Wordless Wednesday: Gezellig

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Back to School Festivities

return of the students
There have been signs since this weekend that our park was going to be hosting some sort of event. By Monday morning, our usually empty park with room for Charlie to meander suddenly got a lot smaller and less conducive to free-range Charlie.

It seems that the peace and quiet we’ve been enjoying over the summer is a thing of the past. The students are returning and various student associations are taking over any open spot available.

One sign does seem to be encouraging vaccinations, which is always a good thing, but perhaps a bit more schooling is needed, or at least a few more spelling lessons. I think they’re missing a T. Though hopefully it’s all part of a joke, as I don’t think I’d want to get any vaccinations there!
return of the students

Anyway, aside from the usual DJs and beer stands at any event, this year’s theme for one of the groups seems vaguely southwestern/country & western in the broadest of terms. There are hay bales, a mechanical bull, and two teepees.
return of the students
return of the students

But that’s just one group, I think. In the field by the Stadsschouwburg, there’s more of a French flair with an inflatable Eiffel Tower. Though it still doesn’t hold a candle to our Domtoren.
return of the students
return of the students
As for Charlie, he gave the mechanical bull a few tentative sniffs this morning, but what he was really interested in was the Brood (bread) Company truck. He was giving any sniffer dog a run for it’s money, sniffing every inch he could reach! (He’s way up in the wheel well.)
return of the students
But the real love of his life is patat, or in this case, frites. He’s first in line! He’s not an aggressive dog, but I wouldn’t want to get between him and his fries/chips/patat/friet/frites. Met mayonaise, alstublieft!
return of the students

Taking it too far?

Too far?
Perhaps it’s just as well that there’s now less than a month to go before the Grand Depart of the Tour de France here in Utrecht. Bicycles are obviously a common sight, but the amount of yellow popping up is definitely increasing, as is the amount of — at times — cheesy promotional stuff. Take this flag hanging outside the entrance for the Domtoren tours. Throw in some yellow, a bicycle, and a random apostrophe, and suddenly anything can be related to the Tour de France. Zut alors!

A Cat in Every Window

Cat AlleyToday is what is referred to as rokjesdag (skirt day), due to the fact that the sun is shining and the temperatures have begun to warm up considerably. In other words, lots of skirts are likely to be worn.

However, I think a better word for days like today is katjesdag, because today is the kind of day where you’ll see a preponderance of cats in windows. The whole country becomes like a kitty red-light district with cats on display in almost every window. Our two have been baking themselves silly all morning.

On Sunday, it was a similarly sunny day, as you can see from the photo above. At first, it looks like any charming little street in the sun. Yet as we got closer, we couldn’t help but notice multitude of cats, upstairs and down. The first one to catch my eye was this sneaky fellow who seemed to be testing the waters of a fish bowl.
Kitty in the Fish Bowl
Kitty in the Fish Bowl
The next was this black cat who looks just like my lovely Luna.
Luna's Twin
This next charmer managed to find a spot amid the foliage, like a true jungle cat.
Basking
And finally this cat was doing a good job of camouflaging, by picking his own perch among the birds. Though he may have been in too much of a torpor to do more than eye up the birds.
Cat and Birds
Cat and Birds

Book Fest in Utrecht

Boekenfestijn
I’ve had a lot of bookstore searches leading people to my blog recently, so in the interest of being helpful, I thought I’d mention this. The Boekenfestijn is returning to Jaarbeurs next week, September 4-7. Entrance is free and there’s a broad selection of books, in both Dutch and English. Definitely worth checking out.

The Easily Amused Expat

Franse Fries
It’s usually the fresh-off-the-boat expat who finds fascination with every little new thing, but even when you’ve been in your new country for years, little things — even things you’ve seen on a regular basis — can suddenly jump out at you and remind you that “we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto”.

I’ve been having one of those moments recently as I’ve been passing some of the local McDonalds restaurants. There’s one on the main street through town (the street that seems to change names ever three meters, but that’s another post) and one on the Oudegracht. The picture is of the one on the Oudegracht, but it was the one on the main street that first caught my eye recently.

