Monthly Archives: January 2012

Amsterdam (Or: A bridge to another world)

Below lies a random picture, taken at a random moment. It is easily one of my favorites — I lagged behind the group long enough to steady my aim and take the shot.

A bridge in Amsterdam (Summer 2010)

My eyes are torn between the purplish-blue flowers at the bottom and the too-neat, Photoshop-esque clouds at the top. I do not quite remember what part of Amsterdam it is in, only that it was on the way to the Rijksmuseum. But to me, it symbolizes a lot, reminders of why I want to move to the Netherlands in the first place. It is not the beauty of the scene, per se, but more the calmness that peeks out from behind the image.

Like many, my fiancé and I have struggled with the time difference, though thankfully it is 6 hours now instead of 7 hours when we first met. I am lucky as I can see him for a bit after I come home for work, before he goes to sleep. I have been asked the question time and time again of how we do it, but when you don’t know anything else, you don’t really understand what you’re missing. Except at Schiphol Airport, when the air duct system mysteriously makes his eyes tear up a bit when you have to separate, again.

The picture above represents the peacefulness of when we finally live together, of not needing to book airline tickets or make a countdown clock for the next trip. But it also represents adventure – what is on the other side? You must walk across to find out. Take the leap, see what it is like, and be richer for the experience.

Now is the time to make a lists, plural. Beyond the lists of what must be done: forms to fill out, governments to inform. The list of furniture to buy, to make an apartment for two rather than one. The lists of where to go – the Keukenhof looks like a fun possibility — of places to visit. Things to experience, to embrace wholeheartedly simply for what they are. Now is the time.

Categories: Amsterdam | 1 Comment

Summertime (Or: A lot less snow to be seen)

With a predicted snowstorm of about 4-5″ of sneeuw (snow) descending on my New York town in a few hours, here are some warmer pictures from the previous summer. — Who am I kidding, it is not a proper snowstorm unless you receive at least a foot of snow. It’s just a minor dusting…

Sign at Scheveningen's beach front

First, a reminder that summertime is never far away, even in January. One interesting thing about the Netherlands is how moderate the weather is. Last trip, I left New York in a veritable heat wave (98F, or about 37c) and arrived in the Netherlands to find temperatures in the mid 60s, or 18C.

Watching the ducks at a lake in Delft

I do like taking pictures of flowers, and the ducks in the lake were an added bonus. The left one was just about to fly further down the lake. This was taken in Delft, while waiting for a bridge to swing open to allow a boat to get past.

Glass blue heart, Delft

This plexiglass/steel sculpture is near Nieuw Kerk (New Church) and is see through. It was made by Marcel Smink in 1998 and is illuminated from within.

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Jury duty (Or: Rockland County, NY vs. The Netherlands)

I have been on call for jury duty this past week for Rockland County’s courthouse in New City. I received the letter a few weeks ago, notifying me that I would be on call from Tuesday the 17th through Friday the 20th. Not everyone goes in on the first day – you call a phone number or check a website daily to see which jurors have to go in on each day, based on the number they assign you.

I have only been called in for jury duty one time, although I did not have to go in. One of the courts in Illinois called me in, but I was already living on the East Coast, so I just had to fill out the form and state that I no longer lived in the area.

Rockland county jury duty summons

Each day I checked the website, checking out what numbers would be called in. Originally I was asked to serve last summer, however, my fiancé and his mother were visiting, I postponed the summons, asking for the week of January 9th – 13th, though I was assigned this week. Here is how it went down:

Monday: Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday – courthouse was closed

Tuesday: Jurors #3001 – 3046 were required to go in.

Wednesday: Jurors #3047 – 3177 were called.

Thursday: No new jurors called in.

Friday: Jurors #3178 – 3242 called.
Today I checked the website:

Jury call-in message for Rockland county

As my number was in the 400s, I was relieved to read Part 2 and determine that I would not have to go in. Although I still cannot believe you get excused from a callback for 4 – 6 years depending on the court, even if you do not have to go in. I must admit it would have been an interesting experience to go to, if I didn’t have work to deal with (I have workshops scheduled for 3 of the 5 days next week to teach). But there is at least public transportation which drops you off right in front of the courthouse, so it wouldn’t have been too difficult to get to.

