Christmas is coming to town.

the town has been decorated and the lights have been lit, and its all feeling very magical with so many festive things to do!

to start things off, we’ve had a vintage Christmas fair, where one of the prettiest buildings (younger hall) was converted into the coolest Christmas market, with lots of beautiful things to look at and buy– there were clothes, and shoes, and hats, and glasses, and jewelry and purses and just about anything you can think of…with Christmas music filling the air as you hopped from table to table taking everything in there was to see.

throughout the last few weeks all the sports teams, clubs and societies have been meeting up to have end-of-term Christmas dinners too, all with really different but equally creative themes… some dinners were just meant to be black tie, others required everyone to dress up in half black tie, half sport kit…so lots of times you ended up seeing people filling restaurants wearing their jerseys and kilts…or long gowns and running shoes…or tuxedos and helmets

and all the halls had Christmas parties too!

one even had a santa visit with a bag of gifts after dinner–a gift for everyone in hall!

and all anyone had to do was sit on santa’s lap and tell him what they wanted, and they got to rummage through his bag and pick out a gift!

they were all wrapped so you couldn’t see what you’d get…but once opened, the most random things came out!

some people got chocolates, others cookies, others got packs of plastic forks, others a jar of mustard, others a bottle of water, others a bottle of wine, others a towel, others a laundry bag (jealous, that one is actually really useful), others a book, others a can of peas, others toothpicks, others spices…it was just SO funny to watch people unwrap their gifts!

I talked to the hall committee that was running the event afterwards and they said that they had the absolute best time shopping for all the gifts, because they got to go to the supermarket and literally, everything that looked funny, random, or intersting, they would just drop into the cart…and you could tell they’d had fun with the mix of things they ended up getting… someone even got a meat tenderizer!

but don’t worry, it hasn’t all been eating and gift-giving…we’ve had a wonderful Christmas ball too!

and it was exactly as magical as you’d imagine a Christmas ball to be.

it was organized by the Mermaids which is one of the university’s biggest groups, and it was held in an old converted barn that is used for big events, so there we all were, in the warmest, most beautiful barn in the middle of the country, dancing the night away, with every table, beam and wall decorated with holly and ivy, and mistletoe and candles and as if it all wasn’t enough, there was ice cream too!

and halfway through the night someone said look outside…and it was snowing!! the first snowfall of the year!

what a magical night.

and if you really, really think it couldn’t get more wonderfully festive than all that…we had the most beautiful university Christmas carol service on friday with the St. Salvator’s choir singing and the chaplain giving a really funny (and heartfelt!) sermon.

and speaking of songs… the other day I was listening to some friends talking about the st andrews boys group I showed you last time–the other guys, remember?–and they were saying how they’d released their new Christmas song, so one friend told the other, oh yeah, its really good, they’re at number three on the charts…and the other person said, oh thats great! number three in st. andrews! noo, said the other…number three on amazon!

exactly. whattttttttttttttt?

see for yourself what you think of it: its called Christmas Gets Worse Every Year (but its actually a nice song!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YvZn1hgIvo

so here we are, covered in the festive spirit, with lots to keep us warm and cozy…

just think of all the incredibly wonderful and magical things you might be doing this time next year if you decide to go on exchange…

Friday Photo: World AIDS Day & Zapiro

Zapiro

So this Friday, I’m not posting a picture, but some information about a South African cartoonist/satirist,  Zapiro. So to check out his work go to his site: Zapiro’s Website. Zapiro is actually Jonathan Shapiro and he’s from Cape Town. He was the guest speaker at a World AIDS day event the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation held in the Baxter Theater last Friday. He spoke about his work on and his comics looking at the politics of HIV and AIDS in South Africa, and how far South Africa has come in the past twenty years, and how much further they still need to come. His cartoons have been seen throughout the world, and are an amazing example of how art can make a difference.

World AIDS Day

The purpose of World AIDS Day is to give us a chance to generate awareness of the continued prevalence of HIV & AIDS in our communities. It is a chance to reflect on what has been done in the past, and what still need to be done in the future. Its a chance to give credit to countries and leaders who have worked hard to try and ease the burden of the epidemic at home and abroad, and to also look at what still needs to be done and hold our elected officials accountable –to hold ourselves accountable for how we affect the world around us.

