Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so you must be pretty fond of my blog

I am well aware that apart from my important volleyball announcement from earlier today, I have not written a full post in nearly 2 whole months. For someone who enjoys writing these things, ‘ashamed’ is not a good enough word to describe my feelings about this.

I am also aware that every time I haven’t written anything for a while, I mention that I will probably be unable to extract all the succulent little details of my experiences here in the Netherlands out of my brain due to a terrible memory (I promise that’s the reason), and then go on to write a monologue of epic proportions. However, I have since learned the error of my ways and, seeing as we have 2 months’ worth of ground to cover, I’m going to cut my life down into little bite size morcels for you. Today’s post will be about the mystical lands of Utrecht and Cologne.

The weekend of 19th October was a busy one. It had been Noelle’s birthday the previous day and she had invited the Sheffielders living across the Netherlands to have a little meet up at her place in Utrecht. Noelle was a taalassistent (language assistant) at Sheffield last academic year and she gave me some tutoring outside of lessons too. I really don’t think I would have had to confidence to come here and to actually speak some Dutch if it wasn’t for her!

But I digress. Glenn, Rachel and I travelled together from Nijmegen (Sav came a bit later), and we met Louise and Lili in Utrecht. The L-team had sniffed out a superb pub located in a converted church nearby and so, of course, we headed there shortly after our arrival. This was an important moment for me because it was the day I discovered the sweet elixir of the gods, known as Lindemans Framboise. I urge you to try it, should the opportunity ever arise.

Mmmm Java Chip Starbucks for the train ride

rachstarbucks trainwindowblackandwhite louiseitgirlconvertedchurch

chalis

Glenn and his chalis

LiliBardotLili enjoying her Lindemans

While we were chilling in our new favourite place, Mark came to meet us. Since he’d been living in Utrecht for a good few months, and we still had to wait for Savannah to arrive from Nijmegen, he took us to one of his haunts. It was very…pink.

pinkOnce Sav arrived, and everyone was ready and accounted for, we attempted to find a bus stop and then the correct bus. This proved to be a huge problem despite the fact that we can all speak Dutch and one of us is even a resident of Utrecht! Nevertheless, we tried our best and finally found our way to Noelle’s. Alas, we were very, very late. Sorry Noelle!

In the end though, it was all very much worth it to see the birthday girl again. Since then, I have learned that the person who’s birthday it is, is called the ‘feest varken’ (party pig) – surely one’s birthday is the sole day of the year when people should go out of their way not to insult you?! The Dutch have their own way of doing things.

birthdaygirl Gabs glennbandw noelleballoons noellestoryIt was pretty cool speaking Dutch all evening and getting to see what everyone had been up to. Plus, Noelle had made a delicious taartje, for what is a birthday without cake? In the Netherlands, it’s customary for the ‘feest varken’ to bring their own cake, which I do find a little odd. I suppose, however, that this is happening more and more often in England.

taartjeAlas, after a couple of slices of cake, some interesting conversations and a quick sing of ‘Lang Zal Ze Leven’, Rachel and I had to return home so that we could get up before the sun the next day in order to get the train to Cologne.

October 20th will forever be an important day to me. Just as I will remember 19th October 2012 as being the first time I tasted Lindemans Framboise, October 20th will be remembered as the first time I went to Germany (although it was obviously not as monumental an event as the Lindemans).

Following a lengthy few bus and train journeys, we (me, Layton, Rachel, Tom, Shannon, Caitlin and Terhi) arrived in Cologne and, of course, headed straight to the Kölner Dom. It was such a magnificent cathedral that it was basically impossible for little old me with my feeble camera to capture the true essence of its beauty. I had a fair crack at it though, so see below. domagain dom grandadcandleA candle for Grandad Beardwood

ShannoncandlesI hope Shannon doesn’t mind me posting what she wrote about the above picture. I thought it was a lovely story:

“In 2010, I stood in one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world and lit a candle and prayed that God would heal my uncle. God did him one better and took him to heaven to live with Him. Now, two years later, I got to return to the same cathedral, light the same candle, this time in thanks and memory of the time we had with Uncle Greg. Victoria didn’t know what a special moment she was capturing when she took this photo!”

