99 percent invisible podcast (Or: Dutch references)

I was catching up on some episodes of the 99% invisible podcast last week (also known as 99pi). It’s quite informative, although I must admit that I like it because the host, Roman Mars, has such a soothing voice. What can I say – some people just sound really good on radio.

One of the episodes I listened to last week was Mini-stories 8, an episode of, you guessed it, mini stories. They usually broadcast a few of those at the end of the year around the holidays. One of the mini stories was entitled “The Forever Bond“. Bonds are something governments or companies offer in exchange for a loan from you. Over time the bonds pay interest, usually maturing over 30 years, meaning that if you’re patient you’ll make a bit of money on the side.

But there are also “perpetual bonds”, which never mature and always create interest for the holder. Those are quite rare. The oldest one still paying interest is a 1648 bond from a Dutch water authority to help pay for the construction of a pier. It is written on goatskin and now owned by Yale University.

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Autumn leaves in The Hague (Or: A visit to the Binnenhof)

After what felt like three straight weeks of rain, we finally had a few (relatively) dry weeks. However, autumn definitely snuck in while no one was looking.

This photo is of the Binnenhof, exiting out onto the Plein (where the statue of Willem van Oranje is, and where demonstrators love to congregate outside the Tweede Kamer). That’s the Dutch House of Representatives. The only thing that is missing is red and orange leaves, to bring out the autumnal colors even more.

I am looking forward to an extra hour of sleep tomorrow morning. Daylight savings ends. Bring on the even darker mornings… we’re working from home anyway.

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Window Swap (Or: Travel the world, from home)

Are you stuck at home too? I have a cool website for you to check out, recommended this week by one of my coworkers.

https://window-swap.com

Go on, go check it out. Peer out of someone’s window.

Okay, so here is the magic: users upload a 10 minute video of their window to the site. Once it is approved, it can appear on the site for others to enjoy as a random window. I went from Seattle to Mumbai Phoenix to London to Kuala Lumpur.

Enjoy your window swapping!

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That’s pretty clever (Or: A wall of chocolate letters at Hema)

Marco took this photo for me of the Hema in The Hague’s city centre. It shows a wall of chocolate Sinterklaas letters being used to block off what was formerly the entrance to Hema’s restaurant:

Hema’s restaurant is closed right now due to the corona regulations in the Netherlands. All restaurants and cafés are closed with the exception of takeaway. But takeaway doesn’t make much sense at the Hema restaurant so it is completely closed.

And what better way is there to to block off an entrance? It’s quite clever – it immediately makes the space more festive and takes attention away from the reasons why it needed to be closed in the first place. Here’s a look at the store when the restaurant redesign first opened back in early 2015:

You can see the store in the background

If you need a refresher on Sinterklaas letters, they are literally large letters of chocolate, from A all the way to Z. They usually come in the flavors milk, dark, white and hazelnut. They are either plain or covered in fancy designs. If they are a gift for someone, then you normally buy the letter that corresponds with the first letter of the receipt’s name (N for Niki, and so forth). Or a lot of people buy “S” for Sinterklaas. But be warned: if you wait until the day before Sinterklaas to buy one, there will probably only be Q’s left!

Sinterklaas is celebrated on 5 December. It is a children’s holiday (mostly…), celebrated with gifts, poems and good food. You can read more at dutchnews.nl with the “Ten things you need to know to celebrate Sinterklaas” list.

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Bizarro world (Or: Changes at the movie theatre)

Do you want to read something really bizarre?

Pathé sluit alle shops en buffetten: bezoekers mogen zelf eten meenemen from filmvandaag.nl [Pathé movie theaters close all shops and buffets: viewers can bring their own food in]

Of course, it is completely logical that the movie theatre chain is required to close shops and buffets, since restaurants and cafés are closed right now as well. And before you start hoping you can bring in McDonald’s or a full pizza, Pathé did say by “snacks” they meant popcorn and chips. Darn.

