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October 12, 2004

Netherlands Bound

Finally, something to inspire me to write!

I am going to the Netherlands for two weeks. My company has our European office located in the Netherlands and my boss has asked me to go over for two weeks to do some training. I've wasn't too excited at first but I'm actually getting excited.

I'll be leaving on Friday 22 October and flying from the NW to Amsterdam. I'll train into Leiden. I hope my company is able to get an apartment but if not I will be staying at a hotel.

This will be my fourth trip to the Netherlands for work. My first trip was in 1990 and we lived in Den Haag for three months from October - December. My next trip was for 7 weeks from April to June 1996 and we lived in Leiden. The last trip was a week in April 2002.

It is fun since I am comfortable staying in the Netherlands. It is pretty easy to visit since there is a great transportation system and many people speak some English. The down-side is the weather can be very gray and wet and the food is not inspiring.

My friend E is going to join me in November and we are flying on to Rome after I am finished delivering the training. We rented an apartment from Dolce Rome Apartments. The owner has been wonderful to work with. We wanted an apartment near Campo dei Fiore but we were able to get this apartment which has two bedrooms for less. It is near the Colosseum but looks like a good neighborhood. Probably not as many choices for restaurants, etc but we will be surrounded by history. It will be good for our first visit.

October 13, 2004

I have an apartment

I heard from my co-worker in Leiden and they were able to rent the apartment for two weeks. This is great. I really didn't want to stay two weeks in a hotel even if it did have a kitchenette.

The down-side is the apartment is in Voorschoten which is about 15 minutes by bus from Leiden. It is one train stop from Leiden to Den Haag. But what I do like it is a full apartment with fully equiped kitchen (American style refridgerator, dishwasher), laundry, etc. It will be interesting and exciting to explore a new area.

I have talked to a coworker who worked in Leiden in June. He traveled by bus or by bike. I'm not certain if I'm going to try the company bike but I might.

October 19, 2004

Memories

I am amazed at how memories can come back. It starts first as a small trickle and then suddenly it is like a large wave engulfing you. My first trip to the Netherlands was in fall 1990. For three months I worked in Den Haag and lived in an apartment on Wassenarweg. We arrived just as fall was starting. I would bus and walk to work.

It has been a while since I thought of that time but traveling to the Netherlands in October has brought back the memories. Walking along the sidewalks covered with leaves, riding the bus after dark in the rain, the smell of a wet city are slowly coming back.

I have been reading the Rough Guide to the Netherlands. It is an excellent guide especially compared to Frommers or Fodors. Reading it feels like having a gourmet meal compared with fast food. Reading about the different towns have helped to surface the memories.

I have about 4 days to explore on my own. I will be dealing with jet lag a couple of the days but I think I can still do some sightseeing. Of course, the purpose of the trip is for work but I hope to get out and experience a bit of Dutch culture after work.

October 21, 2004

Packed and Ready to go

I'm ready to go. I finished the packing and filled out the absentee ballot. Just one more sleep here and then Saturday morning I will be in Amsterdam.

Thank goodness for silk and cashmere. I need to pack for two weeks in the office. The weather is currently about 50 degrees C so I packed a lot of light layers. This time I'm taking a laptop and I'm packing it in a day pack. The suitcase is fine but the pack to carry on is heeeaaavy.

The cats know something is up. They are running around and howling. I will miss them.

October 23, 2004

Dutch Life

The flight was the usual; boring, long and cramped. Why do the airlines cram the seats so tight that you can't even get out? The elderly woman next to me really struggled to get out. I was in the back of the plane and most of my row seemed to want to read all night and never turned off their lights. Fortunately, I had some eye shades. Everyone seemed very restless including a young girl in the row ahead of me. I didn't sleep much.

It is so quick to get around Schiphol. I probably could have gotten out faster. We landed at 7:20 and I swear we much have landed out in the North Sea. It was about 15 minutes of taxiing before we got to the gate. It was also very dark. One of the things I distinctly remember from 1990 was how short the days were. It didn't seem to start to lighten until around 9am. It is still "summertime" which is the same as our daylight saving. They will switch next week. It will then be a bit lighter in the morning but I'll be leaving work in the dark.

I went to a cash machine but I probably could have just waited and got cash in baggage. There were three or four cash machines at the ABN bank just before you leave. I was one of the last to pick up my bags. Next to buy a phone card so I could call the apartment. I also wanted to get strippenkart for the bus. I got the phone card at the newsstand and the strippencard when I got my train ticket.

The ticket for Vooschoten and my strippenkart for the week was 25 euros; 5.20 for the train and 18.90 for 45 strippenkart. It will be 3 strips for each trip so I decide to go ahead and get a card with 45 strips.

