Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our Little Piece of Holland

Ever wonder what 35 meters squared look like? Curious about what our apartment looks like? Interested in what an entire apartment furnished in IKEA cast-offs looks like?

Well ponder no more...


video

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Napoleon's Tomb

While in Paris we visited Les Invalides, the site of Napoleon's tomb. I had planned to write some witty commentary relating the Napoleon complex to the ridiculous size of his sarcophagus - it is big enough for the bodies of Napoleon, his horse, and most of his French army - but Wikipedia indicates it was not chosen in his lifetime.

Napoleon's Sarcophagus


Apparently Napoleon's shortness is also largely a myth, because he was roughly average height for his time - 1.7 meters or 5 feet 7 inches. We saw his old uniform at the tomb and if he was 5'7", then I'm 7'6".

Napoleon's Uniform

Saturday, September 27, 2008

To the North Sea or Bust!


And bust we almost did.

Armed with bikes, the camera, a blanket, and a Fiets map that proudly proclaims "Miles of bike paths with easy to follow signs," we headed off to the North Sea. Anticipating a short seven mile ride, we hoped to stop off at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and be on the beach by lunch time. Somewhere along the way we missed the sign for Route 44 - most likely because a group of rowdy teenagers spray painted over it and any other surface nearby.

Unfortunately, by the time we realized the lack of signage, we were happily biking through Leidshendam and a few miles north of The Hague. Turn around. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

Rijswijk? What? Isn't that city south of the Hague? Turn around. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

Ahhh! Those buildings with the colorful local nicknames...Finally The Hague!

After a trip through the Gemeentemuseum - which was quick mostly due to the fact that our stomachs were eating themselves by around 2pm - we continued on to Scheveningen. The name "Scheveningen" was used as a password by the Dutch resistance during WWII because even though the Germans could learn Dutch, their native accents prevented them from correctly pronouncing the name of this seaside town. (We just called it "the beach town".)


We quickly dropped the bikes off and headed to a seaside cafe to enjoy lunch and a beer. The cafes were full of groups playing board games, couples lunching, and old people laying out. I think we saw more people in their swimsuits in the cafes than on the beach.

After lunch, we laid out our blanket on the beach and relaxed while watching kite flyers, surfers, and little kids playing in the surf. Since the water is in the 60s year around, we skipped a dip in the ocean.

In a hurry to get back to Delft for the tragic Clemson game, we followed road signs back and were making great time. Until a sign directed us to go left directly into a building.

What???

Our 14 mile ride that somehow ballooned to 28 miles.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Madonna?

While walking the streets of Paris, we happened upon a throng of people patiently waiting around a hotel (Hotel Crillon Place de la Concorde, whose rooms run from ~€500-1500/night). We were of course curious, so we joined them. There was nothing there. So we waited a little while, and nothing happened. So finally I asked someone nearby, and after a couple repeats of his response, I realized what he was saying: "Madonna." Ah, Madonna was at the hotel. (Turns out she had a concert in Paris that night.)

We didn't stay, because we don't really care about seeing Madonna...but it was interesting that we stumbled upon the scene. Someone actually filmed her leaving the hotel, which is available here. (The person doing the filming was shaking because they were "overwhelmed with emotion." Heh.)

People waiting for Madonna

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Street Performer in Paris

While waiting in line to get into the Notre Dame - I'm talking about the Notre Dame de Paris (the one with the hunchback), not the University of Notre Dame (hunchback equivalents: Charlie Weis , Jimmy Clausen) - we encountered a particularly entertaining street performer. With all of the people waiting in line making up his captive audience, he donned a mask (which reminds me vaguely of the "mask" Hannibal wore in his Silence of the Lambs escape scene) and proceeded to scare the crap out of passing pedestrians. He would sneak up behind them and hold their hands, or wedge himself between a couple, or wrap his arm around them. They'd turn, see the mask, and go running down the street. The wait was long, so the entertainment was well worth some of our spare change. Below are some pics.


Market Day

Today is market day in Delft, one of my favorite things about our new town. It isn't just a typical farmers market; it has pretty much everything you would possible need during the week. My favorite things to buy are fresh fried fish and cheese. I try to get a new kind of cheese every week to try.

Today I order what I thought was Swiss cheese - it had holes in it and the label had a mouse on it. After asking the cheese man for "250 grams of Swiss Cheese", he indignantly replied "That is NOT Swiss Cheese. It is DUTCH cheese!" Well whatever kind of cheese it is, it is delicious with with fresh baked brown bread I bought today.

I was even able to buy a pair of tights (they are crazy about tights and leggings over here) and a few more plug adapters at the market. The one things I won't be buying at the market is Crocs, even if they are 75% off. Crocs are cute on little kids and the flip flops are okay, but brightly colored plastic clogs on adults should be a fashion no in every country.

For more pictures of the market and our life in Delft, click here.


Our schedules have gotten busier now that we are settled in. Matt goes to work at TUDelft during the day and spends most nights (and downtime during our travels) working on things for his lab at UF. School started for me this week and has definitely put an end to me watching reruns of 90210 during the day. I am taking a digital photography class (hopefully you will see an improvement in my photography over the next few weeks) and an instructional design class.

