Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Koninginnedag (Queen's Day)

There are a few important things to know about Queen's Day, and in particular, Queen's Day 2013.

1. Queen's Day celebrate Queen Beatrix and the royal family. The celebration is held on her mother's birthday, as Beatrix's January birthday does not have the same springtime fun as a late April celebration.

2. Earlier this year Beatrix announced her abdication of the throne to her son Willem-Alexander (as is typically done in the Netherlands). That means that April 29th was Queen's night and April 30 was more of a king's day, but no one really cared as long as they got to drink and dress in orange.

3. On April 30th, you dress in orange and drink. (Orange for the house of Orange and drink because it's a party)

4. Amsterdam is FULL of people.

5. It's like a mix of tailgate, water/ boat parade, flea market, block party and a sports team celebration. 

6. It's tons of fun. 

7. Next year the celebrations will move to April 27th, Willem-Alexander's birthday.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Delft and Den Hague

I decided to get out of Amsterdam for a little bit and head to some other towns. I had read that a trip to Delft, the Hague and Leiden could all be done on one train ticket and if you moved fast, all in one day.

This appealed to me, as I had no desire to get back to the hostel early, and I had wandered around Amsterdam enough at this point. I headed out to Delft, the furtherest away on the train, and arrived an hour later.

Gloomy clouds greeted me, and coupled with the huge construction zone in front of the train station, made for an in auspicious start. I headed out into town, though I was unable to find a tourist office to get a map and I started to wander.

The dutch are very practical when it comes to naming things (ok, they're practical when it comes to most things) and so I visited the "Neuw Kirk" or "New Church" and then wandered to the pottery museum. The Dutch have a more protestant history which doesn't lend itself to beautiful cathedrals, and stripped down churches don't have quite the same allure that embellished cathedrals do for some reason. After I took my browse around, I found the pottery museum. Delft is known for the white and blue pottery that was influenced by Chinese ceramics and adapted and made their own in the Netherlands. So even though I was pretty full up on museums, I was still excited to go. Except it was closed on Mondays. Ooops.

So I started just wandering around the town, taking in the smaller city, still full of canals like Amsterdam. Delft is very pretty, and in a weird way reminded me of Ridgewood. I walked around a while and found the shopping area, where I ducked into H&M to find an orange shirt for the next day (Queen's Day). I also stopped by other shops to get other doodads fro the upcoming celebration.

Around 4pm I hopped on a train, ready to see my next city. It was then that I realized the recommended 8 hours to see the cities meant 8 business hours. Most museums close at 5 or 6, though of course you can walk around a city for as long as you like. I got off in Den Hague, searching for a toilet. Just outside of the train station I saw a library. Perfect. Libraries are known for having books and toilets. I managed to scrounge up the 30 cents for the bathroom fee and went in.

I was tired of walking around, my bag seemed even heavier and I just was looking for a cafe to sit at anyway. The library fit all my needs and more- open until 8pm and free to sit in!

So I plunked myself down on a comfy couch, took a nap and read my book. At 7:30 I left and finally took note of the huge stage that had been erected in the square across from the library. I don't know any Dutch, but I was able to deduce that there was a free concert tonight at 7:30. Ok cool. I'd hang around for the concert, and then head back to Amsterdam. I enjoyed the performance, though I would have liked it better if I had a friend with me to share it with, but that's the nature of traveling alone.

After the concert ended, people quickly hurried away into town. I still hadn't gotten any further than the library, so I figured I'd follow the crowd and see a little of the town as well. It was then that I realized it was not just the one free concert, but a bunch of concerts happening around the Hague until midnight.

I was able to catch a few more, but reading the program was difficult for me, especially as I didn't know the square names and all that. The group I enjoyed the best was "Mister and Mississippi." They had a chill, folksy vibe.

My dogs were yapping, and so at 10:30 or so I headed back to the train station and back to my hostel. It was a very full day, not at all what I expected, but fun all the same.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Country Bike Tour, Couchsurfers and Volendam Park

I signed up for a "country bike tour" since I was pretty terrified of managing to fall into a canal or causing an accident. The tour guide was obviously meant for the job as he chatted up all of the participants and did a great job telling us about all the different parts of Amsterdam and bits of the countryside that we rode through.

We didn't get as into the countryside as I would have like, which makes sense given that we were starting from Amsterdam. Over all the ride was a ton of fun and a great way to pass the afternoon.

Afterwards I met up with two couchsurfers (Pauline and Jo) for drinks. They are really lovely people who are both now living in Amsterdam.

When they had to go I went to Volendam park to lay in the grass and read my book.

An easy going day in the end.

