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.

There’s an Aap for That

Clean Marketing
Walking down Biltstraat this afternoon, G was the first to notice this promo for the upcoming release of The Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If you look closely, you’ll see the head of an ape with the film title beneath it. They seem to have done a bit of reverse stenciling, by powercleaning the sidewalk to create the image and text, rather than dirtying it with paint or chalk. I’ve always kind of liked this form of graffiti.

The advert reminded us of a bit of standup that Australian comedian Kitty Flanagan did about The Planet of the Apes and the difficulty in subtitling or dubbing the film in French. The French don’t seem to distinguish linguistically between monkeys and apes, which makes one of the scenes in the film hard to translate. The line in the film goes something like, “I’m not a monkey. I’m an ape!” But in French, they use the word singe for both, so you end up with, “I’m not a singe! I’m a singe!” Well, except it would be all in French. (Trust me, I tried to find the video online of Flanagan doing this bit of standup, but I had no luck.)

It turns out, the Dutch are no better. Ape and monkey are both aap in Dutch. It’s a good thing the Dutch don’t dub foreign-language films. I’m dying to see the subtitles for that scene, though. “Ik ben geen aap. Ik ben een aap!” Talk about lost in translation!

Numbers, Dutch Style

Achtentwintig
A few weeks ago, the tv series Fringe (which you should all be watching) started off an episode with various people gathered around radios, listening for certain numbers. The first numbers we heard? They were in Dutch! If you’ve seen the episode, you will remember the reactions the characters had upon hearing the numbers: heads clutched between hands in agony. Technically, it wasn’t that the numbers were in Dutch that caused the pain, although when I first began learning Dutch numbers, I must admit I probably looked the same at times!

Back when I was learning French in high school, I remember thinking that the French way of counting the 90s was bizarre: four twenty ten (four times twenty plus 10). Why make it more difficult than it needs to be! Then I discovered how the Dutch do two-digit numbers. Take 28 for example, as seen in the address in the photo. In English, you would say twenty-eight. In Dutch, it’s “eight and twenty”. Any number from 21 to 99 (excluding 30, 40, etc.) is done this way: eenentwintig (21), negenennegentig (99). It makes sense, and I still prefer it to the French mathematics, but it does take some getting used to.

The difference can also lead to confusion when translated. As an English speaker, when I mentally translate the numbers, it’s not uncommon for me to hear achtentwintig (28), but transpose it to 82 in my head. The Dutch have the same problem sometimes when trying to say a number in English. For them sixty-three can become 36. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is one of those things that can be frustrating, but can also be interesting. It’s one of those little differences that I enjoy … unless I’m trying to keep a lot of numbers straight at one time!

Different Donderdag: English

There’s a newish bartender at the Potdeksel these days. He’s very charming and friendly, and despite having a very Dutch name, he has a very English accent. If I didn’t know he was Dutch, I would have thought he was from England.

It’s not unusual for Dutch people to have a touch of an English/British accent when they speak English, because they are often taught “British” English rather than “American” English. However, with the numerous American films and television programs available to them, their accent becomes fairly neutral, other than any residual Dutch accent. I should point out that movies and television programs are almost never dubbed into Dutch here; they simply have Dutch subtitles.

Last week, while complementing Ruud on his excellent English, we found out that English is his major course of study at university. It turns out — and this is something I find fascinating — that when you choose English as a major here, you can also choose whether to have a British or American emphasis. Now I’m curious if they do something similar with other languages, especially those that have some differences depending on which part of the world they’re spoken. For example, if someone is studying Spanish, do they have the choice to learn the version spoken in Spain or the version spoken in the Americas?

Regardless, I think it’s an interesting approach to take when teaching a foreign language, perhaps especially when it’s such a widely used language. I’m curious if this is fairly universal in Europe these days or if it’s a Dutch/Utrecht thing.

Woordenboek Woensdag: Maaltijd

Zucchini Tart [Day 178/365]
While we were out shopping last week, G asked me if I knew what maaltijd meant. He said he’d seen it quite often on restaurant signs, but didn’t know what it meant. He was doing better than me; I hadn’t even noticed the word! For me, it was a bit confusing, because when I think of mal/maal, I think of something bad, thanks to the Italian and French that I know, not to mention their somewhat negative connotations in English. So to think of a “bad time” (tijd=time) in regards to a restaurant, I knew my Italian and French weren’t helping any here. It turns out, though, that it’s not really that far off of English. Maaltijd means meal, as in meal time. Ah! That makes much more sense!

I still hadn’t noticed the word, though, until today, when I was checking the latest Waar In Utrecht game and saw that the prize for a correct answer is now a maaltijd from Stamppot To Go. Hopefully, I’ll be able to win one of the prizes soon!

Speaking of maaltijden, I thought I’d share a recept (recipe) for the maaltijd I made last night. It was a hodgepodge of recipes — some tried and true, some new — that turned out heerlijk (delicious)! The main dish was a zucchini, ricotta and feta tart, which I found the recipe for here.

I think there is some sort of frozen pie crust available here, but it’s not in the ready-shaped form that you can buy in the US, not that I have room in my tiny freezer to keep pie crusts in any size. Fortunately, Lizzy posted a recipe last year for a very easy-to-make pie crust that doesn’t require the cutting in of shortening/butter that makes me hate making crust from scratch. This one uses oil instead and it’s so fast and easy and quite delicious. Since I was going to need only one crust, I simply halved the amounts without any trouble. I also played around a bit with the oils, since I knew I was going to be making a savory dish. Instead of 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, I did a mix of olive oil, a smidge of sesame oil, and then finished it off with regular vegetable oil.

