Friday, October 31, 2008


One of the most wonderful things about Holland is the flowers. The polder soil makes it very easy for them to grow beautiful flowers here year around. Because they are so easy to grow and abundant, flowers are very cheap at the weekly markets and in the train stations. Imagine picking up 20 long-stem roses from the florist for about €7 or 10 sunflower stems for €5 or 10 gerber daisies in vibrant colors for €3...and because the stems were cut that morning or the late the afternoon before, the flowers last for 2-3 weeks in a vase!

Why does this make me so happy? Because it means Matt often brings me home flowers!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Indoor Ultimate

Last weekend Laura and I joined the Force Elektro for the annual "Schreeuw van de Meeuw" (translation: "Scream of the Seagull") tournament in Nijmegen, which marks the start of the indoor ultimate frisbee season. I've always played classic outdoor ultimate frisbee and assumed the indoor variety would be the same except ... well, indoors. Although at first the facilities may seem to be the only difference, the two games are really very different when you're playing. Consider that indoor ultimate...
  • ... is played on a basketball court, which is much smaller than a typical 70 yard outdoor field (120 yards if you count the endzones). This means less room to run and more emphasis on speedy cuts and accurate passes. It also means layouts and other difficult catches are done at your own peril.
  • ... is played 5-on-5.
  • ... typically has a stall count of 8 seconds.
  • ... features frequent use of hammers, scoobers, push passes, and - worst of all - blades. Learning to throw a blade frequently and on purpose is like going back to school and finding out 2 + 2 is no longer 4.
  • ... encourages the defense to always "force backhand" because it is much harder to throw a backhand blade than a forehand blade.
  • ... in this tournament, was played in timed games 20-30 minutes in length, which is incredibly short compared to a typical time slot in an outdoor ultimate tournament (usually 1 hour or more).
I wish I could say that our classic outdoor ultimate skills translated seamlessly to the indoor game, but if I did I would be lying. The tournament was a huge learning experience for us. I think we will continue to get better as the weather gets more and more frigid, since then we won't have any choice but to play indoors. But regardless of my skills in this variety of ultimate, my opinion is that indoor facilities and ultimate frisbee are more a marriage of necessity than anything else. I'm not sure if all northern European players would agree, but I bet a lot of them would.

Our tournament team was an international mix of really nice ultimate lovers representing four European countries and the US. We didn't place so well at the tournament, but we had a lot of fun anyway!

Oh do you know the muffin man?

Me: (Spying some wonderful, huge, fluffy muffins at the market) Are these 6 for two dollars?

Muffin Man: Yes. What would you like?

Me: Twee (pointing to the blueberry). Twee (pointing to the chocolate chip). En twee (pointing to the chocolate chocolate chip).

Muffin Man: I'm the cheapest in town right?

Me: Jaa.

Muffin Man: And they are the best muffins, jaa?

Me: Jaa, especially since I don't have an oven to make my own muffins in.

(I start reaching in my purse to pay him.)

Muffin Man: Not two dollars - two EUROS.

Me: Oh, but I thought you were the cheapest in town.

Muffin Man: (hilarious laughter)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008



Mijn naam is Laura. Ik kom uit Florida, USA; Ik woon tidelijk in Nederland. Ik studeer bij de UF; mijn echtgenote studeer bij de TUDelft.

I had my first Dutch language class this morning. While I have been using Rosetta Stone (not nearly as much as I should), it was nice to take a face to face class and meet some other people. It is a small class sponsored by the International Neighbors Group at TU Delft. It mostly concentrates on conversational Dutch and not much grammar; so maybe, I will be able to order in Dutch at a restaurant in a few months :)

Tot Ziens!

Yo, I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want...

....a burrito with a side of queso!

Moe's Mr. Moo Moo Cow

Chipotle Carnitas Burrito

Super Taco Super Burrito with Guac

Burrito Brothers

Hell, I'd even take a bean burrito from Taco Bell.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Favorite Dutch Dinner

Large, North Sea mussels steamed in fresh-squeezed lemon juice and wine, served with warm, fresh bread from the local baker. No utensils needed; eat them like the locals using one shell to scoop the meat out of the other shell. Add a cold Belgium beer and it's heaven!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Library Concept Center

After coveting many books and travel guides in the bookstore yesterday, I forked over €37 to join "the most modern library in the world". And I'd have to say their slogan is right on!

The DOK is like the best of Barnes & Noble, a kid's toy store, and library in one place. The Shifted Librarian does a better job of explaining the place than I ever could, so please visit her blog. Information Today, Inc. even has an interesting feature article on the library. You can also check out the Library's flickr site to see photos of the all the unique features of the library.

