Wednesday, May 27, 2009


While trying to get hydrated today (it's hot in Italy!) we ran into an interesting drink labeled "Chinotto" in the grocery store. It had no drawing on the label and we couldn't find a corresponding fruit on their fruit stands. The grocery clerks told us it was distinctly Italian but couldn't translate what it actually was (fruit? vegetable? animal? mineral?). The desk person at our hostel didn't do much better. So we tried it anyway. It looks like Coke and tastes vaguely like a generic soda... but then the slightly numbing and bitter after-taste reminds you of why this is a regional specialty. (Turns out a chinotto is a citrus fruit grown almost exclusively in Italy.)

Champions League Final in Rome

Last night in Rome we discovered that a very important soccer game, The Champions League Final, was taking place in Rome (tonight, in fact). Despite being an enormously important event in Europe (think Super Bowl), we were completely oblivious of it until a hostel mate informed us beer was no longer available to-go in the train station: a city policy aimed to help reduce the rowdiness of incoming fans.

Shortly thereafter, we began seeing (and hearing) the fans of Manchester United and Barcelona storming the city. They carried banners, wore jerseys, and excitedly headed to the hangout spots in Rome, like Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. They emerged in the subway tunnels as if a dam had burst and we suddenly went from a world of indecipherable Italian to a world of even more indecipherable English (read: Scots). The back-and-forth cheers and the rowdiness were really getting started as night fell. They take their soccer really seriously here...a Manchester U. fan, in fact, has already been stabbed a day ahead of the game.

As "adopted Dutch," Laura and I thought the Champions League Heineken advertisements all over the city featuring a Heineken bottle Coliseum were really cool. Turns out the structure was actually in the Rome Termini! Here is the pic, with credit to

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

City Irritants

I didn't grow up in the big city (or anywhere near one). It is because of this that I am still easily amused and/or irritated (but not duped) by all the begging, hustling, and trickery that goes on in the streets. Rome, like Paris or London or New York or Chicago or thousands of other cities, is full of these things.

In every city there are the classic beggars who flop down on the sidewalk. Rome has plenty of these, though it's better business for them to loiter outside a church and pretend to be entry-fee collectors. This evening, an even more clever guy busily extracted the most valuable coins from Trevi Fountain with a nifty homemade tool.

There are also plenty of goods sold on the streets of cities, and here in Rome it's mostly the usual stuff. There are fake handbags and sunglasses on every corner. Roses or tripods are seemingly shoved in our faces ("Want to buy?") a dozen times a day. Other sellers demonstrate the crappiest battery-powered toys ever made by man. We would never purchase any of these things - lest we encourage them to continue the selling - but I can at least understand why a particularly dopey tourist (or their particularly dopey children) might be interested.

But then there's the guy that approached us today at Trevi Fountain, who has seen an entirely new market opportunity. As we sat eating our gelato and quietly admiring Trevi Fountain around dusk tonight, the product shoved in my face was a ... stress-relief squeeze ball?

Yes, this particularly brilliant street entrepreneur is prepared to serve the many tourists so stressed out, they can't live another moment without their very own squeeze ball, complete with stupid painted-on face. Surely no tourist can resist the demonstration squeeze, after which they will eagerly part with their money. Not wanting to be frugal, they'll even buy one for each hand! Why, the stress is gone already! What would they have done without this buying opportunity?

Oops, got lost in the seller's fantasy land there for a second. What I meant to say is that this particularly street entrepreneur should pack his bags and head home, because I don't think things are going to work out for him.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Schedule Revision

Thursday> Bus to Sienna. Walk around. See Duomo. Visit Baptristry. Eat Gelato. See crypt. Drink Wine. Bus back to San Gimignano. Buy laundry detergent to wash clothes tomorrow. Evening stroll.

Friday> Train to Orvieto. Ride funicular. Wash Bleach clothes. Explore caves. Eat pizza. Evening stroll. Drink wine. Note Italian word for bleach in guidebook.

