Saturday, January 26, 2008

What is it like to spend a week in Holland? Let me tell you…

(and warn you that this is going to be a really long, but fun and educational post!)

A couple of weeks ago, Ian came home to tell me that he had the opportunity to be a guest PhD student at the Free University of Amsterdam for a week. He has a friend in the MLitt program who was formerly taught by one of the professors there who invited him to do this, and then Mark (the friend) somehow got Ian involved as well. Basically, I told him that sounded great, I just had one teeny tiny question… Can I come too??

We headed out for Amsterdam on January 17th in the morning. After 3 buses to the airport, I think we might have been wishing we were already there! We decided to fly with EasyJet because they are nice and cheap. As we were taking off, Mark said, “Have you every flown EasyJet before?” We quickly realized we were in for quite the ride :) It was by far, I mean really far, the worst landing I have ever experienced! I have never in my life gotten sick or even felt sick in an airplane, and I was as close as I’ve ever come to showing everyone what I ate for lunch. It took some serious concentration and controlled breathing to keep it down.

We were, needless to say, pretty happy to get off the plane. We got a train from the airport to Amsterdam Central Station and while we were waiting for the train, I took the opportunity to take a few photos while Ian and Mark figured out where we were going…

(yes you are seeing a double-decker train – whoa!)

We took the train and another tram to finally get to our hotel, Hotel Abba

A view from our window

The next day we quickly learned that walking around Amsterdam is not for the faint of heart. You have to really be on your toes to make sure you don’t get hit by any number of things that may be flying by. The streets are made up of a center lane for trams and taxis, then two outer lanes for traffic, then two further lanes for bikes, then the sidewalks on either side. It’s kind of a miracle that we didn’t cause any accidents while we were there! Well, we almost did – those bike lanes will get you! Ian quickly learned to fear the sound that these little guys make…

And because biking is so common, you can customize your bike to suit your needs. Have a couple kiddos that you need to take around with you? Just strap ‘em in!

Don’t have any place to park your bike? How about a bike parking garage!

Tired of carrying your bike up and down the stairs? How about a ramp!


To get to the university, we got to walk through Vondelpark which is a well-known park in Amsterdam..

And to our surprise and amusement we found that there are parrots living in Vondelpark!

We got to the university where we met with Martijn (the professor I mentioned earlier) to get the game plan for the guys for the week. He also gave us some pointers of things to see around the city. We left and headed for the Anne Frank Huis..

Unfortunately pictures were not allowed, so you’ll just have to trust me that it was a really amazing experience to be in the actual house where the Frank family hid for 2 years. We did get to see her diary, as well as the walls where she had glued pictures up, their deportation tickets and many other bits and pieces from their history in that house. It was definitely the most real that period of history has ever seemed to me.

We developed a pretty great daily schedule that we thoroughly enjoyed. We would get up, eat breakfast, take turns getting ready, watch some Dutch, Turkish, or British TV shows (great fun, let me tell you), head out for the day where we would try to find the cheapest food available all day long, then come back to the room after dinner where we ended the day with more random TV shows and a movie. We opted to stay in most nights because there’s really nothing (within our budget) to do after dark and things get a little questionable when the sun goes down in Amsterdam. We watched a different movie each night and had fun rating them.. Here’s the list: History of the World Part 1 – maybe it’s a generational thing, but this movie wasn’t even close to funny. Don’t bother. Sasquatch Dumpling Gang – also not funny, did have one really funny moment, but other than that, it’s just a really bad version of Napoleon Dynamite. Brewster’s Millions – interesting idea, not carried out very well. Pretty much just a bad 80’s movie. Spies Like Us – this one seemed a little better, but it may have been because after 3 nights, we still had not watched any good movies. Juno – amazing movie! Hooray we found a good one! Definitely recommend it. Office Space – Ian swears he remembered it being funny, Mark and I weren’t so sure.

Our second full day in Amsterdam, we headed to the Rijksmuseum…

And found that it gave us a lot of information about Dutch history through art and wares, so naturally, I liked it :) I was not, however, expecting all the eye candy I got towards the end of the museum. They had tons of original Rembrandts and a few Vermeers as well – it was amazing! I’m not sure the guys knew what they had gotten into.. They ended up warming up a bench in the museum while I took in as much as I could from those beautiful works of art :)

The next day we decided to go on a bus tour to take in a little more Dutch countryside. Here are some highlights:


These windmills were at our first stop, Zaanse Schans. We also saw a clog-maker here who demonstrated to us how it’s done.