Zannse Schans Windmills, Bikes and Anne Frank

This morning I headed out to the town of Zannse Schans. It still has about 6 or 7 working windmills and is very picturesque, sandwiched between fields and canals with green gabled houses all around. The downside is that the side with the windmills is really only for tourists and all the little shops and houses are pretty, but in a Disney fabricated type way. On the other hand they are pretty.

In one of the shops I saw a klompen (wooden shoe) making demonstration which was pretty cool. The best part was when they guy showed how the wood is still really wet and needs to dry out for a few months by putting his face in the hole of the newly carved shoe and blowing, causing water to drip out! It was kind of gross in a way but still really cool.

I wandered around a bit, but I was really cold, as I forgot that the wind can really bite into you. So I decided to rent a bike for a while as that way I would have something to do beyond just taking photos. I was hoping to make it to the other side of the river, but my geography skills weren't up to the task. I ended up going around some big field which was better anyway. It was a really peaceful and easy ride. The land is so flat that the riding is easy and with all the bike paths I don't feel like I am about to die like I would in the states. It's been a while since getting on a bike, but I got comfortable pretty quickly (though I definitely don't get on and off as gracefully as the dutch).

Selfie on the bike ride.
After my bike ride I headed back into Amsterdam. At a loss for what do I figured I might as well try to get a ticket into the Anne Frank house, as it's one of the most well known places in Amsterdam. It was impressionable seeing the house, but at the same time, there was very little to it. Her father, Otto, and the only one of the hidden inhabitants was the only to survive the war. He made sure that the house was to be presented with out any furniture, and generally empty to show the holes that were left by all of the deceased after the war. The biggest idea to impact me, which I didn't fully consider before, is that those in hiding didn't leave the house for two years. TWO YEARS! I get stir crazy if I'm inside for 2 days. They had many psychological stressors during their time in hiding. 

Afterwards I met up with a couchsurfer for a beer.

Another great day in the Netherlands.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rijksmuseum and Rain

In the morning Willow and I said goodbye to Caitlin as she continued on her journeys, and after a leisurely start to the day, we headed to the Rijksmuseum. As many people are arriving in town for the Queen's Day/ Succession/ King's Day celebration, and the rain, made for loooong lines to get into the famous museum. After a long wait, we finally made it inside and we were on our way to Vermeers and Rembrandts.

With the crowds inside, Willow and I got lost from each other, and since she had to catch her bus, I eventually gave up the hunt and continued on with my visit. The museum has a lot to offer, especially in still lifes and Dutch painting which I appreciated.

By the time I left though I was suffering from some serious museum fatigue. I indulged myself getting some souvenirs, a Starbucks hot chocolate and an English magazine. All in all, not a bad way to spend a rainy evening. It wasn't the most exciting of days, but I was still happy.

Tomorrow I'm adventuring outside of the city to Zaanse Schans to see some windmills, and perhaps to Voldendam if I can manage to get out of the hostel early enough (and if my "arriving" paycheck is cleared by the French bank!)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Van Gogh Exhibition, Bloemenmarket, and Walks Around the Canals

We had a late start to the day, but we needed the rest and lie-in. After we made it out into Amsterdam, we had a nice long walk to the Van Gogh Museum. We knew that renovations were being done, but that today was the last day to catch it- lucky us!

Except we didn't totally get the message that the real Van Gogh Museum has been undergoing renovations for a while, so today was the last day in at the Hermitage Amsterdam- across town. oops.

That didn't faze us too much, we headed back across town with a stop for french fries (fun fact: Oorlog sauce is peanut, mayonnaise and chopped onions- amazing!) and ice cream later. We made it to the museum, and despite the steep prices I was glad we went. I'm a fan of the bright colors and bold, broad, blending stokes that he uses in many of his paintings and it was fun to see bit of Arles again (one of the places I visited during Toussaint).

The afternoon brought more walking and wandering, including a walk through Vondelpark and a long sit next to the canals, just watching the boats pass by. We also past the floating flower market, which sells a number of bulbs, but seems to cater mostly to tourists these days (some of the tulip bulbs were already sprouting!) Finally seeing the sun after far too many winter months, we were very happy with our sun soaked ambling.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Keukenhof and Canal Tour

After Caitlin, Willow and I arrived on Tuesday, we spent the evening settling in and discussing budget and how to get to different attractions. Something that had been on the top of Caitlin's list (and mine as well) was the Keukenhof gardens which are renown for the gorgeous flowers that bloom there every spring. Despite all the efforts we put in planning the cheapest way to get out there, we actually ended up finding a better deal through the excursion company at the airport. For only 2.50euros more we got a canal boat ride in Amsterdam, so we were pretty happy about how things turned out.

The Keukenhof lived up to the expectations, though we were disappointed that we arrived in between the blooms of some of the tulip fields, so we had more green than the typical color blocks, but we were still content (even more so after I ate some poffertjes.)

