Month: April 2013

The Holiday

As it turns out, if you want to write about The Holiday have to write about The Holiday during The Holiday, or immediately after The Holiday. Because if not I guess the rest of life starts to happen, and the blogging does not.

Two Fridays ago, Andy and I joined a gym.
It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while- I’m terrified about my inability to breathe hard enough to even run for the bus, Andy’s terrified of his ol’ bones getting older- and we’re desperate to get into the habit of exercise before, as above, ‘life happens’, and we just don’t.

So we’re trying to work out the new routine of work+German lessons+homework that comes with that+ exercise. Plus blogging. Plus sleeping: the sun is getting summery and setting after 8pm, and rising in the unholy hours, and what with our lack of curtains and our confused body clocks, out sleeping patterns are super-disrupted.

But on to The Holiday.
And the pictures.
“Someone” recently complained about the picture to word ratio. I’ll try to get it right this time.

So let’s begin with Saturday, our second day in Amsterdam.

Lo! The Sun did Shineth.
And after many months of darkness, the people were confused, and squinty:

One of the lovely things about the weekend was that even though it started with snow and cold and very much not-unlike-and-only-several-degrees-warmer-than Germany, the thermometer rose and the sun shined more every day… building up to a crescendo cut horribly short as our plane flew out of Amsterdam, and back under the cloud cover that was Deutschland.

After becoming acquainted with another horrible aspect of our hotel: the breakfast buffet, we headed onwards. First, to check out a bookshop, because Andy is a little trufflepig when it comes to sniffing out anything that contains real live words.

I’ll be honest, this was a pretty awesome shop. Apart from the massiveness which included every type of book on multiple stories (and a long, winding staircase lined with books), it had…..a Printing Press!

Unfortunately we had to rush through a bit to get to the central square by 11 am and hook up with the Free Walking Tour group. These tours are run by the Sandeman group, and found in many of the major tourist cities across Europe. Basically you wander around the city centre and surrounding areas, check out all the major tourist things, learn a little history, hear some funny stories, walk a little (it’s about 3 hours long), and then pay by tips based on your estimation of the quality at the end.

Even though some of the facts might be exaggerated (a Dutch man, clearly a Killjoy for a living, came up to me while I was listening and told us ‘it’s all lies! the company isn’t even Dutch!’), I would recommend it. For the entertainment value alone, or as a good way to get your bearings, or as a way to meet up with fellow tourists.

Or just to see some of the beauty of the city:

As the only bit of history I’m going to bore you with, this guy (below) is Multatuli. Real name, Eduard Dekker, but prone to drama: multa tuli apparently means ‘I have carried much’ in Latin. He wrote ‘Max Havelaar’, an thinly veiled biography about the maltreatment of the Indonesian people by the Dutch colonialists, and through it is said to have ‘ended (Dutch) colonialism’.

Remind me to read that some day.

Anyway, I think that deserves a statue. I would think that it deserves a statue with actual arms, but the Dutch are a funny sort.

Onwards with the show. But first, let’s have a quick interval as we check into the closest Albert Heijn to look for Stroopwafels.
Alas! Also empty, but they did have this:

It’s Spekulaas, which are delicious spiced shortcrust cookies (like gingerbread but infinitely better), made into Spekulaas butter by act of crumbling and addition of butter.
I did not get it because I want to live past 25. But I have tried it. It is exactly as delicious as you would imagine (providing you are imagining VERY).
Also this:

You know how most people dream of having a cellar with vintage wines when they’re older?
My dream cellar looks a lot more like this.

Anyway.
Out of all the museums in all of Amsterdam, the one that we both wanted to see the most was the Vincent van Gough Museum.

Of course it was closed.

Luckily, everything had been moved to the Hermitage Museum, so we headed there instead. I was a little worried about this, because in ’09 we went to the closed (I think it’s finally open this month after 10 years of renovations) Rijksmuseum, and had to pay the full price to see about 1/8th of the collection huddled into a shed.