Some of my favorite features:
  • Bright, cheery interior with lots of comfy chairs
  • English language version of the guidebooks I was coveting in bookstore yesterday!
  • Listening pod stations for the 1000s of CDs they have on hand
  • Coffee shop that doesn't charge Starbucks prices (€1.60 for a cappuccino)
  • An entire wall of sheet music for every imaginable instrument
  • Don't feel like reading, then play on the one of the Xbox 360s instead!
  • A large collection of English language fiction, including the newly release Nicholas Sparks book and, of course, the Twilight series
  • Forget bar codes, the books are checked out and in using RFID
  • Computers everywhere!
And as soon as Matt finds out there is an entire room for graphic novels, I bet we will be spending a lot of time at the library.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Life in the Netherlands

There are a number of features of life in the Netherlands that are wildly different from the US - the widespread use of bicycles, annual vacation time, canals everywhere, and the fact that unlike Americans, the Dutch are not morbidly obese. But it is not difficult to adjust to the large differences ... it's the little things - both good , bad , and indifferent - that sometimes seem so foreign. For instance:

  • Food, cars, appliances, stores, etc. - almost everything - are 1.5 times smaller here. (I say "almost everything" because although they're thin, the Dutch are also very tall. The average height is 6'1" for men and 5'8" for women.) We bought a large pizza from the nearby Domino's a few weeks ago and it was so small I could have eaten the whole thing myself - for lunch.

  • The advertisements, menus, official documents, etc. here are [of course] written in Dutch. The weirdest things are the bathroom stalls, which are still the universal palette for dirty words, but now require a Dutch-English dictionary for translation.

  • Speaking of bathroom stalls: In the Netherlands they are almost always divided with solid walls and real doors. No more wondering whose shoes those are in the stall next door!

  • Stores sometimes take a traditional debit card, but oftentimes payment is required using a Chipknip, which is part traditional debit card, part smart card that can electronically store money on the chip. To buy things using the Chipknip (called "Chipping") we first go to a Chipknip charging station (it looks like a mini ATM), load a certain amount of money (restricted to small amounts) on the chip, and then pay using the chip at a store. The benefit of this form of payment, I have gathered, is that no network connection is needed at the point of purchase and thus Chipknips are used in vending machines, parking garages, on public transit, etc. and they are fast because you don't have to bother with entering a PIN.

  • Europeans have basically eliminated the € 0.01 coin and thus any change received is usually rounded. I have seen a world without pennies and it is good. Meanwhile, as you may know, the smallest bill here is € 5 and € 1 and € 2 coins are widely used for smaller transactions, which makes paying at vending machines and other automated transactions much, much easier.

  • Unlike in the US, alcohol is not treated like forbidden fruit. The purchase age is 16, so Laura and I are never carded (which at 21 I did not mind, but as I get older becomes increasingly irritating). Better yet, when we buy a six pack with our groceries, we don't have to fear that the cashier is going to treat us like criminals if one of us happens to be missing identification. (I'm talking to you, Albertsons.)

  • There are little differences at the grocery store, especially when it comes to guilty pleasures like desert. Where I expect to see Hershey's there is only Mars ; Reese's is nowhere to be found ; Fanta is known for silly commercials and little else in the US but the drink is widely available here ; and chocolate covered waffels and stroopwafels are popular deserts.

  • No need to wait at the movie theater to get good seats for a new release - seats at the movie theater here are assigned.

  • There are no water fountains anywhere and it is rare for tap water to be available at restaurants ; beer is cheaper than bottled water, which is OK with me.

  • You still leave your waiter or bartender a tip in the Netherlands, but it's usually more like 5% instead of 15-20%! But the downside of this is that service is slooooowwww and you must always explicitly summon a waiter for everything.

With the plethora of little differences, it's occasionally nice to cling to something familiar. It's like longing for a familiar old friend, except when so far from home, "familiar" is more important than "friend." Laura and I rarely step foot in McDonald's in the US, but in a weak moment one afternoon a few Sundays ago, Big Macs washed down with Coca-Cola were beyond delicious... even though the Coca-Cola was served in a cup the size of a shot glass.

Laura with Ronald van McDonald

Saturday, October 18, 2008

€3.57 for a Case of Beer?

...Euro Cart Bier?

Wait, isn't that the generic brand?

Albert Hiejn* Pilsner?

They make generic beer over here?

I mean, it is one thing to forgo the Green Giant vegetables and the Del Monte fruit for the best of BiLo brand. But generic beer? Can it really compete with Heineken, Amstel, and Grolsch?

This definitely called for a taste test. Now, my dad and Matt might not have Brian H.'s honed beer taste buds, but they will serve as fine test subjects. And frankly Matt's beer future in the Netherlands hangs in the balance. If he can't correctly identify the generic beer, no more €3.99 a six pack of Heineken - it's a €3.57 case of Euro Cart Bier for us.

The Line Up:

  • Grolsch
  • Heineken
  • Amstel +
  • Alfa Edel Pils

  • Albert Heijn Pilsner
  • Euro Cart Bier
The Tasters:

Matt & Dad
The results:

Neither tester correctly identified any of the 6 beers. Dad's favorite was Abert Heijn Bier; his least favorite was the Alfa. While Matt did not correctly identify any of the beers, he did correctly pick out one of the generics - the Albert Heijn Bier. I guess I will continue to fork over the big bucks for €5.98 for two six packs of Heineken, but if it ever comes down to chocolate or premium beer it's Euro Cart for sure!