Well, I must be off now to test out my super cool new Frisbee turf shoes...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Versailles - Still Avant Garde

As you step into the Chateau de Versailles you expect to see the regal wonder that was avant-garde in its day, with its decadent decor, endless rooms, and beautiful art. It will not disappoint you - until you catch a glimpse of the reflective mylar balloon dog holding court in the center of the Salon of Hercules. Startled, you blink and hope that when you open your eyes again the atrocity will be but just a dream. But, no. There it is a 10 ft tall, fushia balloon dog. You begin to wonder - Is it someone's birthday? It this a joke? Are you having a nightmare?

No, no, no. It is the latest art exhibit on display at the Chateau. Straight to Versailles from New York, New York, it's Jeff Koons. It's art that blends in seamlessly with the elegant rooms at Versailles; art that is harmony with its surroundings; art that adds to the exquisite decor of the Chateau.


















Apparently, one of the chandeliers got misplaced from this room - for in its place a lobster is hanging instead.

I am sure the servants working in Versailles would have loved to have had 6 vacuum cleaners at their disposal. Unfortunately, the vacuum cleaner was not invented until 1868 by Ives W. McGaffney; therefore, I think we should remove all vacuum cleaners from Versailles.


While they might have believed in mermaids during the times of Louis XIV, I am not sure if the Pink Panther and Jacques Clouseau had made their debut. Although Jacques Clouseau is French - now I definitely see the connection.

Someone must be having a birthday party in the Hall of Mirrors - how lovely.

Well at least the gold on the statue fits into the decor at Versailles - not so sure about Micheal Jackson and Bubbles.

Oh you know where the inspiration for these turtles came from...

Your childhood video games!


The art even made its way to gardens, the lovely formal gardens of Versailles.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think these pieces of art are nice, even avant garde - perhaps stunning.  It's just that I would have appreciated them (and Versailles) more if they had found a home in the George Pompidou Center, an art museum that has an appreciation for the more modern of art, such as blank white canvases and sculptures made out yesterday's trash.

Oh what I wouldn't give to sit down and have coffee with the curator of this exhibit...

Paris

Since Paris was special and we have 100s of photographs, I decided to do something special for the blog. To see our Paris trip please visit our scrapblog.

Missing our usual commentary? Don't worry. We will be writing about our adventures from Paris, too, over the next few days. We just didn't want to overwhelm Alex with too many posts at once.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Return from Paris

Yesterday we returned from a weekend visit to beautiful Paris, France, home of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Notre Dame, Napoleon's Tomb, and of course, french bread. Sacré bleu! The City of Light was marvelous to behold, even if we did occasionally walk past "fashionable" men carrying man purses and wearing bug-eyed sunglasses.

We saw all of the above sights and more...
  • We witnessed a french grandmother nearly lay a french style whooping on some fellow tourists ("Pardon, monsieur! J'ai dit pardon, monsieur!").
  • We heard what was either an artistic monologue or a touching sob story from a guy on the subway, who completed a lengthy speech to the entire car and then collected money from the passengers. (We can only be thankful his translated monologue was not, "Give me your money or I will kill you all.")
  • We visited yet another US Embassy - the best yet - with its concealed location, wrought iron security fence, stone road barricades, army of nearly 10 french guards, and a bizarre no pictures policy. With all of these features, the US Embassy proudly proclaims, "Coming near here is an act of terrorism." (Meanwhile, the Romanian embassy's doors were wide open even after dark. I suspect they were serving drinks inside.)
  • I have never started a day and thought, "Gee, it sure would be interesting to see the Pink Panther hugging a naked mermaid." (OK, maybe just one time...) I especially didn't expect to see their warm embrace on my tour of the Palace of Versailles - but it happened. I swear.
  • And most importantly, we almost saw Madonna. Almost.
Stay tuned for the pièce de résistance!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Agnetapark






Our nightly bike ride took us to Agnetapark, where Matt - still wishing he was in Belgium- enjoyed a chocolate waffle.



























Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where? Oh where shall we go?

Me, with the trusty guidebook, leading the way - 
mainly because after three years spent in Gainesville and many (many!) 80's nights, I still don't think Matt could find Market Street on his own.

As we plan our adventure through Europe, we would love your suggestions on where to go, what to see, and where to stay. We know sometime the most unforgettable experiences are not in the guidebooks and we would love to hear about yours.

€ 30 and our last day in Bruges

For our last day in Bruges we had a list of sites and just €30. After filling up on our "buffet" breakfast of toast, nutella, and coffee, we headed out to the museums. We were pleasently surprised to find that the official Bruges museums cost just a €1 for those under 26 and generally come with a free audio guide. So away to the Gruuthuse Museum, a 15th century mansion with various artifacts and art from the city, and the Groeninge Museum, a building full of Flemish primitives, religious art, portraits, and modern art pieces.













