Wow, what a crazy crazy 4 months it has been!!! We have a bit of a backlog of our trials and tribulations so here goes…
So I will get you started with attempts to broaden my horizons whilst in the Netherlands outside of work. Since netball is not played out here, I have found the next closest thing. Korfball
Similar in many ways, but different in many more. In brief, it is played with a team of 8 players, 4 guys and 4 girls, the aim is to score more goals than the opposition. Seems simple right? Wrong
You change ends after every 2 goals, so the attackers become the defenders and visa versa, you can shoot from anywhere and 'achter' and 'voor' are important, although what they mean I am honestly not sure?
As the only English member (ever), I feel a responsibility to make an effort as everyone has with me, so I unwittingly agreed to attend the tournament that was to be held in Wageningen – a small town with little going for it other than the large specialist ‘farming’ University and a multi-storey cinema complex. A rather rash decision that I later regretted when I discovered that the overnight stay involved airbeds, sleeping bags and a gymnasium floor. An experience if nothing else!
Whilst we are here we have decided we should be making the most of what’s around us and take in as much culture as us Brits abroad can manage.
Until now we had managed to avoid the (mainly irritatingly British) tourist capital that is Amsterdam. Our loyalty to Rotterdam had thus far kept us away from the pretty but narrow suitcase filled streets and stag dos. But we could only be kept away for so long …
Arriving in Amsterdam is a culture shock. Locals don't greet you in Dutch instead everything is in English, from the menus to the information signs and leaflets.
Once we had figured out what we wanted to do, we decided that we would make the most of the canal network and used the hop on hop off boat to get around to all of the sites (with the added bonus of not having to walk around in the rain).
1. Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House offered an incredible insight into the life of Anne Frank and those that she had been in hiding with for just over 2 years.
Throughout the exhibit you heard of the tales Anne's father, family and friends. I found it a sobering exhibit and would highly recommend if you are in Amsterdam.
2. I Amsterdam Sign
I mean, obviously we had to visit the sign purely for the insta opportunity! With more people than letters a photo-bomber is inevitable with absolutely no chance of getting the whole sign free. For us to have even three letters is nothing short of a miracle.
See below for our attempts.
3. Chocolate Crepe
Shock, once again we are eating!
Or 'embracing the culture'. An eye-wateringly overpriced chocolate crepe at €10 a piece.
4. Ice skating
So when a festive ice rink is around OF COURSE we just had to give it a try!! I had actually forgotten that I was ok at ice skating so for the first 10 minutes I was pushing a green plastic chair around like Bambi on ice and then once I had found my feet, I was off! I even managed to not fall over. I think there’s a figure skating career for me if all else fails …
All in all, we enjoyed Amsterdam!! And despite the fact that these 2 cities are just a 30minute train journey from one another, they really are worlds apart!
Seeing as we are so experienced with Dutch culture, we decided it would be a great idea to take on some more and hop over to our neighbour Belgium for the weekend! Also to visit a friend who is currently on placement over there (s/o to Megan for putting us up for the weekend).
Okay so this trip started with a 7am coach journey i.e 6:15am wake up call on a Saturday!!!!! This went along the lines of: ‘KATE HUN ARE YOU FOR REAL? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?????’. However, as much as I may have moaned, it was a good idea as we got into Brussels at around 10:30 had a coffee, met with Meg and then had the rest of the day to explore.
- Arcade du Cinquantaire: situated in a small area of parkland the impressive arch is topped with a sculpture of a woman holding the national flag. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side, but had it been less cloudy we would have gone to the the viewing bridge at the top of the building which gives a fab view of Brussels!
- Grande Place: the name says it all! This absolutely stunning, grand square formed from beautiful gold buildings has a Gothic appeal. Another must see if in Brussels.
- Belgian Waffles: embracing culture again, all I have to say about this is that I endorse this aspect of Belgian culture greatly. They are delicious!!
- Chocolate: it would be rude not to sample some of the finest Belgian Chocolates when in Belgium. They passed the test, officially delicious.
- Manneken Pis: the Pissing Boy. I am not sure quite what we were expecting, but it definitely wasn’t what we got! We needed binoculars to see the statue, through the sea of iPads and iPhones. Quite a strange and SMALL exhibit, however he was dressed up for the occasion although what occasion that was we aren’t really sure…
- Delirium: Beer! MORE CULTURE! Authentic Belgian beers only though.
- Maison Antoine: chips certified by Angela Merkel, branded the best in Brussels. If they are good enough for Angela, they are good enough for us. Again, extremely delicious and not good for the waistline!
So, the official Sinterklass event is not until 5th December, but Sinterklass and Zwarte Piet arrive in the Netherlands in the middle of November.
An event predominantly for children (and English students) this is a national celebration like you wouldn’t believe. Whole towns show up on the riverside for the arrival, and the bid to host the official televised Sinterklass rivals that of the Olympics.
As someone who until last month had never heard of Sinterklass let alone celebrated it, the whole concept can only be described as bizarre.
In short, Sinterklass or Saint Nicholas and his helpers Zwarte (black) Piet’s deliver presents to the children in the Netherlands in the run up to Christmas. Children place their shoe under the chimney for the presents. Usually this is sweets, commonly a chocolate letter in the first letter of their name and kruidnoten which are small cinnamon cookies. The sentiment was nice, albeit questionable hygienically.
Sinterklass arrives on a large steam boat, with many Zwarte Piet in tow including Elvis, circus and musical renditions. They arrive onshore all in costume, with a large brassband playing traditional Dutch songs that everyone knows word for word apart from the bumbling British tourist’s.
Despite the controversy associated with the event, I could appreciate the importance of the tradition in Dutch history and its unrivalled ability to bring people together!
Of course being in Europe the Christmas markets are spectacular and we just had way too many to choose from! Hearing many people’s recommendations, we opted to stay semi-local by heading south to Maastricht. A short 3 hour train ride (it would have been quicker to go to Belgium) we arrived at Magical Maastricht. A day filled by wandering the markets, sampling the glühwein and churros and a (slightly traumatic) ferris wheel ride. I can think of worse ways to ring in the Christmas break!
Kate and Liv x