I caught the train on track 5. I had to change in Leiden and I completely forgot that all I had to do was walk across the track. I thought I had to switch platforms so I ended up missing the stoptrein. There are Sneltreins (Fast trains) which don't make all the stops and Stoptreins which do stop at all the stations. There is also IC which only stops at major stations. I should have remembered since I used to have to always change in Leiden for Den Haag Centraal. The mistake cost about 30 minutes extra.

I finally made it to Vooschoten and I called the owner of apartment. He picked me up and took me to the apartment.

The apartment

It is very nice. It is really a house. They have closed off the bottom and rent only the top. You walk in to an entry way where you can hang your coat. This comes in very handy when you have been out in the rain. Then there is the typical Dutch stairwell, steep and narrow, up to the second floor. There is a central hall with a wonderful sky light. Off of this central the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living room like spokes on a wheel. There is a separate dining room off of the living room. The flooring is light wood and the heat is through heated water radiators. The living room looks out onto the street which is quite busy during the afternoon. It is bordered by a fietspat (bike path) and sidewalks.

In the back of the apartment is a nice yard. There is even a small pool and gnome. I can't get to it since that part of the apartment is locked. It looks out to the neighbors. It has been very nice to watch the birds fly in. I have seen large black bird which may be mynas, large doves, and a woodpecker.

Voorschoten

After an hour of investigating the apartment and connecting to the internet, it was time to go grocery shopping and investigate Voorschoten. It is about a 15 minute walk to the central part of the town. There is a variety of shops; druggists, clothing, records, green grocer, cheese, candy. On another street, there were many restaurants. I can tell it is a rather affluent area.

There were three different grocers. I decided to go to the Albert Heijns which is the largest supermarket chain in Holland. First I had to remember how to get a shopping cart, (winklewagon). Fortunately, I had the .50 euro needed to unchain the cart. I had to be careful and not get too much since I was walking.

I was surprised how quickly I remembered how it worked. First was the produce. You usually have to weigh and price your selection. You still do but now there is big selection of prepackaged and cut produce. Bags of lettuce for salads, green beans, vegetables for Nasi Gorang, peeled small balls of potatoes. I decided to make a salad with the prepacked rucola slamelange (arugula, lollo rosso lettuce and swiss chard) and some lamskotelet (lamb chops). I also had to pick up some of krentenbolletjes (raisin rolls). Those are my favorites. I also got some goat cheese, apples, yogurt and beer; a nice 6-pack of Hoegaarden Grand Cru. That's the hardest thing about walking is lugging the beer back to the apartment.

The rain had lessened to a light mist but I had to walk into the wind. The houses along the way border on a small canal and there are a couple of open fields. I was surprised to see pheasants. I also remember how hard it can be to walk in Holland. The sidewalks are made of bricks or cement squares that are set into sand so they can easily be removed to make repairs. The uneven pavement took a toll on my American feet used to walking on cement sidewalks and driving everywhere

I made it back to the apartment around 1:30 or so. I opened a beer, started watching BBC and writing this journal entry. I made it until around 3pm and I needed a nap. I left the TV on so I didn't sleep long - just enough to refresh me. I was pretty hungry so I sent ahead and made dinner.

I realized that I missed a couple of items at the store. I didn't have any salt and pepper. I also needed some items for cleaning. I just didn't feel like running the dish washer for just two or three dishes. It was still light so I decided to walk to the store that was closer and pick up the few items I missed. That would also let me check out that store. It is actually a bigger than the Albert Heijns. It took me a lot of hunting to finally find the zout. It wasn't with the flour or the sugar.

Well, I'll see how much long I make it tonight. It is currently 7pm. Tomorrow, I hope to make it to Harleem and maybe Amsterdam for dinner. There will be fewer stores open in Harleem since it is Sunday but I can still sightsee. I hope it isn't rainy again.

October 24, 2004

Haarlem

The stormy patter of rain on the hall skylight woke me off an on during the night. Puddles on the street greeted me in the morning while the rain continued to fall. I made my first cup of coffee from the Senseo coffee machine. It was actually not too bad, very strong with a nice cream on top. I bought some dark roast coffee pods and it was quite strong. I had with a couple of raisin rolls and a bowl of creamy yogurt. By this time the rain had lessen and I decided to go ahead and head out for the day. My destination was Haarlem and Amsterdam.