(Just some background on the day.)

  • First World AIDS Day was held in 1989  and the theme was “Our Lives, Our World–Let’s Take Care of Each Other”
  • 1991 the Red Ribbon becomes the international symbol for HIV and it was introduced at the Tony Awards by Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS and Visual AIDS in the US. (10 million people worldwide are HIV positive) 
  • 1993 Female condoms approved by FDA!
  • 1994 Scientists develop the first treatment regime to reduce the transmission from mother-to-child. PMTCT!!! (19.5 million people worldwide are HIV positive)
  • 1995 FIRST combination therapy —HAART *highly active antiretroviral therapy* is approved for use in the US
  • 1996 the United Nations establishes UNAIDS.
  • 1997 Brazil becomes the first developing country to begin national ARV distribution. (22 million people worldwide are HIV positive). 
  • 1998 Treatment Action Campaign TAC, forms in South Africa, pushing for access to treatment
  • 2000 UNAIDS, WHO, and other global health groups announce joint initiative with five major pharma manufacturers to negotiate reduced prices for AIDS drugs in developing countries.
  • 2001 20th reunion of first documented case of AIDS. & Generic companies agree to produce discounted forms of HIV/AIDS Drugs.
  • 2002 Botswana becomes the first African nation to set up a National AIDS treatment programme. 
  • 2003  President Bush announces PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). –15 billion dollar initiative to address HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria.
  • 2004 SOUTH AFRICA begins to provide free antiretroviral treatment. 
  • 2005 1.3 million people in developing countries have access to treatment. 
  • 2007 nearly all countries have national policies on HIV. (33 million people are living with HIV) 
  • 2009 President Obama changes rules that prevented funding from PEPFAR to organizations that provide services linked with abortion, India repeals section 377 of the penal code which had banned homosexuality.

Nomadic adventures and cultural foibles

 

I am  nearing the end of my exchange, but before I say goodbye I am trying to squeeze every last bit of strange, amazing and cultural experiences out that I can! On this week’s roster:

  • Morocco—-
  • Is Zwarte Piet  Racism?
  • Economics of traveling abroad
  • Oliebollen

Morocco—-

Every once in a while you get to settle debts with yourself, pay yourself the opportunity for something you dared yourself to do. For a long time I have wanted to travel to Morocco and traverse the dunes of the Sahara. For this trip that I had to save and plan carefully—especially as a woman traveling alone. For those interested, I’ve attached a few tips for women below this section.

The best part of my journey in Morocco was traveling to the Sahara, Erg Chebbi where I was lead by a nomad into the desert to sleep under the stars. I will admit, it was a strange and vulnerable sensation to walk into the desert, without any of my belongings and without knowing where I was going. However, about 5 minutes after climbing onto the camel I was laughing with joy and total exhilaration.

My favourite moment was resting with the nomad, “Bassu”, watching the sunset over the dunes while speaking in French. He was telling me a little bit about his life and in turn I shared some of mine. I was trying to explain to him how I have travelled a lot, often looking for my roots or a sense of home. And he stopped me and said, “Home? What do you mean?”

So I continued to explain saying that home is a sense of place. And he said, “Like a house?” I tried once more to say a place that you feel like you belong. And he said, “Like a room?”

I realized I was trying to explain the concept of home to a nomad and was failing miserably, which was actually very appropriate. It also made me realize what a lark my quixotic notion of being a nomad was because searching for roots or a sense of place is very un-nomadic, a nomad doesn’t even understand the concept of home!

In the morning I woke up to watch the sunrise over the desert— one of the most quiet and spectacular experiences I have ever had in my life. I have trouble putting into words because it was something so out of the realm of my everyday experiences that it didn’t feel like life at it, it felt like the secret to living well. That is to say, that leaving what you know behind, even for a day, can help you re-connect with something as ordinary as a sunrise.

