Jeugdbloemencorso (Youth Flower Parade)

Throughout the week of Kermis, a number of people told me that I couldn’t miss the parade on Saturday. One of R’s friends even went so far as to make sure I had the time and location that I needed to show up, since R had stayed in bed for 4 of the past 5 years.

And it was not disappointing – I love a good parade. The flowers on the floats were incredible, and it was set up so that individual kids could decorate their bikes or small vehicles as well!

Liefde voor Harmonie, the local marching band, celebrated its 125th year this year. It is apparently custom for all existing members to join the parade every year, so there were 5 conductors! It also made it very difficult to keep time between the front and the back… This was only noticible when they had to stop and we were right in the middle!

After the band came their float. I should have taken a video, since parts of it rotated!

The super cool float

There were plenty of themed floats, including this one from the roaring 20’s.

A friend of R is dancing on the left
Roaring Twenties

And this love float. Notice the guy in the crazy heart suit – this is an OppoSuit, a local dutch company that makes amazingly crazy suits!

The love float

I was also amazed to see some spinners on floats. But it let me know that I could find spinning somewhere in town!

Spinning during the parade!

The last float in the parade was from the local government. They had a fun time pretending to repair the road as they were going by, and had a nice mobile office set up on the float.

Love the juxtaposition of beautiful flowers in the big machinery
I figure my dad would have loved this float!

There was also a French Revolution float that I didn’t get any photos of during the parade, but I managed to get some as it was going back to the starting point after the parade.

Managed to get a photo of the French Revolution float on its way back

Kermis Week

When R and I were discussing when I should come for my extended stay, he suggested I should come for Kermis, literally translated as Carnival, the yearly festival that I heard so much about the past two years. He had trouble describing it to me, and after having attended, I now understand why. It’s kind of like the Queen’s homecoming, in that there are a lot of parties and a lot of people come back here for it, but it also includes a carnival like the CNE on one of the football clubs’ fields. And, like most things here, there’s a very different vibe to it, which I find very difficult to describe.

The first event was the Lange Galg Oost en Ryck marathon on Saturday.

On Sunday, there was a Rollerblade pub crawl, which we did not participate in. The event struck me as so funny, and it was fun to watch. I figure if I’d participated I would have ended up with no teeth! We went to one of his friends’ houses instead, and further onto Cafe Hogenboom, where they had a stage set up outside, and a dj booth inside.

At one point, one of the owners (and R’s friend) came around and gave us little white paper hats, and a guy dressed up as a butcher started singing outside. One of R’s friends tried to explain the back-story to me, but I’ve since forgotten the details, which is typical. The hats were fun though…

There were events going on all week, but we didn’t attend another until Thursday. We went to what was supposed to be a 90’s party. I was disappointed that R hadn’t told me and I didn’t have time to find a costume, but it turned out no-one was in costume and the music was more 70’s than 90’s, so it was probably a good thing!

On Friday we went first to Cafe Restaurant Heemskerk Jan Punt where we met up with all of R’s friends. Apparently this is the place where R often plays Billiards, as there are two tables at this bar. Then we walked over to ‘t Veen Eten & Drinken, where there was a giant party going on outside, but we went inside where, thankfully, it was much quieter. Later in the evening, a live band (De Tranentrekkers) came on who sang a bunch of Dutch songs, that people loved to sing along to. I, of course, didn’t know any of the words, but enjoyed it just the same!

Saturday was the Jeugdbloemencorso, which I will post about later this week blogged about here.

After the Parade, we stayed at R’s friend’s parents’ house for a while drinking, eating and talking. Afterwards, we walked down the main street, and ran into a whole bunch of his family. It was at this point that I decided there was no way I was going to make it through the day without a nap, so R’s dad and I walked to their house so he could look after his pigeons and I could have a nap. It was a glorious hour and I felt so energized afterwards.

I met up with R and his friends at a friend’s house, where we had a little bite to eat, then walked over to Hoek (the Slush Puppy Edition), a street party run by a number of young people from the town. The decorations were super fun, and the dj’s that they brought in were pretty incredible. No surprise I liked the guy who spun the 90’s tunes for a large portion of his set!