I was informed that the Netherlands do not have a jury system, and instead that the judge does all of the sentencing. There have been some calls for a jury system in 2007 or 2008, but nothing came of it. I do find it a bit odd that the Netherlands is the only western country without a jury system. But judges are independent figures, and cannot lose their position due to sentences they pass down. Interestingly, there are no witnesses or experts at the trial, rather the ruling is based mostly on the police’s case file for the incident.

Here is an interesting 2003 paper (PDF) to read: “Lay Participation in the Netherlands Criminal System” (in the 19th century) if you wish to find out more.

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Statues (Or: An unlikely coincidence half a world away)

I spent a year and a half in the Master’s in Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. During that time I did a bit of searching on Dutch culture and history — this was before I visited the Netherlands.

One of the things I excitedly learned was that there was a statue of William the Silent in the Hague. I didn’t really understand why his finger pointed to the Binnenhof at one time (or, more accurately, what the Binnenhof was) but I thought it was an interesting bit of trivia.

William of Orange statue at The Hague, Netherlands

But I had seen a similar statue at the College Avenue campus… one that points in a seemingly random direction. Upon further digging I realized that there was a replica of the Hague statue placed at Rutgers University, due to the University being founded by Dutch ministers back in 1766.

William of Orange Statue at Rutgers University (from Wikimedia Commons)

I kept the secret for a month, telling my then-boyfriend that I had a surprise to show to him when he was in the country again. I remember dragging him to the statue, refusing to tell him what I was going to show him, and the look on his face when he realized what it was.

Half a world away, but so close without my realizing.


Categories: Culture, The Hague | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Rijksmuseum (Or: Finding more traces of libraries)

What warm summer’s day would not be complete without a trip to the Rijkmuseum? Featuring art from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen and more, the museum also has an online component allowing you to see much of the work. For example, see The Masterpieces Special.

Banner on the outside of the Rijksmuseum, with sponsors (Phillips, ING) below

Although I visited during renovations, there was still a lot to take in, including The Night Watch by Rembrandt, which had the most crowds admiring its size – almost 12 feet by 14 feet. Interestingly, it used to be even larger, but it was cut down on all four sides to allow for its fitting between two columns. The staff were even passing out pamphlets which described the various items within the painting.

Although the Rijksmuseum also houses the well-known Het melkmeisje (The Milkmaid) by Vermeer, my favorite is actually housed within the Mauritshuis in The Hague: Het meisje met de parel (The Girl with a Pearl Earring). My work coffee cup is even a souvenir of it!

Renaissance and Baroque gardens of the Rijksmuseum (free beauty!)

With the current entrance of the Rijksmuseum near the Philips Wing, you will pass through the Rijksmuseum gardens – very pretty to behold. Have a seat at the stone bench above, and get your picture taken for a lasting memory. You’ll appreciate it later, trust me.

Everywhere you turn, there’s a library to be found. And that’s not such a bad thing.

I presume this used to be the entrance to the Rijksmuseum Research Library, which has since moved to a separate building. But more importantly, it’s a reminder of the lasting influence of libraries on society as a whole, even as we move into this digital age.

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Scheveningen (Or: Walking amongst sand and seashells)

Scheveningen, one of the districts of the Hague, is a seaside beach resort. I first visited there in December 2010, wearing a heavy jacket and swearing a bit at the hefty sea breeze. I was shocked to see a few folks surfing – in full wet suits, of course.

The Scheveningen pier which juts out into the North Sea (Summer 2011)

The second time I visited was in early August 2011. The temperature was a bit warmer (maybe 70F or 21C) although the water was still ice cold. Hordes of seashells washed up with every wave, making walking along the beach a very cautious maneuver.

The Kurhaus, a restaurant and hotel near the beach. Note the child in mid-swing of a bucket.

After my fiancé and I headed back up the beach, we walked along the boulevard for somewhere to eat. We finally settled on Copacabana, where I had the Copacabana burger (chicken, tomatoes, pickles, cucumbers, some variation of mayo, etc). It was huge and hard to handle but oh so good. While we were waiting for our food, the sun set and the chilly sea wind took over once more.

Walking along the boulevard, including a pancake restaurant ('t pannekoekenhuisje)

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Graffiti (Or: Everyone has a story to tell)

Within the Hague, there’s a small alleyway called Raamstraat which contains many different types of graffiti. The street serves as a lesser used connector between Spuistraat and Grote Marktstraat (near de Bijenkorf department store). It can be especially useful when trying to get away from the cramped areas of Spuistraat, as it seems less traveled than most areas.