Of course, I missed the bus by 5 minutes and being Sunday, it was going to be another 25 minutes for the next one. I almost decided to walk to the train but felt it would be best to wait for the bus so I could see the route I would travel to work on Monday. It was about 20 minutes bus ride to Leiden. Along the way, the bus turned and suddenly I recognized the street. Everything started to look familiar. We headed pass Oude Singel and I could see my previous apartment and Mare Kerk in the distance.

I tried to buy my ticket through the automated ticket machine but it refused to take my ATM card. The other automated machines will only take euro coins so I had to walk in and purchase a ticket.

The train ride between Leiden and Haarlem goes through the bulb fields. Along the way, I could seem the few remaining flowers in bloom, mostly dahlias. The bulb crates were stacked along the sheds awaiting the next harvest. I also saw the first of many large white swans drifting along the canals.

The station in Haarlem is Amsterdam school of architecture. So different from the ultra-modern station in Leiden. I walked out and it took a short bit to orient myself. Soon I saw a sign for Grote Markt and headed off. It was a sleepy early afternoon. The stores were closed but it gave me a chance to do some unhurried window shopping. Several of the stores looked interesting and it would be nice to make it back up on the late night.

The Grote Markt is one of the nicer squares in Holland. The Grote Kerk (St. Bavo's) church anchors one end and the other is anchored by the stadhall. The vlesshal (meat hall)is an outstanding building with cow, sheep heads decorating the sides. Between both anchors are small cafes with their patios tumbling out on to the square. Being off season, the chairs and tables are stacked with a forlorn look of summer past.

I circled around the church and then headed towards the river for my destination of the Frans Hals museum. It is located in a former mens almshouse (poorhouse) and orphanage. The museum is a collection of artists of the Haarlem school. It is a nice collection of 16th century portraits along with still lifes and genre painting. One of the fun paintings was a wild picture of dutch proverbs by Pieter Brueghel the younger. Fortunately, it had a chart which explained each of the proverbs.

I warmed up with a cappuccino before heading out to walk along the river Spaarne which curves along the edge of the center of town. Along the way, is the Tyler museum which is a eccentric collection of late 18th century natural history and science. It includes some amazing items like an electrostatic generator. I had visited it before so I decided to walk back to the square for a beer at the Cafe Studio. It was on the list of beer places selling the local Haarlem beer Jopenbier. They also had several bokbeirs on top. I tried to get a Jopen Bok but they were out so I settled for a regular Jopen. It was light in color, slightly sweet with a nice head. It was served in a large bowled tulip glass. I ordered directly at the bar and watched it being poored. The bartender would fill it and then wait and top the glass. He would then take a knife like item and scrap the top of the glass to level the foam.

It was time to head off to Amsterdam for dinner. I had choosen the De Belhamel which had good write ups in both Time Out and Frommer's. It was still early so I walked around the canals until 6pm. De Belhamel has a cozy art deco interior with a romantic view down Herengracht. I was able to get a front table and watch the lights come on the bridges over the canal. The style is mostly French. It has a small menu with several fish, a vegetarian and several meat. Since it was fall, there was an emphasis on game (venison, duck) with fish accents. I decided to start with an asparagus-leek mousse. It was served stylish with a scoop of the mousse in the center and with asparagus spears spoking out. It had a nice tarragon cracker and a sweet accent of rasberry or cranberry. That was a little weird but not too bad. For my main course I had a suckling pig with chantrelle mushrooms with red wine sauce and roti potatoes. The pig and mushrooms were excellent. So tender. The roti potatoes where not what I expected and had a heavy fat content. They were okay but a bit heavy for the dish. Along with the meal I had a ½ bottle of Lirac Rhone 2001. For dessert, I had a vanilla chestnut parfait with walnut liquor. It was a frozen mousse with a dark nutty carmamel on the top. I ate way too much. I also had a cappuccino which I regretted later that night when I couldn't sleep.

I took a quick walk around the block and then back to Amsterdam Centraal. It was only about 5 minutes from the train and I caught then next train. It took about 1 hour from the restaurant to Voorschoten train station and another 15 minutes to walk. The town seemed a sleep. There were very few cars on the street. But a warm wind was blowing and it was a nice walk.


October 25, 2004

It is off to work I go...

A totally restless night with no sleep. I didn?t know how I was going to make it through the day. I watched a bit of BBC before heading out to the bus. I caught a different bus and saw a new side of Leiden. It went though small streets lined with apartments but ended up at the Centraal station. The wind was blowing furiously. My hair whipped in my eyes and made it hard to figure out where the office was located. I walked back and forth a couple of times before I found the right spot. I arrived around 9:30 and hardly anyone was in the office. I felt terrible. I was so tired.

