Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring rocks here

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The color in this photo is a pathetic shadow of how green it really looks! Heidelberg has the best springs of anywhere I've lived!

I swear the rest of the Netherlands trip is coming soon. Going through the photos is a bit of a chore and my poor 5-year-old computer probably needs an upgrade.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Busted!

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Ackkk! I totally got a ticket today while biking. I can't believe it. I am the biggest goody-two-shoes on a bike that Heidelberg has probably ever seen. I wear a helmet, dutifully obey red lights even when no one is coming, slow down for jerks who get in the way instead of practically bowling them over, etc. Heidelberg is a sea of flagrant bike violations; I probably see a hundred a day! But I never saw anyone get pulled over. I'm such a freaking goody-goody that I pulled right over for the cops today, having no idea what could possibly be wrong. I'd already forgotten the whole thing.

I was at an unfamiliar intersection with a confusing light. (I think it never turns green or something.) Well, the intersection is not unfamiliar entirely - it's just that normally I walk through it, not bike. I was with Damon. So the light was yellow or flashing yellow for a long time but no one was going. Then people started to go but I was still a little confused by the yellow, thinking it might go red any second. Well, it did go red, and Damon had juuuust taken off without me. (I think he might have gone through it too. He thinks they picked on me because I'm so easy to identify with my dorky helmet.) I sat there for a bit, wondering what the hell the deal was with this intersection anyway. Some bikes were still going through. I figured they know better than me! So I went with them to catch up to Damon and get out of what is actually an uncomfortable and weird intersection to be sitting at. (I can't figure out if it's also a place for cars or not - it's marked all bikes - but it's wide enough for cars - I just don't freaking get it.)

Haha! We should have thought about what those two on the corner with giant walkie-talkies might have been doing. They stopped us all about a block later - about five more cops. This is what happens when you live in a low-crime country. All the cops are hanging out nailing you for this stuff.

Not to mention we both ran another red later, I think. This is the other confusing thing about this stupid intersection. After you turn left from where we started, there appears to be a stopping line and another red traffic light, but the line and light would have bikes lining up right in the middle of an intersection, seemingly in the way of crossing car traffic. (...IF you don't know the intersection. It could be that there IS no crossing car traffic here. But, it not being totally familiar, I don't know.) So again, I really felt like I was in the wrong place despite seeming to be lining up and obeying a red light appropriately. So, when Damon ran the red light because there didn't seem to be anything we were waiting for (no crossing traffic ahead - it's all straight ahead from there - it's REALLY weird), I said to him, "Uh isn't that a red light!?" and I didn't hear what he said, but I tried to keep up and went through it too.

And I'd forgotten all about both a block later when I got stopped. They didn't even stop him. UGH! At least they were not dicks about it. Every encounter I had with Boston police was not good (and I was the victim in those cases, not the crime-doer) but these guys were alright.

Still, grr. I will remember this for every of the 100 flagrant bike traffic violations I see tomorrow. In fact as we left the cops you could see people going through a red light at the next intersection, and none of them got stopped. Dammit.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Netherlands!! Day Three: Pretty flowers & pannekoeken!

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R esearch on Saturday night indicated that the Keukenhof, a giant flower garden near Lisse, would be open on Easter Sunday. We figured that would be a good way to spend the holiday.

What I really wanted to see in the Netherlands were tulip fields in full bloom like these. But, Easter is too early for that, and that's when most people get a couple of free days off, so it's just way more feasible for travel than peak tulip time. Then I found out about the Keukenhof. It's only open two months of the year. I figured they wouldn't be open any time that they didn't have something worth seeing.

Keukenhof Apr 10

Well, it really was too early - at least for it to be worth the 14 EUR admission price. Mostly only daffodils, grape hyacinth, and crocuses were blooming, although they did have lots of tulips and other cool bulb flowers out in planters, and their big greenhouse was chock full of zillions of different kinds of tulips. That was definitely the highlight, but it would have been so much nicer to see the outdoor gardens totally in bloom. They should get there in the next couple of weeks!

Noordwijk Apr 10

After the Keukenhof, we decided to go have a look at the sea in nearby Noordwijk. It was cold and windy!! The beach there is really huge, though, and there were plenty of people out walking along the water. We stayed a few minutes and crunched on some clam shells, then hid inside at the 't Pannekoekenhuisje for a mid-afternoon drink and snack! Pannekoeken are the Dutch equivalent of pancakes or crepes. I thought they were a little high-priced based on my expectation of what we would get, but couldn't resist trying the apple, bacon, and powdered sugar one anyway. It was HUGE!! There were 2-3 (small) apples' worth of baked wedges piled on and several rounds of bacon (rather than a few bits like I imagined). So, it was worth the price after all. Plus it was delicious and I can't stop thinking about the deliciousness of that thing.

