Apr 30, 2012

Artistic satisfaction

Because there are days when one's artistic desire simply will not be satisfied until one has sketched a dramatically lit train station in charcoal...

And then there are days when one's artistic desire is a lot easier to please, and simply writing on a banana with a toothpick and watching the bruised words darken magically is enough.

More Netherlands posts coming soon! 

Apr 24, 2012

Grocery shopping and Alsmeer

The next day we took it a bit easy again, still getting over jet lag etc.
It's amazing though, how simply biking around and grocery shopping can be an adventure when you're in a different country! 

This is a very, very common sight in Holland. Most bikers have seats in front or back for people to hitch a ride on. 
And notice the cars? Yes. They're waiting for the bikers.
Most of the time bikes have the right of way.
Oh, yes.

Grocery shopping at Albert Heijn! 
Want a cart? You have to put in a euro to unlock it. Return the cart, and you get the euro back. 
This is a good example of every day life that the Dutch don't think twice about, but it seems so different to me. I love how even the "normal" things are different when you travel! :)

And everything in the store is different.
Eggs come in sixes or tens, not dozens.
Yoghurt comes in what looks like paper milk cartons.
Koffie melk (coffee milk) comes in glass bottles.
There's real cheese and fancy breads.
Pop bottle sizes are smaller.
Dropjes line the candy aisle.
Packaging is different on everything.
And ketchup. You can get it in a tube. :)

I'm sure we looked ridiculous, photographing ketchup, but hey. 

Oh, and one other thing that I find funny in a different country is the phrasing.
For example, here we say "peanut butter", whereas they say, "Pindakaas" which translates as "Peanut cheese." 
Which makes you think ... why do we say "butter" anyways?? It's not like it's dairy, people! 
Cheese? Butter? Phrases so similar, but so different for no apparent reason.
Another phrase difference; we say "sleep in" they say "sleep out". But in Dutch, of course. ;)

The next day we went to Aalsmeer to see the flower auction! 
This is the biggest flower auction in the world, and it goes on year round.
People come here to buy flowers for companies all over the world.

Dad has a cousin named Jaap who used to work there, so we got an amazing tour from him! 
The building is incredible. There are thousands and thousands of carts full of flowers being towed this way and that. The carts make a huge racket, rattling around the massive rooms. There is a damp, cool smell of fresh plants, and vibrant colors recede in all directions.

Yes, those are my conversed toes. :)

My cousin:

Ok, one thing I should explain. This building is massive. Like, whoa, massive. Like, the fifth largest building in the world, massive. Like, 10.6 million square feet, massive.  
Umm, yeah.
They use bikes to get around inside. 
No joke.

Does anyone else find it ironic that this massive hulk of a building is in tiny Holland? Tiny Holland that could fit over five of its whole self into my state??
Moving on.

This is one of the many auction rooms.
We actually got to go in, (past the "no tourists" sign, *snicker*) because of our in-the-in family member tour guide! 
It's nice being in-the-in...

Here you can see the big "clock" (the circle) on the left of the screen, and which flower they're bidding on. They show a photo of the flowers on the screen, as the carts full of that particular kind roll by below. There's an auctioneer in a booth who sets the highest price. And then the price goes *down* from there. The longer you wait, the cheaper it gets, but there's the possibility of someone else snatching it first.

The price is per bloom, so when you're buying tens of thousands of flowers, one penny difference can save you literally thousands of dollars! (Or euros. Whatever.)

This is a testing lab, where they test the longevity of the blooms and then rate them accordingly.

And then we got to go down into a different room, which was full of potted plants instead of cut blooms. In this room they sell smaller quantities to individual plant nurseries etc. So if you owned a plant shop, you could come here and buy just one or two of each plant, instead of thousands.

They had traaaays of air plants.
I almost died.

This pitcher plant almost killed me, too. Gah! 

Sorry. I have a bit of a thing for crazy plants ...

And they also had another section of cut blooms, but smaller quantities again. That's my sis, taking pics. I'm afraid we both looked like this for most of the vacation ... ;)

Mom, Dad, sis, me & bro

And then we went back to Jaap's house, and had lunch with him and his wife, Jopie, and my aunt and cousin.

My bro Ben, me, Jopie, sis Kris, Jaap, cousin Michiel & aunt Andrea

Being welcomed into Jaap & Jopie's house, getting to know my relatives more, exploring a fantastic building, plants and flowers galore...
I'd say it was a smashingly good day! 

Apr 21, 2012

The Netherlands day 1 & 2

Day one

After sleeping for a solid 13 hours, we hung out around our cabin, ate Dutch goodies, and went for a short bike ride to a castle! We kept it pretty simple, since we were all still exhausted.

Audrey Hepburn's grandmother used to own this castle, and after that the last German Kaiser lived there!

We explored the grounds, and found this super cool horse made out of logs and twigs! Epic, right? 

On the ride back we admired the houses. Pretty much every single house is photogenic and gorgeous. It's ridiculous.

Day Two
April 4th

I started out feeling restless, bored and ready to go do something. And also missing the internet.
 So I ate and photographed vla. :) 
Vla is an amazing subtly sweet yoghurty pudding that is rather hard to explain, but is delicious. Why can't we have it in America, I ask you??

Sis and I took a short walk in the woods by our cabin, just to get out.

And then in the afternoon we went for our first big adventure!
Bus ride to Utrecht Centraal Station, train to Amsterdam!
 Waiting at the bushalte. (Bus stop)

It was so strange, just sitting on the bus and hearing all the passengers chatting in a different language. I knew everyone would be speaking Dutch, but somehow it was still a surprise when ... well, everyone was speaking Dutch! 

On the train I had my first thought in Dutch. It was weird, but I was kind of impressed with myself. ;)

Waves of people, tsunamis of bikes.
Notice the special path just for bikes? Yes. Wherever there's a road, there's a bike path. It's awesome.

Trams, buses, people, mounted police, bikers, mopeds, cars! It's seriously a wonder we didn't get run over by one thing or another.

It was super interesting just wandering around the city. Crooked buildings, yarn bombing, cheese shops ... you name it! 

Dam Square:

This is my mom in front of the entrance to the first prison in Holland.
It is now the entrance to a shopping mall.

At first it seems a bit weird that such cool history should be made into a shopping mall. But really, when almost every single building you pass has incredible old architecture and an interesting history, there comes a point when it doesn't seem quite as novel or ... sacred, or something.
It's strange to be surrounded by so much history that you start passing it by without a second thought.

Cobbled streets. Love.

After a lot of walking, we had a picnic in the garden outside the Rijks Museum.
"Can we all just take a moment," I said, "to realize that we are eating cheese sandwiches in Amsterdam?!"
I had a lot of those moments that day. Moments where I just wanted to stop and exclaim, "We are really here!!" or some other such obvious nonsense. 

And then we went into the museum! We saw Rembrandt and Vermeer, among others. My favorite was the Milkmaid, or "Het Melkmeisje". The colors were so intense and the lighting was amazing in person! It almost had a 3D effect.

The Night Watch. And yes, that's me in front. :)
The painting is massive. The people in it seem to be real figures standing there in a spotlight, the shadows really receding. Incredible.

And then we walked around the city some more.

A few weeks before we came to the Netherlands, I had seen a photo of a canal with tall buildings lining it, and a bridge covered in bikes. And I thought, "I'm gonna be there soon."

And then boom! 
I was remembering that moment, and marveling, because ... there I was.

Tiny streets.

It was a full and wonderful day. On the train ride back, Sis took this photo of my reflection in the window.

Tired, and so happy.

More adventures await...