Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fun pictures

The Hague "Face Sculpture"

Dutch brownies have weird side effects...

Den Haag (The Hague)

Yesterday we briefly saw some sights at The Hague. One of the first sights we happened upon was the US Embassy, which was embarrassingly fortified and boring looking. It was the only embassy we saw, in fact, that had a 12 foot tall wrought iron security fence. Should Laura and I need US government protection during our stay, we need not fear the angry Dutch, automatic weaponry, or long range missile attack when inside the embassy's walls.

After browsing an antique fair, we visited the M.C. Escher museum. Although M.C. Escher gathered most of his inspiration during stays in Italy, he was actually a Dutchman. The museum contained a number of his most famous works. The work pictured at right, which was on the front of the museum building, is the well-known "Day and Night."

We walked through the courtyard of the Binnenhof, the heart of Dutch politics. The first components of the complex were first built around 1230. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy and we will be revisiting the Binnenhof on September 18th, the day Queen Beatrix arrives in her golden coach to open parliament.

We spent several hours walking about town, which was an attractive mix of old and new. The two pointy buildings and the dome shaped building have colorful local nicknames.

Delftse Hout

With the temperatures in the upper 70s, we went in search of sunshine and green space. After buying a picnic lunch of prosciutto, fresh cheese, rolls, and wonderful looking cookies for a little under 9 Euros, we walked to the nearest bus stop. Unfortunately the bus stop sign was covered with an orange bag and some Dutch writing. So we walked to the next bus stop, only to find more orange bags. After a thirty minute walk along the bus route, we finally found an active bus stop and hopped on for the journey to Delftse Hout - a wonderful paradise just outside the city.

We weren't sure what to expect, so we brought the camera, a lunch, and a few travel books. The area was a summer oasis complete with a waterpark for kids, a petting zoo, a lake with various watersports, plenty of picnic area, and nude sun bathers. Yes, that's right. We turned a corner and suddenly encountered old naked men. Lots of tan, old, naked men. Naaktstrand = nude beach. Consider yourself warned.

Hopefully we will back next weekend, with swimsuits and sunglasses - to stare at all the naked people of course!

College Football Nederland Stijl

It's 5:06am here in Delft (11:06pm on the US east coast) and I'm watching the second half of the Clemson/Alabama game online via ESPN's Gameplan service. Laura is sleeping; I am sitting here in the dark, listening through headphones, wearing a weird sleeveless Euro T-Shirt I accidentally bought when our bags were lost, and drinking a Heineken tall boy. I'm not sure if I deserve ridicule or respect for my dedication to the game. (Meanwhile, the Tigers are [as usual] not rewarding my dedication.)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

YEAH! HIP HIP HOORAY! Our baggage is finally here!

Impending Baggage Arrival

We were notified yesterday that our bags were finally located. They should arrive at our hotel this afternoon, nearly 72 hours after we first set foot in this country.

Today we will be visiting Den Haag (The Hague), where yesterday on CNN you might have seen Radovin Karadzic at a hearing before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Karadzic has been charged with genocide (among other war crimes) in connection with the 1992-1995 Bosnia war (read more at CNN).

Friday, August 29, 2008

De Visbanken

Today we ate lunch picnic style - we came upon locals eating trays of fried fish outside a fish market (that has been open since 1342) and decided to join in. Everyone was carrying around trays of fried fish and other seafood with forks and dipping sauces. Something must have gotten lost in the translation, because when Matt received his order it was wrapped up and sans a fork. Not to worry, we ate the delicious, hot fish with our fingertips in no time. After finishing off the fish, we ventured into a bakery and completed the meal with a warm, multi-gran ciabatta roll. We might have snuck in a bite of our favorite Dutch candy bar as well :)

Fiets Diefstal

Bicycles are clearly the primary mode of transportation in Delft, and are popular throughout the Netherlands. Unfortunately, that also means bicycle theft is a problem. The bikes you see in the picture were brought into town this morning via two huge trucks marked "Fietsdiefstal" (meaning "bicycle theft") and are among the 1,000+ stolen bicycles recovered every week in the Netherlands.

Cell phones in Europe

Laura and I had planned to buy a cell phone after arriving here in the Netherlands. We've talked with several vendors and have learned some very interesting things:
  1. I've always been under the impression that Europe is more advanced with respect to cell phone technology than the US. This is definitely not the case. We inquired about an iPhone and were specifically told that the data network in Europe sucks. Along the same lines, you would think it would be straightforward to buy a calling plan that is good for all of Europe, or at least over a multi-country region. This is also not the case. "Roaming" is alive and well here in Europe.
  2. The Dutch don't seem to use cell phones very much. After three days of walking the streets of Delft, I can count on one hand the number of people I have seen talking on cell phones. (Those in the US who talk on the cell phone while walking, driving, standing in line for food, watching a movie, or going #2 should take note: the Dutch may have been wrong about wooden shoes, but they're onto something with their lack of yapping.)
  3. It follows then, that unlimited calling plans are not popular here. The typical calling plan is much like the kind I used to sell at Radio Shack in the US more than 7 years ago : ~$20-$40 for ~150-250 minutes/month with no special night or weekend benefits.
So what will we do? Will we follow the example that the Dutch have set, casting off the shackles of cellular oppression and freeing ourselves from the icy grip of constant contact, text messaging, and voicemail? Or will we succumb to the wicked convenience that cell phones offer?