Saturday> Visit Duomo. See Etruscan necropolis. Eat gelato. Climb down St. Patrick's Well. Eat proscuitto sandwiches. Shop for new clothes.

Welcome to Italy

Laura and I have been traveling in Italy for the last week for our "summer holiday," as it is known in Europe. We started in Pisa, then trekked to the Cinque Terre, gazed at magnificent art in Florence, then visited the hill-top triumvirate of San Gimignano, Sienna, and Orvieto. Most recently, we've been seeing the sites of Rome. Pictures and more details will be coming soon, but first I'll give you my personal orientation to Italy.

Everything in Italy - particularly middle to southern Italy where we have been - exists in one (or some combination) of the following three states:

  1. Disrepair
  2. Complete abandonment
  3. Covered in a thin layer of grime

As negative as all of that may sound, it all contributes to the incredible atmosphere of the country, which is frenzied and unique and friendly and (this week) blazingly hot, and yes, also obscenely beautiful. After all, how can we expect a country dotted with the remnants of "the ancients" not to be in disrepair?

We have seen the pastel buildings of the Cinque Terre clinging to hills on the oceanside, smelled the fresh lemons in the terrace groves, seen the Italian laundry wafting in the breeze from city balconies, climbed thousands of steps, eaten more gelato than should be allowed in a lifetime, walked through underground caves, stood in awe of some of the world's finest masterpieces, retraced the steps of Roman Caesars, and - most importantly - we've managed not to get anything stolen.

"Holiday" isn't the right word at all. We're on an adventure. Welcome along for the ride.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who Me?

When my mom visited a few weeks ago, she NEVER would have given us a special towel she picked up in a linen store in Delft. I being a grown, married, adult would have NEVER been embarrassed by gift. NOPE, my face did NOT turn red at the mere site of the towel and I definitely would NOT have refused to discuss the gift any further with her.Having NOT been embarrassed myself by the gift, I definitely did NOT take guilty pleasure in the fact my sister would be receiving the same towel at her bridal shower later that month. NOPE, NOT me! In fact knowing how much the towel did NOT embarrass me, I would have NEVER bought the same towel as a wedding present for C & M. NOPE, NO way! And I definitely can NOT wait to mail it to them later this month. **

I do NOT have a secret addiction to Brittney Spears music - especially NOT when running. I would have NEVER downloaded her latest album to update my workout playlist. And since I definitely do NOT like her music, there was NO way I was heartbroken to find out she was playing just down the road the day after I leave to go home.

** Don't worry C & M, it will come in plain, unmarked package.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Day I have been Dreading

It's happened. I knew it was inevitable since the first week we moved here. Even though it has been eight months in the making, I am not ready for it. I tried to avoid it by smart planning back in the US. But, alas, the time has come.

The three pairs of blue jeans I brought from the states have officially been retired from service. The first pair died our first week here; lost luggage and one pair of jeans for a week resulted in an orange size hole under the front pockets. My second pair fell victim to the commercial dryers; they are two inches shorter than before. The last pair gave up last week due to too many bikes rides and constant wear; they are threadbare in too many places down the seam.

I know they have jeans over here, but they just aren't my favorite Long and Lean jeans from the Gap. I'm the kinda jeans wearer that has one favorite fit/style and buys multiple pairs in different washes. I remember the day I walked into Express and learned they had changed their jean styles and no longer made my favorite jeans. A little part of me died and I have not been much of an Express shopper since then. It took me weeks of trying on every pair of jeans in every store in the mall to settle on my new favorite style: Gap Long and Lean.

I know they have nice, possibly even nicer, jeans over here, but I hate having to shop for jeans in waist sizes. Just 'cause we have the same waist size doesn't mean we have the same hip or leg size. I also can't figure out if your size changes based on the rise of jeans. Shopping for jeans over here leaves me frustrated and empty-handed.