Giant pineapples at the entrance!

I also had some french fries, dutch style, with peanut sauce and mayonnaise. I hate to admit it, but the mayonnaise on french fries is growing on me…

Yes, that’s mayonnaise…

While we were there we ran into R’s family. He and his brothers are a little bit crazy, and love watching them interact!

the brothers

After spending some time at Hoek, we walked back along the main street to Cafe de Haven where this amazing cover band, Komen Lopen, were in the middle of their set. I seriously can’t even describe how amazing they were – when we walked in they were playing Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, and I thought it was an awesome slightly acoustic version that a DJ was playing! Seriously, they’re incredible!! De Haven had a floating stage and dance floor set up, since it’s a gezellig (i.e. small) bar and the band needed way more room for everyone to enjoy.

Band shots never capture what it’s really like to be there…
Thankfully R got a photo showing just how excited I was!

Work Routine

My mom has worked from home for the past 8 or 9 years, and I don’t know how she does it. I’ve been finding it challenging getting into a work routine when I don’t have my daily bike commute and a desk that’s surrounded by other people who are also working. Thankfully R has an extra room, and he was able to clear some space for me on the desk, so I have something like an office that’s in a slightly different space than our living quarters.

Yesterday I started what I hope will become my new routine. Most days I have a large number of files to upload and/or download from my work server. This morning I had a submission to upload to an FTP site, so I set the upload going, then put on my shoes and went for a walk. I was only gone for about 30 minutes, but it was so nice to be outside, and made getting to work a little easier.

At lunch, rather than making myself a quick sandwich and heading back to my desk, I ate at the kitchen table. I also did the dishes from last night and did some laundry. Again, following a little break, it was easier to get back to work after lunch.

Dutch Birthday faux pas

Today is R’s dad’s birthday party, though it was his actual birthday earlier this week. So I would first like to wish him a heartfelt congratulations on his birthday!

This leads me to a story about his actual birthday,  where I committed a faux pas for his dad’s birthday. R sent me a wonderful link which includes lists upon lists about Dutch culture, including Dutch Birthdays, however he sent it to me the next day… I have found these to be hilarious and relevant in my two first weeks here, and will endeavour to talk about them, as well as Stuff Dutch People Like in the next little while. They’re both hilarious and also quite topical.

When we arrived at his parents house, I greeted everyone and specifically went to say hello and congratulations to R’s dad. I knew that rather than wishing someone a ‘happy birthday,’ you’re supposed to congratulate them on their birthday. Which seems strange to me. Really, if you’re going to congratulation someone about a birthday, it should be a person’s mother! She did all the work!

However, what I failed to do was to also congratulate R’s mom on his dad’s birthday. I will draw your attention to #3 on the Five rules for dealing with Dutch birthdays.

3. If it is your partner or child’s birthday, you must congratulate everyone else in the family. This might sound odd. It goes like this. It is your husband’s birthday. You invite his mother for coffee and cake. She says to you “Congratulations on Fred’s birthday”, you say to her: “Congratulations on your son’s birthday”. You congratulate Fred’s sister on her brother’s birthday and so on. Seriously. You do.

 This seems to me as though it could be a very long winded “conversation”of only congratulations!

Update 9/9/2013 – I congratulated at least 50 people on R’s dad’s birthday. Most of the conversations went like this (but in Dutch). “Hi, I’m Lyndsey, R’s girlfriend. Congratulations on his dad’s birthday. Nice to meet you.” 

Boat ride

Thursday afternoon had a weather rating of 10, so R, his friend and I went for a lovely boat ride.

Apparently there was some construction going on on the normal route to the Braassemermeer, so we took a long circuitous route through Roelofarendsveen.

Captain T and First Mate R

 There were a few times that I wasn’t sure where we were going to go next. It was not unlike driving on some roads here, where you have to pull off to the side to let another boat go by!

The weather was indeed lovely, and we saw lots of windmills. And cows. So I took lots of pictures of both!

Those who follow me on instagram will have seen this gem already!

The thing that struck me as funniest was that there were often stairs leading UP to the water, rather than down to the water, as I’ve always experienced it. I tried to capture a good picture showing this, but the perspective really is lost here.  This is the best one I could find – it’s hard to see but there’s another boat just above the fence, which I think is clearly above the field by the windmill.

