Monday, April 23, 2007

tulpen tijd (tulip time)

this past weekend we took the train out west to see the tulips. we woke up early, as the market was setting up outside our window, and met our friend, stu, at the hengelo train station.

we arrived at schiphol airport, where we planned to take the bus the rest of the way out to lisse, to enjoy the keukenhof. the keukenhof is one of the most famous flower gardens in all of holland and is only open for about 2 months out of the entire year because that's only when the tulips are in season. the rest of the year is spent planting and preparing for next year.

well, when we arrived at schiphol, everyone else had basically the same idea as us. and what ended up happening is that we had to stand in line for almost an hour to buy our bus ticket, then stand in line for the bus for another half an hour before we could even board. but the wait was worth it, absolutely. the garden was PACKED with tourists. (mostly german, indian, and japanese, and i was wondering where all the dutch were at! -- probably at home enjoying their own tulips without the crowds. i guess you're never a tourist in your own town, huh?) anyway, looking back on the day, i don't really remember all the crowds and queues. what i remember most are the flowers. the vibrant colors, the plump petals, the fragrances! we commented to each other that it was like walking around inside of a giant flower vase because the aromas were so beautiful! and it was one of those warm days in the sun, but if you were in the shade you could feel the sea mist in the air, so there was just a hint of dampness to carry the scent of the flowers through the air.

we packed a picnic and sat underneath a cherry tree, drinking an organic red wine from france, an assortment of dutch cheeses, a loaf of bread, and of course chocolate waffles that i picked up at the grocery store on our way out this morning. and after our picnic we poured ourselves little plastic cups of the wine and strolled through the garden, admiring all the tulips. i have never seen so many varieties in my life! tulips that looked like peonies. tulips that looked like they were feathery on the tips. tulips that even looked like pineapples... or maybe those were lilies that looked like pineapples. but it was cool, whatever it was. i just kept thinking of my gramma who would just love love love this, and of adam's dad who would be all impressed with the landscaping and greenery of it all, and of camille who is coming out to visit next month to see the tulips with me. you were all there with me that day in the garden. it was just lovely.

we left the keukenhof after a couple of hours and walked towards the center of lisse, to see the bloemencorso ("flower parade") that is an annual and traditional springtime event in the netherlands. there is a parade, similar to the parade of roses in the usa, that winds its way between noordwijk and haarlem. it takes all day long because the route is about 40 km long, but everyone comes out for it to enjoy the festivities.

now, when i heard that it was like the rose bowl parade, i was imagining a hundred towering floats, all as big as a building. but of course, being in holland, it was tiny and cute and gezellig. really. i loved it. the floats were impressive to be sure, but there was just nothing pretentious or flashy or anything about them. it was just sweet. there were maybe a dozen or so floats, all of reasonable size, laden with flowers, each with a theme about seasons (weddings, babies, graduations, springtime, easter, harvest, oktoberfest, the beach, etc.). and the really funny part about this is that the floats take up exactly the crowd as much room as the street. and so people who were standing along the street (like myself), with surging forward to get a good picture, would get whapped in the head by tree branches and lily stems and trombones as things would pass by. it was hilarious! and again, the fragrance was incredible. everything was made out of lilacs and lilies and tulip petals, and you're right there, and you'd get a whiff of these incredible creations of art, and then you'd try to duck and get out of the way of the giant birthday cake made out of petals that was coming right your way to crush your feet. seriously. it was soooo fun.

oh, and towards the end, there were these people walking with money baskets, and you were invited to throw in some spare change to help pay for the parade or something. which was strange to me because every float had a sponsor (like a bank or another big business like that), so i couldn't quite figure out where the money was going. but we all put in a little bit anyway. you'd never see that in the US. that was definitely different.

after the parade we walked through a tulip field on our way back to the bus. and that was one of my favorite parts of the day, actually. it was a small field, compared with some of the other fields in that area, but to walk through a sea of red with a windmill in the background and a canal right there... well, it was echt nederlands. completely dutch. i could have spent all day just in that one field, smelling the flowers and being in the sunshine and strolling through the sandy soil.