Having only spent only €4 on site seeing, we were free to enjoy our last meal in Bruges. What did we have? Pancakes and chocolate waffles of course! We went to a wonderful little restaurant called The Flemish Pot and had lunch in a lovely little courtyard. We had a wonderful savory pancake with goat cheese, apples, and bacon, followed by a Belgium waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce - DELISH! We're not touring through Europe - We are eating through Europe. 

Interesting encounter

About two hours ago, I was riding my bike across campus to attend a class on numerical methods - this is a subtle reminder to my UF colleagues that no, I am not on a year vacation - when I zipped by two guys who seemed to be flagging me down. Thinking they might be in need of some help or directions, I stopped. It turns out they were looking for directions...

Guy: [Speaking in Dutch.]
Me: English, please.
Guy: Do you know where I can find a dealer?

Having never before been asked where to find a dealer, I simply replied no and continued on my way. But in the hours since, I have wondered if this was some kind of linguistic misunderstanding. Was I really being asked, for the first time in 25 years of life, if I knew the location of a drug dealer? In a country with one of the most liberal drug policies in the world, where you can buy any number of normally illegal substances in a store downtown? My guess is the guys were underage and did not satisfy the age requirement for purchasing such substances (18). Still...that was weird.

CHOCOLATE

...the best part!







506 Steps

Belfry in Market Square

Our tour of Bruges began with the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry in Market Square for a panoramic view of the city. It was worth every step!



























French Fries Belgium Style
Since we could smell the french fries from the top of the Belfry, we just had to have some of the double fried fries when we got back the bottom! They are a local specialty and come with your choice of about 25 different sauces. Everyone in front of us was getting an orange sauce put on theirs, so I decided they must know best and ordered my fries with orange sauce.



The amused frier: "I have 25 different sauces and 10 of them are orange. Which one did you want?"

Me: "Which ever one you think is best."

The frier: "Okay, give her the Samurai."

Me, pausing to read the board that indicated the Samurai was the spiciest sauce on the menu: "Umm...how about another suggestion."

The frier: "Okay give her the _____(the sweet and spicy sauce)"

I am not sure if the fries where special or not, but with the sauce they were delicious!

Madonna and Child

Our next stop was to pop into the Church of Our Lady for a peak at the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. It was Michelangelo's only sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime. Seeing famous artwork in the museums is wonderful, but seeing art work in situ is truly amazing.




De Halve Maan Brewery

The next stop on our walk was De Halve Maan Brewery Tour, which is one of Belgium's 400+ breweries. The tour guide informed us that there are so many breweries because the water use to be polluted and was undrinkable so they brewed beer to drink instead. They make Brugse Zot, Brugse Bruin, and a seasonal brew, which during our visit was Brugse Bok.



After trekking up 240 steep steps through narrow doors, we arrived at the roof top of the brewery for another bird's eye view of the town. The brewery tour was generic and unmemorable, but at least it came with a drink at the end, even if getting the drink did involve standing in a long line.

Every beer has its own special glass it is to be served in, and the local guide notes that it is an annoying tourist habit to steal beer glasses, especially since they only cost €2-3 anyways. And I most definitely saw a tourist slyly put her glass in her bag in the courtyard at De Halve Maan. Seriously, you could afford the €10 tour and three beers - buy the damn glass!

Anyways, I have my doubts as to each beer needing its own "special " glass. I was in the local bottle shop perusing my new favorites - kriek beer- and looking curiously at the glasses. If it is all the same type of beer - just breweries' different varieties - wouldn't you think they would all have similiar glasses? Nope! Some looked like champagne glasses, a few glass mugs, some short round glasses, and a couple wine style glasses. Now explain that...

Where was the border?

With promises of "a whiff of the countryside, passing windmills, and a historic church" from Rick Steves, we rented bicycles on our first morning to explore Damme, and the Flemish countryside. We rode along the Nepoleoncanal, built by Spanish POWs during Napoleon's occupation of Belgium.
The windmill welcomed us into Damme, Belgium.
A sculpture in the courtyard of the Our Lady of Damme Church by Charles Delporte, a local artist.
Me in the courtyard of the church.
A view of the streets of Damme.
Our original plan was just to visit Damme and then go back to Bruges, but with such beautiful weather we couldn't resist going on the Dutch town of Sluis. We passed the Belgium-Netherlands border at some point but there wasn't even a sign to announce the new country.
Matt climbing the Ramparts and City Gates.
Following in the footsteps of Napoleon, Matt has conquered the city.
The Sluis Molen, built in 1739, was the first windmill to be built of stone.
It was also our first windmill to explore. The inside of a windmill looks, not surprisingly, similar to the inside of a gris mill. However, the views out the windows and from the decks are much more spectacular.
The geese rule the roads here. And the canals. And the parks. And possibly the town.
Matt crossing the Napoleoncanal.
After our 40km bike ride, we stop back in Damme to grab a bite to eat. In true Belgium fashion, we dined on a ham, grease, and mustard sandwich, chocolate waffles, and Belgium beer - Pater Van Damme Blonde and Bruin.

The Damme molen in the sunlight.
What a wonderful ride in the Flemish countryside.