When we got to the Hermitage, it had a really big line. Which I guess is a good sign. We bided our time by posing:

I guess we spent a few hours inside.
It was amazing. It was beautiful. You should go and see it.

I wasn’t sure about the photoing ability, and was a little worried about being shouted at, so these are web-stolen (via http://www.iamsterdam.com/en)

The points being:
1) It was beautifully set out (rooms divided for periods in his life- although strangely all of the details about him seemed to skirt the depression part, which seems non-trivial),
2) There were many famous and wonderful pictures,
3) They were breathtaking,
4) But really, Vincent cannot translate into photos,
5) You need to go to there.
6) Now.

 As I mentioned, at the time at least, Amsterdam was doing a lot better than Potsdam at the whole ‘getting out of winter’ thing. Not realising that they were just a normal part of a normal spring, I got very, very excited by the crocuses outside the Hermitage.

But then, I think you’ll agree that they are very, very pretty.

We briefly stopped to fill the gnawing pit in Andy’s stomach…

… and then, because it was too late to hit another museum, decided to ride some canals!

We went around sundown, which sounds romantic- but was not (we were sharing our little boat-table with some very loud Italian tourists), although it was definitely enjoyable.

Plus we got to hear some more Amsterdam facts, and, confirm our allegiance to Deutsch: each fact was said in Dutch (a.k.a-incomprehensible), then German (slightly more comprehensible, and much nobler), and then English.

 (These photos are all though the glass roof of the boat)

 Pretty huh?

Germans love….

I mean… this is just some sort of confirmation bias right?

Right????

We are currently trying to navigate our way around the German genders- male, female, and neutral- which, for those of you playing at home, have to be applied to every single noun. A chair is male, a cat is female, luck is neutral.

It is quite painful: lots of rote learning, and even for the situations where there is a rule (e.g. most words starting with ‘Ge’ are neutral), there are, of course, many exceptions.

And of course, the four prepositions: der (masc.), die (fem.) das (neutral), or die (plural), (which all mean ‘the’, for those of you still playing), change (although of course not consistently), depending on the case (Nominativ- for subjects, Akkusativ- for objects, Dativ- for the word ‘where’, several verbs etc., and Genetiv- possessive).

This Tuesday, we started on Dativ, and learnt to our dismay that ‘die’ (which is the feminine singular if the noun is the subject) becomes ‘der’ (still feminine singular, but now Dativ). Of course, ‘der’ is also the Nominativ masculine singular, but not in this case*.

So when the teacher asks us how to say a sentence, for example, ‘the glass is on the table’ in German, we try to remember what the words are, then what gender they are (the hardest part by far), then what case they are (glass= Nominativ, table= Dativ), then we try to change them into the right case and realise that we’ve forgotten the original gender, and then, three minutes after the teacher has driven to the store to buy a mug, ground some beans, and made herself a cup of coffee, we come up with the answer.

Which is my long, rambling way of saying: I like the word ‘Beer’ in German.

Most alcoholic drinks are Maskulin (I don’t like alcohol, Andy, who happens to be a boy, does- remembered!), but Bier is an exception. It’s das Bier.

I like this because das, which is used among other things, for diminutive (kittens as opposed to cats, and anything you want to cute-ify), is the preposition for water (das Wasser). I remember this by thinking that water doesn’t need a male or female identity- it just is. It always has been and it always will be here, it’s everywhere, and it’s entirely necessary for life. And that’s why, in my head at least, it’s das.

I like to think that to Germany, the same argument would apply to beer.

It’s ubiquitous!

Which might explain the Shampoo.

* Did you pick up the pun? Points for you!

More about the trip.

Having woken up about 4am, reached the airport just after 5 and finally jetted off well past our 7 am scheduling (they had to de-ice the plane, seemingly removing the last 3 months of weather from it), we arrived in Amsterdam after 9.