by the time we made it back to schiphol to catch our train, we were too tired to do anything else. we thought about maybe getting some dinner in haarlem or something similar, but we were just wiped out. so the boys bought some fries at a stand there, and i grabbed us a couple of heinekens, and we got on the train. we ate there, and napped a bit, and watched the sun go down, and just generally enjoyed each others' company. it was just the most wonderful, amazing, beautiful, colorful days i've ever ever ever had.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


i know that hengelo is off the beaten path, it's not really known for its history, or architecture, or museums, or great culture... it's not like paris, or rome, or amsterdam, or london. but still, it's my town and i love it. and i hope that anyone who comes to visit us will be touched by the coziness and the simplicity of my little dutch town. i hope that when we have a chance to share our village, people will enjoy the pubs and cafes, the market, the sound of the bells singing every night at 6:00, and the countless bicyclists. it's quite "gezellig."

and last week we actually had a chance to share this sweetness-that-is-hengelo with a friend of ours. adam met shep when they were both in grad school at the university of colorado. he spent a few days in amsterdam before he came out to see us for several days. it was soooo great.

shep arrived on wednesday evening after taking the train to almelo and then getting on the bus to hengelo. (normally he could have taken the train the entire way but they're doing some construction on the tracks so the bus is the only way to go right now.) i met him at the station, and literally minutes after i greeted shep, adam arrived too! on our way home, we walked through the market as it was closing up for the day. the rest of the night was spent drinking heineken and getting all the gossip from the u.s. it was just surreal to have such a good friend sitting there in our living room, speaking english to us without an accent, knowing so much about us. it was easy. it was fun.

on thursday i had to work, so shep borrowed my bike and he and adam rode out to the university so he could meet some of the people in adam's department. (they both studied science policy stuff in grad school, and shep is really involved with science policy stuff in washington, so it was fun/good for him to meet some international philosophers of technology.) then they rode into enschede to rent shep a bike, and they met me after work for a drink and some turkish pida (lekker!). we rode through a park on the way home and swung by campus, stopping off at the faculty club for a couple free drinks. (we LOVE the faculty club! adam is a member there and there's this upstairs loft with swanky chairs and wine glasses and a fireplace, and anything -- ANYTHING -- you want to drink is free. i usually go for the red wine, adam goes for the 7-up, and shep went for the grolsch on tap.) then home for the night.

friday was gorgeous, and the rest of the weekend was beautiful too! i took the day off of work and after sleeping in, we all rode bikes out to twickel castle, which we had been to before (see our posts on delden and ootmarsum). but this time we went into the garden. there was nobody else there, i think because the season was so early and people weren't expecting it to be open yet, so we had the place all to ourselves. we picnicked by a pond, watching great blue herons fly overhead and listening to songbirds, gazing at the castle towers and lounging in the shade of a willow tree. it was just lovely. we took a ton of pictures, and i laid in the soft grass, staring up at the flowers of a magnolia tree.

friday night was poker night. we had a couple of friends over: stu (the american, who has won over 6,000 euros playing poker this year at the casino in enschede), and martijn (who is dutch and tries to win stu's money when he goes with him to the casino). i promptly lost all of my money to them (it's okay because we were only playing penny-poker) but went in for another euro's worth of chips and stayed up until 1:00 a.m.! but that's nothing compared with the rest of them -- after making sure all the boys had a fresh beer, and blowing out the candles, i headed upstairs, fully expecting adam to be behind me soon. but he didn't crawl into bed until 4:30 in the morning! how fun! i'm actually so happy for him that he got to stay up all night playing poker and hanging out with the guys. he never does that, and he needs to do that once in a while i think.

on saturday i went to the market early, while the boys were still asleep, to make sure i would get some strawberries before it got too hot. (it was seriously in the 80's all weekend, and STRONG sunshine too!) i actually met the produce-boy that i buy most of my veggies from every week. as soon as i walked up to him, he said, "how did you enjoy your ice cream?"

