A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Düsseldorf, Germany with one of my good friends, Jennie! I love Jennie. We met in August and instantly bonded over our mutual appreciation of the ‘coffeeshops’, an activity that most Au pairs don’t partake in. We’ve had many good times together and I will miss her a lot! She is from Canada, so maybe we can reunite one day. I was happy to spend some time just the two of us, during one of my last weekend getaways.
We took the train to Germany Friday night, stayed two nights, and returned Sunday afternoon. We were lucky to stay with Jennie’s friends Anky and Jonas, a young married couple. Hostels are great, but I’d still prefer to stay in an actual home.
They were very nice, hospitable people and they had a spacious and cute apartment pretty close to the city center.
Anky was fabulous. She took us out for beers our first night and showed us her favorite bar. She introduced me to another wonderful beer-drink-for-beer-haters: dark beer + cola! Why hadn’t I heard of this before??
On Saturday she took us shopping around her neighborhood and introduced us to a couple of her friends. Having a local to show you around is the greatest!
Saturday afternoon Jennie, Anky, two of Anky’s friends and I took the tram 30 minutes to see this cool building – the “Pink Castle”.
After that, we made dinner, freshened up, and went with Anky to one of her friend’s birthday parties. It was at a nearby apartment complex and there was probably 25 people there. Jennie and I stayed for a couple of hours and then went downtown by ourselves for a couple of drinks. It was a fun night!
On Sunday we just hung around and killed a lot of time eating German food at the train station. Soft pretzels, chocolates, and bratwurst!
It was a good weekend. I really really like Germany. I wouldn’t mind being an Au pair there. Not Düsseldorf though; I was very underwhelmed by this city. I liked Cologne a lot more!
Back in December I organized a little weekend getaway to Brussels with five other girls. We traveled by bus for only 15 euros round-trip! It was a short ride, less than three hours. We arrived in Brussels late Saturday morning, stayed one night in a hostel, and headed back to Amsterdam Sunday evening. One of the first things we did was eat some Belgian fries. Yum!
Our main reason for going to Brussels was to see the Christmas market. Europe is known for it’s awesome Christmas markets.
It was nice, but not as good as we expected. We thought there would be lots of ornaments, Christmas decor, gifts, etc for sale, but it was just regular stuff, nothing special. There was some booths with things for sale, and a lot of booths with food and drink. There was also an ice skating rink and a few other attractions.
My favorite part of the market was the “Warm Wine”. It’s red wine that they heat up in a big pot and add lots of spices. So delicious! Was perfect for walking around in the cold.
During our trip we also had to try Belgian waffles, chocolate, and beer! I’m not a beer person at all, but I just loved the Belgian cherry-flavored beer.
The green guy in the back is a silly replica of the equally-silly famous statue, Mannekin Pis. That statue is basically the symbol of Brussels, as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.
Alexandra already knew about my Invader obsession from traveling to Rome with me, and we got the rest of the girls to join in! They were all amazed at how easily I was able to spot them. I think I found 6 or 7 Invaders in Brussels. This red one was my favorite.
It was a fun, inexpensive weekend getaway with friends and left me curious to see more of Belgium. Next weekend I am going to Antwerp, Belgium with another group of girls! It is another “invaded” city and my last travel destination before heading back to the USA.
Hey everyone, long time no blog! I’m starting to lose steam, especially after going home for Christmas… I fly home for good exactly 2 months from today, on Friday, March 8th.
I will post a general update soon, but first I want to blog about Sinterklaas!
Sinterklaas is the main winter holiday of Holland, and other parts of Europe such as Belgium. It begins about mid-November and lasts until December 6th, Sinterklaas’ birthday. The Dutch still celebrate Christmas, but it’s not nearly as big as Sinterklaas. The Sinterklaas season was definitely one of my favorite parts of my experience in the Netherlands. It’s all anyone talks about for weeks!
I’ll do my best to explain it all, but I recommend reading about it on your own, also! The wikipedia page has all the basic and historical information.
Who is Sinterklaas???
