Friday, December 30, 2016

12 Movie Reviews from My Christmas Movie Binge

Twelve movies, you say?  Yes, that is basically how I spent my Christmas week off! The 12 movies of Christmas (not at all related to the holiday), chilling with Kiara, and blogging over at my new blog for teachers, The Teaching Cove, of course.  

Christmas Holidays

Christmas Eve was an interesting dinner with my new friend, Vita. We tried out an Internations event, but the dinner was overpriced, their vegetarian option was literally grilled vegetables and a boring salad, and the company was - well - way over our age group. Next time, we'll stick to or events that take place in a bar or something ;)

So, which movies did I see this holiday? Well, a few were in theatres. The rest, I admit, were purchases from iTunes - *gasp*, I know. Netflix is really just not cutting it in the movie department lately. Also, my initial impression of Amazon Prime is that it's just another tv-show and old movie portal, as well. 

When I finally have a few days to relax, the last thing I want to do is search through tasteless tv shows on Netflix and "Netflix Originals" to find something good.

 Sometimes, you can get iTunes movies for $0.99 and other times they're $3.99 (Canadian dollars), so some are older ones that I hadn't seen

12 Movie Reviews For Your Next Movie Binge

Here they are! While they're in no particular order, I've slapped them all with my own personal rating (5 stars being amazing, 1 star being completely worthless). Photos and links to the movies are from

Remember, I'm super picky. Actually, there are two aspects that make a film great in my opinion - great plot, and great character development.  One or the other can also work. You'd be surprised how many films have neither!!!

Arrival  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

So, despite two friends telling me I'd love this movie, I was a bit skeptical. Sci-fi movies are not usually my favourites.

Wow. Amy Adams was absolutely incredible in this film (and the one below, too ;). Yes, it's a movie about aliens landing on Earth and countries trying to figure out what to do. Flashbacks, foreshadowing, symbolism, and stellar character development with an air of mystery make it spectacular. It is a tragic, compelling drama.

Nocturnal Animals    ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wow. Noctural Animals will leave you desperate to read the book, originally titled Tony and Susan. It's written by Austin Wright, who The Guardian calls "the epitome of an academic as a novelist".

It's a beautiful thriller about relationships, revenge, social expectations, and two wildly different people who fall in love. Amy Adams plays a woman haunted by a novel her ex-husband writes and dedicates to her. Jake Gyllenhall is stellar in his performance as both the main character in the thriller novel and Amy Adam's ex-husband, the author.

Trust me, you will love this film. It deserves an Oscar!!

The Meddler   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

So, one night I was in the mood for something a little lighter. Susan Sarandon and Rose Bryne are an excellent mother-daughter combo in this lighthearted drama. Sarandon plays a recently widowed retiree who moves to California to be in her daughter's life and - well- meddle. It's a really fun film to watch!

Margin Call    ⭐⭐⭐

While I preferred The Big Short, this older movie was another take on the 2008 stock market crash. It follows two young investment professionals who discover the formula the company is using is wrong. In fact, the market is about to crash. The tagline, "There are three ways to win in this business - Be First, Be Smarter or Cheat" pretty much explains the plot.

Kevin Spacey and Zachary Quinto do a pretty good job playing the roles. Worth the rental.

Paterson   ⭐⭐

Well, I had higher hopes for this one. Adam Driver is a decent actor. Really, there was no plot. Also, the characters seemed shallow to me. 

During the whole film I thought, this could be an incredible novel if you were let deeper into the characters' thoughts, minds and personalities. If the poetry were used as a piece of literature within literature and the symbolism carried through. 

But it's not. It's just a waste of two hours.

Demolition    ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Searching for other Jake Gyllenhaal films, I came across this $0.99 rental on itunes. While the plot is fairly basic, the character development is incredible. It follows a man's struggle to become whole again after his wife, the love of his life, is killed in a car accident. 

Just watch it.

Bridget Jones' Baby   ⭐⭐⭐

Well, I preferred the first two movies about Bridget. However,  I will say it's not bad for a break from reality. Bridget Jones is, once again, older and single on her birthday. She's searching for a man, and her mother is desperate for her to have a baby.

Anywhere But Here  ⭐⭐⭐.5

Since I liked The Meddler, I thought I'd check out this older movie from 1999. Actually, I meant to see this movie in theatres way back when it came out, and I didn't! It's cute and a good way to have a relaxing couple hours off. Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman are a good "mother-daughter" team!