Finally, as I was cooking the zucchini, I was worried that it would all be a bit bland. I like spices and I love spice blends, especially the ones I make myself, so I sprinkled a bit of one of my latest favorite spice blends, Kayotic Kitchen’s ras el hanout, over the zucchini as it was cooking in the pan. I didn’t use a lot, but just enough to give it a nice depth and warmth of flavor.

I was really happy with how the whole dish turned out — we paired it with a nice side salad — and I’m so glad there are leftovers for my lunches!

Eet smakelijk!

Woordenboek Woensdag: Spelen

Perhaps not surprisingly, today’s posting is inspired — once again — by the World Cup. After all, I’ve been watching the Dutch coverage of the matches, so I’ve been hearing a lot of basic terms used repeatedly. This is how I started learning Italian years ago, as well. This is going to be a quick posting, since it’s half time of the Chile-Honduras match and I don’t have much time.

One of the terms that I’ve definitely learned in the past week has been wedstrijd (match), in part because it’s said a lot, and in part because I kept mishearing it in the past and wondered why they were talking about websites (with a strange accent) so much during matches. A similar word is spel (game). Is spel used more for “games” in general, while wedstrijd is used more for sporting/football “matches”?

Spelen (to play) is the verb of the day, or perhaps of the month. It’s definitely being used extensively! There’s also speler (player). The problem comes when de spits (striker) is buitenspel (offside), ruining a goeie kans (good chance) at a doel (goal). One last question: spits is listed in my dictionary as both de and het. Is it interchangeable?

Rustig vs Stil

Rustig (quiet, calm, tranquil) is one of those Dutch words that I’ve seen regularly, but never remembered to look up the definition until recently. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the election yesterday, I would have written about it for my Woordenboek Woensdag entry. But now, I’ve just come across a piece on the Dutch Word of the Day website about stilte (silence), and now I’m curious and vaguely confused.

I know rustig is an adjective or adverb, while stilte is a noun, but there’s also the adjective form stil (silent, quiet, still). Are rustig and stil interchangeable or is one used in certain instances versus the other? Is rustig used more for happy or peaceful silence, with stil used more for tense, sudden, or eerie silence?

Who knew something that I like could be so stress-inducing!

Woordenboek Woensdag: Verkeer/Verkeerd

Dutch Lesson
I slacked a bit over the past few weeks on my Woordenboek Woensdag entries while my parents were here, but I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. I haven’t been doing much proper studying, but I’ve noticed recently that I seem to understand a little bit more of written Dutch and occasionally a bit more spoken Dutch, as well. I’m also trying to put together more sentences now, even if only in my head. Whether walking around town or lying in bed, I have little conversations in my head and try to see how much I can do in Dutch. Some times I do ok, other times I get stuck very easily. Of course, whether I’m right is a whole other issue!

Speaking of being wrong, this leads me to the words of the day: verkeer and verkeerd. They’re annoyingly similar but with very different meanings.

Verkeer (as seen in the photo above) is the word for traffic. We spent a lot of time in traffic last week coming back from dropping my parents at the ferry in Europoort, near Rotterdam. The drive there was quick and painless. The drive back took hours and was incredibly frustrating. Still, it gave me a topic for tomorrow, as you’ll see. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with verkeer much in het dagelijks verkeer (in everyday life, or “in the daily traffic”), outside of fietsen verkeer (bike traffic).

Verkeerd, on the other hand, is an adjective or adverb meaning wrong. I suspect this is a word I should learn, since I’ll probably hear it a lot as I eventually try to speak more Dutch. Iets verkeerd uitspreken is what my dictionary lists as the phrase for mispronouncing something. I’m not quite sure how to use that, though. Would it be: Ik uitspreek iets verkeerd. ??

So, two more words for my slowly growing vocabulary. Let’s hope I can keep them straight and ultimately avoid both traffic and being wrong!

Woordenboek Woensdag: Zeilen

Plompetorengracht [Day 116/365]
Now that the weather has turned so nice, all of the canals around town are filled with boten (boats), from small kayaks to larger motorboats. With that in mind, I thought I’d look up the word for sailing. It’s times like this that I need help. There are a ton of words for the verb to sail: varen, bevaren, zeilen. Then there are different words for the gerund form, sailing: afvaart, bootreis, vertrek, vertrektijd, zeilsport. It all gets a bit confusing. Looking up each individual word doesn’t particularly help, at least not with my dictionary. I’m hoping someone else will be able to explain if there’s one use that is better than another in certain situations. I’m particularly interested in the right word for describing sailing in a canal, rather than on the high seas.

I did finally remember to look up Plompetorengracht, which is the name of the canal pictured above. From what I gather, it basically translates to Floppy Tower Canal. Even if plomp has some other meaning in this case, floppy tower is more fun to think about. The canal itself is quite old, dating back to around 1392, when it seems to have created along with the Nieuwegracht, the Kromme Nieuwegracht and the Drift canals to help with drainage. At one point, the canal was the headquarters for tradesmen, and around the middle of the 19th century, it was a neighborhood of the nobility. The somewhat grand buildings that line it now are used primarily as offices and the Cathedral Choir school is located there, as well. I think they had an open day recently.

I’ll round out this post with a few more photos of some of the boats you’re liable to see in the canals here in Utrecht.
Tour Boat
Bongo Boat
Grote Boot
Peaceful
Around the Bend
Arts the Beat Doctor