The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely mine and not connected in anyway to the United States Peace Corps.


Shall we go Dutch?

12/10-16/08 Netherlands: Haarlem, Utrecht, Amsterdam

The Netherlands. There are usually only a couple things that come to mind when one mentions the Netherlands, and I'm not talking about the tulips or the windmills. . . Good. I'm glad we mentioned all that--now, onto the things we actually did do while in the Netherlands. Around Amsterd
am there are quite a few different cities that are like 20 mins from amsterdam proper. We stayed with friends we met while in Cambridge when we were in Haarlem/Utrecht which was really fun.

ever been in the wrong place at the right time? i can relate: Maylin and I were waiting around Haarlem's town centre for the train we were taking and were just basically killing time when we saw this crowd of people filing into a building across from the big church. We had nothing else to do, so we decided to check it out--they didn't seem to be paying for admission or anything, so we were game. We enter the building and it has stained glass windows, folding chairs set up and a table in the front with a big open part in the back of the building with stairs leading to another section. We thought we were in for a church service . . . 5 mins later this music starts playing and a women in a white dress and a man in a white tux emerge. this was no regular church service, in fact, it wasn't a church service at all--it was a civil marriage ceremony! It was actually really cool to be an observer of, even though neither of us could understand a word of Dutch. The judge proceeding was a very funny woman--well, we assumed she was funny as with every other sentence the people in the audience were cracking up. Apparently she knew the couple very well and was telling stories about them. At the end of the couple exchanging their vows the judge raised her gavel and said something in Dutch while banging the table, perhaps the Dutch version of "I now pronounce you husband and wife"? We later learned, from our friend in Utrecht that in the Netherlands everyone is required to get a civil marriage and then if they wish, can go to their church and have a religious service. I really like that idea of marriage--but it's a personal thing I suppose.

if you are ever in the Netherlands, you must MUST try ollebollen. There are stands for it everywhere. and it is delicious, like a baked doughball with brown sugar and raisins inside and powered sugar on top. YUM! This is a stand that was in the middle of Haarlem town centre. So besides crashing weddings and eating really good food, we also saw a bus get stuck in the middle of the road. Yep. big bus. stuck in the road, because in the Netherlands (or well, in Utrecht anyway), you can basically park where ever you want to , even on both sides of a one way street. so, some of the guys got out of the bus and moved the cars on the sides of the street over just a tiny smidge. it caused quite the commotion.

we did do one touristy thing while in utrecht, we went to this tower called Dom Tower. where we proceeded to walk up more than 400 steps to get to the top. along the way the way the bells in the bell tower w
ere explained to us, and we did get to go into the main bell tower, which was cool--i had a total hunchback of Notre Dame moment. Apparently they used to play the bells with this keyboard like thing--each "key" was attached to one of the bells' ropes, and they would bang the key (or bell tone) they wanted with really heavy hammers to get the bells to work, but now they have machines that do it, and only have a bell ringer for special occasions. there were over 50 bells, and most of them were huge, and really really old. it actually was pretty cool, just walking up and down the tower . . . wasn't.

In Amsterdam we met up with some friends! a Queens Wing reunion (Queens Wing is the do
rm I live in). It was really cool. I have a friend from Jewell that did her study abroad in Amsterdam a few years ago so she had given us tips on where to go, but we ended up finding some pretty cool places on our own. We did see the red light district (you can't really go to Amsterdam and not), but we heard that if you try to take pictures and they catch you, they'll take your camera! I decided it wasn't worth it. but I do have a picture of the reunion. We were only in Amsterdam proper for a night, not even a full day--but we needed the airport in Amsterdam to be able to fly to Dublin which was our connector to Faro. On to Portugal? yes.


land of the vikings

i have officially backpacked through Europe, well, part of Europe anyway. With just a school backpack stuffed to the breaking point on my back (but still under the 20 kg carry-on limit) my traveling buddy, Maylin and I started off on our 5 week adventure.

12/5-10/08 Norway--Drammen, Sandnes, Stavanger, Denmark, Bergen.

I was so excited to go to Norway, one of the two places that I told myself I HAD to see while over here (i am 1/5 Norwegian, or some odd fra
ction like that). We arrived in the land of the vikings mid afternoon in a small Ryan-Air airport outside of Oslo (Ryan-air is a discount airline around europe--you can get really good deals if you're willing to be flexible/you catch them at the right time--definitely worth checking out).
First thing we see in the airport:

They sold hot dogs everywhere we went in Norway. I never knew a country could like hot dogs so much.

We took a bus from the airport to a town called Drammen and ended up waiting for our over night train which didn't leave until 11pm.
Drammen looked like Christmas, which made the 6 hour wait after a day of travelling more bearable:

If you ever happen to be stuck in the Drammen train station for an extended period of time, go across the big bridge that's outside and to the right--there are actually things to see/do on that side of the train station. The overnight train was AMAZING!!! they gave us a packaged blanket, eye mask, and earplugs AND our seats fully reclined. Wonderful.

We stumbled off the train at 7am and were picked up by my distant cousin Trygve. Maylin and I were welcomed into his beautiful flat with open arms and introduced to more of my relatives. I had already met GK 4 years earlier, in KS, and she was kind enough to take us on an entertaining "behind the scenes" tour of Stavanger/Sadnes. This was my favorite monument that we saw:

three swords that stand for peace. awesome. the Norweigian name for it is "Sverd i Fjell" It's right on the shores of Hafrsfjord--call it a fjord, not a lake. there is definitely a difference. But this mix of fresh and salt water is breathtakingly beautiful, as were many of the places we saw in Norway, come to think of it.

GK also drove us to the overnight ferry that we took to Denmark. We met some interesting people on the ferry, i do believe that we were the only non-Norweigians on the boat, but everyone we met on the boat knew english, so we didn't have that hard of a time. Apparently these overnight ferries are for Christmas shopping, and business parties. . . it was interesting. . .to say the least. We were actually only in Denmark for 5 hours, but I think it was a trip more about the journey than the destination anyway. Why yes, this was a harbor in Denmark. It was really cute.

I also met quite a few other relatives and got to visit the 2nd largest mall in Norway. Everyone was so wonderful, I hope to meet up with them again someday, maybe host them once I have my own place, wherever i end up living.

We took off for Bergen on a joint bus/ferry trip. honestly, i slept through the first part of it--but the part that I was awake for was absolutely gorgeous. pure nature, undisturbed, peaceful, just as it was meant to be. I really can't wait to go back. On to the land of the Dutch!