Sure, we get the occasional market-specific dish, which is usually something to do with kip saté, but it’s not that kind of poster that stood out this time. This time, it was something as simple and normal and ubiquitous as the French fry. In Dutch, fries (or chips, for my British readers) are usually known as patat or friet (or patatjes or frietjes, because the Dutch love adding the diminutive to everything. It’s adorable.) The choice of word tends to be more regional, with patat seeming to be more northern and variations on friet are typically more southern. As an expat, I say both, because I don’t know where I live any more.

French fries is a fairly American term, resulting from American troops eating fries for the first time in Belgium but associating them with the French language they heard at the time. Or so the story goes. In fact, here in the Netherlands, I don’t really remember seeing the “French” addition to the name. I’m sure the occasional restaurant might use it, such as an American-style diner or something, but otherwise, the only place you’re more likely to see “Franse Frietjes” is at McDonalds.
Franse Fries
And that’s what is amusing me. The posters for “Franse Frietjes”. Perhaps it’s standing out since I don’t see the “Franse” addition often, or maybe it’s just amusing to see such an American term translated.

Or maybe it’s because subconsciously it reminds me of this scene in Better Off Dead:

Book Couriers and Bookstores in Utrecht

Bookstore and Library
I came across a new service here in Utrecht that is handy for book lovers. There is now a book courier service available that can get a book to you within two hours. Order between 9-20:00 and they’ll deliver between 10-21:00. For free!

The service is through Selexyz, one of the large book chains in the Netherlands. They have a good selection of English-language books, and probably a few other languages, as well. If you prefer to browse the store yourself, their Utrecht location is on the Oudegracht, right across from the Stadhuis. [Edited to add: The book store has undergone a few changes and names, but there is still a book store in that location, though I don’t know if they offer the delivery service now.]

I get a lot of people visiting my blog after searching for places to buy English-language books in Utrecht, so I figured I’d update the list. Sadly, the used-book store I used to go to on Voorstraat has closed. I’m not sure if they’ve just moved or closed for good. Fortunately, there are a number of other book stores offering a variety of books.

On Saturdays at the outdoor market over at Vredenburg, there’s a stall that sells used books. They also tend to have a section devoted to English-language books, as well as some in French and German. [Not sure they’re still there. 2016]

Savannah Bay (Telingstraat 13) was the first Dutch feminist bookshop, founded in 1975. It focuses primarily on gender/sexuality/literature/poetry, with a large selection of English-language gender studies books, but other topics as well.

Aleph Books (Vismarkt 9) has a mix of new and used books, with a large emphasis on art and history. Books are available in Dutch and English.

Boekhandel Libris (Servetstraat 3) is right next to the Domtoren and looks out onto the Flora’s Hof. They have a mix of fiction and non-fiction in Dutch, English, French and German. It’s fun to browse and you’re bound to find something you want to read.

De Rooie Rat (Oudegracht 65) has a mix of new and used books in multiple languages. Most books lean toward philosophy and politics, but you never know what you’ll find.

Bruna has both online and brick-and-mortar shops. There’s a Bruna in the train station that comes in handy with magazines and books (in Dutch and English) for those times when you realize you might need something to read to pass the time. There’s also one on Steenweg, as well as the corner of Maliebaan and Nachtegaalstraat (or whatever it’s called at that point)

Finally, Bol.com is an online shopping option, similar to Amazon before it started selling everything and the kitchen sink. They’ve got books in multiple languages, both new and used, as well as music, games and various electronics. Play.com is a similar website.

[Edited to add: There’s now an Amazon.nl that is still pretty much only books right now. /2016]

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The Secret Words of Walls and Windows

Forbidden to Forbid
I’ve posted before about the random bits of wall art that pop up around the city. However, not all of these bits of creativity are pictorial. There are often simple thoughts expressed in words; some are philosophical, while others simply put a smile on your face.

Sunday morning, I came across the chalked thought above: Forbidden To Forbid. Make of that what you will. There are plenty of interpretations open.

Seeing it reminded me of some window writing I saw on Lange Nieuwstraat. The two windows had simple sentences written on the bottom. If their purpose was to make passers-by smile, they succeeded, at least with me.
Hoe gaat het met jou?
This one reads, “Hoe gaat het met jou?”, which is the Dutch way of saying, “How are you?”.