*Albert Heijn is a grocery store

+ Note this is not Amstel Light - that is a beer made and marketed only in the U.S. Over here they sell six varieties of Amstel, including a fall brew - Amstel Bock. The original Amstel was used in the taste test.

** Drew W.- we looked for a Miller Lite to add to the generic list but no go. Apparently they would rather drink generic beer over here than Miller Lite.

Kayak Canal Trip

Today we explored the country side around Delft by Kayak.

No trip in the Netherlands would be complete without a sheep sighting.

Friday, October 17, 2008

37 Molens

Today dad and I took a 65+ kilometer bike ride around the middle of the Netherlands. Our goal was to see as many windmills as possible.

Our Route:

1. Gouda (pronounced How-dah)
2. Haastrecht
3. Vlist
4. Schoonhoven
5. Groot Ammers
6. Brandwijk
7. De Donk
8. Donkse Laagten (Natural Area)
9. Kinderdijk
10. Lots of Farm Land
11. Gouda
12. Bar

Enjoy the photos - they are straight out of an Impressionist Painting!

The last two photos are from Kinderdijk, a UNESCO cultural heritage site. There is a group of 19 windmills here that were built in the 1700s. These windmills are kept in working order and are on display on weekends during the summer months. Most of the windmills are currently inhabited by local residents.

Dad thought this was the best bike ride of the week. He really enjoyed seeing the farms and farm houses.

We saw at least 37 windmills during the course of our 5 hour bike ride. Wow!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Zeeland Bike Ride - Day Two

Day Two

This morning we got up early to walk along the North Sea before breakfast. It was beautiful - the dunes here are gorgeous. They are hilly, covered in grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowers, and quite wide; I am sure they are what the dunes in the US looked like before tourist hotels and shops were built over every square inch of them.

We started the 25 km ride back to Middelburg right after breakfast to avoid any rainstorms. The fietspad followed the dike along the North Sea; it was so windy that at times I swear I was going backwards.In Westkappelle we stopped to climb the church tower turned lighthouse.

Behind the tower was a WWII memorial to the townspeople that died when the Allied forces bombed the sea wall in 1944 in the hopes of flooding out the German defense.
After our ride, we rewarded ourselves with warm stroopwafels from the market in Middelburg.

Zeeland Bike Ride - Day One

Day One

On Wednesday, dad and I rode our bikes from Middelburg to Domburg - roughly 21 km. Along the way we encountered a Vliedberg mound or a refuge mound. This was their protection in the middle ages against their worst nightmare - floods and tidal surges.Next we passed a turnip mound - this is any child's worst nightmare :)
It was rainy, windy, and cold, so our accommodations for the night were extra special. We slept like kings and queens.Because our clothes were soaked and we were tired, we stayed in that night and played games in hostel bar. Dad cheated at war.

Peace Palace

On Tuesday, dad and I rode our bikes to Scheveningen Pier and back. It was a quiet day on the North Sea, but I can imagine the crowds and activity on summer weekend.

On the way back we stopped at the Peace Palace in The Hague. The building was completed in 1913 and was designed to be a place to arbitrate disagreements between states, international companies, and treaties. Currently the building houses the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Hague Academy of International Law, International Court of Justice, Carnegie Foundation, and Carnegie Library. However, contrary to popular thought and my own, it is not where they try war criminals. This building is only for matters of the states and international organizations.

While the building was paid for by Andrew Carnegie and designed by the French architect Louis M. Cordonnier, the interior design and decor is a collaboration between the many countries that make up the UN. I wish I could post pictures but photography was not allowed inside; so you will just have to come visit and see for yourself.

The room that impressed me the most was the "Japan Room". The walls were decorated with handwoven tapestries that 48,000 people worked to complete. The front of the room had four 600 year old Ming Vases that were in immaculate shape. The "Japan Room" is where the council meets to go over administrative items and such, and so each country has its own chair for its diplomat/ambassador to sit in. On the chairs are hand embroidered crests of each country. The floor covering is the second largest, single piece Turkish rug - and despite all the foot traffic over the years is in surprising wonderful shape.

Outside of the Peace Palace is The World Peace Flame Monument. In the center is a flame that was lit from a torch from all seven continents. The flame is surrounded by The World Peace Flame Pathway. In the pathway there are 196 stones, one from each of the United Nation states and 6 others, brought by their ambassadors/diplomats from their home country. We looked for the stone from The United States on the map of the monument, but someone had crossed it off the diagram.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Update on Inge

Inge had a rough day today. After making it to the North Sea, she suddenly and abruptly broke down...Before we could make it home, her whole back rack fell off. We will be visiting the bicycle repair man soon. I just hope the new part doesn't cost more than we paid for Inge in the first place :)