Jason Bourne   ⭐⭐⭐

Again, I prefer the first few films, but the final part of the Bourne series is not bad. Matt Damon is always a pleasure to see again. I can't remember his last movie before this!

The Theory of Everything  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ok, Netflix, you got one new movie right. In this beautiful drama, we learn Stephen Hawking's story, that of a Cambridge student, a genius leading a relatively normal life, suddenly faced with a horrible, slow progressing disease. His wife's devotion to him is amazing, and together they work through challenges. Take an evening and watch this one!

The Accountant   ⭐⭐⭐

Well, I thought this one would be better to be honest. It was high action, a bit of suspense, Ben Affleck (what was his last movie?!) and a minor sort-of-love story. Wait until this one is on Netflix.

Sully   ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Did you know that they actually blamed the pilot for landing the plane on the Hudson River in New York and saving everyone's lives, instead of turning around and trying to land on a runway? Not a single person died when the plane landed on the water.

Based on the true story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger and the investigation he went through, this is a moving drama. Predictable, of course, but still worth watching. I'm thinking of making a film study of it for my students!  

Well, those were my 12 movies of Christmas. Have you seen any of them? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments below.

Have a wonderful New Years Eve weekend!! Stay tuned for a post on my upcoming New Years Eve weekend in Geneva!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Maastricht: A Beautiful Dutch City of Winter Lights

Maastrict was one of the last cities I visited during my three month research stay in Holland, and wow do they have beautiful winter lights.  Actually, it felt like Christmas a month early! While I know that this post is a couple weeks late, I thought the slideshow was just in time for the festive holiday season.

Maastrict: Walking the Cobblestone Streets

Maastrict is a city of 120, 000 people. All Dutch cities seem to be quite small! It was beautiful wandering around the cobblestone streets and into the little boutique stores, admiring the festive lights. 

Now, Maastricht is windy, which makes it extremely cold! It's also really pretty! So, though I was not so prepared with my spring coat, wool hat and gloves, I walked around taking photos.

Unfortunately, the Christmas market that was supposed to happen that weekend was postponed for a week. You should have seen the lines of disappointed tourists. Although you could see all the beautiful huts for the vendors and decorations on the streets, there was no market!  Still, it was lovely to walk around and enjoy the sights (and multiple cups of hot chocolate!)

Beautiful Festive Gelato Store

Beautiful Bookstore In An Ancient Church

My favourite part of Maastricht was the gorgeous bookstore in a church, the Dominican Church in the city center. WOW. They've converted an ancient Dominican church into a modern bookstore. The blue lights shining through when the sun hits the stained glass is incredible!
Beautiful Bookstore in Church, Maastrict
Home Christmas Display, Maastrict

Maastricht Slideshow

Check out the slideshow below for a view of this wintery city. It was my last day trip before leaving Holland to move back to Barcelona. Please remember that if you're on a mobile, the slideshow may not work, so click here to view my Flickr Set and flip through the photos that way.

Stay tuned for my upcoming post on comparing the places that I've lived - Singapore, Canada, England, Spain and Holland  (we'll leave Switzerland out since that was only a few months when I was 19).  My pros and cons post will be up soon!

Have a lovely and festive week, loyal readers! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Eindhoven GLOW: A Beautiful Dutch Winter Lights Festival

Dress of Lights, Einhoven GLOW festival
Friday night I headed over to Eindhoven, about an hour's train ride away, to check out the GLOW festival.  It's an annual winter lights festival that happens in the city (and apparently they're building permanent light structure there, too).

This year there were two routes - the City (Blue) route and the University (Science) route. I chose the city one only because I had never been to Eindhoven. It's a pretty little city (all Dutch cities seem to be very little...) Although it's cold here now (really cold with the wind), it was a beautiful walk when everything was all lit up.

I had a chance to practice my night photography, but I must say it doesn't seem to improve that much each time I practice...

I did my best, though, so you could have a small peek at what it was like there. 

In addition to the lights, the atmosphere was delightful. You could walk around and warm up in small cafes, grab a calorific traditional waffel from stands that smelled way too much like sugar, and wander in and out of stores.  They even had an indoor art exhibition where you could sees artists who work with light. The model in the white light dress was my favourite!  