I got on line and did a bit of work. Soon it was lunch. The group walked into the center and got sandwiches and returned. I spent the afternoon preparing for my class the next day and left around 6:30. I didn't have a lot of food in the house and I had a hankering for some pasta. I got off the bus two stops early and went to the supermarket. Voorschoten and the grocery store was deserted so I had chance to linger and investigate. It was such a mad house on Saturday with everyone zipping around with their winklewagons.

I found the prepared food and got a nice prepared Paella which I microwaved. I also picked up some pasta for the next night and a large bottle of water.

It was a lovely but long (15 minute walk) walk to the apartment. The wind had died down and the moon peaked between the clouds and covered the field with its grey light.

I microwaved my paella and finished the salad. A beer and a bit of TV before it was time to catch up on my sleep.

(I posted some pictures of the apartment)

October 26, 2004

Dutch Fashion

There is just something about Dutch fashion. I can't place my finger exactly on what it is. Part of it is the color usage - Orange. The royal family is the House of Orange and the Dutch love orange. It is the national color. During my last visit, we were amazed at the amount of clothes in orange, tan, brown and chartreuse green. Here it is 8 years later and the colors have not changed.

So first you have to get used to seeing orange everywhere. Then there is the layering of coats. In the winter, many people wear a large coat that goes to just below the butt. It is a good coat to bike in since it doesn't hang down and get caught in the spokes. Everyone also wears long wool scarf wrapped around the neck. A scarf is definitely quite useful to keep warm in the strong winds off the North Sea. They also like to wear stripes and checks.

Check out these windows. Have you ever seen so much orange?
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Also check this out. The mannekins have on white canvas converse shoes. I've seen many of the women wearing these white shoes. I don’t get it.

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I also like the name of this store - Sissy Boy.

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October 27, 2004

Dinner and talk

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I am finally getting into the rhythm of working. I got a good night sleep and I am timing the arrival of the bus better. It is a clear and colder today. The sign at the accounting office next to the bus stop said 5 degrees Celsius / 45 degrees F. I looked out the window this morning to see the weather and noticed that the cars were misted over, but it was so nice to not have rain or wind.

The bus ride is interesting. It goes through Voorschoten and then winds through edge of town before joining on Voorschoterweg. Along the way, the bus passes several large mansions. One of them appears to be the headquarter of Mexx, a clothing store similar to The Gap. There is also a Tuincenter (garden nursey) and a couple of fields. One of the fields always has several fat sheep with thick coats lying in the morning sun. This morning you can see their breath in the morning light.

Crosing over a large canal, you leave Voorschoten and enter Leiden. There are several gas stations before you enter the "centrum" or center of town.

After work, I went to Delft to have dinner with a co-worker. He lives in a communal apartment house. This type of housing is not that common but there is usually one in most of the towns. His complex is made up of four apartment houses angled at 45 degrees to a square. On his floor, there are two communal kitchens and a large communal living area used as a living room with a TV. Off of these rooms are the private apartments which have a living room and upstairs a bedroom. I joined his group for dinner which was a yummy curry with naan, lassi and a cucumber yoghurt salad.

Conversation quickly turned to American politics. Everyone in Holland asks "Is George Bush going to win?" My answer, I hope not but I don't know. It will be close. The Dutch are so knowledgeable in the work happening especially compared with the US. Kerry does not seem to be well known and they don't feel he can solve the quagmire in Iraq. But many do not want George Bush to win again. We also discussed the effects of privatization on many of the social services that have been provided by the government in the past. I had noticed a difference in the trains. The trains are still very efficient and run on time. But there is a bigger emphasis on self-service ticket machines and fewer agents available to purchase tickets directly. Unfortunately the self-service machines only take Euro coins or bankcards and my bankcard does not work. It has to be a member of Cirrus. There is a surcharge of .50 cents if you purchase your ticket from a ticket agent instead of using the self-service cards.

We also talked about healthcare. They are amazed that there actually Americans with out health care. They wonder what those people do for health care. So do I. Their system is being privatized and they are worried not so much about losing services but the effect of the change. Will there be heavy advertising for the medical carriers? This happened when they privatized the electrical system. They were bombarded with advertisements from the different companies to be their electricity provider. In the end, the prices went up and they wondered if it was because of the cost of advertising?

We also talked about travel. One of the neighbors had been hiking on Lofoten Islands, a series of islands in Norway above the Arctic Circle. His pictures showed the stark beauty and hardness of the land.

