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!!!)