A bit less bizarre, more “lucky”:

Ypres chestnut tree battered but unbowed by wars wins Belgian award from theguardian.com. Short story: 160 year old tree survives repeated bombings during WWI. It grows back with four separate trunks (!). It then avoids being chopped up and turned into firewood during WWII.

The Netherlands also has their own award: De boom van het jaar (The tree of the year). Check out the trees that were nominated last year. I think my pick has to be the 9th tree, from the Overijssel province. I mean, the tree even goes through the roof of a tiny house. To clarify, it is not a house anyone lived in, but rather a tiny “house” that was used to bake bread apparently.

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Christmas time? (Or: The first trees are already sold)

Christmas in October anyone? Our public broadcaster (NOS) is reporting that Christmas trees are beginning to sell: Kerstverkopen dit jaar niet pas ná Sinterklaas, eerste mensen halen al bomen (Christmas purchases this year not waiting until after Sinterklaas [December 5], first people already purchasing trees).

This is to be expected; people are working from home more often and most people won’t be going on holiday this year. I read somewhere that some people are purchasing multiple Christmas trees so that they have one for each room. The only rule I have is that we need to wait until November before we bring out the Christmas decorations. November 1st, that is…

Princess Amalia, and 100,000 other Dutch girls, get their call up papers from dutchnews.nl. Active military service was abolished in 1997, however the letters are still sent to 17 year olds to inform them about a possible career in the military. Letters were also sent to 17 year old girls (the law was changed back in 2018 to send to all, not just boys).

Amsterdam to use flowers to stop cyclists chaining bikes to bridges from theguardian.com. Like it or not, bikes do get in the way often. And one of the places you will always, always see bikes is chained to a canal bridge. The worst part? It doesn’t just spoil the view, it also leaves less room for pedestrians which means they are more likely to walk in the road.

Personally I don’t remember having this issue in Amsterdam but I did experience it in Utrecht. I felt like I was walking in the street at least half of the time, which definitely wasn’t fun.

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Black skies (Or: Birds dancing across the sky)

When I went to the kitchen to clean up after dinner this evening I heard a strange noise. At first I thought it was water running, making me think it was raining outside. But no – I looked outside and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The ground was (relatively) dry.

…Until waves and waves of birds flew up over our apartment complex. Hundreds of birds, flying in undulating waves, this way and that. It looked like my own personal nature screensaver. After a few minutes most of them landed on the large tree on the other side of the apartment complex. It made me wonder: could those thin branches really could hold 8 to 10 birds without snapping? (I could not help thinking of Pixar’s short For the birds on Youtube.) I stood and watched for a while until they left. I mean, it is definitely better than washing dishes, right?

Unconfirmed rumor: Grand Prix to return to Zandvoort on 2 May 2021 from nltimes.nl. The first Dutch Grand Prix since 1985 was supposed to be held this year, but was postponed due to the corona crisis. I suppose it is a rumor, but really – how could Zandvoort not be on the 2021 race calendar?

Dutch state broadcaster pulls logo from vans after attacks from theguardian.com. The world is a weird place these days. The state broadcaster (NOS) has removed their logo because of the abuse they have been receiving.

NOS van at Malieveld earlier this year (they expected a demonstration, although none came that day if I remember correctly)

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Lazy weekend (Or: Games and books)

I’m all in favor of a lazy weekend myself. Even if the reason it is so lazy is because we are trying to stay inside more often. Breakfast for Marco and I was brioche bread (a type of sweet bread). I toasted mine and added peanut butter, and Marco had one with the more traditional Dutch butter and hagelslag. That’s chocolate sprinkles for any American readers.

I finished a few of the books I was reading: The Institute by Stephen King. It was pretty good – just the right amount of horror for an October read. Although it reminded me a lot of his other book The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Both main characters are kids, and both suffer a lot of mental and physical pain. (I admitted to Marco that I was skipping ahead a bit at times just to get a broad sense of where the storyline was before heading back to where I was.)