After dinner, we walked to the Grote Markt in the center of Delft. The skeletons frames of the market stands were setup for the weekly market and square was gently lighted. The square was very similar to Haarlem with the Grote Kerk (church) at one end and the Stathaal (town hall ) at the other end. The Grote Kerk in Delft has a special significance in Holland since the royal family since William of Orange has been buried there. We dropped into a cozy bar 't Kloosters just off the square that specialized in beer. They had a couple of beers on tap and a wide selection of bottled beers from Belgium and Holland. It was a tough decision but I ended up having a Faro which is a gueze style beer flavored with brown sugar. My friend had a Chimay tripel. Both were tasty although the Faro is quite sweet almost taking like a soda but with a slightly sour after taste.

We walked back to the train station and I caught a stop train to Voorschoten.

October 28, 2004

Dutch potatoes

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The full moon is shinning tonight.

I have been enjoying the small kitchen. The range is large with 5 burners. It is great. I also really like the cabinet refrigerator. The freezer section has these drawers for storing food. Very different from the US. Along the side is pull-out drawer that is the height of the refridgerator and part of the same cabinet that the refridgerator is built into. The drawer is like a pantry and can be used to store food or dishes. The sink is pretty small. I haven't used the dishwasher yet except to drain dishes since I only have one or two items day. The oven has a rotisserie and is a convection oven. It is actually pretty cool.

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After work, I stopped at a different supermarket next to the train/bus station. I was hoping to get a piece of lamb but most of the meat was picked gone. I did get some organic beef.

Prepeeled small round potatoes (krietjes) seem to be the Dutch equivalent of the baby carrots. They are small balls of potato that are ready to cook. They are about the size of a melon ball. In fact, they were probably cut out of potatoes in exactly that fashion. There are also sliced potatoes. I decided to bake them to try the oven. They were okay. I seemed a little bit like canned potatoes since they were very waxy. But I was so curious.

I also picked up a cheap bottle of wine. I always forget how cheap wine is here in Europe I picked up a Cote Du Rhone for about 3 Euros. It was not great but drinkable.

October 29, 2004

Solo Travel

It has been a long time since I have stayed or travelled alone. It is actually rare for G and I to be apart. Occasionally I will travel for work and recently I have always travelled with other co-workers so I'm really not alone.

This trip it has been different. I travelled alone to the Netherlands and have been staying by myself. It feels so strange.

Fortunately, Voorschoten is very peaceful and I feel very safe. But the first couple of nights, I had this strange sense of seeing things in the center hall way. I am not easily spooked so I couldn't figure it out. But being alone, the mind can come to strange conclusions. I almost thought maybe the apartment was haunted. I kept seeing fleeting lights in the corner of my eye.

I finally figured it out. There is a leaded frosted window in the stairwell that happens to be right at the floor level of the top of the stairs. It turns out that what I think are spirits moving happens to be lights from the neighbors and the outdoors.

Now if I had one of these to keep me company, it would be much better.

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TGIF

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Wait a minute and the weather changes. How true. This morning it was sunny but cool. I could still see the full moon. I had gone to sleep watching it out the window and it had not yet set by morning. At lunch, we walked to get a broodje. It was warm and lovely. I didn’t want to go back to work. But by time I left work, the rain had return with a light sprinkle.

I decided to walk into town after work instead of catching the bus at the train station. I knew the route so I could check out some of the shops and restaurants I saw from the bus and catch it later along the way. I really didn’t have any intention of eating out but an eetcaf頬ooked interesting. It is called d'Oude Harmonie. On the spur of the moment I just decided to go in.

It was very nice inside. One one side was the bar. And around the other side and front was a balcony making it two levels. There were tables below the balcony. The paneling was dark and the candle light gave it a warm and cozy feeling. They also made me (a single woman diner) feel very welcome.

The menu was in Dutch but I know enough to be able read the menu. Dutch eet cafes usually have a plate of the day. It was trout with mustard sauce. Dutch eet cafes also always serve small bowls of a vegetable, fries or potatoes and a mixed salad along with the entree. I decided to order the trout plate of the day and had a Leffe Blonde beer while waiting.

The trout was actually very good. The mustard sauce was a little thick but tasty. It was seasoned with a grainy mustard. The vegetables and fries were not over cooked and the salad was a mixture of julienne vegetables (carrot, cucumber, jicima, red pepper). I decided to have dessert and ordered the chocolate Bavarian. It was very rich but good. I also had a decaffeinated cappuccino so I’ll be able to sleep tonight!