The second window says, “Ik vind jou speciaal”, which means “I find you special/I think you’re special”. You’re not so bad yourself!
Ik ook

I love these random little finds throughout the city. Even if the windows are simply marketing, it’s a nice, creative touch that is positive and friendly. We can all use a bit of that!

Neude on Ice

Indoor Ice Skating
It seems like Neude (one of the central squares in town, in front of what used to be the post office) is never empty for long. The latest installation is a long building taking up most of the square. Inside? An ice rink! From now through 8 January, you can go skating every day, from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

We stopped by Neude yesterday on our way to the kerstmarkt on Twijnstraat and couldn’t resist going in to see what was on offer. Along with the actual ice rink, there’s a very nice looking café serving sandwiches and a few warm food items, as well as a variety of drinks. I was surprised at just how nice it is inside, especially for a temporary structure. I guess this is the winter version of the beach-side restaurants that pop up for the season.

It’s pretty reasonably priced, as well, with skate hire costing €5 and unlimited skating time costing €5. It almost makes me want to go ice skating, despite the fact that I think I’ve only been twice before and that was more than 20 years ago. As with roller skating, I tend to cling to the wall with a death grip for the first hour or so. Still, it always looks like so much fun.

If you do go, I think you’re supposed to have gloves. Also, Norwegians are not allowed. No, really! I checked the rules and it says Noren are not allowed, and that translated to Norwegians! I’m not sure why there’s such specific national xenophobia; maybe they just don’t want to be shown up by their Nordic cousins to the north. Or maybe Noren are a type of those long-blade speed skates, and actual Norwegians are allowed in. 😉 I suspect this to be the case, since the Dutch are no slouch when it comes to speed skating, having won numerous medals.

So, if you’re in Utrecht and want to get in a bit of ice skating while we wait for the lakes and canals to freeze over — perhaps this year will see the Elfstedentocht? — head to Neude and try to keep your bum dry!

Hopping Over Obstacles

It’s Expat Blog Hop time again! I missed the last one or two, but thought I’d give it a go again this week.

This week’s topic is:

What was the hardest thing for you to adjust to when you moved to your new country? What tips would you give for new people arriving?

I’ve yet to have any major breakdowns over moving here, but despite being generally even keeled, there are the occasional moments of frustration for me. I mean, what’s a Southern girl going to do when she thinks she’s not going to be able to have okra again!
Okra!
Yeah, fortunately I found a couple of sources. It’s not as convenient as it was in the US, but it is available. Then there was the search for baking soda. Who would have thought that finding good ol’ Arm & Hammer Baking Soda would be so difficult! Fortunately, I found it at the same toko where I can usually get my okra. For the record I go to Toko Centraal over by Vredenburg/Hoog Catharijne. It’s a good source for harder to find items at reasonable prices.

In other words, it’s those little items that you took for granted at home that suddenly become a major issue when you realize you have no idea where to find them or if they’re even available. When you move to a new country, suddenly everything is that little bit harder. Where do you buy an iron? Where do you buy drain declogger? Where do you buy cold medicine? What do you mean they don’t sell antihistamines in Europe!!!

You soon learn that stores like Blokker are good for cheap household items, and that Kruidvat is a good Walgreens alternative (including a place to get drain declogger), but that Etos is nicer if you just need personal care items. As for antihistamines, get your family and friends back home to put some in every package they send you or pack extra any time they visit you. Otherwise, learn to love the nose sprays and paracetamol that will be your only option here.

Honestly, though, you soon learn and if you ask, someone’s bound to point you in the right direction. Plus, it’s half the fun of exploring and discovering new things!

Now that I’ve been here a while, the thing I find most difficult to adjust to is not being able to speak easily and almost dreading having anyone speak to me. The reality, living here in a city center, is that usually the person speaks enough English if I get stuck, but I miss being able to chat easily, even with strangers, or just make small-talk with shop workers or fellow dog owners. That’s the obstacle I’m trying to overcome now and I think once I’m more comfortable with the language, the worst of the adjustment period will be over.