Christmas in February

If you thought that after a weekend away in Belgium I was going to have a rest, you would be wrong. The following weekend I ventured to Dusseldorf with a group of other Erasmus students. I only really knew Terhi and Suvi, but everyone was so lovely and by the end of the day I had some new chums.

grouppic

The reason for our excursion was to visit the German Christmas markets, and yes I do realise it’s getting a bit ridiculous to write about this subject in February but hey, I’m just a maverick.

I had never been to a German Christmas market that was actually in Germany before. In fact, I’ve only been to one located in Manchester, so I was pretty excited to see how it compared. Upon arrival, everything was so captivating. The little wooden stalls decked out in Christmassy bits and bobs and the lingering smell of delicious foods enticed me in right away.  Unfortunately, we were soon to part ways again as everyones’ stomachs were on empty and we opted to get a proper meal at restaurant first. I was glad we did because I had the most delicious meal that I still dream about! I was quite lucky in choosing something so tasty since the whole menu was in German and no one amongst us had a strong grasp on the language. I still don’t know exactly what it was. All I know is that it had something to do with mushrooms, pork and pasta. Oh, and that it was amazing.

German food, delicious, Dusseldorf, GermanyWith our tummies satisfied, we hit the market again. It was a huge sprawling thing, covered in fairy lights and ‘liebekuchen’. I don’t want to bore you by describing everything that was there so I’ll just say that if Sinterklaas threw up on a city, this is what it would look like. Now here are some pictures:

funnypoffertjesgermanynuts xmasmarketbows cutecouple ornaments candlesmulledwinebandw insideanxmastreechoccasdusseldorfliebekuchen, Dusseldorf, GermanyThe day was nicely rounded off when we ran into a German guy’s stag do and Alex shaved the groom-to-be’s leg. Pretty standard stuff really!

stagdo weirdstagdo Then it was back to the train/bus to get home in time for a good night’s sleep.

Auf Wiedersehen!

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!

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!

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – Part 1

The past few days have been busier than expected. Since we supposedly had a week off I thought I’d be bored stiff and be scrounging around for something to keep me occupised. It has, in fact, been the opposite.

As I mentioned in the last post, on Sunday we went to a museum: Museum Het Valkhof. I was acutally quite looking forward to this but unfortunately it was just another boring museum. I did quite enjoy looking round the exhibits located downstairs though in the Vrede van Nijmegen (Piece of Nijmegen) section. I especially enjoyed the portion made up of white walls where children have been allowed to draw different things associated with Nijmegen. It was even possible to see one of these young artists at work!

I also previously mentioned that I learned a little something about Dutch art during our induction lectures (ie child = nice family photo; dog = brothel). I was able to put some of this high-brow analysis into action whilst in the Valkhof and I stumbled upon this puzzling picture:

It contains both children and a dog. What does this mean?! I’m not sure I want to know.

Moving swiftly on, on the upper floor – amongst all the olden age bling and tombstones – there were telescopes which you could use to look out across the city. I thought that was quite a nice idea since a lot of the museum was pretty much to do with Nijmegen.

Terhi scoping out the city

Perhaps now is the time that I should stop with all this museum talk, otherwise you may feel as though you were actually there. We left at lunchtime and went in search of food appropriate to such a period in time. This was more difficult than you would think because it seems as though everything shuts down on a Sunday. It’s a strange feeling, walking around the empty streets because it’s not like this is a small town in southern France, it’s a city! The main street, despite no shops being open, was very busy indeed. There was a Medieval festival going on – the Gebroeders van Limburg Festival – so there were people dressed up, market stalls selling armour and weapons, sheep and geese plastered around and general merriment. There was also the relaxing sound of guitars turned up to 11 blasting out from the rock festival taking place in a distant square. Due to the rain, we decided to head home instead. Cycling in the rain, by the way, is no mean feat. And when there’s wind involved, it’s a deadly combination. During a rainstorm (and I think there will be a lot of them) I don’t think I should apply any effort to my make-up, hair or the bottom half of my outfit again. Rain coats are not invincible as I had originally thought. Damn you, Paddington Bear, you lied to me!

A nice shot of Nijmegen during a short respite from the rain (I have climbed that tower – just saying)

In the evening there was some eating, some drinking and some partying. YOLO.

Monday was a pretty chilled day (you’ll get that joke in a minute). I mainly stayed home and did some admin and writing, but I did go to town for a couple of hours with Rach and we had some delicious ice cream (now you get it).
I think I needed that day just to let my mind catch up with my body.

Tuesday afternoon I met up with Caitlin, Terhi and Suvi for lunch on campus, and then later we (minus Suvi) went shopping for food so that we could make dinner together. Caroline, Terhi’s Sweedish flatmate who is on exchange from Gothenburg University (such a cool name!), joined us too. We made a pretty scrumptious pasta if I do say so myself. Then for dessert, Terhi pulled out the big guns: Finnish choclate. Well, by the time we were done, it definitely was FINNISHed!…oh dear, I’m ashamed of that one.

Pre-drinks for a party at Piecken soon ensued and too much wine was had by all. When I say all, I mean me. It’s the first time I’ve been drunk since we’ve been here and we only went to the party for about 20 minutes in the end! Pre-drinks were much more fun and we also had to get up early the next day to go to Amsterdam. That wine didn’t seem like such a good idea in the morning.

I suppose you’re expecting me to write about Amsterdam now, aren’t you? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but I shall write about that and the rest of my week in a separate post – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows stylee.

Groetjes!