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!

Green Wave Via Chicago

Tulane University
Photo courtesy of Tulane University Public Relations

I’m not a huge sports fan. I tend to watch the occasional football (soccer match) if it’s FC Utrecht or a national team that I like. I also watch the occasional American football game, usually because of G. Tonight, we’ve been watching Tampa Bay Bucs vs Chicago Bears. (The game being played in London.) As a Floridian, I naturally cheer for any Florida team, especially the Bucs, having been a fan since I was little. That said, Chicago has a player from Tulane University, my alma mater. Matt Forté was the second round draft pick in 2008, and he’s also a legacy player/student, since his father also played at Tulane. He’s a damn good player and I find myself somewhat happily cheering for Chicago, despite the fact that they are playing for the one football team I’ve supported for close to 30 years.

I remain stunned that Forté even played at Tulane. We’re an excellent academic university, but not known for our football play. As good a player as he is, I would have expected him to end up playing at a university better known for its football. I’m not complaining, though. It’s nice to have a fellow Tulane alum making some news — other than freakin’ Newt Gingrich. (He got his BA from Emory — my second choice — and his MA/PhD from Tulane.)

I’m feeling particularly nostalgic for Tulane, since this weekend was Homecoming weekend. I’d love to make it back for Homecoming 2014, my 20th anniversary of graduating. Go Green Wave!

This post — and any nonsensical writing — brought to you by a miserable cold.

High School Revisited

High School Revisited
I don’t know how wide-spread this is, but I’ve been seeing a lot of reproduction American-high-school lettermen jackets around town. It’s one of those strange fashion things that, as an American, gives me a bit of a giggle to see.

Sunday, while perusing the street festival lining Nachtegaalstraat, I saw this stall selling their own version of these classic jackets. It was a trip down memory lane for me, particularly with this blue and white jacket with the letter R. The high school I attended had jackets very similar to this — blue body, white sleeves — except the blue was a bit darker, I think. Even more nostalgic for me was the fact that my school’s letter was, indeed, R for Ragsdale.

I never bought the jacket, but I did earn my letter, although I have no idea what happened to it. I don’t think I’ve seen it in the past 15 years. You usually earn a letter through your participation in one of the school’s sports. Football, basketball, and baseball are the obvious ones, but track, soccer, and in my case, wrestling, were also included. Furthermore, you didn’t have to actually be the athlete to earn the letter. In my case, I was a wrestlette, which meant that I was one of a team of girls who set up the mats for the competitions/tournaments, kept score/time, and helped run tournaments held at our own school. It was its own form of work and was also a lot of fun. I’m glad I got involved and still enjoy watching wrestling. The gym at the school has recently been renamed in honor of the father of one of the girls I was a wrestlette with at the time. He has been very involved in high school wrestling over the years, so it was nice to see our neighbor (they lived on the street behind me) be honored for all of his hard work.

Xtreme Dutch Sport

Top Jump
A few years ago, while watching The Amazing Race (at 4:09), I saw fierljeppen for the first time, although I didn’t know that name at the time, nor did I understand how big a sport it is here. Fierljeppen is an ancient Dutch sport in which competitors using a long pole jump from one side of a canal to the other. The origin stems from farmers doing this to get from one field to another.

Historically, the practice dates back to at least the 1200s, when the first written mention appears. The first major organized competition was in the 1700s. It’s particularly popular up in Friesland, which is where the term fierljeppen comes from; in other parts of the country, the sport is known as polsstokverspringen. Before you start imagining current competitors dressing in traditional costumes and everything being quiet and quaint, think again.
Finish Line
Nowadays, there are competitions sponsored by Red Bull, with massive crowds (I didn’t get any photos that truly give you the scope of how many people were there, but according to the Red Bull website, there were 13,000 spectators and G and I were two of those. We got there about an hour after it started and stayed to see the top eight jumpers go twice, including the setting of a new world record.
Testing

The basic idea behind the sport is to take a running jump, leaping and then climbing up a really tall pole (14 meters long in this case), before eventually (hopefully) landing on the other side of the canal. We saw a few competitors who managed to climb all the way to the top of the pole, some with better luck than others once they got up there. You’ve got to control the forward and lateral movement of the pole while you’re up there and it’s definitely much harder than it looks from all accounts.
Rising High

In the Air

Before they jump, they get to arrange the pole, first adjusting it to arm’s length out and then with an added distance achieve with some sort of measuring stick. To be honest, I don’t know the details on this, other than having watched all the competitors do it.
Setting Up

Final Adjustment

There are also divers in the water to help position the pole after each jump and to provide help to any jumpers who don’t actually land on the ground. We saw a few splashes yesterday, but fortunately, no one was hurt.
Diver Assistance

The whole event was filmed and televised, with interviewers on hand after jumps to talk to the competitors. There were also big screens on hand to show the crowd some of the different angles. I got some more photos and videos, but ultimately chose just to watch and enjoy. If the Red Bull website’s video of the event ever starts working, I’ll add a link to it. It was a beautiful day and the event was a lot of fun. I definitely recommend going to a competition if you ever get the chance. I’ll leave the jumping to the professionals, though.
Big Jumper
And the Red Bull video is finally up and working.

Religion in Unexpected Places

Oud Kath Kerk
For better or for worse, a lot of people think of prostitution and drugs when they think of the Netherlands. Or they think about the more positive fact that the Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriage. What they probably don’t think about is a Dutch Bible Belt, yet it does exist. In a nation so liberal in so many ways, there are still (very small) pockets of religious enthusiasts, to put a polite spin on it.