The 9:00pm light show at the church was one of the best parts of the evening. They had a light and laser show that depicted scenes from a story and opera music playing in the background. I'd definitely recommend this (free!) festival for anyone who's thinking of going next year. You can check out the slideshow at the end of this post for more pics!

Check out my slide show below to see my best shots from the lights festival!

If you're on a mobile device, please remember to click here instead and view my Flickr set. You can flip through the pictures that way!

Enjoy the slideshow!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sinterklaas: A Dutch Holiday Tradition with A Horse, Carrots & Shoes

Sinterklaas Parade - November 13, 2016 (Utrecht)
Ever heard of Sinterklaas?  Yes, I spelled that right! Here in Holland, it's not just St. Nick who visits kids for the holidays. In fact, Sinterklaas came to town last Sunday (November 13th) , made a speech about his trip from Spain (yup, Sinterklaas is Spanish!).  Dutch kids even watch a special news segment for an "update" on his journey and the obstacles he encounters on his way to their town.

(For example, maybe his horse gets stuck in the mud and there was a slight delay...but phew, the next day they are on track to arrive on time! ;)  . 

Yup, no reindeer here. He arrives from Spain on a horse.

So, last Sunday, my roommates and I headed to the city centre to check out the parade.

Oh, and Sinterklaas and his helpers, especially "Black Pete" hand out handfuls of candies to the children at the parade.

Here are a few fun facts about Sinterklaas:

K gets a peppernoten from a helper ;)
  • Sinterklaas shows up several times leading up to his birthday (December 5th), so you need to always be prepared and leave out a carrot (in your shoes) for his horse, Amerigo, to eat.    Don't horses eat apples?!
  • When you leave out a carrot, Sinterklaas and Amerigo give you a small gift (like a chocolate or small toy).
  • You have to sing a carol first, though! Otherwise Sinterklaas and Amerigo won't hear you ;)
  • Two weeks later, on Sinterklaas' birthday, you get bigger gifts!
  • Of course, you only get gifts if you're good!
  • Bad children get.... wait for it....
    • Sinterklaas chucks them in his bag and takes them to Spain.  I find this hilarious. Let's threaten them with amazing weather, good food and a beautiful coastline ;)
  • In the pic to the right, you can see a "helper" outfit. Sinterklaas' helpers (in real life) were dark-skinned, so people paint their faces black
  • This is SUPER controversial as a tradition at the moment, as some interpret it as a racist comment. So, officially, now the helpers paint their faces black because of the charcoal that gets on their faces when they slide down the chimney for Sinterklaas.
  • Kiara, my dog, gets a treat in the picture - one of the really yummy small cookies called peppernotten, which are kind of like mini gingerbread pieces.You can get them covered in dark, milk or white chocolate or even cappuccino or caramel flavour! Yum!
Here are a few pictures from the parade!

Reeling in the presents off the boat!

Open wide! Black Pete is giving you a cookie!

So, that was my experience with a Dutch holiday tradition!   What traditions do you have where you live that are a bit of a different take on the holidays? I'd love to hear your comments below. Stay tuned for my post on Friday night's GLOW festival in Eindhoven, Holland. Coming up soon!   

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Lovely Leiden: Sunday Afternoon in A Cute Dutch City & A Lost Kitten

Leiden Windmill, City Center
 So, today I took a break from everything to spend a few hours in Leiden, a small Dutch city. As you can imagine I've spent most of the last week launching my site, The Teaching Cove. My new blog is for English teachers and educators looking for expert resources, motivational and organizational tips, so I really haven't had time to do much else. Of course, that means this week will be major catch-up time on my PhD data analysis (post-preprocessing) plan, and a research proposal for a class I'm auditing. 

Leiden was my mini-break today. 

This morning started out with panic, though...

Abla peeking from behind the sofa arm
We awoke to find that one of the kittens was missing.  Abla, the beautiful grey European shorthaired pictured here, wandered off last night with the other cats (there are 5 that live here at the moment!) and wasn't waiting at the door this morning. They had just been vaccinated, but they are tiny and it was cold, wet, and rainy so we were really afraid Abla was scared and cold.