Eating our way through Delft

I was ecstatic to find that it was perfectly acceptable to smear chocolate butter on a croissant and top it with chocolate sprinkles for breakfast. Yes mama, I plan on eating chocolate every morning for breakfast (as long as my jeans still fit).

Thursday is market day in Delft and the main square fills up quickly with vendors selling all types of goods, from fresh fruit to fried fish to deodorant to clothing. We only ventured as far as buying framboos for 2 doos 2.50 - I can't wait to do all my grocery shopping here next week.

Mom - this is for you - "wooden" shoes with flowers on them.

The view from our sidewalk cafe in the "restaurant" square. Here we enjoyed a few Belgium beers and bread for dinner.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Striking similarity

Can you find the differences between these two pictures?

Answer: The first picture shows Laura standing in a shower in the Netherlands. The second picture shows a random girl standing in a phone booth in Switzerland.

Arrival in Delft

We made it! Between the time Laura and I left Gainesville on Saturday and arrived in Delft Wednesday, we passed through 5 states, 4 airports, 3 countries, and 2 train stations. The trip contained both boredom (waiting in an insanely long immigration line in Dublin) and adventure (running full speed through the maze known as JFK International Airport, where there are no useful signs of any kind). Upon arrival in Amsterdam, we felt relieved that our trip was nearly complete and unhappy because our bags had not arrived along with us. It should come as no surprise, then, that my first purchase in Europe - food notwithstanding - was a pair of clean underwear. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to find something other than a banana hammock in Europe?)

Well over 24 hours later, our bags have still not been found, but we're doing great anyway. We spent yesterday doing two things: 1) getting acclimated to our surroundings and 2) trying not to fall asleep anytime we sat down. After 12+ hours of sleep, today was slightly more eventful, with visits to HR Services at TU Delft and a brief introduction with 3ME department personnel. They bestowed an English-Dutch dictionary upon Laura and I, which we have already used to determine that "soep" is found in a bowl, not in a bathtub.

Speaking of drinks, we noticed over the past two days that the Dutch particularly enjoy sitting in front of cafes (for hours at a time), drinking tea, beer, or wine (but never eating). So in observance of our temporary European status, we joined them this evening. It was, shall we say, "delightful."

Sunday, August 10, 2008


We finally began the task of packing our two checked and 1 carry-on per person allotted suitcases this weekend. After examining the suitcases, Matt wanted to know why his were smaller. Silly boy, doesn't he know girls have more things than boys? It is amazing, especially considering we have very few warm clothes, how little really will fit into our suitcases. Maybe I shouldn't have bought the knee-length rain boats until after we got over there... but I definitely need the 10 scarves. Right?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Our Visas are Here!

Today we received our visas!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

About Our Stay...

We will be living in Delft, The Netherlands. A small city between The Hague and Rotterdam. The city is the home of Delftware and  Johannes Vermeer

We will be living in the Roland Holstlaan building, in a 300 square foot, two-room apartment. From the best we can tell (our lease, myspace pages, other people's photo albums, etc.), we will have one larger bedroom and a very small kitchen area. The kitchen is lavishly equipped with cooking rings and a box of utensils for one. We are not sure if this means we will be sharing a fork or if there is a "clean" and a "dirty" fork. But don't worry Ikea and their "how to use your 300 square feet to the best advantage" are just around the corner.

Matthew will be conducting research at Delft University of Technology. He will be sharing more about his work later (once his proposal for his UF professor is complete). 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Consulate Visit

On Friday, August 1st, we visited the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to finalize the paperwork for our visas. A very funny man, who offered to teach me dirty words in Dutch, helped us fill out our paperwork by telling us every other question wasn't important and we didn't need to worry about answering it. I hope the consulate in Miami feels the same way and issues us our visas.

We expected the Consulate Office to be in a nice building with many other consulates around it. But no, it was located in a strip mall and shared an office with a real estate company - one we think that caters to Dutch nationals.

After the consulate visit on the way to our next stop, we inadvertently got on a toll road - without any money. Whoops!
We stopped and got cash so we could pay the next toll. Matthew handed the women a $20 bill for a $.75 toll. As we were driving away he hands me the change and asks me to count it - only $13.25! So Matthew pulled the car over on the side of the interstate, got out, and walked back to the toll booth to collect his change. He left me in the locked car, but seeing as it was 95+ degrees outside, I got a little hot. I tried to open the door and only succeed in setting the car alarm off. Too embarrassed to get out of the car with the screeching alarm and flashing lights, I huddled down in the car and continued to sweat profusely to avoid being seen. What a trip down the toll road.


Greetings from Gainesville, FL, where we (Matt & Laura) are getting ready to embark on an epic adventure to the land of windmills, wooden shoes, dykes, MC Escher, and Heineken - The Kingdom of the Netherlands. While headquartering in Delft, we will be sharing the antics, explorations, discoveries, and mishaps of our European travels through our pictures and stories.