Saturday, December 22, 2007
Since it's been so cold (as mentioned in the previous post), most of the ponds in Vondelpark are almost completely frozen. I've also noticed today that a few of the smaller canals have formed some ice, too, giving even more hope to the Elfstedentocht dreams!
Since today was the first day of Christmas vacation, and since the weather was so beautiful, we took a bike ride around Vondelpark. The first thing we noticed were all of the people...kids, mostly...treading on the ice. I said to Stacey, "There is no way that I'd let our kids do that. That ice is WAY too thin." The regular wintertime news flashes of my youth, with horrible news of some kid falling through and freezing to death, must have made an impression. I always seem to remember that 4 inches of ice thickness was the ideal for safe ice travels.
So, after a few laps of the park, Stacey took off on her run, leaving Maya, Cole, and I to enjoy the kids' playpark area, which features a large fountain/reflecting pool, now completely frozen over. There were a number of kids playing on the ice, banging away, slipping around, and enjoying stuff that kids do when on the ice. Maya and Cole were instantly attracted to the ice, and I didn't put up a fight...the water is only 8 or 10 inches deep at best, and upon close examination, the ice seemed pretty thick.
But one spot was a bit concerning...there was a 4-foot wide hole near the center of the ice. Of course, I told the kids about 6 times, "Stay away from the water. Stay away from the hole. Stay away from the water."
After about the 7th time, I just quit. And that's when Cole slipped and fell, face first, into the icy cold drink, completely immersing his lower body, his hands, and a good part of his torso.
It all happened so quickly, and the stoic Dutch nearby reacted predictably: I heard just one guy say, "Oh." Everyone stared as I went into full winter survival mode, scooping up a soaking wet 4-year old under one arm and running for my bike, yelling over my shoulder at Maya to run as fast as she could to follow me. After unlocking the bikes in record time, I threw the sobbing Cole on the bike seat and pleaded with Maya to pedal as if she were sprinting for a Tour de France finish line. Fortunately, the ride home took just minutes, and we had Cole in a hot shower in no time.
It sounds pretty serious, but looking back on the unexpected swim, it was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time! Call me cold (or call my son cold, he he), but it was pretty humorous, especially considering our comments just a few minutes prior to the mishap. I wish I could have had it all on videotape!
A good lesson learned on (another) great day in the Netherlands. Listen to your parents!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
And then...the canals froze over.
Not really, but a Dutchman can dream, can’t he?
As the chill has progressively crept into the air above The Netherlands, thoughts have naturally turned toward one of the oldest sports known to the Dutch: Ice skating. When you turn on your television during the next Olympic games, you’ll probably see hoards of Dutch skating fans, decked out in their finest suits of orange, cheering on their nation’s excellent speed skaters. Skating and this country are interchangeable, connected like
For the last week or so, the temps have steadily plummeted, making every bike ride around the city—even the short commute to the kids’ school—quite “brisk.” Last weekend, I noticed the first fountain that was partially frozen. Yesterday, a number of the smaller ponds in Vondelpark were frozen over. But the more swiftly moving water of the canals remains fluid.
That’s not stopping our neighbors to the north in the agricultural
The largest competition, called the Elfstendentocht (Eleven Cities Tour), is legendary. I heard about it many years ago when doing research about the world’s greatest tests of endurance.
This 200 kilometer (124 mile) race loops around eleven Frisian cities and features up to 15,000 skaters. It’s allegedly quite the spectacle, made even more special by the fact that since it debuted in 1909, it has been held only 15 times, the last in 1997. It just doesn’t get cold enough, often enough for the race to take place.
If you desire to enter the race, I’ve been told that you need to be a member of one of the numerous skating clubs…either that or do parts of the race unofficially after the official race has passed through.
A man told me the other day that the towns the race passes through become the country’s party-central. Spectators go from pub to pub and café to café, cheering on the skaters, ducking into a pub for a drink, and then back out into the cold again to yell and scream for more skaters. Sounds like fun!
So, the dream continues as we deal with icy canal bridges and freezing winds here in the city. In Friesland and throughout the country, the cold nights are filled, not just with visions of sugar plums and brightly-wrapped gifts of Christmas, but also of the Elfstendentocht, and what might be should the trends of global warming subside for just one wonderful week.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I guess it would be a Tony award, actually...for best performance in live theatre. Maya's Year 2 class (the equivalent of 1st grade in the U.S.) but their best feet and voices forward this week with a stunning holiday performance. Maya's class performed a snowman theme skit, and the kids did great.
