Fear and Loathing (myself for all the cookies I ate) in the Netherlands

the “orange” light. Also, why does my hand look like a giant lobster claw in this photo? GIANT JUUuuuLIEnnNNe

My roommates have an orange light they turn on in the living room, not to be mistaken with the red lights that are common in Amsterdam, cause it looks totally different (not at all). As you can imagine, I try not to stand near the window during these times… I’ve spent the last week fixing my eyes so I am not Julie-pumpkin-face and getting myself out into the world. So here is the inside scoop on my recent (mis)adventures:

  1. How to dance like you saw a double rainbow
  2. A Culinary Tour: Stroopwaffles or as I like to call them, “shamecakes”
  3. AmsterDAMAGE: How the Netherlands broke my sense of direction
  4. Sun showers and self-reflection: follow me into metaphor-land

 

#1. How to dance like you saw a double rainbow:

Find a great cafe and you can feel at home right away

Think of how amazing your friends are and the wide variety of circumstances that it took for you to find them. Now, imagine yourself in a new country for 4 months, how are you going to find good company? That’s the challenge. Even though I am a very friendly girl, making friends here has been more difficult that I expected because I don’t live in Amsterdam where my classes are and Utrecht-ians keep a bit to themselves. As a result, I’ve used couchsurfing (a site for travelers) to meet people in the area and ask them to show me their favourite cafe in town.

On a Saturday night I was invited by a Dutch local named Judith, a well referenced couchsurfer, to have dinner at her house and then to go to an alternative dance party. If you are wondering what an alternative dance party is, the only information I had to go on was, that people dance barefoot… and there are smoothies.

In the spirit of being abroad and saying ‘yes’ to new things, I agreed and showed up to her house, sunflowers in hand. She lives in a trailer on the yard of an anti-squatting plot. In other words, she lives on the edge of the edge of society. But she is great and her trailer looks like a little girl’s jewellery box— the tin trailer incasing panther print blankets and christmas lights. After a dinner of quinoa, sprouts and homemade hummus we biked over to the venue

Let me set the scene— we walk into this huge house where every floor is dedicated to a different kind of alternative atmosphere. For instance, we passed a room where people drew with crayons and laid down on beds of nails, a ‘re-assuring’ sign that whatever I was about to get into would be unexpected. So we get to the top floor and our ‘class’ before the dance party begins. First activity, pick a partner and dance with only your shoulders together. Second activity, pick a partner and dance with only your feet together. Third activity, pick a partner and dance with your middle fingers together! Interesting…ahem.

After this warm up, the most rigorous part of the ‘class’ begins. Here, 1/2 the class had to be a reed in the water while the other 1/2 of the class was the wind that pushes the reed. And I suppose what we should learn is how to be ‘free’ and move how you move and not how you think you are supposed to move. Amazing lesson, but if manifests in a very particular way. That is, the people who were most ‘free’ dance crazy… like really crazy… like they saw a double rainbow crazy. This was definitely a bit out of my comfort zone, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t smiling the entire time. However, I did leave when people started getting their faces painted like cats and hula-hooping. That’s when I cashed in my chips and thought, “I’m good— I think that’s enough strange for me tonight.”

 

# 2: A Culinary Tour: Stroopwaffles or as I like to call them, “shamecakes” 

Each blog post I hope to investigate a particular kind of Dutch food, this week is Stroopwaffles. These are cookies with multiple layers of waffles and syrup pressed together (delicious), however, they have the adverse affect of turning me into a raptor from Jurassic park. Rather than eating like a human, I devour not just one little stroopwaffle, but all of its friends. In fact, this post was supposed to have a picture spelling out the word “Stroopwaffles” with stroopwaffles, but after 2 failed attempts from simply eating the cookies, I gave up. But, I digress… Stroopwaffles are a good culinary places to start because they represent one of the largest sections in the grocery store.

This is the size of the shamecake section in a SMALL grocery store.

Here are some quick facts about shamecakes, I mean stroopwaffles:

  • How much do they cost? 1-5 euro depending on quality and quantity (shamefully afffordable)
  • When do people eat them? All. The. Time. They are also an excellent ‘waiting for the train’ food.
  • How much does quality matter? You can definitely taste the difference between a cheap stroopwaffle because they are more brittle, whereas ‘high quality’ break-your-teeth-with-sweetness is a soft experience where the caramel strands are endless.
  • Extra tip: Eat them in a social situation as a way to induce self control

 # 3: AmsterDAMAGE: How the Netherlands broke my sense of direction

Every place has small details that you know right then and there that you will miss. Like every day I see about 6 or 8 people who just bought flowers. Amazing. Buying flowers is kind of a special event in Toronto.

Here, even the most dreary cafes have fresh flowers on the table… these are small details I will miss. Or the fact that when you bike here, you don’t feel like you are going to die, again small details. What I will not miss however, is the city planning. In the Netherlands the city is built in relation to the canals, often creating concentric circles in the city plan. What I can’t get my head around is the fact that the street names will change 4 times in 100 meters. Everyone probably has a street named after them, it’s probably not even a special thing anymore.

There are some people who have amazing inner ears and brag about how great they are with directions and this is NOT me. Actually the only time I’ve been good at directions was in Italy where most of the city planning resembles a plate of spaghetti that fell on the floor—somehow that particular type of chaos spoke to me. Also, because of this concentric circle thing, the streets curve slightly. Tricky, right? So rather than going west, all of a sudden you find yourself going south. I think the french invaded the Netherlands, but they probably had to do it like 5 times because the streets kept curving them back to France.

 

# 4: Sun showers and self-reflection: follow me into metaphor-land

As can be expected, being abroad comes with its fair share of ups and downs. This is not just because you struggle with things like language differences or having to resist their sweet sweet cookies. Rather, it is because everything that defines you is temporarily taken away. Things like, where you live, your friends, what your apartment looks like— all the things that tell someone something about you, without you having to…

Yesterday I was walking back from class and it started to rain while the sun was shining. Not just for a split second, but for several minutes. It occurred to me that thisthis is what I was feeling. It is both loss and liberation of one’s life and of one’s sense of self. What comes out of the experience is knowing what stays the same within you, despite everything else that has been shaken. And that is profound. How often is it that you can see your shadow holding an umbrella? Rare, right? Living abroad let’s you see that. You can witness yourself struggle, cope and blossom.

During this process, I can watch my own coping mechanisms, develop them and fine tune them. For instance, one day I was feeling a bit down because I was like, “The only place in Holland that is mine, I am allergic to…” and so I decided that I was going to bake something. Something that would make me feel like a successful and capable human and that I can share with others because so much of my experience here is solitary. So I baked a cake in the shape of a heart and BOOM, feeling of superhero-ness restored. It is such a simple thing, but you need small wins.

 

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About julienne.lottering@utoronto.ca

When my family emigrated from South Africa to Canada it was 1991 and I was eight years old. From an early age it was clear to me that my roots had a contentious history. Immigration shaped me by making me more skeptical of my roots and a more trusting of my wings. Travel has never just been travel for me; it has been a way to make order out of the world. In the context of my life, travel is a stratosphere of transformative experiences. For that reason I am now living in the Netherlands with the mission to find cultural subtleties, unexpected beauty and what wild diverse experiences this exchange has to offer!

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