In order to access the slightly higher water in the Braassemermeer, we needed to use the lock by the Café de Haven. R almost got it right on our way out, he just forgot to close the lock to the lower water! Thankfully he realized his mistake early enough, and the whole town didn’t flood!

R got it right on the way back home!

 It also struck me as funny that the locks are there for everyone to use. All the locks I’ve ever used up to this point were operated by the province, and we had to pay to use them.

R made fun of me for taking so many pictures, and insisted on taking a few of me too. This is the best one!

Rockin’ the white shorts!
When we got back, we were joined by two other friends and enjoyed a lovely dinner and drinks at ‘t Veen, a restaurant a few doors down from where R and his friends store their boat. Gesellig.

Running in the lowlands

I usually ride my bike to and from work, and I’ve noticed my activity level has dropped significantly since coming here and working from ‘home.’

I encountered a lot of fauna on my trip including:

Cows – They were looking at me like I was crazy
This little goat who came out to greet me!

There was another goat and a black sheep too!
I also saw a lot of dutch things including:
Water, boats and dutch flags
A windmill and lots of cyclists (who you can’t see)

Creative ways of dealing with water. Notice how the cars are going UNDER the canal…

I think I may sign up for the TCS 8km race associated with the Amsterdam Marathon. R says that, if he doesn’t have a football match he may also sign up! It’s crazy cheap compared to big races in Toronto (about $15) but that doesn’t include the race shirt, which I am tempted to buy.

Biscuit experiment

As I mentioned in my previous post, I made biscuits! I call it an experiment because I tried to mesh Joy the baker’s two recipes, Cheddar Black Pepper Biscuits and Brown Sugar Bacon Biscuits, while converting everything to metric and/or weight and substituting where I couldn’t find the right ingredients.

First I combined 700mL of all purpose flour and one package of baking powder.

Then I crushed 6 sugar cubes and added them to the mix.

Crushed sugar cubes

 Finally I added a dash of salt and a generous helping of pepper and stirred it all together.

Look at all that pepper!

Then I added a about 3/4 cup of butter and mushed it all up with my hands and did my best to make it the consistency of couscous. There are no more pictures until the final mix because my hands were covered in dough! I then added about 400mL of shredded cheese and mixed, then 400mL of milk, and mixed it all together. I forgot to add an egg…

We’ll see what happens!

I covered a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and plopped spoonfuls of batter onto it.

R’s oven/microwave combo only went to 250 degrees, so I put them in on a combination of oven and microwave, and they turned out a little chewy, but not too bad. Especially considering how bad they could have been, given all the guessing I did!

I think an egg would have made these a bit fluffier

I must mention that the last bunch I put in caused the aluminum to catch on fire – not surprising since it was in a microwave oven.  I just couldn’t believe it didn’t happen sooner.

When that happened, we had a conversation that went something like this:

R – Everything okay?
Me – I just set your oven on fire
R – Ha ha ha, very funny
Me – Yeah, I’m not joking. But it’s out now, so it’s okay. Don’t worry.

Sinterklaas

I arrived in the Netherlands on Saturday morning via Frankfurt.  I couldn’t really sleep on the flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, but had a nice little nap on the flight from Frankfurt to Amsterdam. I suspect it’s because I had an emergency exit seat. If you’ve never experienced this before, it’s amazing, especially in comparison to the cramped seating in the regular rows.

R let me nap while he finished off a few things for the Sinterklaas celebration later that night. Like writing his poems and getting paper to wrap his gifts… We were each instructed to bring two gifts under 5 Euros (I took that to mean $10) and one thing that we no longer wanted to have.  We put our shoes by the door, and left for his brother and sister in law’s house.

I guess I should back-up a little bit, since those outside of the Netherlands probably don’t know the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas! It was pretty new to me. Sinterklass, or De Sint, is celebrated on the evening of December 5th. He arrives in the Netherlands each year in mid-November by steamboat from Spain with his valet Zwarte Piet. This year, he arrived on the same day as the Santa Claus parade in Toronto!