Like every capital city that is not Perth, Amsterdam is pretty simple to get to (from the airport) and around. On arrival, we bustled around the tourist information area near the (very beautiful) Amsterdam Central Station, before committing to buying the ‘I amsterdam’ city card.

The card includes travel on public transport, and free access into most of the major museums and art galleries. You also get 25 % off at various restaurants and theatres, and similarly cheaper rates for things like bike and scooter hire. Finally, they throw in a river cruise, and a couple of free giveaways at selected shops (we didn’t bother with this, as we assumed it would be cheap tourist tack, but I guess you could turn the whole thing into a bit of a treasure hunt).



We bought the card because we figured it would push us to do as much as possible in the small amount of time we had.  I would recommend it, but will note that the problem for us was that most of the major cultural events that we wanted to see were only open from 10:00-17:00, so you can hit 2 of at best 3 in a day…. this narrows the 24 hour period down somewhat, and means having to chose just a few of the 50 or so offerings.

We headed to our ‘Hotel’ and dumped our bags (too early to check in), then had a wander around the area, heading generally towards the middle of town. Due to very late-minute booking, our hotel was right on the edge of the canal systems that make up Amsterdam’s city centre:


Ultimately, I don’t thing this was a problem. The area was still safe, and there are trams running continuously past. Plus, we were pretty close to Museumplein!

Our wander, which was accompanied by many oohs and ahhs and pictures of flowers, bikes, and canals, ultimately had a purpose: Andy’s blood sugar had become dangerously low, and the poor boy was near death.

Food!




Mine had blue cheese and mushrooms inside, plus I nabbed a blue cheese dipping sauce for the chips.

It was all very delicious (and necessary by that time), and I’m very glad that we didn’t end up eating here instead:


This looks, to me, to be possibly one of the few things in the world less appetising than McDs. Of course, if Andy became some sort of President, I suspect we would quickly see these becoming a legal requisite of every street corner.

Can you believe that when we came out of the burger shop it had started snowing?
Disgusting!
Although it serves us right for leaving our easter-booking until the very last minute and not being able to travel anywhere properly warm. Thankfully, the Amsterdam snow had the decency to melt before it hit the ground, and not cover everything in a giant warmth-and-happiness dampening blanket as in Deutschland.

This winter has apparently been one of the longest and darkest on records, although I have to say that it’s been fairly mild. I like the snow, but the start of spring this year was a terrible series of jokes, in which a sunny day was rapidly followed by a massive onslaught of snow, which echoed with the mocking laughter of the weather gods. Thus every third day seemed to be ‘finally, the start of spring’, and every snowfall ‘the last’.. but.. it never was!

The crescendo of this farce was that, while Christmas day was snow-free, Easter (in which one has the desire and the right to see little flowers blossoming and rabbits happily frolicking and the like), saw snowfall.

As I write this, it’s been fairly sunny for over a week, with the temperature predicted to zip past 20 in the next few days, but I’m still not 100% certain that it’s not just another trick.


Anyway, here is us with snow in our hair. Actually, another Aussie we met on a tour boringly explained that it was actually ‘hail’ and not ‘snow’ because of the lack of flakes. Thank you sir, I’m sure my rapidly freezing beak and ears are pleased to know the distinction. 


I often find, that in moments of infinite winter, one needs to stock up on sugary, starchy goodness. Luckily, we were in Amsterdam, where such goodies are present in multiple incarnations: poffertjes (little mini pancakes), waffles, and, my personal poison, Olliebollen:


These  are like German Quarkballchen, which I guess are distantly related to doughnut balls, but they are so, so much better. The inside is a yeasty dough, without excess sugar, and with juicy raisins. The ball is fried, and then, to combat this internal deficit, heavily powdered with icing sugar.

Growing up, our next door neighbours were Dutch, so my sister and I were able to develop a healthy interest in Olliebollen from a young age.

