Busy busy busy

The weekend after Dusseldorf there was no time to rest either. A few days earlier, Jack arrived in Nijmegen. We cooked and hung out, we visited the city centre, and then we visited Amsterdam!

nachosjacknijmegen

It took us a good hour to find the hotel even though, in the end, it was right by the train station. Once we had settled in we decided to go straight out and do something – I mean, this is Amsterdam. You can’t just sit around! We visited the Van Gogh ‘My Dream Exhibition’ which was quite expensive for what it was – walking around and looking at copies of Van Gogh’s paintings and every now and then, the odd one that was in 3D. Thus, we decided to get as much out of it as we could and wandered round for a good while. All in all it was actually quite a lot of fun.

My favourite!

vangogh3d2jack3dBy the time we left the exhibition, it was already dark so we got to see Amsterdam by night, all lit up and sparkling. We headed to De Negen Straatjes in search of good food and ended up choosing a very sweet little café. The food in there, however, was by no means little. I have never left anywhere feeling so full. And I didn’t even finish my main course!

de bijenkorf, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, at nightDam Square at night, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsPalace, Dam Square at night, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsCanal at night, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsWhere we ate

Then we wandered around a bit more and headed back to the hotel because we’re boring and because we had to get up very early the next day so that Jack could get his flight home.

Amsterdam Centraal in the morning, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsAs soon as I arrived in Nijmegen, it started snowing very heavily. It was the first snow we’d had so I was pretty excited but Jack’s plane was delayed – woops. Oh well, you can’t be angry at snow.

P.S. Later in the week there was even more snow but that didn’t stop us trudging through it for a party (ok, the party was about 2 buildings away but still…it was hard!)

snowwindow birdsnowsnowybikeseatsnssnowflakesIMG_0615partysnow

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In Bruges (…and Torhout and Ghent and Brussels) – Part Two

On Saturday 17th November the gang and I headed to Ghent. It didn’t know much about the city before we went, other than the fact that it’s where Caitlin goes to university and that she loves it. By the end of the day, I loved it there too.

waffelvendingmachine

Had to include this pic I took at the station – of course they sell waffels in Belgian vending machines!

Not only is it one of the most picturesque cities I’ve been to, but it also had a great variety of quirky little shops, cafes and restaurants. It was more of a student city than Bruges had been and – even with most of the students at home for the weekend – somehow more lively. I could definitely see myself living there at some point!

We really did eat well that day. We filled our hungry tummies with delightfully warm sandwiches, tried some ‘Cuberdons’ or ‘Gentse neuzen’ (some gelatinous Belgian sweets), as well as a scrumptious array of sweet delicacies from a quaint little – but very busy – bakery. And to top it all off, we ate dinner at what appeared to be an extremely popular restaurant called De Kastart. Their pasta sauce is so notoriously tasty that people queue up just to take a pot of it home to pour over their own pasta!

neuzen

Gentse neuzen

cupacakes cupcakeshopWe did do things other than eating, of course. We wandered, took photos and visited various churches and other landmarks. There was also some lovely vintage and retro-style shops about but unfortunately the clothes were too expensive for me to make a purchase this time. My favourite shop was called ‘Zoot’, so check it out if you’re ever in Ghent.

ghentboatflowersghentbridgecatherdralharpmanghentchurchweinghenttouristscanalghentHaving previously said that Bruges was like a fairytale city, I would be so bold as to say that Ghent is even more so, especially at night. But don’t just take my word for it, have a look for yourself:

Ghent bridge, GentGent bridge, GhentSadly, we had to depart from this glorious city but our happiness was revived when we returned to Caitlin’s home, as an evening snack of ‘piknikken’, Dumon chocolates and warm drinks awaited us. It was like we were staying in a 5* hotel!

The next morning we had to say our final goodbyes to Caitlin’s family and to Torhout before hopping on the train to Brussels. Since we had to travel all the way back to Nijmegen that evening, we didn’t have all that long to spend there but we had just enough time to get a good feel for the place and, of course, sample another Belgian waffel.

waffelterhiwaffelDespite the limited time (and the abysmal weather), we managed to see quite a lot. We began with some wandering, which lead us to the Royal Palace. It was a fine thing to look at but I didn’t manage to get a picture – it was too huge to fit in my lens!

Brussels viewLaytonBrusselsleaves autumn Brussels BelgiumterhiredBrussels black and white skylinecutesherlock

This guy was working the Sherlock Holmes look!

