Five Years in Utrecht

Don’t get too close. I don’t want to pass on the cold I’ve had since this weekend. I’m not really feeling better today, either. Still, I couldn’t let this anniversary pass completely unnoticed. After all, yesterday marked five years since we first arrived here in Utrecht. There have been highs and lows, and yesterday was more of a low, but we did go to the Potdeksel briefly for a witbier, just as we did five years ago.

One of the first photos I took here was of my little pink flamingo, Orlando, sitting next to one of the beer glasses. I decided to recreate that first photo last night. After all, this is “a flamingo in Utrecht”. So raise your glass! We vieren vijf jaar! Proost!
We vieren vijf jaar

Kerstdagen Roundup

Ik Geloof
I hope you’ve all had a great few days, whether celebrating or not. We kicked off our celebrations Friday night with a delicious dinner of octopus (looks like an alien, tastes delicately like shrimp/lobster). Afterward, we headed over to the Potdeksel for a special Music Quiz Night. There were two games of five rounds. We didn’t do so well the first game, but the second game was a different story. We were getting correct answers left and right and eventually won the game with a tie-breaker thanks to our knowledge of local music sensation Sjarrel en Sjaan and their performance of the classic “Christmas in Cupertino”. 😉

We were ridiculously thrilled to finally win! Thanks to our Dutch team member, Mer, for her help with translation and famous Dutch voices, as well as her fine company! Our prize for the evening was a large bottle of Palm beer and an accompanying glass, as well. Rather snazzy! I think we might be cracking open a bottle this evening.
Palm Prize
Christmas day itself was lovely. A bit of a late start to the day, a bit of present unwrapping, and then a lot of food and wine! We went with what has become a tradition with my parents and me, skipping the massive turkey dinner and instead having a variety of finger foods/appetizers to snack on. We had deviled eggs (natuurlijk!), smoked salmon, cheese-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, chicken pieces wrapped in bacon with a honey mustard glaze, blue cheese tartlettes, eggplant balls, and crepes filled with a cheesy spinach mixture. All lekker, if I say so myself, since I was the chef! Later in the evening, we did give a nod to the Italians at the table with some pasta and some pan d’oro for dessert.
Christmas Lunch

Our furry kids seemed to enjoy themselves, as well. They dined with us on a few nibbles and Pippo certainly enjoyed helping me unwrap presents. He never tries to tear paper any other time of year, but he seems to understand Christmas. He immediately grabbed a bit of wrapping paper from the gift I was unwrapping and started to pull. He did a fine job!
Our Tweede Kerstdag has been quiet and mellow, with bits of sunshine popping out on occasion. A nice way to spend the day! I hope you all have had equally pleasant days, no matter what you’ve been up to!

Woordenboek Woensdag

We’ve been without phone and internet since Sunday afternoon. The reason? I like to think of it as the modern version of “the dog ate my homework”: my cat vomited on the modem. Mijn kat braakt op de modem. Echt! (Really!)

So that’s my new word for the week: braken (to vomit). I’m not sure if it was Luna or Lola who tossed her kibble, but regardless, it fried the modem. Being both a Sunday and a holiday (and Monday, Tweede Paasdag/second easter, also being a holiday), it meant that we couldn’t get anyone from Ziggo (our cable/phone/internet provider) to come out until today. We also learned through this latest misadventure that you can’t buy modems through a regular store, as you can in the US. It must come from your internet provider. We had thought to go to MediaMarkt or one of the other computer shops in town and just buy a new one, but soon found out that was not an option here. Another one of those small differences!

It turns out that was not the worst of our troubles this weekend. The electricity in the laundry/water heater room went out. At first we thought it was just a blown fuse. Of course, this problem was also discovered on Sunday and we were out of fuses and being a holiday and a Sunday, there were no shops open. Fortunately, it wasn’t too cold (since our heater is related to the hot water heater — the heater that broke recently), so we just bundled up a bit Sunday night and hoped to get a new fuse at the grocery store the next day. At the grocery store, though, we found out they no longer carried fuses. Argh! On the walk home, G thought to stop by the Potdeksel and ask if they had a spare fuse. They did! Unfortunately, it turned out that that was not the problem. The power still didn’t work!

So, yesterday, we called an electrician, and the news is that we’ll most likely have to tear up floors and/or walls in order to fix and update the wiring. Maybe the word of the week should have been “to cry”. That, or I could teach you some swear words in both Dutch and Italian.

On the bright side of things, last night was the monthly Quiz Night at the Potdeksel, and thanks to M (a Dutchie) being on our team, we came in 11th out of 14 teams. Our best finish yet!

On the downside of things (as seems to be the norm these days), I’ve had a debilitating sinus headache all day, and Pippo braakt in de slaapkamer (bedroom). Hopefully, we’ve come full circle.