October 30, 2004

Leiden

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Today I reacquainted myself with Leiden. In 1996, I lived in Leiden for two months while I worked in our office in Den Haag. We have moved our office now to Leiden. Leiden is known as the birthplace of Rembrandt. It is also well known in Dutch history because it is the location of where William the Silent was victorious over the Spanish on October 3, 1574. As a result, William the Silent gave a gift of a university. The University of Leiden is one of the oldest in Europe and it was the home of one of the oldest botanical gardens, Hortus Botanicus.

satmarket.jpgI got off the bus on Breestraat and walked a short way to Oude Rijn which runs along Nieuwe Rijn canal. This is the site of the Saturday market. It was much the same as 8 years ago. It runs for about 4 blocks on both sides of the canal and in the shadow of the Stadhuis. The vendors are grouped together by what they sell; you will find the vendors selling vegetables in one area and another area are the fish sellers. I am always curious to see the fish. So much of it is sold whole. There is also a good selection of it smoked such as mackerel. The market sells not only food but also flowers, sundry items like shampoo, clothing and cloth. I got some great looking fresh mushrooms. The vendor had a great selection of not only cultivated but also wild. I also got some snjbonen, broad green beans which I love. The Dutch chop them up fine but I like them in broadly sliced. They are great because they are never pithy.

Along the canal are also a variety of different shops selling items such as coffee, kitchen good, lighting, bedding, antique pictures, wine and also many cafes where were packed.

Off a side alley (Burgsteeg), a short way, is the entrance to the Burcht. It is a restored fort which is where Leiden originated. You can climb onto the ramparts and get a view over the city. A short distance is also the Hooglandsekerk.

I headed up towards the train station to stop at the VVV, the Dutch Tourist Bureau for two good brochures. One was a loop walking tour and the other was on the Almshouses of Leiden.

I circled back and crossed Breestraat and headed for Pieterskerk. The area around it is filled with small shops and restaurants. I had hoped to go in but there was a student event going on and it was not open for entry. I walked around the side to where there is an almshouse where one of the founders of the Pilgrims lived. It was here the followers gathered before leaving for America in 1620.

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Near by is the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, the National Museum of Antiquities. It has a great collection of statues, reliefs and mummies from Egypt along with some great Greek vases and Roman statuary.

I headed back to the area around the Burcht to find a favorite beer store De Man Van Drank . It was still there at Nieuwstraat and Hartesteeg just across from the Hooglandsekerk . Man de Dranken. I got two beers, IJ Wit and BioBok, from the Brouweij t'IJ in Amsterdam, a Trappistes Rochefort 6, and a small bottle of Guldenberg. They are great beers but it was difficult to carry them back via the bus.

Late in the afternoon, I headed back for Voorschoten. I got off in the Centrum and picked up a couple of items at the Albert Heijns. It was a long tired walk back to the apartment.

Tonight is the end of European "Summer time", the equivalent of the US daylight savings time. I get an extra hour of sleep!

October 31, 2004

Bokbier

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I was lazy today and slept in. Sunday is a day to do it since everything is closed until 12:00. I got up and did some chores. I thought about doing a load of wash but I decided I really didn't have enough. The laundry soap is heavily perfumed and I really didn't to wash my clothes in the soap. I did a bit of sweeping and vacuuming around the house. I at least didn't have to do the dishes since I had enough dishes last night to run the dishwasher.

Today I planned to attend the Bokbier festival in Amsterdam. It opened at 12:00 so I headed out to take the bus to Leiden. I assumed it would run on the same schedule as the night bus but no! I just missed the bus and it was going to be a half hours before the next. Bummer. I checked my coins and I had enough (7.70) to purchase a train ticket from Voorschoten so I decided to walk to the train station instead of going to Leiden. I took a different route and got a chance to see a bit more of the town.

It takes about 45 minutes by train to get from Voorschoten to Amsterdam. I have to change from the stoptrein in Leiden Centraal to the train to Amsterdam Centraal. I was able to get an Intercity which only stopped at Schiphol.

I am always overwhelmed with the crowds leaving the Amsterdam train station and walking down the Damrak. People dart here and there; bikes whiz by, and trams clang their warning that they are coming. Amsterdam is cleaner than my earlier trips. On this trip I have smelled little urine and the streets are not too dirty.

The bokbier festival is held in the Beurs van Berlage, the old Stock Exchange. It was the 27th annual Bokbierfestival. It is held to promote traditional beer brewing and over 50 different breweries attend. They are mostly from the Netherlands with a few from Belgium and German. You pay an entrance fee for your glass and then purchase tokens for each tasting. I got two tokens. It was early and there were just a few people. It is similar to other beer festivals in the US. I picked up a beer listing. It was in Dutch but I could manage some of it. I could tell the alcohol content and some of the comments, caramel, zoet (sweet), bitter. I tried a Ezelenbok from Snab brewery just outside Amsterdam. I asked if the person pouring spoke English and could tell me about the beer. He did. He said that there were two beers; Ezelenbok and Ijsbok. The Ijsbok was unique since it was the Ezelenbok that was frozen. The water freezes and is removed to concentrate both the flavor and the alcohol. I decided to start with Ezelenbok which was 7.5% instead of 9.0%. It was a good starter. The next one I tried was Slobberbok from Klein Duimpje in Hillgome. It was 6.5 and a bit thinner than the Ezelenbok.