We then headed to a cheese farm on the way to Volendam and got to learn about how cheese is made and taste the cheese that this particular farm makes.

My favorite was the cow’s milk smoked cheese with herbs :)

Then we stopped in Volendam where we learned about the Dutch tendency to ‘re-claim’ things. Apparently if the landscape just doesn’t seem to work for them, the Dutch take the opportunity to make it work! This lake…

was not so long ago a salt water bay. They decided it would be better if it were fresh water, and so built a dike and created a process of pumping water in and out until it was a fresh water lake. It is now called IJssel Lake, and since there are no more salt-water fish, the area specialty has become smoked eel.

The Dutch also seem to be crazy about pancakes and waffles. Volendam sells tiny pancakes, and as soon as I heard that, I knew I had to have some!

Our last stop on our journey was Marken, a little former island (which the Dutch promptly transformed into a peninsula to help control flooding.. Turns out almost half of the country is below sea level and 20% of the country is man-made) that is famous for its houses. They were originally built on stilts because of frequent flooding, but after the dike was built, they were able to enclose the stilts to use the space for storage. It was a very nice little fishing village.

After our countryside tour, we decided to head over to Haarlem to go to the Corrie Ten Boom Museum, only to find that it wasn’t open!

I was very disappointed…

The next day the guys were in a workshop at the university all day so I spent most of the day trying to get some work done. Ian and I did go out for a walk that evening and enjoyed some very tasty hot chocolate and conversation in a little café (which also did NOT sell weed, thank you!).

The following day (this is now Tuesday) was sunny!! Praise the Lord we had one sunny day – every other day was rain, rain, rain. Amsterdam is much prettier in the sun :) we spent tons of time outside walking around and went over to the Stedelijk Museum (a modern art museum). Most of it was closed for renovation so it was really cheap, and while some of the art was a little ‘out there’ (that’s coming from a fellow artist, it was definitely out there) there were some really cool exhibits.

Right next to the Stedelijk is the NEMO Science Center.

(this is a view of the science center from the building that the modern art was in)

We expected it to be about science, which it was, but it was basically like going to the Children’s Museum… We were the only kids over the age of 10 in the whole place :) Ian and Mark had a great time making dams to generate electricity for little towns, as well as learning all about science by playing DDR (???)

And we attempted to watch a 3-D movie about cells, but it was all in Dutch.

We took some great photos on this sunny day…

Wednesday was our last day and it was supposed to be the day the guys presented their papers at the University. Unfortunately, one of Martijn’s family members unexpectedly passed away, so the presentation was canceled. I had planned on going back to Haarlem to try to see the Ten Boom house while the guys presented, so we decided to go back all together before heading to the airport – and we were glad we did!!

Some views of Haarlem:

We got to take a tour of the Ten Boom House and it was AMAZING!

I am so thankful that we went back for it. It was so personal, all the tour guides are Christian volunteers, so they know their subject well an are passionate about it. It was amazing to see the hiding place and hear about the Ten Boom family’s dedication to helping people, regardless of race, religion, anything. If you haven’t read any of Corrie’s books or books about this family, please do. She had an amazing impact on this world, and is better known throughout the world than she is even in Holland.

Pictures of the hiding place (the hole in the wall was obviously not originally there, it’s just so visitors can see the hiding place)

The last thing I want to show you is the HUGE cathedral in Haarlem called the Great Church or St. Bavo’s. It is the largest cathedral I have ever seen.

It is 29 meters high (76 meters including the tower) and breathtakingly huge when you walk in. There is a Christian Müller organ with 5068 pipes and 68 registers. It was amazing. Unfortunately, most of the pictures are pretty blurry because I couldn’t use the flash, but you get the idea.

This organ was played by Mozart and Handel, and you can see the floor in this picture, so I will mention that it is made up entirely of about 1500 graves.

That about sums up our trip. We had another train, crazy plane ride (though I didn’t feel sick on this one), bus, bus, bus, and walking trip before we finally got home to enjoy our memories of our time in Holland. We are so thankful that we had the opportunity to experience so many of those things! I am going to try to get my flickr account working as well so you can see the rest of our pictures – I’ll let you know.


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