Café Culture

One of the great things about Utrecht is the range of cultural events going on around town. It’s not just standard events at the stadsschouwburg (city theater); it’s the monthly cultural Sunday events throughout town and the event that happened this weekend, the CafĂ© Theater Festival. From Friday through Sunday, at 20 cafĂ©s around town, short, half-hour plays were performed each night.

We were at the Potdeksel on Friday, of course, and got to see Falstaff maakt een Odyssee, a humorous telling of the story of Odysseus. It was in Dutch, but I got the gist of a lot of it. It was also a humorous retelling as they made the most of a few simple props and odds and ends in the bar itself. There were only two cast members and they worked their way through the bar to play the different parts. The Sirens were represented amusingly by a bit of pop music from the bar’s stereo system. Scylla was a group of flexible tubes located at one end of the bar, while Charybdis was a burst of steam from the coffee machine, located at the other end of the bar, with the one cast member running back and forth to represent each one, sometimes running fast and furious!

It was well done, at least from what I could understand, and I guess others agreed, since the play won the Publieksprijs (public prize). This annual festival is one of those smaller events that makes the city so great.

Night of the Dirty Song

Romance — of one sort or another — was in the air Saturday night at the Potdeksel, as the fifth Nacht Van Het Vieze Lied (Night of the Dirty Song) was held. The cafĂ© was decorated with sexy lace curtains, red lights, and feathery hearts. Bow-chicka-wow-wow! It only got hotter and steamier from there! We went last year, although it seems I never got around to blogging about it as we were expecting company soon afterward. Oops. Oh well, at least I won’t be repeating myself this time!

The event always takes place right before the beginning of Lent, and is what I like to think of as our neighborhood’s version of Carnival. (Carnival here in the Netherlands is a whole other post, which I may get around to later today. Or not.) Anyway, the event is a night of well, dirty songs. Anyone can sign up in advance to compete, and they generally take an existing song and change the lyrics about a bit to make it fit the theme of the evening. It’s not a night for the faint-hearted and prim and proper! Penii, dildos, masturbation, oh my!

Each act performs a song — special costumes are not unheard of — and is then given a critique by the judges, Sjarrel and Sjaan. At the end of all the performances, boxes are set out for each act and the audience can put in money for their favorite(s). A winner is then chosen. (The money goes to a charity.)

Last year’s winners had a great song — a variation of Ramses Shaffy’s Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder — and I still find myself singing their version. The original translates basically to Sing, Fight, Cry, Pray, Laugh, Work and Admire. The Vieze Lied version was a bit different. Their title changed to Lik, Zuig, Trek, Neuk, Glij, Kom en Bewonder. Let’s just say that the first two translate to Lick and Suck and I’ll let your imagination go from there, particularly as there’s not a straight translation for some of the others.

This year, we stayed for the performances but were tired and went home before the winners were announced (plus, this way we could more easily watch Sven Kramer win gold in one of the mens speedskating competitions!). That said, I suspect that it was the Double Ds, who won with their trio of naughty songs, not to mention their sharp gold lamĂ© suits. It looked like they had the most money in their box as we were leaving. (We voted for Vader Abraham’s (NSFW) brilliant take on the concept of swaffelen, although the song has been stuck in my head ever since!)

The evening is one of those events that even if you don’t understand a lot of Dutch, you still have a good time. With a bit of studying before the event, as we had last year with the help of a friend, it’s amazing just how much you can understand!

My set of photos from the past two years can be found here.

Trivial Pursuits

Last night was Quiz Night once again at the Potdeksel. G and I managed to maintain our track record of coming in second to last, always beating at least one all-Dutch team (usually made up of more people than our lonely two). The fact that we can beat an all-Dutch team is a big deal, because the quiz is done in Dutch (although we can get translations) and more importantly, many of the questions are about Dutch topics (tv hosts, radio DJs, athletes).

Still, we do learn things on occasion. Here are two facts we learned last night, which might come in handy if you’re ever playing a Dutch-themed game of trivia.

  • The capital of Aruba is Oranjestad, which basically translates to Orange City. Did you know that Aruba, along with the Netherlands Antilles, is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands? (I knew the last part; it was the capital of Aruba that we didn’t know.)
  • We also learned that the first castle that Queen Beatrix purchased when she moved out on her own was Drakesteijn. It’s actually here in the province of Utrecht! She purchased it in 1959 and took up residence in 1963, a few years before her marriage. There’s some renovation work being done on it, I gather, so there’s speculation she may move back there when she eventually abdicates the throne to Prince Willem-Alexander. It’s really quite an interesting castle; octagonally shaped with its own moat. It’s like a very tiny island.


Far Traveled
Despite quiz night and dinner with friends, it’s been a fairly low-key week, so not a lot to say. I’ll just cover the highlights here.