The one item that is unique is the stands to wash your glass. These are sinks with water constantly running and three brushes in the middle under water to clean your glass. I've seen them in the bars here. You need it because the bok bier is very sticky being sweeter.

That was enough for now. I headed out to do a bit of shopping and sightseeing. I headed up Damrak to Dam Square. As usual, it was filled with tourists. It surrounded by a strange hodgepodge of buildings. One side is dominated by the Koninklijk Paleis. Next to it is the Nieuwe Kerk. On the other side of the tram rails is the more commercial side. The big department store De Bijenkorf, a large hotel, Madame Tussaud's wax works with a long line and in the middle is the stone war memorial. I dart across the tram lines and head up a bit. I decided to follow the pedestrian shopping street Kalverstraat. It is packed. I spy the Zara and decided to check it out. It is also crowded. It feels like the day after Christmas. But the fashions are great and I almost get a pair of corduroy pants except I can't find my size.

I continue on and see a sign for the Begijnhof, my favorite refuge in Amsterdam. Just off Spui and Kalverstraat is a small enclosed square of houses. It was founded in the 14th century as a home for beguines, members of Catholic sisterhood living as nuns but without vows. One of the facades is from the 1477. One side is the Engelse Kerk and near by is a small Catholic chapel. Leaving out a different door, I emerge out on Spui near several good cafes and bars. I decide to head on up Leidsestraat to Leidseplein. I decided to have some frittes with mayonnaise. Fortunately, I got a small since they were really too greasy for me.

I walked along Prinsengracht, my favorite canal. I love to linger on the bridges and watch the boat traffic along the canals. I headed back towards Spui on Runstraat. It is a great street. There are interesting restaurants and shops. I loved the cheese shop and the different fashion stores.

I decide to walk back to the bokbierfestival for one last drink. It is much more lively. It was pretty crowded and a couple of the beers are gone. There is a band now playing Dutch rock songs. Some attendees are siting on the floor in large groups. I head off to get the Ijsbok. I listen to a couple of tunes and then head off for dinner.

I decided to have Indonesian tonight. Partially because I am in Amsterdam and because this restaurant opens early. I decide to eat at Kantjil en de Tijger on Spuistraat. We had eaten there a couple of years ago and it was good. I decide to have Nasi Goreng which is fried rice with several meats in sauces. It is the closest I can get to a Rijstable which is only available for two or more people. I end up being brought the Bami Goreng (noodles) by mistake. I can never remember if Nasi is rice or noodles. It is good. I really like the pork in a clove soy sauce and pork in the peanut sauce. The marinated cucumber is a nice contrast. The service is a little aloof. You can tell they want to turn their tables quickly and they are geared to tourists but the food is not too bad.

I finish off the meal with a decaf cappuccino and then head back to Centraal Station. I notice a line outside the Australia chocolate store and see that they sell passion fruit sorbet. Passion Fruit is my weakness and I have to have a scoop to eat along the way.

Damrak is still crowded as I make my way back to the station. I go up to get my ticket and the agent doesn't understand me. It takes about three times before he understands that I want a ticket to Voorschoten. Oh well. The train is quick. I switch in Leiden but the train isn't there. It is usually just across the platform. There is an announcement and I hear "stop trein", "Den Haag" and 5b. I watch the crowd and everyone is now heading down to a different platform. I am so glad the Dutch numbers sound a lot like English.

November 2, 2004

Elections

Damn if the cable didn't go on the blink. Tonight is the night and I'm not certain I will have a TV.

The news has been pretty constant on the English speaking stations (CNN, BBC, Euronews) about how close the race is. The main items they mention is the record turnout, whether any of the ballots will be marginalized, heavy campaigning to the last moment and all the superstions for predicting a winner (Redskins winning or losing, etc).

The Osama tape was pretty interesting. Did anyone read the transcript? He mentions several items that were also brought up in Farenheit 911; Bush continuing to listen to the school children after being notified of the first crash and how they have not had difficulties dealing with the Bush administration since it is similar to other governments ruled by military or kings and sons. The news mentioned it once when the tape was first released and nothing since.

Coverage will start to night at 10pm here in Europe. I may need to stay up late to check out the results.

Dutch Groceries

I thought I would post a few pictures of a couple of recent purchases at the local grocery store.