Gender specifics for Morocco:

I had a guide while I was in Morocco. Typically I don’t do this because I like to travel alone, but the things I wanted to see could not be reached by bus. In the end this was a gift because my guide and I extensively discussed issues like gender roles, LGBTQ issues and safety in Morocco. Before coming here I had heard that Morocco has a reputation of being aggressive in their pursuit of woman. From an outsiders perspective one might think that this could be because of our Western style of clothing might be more revealing or the fact that our hair is no covered. But my guide spoke about it in a totally different way. He said that when he works with people from other cultures and has a very difficult time discerning what are signals or messages from western women.

For instance, he was working with a mother and daughter who were comparatively close in age and at the end of the trip they both gave him their email addresses. He was completely dumbstruck about who to contact or the conflict it would create if he contacted one before the other. For him the exchange of an email was a message, but to receive it from both a mother or daughter, or two girls who are friends was very confusing. Another example was that the last Sex in the City movie was filmed in Morocco and a few women mentioned it to him. He said, “Why did they tell me this? What were they trying to say by bringing up these words?” These are things we may consider quite innocent, giving an email address to keep in touch, or mentioning a movie title with explicit words, but they could have a much larger signification than we would intend to imply.

 

Here are a few tips for women thinking about traveling to Morocco:

  • Avoid clothing that could be considered tight and revealing
  • Wear a ring on your wedding finger if you want to avoid some attention from men (but if you wear a ring and flirt or pursue something with a man, remember that it can create false impressions of western women’s’ ‘values’)
  • Avoid speaking about things that may be considered personal (although family can be considered a safe subject)
  • Giving your email address or phone number to someone can be considered sending a romantic message
  • Referring to anatomy or sex is considered a signal

 

Is Zwarte Piet is Racism?

I’m going to level with you—this is going to be a bit of a controversial post. It would be easier to avoid this issue then to address it, but part of this blog is to unveil a variety aspects cultural experiences. As a precursor, let me say that many traditions exist that we do not question, have a troublesome past, or at the very least are so disconnected from the stories that originated them that they have taken on a life of their own. I mean, the easter bunny, I have no way to explain that.

Sooooo… the Dutch celebrate Sinterklass and if you are like me, you may know this, but don’t know the details. Here are the details:

Sinterklaas comes on a boat to the Netherlands with Zwarte Piet who is a ‘servant’ that he freed, Zwarte Piet was so thankful for this freedom that he stuck around to help Sinterklaas. Sinterklass looks like Santa Claus and Zwarte Piet is of moorish decent, but the more politically correct say that his face is black from the soot of the chimneys. If you think Sinterklaas is a jolly guy, think again. If you did not behave during the year not only do you not get presents, but he throws you in a burlap bag and takes you away with him to Spain. (Just as a sidenote, I feel like Sinterklaas picked a waaaaay better place to spend his vacation. North pole? Man, give me a beach and sangria any day. Sinterklass 1, Santa 0, but this is just about the only point I will award Sinterklaas)

This is my friend Selena who was greeted by a troop of Zwarte Piets.

But, in terms of Sinterklaas, what is troublesome is obviously this Zwarte Piet character. A few things counting against his political correctness: he is a former slave, still behaves like a slave to Sinterklaas and many of the advertisements or manifestations of Zwarte Piet today include people dressing up as him using black make-up on their faces. For these reasons, I suspect, there is graffiti around town stating that Zwarte Piet is racism.

 I asked some of the (caucasian) Dutch locals about all this Sinterklaas business and interestingly enough, the general response was, “It isn’t racism, it is just tradition.” My friend Lief (a Canadian I met here) had one of the best responses to this. He said, “You don’t get to decide.”

 

I will say that one year Zwarte Piet was turned into ‘rainbow coloured Piet,’ which was meant to address some of the aforementioned concerns. The people I have asked haven’t really explain to me why this amendment didn’t persist, but hopefully the change itself represents a start in questioning traditions that may seem benign, but could be harmful. This is a bit of reflection we could all probably do in our cultural frameworks.

 

Economics of traveling abroad

Want to know what the secret is to traveling cheaply? I’d love to say it is one website, or one trick, but that would be a lie. In actuality, the secret to traveling cheaply is pretty predictable— take time to research, be patient with things that will are less convenient. But since that isn’t very helpful,  here are some website and the pros and cons of trying to skimp on the top three things that eat your budget: transportation, accommodation and food.