  • Tuesday was another Murphy’s Quiz Night at the Potdeksel. Our goal is simply not to come in last, and once again, for the third month in a row, we’ve achieved that goal. This time we tied with another team for second-to-last place. One round had us putting names to the faces of child actors. I believe RenĂ© said we came top in that round. We could have done even better if I hadn’t changed my guess of Natalie Wood to Judy Garland. G came through for us with Jodie Foster. Nice one!
  • Friday we had Willianne and Edmar over for dinner. It’s always a pleasure to see them and we always have fun. I’m looking forward to doing it all again sometime soon.
  • After dinner and dessert on Friday, we all headed over to the Potdeksel to finish off the evening. I met a woman who was very pro-Obama and sort of cheered me on for the US finally having a good president. I met a guy who was pro-America, and a third person who hates America and says that Americans are liars. I figure two out of three is good odds. It’s certainly nice to at least not have people hate me because of a president I didn’t vote for.
  • I put up our (fake) tree on Friday, with only the lights. Last year I wanted to get all blue lights, but only found one short string of blue lights, along with a longer string of multi-colored lights. Today, we headed out to Gamma (hardware store) to try to find some more blue lights, while also picking up some paint supplies. Unfortunately, their lights selection seemed to be limited mainly to outdoor Christmas lights, or fancy indoor lights only in white. I’ll keep looking, but for now, our tree is multicolored again this year, because I wanted to go ahead and get it decorated. It does look quite pretty, though. Maybe it will help get me in the holiday mood. So far, I’m just not feeling it this year.
  • Finally, the picture at the top is of a set of teddy bear ornaments that I’ve had for years. Andrea, my best friend at the time, gave them to me some time in the very early 1980s. I’ve held onto them, though, and they’ve moved with us from Florida, to North Carolina and now to the Netherlands. It’s nice having a fond memory of something that can be pulled out and pondered every year.

Things We Learn at the Potdeksel

Who says you can’t learn anything in a bar! We headed over to the Potdeksel last evening for an aperitif before dinner, since Merian and RenĂ© were there (and we had no St. Maarten’s candy). While there, the subject of tongue-twisters seemed to come up and Kris suggested that if we can learn the following, we’ll have an automatic pass through the inburgering exam — or at least the Potdeksel inburgering exam.

De kotsende koetsier, poetst kostelijk. De niks kostende potsierlijke postkoets uit een plotsklaps plaatselijk klotsende emmer.

No, I haven’t memorized it, nor do I quite understand it all — nor I am sure I want to from what I do understand. But I’m determined to memorize it, just because.

Kris is also a Feyenoord fan, so this little song was passed along to us:

Hand in hand, kameraden.
Hand in hand, voor Feyenoord 1.
Geen woorden maar daden,
Leven Feyenoord 1!!!

We then learned a dirty version, but I’ll save that for another time. 😉

And Seven Ran …

Last night was Quiz Night again at the Potdeksel. As I’ve mentioned before, the quiz is in Dutch, unlike some of the other quiz night’s in town, although we’re fortunate that RenĂ© is the quiz master, so he’s kind enough to translate when we don’t quite understand some of the questions. We can sometimes get the basic words, but lose the meaning due to the word order, so we’re making progress with understanding the language, but are a still quite a ways off from understanding properly.

There were seven teams competing last night and in the end, we came out sixth for the evening. Not too shabby, since we still beat some natives. Although I suspect that was due more to the fact that we’ve got at least four years on the two who lost, so we were able to do slightly better on the music round, which was songs from the 1980s last night. Despite my love of ’80s music, I still didn’t do too well on that round.

Today I was supposed to go clothes shopping with Merian, but unfortunately I was laid out with a severe headache today. I’m feeling better now; just a bit of a dull ache. Much better though than the piercing pain I had earlier today. I guess pride really does come before a fall. 😉

Dutch Twang

The title sounds quite naughty, doesn’t it. But get your minds out of the gutter — they’ll drown from all this rain — I’m talking about accents, particularly when singing bluegrass music. Friday night we went to the Potdeksel, as we’re wont to do. When we got there, I remembered that it was Utrecht’s night for the PopRonde, a country-wide music festival taking place at different dates in different cities. The Potdeksel was one of the bars and cafĂ©s in town with performances taking place, in this case, a show by Eve’s Apples.

I had heard a bit of their music on the PopRonde website and thought they sounded interesting, but didn’t really give it much more thought as I was trying to get a piece written about the festival for Trippist. When Friday night rolled around, all I really remembered was that they were a country/folk group. We were sitting outside when they actually took the stage — it was getting quite warm and stuffy inside — and were pleasantly surprised by what we heard. At one point, Giovanni was joking that they should do a version of Jolene, the classic Dolly Parton song. The next song they performed? Jolene. Couldn’t ask for better timing!

So, the twang part. If you listen to them, you might be surprised by how decent a job they do at getting the country/bluegrass twang into their voices, despite being Dutch. It was always slightly strange to hear them speak between songs, because you’d get used to hearing these traditional Southern folk songs and then suddenly they’d be speaking Dutch. Makes you want to start rubbing at your ears to make sure you’re hearing things right!