Monday, April 22, 2013


For my last day in France I wanted to visit Giverny, or Monet's gardens. It's somewhere I'd already visited many years ago when I went to France with my parents, but I really wanted to revisit it.

I was doubly lucky that Mark could accompany me, because it's always more fun to share the experience with another person. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Reflections on leaving Montlucon

Yesterday I said goodbye to the Cazeauds, the family who has so warmly welcomed me in Montluçon and been a huge reason of why my time here has been so great. As they got in the car and I gave my last hugs, I let it loose and the gentle tears turned into bawling as I headed back up the hill and into Lycée Madame de Stael.

Maria had us there to help us load her up into the bus earlier in the day, an her departure went similarly.

As the train pulled away from the Montluçon station, with me and my over weight luggage, I couldn't stop the tears once again.

These past months in Montluçon have been absolutely phenomenal and I am so thankful that I've had the opportunity to come back to France and have these experiences.

I've gotten the question a lot of whether or not I'd like to move back to France. My response? Yes and no.

I miss my family and friends and not being there for important events like weddings, new additions to families, retirements and birthdays.

On the other hand, there's a lot if people in France that I really care about and love.

Nothing can change the fact that I'm American. I love the Stars and Stripes, hamburgers, Fourth of July parades, big gulp drinks with tons of ice, snacking, and eagles.

I also love french pastries, government funded health care and university, constant coffee breaks, nice shoes and 8 weeks of paid vacation.

There are things about both countries that bother me. France doesn't address the huge racism that exists and the constant self criticism gets old (imagine that friend we all have that's always saying "OMG I'm so fat and my grades are soooooo bad and my boyfriend hates me" and you just want to say "Shut up, you're actually really pretty, you have universal health care,, a fantastic university system and the beaches are gorgeous.")

America certainly has problems as well, but as an American I don't have to worry about upsetting my host country and my opinion is valued more since I'm a citizen.

I'm not sure in what country I'll end up after Peace Corps- whether it's France the USA or another entirely.

I've cherished the opportunity to meet meet so many wonderful people an include them in my life. On the other hand, I'm really tired of saying goodbye.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chez Cazeaud Encore

Over Easter weekend, the thoughts of leaving Montlucon and saying goodbyes to the Cazeaud family weighed heavily on me, and Marielle saw that. Not wanting our goodbyes to happen so soon before I left, they invited me back out to spend time with the family and have a belated birthday dinner.

I spent Saturday in the sunshine playing soccer with Emilian in the yard, watching Lilian's tennis match and taking walks through the woods. In the evening Marielle, Francois, Charlaine and I headed out to dinner at the "Auberge de Ris," in Vallon en Sully.

The dinner was simply amazing, but of course, the company was the most important part, and it was superb.

On Sunday, we once again we headed out into the yard continuing with soccer and some badminton with Antoine. Emilian tried to rope me into some gymnastic activities, but it was a reminder that I'm getting older, it's been three years since regularly stretching with K Cheer and that skinny jeans just don't mix.

I was able to watch part of Marielle's choir concert but we had to leave before all the groups performed. I said my goodbyes to half of the family, with the promise that I would see Marielle, Francois, Emilian and Lilian just before I left. It was hard to leave the family, as they had opened their home and family so greatly to me, but most of all I was thankful for all the lovely times I've spent there.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


My roommates got me, and they got me good. I turned the corner into the back part of the bar and with a shout my birthday party was starting.

Somehow, without me ever suspecting a thing, Maria and Alex had organized a surprise birthday party for me at one of our favorite bars. All the assistants (except James who was on a school trip) were there, along with other friends we've made during the year. The night was fantastic, and the completion of one of my dreams - to have a surprise birthday party.

Maria brought an eyeliner pencil to the bar and proceeded to give us all mustaches and cat faces.

Many drinks, laughs and fun were had over the night, and a wonderful way to celebrate a quarter century.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Parc Asterix

Mark was able to meet up with Alex, Maria and I. Despite a weekend already lacking in sleep, we soldiered onwards. Well, it wasn't too hard to get excited since we were headed to Parc Asterix, an amusement park based on the beloved characters of Obelix and Asterix, stars of comics and films loved by the young and old in France.

We were happy because the sun was shining and ROLLER COASTERS!

Though we were not too excited about the unintended extra fright for the first coaster. As we ascended they stopped the cars and made the announcement that there was a technical problem. Five minutes later, with no real announcement, our roller coaster ride was starting. How about that for a real thrill?!

The day ended with a dolphin show at the park, which was really impressive. However, between the long weekened, walking and sun we were all beat. We headed back into Paris, collected our bags, got some food and promptly fell asleep on the train ,waking up just after midnight in Montlucon, and facing a 20 minute walk back to the apartment.

Though entirely exhausting, it was a fantastic weekend.

Our butt photo tradition continued. 

I'm super strong