Sometimes I think that people who are anti multiculturalism not only have no soul, they also have no tastebuds.



After several hours, we headed back to the Hotel to check in. The man at admin was very nice- spoke fairly good German and English (and obviously Dutch).. but everything else about the Hotel was abysmal.

*I originally had a paragraph here about why it was so crap, but I don’t really want to poison my blog with too much whining, so I’ll just say this: Ultimately, we went at a busy and expensive time, so I understand that the cost of the room was very much out of proportion for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, even for 1/3 of the price, I would not chose to stay at Hotel Marnix again.

At this point in the journey, I’m embarrassed to say, I then had a little nap.
I think in the future, it’s probably worth the extra night’s accommodation cost in order to maximize the weekend.

We headed back out into the nearly-night, and after more walking had some dinner. I also managed to lure Andy into Albert Heijn (Aldi/Woolies) to find Stroopwafels. For some shocking reason (are they connected to Easter?), they were all sold out, except for the fancy Bio ones. Parenthetically (because the amount of actual parentheses in this paragraph is getting out of control..heh..), I know the phrase ‘I don’t believe in Bio’ is ridiculous, but I refuse to buy their overpriced product- especially when, at least in Australia, the use of labels like ‘organic’ and ‘bio’ is poorly regulated, and thus can be thrown around somewhat willy-nillily.

Luckily, I was allowed to buy almond bunnies instead. My heart belongs to anything that contains almond meal. And seriously, how adorably shifty does this little fellow look?:


 Also shifty:


So we roamed, and enjoyed the pretties of Amsterdam, before making our way to the Hotel and bed.

  





There are so many lovely, beautiful things in this world!

The Dynastie and other delights.

In an attempt to snuffle out that rare and valuable thing in this city: a good Asian restaurant, Jerry from work has been organising for the past couple of years ‘group hits’ on promising-sounding locales. The idea being that if you have 10 or 20 people choosing one or two dishes each, you can cover a large portion of the menu, and thus fairly conclusively decide the value of the place, with a single visit.

This time, the group, including two Australians who have been whining non-stop about missing proper Asian food for the last several months, headed to Ming Dynastie, which is rather promisingly situated right next to the Chinese embassy in the centre of Berlin. 
Our party consisted of two Chileans (or one Chilean and one Columbian):
Plus a French man, a German:

Another German and another French lady. Plus our Chinese leader:

 Two more Germans, two Japanese, and two Aussies:

(I should apologise here about the quality of the photos- the settings were totally off and my autofocus was spazzing, but for the most part I was too busy stuffing my face with food to notice at the time).
Anyway, the menu at this place is extensive, with well over a hundred different dishes, including lots of dim-sum delicacies.. I was very happy to be involved in the eating of various sweet and savoury bao, and someone even managed to order those amazing deep fried sesame balls that my sister and I have been addicted to since birth.
Despite all the options, with Jerry’s help, and under the watchful eye of the Emperor, we managed to navigate our way through!

Here are the first two items that arrived. I have to admit that after them it became much more of a scrum, and I had to lay down my camera in order to commit to the ruthless battles for control over the Lazy Susan.

Fish! It’s been a while since I had proper fish. Possibly not at all while I’ve been in Deutschland. This was well cooked, but I think the ‘soupy’ part could have been more heavily flavoured. Also, it was riddled with whole peppercorns. I’m not fond of pepper, and crunching down on a peppercorn is one of my least favourite culinary experiences. However, I’ve noticed that Europeans (?) seem to embrace pepper as a spice, and, much to my disappointment, many of the foods labeled as ‘spicy’ here, are simply ‘peppery’. Interestingly, several of the group found this dish ‘spicy’, although I am pretty sure that no chili had even been waved in its vicinity.

