Thursday, December 16

Zwarte Piet

Remember how I told you about Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Piet, here they are on a cookie.
Sint and Piet cookies

Doesn't really look like chimney soot on the Piet to me ...

And here I am at school with Sint and some Pieten:
Me, Sint and some Pieten

The celebration at school was interesting. The Piet go around throwing small gingersnap like cookies, most of which end up on the floor and the children follow Sint around. It's definitely festive feeling, but all the cookies everywhere being ground into the carpet bothered my need for cleanliness and order.

Afternoon classes were canceled so that students could give each other secret santa gifts. The fun part in this was the wrapping was as important as the gift and also each came with a poem about the recipient which were at times brutally honest. I really liked that tradition though, makes it really personal.

Gift Wrapping

Gift Wrapping

Monday, December 6


Back in early December I went off to Luxembourg with Ian. He worked there for 3 years and this was our trade off for me taking him to Moscow. He and 2 of his good friends from there showed me an all around great weekend. And though they call it Suxembourg, I loved it.

Everywhere you look, it looks like you've entered into a fairy tale. There are castles on hill tops:


By castles, I of course mean banks. (Really, every time I asked, "Wow, what's that?" The answer was always, "A bank." and never "That's where Rapunzel/Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty live." Tragic, I tell you.) For this is a town/country built on managing other people's money.

It's a town where you can walk everywhere, even if it was perilous due to the ice:
(that's Carmen, my hostess with the mostest)

There was also random, funky art. Like the blue lady:

There were also Christmas markets with hot wine and cookies:


And that weekend was the international festival, where we each bought a bottle of Canadian Maple Whiskey:
At the Canada booth

It was an awesome weekend. And I don't care what they say, I love Suxembourg.

Thursday, December 2


Did you know that you can go surfing in Munich? The city has created a "wave" that runs all the time in a glacial fed river that runs through the English Gardens. Did I mention it was snowing when I arrived? There were 5 people surfing when we walked by:

Surfing in Munich
Careful, they might be insane.

Ah, here's one where you can see the snow and surfing better:
Surfing in Munich

The main reason we went was to go to the Christmas markets. I think we went to three of them before I caved in and went home to lay in bed and moan.

Christmas Markets

There's a beautiful cathedral right in the center of the old town:


I don't actually have any more pictures to share. I'll try to get more when I head to Luxembourg (tomorrow).

Thank you, antibiotics

Well, I no longer feel like I have the plague.

Of course, seems like ~everyone~ at school is sick, so hopefully I'll get healthy and stay that way.

It snowed like crazy today. Really unusual this early apparently. It's beautiful and secretly, I've got my fingers crossed that we'll have a snow day tomorrow.

A woman just walked by wearing a dead muppet. Seriously, I'm not sure what other creature her coat could have been made of.

I'll be back with less rambles and Munich photos shortly.

Tuesday, November 30

Go away, damn it!

I've been sick now for 18 days. I finally went to the doctor yesterday and though Dutch doctors are notorious for not prescribing antibiotics (something that I am really happy about actually, I think those things mess with your system in bad ways), the doctor brought it up before I did. Her guess was sinus infection and based on the way the sinuses in my forehead feel (like they're pushing out from the inside), I'll agree. Today was day 2 of the meds and I can't say I'm feeling on the mend. Hopefully going to bed now, at 8:30, I'll wake up feeling like I have the energy to take a shower. Just couldn't manage it today.

But I did start in on a new show... Nathan Fillion (Mal from my favorite show Firefly) is in a new series called Castle. Apparently it's on its (notice the correct use of it's and its) 3rd season already. And it's Law and Order minus the boring court parts plus funny. I'm really enjoying it.

Oh, and in the meantime, I've also been down to Munich for the German christmas markets. When my energy returns, I'll post photos. It was lovely. Even if I did feel like doodoo the whole time.

Saturday, November 20

Dutch Christmas

Yesterday Sinterklaas (also known as Sint Nicolaas or just Sint) and his helpers, the Zwarte Piet (black Pete), arrived into Ouderkerk via boat. Why did they come by boat? Well, because he's coming up from Spain (duh). And why are his helpers black? Well, some would say it's the soot from coming down the chimney (but then why isn't Sint black as well), some will say it's because they were originally Moors, I wonder if it has anything to do with the Dutch history of colonization... Whatever the reason, this is happening all over Holland.

And what exactly is happening, you may be thinking? Well, Sint and his helpers are arriving all over the Netherlands on different days of course because they have to go from location to location. And they are met with parades, families singing songs and children dressed as Sint and Piets - these completely in black face (I'm not kidding) (ever see the book Little Black Sambo) (I find it offensive, the Dutch find it offensive that I find it offensive).

I've digressed, they've arrived so that they can check to see who's been naughty (in which case you might get stuffed into a sack where Sint or Piet will pretend to kick you) or nice until present delivery day - December 5th. All this checking time, roughly 3 weeks, you leave your shoes by the fire (radiator) in the hopes of finding treats in the morning. Mmm, candy in my shoe, yummy.