 

Transportation: For flights to from Canada to your exchange location you can use skycanner or hipmunk to compare prices. To travel within Europe you want to look into cheaper airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizzair. These are super cheap, but the cons are that these small airlines may not be close to the city centre, may charge extra for checking in luggage and do not offer food in the price of the ticket. As a result, when you calculate your train ticket, travel times and food costs, it may be worth it to go with a more expensive airline since it could come out in the wash.

 

Accommodation: Hotels are too expensive and hostels can be unsafe or unpleasant.

Here’s an option– airbnb: this is a website that allows people with room in their homes to rent them out. It’s cool because you get to feel like a local, survey more options of price and locations.

 

Couchsurfing: You may have heard of it, you stay on people’s couches or guest rooms for free. It is free, but it is not a hotel, there are social obligations involved, which could be great or not so great. Sometimes I have felt like I made a new friend and they showed me a part of the city I would never have expected to see. Other times I have felt that I was not connecting with the host or that the room I was staying in was not clean or comfortable. I’ve done this a few times and recommend meeting your host in a public place to suss the person out and have at least a few hostel’s addresses written down in case you feel uncomfortable.

 

Food: This one is easy! Buy at least 2 meals from a grocery store a day and you should be square. If you are going out to eat, check to see if there is a tip already included or any extra costs that you may not be aware of. For instance in Portugal they bring a bunch of appetizers to your table that seem for free, and unless you say no, you are being charged for them.  In Morocco they distinguish between the ‘menu’ and the ‘carte’. Typically they give foreigners the carte which just shows options of pre-fixed 3 course meals, whereas the menu lets you order things individually.

Whether it is flights that arrive late at night, accommodation that is sketchy or buying food from the cheapest food vendor that will make you sick— taking the most economic road means increased risk. So go for it, but have back-up plans and an emergency fund just in case.

 

Oliebollen

 

I know Oliebollen sounds like a name of a cartoon dog on a foreign tv channel, but this is no pooch! This is like the ‘timbits’ bigger brother. Oliebollen are goose-egg-sized-dough-balls that are fried and dipped in icing sugar…and they are amazing. Typically, you can get them from these adorable pop up stalls that have bright lights and cotton candy coloured counters. Often they sell Oliebollen, waffles and other sweet things that make you want to smack your lips. They are the closest thing to a donut that I have seen in the Netherlands, so if you are every hankering for a bit of home, this is the way to go.

Travelling in Europe…Amsterdam

There is an Erasmus club at ULB called Erasmus ULB Brussels Express which organizes a lot of activities and trips for all the student in exchange at ULB. They organized a trip to Amsterdam for a weekend. A lot of Erasmus student were motivated to go because the price was only 50 Euro for the transportation, the hotel and breakfast. And they were also motivated for other reasons…

It was very well organized, we had an entire bus only for us and we drove until Amsterdam and back with it. I was really excited because I knew so many Erasmus people who were going on this trip. When we arrived on Saturday morning, we decided to go to the city, towards the central station and then walk a bit in the city. We were quite a big group and it was quite funny and unfortunate at the same time to lose people on our way (thank goodness for the invention of cell phones). Furthermore, while we are cruising around town it was amusing to see other Erasmus students suddenly entering the bus or while taking pictures to see familiar faces on boats.

 Central station

Houses in Amsterdam are very narrow and sometimes you have the feeling that they have been built by an architect who drank one too many Heineken because they are not always very straight. Houses are very narrow because in the past you had to pay property tax according to how wide your house was. Thus there is a house 2.02 meters wide and 6 meters deep, which is ironically linked to the widest house in Amsterdam called the Trip House. The Trip House owners built it for their servant, who declared that he would be happy if his house was as wide as his master’s front door.

Amsterdam is very well known for their canals, and thus is also called Venice of the North. Some people don’t live in a house, but rather in boats or houseboats (a houseboat is meant to live in it, stay put and not to sail around like a real boat). I think it must be quite different and difficult to live in such a small place, but at the same time it must be quite awesome, the rocking of the water, the view and how many people can say that they are living in a boat??