After that touching moment, we went out to explore the city. Tom apparently visits Cologne every year so we let him take the lead on what we should do. It was an interesting trip which involved pretzels, messing about in German shops, and a chocolate museum with not enough chocolate.

pretzels giantpretzelprincessrachelchocmuseum terhichoc chocfountainhahaharobotangryfunnyI just love this picture…
Layton looks like he is mid-robot,Terhi looks angry at not getting enough chocolate and Rach is just…laughing to herself

sillypics

We took these pictures as a surprise on Caitlin’s camera while she was out the room – I think they turned out pretty well!

Whilst I enjoyed my first trip to Germany,  the train ride home was probably my favourite part of the day. There was a delay mid-journey, but Layton and I were sat next to each other and definitely made the best of things!

fingersI can’t remember what I did on the Sunday but, like Craig David, I assume I chilled.

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What day is it again?

So, I’m going to level with you. I love writing these posts, but recently I’ve been putting off having to put pen to paper (or more precisely, fingers to keyboard). I think it’s been over 2 weeks since my last entry and I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting to hear about what I’ve been up to. But…that’s the problem: I can’t remember everything I’ve done. I’ve been off having the most memorable year of my life and I’ve forgotten what I’ve done. I am a disgrace.

Now I’ve got that little confession out of the way I can proceed to tell you how I plan to amend the situation. I have decided that in this post I shall recount my favourite experiences of the past 2 weeks, as they are the only ones I can remember. I would like to mention now that these may also be out of order. All the days seem to have blurred into one recently.

I left off last time with the excitement of trying my hand at volleyball hanging in the air. It was just a short while after publishing my new blog post that I received a message from Gabrielle (who was on exchange in Sheffield last year), asking if I’d like to go to Kickfit before volleyball. She also said that she had read my blog and “ik heb me helemaal kapot gelachen”, which I believe means ‘I laughed my ass off’. I just thought I’d include that so that a) I look awesome and funny, and b) so that you can all learn a new Dutch phrase.

Being the incredibly sporty person I am (pah), I agreed. It was really lovely to see Gabrielle again and Kickfit was a mighty good work out as well! It has become a weekly appointment.

Volleyball followed shortly after. One minute after, in fact, and so the warm up I had to do was not well received. The whole lesson was also in Dutch which proved quite difficult, but luckily when I let it slip that I was English to one of the other participants, he kindly translated bits of it for me. He’s probably starting to regret ever doing that now because he has to do it every week! He (Rob) is very nice though, and upon being told that I lived near Liverpool, asked me if I was a ‘saucer’. After some further discussion I soon got to the bottom of it and realised he meant ‘scouser’. That one did tickle me.

I may have scoffed at calling myself sporty before, but come to think of it, I’ve spent a lot of my time at the sports centre during the past few weeks. One day I did Kickfit, volleyball and Zumba, one after the other. I felt like an Olympic athlete. Or, at least, I did feel like an Olympic athlete until I came home, ate some crisps and realised I had a weird bruise on my arm from the volleyball ball (is the second ball necessary?) smacking into it too hard. What a whimp.

Anywho, the next evening I went for dinner with Mel, Rach and Glenn at Mr. Jack’s resteraunt in town. It serves both Greek and Italian cuisine but I thought I’d give the former a try. Everyone was so full after that meal but we all still decided to head to our fave ice cream place to get an after-dinner scoop. That, I have to say, is the only ice cream I have regretted eating since my time here. I suppose you actually can have too much of a good thing.

Later on we met up with Sav, her friend, Phil, from back home, plus Terhi, Layton, Noemi and some of her flatmates, and Frank (a Dutch guy who I think may be a friend of Dzoanna’s but I really can’t be sure). We had a few Rosébiers at my new favourite pub, De Blaauwe Hand, and enjoyed music from the Popronde festival in several different venues across the city. The best band we saw played in Underground but I swear they mustn’t have been older than 15. I’m surprised they were even allowed in the club!