David Sedaris does a great job of describing this bizarre holiday in his reading "6 to 8 Black Men." You can read the essay here on Esquire or listen to it via YouTube - this is video 1 of 3 and you don't really need to look at the video. He starts talking about Christmas at 3:38 and then Netherlands specifically around 4:30:

First visitor!

One of my cooking friends who I first met through the CookLight (magazine) bulletin board back in 2000 and then met in real life in 2001 just came out from Portland for a visit.

For those of you who've been to Portland, she brought with her Stumptown coffee and VooDoo doughnuts. They make a bar doughnut with maple glaze topped with bacon. Yeah, it is as decadent as it sounds. Go look at their menu, it'll make you want to go to Portland.

She also discovered Koan Float (careful, the website has really annoying music). Remember those sensory deprivation chambers of the 1970s? Being barely born, I, of course, don't, but sure I've heard of them. Well, that's what Koan offers you. A chance to float around in your own little pod of very, very salty water. Amanda landed (11 hour flight), dropped off her luggage and then headed straight into the city to go float. She says it was an awesome way to start her trip. I returned with her a few days later to try it myself. And yep, it's hippy, err, cool and it is relaxing. We determined 45 minutes is the optimal float time. We tried for an hour and got bored at the end.

We had grandiose plans of heading off to Mastricht or Delft, but there is so much to do and see in Amsterdam, that we stayed. Of course, this is for the best because this is also when I started to really feel bad. But Amanda was a trouper, coming home early with me and twice (TWICE!) she cooked dinner for us.

So here are her tips:
1. No need to bring cycling gear. No one wears it, you'll look like a dork.
2. When Em tells you to get off the train at Spui don't panic because you feel like you've been on the train too long and get off 5 stops too early, it'll make you late for your float.
3. There are many good (unhealthy) Dutch snack foods, but it's hard to define a Dutch meal.
4. Bring a pair of low/no heeled boots. You'll want them for the weather, cobble stones and fashion.
5. Bring a warmer jacket than you'll think you'll need and some sweaters.
6. Bring some Emergen-C (that's just for me though)
7. Bring plenty of room in your suitcase because there is a lot of cute stuff here.

Thursday, November 18

What I've been up to

Man, it's been a while since I posted. In the meantime, I've gone to Moscow and back for October break. Here's my Amsterdam friend (yes, just a friend) Ian at the Kremlin


Here he is reflected in some really creepy record covers at Garage - a pretty cool modern art museum in an old bus depot:


They've removed the scaffolding from the facade of the Bolshoi Theater.
Bolshoi Theater
It's still not open, but we did go see the Bolshoi ballet perform, something I never did while living there. It was amazing, but as always, a bit too long with the excessive number of pas de deux. We saw Sleeping Beauty and some how there were 4 extra couples who danced - Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Puss in Boots and um, someone, Cinderella and her Prince and another couple that I can't remember. Bizarre and completely unnecessary.

I also got the chance to go inside a Dutch green house:
Inside a Dutch Green House

So many plants, and all machine operated. You would not believe.

I've been home sick the past two days and have been knitting like crazy - love it when these spurts happen. Hoping to finish a birthday set for my mom and get it shipped off next week. Oh and grades are due next week. I hate this time of year.

Tuesday, November 2

Sumo Background

I've switched the background of my gmail account to be sumo and this image popped up today. I ~love~ it. Whoever designed this background makes me laugh on a daily basis.

Sunday, October 10


I wandered around Utrecht today taking pictures. I know that it's a small college town, but I didn't really get that feeling. Well, I got the small town feeling, but not the college town part.

It was really pretty:

And really sunny, making for some great shadows:
Shadow Play

And some great non-graffiti


Being the Netherlands, there were of course bicycles and canals:



Occasionally there was the feeling of fall:

But also memories of Paris with flying butresses:

And gargoyles who cover their ears:

And random spitting lions:

Can you tell I had a great day?

Sunday, October 3

Last weekend

Originally uploaded by Traveling Em

I went to Prague to visit D & S and their kids. We did a walking tour of the city and in the old town square there's an astrological clock. It dates back to 1410. That's 600 years, people. It was awesome. Of course, I have no idea how to tell the time, but it will also tell you the phase of the moon, the season, etc. It was super geeky and awesome.

Friday, October 1

The Russian Consulate

So I went down to the Russian Consulate today because I'm going for a visit in October with one of my new friends. Foolish to return so soon perhaps, but I miss my friends.

Anyway, I wasn't scheduled to teach classes until 12:30 and, according to their website, they start accepting applications at 9 am. So, even though the consulate is in the Hague and far enough from Hague Central Station to make the trip over an hour each way, I thought I'd make it back in time.