Amsterdam at night is beautiful especially near the canals, Amsterdam’s beauty is very well sang by a Belgian singer: Dans le Port d’Amsterdam (Jacques Brel) and the city is also used in music videos Lightning Bolt (Jake Bugg).

There are also a lot of bicycles and very little cars because there are not a lot of parking spots or they are very expensive. It truly is a city of bicycles and as a pedestrian you feel that you have less rights than them, i.e. the sidewalk is divided between pedestrians and bicycles but 3/4 of the place is for the bicycles, they drive really fast and don’t slow down if they see a pedestrian, while walking you get attacked from all the directions. The worse is the fact that nobody wears helmets and at night the bikes don’t have lights. Hence, before crossing a street I looked left and right, but when I started walking there was suddenly a bike that came out of nowhere and almost hit me (I learned quite a few nice Dutch words that day…).

“My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclist ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing thei bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them” Terry Prachett

We wanted to rent a bike in Amsterdam and also be part of the bike revolution, nevertheless renting is very difficult…they requested an identity card, a visa card, deposit money and then you got a bike. In Brussels there are Villo (mash-up between ville (city) and vélo (bike) ), which are bikes that are located almost everywhere in the city and are a lot easier (weirdly enough) to rent than those in Amsterdam.

The city is also well known for their famous beer Heineken (left is a picture of the Heineken brewery), the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum (the museum’s roof looks like a bathtub, it’s really beautiful), the Flower Market at Muntplein (which only sells flower bulbs in the winter), the Red-Light District and the coffee shops. We were all very motivated to see museums however the prices were too expensive and they didn’t even have a reduced price for students. As young eager students we were quite disappointed and upset with their view towards education and motivating the youth.

The Red-Light District and the coffee shops are very controversial places. Prostitution is legal in Holland and this district is where all these activities take place, in the evening there are lights and when all hustle and bustle become alive. The place is regulated and there are cameras everywhere, hence it’s illegal to take pictures. The other controversy is the legalization of marijuana and coffee shops serve it in all the formats you want.

Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Joordan is hip neighbourhood that used to be poor and is located in the Nord-West side of the centre. This is also the place where you can find Anne Frank’s house. Anne Frank is young girl who wrote The Diary of Anne Frank (Robarts D810.J4F7131972). She fled Germany and then lived in Amsterdam to flee the Nazis during the Second World War. When the Nazis occupied Holland, Anne Frank and her family decided to hide behind a bookcase. In her journal she describes not only her life in hiding but also her life as a teenage girl. The house can be visited (short video of Anne Frank’s house), however it is mostly empty and at the end of the tour there is a section with more general information about the war and questions that make you think.

My favorite quote :

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”

Ghetto is where Jewish families lived during the Nazi occupation. There is gated section because people do live in some of the houses in the district.

After a very long and adventurous weekend, we left Amsterdam Sunday evening with minds and hearts full of memories. Usually I don’t like to sleep in buses or trains, therefore I brought with me the last few pages of a book for my French literature class. The book is called Keetje (hard to find but worth the search) and is written by a Belgian writer Neel Doff; the main character Keetje is a young Dutch girl from Amsterdam that is forced into prostitution by her parents, then flees this life and lives in Brussels (lol yes, I know the irony of me reading this book travelling Amsterdam – Brussels).

until next time,

sincerely,

Nazanin

P.S. Weirdest things I saw in Amsterdam: a small hut that is supposed to be a police station (picture below Politie), in the city there’s a shop where you can go to the washroom (not for free of course) and where there is a gift shop. Finally, a vending machine for hamburgers (FEBO), because apparently fast food restaurants aren’t fast enough.

 

Devil’s Peak, Muizenberg Kite Festival, and Thanksgiving.

There’s a lot of things to do in Cape Town. Actually there’s kind of a ton of things to do in Cape Town, between working, finding an apartment, and trying to decipher and sift through the mess that was my ongoing visa application. Here’s some of the highlights from the past couple weeks.