Now, cats are very different to dogs. Really, I never expected to love little kittens so much, but it would be sooo hard for me to have one. Cats do their own thing and wander off into other people's yards and come back; they attach themselves more to places and food than people. That's a problem for me, as I attach myself to the pet! It turns out, so does Kiara. She's Abla's "adopted mom". They cuddle together and K is always licking Abla as if she were a puppy. It's sooo funny, especially since she seems to only have adopted her a couple weeks ago. (Cat moms, and sometimes dog moms too, I've heard, often reject their kittens after a few months as they believe they should be "grown up"). Kiara has happily filled the role of adopted mom!  I've been trying to catch a video of them all week!

At the time I started writing this post (on the train back from Leiden) we had no idea where Abla was so we were worried and sad...)

Poster at one of the Leiden book binding booths
Leiden is a small, cute city lined with cobblestone streets, quaint stores and cafes. The Pieterskerk, the main church and square were holding an event today, so I only got a few shots of the inside after paying a few euros to attend the event.

What event?   you ask?

A book-binding event


Apparently, it exists. It was like an old-fashioned scrapbooking convention. There were rows and rows of exhibitors with different book cover materials (paper and leather), printed notebook paper and wrapping paper, threads to bind the books and different types of pens and accessories. 

There were vendors selling everything from notepads to Christmas cards to 20 euro notebooks made from really fragile paper. I went to the demonstration section, where you could bind your own mini paper book for free, but I just observed. I definitely don't have the sewing/fine motor skills for that ;) I'll stick to photography and painting!

This is definitely my favourite photo of the photoshoot today. How lucky was it that the plant and the bike matched?!

Orange bike, Leiden, Holland

Check out the slideshow below for more Leiden scenery! Remember, if you're on a mobile device, please click here to see my Leiden Flickr set and flip through instead.

After a short, but sweet trip I arrived home late evening and, as usual, took Kiara out for a bathroom break. Suddenly, I saw a cat jump into one of the neighbours' gardens. It looked like a black cat and I was thinking, you're just hoping it's AblaIt was black, not grey. K and I quietly walked past the garden and all of a sudden "meowww!" . Then I saw that she was grey!  K stuck her nose into the hole in the fence and "meowww!". 

Okay, there is only one cat that goes TOWARDS Kiara instead of running away. 

I ran inside to grab my roommate Yelit, and we managed to get the kitten back. Wow, Abla, you scared us you beautiful little kitten!  Turned out to be an okay Sunday after all.  Now off to a crazy work and workout week - just under 4 weeks left in Holland to intensely do PhD work...and 4 weeks until I'm back with the trainer at the gym, so I'd better get to work!!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The Fashionable Side of Amsterdam: Walking the City with a Fashionista

Amsterdam Centraal, October 29, 2016
 How often do you get to explore a city with a personal shopper and fashion blogger? Well, last Saturday in Amsterdam, that's exactly what I did.

Now, as many of you know, I just launched my new blog, The Teaching Cove, a few days ago to help English teachers and educators find expert resources.  Well, a month ago, I attended Meet the Blogger Amsterdam, my first blogging conference.  The conference content overall was okay . It was more geared towards DIY and Home Decor bloggers and not nearly as business-like as I expected. However, the keynote speakers - Anne de Bruk from Your Little Black Book (a travel blog) and Holly from Decor8  were great. 

The best part, though, was meeting my friend N from the conference. She has a degree in fashion and is a personal shopper who loves sustainable, comfortable clothes. She's starting a blog I am so excited for! I'll keep you posted once it launches. I may even get to be her pilot/test case in Barcelona for her personal shopping business :)

So, N was in Amsterdam for a few days and we had a chance to meet up last Saturday While my usual trips to Amsterdam have been for sightseeing and photography, this trip was a little different.  We met for lunch at Omelegg.It's the same place I went when Robby came to visit, but this time we checked out the Ferdinand Bolstraat location since it was close to the majority of the shops on our list.  I had scrambled egg whites with sundried tomatoes, feta, spinach, rye bread and salad served with fresh carrot juice. You can choose your own toppings from a giant list. I'd definitely recommend Omelegg for brunch!

Then, we headed to a few beautiful boutique stores in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam. I can't remember the names of them all, but there were a few that stood out:

Oops - I made a purchase! I actually did really need black boots - flat ones that I can ride my bike in. Good quality was definitely high on the list, as I am sick of 40 euro boots breaking. So, enter Fabienne Chapot and Brick Lane. I love my starry Fabienne Chapot "army boots". They were soooo comfortable I just had to buy them. Personal shopper/fashion blogger approved, too!  Apparently you can dress them up or dress them down. They had better be versatile for the price! ;)  

Another trick I learned from N was the magic of plastic hair ties. I had no idea that they break your hair less. Most of the colours are too bright for me, but the transparent ones are great. I picked up a few from H&M. They come in a huge pack for a few euros.