But in true Russian fashion, I show up and there are loads of people waiting and all the blinds are closed on all the windows. At 9:50, they open 1 (one!) window and every queues. I finally get to the front and they have the info from Moscow, but the forms they had online for me to fill out were not correct for this type of visa. So I have to go fill them out, front and back answering questions like where I went to uni, parents' full names and whether I have weapons training (seriously). I get back in line, finally make it to the front again (by this point it's 11 and I know I'm not going to get back to work in time and have already started sending frantic texts.) THANKFULLY she accepts both forms for me and Ian. Since he didn't sign the second, she kept his first as proof for the signature. Then I have to go to window 3 to pay. Of course, window 3 is just where you get the receipt, you actually pay in window 4 and for Brits it's 35 euros, for my USA passport it was 95! Bloody hell. And then I'm told I can come back anytime after Oct 8 to pick it up between 12 - 1; right, because that's convienent.

So I leave and finally make it back to Hague central station, take a train to Schipol (Amsterdam's airport) and from there a 40 euro taxi to work to make it 20 minutes late to my class. I should have just come on my old visa! But it seems as though all is going well and next Friday, Ian and I will get our passports back.

TGIF! (which we have every Friday in our staff bar)

Sunday, September 12

What people do while riding their bikes:

So far, it seems to be similar to what American's do in the cars:

Apply make-up
Talk on their cell phone
Change songs on their music device
Eat from a bag of chips/crackers
Pull things out of their pockets
Drink a beer (hopefully this isn't happening in cars...)
Hold hands with another person on a different bike (ditto...)
Carry another 2 or 3 people (not always/usually children) on their bike

So far I've only done one of those things, probably the only one I will do. Any guesses?

House Warming - Check

Had my house warming. I'd invited some school folks and all the houses on my street. I did the latter by writing out invitations (in English) and then putting them in everyone's mailbox. I'd say around 15 neighbors came and around 20 staff. It was 20 wine bottles worth of people anyway and a really great time.

Here are some colleagues and some of the many flowers received (the next morning it looked like a wake...)

House Warming

People standing around the food (those of you who have ever been to any of my gatherings know I tend to go crazy with the food. No exception. I spent 3 days preparing, making lists, checking them off, down to what would be served on which plate and it was a great success.):

House Warming

And then people in the living room:

House Warming

It appears that I only remembered to take photos after the Dutch neighbors left. I put an end time on the invite and the Dutch strictly adhered to it! Crazy. Next time (I'm thinking a winter holidays party, no end time!)

Thursday, September 2

Nothing like a house warming really kick you into gear of settling in. The house warming is Saturday and today the handy man came today to hang pictures, I made 60 meatballs and a tomato-bacon dip. Then, I cleaned the kitchen. Then I relished this moment. Of looking around and being surrounded by memories. Here, let me share.

As you come into the house and look to the right you've got the pictures that I got in Thailand when I went for a wedding. On the wall between the windows is a series of framed post cards bought at the MLK museum when A came to visit me in Atlanta. And of course on the sills, plants. I've got 2 orchids and 2 succulents at the moment. As well as a photo of my grandparents and parents.

Now with Pictures

This is even more bittersweet as the groom suddenly died a year later. (Thinking of you L and T!)

Winter 2009
Here's A at the MLK memorial.

As we continue towards the kitchen, there's the paining by a college friend, beyond that is a framed Russian poster which always makes me think of Bree who is slightly addicted to them and a great travel/photography companion.

Now with Pictures

Here's Bree blending in in Boston:
Nicely done!

As we turn into the kitchen there's another framed piece of Russian art work, this done by a former student, who wasn't Russian at all. Above the sink is a framed mushroom bought at an art auction for charity. Cliche, I know, but there was a nail already there and it's the right size. Of course what we also see is that my kitchen and knife racks are now hanging again. Something that's been a sight in every kitchen I've had. On the island is my Swedish fruit bowl.

Now with Pictures

Heading upstairs, there are the Russian photos from M and all my framed art deco post cards that I had done in Russia, though only a few of them are Russian. There's some from Alcatraz, Spain and Italy as well.

Now with Pictures

Here's M and I in Turkey with a great bunch of students:

And then we're in the bedroom. I should have moved the mosquito net more, but there's another piece by the college friend, a silk carpet on the floor, bedding from my trip to visit K&M in Bangladesh, at the foot of the bed a carpet made from the mom of my Swedish friends.

Now with Pictures

Yep, I love this part of moving in.

Monday, August 23

SAIL Amsterdam

I headed into the city this Sunday to catch SAIL. This is when hundreds of old, old sail boats from all over the world, like this Russian one:

SAIL Amsterdam

SAIL Amsterdam

descend on Amsterdam. It only happens every 5 years and I was lucky enough to be here already for it. There are SO many boats, I don't know how they avoid hitting each other:

SAIL Amsterdam

Of course, with this many boats comes a lot of people:

SAIL Amsterdam

So I didn't last at SAIL long. But I did enjoy wandering around the city. Stopped by a flower market:

Flower Market

Flower Market.

Since living here I've also learned why many of the houses lean:

It's not because they're old and built on water (though they are). But it's intentional so that when the hook at the top is used with a pulley to haul things up, said big heavy things won't bump against the house on the way up. Genius.