Devil’s Peak

Cape Town is geographically unique. It’s a city located between two oceans and a mountain range. The mountain range is made up of a series of mountains: Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Head, and the 12 apostles. They tower over the city and they’re one of my favourite aspects of Cape Town. They’re beautiful, they’re responsible for crazy weather patterns, and they leave you feeling like nature is always nearby. I’ve climbed up Devil’s Peak (1000 m) , Lion’s Head (669 m), and Table Mountain (1089 m) each several times. My favourite though is Devil’s Peak. I see it every day. I can see it out my window in the morning, when I go for a run I often use it as a reference to keep from getting lost, or head over to the trails around its base, and the University of Cape Town, where I work, is on it’s slopes.

A lot of people don’t realize it, but there’s over 200 trails going up these mountains. Most people stick to Platteklip Gorge trail which is actually one of my least favourites. Imagine a stair master met the sun on a 35 C day and had a love child. That’s what the trail feels like.  However, the route we took up at Devil’s Peak starts in the same place, but then you continue and head to the left. It branches off, crossing the middle of the Plateau and heads up onto Devil’s Peak where you then head straight up the mountain. The route takes a bit longer, but isn’t as much of a staircase and I think it’s a lot more gratifying. We left about 5 pm and got down to the ground around 8 pm. It was dark on the way down, and we’d brought torches with us. I love it though. The hike isn’t a giant staircase like Platteklip is, and there aren’t crowds of people going. Once we split off onto Devil’s Peak, we only saw two other people heading down. 

Things I would keep in mind, would be that it gets really hot up on the mountain. Even in the evening, you are almost always exposed in the sun, and I drank a ton of water on my way up. The second thing is that there’s a lot of different ways down the mountain, we cut back down to the road early because we were losing light. I could easily see how you could take the wrong trail on the way down and get lost. However, it was amazing. We got lucky and managed to get to the top and have enough up time to stay there for while. As we turned to leave, we got to watch the clouds rush in to fill the space between the mountains as the sun set behind Table Mountain. Lion’s Head at sunset is probably my second favourite. I’ve headed up that mountain, it only takes about an hour to get to the top with a lot of different people. You always find groups with picnics, beer, and wine at the top hanging out when the moon is full (or nearly).

 

Muizenberg Kite Festival

One of the great things about being here in the summer is that it’s festival season! There’s tons of them, frankly if that’s all I was interested in doing, I could probably find a different one every weekend. ( So far I’ve been to three and counting.) The Muizenberg Kite Festival is held annually and is the biggest kite festival in Africa. It’s held about a ten minute walk from the beach, and train station, and takes up a whole weekend every year. I went there with one of the other University of Toronto SFD students, Shivani, who also works at DTHF. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t ideal for kite flying, but there were still a lot of people out and about and a lot of kites did make it off the ground. We even met the KFC chicken mascot. Which was kind of weird, since I always thought the Colonel was the mascot. We hung out and watched people try and fly kites and had a good time. For the record, McDonalds is kind of an underdog here as far as fast food franchises go. KFC has a pretty big monopoly here, and they’re everywhere.

Thanksgiving. (american)

A lot of people have asked me questions or expressed concern about what my plans are for the holidays while I’m here. No one wants to be alone for the holidays, and I’m no different. It was a little intimidating to sign up for a six month exchange where I knew I would miss my first Christmas at home. My mom goes all out for Christmas and it’s always been an important occasion for my family–even more so since I left for university. It’s one of the only times I get to see my family every year, and is sometimes the only time I see members of my extended family.

However, I think it’s going to be okay, and I’m getting more and more excited by the new experiences and opportunities it’s going to present. Surfing on Christmas eve? Going to the beach on new years day? Eating new foods, like ostrich for Christmas dinner? Who  knows. The fact is that Christmas comes every year, and that’s not about to stop happening anytime soon. However, getting to spend holidays abroad gives you a chance to share your traditions with other people, and more importantly to get a chance to appreciate and learn about other people’s holiday traditions.

I learned this a bit with Thanksgiving this year. My parents are American, so we’ve generally celebrated our Thanksgiving in November. I’ve been pretty lucky in the past, and have celebrated both Canadian and American thanksgiving, and I love both of them.