Brussels, Belgium black and whiteWe shuffled along and had a look inside a beautiful church but left rather quickly as a service had just started. We, quite luckily, stumbled upon an antiques flea market just outside the church and couldn’t resist a browse. I finally got to speak some French, asking one of the sellers about a vintage handbag that was just divine, although it appears that anything more than that just comes out in Dutch or English. I do hope it all comes flooding back when I move to France!

Within the space of about 10 minutes, our little group managed to split up and lose the other half. To make matters worse, our Dutch phones weren’t working because we were in another country. We soon found each other once again and continued on our merry way.

Our next stop was at the statue of the little weeing man that you’re supposed to see when you go to Brussels – the ‘Manneken Pis’. I had been unaware of this little fellow until the previous evening so needless to say I wasn’t as excited as some of the other people there, nor did I know anything about it. I have since read that the statue is dressed in a costume several times a week and that his wardrobe consists of a few hundred different outfits. I am now very disappointed I didn’t get to see him all dressed up!

Manneken Pis, Brusells, Belgium statueMoving on from public urination, we soon encountered a much less vulgar statue at the entrace of the Grand Place. It depicts Everard ‘t Serclaes and it is supposed to bring you good luck if you rub it. You can never have enough good fortune so I took my time with that thing.statue, Grand Place, Brussels, BelgiumI was, however, unaware of what was to come. I had never seen the Grand Place before – not in pictures and not in real life – so it came as a great surprise to me just how magnificently resplendent it was. The guilded buildings were so ornate and radiant, they practically glistened in the sunlight. I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to see this square. I did try to take a few photographs of it but they just came out as feeble attempts at capturing its beauty. Also, my lens could barely fit a whole building into one frame. I managed to get a snap of the corner of the square as we were walking away from it, but you really have to go and see it for yourself to get the real effect.

brusselssqaureA trip to Brussels is naturally not complete without seeing something to do with Tintin (or ‘Kuifje’, in Dutch). Thus, when we saw ‘La Boutique Tintin’, we just had to have a look round.

laboutiquetintintintinBut time was ticking on and we wanted to have a quick drink and look round the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral before we left. Despite the beauty of the place, I was somewhat preoccupied since I had managed to lose my hat between the Tintin shop and the cathedral. I didn’t end up finding it so I hope it’s having a lovely time in Brussels without me!

St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral Brussels, BelgiumcatherdralstepsBut soon it was time to go back home to Nijmegen. I couldn’t believe our trip to Belgium was over, but we definitely packed a lot in. We even had to change trains in Antwerp and so managed to see the inside of the exquisite station and ventured outside a little whilst in search of a post box. I also got to try my first brie and honey sandwich, thanks to Caitlin, and I have not looked back since. All in all, I had a fabulous time and I think everyone else did too. I even enjoyed the train journey because the views that followed us all the way home were so brilliant. A wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

Antwerp Station Belgium

In Antwerp Station

sunset Belgiumsunset3sunset2trainwindowviewweirdmist

Spooky mist…

sunset train belgium

Finnish Food and Dutch Drinking

Phew! I’m slowly but surely catching up on my blogging! I know how long my posts normally are but you can all breath a sigh of relief as I tell you that this one is going to be short(er).

I thought I’d mention the time Terhi’s sister, Tiia, came to visit, since she and Terhi whipped up some traditional Finnish food for us to try. We had Macaroni Casserole (ohmygoshsogood), Karelian Pies (wow. Just…wow), rye bread (mmm), Salmiakki, which is a sort of salty liquorice (I do not like this stuff), and some Finnish Chocolate, courtesy of Suvi. If this is what the food is like, then I am very tempted to move to Finland!

karelianpies finnishchocAround that same time, Rosie came to visit! Wahoooo! I actually met up with her in Amsterdam first, where we stayed the night on a friggin’ boat. Yes, you read that correctly. We stayed in a hostel on a boat. And we had our own bathroom. Say whut?!

For anyone who:

a) is looking for a nice and clean hostel in Amsterdam

b) wants to sleep on a BOAT

c) wants their own room in the hostel

d) wants their own bathroom in the hostel

then stay where we stayed: on the MPS Noorderzon. I booked through Hostel World, but I think you may be able to book directly as well. It was a really great find (thanks Terhi) and I would highly recommend. It’s definitely not a ‘party boat’, but it offered some peace and quiet after a day of pounding the pavements. And again, no, I don’t work for them!

noorderzoonIt took us quite a while to do most things when we arrived, such as: finding each other, finding the tourist office, working out how to get a map at the tourist office, working out how to get a ticket for the queue in the tourist office, finding the hostel’s location on the map, finding the hostel. By the time that had all happened, I felt we could only be described as socially inept. However, we did manage to do all of the above in the end, and I even got to practice some Dutch with the owners of the boat. Triumph!