Maya seems like a natural on the stage, honed with hours of dancing, singing, and generally hamming it up at home. Gee, are we proud parents, or what? It was pretty funny to hear all of the kids deliver their lines on stage. Most accents are British, so when Maya delivered her lines with the bland American accent, the contrast was striking. One of the scene stealers had to come during the Nativity story, when it was revealed to all in the audience that the young man playing the part of the innkeeper was definitely, without question, from the wonderful nation of Scotland. His thick accent was incredible...and wonderful at the same time.Here's a short video of part of the end of the performance. The file is pretty big, so please allow it ample time to load:
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
This photo was taken in 1936 in Cardiff (just across the English Channel from our location, mind you), as a postman takes home his new tree. (Photo courtesy Fox Photos/Getty Images). But at least you get the idea.
It makes me wonder if I'll see anyone hauling a plastic reindeer (or a giant bunny on Easter) on the back of their ride.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Although my trip there was a quick one, I did manage to see a few sights in the city. Nothing of note really, but then again,
I got a good education on
But it was good to be back in A’dam on Sunday night, even if it did mean a harrowing late-night bus ride from Centraal Station. The nachtlijn (“night line”) starts running if it’s too late for the trams to operate, and this particular bus driver made me feel like I was on the
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
We had foolishly expected another sunny day (see previous post about our trip to Texel Island), but we're we wrong! It was rained buckets most of the day. Stacey and the kids hung out in a snack shop during the race, but they were already soaked to the bone.
Luckily, the adventure was worth the drive. After the race and a warm shower for Dad, it was on to the family portion of our daily program, a visit to ‘s-Heerenberg’s biggest tourist attraction…
…a medieval CASTLE.
The kids were thrilled, even at the mention of the castle (that’s actually how we “sold” the trip to them). Cole was obsessed with questions about the bad guys, and loved trying on pieces of the armor and holding swords. Maya kept trying to figure out where the king and queen slept, ate, etc. (and princesses/princes as well), but she really loved the armor and skeletons a lot too. The Kasteel Huis Bergh is surrounded by a moat, and it’s a building that goes back as far as the 13th century. It’s filled with an impressive collection of early Italian paintings, medieval manuscripts, and an immense collection of period coins.
But the structure itself was the most impressive feature. We were treated to a private tour of the castle tower, where we were able to hold replica swords. Here are the kids trying out some Spanish-style armor:
Winding staircases and narrow passageways led us to the roof of the tower, where visitors are treated to an impressive view of the town and surrounding countryside. It’s not too difficult to imagine that you are a 14th-century sentry on the lookout for marauders.
Check out the castle online at www.huisbergh.nl
Who says that islands have to be tropical to be fun? I’m sure they have a lot of fun in
What The Netherlands lacks in warmth this time of year, they make up in scenery that can take your breath away. Sometime last week, I read in a travel magazine about the beauty of
[The previous day, Nike threw a Sinterklaas party for the children of employees, and it was quite a chaotic event. The entire program was in Dutch, but the kids didn’t seem to mind since they’ve learned all the Sinterklaas songs in Dutch at school. As we've mentioned in the previous Sinterklaas post, one tradition is that Zwart Piet hands out little cookies ("peppernoten") to the children, and these Zwart Piets were making a game of it, throwing handfuls into the air throughout the room during the party. Cole particularly loves them, and was eating them hand over fist. The party ended with a gift given to every child, organized by age groups and gender - a Jasmine Barbie doll for Maya and some trucks for Cole. We capped off the evening in a decidedly Dutch manner by having dinner in a Panekoeken house with some friends.]Saturday dawned brilliantly sunny, as we set out for the town of
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Cole had the distinction of playing the role of Baby Bear, while his good friend Sonia played the lead role of Goldilocks. Eschewing the blond wig for her naturally exquisite jet-black hair, Sonia was captivating as she tasted porridge, sat in chairs, and tested beds. Cole was equally convincing with his performance as the youngest of the three Ursidae, exclaiming in shocked horror when he discovered that a young girl was still sleeping in his bed.
Daddy takes full responsibility for the lameness of the young Mr. Pressler's bear costume, but in my defense, have you ever lived in Amsterdam for a month and tried to track down a bear costume for a 4-year old? I didn't think so. His teacher came to the rescue with the application of face paint and some fabulous bear ears. A furry scarf that I found at a market completed the kit.
Congrats to all of the students for a very fine performance indeed!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Nothing quite says “Christmas” like reggae music and blackfaced court jesters!