This year, I was in Cape Town for Thanksgiving and decided to cook dinner for some of my German friends who work at Cape Town Backpackers and who are working abroad here. They have never experienced a Thanksgiving before and I offered to make them a small Thanksgiving dinner—well, this quickly spiraled out of control.

A couple of Americans, and several more Germans got involved and we ended up having a pretty large feast complete with a Turkey and at least 3 different types of potatoes. It was tons of fun, and reminded me that there’s always a way to enjoy holidays and good company no matter where you are.
 The Germans had never had a Thanksgiving before, and it was really wonderful to get to share traditional Thanksgiving food with them and to get a chance to explain what we do for the holiday, and the concept of eating until you reached the point where you collapsed onto the couch with a food coma. Some grasped this concept better than others.

I know it’s going to be weird to be aware from home for Christmas, but I’m fairly certain that it’ll just give me an opportunity to create new traditions and meet new people.

 

Haarlem & Maastricht – Churches, Windmills and Bier

Leaving Haarlem ended up being a lot harder then leaving Amsterdam. The town is sort of a smaller less touristy version of Amsterdam, and the old churches, markets, and tiny streets make it feel a lot more intimate and less intimidating. It also makes it easier to meet people and the locals don’t seem quite as jaded towards tourists. Haarlem held a lot of firsts for me, I’d never ridden on the back of a motorcycle before, or on the back of a bicycle for that matter, and I’ve certainly never been served a beer in a church before, but all of those things sort of happened in Haarlem. I met some great people, and had a chance to see my first windmill in the Netherlands!

Jopen Brewery

Jopenkerk and Dutch Bar Food 

The Jopenkerk (Jopen Church) is a Dutch brewery in Haarlem. It’s inside an old church and their menu included a huge variety of different beers. I met some really cool couples from South Africa and Australia who helped me decode the entirely Dutch menu. I ended up trying a couple different beers, and also some traditional bar food.

Each one of the deep fried objects in this picture are a different type of Dutch appetizer or bar food. The round one nearest the top is Bitterballen, the next one is Garnalenkroketjes, then Jopenbier bitterballen, and lastly there’s Kaassoufflés.

Bitterballen & Jopenbier bitterballen – savoury meat, flour, and spiced filled balls that are then coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Usually the meat is beef or veal, though I was told it could also be oxtail. The Jopenbier bitterballen was made with beer as well. The mustard in the picture goes with these, and you’d dip them in before eating them.

Kaassoufflés – these are melted cheese-filled dough-based wraps. These are then breaded and deep-fried. You eat them with –surprise! Mayonnaise.

Garnalenkroketjes – shrimp filled deep-fried flour balls. You eat them with plum sauce. These are very similar to Bitterballen, but with a different filling.

This was the oldest beer recipe I tried:

This is a Jopen Koyt beer. It’s a dark fruity-beer with a recipe developed in 1407.

But this one was my favourite:

This is Jopen Hoppenbier and it’s a blonde beer, the recipe was developed in 1501.

“Filthy Rich”

I learned from a friend about the church that’s in the centre of town. I think it was called Saint Bavochurch. It’s by the market in the centre of town, and it’s a tall and imposing structure. It’s old. I don’t remember how old, to be honest, I don’t generally pay that much attention to church history. I just think that the buildings are beautiful, and the attention to detail is stunning. However, I learned a pretty cool fact about this one. The term ‘filthy rich’ refers to people who had enough money to pay to be buried in the floor of the church. I was told Haarlem was the oldest, but Maastricht also had churches with men in the floors. The floors were made out of giant slabs of stone with names and sometimes decorative elements and they were located throughout the church.

Markets 

There is a central market in Haarlem called ‘Grote Markt’. It’s in a big open square in the centre of town near Grote Kerk. It happens every day and mostly it was just a lot of really awesome food. Here’s some pictures.

Maastricht 

I didn’t get to spend much time in Maastricht, but the town was beautiful. Out of all the cities I went to in Holland, it was probably architecturally my favourite. The entire city feels surprisingly different from Amsterdam and Haarlem. It was a lot quieter, and the river that runs through the middle was breathtaking in the morning.