On Saturday, Terhi and I did our usual weekend gym sesh and then went bowling with Tom, Layton and Shannon. The bowling place is about a 5 second cycle from Hoogeveldt and we could easily walk it, but somehow that just feels so wrong! As per, I either played really well or really badly, but Layton and Shannon must have some sort of ‘Americans only’ bowling super powers because they were amazing. Fred Flinstone himself would have had some competition that night.

As is tradition, we all went back to hang out in a kitchen. This time it was Terhi’s. We played some good games, including ‘Who am I?’…I’m not actually sure if this is the correct name for it but I think it’s fitting. See below if you’re not sure what it is.

Both Tuesday and Friday evening were spent in Terhi’s kitchen as well. It’s seen a lot of love. The former was a predrinks which never really ended, and the latter was a group-made dinner. Noemi brought olives and sun-dried tomatoes as appetizers, as well as some garlic bread for the mains, Terhi made meatballs and pasta, and Layton and I had prepared Orea-stuffed chocolate chip cookies earlier on in the day. I’m sure you must put on about 5 pounds everytime you eat one of those.

The whole of Friday was quite busy actually. In the morning I went to take a test to see if I was eligible to take part in an Advanced Dutch Language course, funded by the Faculty of Arts. It was a pretty stressful test for me but luckily I passed and made it into the same group as my fellow Sheffielders – phew! Then I met Layton to go food shopping and to get our bake on, before going to meet my Dutch mentor for the first time, at the Cultuur Cafe on campus. He was really nice and answered the few questions I had about Nijmegen life and just had a general chat. He was also impressed by my Dutch, which I was quite pleased and surprised about because I feel like I’ve learned more Finnish since being here than Dutch! This was all before I rushed off to join the others at Terhi’s for dinner. Look at that, we went round in a big narrative circle.

Now we come to Saturday (15th September, in case you weren’t keeping up). I’m not making a big deal out of this because I like Saturdays – although they are undeniably delightful. No, I’m mentioning it so pointedly because it was the day we went to Utrecht. My travelling companions were Layton, Terhi and Tom, and what a nice little group we made too. We didn’t visit any museums whilst there (though I fully intend to visit the Nijntje museum when I return), but instead mainly wandered round and took in the atmosphere. And the food. PLUS, and yes I’m very excited about this, I bought a water bottle with a built in distiller so now I can drink the tap water. Best purchase ever.

Once you’ve recovered from that exciting piece of news perhaps we can continue with my tale. We probably did about two cultural things in Utrecht. The first being that we visited the Dom Tower (but we did not climb it because we grew too hungry and decided to eat instead) and the Cathedral of Saint Martin, which used to be attached to the tower before a great storm in 1674. Secondly, we went on a boat ride on the Oudegracht (the old canal that runs through the city). Since we sat on the outside portion of the boat, we couldn’t really hear much of the commentary, crackling out of a speaker beneath the seats, so we mainly just talked and looked around. Utrecht is a truly stunning city and seeing it kind of made me wish I had taken up one of the possible places there instead of Nijmegen. I don’t regret my choice though because I love it here as well. For those of you who have never visited Utrecht, it reminded me of Durham.

Following our trip around the canal, Noelle – who kindly tutored me in Dutch last year at Sheffield – came to meet us. It was nice to talk in Dutch with someone I felt comfortable making mistakes in front of (she’s so used to it now!) and I loved seeing her again after so many months. I hope it won’t be the last time we meet up while I’m here.

Once we arrived home, the party didn’t stop. We hung out in Terhi’s room and played some very spirited games of cards.