Most European cultures have their own holiday traditions, and the Dutch are no different. Every year, “Sinterklaas,” a tall, white-bearded bishop with a red cape, arrives in the
Of course, Sinterklaas has his helper, Zwart Piet (“Black Pete”), in tow. ZP, as I’ll call him, was once upon a time a slave. Now, ZP’s black face is explained by parents as the “soot that he gets when he comes down the chimney.”
Sinter and ZP travel across the country, landing on rooftops on the white horse, then coming down the chimney to leave chocolates and almonds, etc. for the children who have behaved well. The kids are encouraged to leave carrots and straw to feed the horse.
The troubling part of the deal is ZP. For whatever reason, ZP is a Caucasian person wearing “blackface” painting. It’s more than unnerving, and for most Americans (I think) borders on being outright offensive. And there’s not just one ZP. The official ZP crew appears to be two or three, but every single helper, entertainer, driver, band instrument player, parade horse shit scooper, side of the building rapeller, and acrobat is outfitted in the standard ZP garb: A multicolored, silk court jester outfit, complete with feathered hat. Go ahead, Google “Zwart Piet” and see what you find and make your own call!
Anyway, back to this past Sunday, when we took the kids to the Dam square in Amsterdam Centrum to witness Sinterklaas’s arrival. As a reggae band (?) performed traditional “WE LOVE YOU, SINTERKLAAS!” songs, the kids had a blast, especially since the legions of ZPs hand out the traditional Sinterklaas cookie, the pepernoten. These are little crunchy ginger cookies (not to be confused with the German pfeffernusse) are handed out in the Netherlands and Belgium, carried in enormous burlap sacks. All of the kids along the parade route can be heard screaming “Piet! Piet!” so they can get a few handfuls. Plus, the weather was beautiful.
We’re settling in well, with most of our furniture in place…we’re just awaiting the delivery of our family room couches from Ikea. A bunch of boxes still need to be unpacked, which might take a bit of time to complete.
I took my road bike out of
Tomorrow: Another meeting with government officials to get residency cards; finding a chiropractor; finalizing Christmas travel plans.
Friday, November 16, 2007
The title isn’t that much of a stretch, but that’s what today felt like. The bulk of our belongings arrived from the States, securely packed in the container that we had packed over 7 weeks ago in
I was disappointed that the movers didn’t have to utilize the automatic lift that they had brought. Most of our stuff was in light boxes, eliminating the need to use the cool conveyor/lift that is commonly used in
I see both of these methods being used on almost a daily basis.
Every box brought a new surprise, since we had almost no idea what was in each box. A carton marked “papers” might have easily been towels. I’m not sure why, but that’s just how it was.
Note to self: The next time you move overseas, cut the amount of everything you bring in half. That will be more than enough to get you through.
One of the highlights for me was seeing my very new bike (only one ride in
Other “surprise” goodies: Boxes of Ziploc bags, the kids’ toys, my guitar, our towels, our rugs (that really help the place feel more…homey), and my desk and computer. But the biggest highlight is our big, comfortable bed and mattress. Goodbye backache? I hope so!...
On a cultural note, this past Wednesday, I took advantage of a fantastic part of Amsterdam life: Every Wednesday at 12:30pm, the Concertgebouw (concert hall, just a 2-minute bike ride from our house) gives a free, half-hour concert during symphony season. Anyone who shows up is treated to a "practice session" of whomever is performing in the next few evenings. This week, the famous conductor/composer/performer Andre Previn directed the Amsterdam Philharmonic and guest violinist (and Previn's ex-wife), Anne-Sophie Muller. It was remarkable, to say the least. Hearing the orchestra perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D was...breathtaking. It's very special to listen and watch as the conductor stops the orchestra to give direction. A sort of "behind the scenes" look at the world of a classic music performance.
This weekend: A bike ride and a relaxing few days at home.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Friday—Sunday, 9-11 November 2007
It was high time to get out of
We set out on Friday with the VW packed well. The kids had been prepped a bit for the trip, but they didn’t need much prodding to get out the door, as they really do have an inherent sense of adventure.
A trip to the coast (to the rather posh town of
Saturday evening’s meal was just off the center of the
Any lover of the world’s best beers knows that
Cole has been going through some slight behavior challenges lately, but nothing that any other kid hasn’t experienced. Pushing boundaries, challenging authority…all stuff that grandparents and friends might smile about, but stuff that can drive parents a bit crazy. We certainly experienced a bit of that this weekend. The testing will no doubt continue—one of the joys of parenthood.