I know they even have Gaps over here, but have you seen the cost of jeans at a European Gap? Just in case you haven't, they run about € 90. With the current exchange rate, that is about $122! Maybe if I didn't know how much they cost at home I could buy them, but at a 100% mark-up I just can't walk out of the store with them.

I guess I can always turn my favorite jeans into jean shorts and join in the fashion trend...That should get me through July, right?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Oh No I Didn't!

Welcome to Not Me! Monday! This blog carnival was created by MckMama. You can head over to her blog to read what she and everyone else have not been doing this week.

We tell you a lot about what we did and what we saw. But that is only half the story. Sometimes what we did NOT do is the better story. So, let me share with you what we did NOT do this past week.

I did NOT forget to put on sunscreen for a 60 kilometer bike ride and end up with a really sweet leggings tan line. NOPE, NOT me!

And there is NO way I went to the store to buy a bottle of self-tanner to "fix" the problem. I would NEVER do that; I know what happens when you use self-tanner, especially if the directions are in Dutch. NOPE, I would NEVER apply self-tanner to myself a few days before leaving on beach vacation Italy.

Speaking of vacations in Italy, I would NEVER consider ditching Rome and the Colosseum for a day to head to Montepulciano to catch the filming of New Moon. NOPE, I definitely do NOT want to catch a glimpse of Robert Patterson as Edward Cullen. And NO, I am NOT obsessed with the Twilight series.

And back to beauty products - Matt did NOT run out of his shampoo and then inform me that it was okay that he was now using my expensive anti-frizz, blonde-highlight-enhancing shampoo because he has long hair too. And I was definitely NOT selfish with €10 bottle of shampoo and tell him NO way. Of course NOT. I did NOT immediately rush to the supply closet and hand him a new bottle of the buy-one-get-one-free variety from the market.

I did NOT wig out on the customer service representative on the phone for the cutting off my bank cards for billionth time due to fraud alerts. NOPE, NOT me. I did NOT give her a condescending geography lesson about how Belgium was closer to Delft than Georgia was Gainesville and then proceed to ask her if she really thought the Vatican was making fraudulent charges on my credit cards.

I wonder what I will NOT do next week....

Sunday, May 10, 2009


As much as we whine about missing Reeses, macaroni and cheese, Mexican food, Moe's burritos, marshmallows, chocolate chip cookies, icing, sweet potatoes, and maple syrup, there are many Dutch foods we have come to love and will whine about missing in the near future. The newest of the foods is poffertjes.
We discovered this wonderful new treat at Moeder's in Amsterdam. Our old neighbor took Matt, Mom, Tony, and I there to enjoy some typical Dutch cooking. Our dinner consisted of many Dutch treats like Stampot, meat stews, and lots of potatoes, but the star of the meal was definitely the poffertjes.

Poffertjes are sweet, small, fluffy pancakes that are served for dessert with fruit and powdered sugar. I tried to make them at home the next weekend but apparently a special pan is required. My poffertjes looked and tasted more like mini-pancakes; it was quite a disappointment. Since they are an eating-out treat only, we grab a plateful of them every time we see them for sale at a street festival or offered on a bar menu.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lazy Saturday

They told us it would happen; we didn't believe them. They were right; we are in disbelief.

It was warmer in April than it is now - something about the rain and wind. Sometimes the wind is so bad I think our apartment is going to blow over; our apartment is a high rise made of concrete and steel.

Today we stayed in Delft to do a little exploring. We popped into the TU Delft Botanical Gardens for a quick look at their spring planting. I also took Matt to the tropical house and showed him the quails. I was excited to find baby quails in the garden!

Next we stopped by the market to pick-up some lunch. I meant to get some poffertjes since I saw them at the market on Thursday, but I guess I forgot. Bummer. More about poffertjes and my new favorite Dutch food later. After lunch we headed out to Delftse Hout to ride around the lake and visit the petting zoo.

