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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I spend my life at the Erasmus Gebouw

Thursday had nothing on Wednesday. In fact, the daytime was super boring. We had a library tour, which would have been useful had our tourguide talked loudly enough for the rest of the group to hear. This was followed by a talk from the Faculty of Arts which was mainly things we had already been told.

Later on, however, it was our Mentor Dinner. Everyone had to bring some food from their own country so I took Tiffin again since it went down well last time. Other dishes included Spanish omlettes, a German apple cake, Mac and Cheese, a German breakfast dish (delish but I’ve forgotten the name), Dutch Stamppot and curry. Boy was I full that night!

It was lovely seeing everyone again and getting a literal taste of other cultures.

Marta and Noemi

Carolina

I suppose that the terrible weather on Friday morning was a bit of pathetic fallacy. I got up at 8am and headed to the gym alone on my bike, battling against the wind and the rain. When I finally arrived, I got my locker and swiped my card at the entrance to the gym. I thought I was doing it wrong since the turnstile wouldn’t open but after several tries I gave up and went to ask the front desk what the problem was, only to be told that my membership didn’t activate until the next day. I was sure that I had been told that even though this was the case, I would still be allowed instant access to the gym. How wrong I was. Anyway, I pedalled back and lay down in bed for a bit, feeling somewhat sorry for myself.

To make matters worse, when I went to the Erasmus Gebouw (Erasmus Building where the Faculty of Arts is located) with Layton later on that day, I tried to enlist the help of the Dutch secretary with enrolling for a module. But, when asked by a different secretary if she had time for an international student, she replied in Dutch (probably assuming I couldn’t understand) that she would like some weekend. How arsey is that? Bear in mind that it was 2pm as well! Anyway, she made me write a few details down without telling me why and then ignored me so I left feeling rather disgruntled.

The day brightened up weather and mood wise as soon as we left campus. Layton and I headed down to HEMA to buy some ‘school supplies’, as he puts it. There, we bumped into Caroline and so we hung out together. I also bought a lovely burgundy jumper from H & M which I’m rather proud of. Then, in the evening, Layton, Terhi and I went to see Moonrise Kingdom at LUX. It was a truly spectacular film; quirky, funny and a self-awareness that was really enchanting. Iwannaseeitagain! I couldn’t help downloading some of the music. I am in love with the version of Cuckoo by Benjamin Britten use in the film. Listen to it here.

Saturday was workout day to make up for the malteasers consumed during Moonrise Kingdom. Terhi, Caroline, Caitlin and I partook in Body Workout at the gym. The first half was cardio which wasn’t too bad, but the second half was core work and it really did work you to the core! I was pleased that I managed to hold my plank ok at the very end though – I’ve been practising that one.

The Body Workout crew (plus Thom and Layton) came together again to visit the supermarket and to make a healthy lunch bij elkaar. Unfortunately, the back wheel of my bike decided to give up on the way back and so I had to walk. Lovely Layton was so sweet and walked back with me while the others headed back to Terhi’s kitchen. After a nutritious lunch of salad and pesto chicken (or spaghetti bolognese for the boys) I went in search of a bike repair shop I had found online. Again, Layton was kind enough to come with me and help me out. We found the shop just in time and they told me they could fix it but that I couldn’t collect it til Monday.

Lack of a bike meant that I had to take the bus to and from the city centre on Sunday. For some reason this seems like so much more hassle than jumping on a bike and peddling away. I’ll definitely miss cycling when I leave. Anywho, the bus journey was definitely worth the effort to get to the Nijmegen Samba and Salsa Festival. Terhi, Rach and I accidentally ran into a parade and it was fabulous! So much vibrance, so much music, so much booty shaking – it was hard not to join in!

The rest of the day included listening to some intense drumming, shopping, Terhi leaving, eating delicious falafel, listening to more drumming, shimmying around a bit, eating ice cream, sitting by the river and then visiting the tropical market. All this finished off with an arty/indie film called Take This Waltz at LUX. It was strange to say the least and by the end of it I just wanted to give the main character a good old shake. At least Seth Rogen was in it (surprisingly). He’s beautiful.

Mmmmm falafel

Bridge across the de Waal

Cool lamps in the LUX bar

Monday was supposedly my first day of lectures but the only one I had (Second Language Acquisition) has been cancelled this week and could possibly be cancelled altogether. Great. I spent the day completely rearranging my schedule and swapping and changing modules. Things seem to be much harder to figure out here than in Sheffield.

One good thing happened on Monday though – I got to pick up my bike. I was so happy as it had felt as though I was missing a limb! I nearly cried as I tried to peddle away though as there was no resistence whatsoever. I took it back to the shop and the man there fixed it for me and managed to fix my gears so that I now have 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear instead of just 2nd and 3rd, and he did it free of charge as well. Things were looking up. I even cooked my first proper meal alone in my kitchen since being here. It was some rubbish pasta but the taste didn’t really matter to me. I was just pleased that I’d finally done it. That may sound silly but it actually means that I’m starting to feel a bit more at home here.

Yesterday morning I arrived on time for my 8:45 lecture in English As a World Language. We waited and we waited for over 40 minutes until we decided that perhaps the lesson wasn’t on this week and everyone went to get a coffee. Most of the Sheffielders hung out together for the rest of the day and it was lovely seeing some familiar faces and having a bit of a joke. We had to wait around for a bloody long time though as the module Rachel and I had next was Egyptian Religious Text at 1:45. This seems pretty interesting and I like the professor because he was nice and wore a bow tie so he’s ok in my book. Moreover, Terhi is in this class as well which I didn’t realise so that’s just a bonus.

I saw Layton in the evening as he wanted to pop to HEMA and I think to get out of Hoogeveldt for a bit as well. It can get pretty dull when you’re here for too long. We visited our destination and got more ice cream. I think I need to stop mentioning when I have ice cream in this blog because when I write it down it just seems like so much. IT’SJUSTBECAUSETHEWEATHERISNICESODON’TJUDGEME!

Yesterday morning our lecturer actually turned up to our 8:45 class, thank goodness. It was a shorter one than usual though as it was just an intro to the Dutch Culture lectures we would be receiving. We were also told that the pass mark here is 60% as opposed to the 40% we have to get in Sheffield. Whislt at school I think I would have thought of 60% as a bit of a failure, but since being at university I’ve started to view it as being very difficult to obtain indeed. I hope I can manage it here!

After being told that we need to photocopy certain articles from the library each week for Dutch Culture, a few of us headed there to find the folder and to get started. The photocopying took quite a while but we managed it in the end. Then Glenn, Rachel and I nipped back to Hoogeveldt before going to town for some lunch. Naturally, Back Werk (esentially Greggs) was our first choice. By this time it was around midday and we had a lot of time to kill. Thus, shopping and walking around ensued. We wandered down a street I hadn’t been before but where I will definitely be returning. It was filled with boutiques and little vintage shops. My favourite was a faux-vintage store called La Belle Epoque, although the expensive prices meant I didn’t stay in there for too long!

The street had some comedic value as well. For example, I was quite amused to see a shop with Wild-West decor selling cowboy boots situated directly opposite one selling Native American related items. It was as though they were in a face-off. I wondered if they had done this on purpose. I also enjoyed the eloquently named shop, Wood for Home. I wonder what they sell.

Anywho, I have the day off today (and tomorrow) but don’t really have much planned for the next few hours. In the evening though, I have beginners volleyball to try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Doei!