Then, N headed off to her evening concert plans, and I headed to Spui Street to check out the bookstores and do some photography for my blog.

Oh, by the way, I discovered that hot chocolate in Holland (which really doesn't exist in Spain), looks like this:
MokaMore Cafe, Utrecht

 Well, that's all for my latest Amsterdam adventure. Stay tuned for an upcoming story on my half day trip to the cute little city of Leiden!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Zaanse Schans & Amsterdam: Whirlwind Windmill Tour

Girl at the Windmill dock, Zaanse Schans

One of the best parts about moving so many times (even for a few months) is the number of people coming to visit you. I love having guests! Robby was just here for five wonderful days, visiting me from Barcelona (and helping me program my PhD scripts at the same time...). It was a fantastic (semi) break from the PhD and the craziness that is my life at the moment. I'm staying here in the Netherlands until the end of November and hope to fully enjoy a few cities on the weekends while I intensely work during the week.

Culture Boats, Etc (Utrecht).

Wednesday night we chilled in Utrecht, and took our bikes to town. My roommates were really great and lent Robby a bike, so we headed to town, parked and walked to The Culture Boat. It's the only remaining floating cafe. Apparently they closed a lot of the floating bars, cafes and coffee shops that used to be on the water. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture for you. Imagine a large houseboat with wooden planked floors and many windows, covered in white Christmas-lights and lit up on a calm, tranquil canal in the pitch black night. They serve a small selection of refreshments right on the waterfront. Beautiful.

Hop and Stork cafe, Utrecht
If you're in Utrecht itself, make sure you check out the beautiful church in the city centre (Domplein), and then head Hop & Stork, my favourite cafe. They have a perfect cappuccino for 3.50 (that's regular price for Holland - eek!). It comes with a beautiful piece of chocolate and a very yummy mini chocolate mousse, though! Yum!


Robby at Grotemarkt, Den Haag
On Thursday, we headed to Amsterdam for the morning. It was freezing cold (think: London, England in the winter) so we took a canal cruise, found some hot chocolate and snapped some photos of the boats on the canal. It made me think that I'd really like to try houseboating one day - that'd be a really cool trip!

I've included a few highlights from Amsterdam in the slideshow below that I missed in my last post about the Anne Frank Huis Museum. I also went to Cold Press Juicery, a very expensive, but yummy smoothie place (with some Canadian staff!). Oh, and I went to the Tulip Museum (ok, I just peeked in and didn't pay the 3 euros to see flowers...) and the Cheese Museum, which was not too different from the cheese factory museum in Zaanse Schans (see below).

Python Day & Den Haag

Friday was fantastic - a great workout in the morning, followed by Robby attending my Python/programming class (and realizing why I'm not learning much!). The prof basically just typed code up on a screen (in a corpus programming language we have NOT learned), asked us to replicate it on our own laptops, blatantly refused to answer questions and expected us to do an assignment. It's a good thing I'm auditing the course, not taking it for credit - this corpora assignment definitely falls under the "waste of my time" category, especially as it's not Python. I'll spend that time on my own data analysis, thanks!

We headed out to Den Haag to meet one of the (really awesome!) profs I'm working with here for a drink at a cinema/bar called Filmhuis and then for dinner in Grote Markt, a very cute area with restaurants and bars. Saturday was rainy, so we ended up spending the afternoon studying at a cafe in Utrecht and then chilled with movie night in the evening. We were hoping to catch the wine canal boat from Talud 9, but I guess it's only on until September (summer season!). You can see and book it halfway down the page linked above.

Zaanse Schans

This morning we took a whirlwind tour of Zaanse Schans, a cute town (and free outdoor museum) with 8 fully operational windmills. They grind items like salt, pepper, spices and cocoa. In fact, the entire town smells like chocolate! 