More pictures can be found here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Seal Island

When Matt and I visit Texel Island last fall, we stopped at Ecomare, a seal and bird rehabilitation center. We knew the injured and orphaned seals came from the Wadden Sea area, but we did not have an opportunity to see any seals in the wild.

On Monday, we took a boat tour from the harbor in Nes to Seal Island. Once again the narrative was in only Dutch and German, but the very friendly captain came up to us before we embarked and explained everything to us in English. It took about 45 minutes to reach the island; along the way the captain explained the tide patterns, pointed out the ecological systems of the sand flats, and shared interesting tidbits about the islands.

View Ameland in a larger map

When we reached the island, we were greeted by two large groups of seals sunning themselves on the sand. It was a lot of fun to watch the babies playing with each other and the adults. The seals were much more active than we expected them to be and were constantly moving around and tussling with each other.

More photos can be found here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bike Ride Around the Island

On Saturday morning, we headed out with our packed lunches to bike around the island. The ride started (and ended) at the red and white striped lighthouse, just outside the city of Hollum. The first 27 or so kilometers were down the west coast of the island through the sand dunes. The dunes are beautiful, wide, and grassy; the perfect habitat for the various birds and large jackrabbits we passed along the way.When we reached the other end of the island, we hopped off our bikes for a while and took a four kilometer hike through a nature preserve. The hike took us through a low land area that was mainly covered with sand and tall grasses.

The ride along the east side of the island was next to the dyke and through farmland. Of course, we stopped multiple times to pet the baby lambs. We also passed colonies of nesting geese and other water birds.

The complete loop around the island and a few detours totaled 60 kilometers for the day. We were happy to spend the rest of the afternoon reading in the sunshine at the hostel, waiting for dinner.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wadden Sea Excursion

After taking a quick bike ride around the hostel and through the town of Hollum, we biked out to our first activity of the weekend: A Wadden Sea Excursion. The walk through the mudflats of the Wadden Sea was lead by a ranger from the Wadden Sea Foundation. I donned my wellies and was ready to walk through the mud and the mist (apparently brought on by the warm weather)!

Although the walk was narrated only in German and Dutch (few Americans or Britons wander this far into the Netherlands), our guide kindly translated the highlights for us. The walk started on the dyke next a nesting colony of 10,000+ birds. Our guide lead us out on the mudflats (80% of the Wadden Sea is "dry" during low tide) and explained the ecosystem along the way. He started at the bottom and pointed out the plankton in the shallow pools of salt water. He even dug up a few varieties of worms and showed us their egg sacks - green slime ball looking things.

In this map, you can see the shallow waters of the Wadden Sea south of Ameland. (Larger Map)

Then he moved up a rung on the food chain and focused on the shell fish in the area. He taught us how to fish for cockles, explained how over-fishing had killed the local mussel population, and showed us the oyster beds.

It was amazing to think you can walk from the island back to the mainland and only encounter waist-deep water 3 times in an approximately 5 mile walk. We had hoped to complete a full walk from the mainland to the island while in Ameland, but there is only so much time...

That Ameland Feeling

Matt and I just got back from spending our extended weekend (6 days of PTO! - Queen's Day, Labor Day, a weekend, and Liberation Day) on the island of Ameland in the northern Netherlands. The island was a perfect oasis to get away from it all and enjoy some time outside.

We stayed at a hostel just outside of Hollum, in the shadow of the lighthouse. The hostel offered an all-inclusive deal that included breakfast, packed lunches, dinner, bicycles, and a few tourist attractions. I was excited I didn't have to grocery shop or cook for a few days and Matt enjoyed eating three plates of dinner and getting to skip washing the dishes.

We made good use of the bicycles and the over 90 kilometers of bike paths on the island. The bike paths go over the entire island, through the dunes, along the dike, through pine forests, and connect the four island towns. Our 4 day riding total was over 160 kilometers, and that doesn't include the walking!