These ones are tofu skins- deep fried.
And the scrum begins!
(As an aside- I love this photo, despite how terribly it turned out. I am particularly fond of Dirk’s facial expression- and the fact that he was pulling this face in several of the other photos from the night).
(I am worried about Andy’s attempt to out-Japanaese Hiro here. This could be a slippery slope).
Overall the food was nice, but I think what dominated for me was how enjoyable the whole situation was: there’s not too many things in life that are better than sitting with a group of friends in a private room, listening to looping Chinese elevator music and scoffing your face with a massive assortment and volume of food. 

Race based generalisations (are we only up to two?)

A couple of weeks ago, my dear friend Ashlee posted an episode of QI from the G season on my facebook wall: G is for Germany. (You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CldlRZ9Xew)

I was amused by the discussions about ‘Nasty Germans stealing all the deck chairs from the lovely Brits when on holiday’.

Apparently, one of the biggest stereotypes about Germans from the English point of view is that they wake up early, and, while the Brits are still gorging on the Breakfast Buffet (and the Aussies have presumably not yet rolled out of bed), they lay out their towel on the sunbeds, thus reserving them for the day.

How DARE they be more organised than us!?

I’m going to be honest: hearing about this did more to ram home the ‘winging pom’ stereotype than any about the Germans.

But looking into it, I’m actually a little worried.

Here (http://metro.co.uk/2007/05/29/brits-cheer-as-german-towels-burn-403192/), is a story of a Welsh coach driver who first dumped all the towels into the pool, and then, when those Germans didn’t learn their lesson the first time.. SET THE TOWELS ON FIRE.

And because the hotel, who actually owned the towels, decided not to press charges, this idiot became some sort of hero, triumphing the rights of the ‘underdog’ (I mean, when did Brits become the underdog??!!).

I give you the last line:
According to reports, no further towels have been left on the sunbeds since Mr Bowden started burning things, marking a heroic victory for the good, old-fashioned British sense of decency, justice and fair play.

I hope your parents are proud.

Anyway.
A couple of weeks ago we came home to see this:

We can only hope it escalates.

Walkies

Look, I know I’ve been crying wolf a bit lately.. but I think it really might be happening this time.

We went for a walk today, and for the first time since my I arrival, I didn’t have to wear my ‘winter’ jacket!
It was NINE degrees.
I only had a thin jumper on.
I actually rolled up the sleeves at one point!

People! I think this may actually be it:

(of Winter).

Behold! The (fingers crossed) last remnants of snow:

We went for a nice walk in the sun, and it was really exciting to see all the bulbs emerging, and the flowers frolicking.

Take that, last of the snow!

(Look! the joy of actual snow being replaced with little snowdroppy flowers)

I mean! Really! I know you doubt my (ab)use of the English language sometimes, but that is most definitely what I would call ‘A Frolick of Flowers’.

Hangin’ with my Pony. Ever since watching Veronica Mars (probably the second best show ever), I have had a slight obsession with the idea of asking people to buy me ponies (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sBu_mkcpSU).

Who’s a pretty Mandarin Duck then?

 I’m disappointed that male humans don’t do this. Seriously, that ridiculous macho posturing to get our attention would be SO much better if you added some colour and a bit of body glitter. Also, I want to know that your display is actually reducing your fitness in some way (like the negative impact on camouflage seen above).

After some time ‘throwing great big hunks of bread at the ducks’, we headed across the bridge towards the little outdoor fair that’s happening, presumably as part of easter or spring?

I think because my parents took my sister and I to lots of school fetes when we were young I have this really positive reminiscence anytime I venture near this sort of thing (providing there are not too many people)… I really love the environment of being outdoors in the sun with the smell of food and the sound of music and voices over the loudspeaker. Oddly enough, as we walked up to the Ferris wheel they were playing Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire.. which I had spent the morning singing loudly and on repeat (I only know the two chorus lines). Lucky Andy!

He managed to distract himself from my beautiful song with a half-metre long sausage.

I love how many ‘big kids’ were riding this thing.