Sinterklaas (source) Santa Claus (source)

(As an aside, just as I was leaving, it was on the news that the Sinterklaas celebration in New Westminster had been cancelled (http://www.sinterklaas.ca/) due to the controversial nature of Zwarte Piet. I will admit the Zwarte Piet were a little shocking to me – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dress in blackface before.)

On December 5th, and sometimes in the weeks before, R tells me, children put their shoes next to the fireplace with a carrot or some hay in it and a bowl of water nearby for Sinterklaas’ horse. Zwarte Piet enters homes through chimneys at night and takes the horse’s food from the shoes and exchange it for candy and other treats.  Very reminiscent of the stockings we leave out for Santa on Christmas, no?

Sinterklaas for grown-ups means a party of giving and receiving gifts, much like on Christmas. Gifts are accompanied by a poem which serves to embarrass the addressee by reminding him or her of some embarrassing moments in the past year, or to point out a general failure of character in a mocking way.

We went to R’s brother and sister-in-law’s house where sat down to talk. In total there were 12 adults and 2 children. His nephew just started learning English in school, but we’re both too nervous to talk to each other yet! His niece is still young, and believes in Sinterklaas, and that made the celebration even more fun! She was enjoying a video of Zwarte Pieten singing and dancing. Each Piet has a different role to play, and this video had ‘Magician Piet’, ‘Cool Piet’, ‘Tall Piet’, and ‘Singing Piet’, who looked like Elvis!

The family began singing some songs, and suddenly there was banging on the door and windows. R’s nephew went to the door to find a laundry basket full of gifts, mostly the kids. It was awesome to watch them open their gifts! His nephew got some awesome looking games, including a Lego strategy game (!!!!!!!) and anti-monopoly, both of which I want to play! The dog also came away with a sweet hoodie, which he was not too keen to wear at first.


The adults were instructed to get their gag gifts and put them in the centre of the table. We got ourselves seated at the table while R’s aunt got out two ridiculously large novelty dice. The rules for the game were simple. Each person rolled the die. A roll of 1 or 6 meant pick a gift, read the poem and open the gift. A roll of 2 meant move one seat to the right, a roll of 4 meant move one seat to the left, leaving any unwrapped gifts with the seat. If you rolled a 1 or a 6 and there was already a gift in your seat, you picked a gift and gave it to someone who didn’t have one.  After everyone had a gift, there was one last round, where a rolled 1 meant you had to exchange your gift with someone else, a rolled 6 meant you had to exchange two other peoples gifts. Rolls of 2 and 4 meant the same as in the first round. It was so much fun because you didn’t know what you were going to end up with until the very last person rolled!

I was very lucky and managed to not roll a 1 or a 6 the whole time, meaning I didn’t have to read any Dutch poems!

Just as the round of gift exchanges was ending, there was some more singing, and more banging on the window, but this time I could see two black faces! Two Zwarte Pieten had come to pay us a visit, and brought these delicious little gingerbread cookies, that they threw everywhere!!  R’s nice was a little scared of them. R’s family offered the Pieten some beers, and they did a bit of dancing and sat on the couch, and there were lots of pictures taken.  R told me that this was the first time this had been arranged. At one point, R’s niece pointed out (quite accurately, I suspect) that ‘Piet doesn’t drink beer.’ We though it was hilarious!

Me and the Zwarte Pieten

When the Pieten left, we continued the gift exchange with the non-gag gifts, but in the 2nd round, each person got two gifts.

I left with a playboy and two penthouse magazines from the gag-gift round, a lottery advent calendar and another playboy from the gift round. At least I can pack them all in my suitcase easily, though I wonder if I might have trouble getting the 100,000 Euro lottery winnings in! There was a live bird in the gag-gift round, but it went to someone who was happy to have it, which made me very happy.

I lasted until about midnight, at which time I don’t think I could have paid attention to an English conversation, forget about trying to follow a Dutch one!

When we got home, we found that de Sint had left us each a clementine and a chocolate letter from our first names! I was surprised about this, and I still can’t figure out when he did it!

I’m sorry for the lack of photos, I’ve had some camera trouble and have used my blackberry instead. I also stole some photos from R’s cousin!