On Monday night, Jack came to visit me. He stayed until Saturday afternoon and it was exciting being able to show him for the first time all the places I had been talking about over skype. Especially Vincenzo’s ice cream parlour. LUX was also a favourite hang out for us and we saw 3 films during his stay. If you’re at all interested we saw Detachment – excellent but very depressing; My Sister’s Sister – also very good but kind of weird as well; and Ruby Sparks – by far my favourite of the three and a film I would see again. It was ‘very meta’, as Jack would say.

It was also interesting introducing Jack to the friends I’ve made here. Thursday night with them was pretty fun though. Terhi, Tom and Layton came over and hung out in my tiny kitchen. A lot of wine (and hot chocolate) was consumed and, as usual, cards were played.

Sadly, Saturday came and Jack left. I got on the same train as him as I was going to meet Layton, Caroline and Terhi in Arnhem. I thought it would be a bad way to say goodbye, on a moving vehicle where you have a ‘goodbye time limit’ but in reality I thought it worked quite well. It meant that I couldn’t cling to his leg and beg him not to go, I just had to say farewell and get off. It was also good meeting my friends straight afterwards as it kept my mind off things. Thanks for coming to visit, Jackothy.

Arnhem is a wonderful place, though I think I prefer Nijmegen. Arnhem did manage to seduce me with one thing though: the amount of shops. Oh yes, now I know where to go if a shopping spree is in need. Luckily for my bank account, however, we didn’t stay in the city centre for too much longer. Instead, we got the bus to the Openluchtmuseum (open air museum), which uses buildings, stories, objects, windmills, etc to show The Netherlands during the past 200 years. It was a fascinating experience, but what made our visit even better was the fact that there was a ‘food and drink’ or ‘farmer’s market’ type of event going on in the middle of the museum. We wandered around for a while, attempting to consume as many free testers as we could. We also ate poffertjes that afternoon, though we did have to pay for them. I’ve been excited about having poffertjes since arriving in The Netherlands but hadn’t managed to until then. It was amazing.

Bees making honey

So peaceful…

A couple were getting married at a chapel in the museum!

They even had a temporary La Place at the market. This place gets everywhere!

Mmmmm he’s making poffertjes

Later that night Terhi, Layton, Tom, Caroline and I popped round to Caitlin’s to meet her friends who had come to visit from Belgium. They were all very cool but speak some crazy Flemish that I can barely understand (not that I can even understand standard Dutch very well). I decided I liked them even more when they suggested we play Jungle Speed, and they had their own set. Yes. Plus Layton and I added some new words to our Dutch vocabulary, such as vuistje (I think) and nootjes (possibly). We took these to mean ‘fist’ ie ‘fist bump’, and ‘nuts’. Some very useful vocabulary.

Seeing as I’m an awesome person, I’m very popular, so Wednesday – as with most of my days – was very busy. Although I was being sarcastic about my popularity, I was completely serious regarding the busyness of my day. Obviously going to uni took up most of the daylight hours, but when the sun went down I was high in demand. Steps class at the sportcentrum was my first stop. I met up with Gabrielle and ran into Karlijn, one of my mentors. We all took the class together and thus teetered on the edge of death together as well. Following a shower and clothing session, Terhi, Tom and Layton came over to mine to make some delicious pancakes. Unfortunately I had to leave the party early to head on over to Rachel’s 21st birthday soirée. I met up with Glenn and Savannah, and together we attempted to find our way to the distant land of Vossenveld, and we picked up Rachel’s boyfriend on the way. Rach seemed to have a good time and everyone there made for a lovely bunch so the night was a success!

This evening I had dinner with Maya, my French flatmate, and her boyfriend. It was supposed to be a flat dinner but somehow it didn’t really work out. I suppose we’re just a couple of outcasts! Hopefully we’ll manage to organise a meal with everyone at some point next week. Despite this though, I had a lovely time and ate very well! Good stuff.

And that’s about it. Oh dear, it seems like I remembered a lot after all. I can only apologise for these incredibly long blog posts. I shall remove the word ‘succint’ from the Best Qualities section of my CV.

Tot ziens!