The beautiful path through a garden and mini river/canal leads you to a series of "museums" - the cheese museum, the Albert Heijn (grocery store) museum, bakery museum, cocoa museum, the wooden shoe museum and clock and watch museum. I put "museum" in quotes because they are really stores with a few antiques in the back section, but they are all super cute. I especially liked the clog museum - they must be very uncomfortable to wear, but they sure look great! (I suppose they are the historic version of that beautiful but uncomfortable pair of  shoes that we all own...)

Zaanse Schans windmills

Bakery Museum, Zaanse Schans

Note about the trains: If it's Sunday, be extra careful about checking train times. I've never had to wait more than 10 minutes for the next train from Utrecht-Overvecht to Utrecht-Centraal, but we waited over 20! This subsequently lead to further and further delays - it took us over two hours to get there! It was barely an hour 15 minutes on the way back though. We had about an hour and a half there, which was just about enough time. Maybe give yourself a tad more, though - time to grab a hot chocolate or a coffee at one of the restaurants or cafes. The biggest windmill place in The Netherlands is actually  Kinderdijk, but I've heard that's a bit trickier to get to by public transport. It has 19 windmills instead of 8, though!

Modern Clog, Wooden Shoe Museum

Enjoy the slideshow below - pictures of windmills, antique pieces and some fun Amsterdam shots are inside! Stay tuned for more Sunday trips around Holland!

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Anne Frank House: A Tragically Beautiful Museum + Random Dutch Facts

Anne Frank House (from
Last Sunday I spent the day in Amsterdam again, this time to check out a tragically sad and beautiful piece of history - The Anne Frank House. Tickets book up weeks in advance, but I managed to book a timeslot for one person just a week in advance on the Anne Frank Huis page.  

Photography is not allowed inside the house (hence the photo to the left taken from their website), so I'll briefly describe what it felt like to walk in the house where seven people were confined for two years, hiding and living in fear.

Dark. Eerie. Creepy. Tragic. Walking up the narrow, steep staircases, imagining an entire family whispering and treading softly so as not to alert the warehouse men in the basement of the building to their existence. Turning every corner of the main warehouse building and finding yet another two minute video of a concentration camp survivor explaining how they knew Anne, or Otto (her father). 

Tears welling up in your eyes as you imagine the thousands of Holocaust victims that had stories just like hers. 

Your heart hurting as you read the words of a 14 year old girl writing about her life in a diary - amazement at how much depth there is in her writing, how much ambition she has to turn her diary into a novel after the war - and pure, tragic, sadness as you read a couple pages from the draft of a novel she started and poems she wrote in anticipation of being published. A Spanish family next to me, talking softly - the four, inquisitive children asking questions that break your heart - why did they make them work? why are they dead? - and the parents trying to gently explain the cruelty of war.

The video of one of her childhood friends who saw her a few last times in the concentration camps really touched me - her friend was in a "better" part of the camp where the Red Cross had been able to give out supplies. Collecting bits from everyone, her friend was able to make a package for Anne and chuck it over the fence - only to have a different woman catch it, and refuseto share it with Anne. The next week, she managed to make another package and this time, Anne caught it. It was the last time they'd see each other.

The final video in the exhibition - of famous visitors and their words about Anne's story - is really beautiful. I'd definitely recommend a visit, but even when you walk in knowing it'll be sad, expect it to be ten times more heartbreaking.

Random Dutch Facts

So, on a brighter note, as a few of you know, I've decided to extend my stay here in Utrecht, Holland until the end of November. I'm loving how productive I am here, biking everywhere, living in a house with sometimes up to 7 people and 7 animals. So, as I live here I have a few random facts for you:
  • Kale is Dutch! Did you know that?  That means it's super easy to find (and cheap), unlike in Spain!
  • Orange is the colour everyone associates with The Netherlands (because it's the royal family's colour), even though the flag is red, white and blue
  • Bikes have their own lanes (usually separated from pedestrians and cars by meridians) and their own traffic light system
  • People do everything on bikes here - talk on their cell phones, have a snack, carry babies in a special seat (with a special windshield), deliver pizzas, carry 20kg of dog food home - I've seen it all!
  • Waffles are everywhere!  (aren't they Belgian?)
  • Macaroons are everywhere! (aren't they French)?
  • Public transport is pricey - I paid 50 euros for my bike and 27 euros for two really good locks. Just going to and from my place to the centre (a 5 minute train ride) would have  cost me over 260 euros for 3 months. There is also a super annoying 20 euro deposit (you cannot travel unless your card has at least 20 euros on it at the beginning of your journey, which means a lot of topping up!) At least the card works anywhere in the country, though! Find out more about travelling on Dutch transit (using the OVchipkaart) here.
  • Dogs have to pay 6 euros to travel on the train!
I'll update this list as I learn more :)

Other than that, my only news is that yesterday, I headed off to my first blogger's conference (Meet the Blogger Amsterdam). It was so amazing to meet other bloggers, learn from a couple keynote speakers who earn a serious income blogging, and get ready to launch my second blog (English teaching, motivation and organization focused) really soon!