Crepe with Tofiffee. I have probably blogged about them before but if not, google image it. They are little cups of solid toffee filled with a hazelnut, some nutella, and topped with milk chocolate. One of the most addictive inventions ever created. Add that to the gloriousness of a crepe and you have what can only described as ‘Melty Deliciousness’

… because after all the Olliebollen of Amsterdam, I couldn’t remember what Quarkballchen tasted like. This one was supposed to be Mandel, but was a bit disappointing because it wasn’t super almondy, and was also cold.
Booo.

Yeah that’s right Andy.. Back. Away. From. My Crepe.

  This is more towards the centre of Potsdam. We also took a stroll down the main street.

 And had Icecream!

More Posing in the Sun:

Amsterdam…

There were bikes:

There were flowers:

There were pretty little houses all in a row:

and there were canals:

But, apart from the very touristy visit to the sex museum and a tour in the red light district, no sex (*ok, I just re-read that and realised that sounds sad for me and sounds ‘too much information-y’ for you. What I mean to say is ‘no public/financially facilitated engagement in sex’.)

Also no drugs.

And very little rock and roll.

Going to Amsterdam for the weekend had the weird quality of making me feel both more aligned with Germany, and less German at the same time.

I remember when I went to Holland in ’09 with Ashlee and Lauren, we felt (admittedly at least partially because of the amazing hospitality of Lauren’s extended family), that Holland was more ‘homey’ or ‘Australia-y’ than London, Paris and various German and Italian cities that we had visited in the previous 2 months.

This time, I felt that again to a certain degree, but now it was in very sharp juxtaposition with all the Germannesses of German society that are gradually becoming the norm for us here.

It was really obvious to me that a lot of the ‘culture-shock’ (that is standard in any foreign visit), especially in the first few hours after arrival, was coming from differences between Holland and my newly adopted culture, as opposed to between Holland and Australia. I became more aware of being a Germany-living Aussie, whereas of course here in Germany my cultural identity is very much defined (in a group of international students and Germans) as purely Australian. (Of course in Australian, within a group of Australians, this identity melts away and other factors intrude). Meeting other Australians on the tours, it felt necessary to mention that we live in Germany… making us maybe less proper Ausssie tourists and more…. ‘semi-Europeans travelling in Europe’?

Maybe that’s just me being pretentious.

The language was another aspect. I’m going to totally offend Lauren, but I spent half the weekend laughing at the fact that Dutch really sounds quite odd. German, the beautiful language of the world’s most famous dictator, simply sounds more ‘dignified’ and beautiful to me. And I felt happy when I heard the tourist announcements in German, and pleased that I could make out some of the words.

On the other hand, the trip made me much more aware of some of the things that I’m missing in Deutschland. One of the really obvious things was the amount of non-Caucasians, not just as tourists but (I’m assuming a lot here) as proper Dutch-speaking second of third generation immigrants. And this of course was reflected in the shops and the food and the atmosphere and the culture and…. I miss it!

Australians! Multiculturalism is literally The. Best. Go out now and rub yourself all over in its glory!

Heeeeeey Nederlanders!

Hullo!

It’s been a while since a blog, mostly because Andy and I ‘jetted’ off to the Netherlands for the long weekend.
This statement makes our life seem more glamorous than it really is. Please try to imagine me saying it in the poshest, toffiest accent possible.
Is it still classed as ‘jetting’ when one is in a vehicle not much larger than a biplane?

It was a really nice trip, and we got to see many amazing things (although only about 1/63rd of what Amsterdam has to offer, and thus probably about 1/3478900 of the Nederlands). *Sigh*.. now we just have to go back.

One of the fun things was remembering all the times from when I eurotripped with the lovely Ashlee and Lauren.

Here’s a quick visual:

Lauren and Tegan in Shoe, ’09. I think Ash refused to get in…

I feel I can still pull off the shoe.

More furious blogging during the week.