Rosie and I did some sightseeing, and spent a while shopping in De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets). I made a purchase that I’ve been eyeing up on the internet for years. I can’t wait to wear it in the summer!

newdressamsterdamwithrosie

Towards the end of the afternoon, we figured it was time to go and get a drink. Whilst looking for a cafe, we passed through some market stalls, most of which were closing. Luckily, the one that was displaying some quirky jewellery was still open and I couldn’t resist purchasing a ring that looks like the bow you stick on a present. It just got me all excited for Christmas!

newringOnce that was over, Rosie and I found the sweetest little pub, right by one of the canals. I wish I knew the name of it!

amsterdam

The view out the cafe window

RosieAmsterdam kriekgezelligcafeAnd we stayed there until it got dark!

viewfromcafeThen we continued the fun with our own little bar-crawl, but it was time for the camera to go away.

The next day we did some more wandering round the beautiful city, and then headed to Nijmegen, where we spent the rest of the weekend. Thanks for visiting me, Rosie!

canalbandw Rosiecanal

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!

Onze reis naar Amsterdam

Wednesday dawned with the light of a new day and the hope of a fun trip to Amsterdam. We – meaning me, Terhi, Layton, Shannon, Caitlin and Cemre – met up pretty early in the morning, keen to arrive at our destination. The high ticket prices  made us, perhaps, a little less keen but we carried on in spite of this. Amsterdam is Amsterdam. We left from Nijmegen station on the bottom half of a double decker train (the top was too full for our posse). Most trains here seem to have two levels and I love it. I have a childish admiration for these newfangled trains, like a toddler seeing bunk-beds for the first time.

The journey took an hour and a half, which seemed to pass by quickly. I enjoyed the free wifi on board whilst the rest of the group enjoyed the free time to catch up on the sleep they had missed that morning.

Instagram photos I uploaded whilst on the train – love free wifi

Upon arrival at Centraal Station, excitement ensued. The building which houses the station is magnificent so I’m glad we went there by train. As we made our way into the city centre, I started to recognise places I had come on my first visit to Amsterdam and it gave me a nice feeling. I enjoyed that trip.

Soon we went our separate ways. Layton and Caitlin visited the Anne Frank Huis, whilst the rest of us went to get some lunch. Shannon, Terhi and I didn’t bother going to the museum because we had all been before, and Cemre had just never heard of Anne Frank.

Once our tummys were full we went to check on Caitlin and Layton’s progress. They had just got to the front of the queue when we arrived so we skipped off and had a look round a nearby church before going to do something really cultural: winkelen (shopping). It turns out Amsterdam has a fair few English shops. River Island, for example. I was secretly pleased about the familiarity as well as the labels displaying UK sizes instead of these confusing European ones.

Next stop was the I Amsterdam sign. Grammatically questionable but I’ll move on. It was dog eat dog amongst us tourists trying to get a space in the large lettering, but we just about managed it and got a few sneaky shots.

Whilst the gang went to look at the Van Gogh museum (Terhi and I had already been), Cemre was adamant that we visit the Red Light District. We made our way there, slipping into a few shops on our way back through the main area, but it was about 5 o’clock in the afternoon so there wasn’t much going on. I was quite relieved as it’s not exactly my favourite place in the world. However, Cemre was pleased when we saw at least one half-naked woman in a window. I was pleased when we headed back to Dam Square to meet the others.

I really enjoyed my day in Amsterdam but there is one thing I disliked about the place. Being such a large city, with so many hip and interesting inhabitants and a huge amount of bicycles, I couldn’t help but get Bike Envy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the bike I have here in Nijmegen. It’s a little rusty and it’s not the most attractive shade of blue but it’s comfy, has gears and a basket and it gets me around. No, there’s nothing wrong with ol’ Pom Pom (short for Pomegranate – don’t ask me why I called it that…I don’t even know!) but around every corner was yet another beauty that I wanted to hop onto and ride away. But I couldn’t, so I took pictures instead.

We, of course saw many stereotypical things in Amsterdam:

– Tulips (though I think we all now know that they originated from Turkey)

– Clogs

– Windmills

– Canals

– Lots and lots of flowers at the Flower Market

– And of course, weird looking drugs shops

I was going to include the rest of my week in this post but it seems a little long already and so I shall leave you now and talk about all the exciting things I’ve been up to since Amsterdam in another post.

Groetjes!