I plan to make the most of my time here and check out the coast, the Hague and hopefully a few other cities. 

Stay tuned for more trips around the Netherlands and a visit from Robby in a week and a half (canal cruise time!!!) 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Amsterdam: A First Glance,The Van Gogh Museum & Travelling by Bike

Canal Houses, Amsterdam
So, I've been in Utrecht, Holland for three weeks now, and I'm loving it.  I especially love going everywhere by bike  - yes, they ride without helmets here. It is incredibly safe, though. I did attempt to find a helmet initially, but really, it's almost impossible to find one in bike stores unless you are a child or a super sporty racing cyclist.

We have our own lanes, which neither pedestrians nor cars are allowed on, and almost all of them are separated by meridians.  About a week ago I traded the 4.40 euro daily train ride for a daily 30 minute (return) bike ride. I paid 50 euros for the bike and 27 euros for two super high quality locks! So, it's a lot cheaper. Plus, having a bike bag to stick your groceries in is fantastic - it's so nice to not have to carry them!

Utrecht is super small, and my trip to Amsterdam last weekend lead me to one of the smallest-feeling capital cities I've ever been. It is beautiful, though and those of you who know me, know I love photographing boats! So, check out the highlights and my slideshow below!

My new bike!!! (pre-bike bag)
I took 360 Amsterdam's free walking tour (you tip the guide a few euros, of course) and learned a bunch of facts about the historical (and modern) aspects of the town.

A few highlights:

  • The canal houses are very expensive, and few people own the whole house; normally they have an apartment on one floor
  • To move into and out of these tiny, skinny, houses they use a special type of crane and have hoists at the top of roof (Check out the slideshow for a zoomed in photo)
  • The city had a historic "magic" piece of bread, blessed by a priest; the bread "survived" a fire and was known to be sacred. The special metal box they kept this bread in is still housed in the Amsterdam Museum.
  • Although most people in Amsterdam are not religious (and very tolerant of all religions), there is a small community of nuns that live in the historic centre; apparently the waiting list to join this community is over 30 years long, so most of the residents are senior citizens
  • The Van Gogh museum is beautiful - I'd recommend a trip. However, I'd definitely say I was disappointed by the fact that it was so commercial. I felt like there was store upon store upon store - perhaps more items in the stores than art on the museum walls!
  • The main church is quite pretty - but don't lean up against the walls. Apparently lots of people use the side wall as a urinal after partying...
  • Boat photo, Amsterdam canals
  • The "coffee shops" are apparently in place primarily for tourists - according to the tour guide, anyway. Locals are very tolerant, but prefer not to participate in this aspect the tolerant, legal culture.

In other news, I'm basically working like crazy on my PhD (I've gotten SO far ahead of where I was in three weeks here; it's incredible!). I'm also auditing two classes (although I don't get a grade, I feel obligated to do the assignments since I'm getting the courses for free). The Digital Linguistics (Python) course is slowly killing me, and the Speech Production and Perception course has quite a high workload, too. 

I am starting to wonder if taking two courses was the best idea. I am super exhausted and swamped, especially with the upcoming launch of my new teaching, organizational and motivational resources blog (coming in November 2016!). On the bright side, I'm learning a lot. By the time I get back to Barcelona, I'll have quite a lot of data analyzed, and (hopefully) two journal articles in progress. Those two were a surprise addition to the ones I need for my PhD, actually, but here's hoping they happen!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the slideshow below. Happy Saturday and have a wonderful weekend!

Abi - the cat who loves Kiara best now. He often hangs out on my bed.
Check out the slideshow below for my first shots of Amsterdam! 

Stay tuned for my second day trip to Amsterdam, tomorrow! I've got tickets to check out the Anne Frank Museum and I can't wait to check out this amazing piece of history.