December 2010 - of course, with the iconic bicycle, as if deliberately posed.

The header for this blog is also from Raamstraat. The other place that I found beautiful graffiti was Delft, while waiting for a bus.

Graffiti at the bus station - and more bikes

And just around the corner, I found this:

The girl is from Vermeer's "The Girl with a Pearl Earring" painting

The message reads: Something that disappears is not gone, it only hides. Although the addition of the girl from Vermeer’s painting is unrelated to the quote, here’s a good fictional novel to read about the creation of the painting: The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.

I think one of the first things I will do when I get my feet firmly back on Dutch soil is go back to this little alleyway and take more pictures. There are lots of little hidden gems to be found.

Categories: Delft, The Hague | Tags: | 1 Comment

ESPN America (Or: Some sacrifices are worth it

All of my life I have enjoyed watching sports. I grew up a Chicago Bulls NBA fan, fully immersed in the Michael Jordon era. I enjoyed the occasional free tickets Dad was able to get for my brother and I. And then somewhere along the way, I found football. I kept watching until I figured out exactly what the heck was going on. And then there was the unrequited love of the Chicago Cubs, from a grandfather who would turn the television on, yet put it on mute and listen to the radio commentators instead. At least they knew to talk about the actual game.

My first NFL game (the Jets), in which we trounced the Cincinnati Bengals in a thrilling, freezing shutout game. My new love of the New York Rangers hockey, and pretzels with cheese.

And what does The Netherlands have? The Hague have? ESPN America.

Baseball... baseball... and more baseball

ESPN America is the sole American sports channel I’ll have, mostly focusing on baseball (a bit too much), football, and basketball. There’s not much hockey on it, although there’s not much hockey on the regular ESPNs over here in the states, either.

With the time zone difference of 6 hours, the NFL pregame shows will be starting around 6PM Dutch time, for the early afternoon games. So on a good day, we might see one of the early games before we sleep. The late afternoon and night games are out. No Monday Night Football. But my fiancé did state that I should plan to stay up late to watch the Super Bowl and take the next day off. Perhaps find an expat gathering and hang out late into the night.

Some pros – I might actually watch enough soccer to like it. There’s not enough on to enjoy it over here. Perhaps I’ll be able to watch enough of the Tour de France to understand what everything means, as they never show it live over in the States it seems.

It’ll be an adjustment. But still, at least there’s ESPN America. And a lot of downloaded TV shows.

Categories: Sports | 9 Comments

Spuistraat (Or: Quaint Claustrophobia)

The most striking thing about the street Spuistraat is how many phone stores there are crammed into a tiny little space. T-Mobile, Vodafone, BelCompany, the Phone House, and more. There’s even a Burger King at the very end.

When I visited this past summer (2011) they were in the middle of renovating the street. While they were doing the work overnight to prevent inconvenience, during the day the streets were covered with cardboard and other materials to prevent shoppers from walking on the streets themselves. A bit odd to walk on.

Spuistraat in Den Haag (December 2010) - at a relatively quiet time

Random things I learned:

1. Most shops close at 6PM, except on Thursdays when they stay open until 9PM.

2. At first I was confused because Spuistraat had an H&M. And then I was told H&M is a European company which made its way into American malls.

3. The streets get rather claustrophobic with the crowds of people walking through them.

4. Don’t wear red and step into Kruidvat. Otherwise someone will assume you work there and start speaking to you. In Dutch. (It was my first day alone, so it was a bit nerve wracking.)

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Bikes (Or: Controlled chaos on wheels)

One thing that struck me was how many fietsen (bikes) there are in the Netherlands. The Dutch boast almost one bike per person. In the Hague, bike paths seem to take precedence over even the roads themselves. Generally the transportation is as follows: roads (for cars, buses, and the occasional tram), bike paths, and pedestrian paths. Bikes also have their own traffic lights at most stops. Interestingly, mopeds also seem to ride on the bike paths, which can make crossing them a bit dangerous at times…

Picturesque Delft canal bordered by homes, and a few bikes to complete the scene

The Netherlands is, as a whole, very flat. I found one “hill” in the Hague — which turned out to be a man-made bridge that was only a few feet high. In the country itself, the highest hill (the Vaalserberg) is just over 1000 feet tall.

A parking lot for bikes in Amsterdam

Categories: Amsterdam, Delft, Transportation | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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