I also finished the other perfect-for-October horror read The Graveyard Apartment by Japanese author Mariko Koike. It was much slower pace and there were a few elements or character actions that took me out of the story. But I think the characters will stick with me for awhile.

Gaming wise – I’m wrapping up an Xbox game called Coffee Talk. It’s a visual novel by an Indonesian gaming studio. It is about exactly what it sounds like – you’re a barista who listens to others’ problems and makes coffee for them while you do. I feel like this game has taught me a lot of coffee recipes… Cinnamon ginger coffee, anyone?

Oh, and the resuable face masks I got from Uniqlo yesterday are great. They fit much better than the ones I had before and the fabric does indeed feel much more breathable.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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New Uniqlo store in The Hague (Or: A mini Japanese garden)

A new store has opened up where Marks & Spencer used to be – Uniqlo, a clothing store originally founded in Japan. The inside looks completely different. Where the escalator used to be there is now a set of stairs. And a mini Japanese garden…

The sign on the wall reads: “Honoring The Hague, known for being one of the greenest cities of The Netherlands, a real garden has ben recreated at the heart of the UNIQLO Grote Markstraat store. Inspired by the traditional Japanese Garden at Park Clingendael, the garden incorporates true Japanese elements such as bonsai trees and green moss, perfect for a serene setting. At UNIQLO, we are committed to maintaining the planet and producing clothing in a way that is harmonious with nature, without excessive burden on the environment. To discover more about UNIQLO’s environmental initiatives, visit the sustainability area on the 1F.”

The reason I came to Uniqlo was to see if they were selling their reusable face masks in the store. After a few weeks of wearing single use face masks I decided it was time to move on to reusable ones. Hopefully ones that fit better than the one-size-fits-all face masks I have found until now. I’ve been crossing the bands before placing them around my ears to try and get them tighter, but it isn’t perfect.

Uniqlo’s face masks are sold in small, medium and large, in the colors white, grey and black. I’ve seen a few recommendations about how comfortable they are, so hopefully I can try them out in the next day or two.

(Side note: You can see the face mask display to the left of the stairs in my photo.)

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Rainy days (Or: Plein in The Hague)

Last weekend I was a bit too early getting outside and had to wait for a local store to open, so I decided to take a walk. I took a photo of the Plein while dodging rain drops:

This is the same Plein that I was talking about during yesterday’s blog post, with Dutchies partying minutes before the partial lockdown started. I serendipitously ran into a coworker right after taking this photo, so that was unexpected and nice.

But, I must celebrate the fact that it has finally been dry the last few days! I think we’ve had rain every day for the last three weeks or so. My rain jacket certainly felt loved.

Michelin star restaurant stops sly scheme to skirt Covid rules from nltimes.nl. During the partial lockdown restaurants and cafes are closed except for takeaway. An exception to that rule is hotel restaurants which can remain open to feed guests. A restaurant and hotel decided to create a package where you pay 10 euros extra to be registered as a hotel guest, although you don’t stay overnight. The 10 euro lets you eat at the restaurant – but you need to make sure you use the hotel entrance to access the restaurant. Heh.

And here is a short article in Dutch from omroepwest.nl, because it’s a cute story: Hond pakt in z’n eentje de bus en eindigt op politiebureau (Dog takes the bus alone and ends up at the police station). A bus driver noticed a dog in her bus Wednesday evening, but didn’t think anything of it because there were other passengers in the bus. Until the driver got to her last stop, with no passengers left, and noticed the dog was still there. The story has a happy ending: she took the dog to the police station where its chip was scanned. As the article writes “The fare skipper got a warning and a free ride home to its owners”.

The best part? The image in the article shows the dog, its face not visible behind a seat. The caption reads: “The dog didn’t want to be recognized in the photo”.

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