A few weeks ago, before the World Cup final — which took place on a Sunday — some of the more fanatical religious leaders called for their flocks to avoid this “sinful” match, because they objected to television being watched on Sundays. The ire was raised when three cafés dared to show the match in the village of Urk, one of the notches in the Dutch Bible Belt. The horror! One wonders how much hypocrisy was being practiced that day in the privacy of the homes of some of the faithful. On the other hand, those who didn’t watch at least avoided the pain of the outcome of the match.

The Christian Right are also in the government, making up various political parties, including the CU (Christenunie). The Christian-controlled lower house of the Dutch government seems to have pushed through an interesting bit of legislation recently. They’ve decided to grant immediate asylum to any Iranian Muslim refugee … who converts to Christianity. It’s only for those who convert to Christianity, though. Any other religion — or those who declare themselves atheist — are out of luck and will have to go through the normal channels to try to obtain asylum. Ironically, it’s thought that those who convert to Christianity will face a much more dangerous situation if they were to go back to Iran. I’m not sure why other religions (or lack thereof) would be any less risky. I’m also not sure why it’s only Iranian refugees.

I’m an atheist from the Bible Belt in the United States. That’s pretty risky living! Surely, I should qualify for some sort of special asylum. 😉

Foto Vrijdag 2.28

The End
World Cup Celebrations
This is a bit of a World Cup wrap-up edition of Photo Friday. I’m still going through a bit of withdrawal from not having regular matches to watch, and yes, I’m still a bit sad about the outcome. And that’s all I’ll say on that. After all, judging from the parade/party that took place on Tuesday in Amsterdam, you’d never know we got silver instead of gold. There was a huge boat parade of the Dutch team through some of the canals of Amsterdam, with people following along in their own boats, or lining the canals for a view.
Swarm
Dutch Football Team

They even watched from the rooftops.
Oranje Bedankt

The players were having a good time, as well.
Van Bommel en Sneijder
Dirk Kuyt

After the boat tour, they ended up at the Museumplein for another massive orange party.
Museumplein
Oranje Zee
Oranjegekte
It was a fun party to watch, even just on tv. (Yes, I took photos of the television, but it was to help my non-Netherlands-living readers get a better idea of just what kind of party went on!)
For a better feel for it all, here’s a video someone made with clips from the televised festivities.

World Cup Madness

Orange Flags
It’s arrived. The day of the World Cup final match, and the Dutch are playing tonight, hoping to win their first World Cup title. Oranjegekte (Orange Madness/Fever) is everywhere, with most people on the streets wearing some orange somewhere.

Oranjegekte [Day 184/365]We’ve been somewhat superstitious throughout the tournament, wearing the same outfits and same bits and pieces of orange, usually in the form of a Beesie or four. I’ve got a bracelet I made from some Beesies, and since it’s also been unusually hot recently, I’ve been using Beesies to pull my hair back in bunches. I’ve also got my orange scarf with a few Beesies wrapped around it.

G has his orange shirt and a Beesie that he tends to wear hooked over his ear. We’re ready to go, even though I don’t want it all to be over. The celebrations and festivities and cheerfulness that I’ve seen so far have been so very fun. I don’t know what we’ll do with ourselves once it’s all over!

So wherever you are, wear some orange and support the Dutch team today. I want to see what it’s like to live in a country that has just won the World Cup! It’s been fascinating just seeing the celebrations through the various stages.

Hup Holland Hup!

Beesie Madness

Beesie Bouquet
It’s time for another World Cup-related post! The Netherlands plays Cameroon today in the last of the group matches. We’re pretty much set to go through unless some drastic mathematical events take place. Still, I’m hoping for a good game and a clear win today. We’re one of the few nations that have consistently won. (In a side note, I’m glad that the US has made it through, but wish they hadn’t waited until almost literally the last minute!)

Albert Heijn, one of the major grocery store chains here, has been giving out little toys with every €15 purchase. The toys are known as Beesies and they come in orange, red, white, and blue, natuurlijk. We’ve ended up with quite a few, so I had some fun with them the other day. First up was the Beesie Bouquet above. I took one of my tins and arranged the Beesies with the orange ones on the outside and the red, white, and blue ones in the center. It currently sits in our front window and has caught the attention of a few passing children. Then I started playing around with a couple of them on their own. They tend to remind me of Beaker from The Muppets, with their often startled faces.
Startled Beesies [Day 170/365]
I also had a couple of them checking out our predictions for how the World Cup would go. A few predictions obviously shocked one of them, but the other was quite pleased with our predictions for the Netherlands.
Betting Beesies
Winners and Losers
Nederland For the Win
There’s a group on Flickr devoted to photos of Beesies in all sorts of spots. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Oranje Update

Hup Holland Hup
Goodness! I’ve gone two whole posts without anything World Cup related! (I’m sure some of you enjoyed the respite.) Some people found my blog yesterday after searching for photos of Dutch fans, so I figure I might as well make some people happy! During halftime of the Netherlands-Japan match yesterday, we took Pippo out for a break and I snapped a few shots of the large orange crowds at the various cafés and bars in the neighborhood. The orange pennants were a surprise to me, since they hadn’t been up when we went out earlier that morning for groceries. Also a surprise was the temperature. It was downright cold! It’s winter in the southern hemisphere where the games are taking place, not here! I was wearing my orange scarf, both for team support and for warmth!

I do love seeing all the orange and the fun ways people dress up to show their support for the Dutch team. It seems to be working, since Holland won their match 1-0 against Japan. Unless something drastic happens, we should be through to the next round now. Hup Holland Hup! With that thought, I’ll leave you with a few more shots of the Dutch supporters and the decorations around the neighborhood. FYI, the lion is the symbol of the Dutch team.
Dutch Fans
Oranje Everywhere
Neighborhood
Half Time
Dutch Spirit
Welpie and Vuvuzela [Day 167/365]