Despite the pancake bloat, after we returned to The Hague we thought it was probably wise to have a proper dinner at some point. We walked downtown and wandered around looking for food, finally settling on a place called the Balkan Grill. It was a little more expensive than we were hoping, but super friendly! To make it easy we just ordered a food platter for four to share.


WHOA.

It was delicious, too! And they even put some Shantel on while we were eating. Leftovers became the next day's meat breakfast.

Coming soon: Antwerp!
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Netherlands!! Day Two: Damn, this place is cute.

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S aturday morning began with a trip to the local Albert Heijn for some food to stock up our apartment. Like Germany, they were selling cheapo Easter junk that no one needs. Unlike Germany, the Dutch cheapo Easter junk was CUTE and really hard to resist. In this way it reminded me of Denmark or Sweden. They just seem to have taste that matches mine. Some of the tourist crap for sale in the Netherlands was also cute, unlike any of the tourist crap here. (Other places with cute tourist crap: Budapest, Alsace)

We then took off for Delft, the exit for which is marked on the highway by a big dorky DELFT written out in daffodils. We parked and walked through a normal little neighborhood that I thought was so sweet and interesting and kept taking pictures of. Then we got to the center and everything was even better. The weather alternated between pouring rain and sun, so the photos look like a selection from different days, but they were all just within a few hours of each other!

Delft Apr 10

For lunch we had fish and chips at an orange-decorated place right on the big market square, and the super-friendly guy there told us where to look for some fresh stroopwafels for dessert. (We were also entertained in the restaurant by a little old British lady at another table who asked if they accepted pounds sterling.) Following his instructions we found a market with vegetables, hot food, and what we wanted, stroopwafels!! Yum. We also picked up some fresh bulbs for free - we got some daffodils at the bookstore when I picked up my requisite souvenir (a Dutch name book - a really nice, thorough one too!) and Cliff and Sarah got some hyacinths when they bought coffee. Cool!

After a little more exploration of Delft, we checked out Gouda - home of the cheese, of course, but also the place where stroopwafels were invented! They have an awesome 15th-century town hall which rivals Wernigerode's in spikiness.

Gouda Apr 10

We stepped into their cheese museum, which used to be a cheese-weighing building, but it was about to close so we just perused the gift shop for a bit to get out of the rain. We ended up with a delicious little wheel of chili gouda. (Note to potential purchasers of this kind of cheese: don't bother with the chili kind, it's not spicy at all!) As we explored the town more it actually started to thunder so we stopped for drinks at Cafe Central. Afterward, back to The Hague to relax, dig into that cheese and plan for the next day!

Coming soon: The Keukenhof and the sea!

Impatient? Get the Cliff's Notes on the trip (literally) here!
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Netherlands!! Day One: Getting there!

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O ur rental-car journey to the Netherlands with Sarah and Cliff was pretty uneventful. One stop somewhere for absurdly expensive drinks and soon we were beyond the Ruhrgebiet and crossing the Dutch border!

Everything was smoothly GPS-guided until we hit Eindhoven. A truly massive road construction project there totally messed us up. We failed to notice a road sign in Dutch telling us to turn off the GPS as we approached Eindhoven! All the roads are completely different now. We ended up stopping at a gas station for a map. The maps cost more than we wanted to pay, but a super-friendly guy working there just told us what roads we needed to take to get back on track for our destination, The Hague. The bathroom attendant there was also really nice so I was starting to get excited that maybe the Netherlands were going to be totally full of really pleasant helpful people!! (Silly because it's based on a tiny sample size - but the power of first impressions is pretty amazing.)

We reached The Hague around dinnertime and checked into our apartment rental. It was a little on the expensive side but we booked late so went with it, and it turned out to be awesome. It was conveniently located near restaurants and grocery stores on a cute little brick-paved street and had two bathrooms, a big kitchen, free wireless, and a washer/dryer! There was also a free bottle of wine, but it turned out to taste like bell peppers/salad/grass or something. So I'm not sure that part was a plus. (We DID manage to polish it off.) To the right is our view from the cute little apartment balcony.

For dinner, we just walked around the corner to an Indonesian restaurant we found on Google Maps. The idea was that the Netherlands must have great Indonesian food due to having colonized there, much like the great Indian food in the UK. In our case, this turned out to be pretty much true. The food at Dulang was great, and we also noticed later that some Indonesian foods, like sate (sp? satay in English?), have become standard and are on the menus even at non-Indonesian restaurants.

Back at the apartment, we opened a bottle of wine (we brought some from our stash) and planned for the next day. Coming soon: Delft and Gouda!!
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