"excuse me?" i said.

"your ice cream," he went on. "i was standing right next to you in line yesterday at the ice cream shop. you were wearing a striped shirt."

"you were? oh, i'm sorry! i guess i didn't recognize you without this table of vegetables here! my name is amber. now next time you see me you can say hello."

so, isn't that great?! it's another story about how i'm starting to meet people outside of the setting that i'm used to seeing them in... it's people in my neighborhood at the market, at the ice cream shop, at the train station, at the beer cafe around the corner, etc. it makes me feel more at home. (and, as it turns out, rick -- the produce-boy -- lives literally around the corner from me. we're neighbors! yay!)

but that was a tangent. okay, sorry. so after the boys woke up, we went back to the market together, this time to buy potting soil and herbs for our achtertuin. we got three giant basil plants (which we broke up before we planted), a pot of chives, and a HUGE bucket of daisies, which are my favoritest flower ever. Ever.

afterwards we rode into enschede to return shep's bike and then hung out at a bar near the old church and had a couple of belgian beers in the hot, hot sunshine. seriously. it was hot out there. then i took the train home and shep rode my bike back to hengelo, and we all ate dinner together. then we walked around the corner and shot some pool for a couple of hours. home early so shep could get a full night's sleep.

he left bright and early on a lovely sunday morning, and flew home without much inconvenience despite a big nor'easter battering d.c. that day. we miss him already.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

spring break! (luxembourg)

after the major disappointment which was luxembourg city, we were quite happy to get in our car and drive through the lovely countryside of luxembourg. unlike the netherlands, luxembourg does not have a very extensive train system, so we were forced to drive instead of taking public transportation. this turned out to be a great way to see the country, because we were able to tool around on all these quaint little back roads and take our time whenever we wanted to stop and take a picture. (some of these pictures were actually taken from inside the car -- the roads were too narrow to stop to take a picture, so adam had to quickly snap them while i would drive as slow as i could without upsetting the people right behind us.)

the weather was really bad, but it almost added to the mystery of luxembourg. it was so gray, and so cold, and so wet, that the hues of the church steeples and the shade of the forests and fields really stood out.

luxembourg is almost exactly like what you think of when you think of europe: cozy houses, picturesque churches, hills, fields, forests, castles, vineyards, tiny little streets made out of stone or brick, etc. we'd be driving along this winding, narrow, dark road through the forest, up a hill, and then reach the top and the view would open up, and we'd be all "oh, there's a castle!" and then we'd drive around the corner, down another hill, down to the bottom, where the view would open up again, and we'd be all, "oh, there's another castle!" and so on.

we came across a really fascinating castle almost accidentally, so we decided to stop and have a picnic in our car while we looked at it. it wasn't open for visitors yet since the tourist season wouldn't start for a few more weeks, but we were able to watch the construction crew do some maintenance work on this old, 11th-century castle.

adam: when you're repairing ruins, how do you know when to stop?
amber: just before it's finished.

(a chapel that was inside one of the castles)

(take a right to get to germany!)

we were able to walk inside one castle, which was virtually empty, so we got to take our time and linger in the halls and in the dungeon and take as many pictures as we wanted. it overlooked the town of vianden, which i'd like to stay at next time.

oneoftheprettiest places we saw was the wine country of luxembourg, right on the border with germany. it followed the plump and winding mousel river: vineyards to our left, which was luxembourg, then the river to our right, and on the opposite bank were more vineyards, but they were in germany. the road hugged the river for most of our drive, and it was fun to see what surprise was lying around the corner every time we made a shift in direction.

we stopped for dinner in a little town that i can't remember the name of, and then drove to a bar along the river where we both drank the local white wine, to celebrate adam's 30th birthday which was that very same day! fun!