Salad mix

salad.jpg

Kip filet (Chicken)
chicken.jpg

And my favorite - Free range (vrije polder) egg

freeEggs.jpg


November 3, 2004

Bier

beerlineup.jpg

I love the beer in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is so different from what you get in the US. Of course, there are the large commercial breweries such as Heiniken, Stella Artois. But there are so many small breweries and trappistes breweries. It is strong! The commercial beer is usually 5% and the smaller breweries can be anything from 6% to 12%.

biobok.jpgI like Hoegaarden which is a wit (white) beer made from wheat and flavored with spices. I found a 6 pack of the Grand Cru in the supermarket. But I really enjoyed picking up a couple of special smaller breweries at the beer store in Leiden. I got two different brews from Brouwerij 't IJ in Amsterdam. One was their Wit and the other was a seasonal organic bok. Both were excellent. Very well balanced in taste.

Another brewery that I like is Trappistes Rochefort. This time I tried the 6. In the past I have had the 8 and 9. I like it but it is sweeter and heavier in caramel taste.

My favorite this trip is Guldenberg. It is an abbey beer (Biere d'Abbaye in French or Abdijbier in Dutch). It is a strong beer, clear in color compared with the dark brown of the bok or trappistes. It tastes light but is actually 8.5% in alcohol. It is similar to Duval but I did not notice the alcohol and it went down quickly. I wish I could find it in the small size bottles in Seattle. I've only found it in the large bottles.

My time here in the Netherlands is almost over. Tomorrow E arrives. I'll wrap it up at work Friday and the we will have Saturday to explore Amsterdam. Sunday afternoon... Roma!

November 4, 2004

Post Election Blues

Tuesday night I went to sleep not really knowing what would happen. I woke up around 6am and turned on to CNN to see a predominately red map of the US. Bush had a 2% lead in the popular vote but there were still several significant states to come in. But shortly after, Florida was declared a winner for Bush. I knew in my gut that it was all over. Mathematically, yes it was possible and it was hinging on Ohio but I did not really feel it would happen.

Everyone was talking about it at work. We gathered in the hallway (the equivalent of gathering around the water cooler) to talk. I jokingly said that I was going to apply for the opening in the Dutch office and stay in Holland. My co-workers were so amazed that Bush had such support. They did not understand it. Didn't the voters see it? Why did they vote for Bush? As the headline in a British tabloid said today "How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?" What could I answer? I did not fully understand it either.

I talked about how little the average American knows about what happens outside of the US. Here in Holland, I can watch news from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, German, UK and US. I can get many different view points. In the US, you get very little beyond the US news. The international news is buried in the newspaper on page 8. I also talked about how important social issues were for many conservative Americans. But overwhelming, I think the issue was how secure Americans felt. We felt so much at risk after 9/11. Going to war, made many Americans feel like something was going done and we were helping the people of Iraq.

My coworkers mentioned how little support Bush had outside the US. They knew of the internet poll taken by people worldwide which showed 77% support for Kerry. They did not think Kerry was great, but they did not want Bush reelected.

Now they wonder what he will do. Will he invade another country? They think not. The troops are spread too thin. The US may bomb another country but not invade. What will happen in Iraq? They don't see any solution beyond asking for help from UN and they can not see Bush doing that?

I was also amazed that they knew so much about the election process and how the US is governed. I know very little about the Dutch parliament and government. They had several questions about who would remain in the cabinet. Do you think Rumsfeld retain his cabinet position? Everyone agreed that Powell will leave.

But there is also turmoil here in Holland. During their last election, a conservative gay leader Pim Fortuyn was assassinated just before the election. It was shocking to the Dutch. And just this week, a controversial Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh was killed in Amsterdam. He had received death threats since the release of his movie about violence towards Muslim women. There is tension here and a lot of anti-immigration thoughts especially towards Muslim immigrants. I see many more Muslims on the street than I did in 1996. Even then, I knew that some Dutch did not like the increase in immigrants and the changes in the social services such as schools to accommodate the languages and culture. I wonder what the future will bring for the Netherlands and Europe as they struggle with this issue.

November 5, 2004

Wrapping up

E arrived yesterday. She did so well and made it through the day at the office. We went back to the apartment early and had a light dinner before she crashed from jet lag.

Today is pretty slow. The weather is very cloudy. We met up with another former co-worker who is living here in Holland and had a nice lunch at an eetcafe along the canal.

Tonight, we are going to dinner at a co-worker. He is Italian so we hope to get some tips on our trip. Tomorrow we will spend the day exploring Amsterdam and then it is off. It went so quickly

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