He is not Santa Clause, but definitely similar (Santa Clause was actually inspired by Sinterklaas, according to Wikipedia). They are both elderly men who wear red, have white beards, and give presents to children. Instead of reindeer and a sleigh, Sinterklaas rides a white horse. Side note: the Dutch call Santa Clause “Kerstman”, which basically means Christmas Man.
The most entertaining part of Sinterklaas (in my opinion) is his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes).
Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like some Black Face!!!
The Dutch insist that it’s not racist.
Zwarte Piet is black from going down all of the chimneys, you see.
But that doesn’t exactly explain the curly black afro wigs and exaggerated red lips! The “Zwarte Piet Debate” gets more intense every year, as more and more people become outraged at the tradition.
The Zwarte Pieten pass out candy and Pepernoten, a special treat that are only sold during Sinterklaas-time. They are tiny crunchy cookies that are similar to gingerbread.
I like the plain ones, but I looooove the chocolate-covered kind. I wish I would have snagged a couple extra bags before all Sinterklaas stuff was wiped from stores promptly on December 7th.
So, what does the holiday entail?
I realized that I never made an official post about the new kittens, so here it is!
Back in June or so, my host family sent their cat Bizkit to live with my host mom’s brother in Den Helder.
I liked Bizkit.
But she was a little mean and my host family never really got along with her. She’s much happier living with the kid’s uncle, who lives by himself and gives her plenty of love and attention.
A few weeks later, my host family went and picked up these two sweeties. Everyone, meet Smokey (on the right) and (The) Bandit. My host parents let the kids name them. They chose those names because my host parents had cats with the same names years ago.
They are the best cats ever. I’m really glad my host family got two instead of one. It’s so fun watching them run around and interact with each other. They are extremely playful, friendly, and funny cats.
You can tell them apart by their chins/necks. Smokey (female) is white and Bandit (male) is tan.
They get terrorized by my 4-year-old on the daily. Especially at first, she didn’t seem to understand that they were living animals and not her babydolls. Now that the initial excitement has worn off, she’s calmed down a bit. Plus they are bigger and stronger and can easily run and hide when she gets to be too annoying. She’s trained them well; they actually enjoy sitting in the strollers.
They’ve grown quite a bit, but are still adorable and kitten-like. They love to climb, explore, and chase each other. They have been allowed outside for a few weeks now, but they spend most of the time inside, especially now that it’s winter. When they do go outside they love to climb things and pick fights with the neighbor’s cats (who come into our yard, so they deserve it!).
November is nearly over and the holiday season is upon us! While everyone in America is setting up their Christmas trees and busting out the Christmas music, the Dutch are in the midst of celebrating their own favorite Winter holiday, Sinterklaas. It’s all I’ve heard about since it started almost two weeks ago. Since it’s such a major holiday, I will write a separate post sometime after December 5th, the official celebration.
First, there was Halloween (somewhere my parents are reading this and thinking *Halloween is not a holiday*, but for the purpose of this blog post– IT IS NOW). Since it fell on a Wednesday, I went out in Amsterdam the Saturday before. I didn’t want to put the time, effort, or money into a proper costume so I bought the pink wig and just rolled with it. I don’t know what I was supposed to be. Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Holland, so not many people around the city were dressed up. I had loads of fun watching people stare and admire my pink hair, especially in the Central Station . I went to a short Halloween parade with a couple friends, and then we headed to the bars for some Halloween parties, where we met up with many other Au pairs. It was a great night!
Sunday, November 11th was the Dutch version of Halloween, Sint Maarten.
All of the young children make paper lanterns at school, which they carry around with a special plastic wand that has a small light bulb attached to the end. Just like Halloween, the children go door to door and collect candy. I went with my kids and my host mom around our neighborhood, it was cute and fun to watch! Instead of saying “Trick or Treat”, there are a couple Sint Maarten songs they sing (only one song per house). The shortest song is a good 10-15 seconds long, much longer than our 3-syllable phrase.. I was impressed that my 6-year-old sang it every time!
After Sint Maarten came the American classic, Thanksgiving. My Thanksgiving was a regular Thursday, as the Dutch don’t celebrate it. I ate leftover spaghetti for dinner and definitely did not watch football or the Macy’s Day Parade. Continue reading