to bring some more color and nature into our apartment. I love that buying flowers is so affordable. 
I feel so Dutch!
Dutch people, on the other hand, keep many plants and flowers in their homes and gardens. Gardening here is serious business. Jaap is responsible for watering the plants in our apartment. I forget that we even have them. I'm pretty sure I was born without a green thumb. My former roomate and very close friend, Debbie, had a great saying when we lived together in Boston. She used to say, "Elena, this is where plants come to die." It's so true. I've killed every plant I've ever had. For now, Jaap can water the plants and I'll keep buying my tulips at the market. :)
Jan enjoying the clogs. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Amsterdam: Part II

The second half of our Amsterdam vacation started with a canal boat tour. It's a great way to see the city from a different perspective and learn more about the history of Amsterdam. We could not have asked for better weather. I think our few days in Amsterdam was the longest time, since living in the Netherlands, that I haven't had to use my umbrella. Score! 

Our canal tour took us to famous sites like the Skinny Bridge and the Seven Bridges. The majority of our boat tour was spent on Herengracht, Keizergracht, and parts of Prinsengracht. (Grachten meaning canals in English). This is where all the wealthy merchants lived during Amsterdam's Golden Age. 
The Skinny Bridge
Riding through these canals was my favorite part of the tour because we learned more about the typical 17th century Dutch architecture that everyone associates with Amsterdam. This style of gabled roof top architecture was popular in the 17th century. I could stare at these roof tops all day. The city is so pretty.
Seven Bridges
After our boat tour we had lunch at De Bakkers Winkel. I went to this restaurant in Utrecht with my former Dutch teacher Mari. It's delicious. I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Amsterdam. Very simple, but yummy. We finished our meal with a raisin scone topped with some clotted cream and their homemade jams and spreads. I topped mine with some lemon curd (that I ended up buying afterwards). Holy LEKKER!!!
Next stop: Het Rembrandhuis. Since visiting Anne Frank was practically impossible on Easter weekend we thought Rembrandt would be an interesting alternative. Well to be honest, I thought it would be an interesting alternative. Jaap could go on living life without ever entering another museum. I, on the other hand, could visit every museum possible. We have had to blend our two different travel styles and compromise. Jaap has instituted the 'only one museum a day rule', which I have come to embrace. I'm actually enjoying spending less time in museums and more time outside, exploring the city itself. And for the record, we only visited two museums in Amsterdam. :)

I have to admit. I was very impressed by Rembrandt's digs. The house is very large and gives you a good glimpse of what his life was like during this time period. Rembrandt moved to the house at the height of his popularity in 1639, right before he was commissioned to paint The Night Watch. The house was expensive and by the 1650s he could no longer afford it and had to move. However, many of his masterpieces were painted here in his large studio, as well as famous etchings in his printing room. Some of his pupils lived and painted in the upstairs portion of the house as well. 
Jaap exploring Rembrandt's kitchen
One room of the house (that I don't have a picture of) was where he kept his collector's items and rare objects. He collected hides, shells, exotic stuffed animals, as well as pottery, art, and weapons from all over the world. One of the museum guides said that they have a detailed record of his belongings because when he filed for bankruptcy the city of Amsterdam drafted a list of his works and antiquities that were eventually sold to repay his debts. If only he knew how much his paintings are worth today!
Rembrandt's large painting studio
Jaap was thrilled to be there.
Here are some pictures of our afternoon stroll. 

A quick stop at the Bloemen Markt.
Tulips, tulips, and more tulips! They're everywhere. This is to be expected though, we're in Holland after all. Vondelpark was great. Amsterdam's own mini-Central Park. We lazily strolled around, ate some ice cream, and sat on a park bench for a long time enjoying each other's company. Jaap fell asleep in my lap and enjoyed a little cat nap. He's so cute! It was one of my favorite parts of the day. 
On our way back towards Amsterdam Centraal we stopped to listen to a jazz trio playing outside. They were pretty good and there was an outdoor café right where we were standing, so we sat down and enjoyed a few drinks before heading off to dinner in Chinatown. It felt like one of those perfect 'New York moments' when you just love the city and the company you're with so much you don't want it to end. This was even better because we were in Amsterdam! The sun was setting, the weather was warm, I was with Jaap listening to quality jazz, and enjoying a nice witte wijn. Could things get any better? 

Here's a little clip of the jazz trio playing one of my favorite jazz standards, St. Thomas. I apologize for the sound, you can't really hear the bass player that well. On another note: Please tip your street musicians when listening to good music!
We ended our trip with a little stroll through the red light district. It still amazes me a country that legalizes pot smoking in coffeshops and prostitution still functions well, and in most cases better than other places in the western world. That's how cool Dutch people all. But seriously, after visiting Amsterdam and learning more about Dutch culture, I continue to fall more in love with this country. 
Red light district