After a trip to a local chocolatier for some goodies to bring back to A’dam and one last short walk around the center of
We’ve discovered that in this cashless society, not everyone accepts debit and/or credit cards. If we’re in
Apparently, Belgians (or at least, Antwerpians) don’t buy into the concept that ATM machines should be located on every other city block. I asked, in my worst Flemish (an odd combination of Dutch & French) and best English where to find one. The fourth person I asked politely gave me directions to a location "that I think is only 6.3 blocks from here, on the right, after a laundrymat, next to a trinket store, and close to a pancake house. "
Somehow, I knew that pancakes would be involved again.
A winding brisk walk through
I tried in vain to push the door open, cast a spell to magically turn the lock, and swear in my worst Flemish, but nothing worked...until I went around the corner and found the door that was open. My ATM search had ended. The fifth attempt to navigate the machine were successful, and I headed back to Piratevillage with cash in hand, ready to satisfy the young’uns’ appetites.
At least they didn’t want pancakes.
Tomorrow: Back to school (hooray!); sign up for a mobile phone plan; make Christmas vacation arrangements.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Once on the actual boat, they had a blast. This two-decked small cruise deck features a 1-hour tour (without a guide blabbering on the mic), and all the (Dutch) pancakes you can eat. Beer costs extra, and nothing goes with Dutch pancakes quite like a small glass of beer. Choose from any of the three varieties of pancakes: plain, apple, or "spek." That's "bacon" for those of you a bit slow to pick up Dutch. Yes, bacon pancakes.
Once you've selected your pancake, the fun begins. First, a photo of what I'll call the "Dutch food pyramid":
Note the abundance of sugar products, sugar byproducts, and sugar-filled products: M&M's, chocolate sprinkles, multi-colored sugar sprinkles, chocolate chips, white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, jam, honey, and other stuff.
Step 1: Spread wet stuff on pancake, i.e. syrup, jam, etc. Step 2: Sprinkle sugar stuff on pancake (this is where our kids excelled...in Maya's case, heaping no less than 5 different sweet things on her pancakes). Step 3: Roll it up. Step 4: Consume. Step 5: Hope that representatives of the Netherlands Association for Diabetes Control are not on the same boat, ready to handcuff and arrest you for a gross violation of insulin abuse and illegal blood sugar spiking.
We enjoyed the pancakes and the short cruise, and surprisingly, the kids' sugar high wasn't too bad, and the rest of the day went pretty well. The captain of the boat was a nice guy...the boat is just one of his jobs--he's also organizing a huge jazz festival in Amsterdam that will take place next June, and he expects over 25,000 people to attend.
I've been getting behind on posting many of the photos that we've taken, so here are a bunch for you to enjoy:
The kids before their first day at the British School of Amsterdam.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I knew it was going to be a long day. I’ve been zapped with some kind of flu-like illness. I feel better tonight, so perhaps it will pass.
It was tough on the kids today as I could barely function. They somehow managed to keep themselves busy inside all day with playtime. We managed a very short, very slow walk to the corner market late in the afternoon.
Halloween? Non-existent here, although some expats arrange a trick-or-treat outing for their kids. We arrived a bit late, however, to take advantage of the planning. That’s alright…the kids didn’t miss it.
Photo: The "essence" of Amsterdam?
The past few days have been full, with trips to various markets and sights. I took the kids to the Albert Cuypstrat Markt on Monday…they loved the various “funny” things for sale and got pretty wide-eyed whenever we passed fish or produce stands. A piece of fresh fruit goes a long way in appeasing a kid…at least in our case.Yesterday was a lovely day, and the kids and I set out for the Waterloopleine Markt, a very old flea-market-style place near the central part of the city. Cole bought a cheap magnifying glass, and it has hardly left his hand in two days. He loves examining everything up close. If you need a trinket or an antique pair of Dutch ice skates, Waterloopleine seems like the place to go.
I’ve been practicing my Dutch daily, and I must say that I’m proud of my progress after just one week. My online lessons certainly help, as does the cursory knowledge of German, a language quite similar to Dutch. I’ve been able to conduct a number of transactions completely in Dutch, so I’m well on my way to my self-imposed 3 month schedule of being comfortable with the language. Silly, perhaps, but I like to be able to speak the local tongue. And what better opportunity than now?
ANOTHER trip to Ikea (last night) was very fruitful, as we ordered the majority of our furniture--beds, tables, and chairs. A next day delivery sounded great at the time, but little did I know that I’d be knocked out cold when they were scheduled to show up. The delivery time was not fun for me. Now it’s just a matter of assembling 20 boxes of furniture…fun!
Kids on the plane trip from the US.
Cole with a picture of a primate friend at the monkey park.
Maya looks intently at a water vortex machine.
My new ride. Stacey's is next to mine.
Tomorrow: Go get the parking permit; buy Maya’s new bike; take the kids for a bike ride.