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Archive for February, 2010

Watching the Olympics here is lame. No wonder no one in this town is as pumped up for them as we are. The only thing I had seen on TV before yesterday was speed skating. It just got worse when the Netherlands won its first metal because they continued to play that clip over and over again. We finally saw a hockey game, but it was between Germany and Sweden. It was better than watching people skate around in a circle. We have been following the metal count online, but it’s just not the same! We’re going to try and find a Canadian bar in Amsterdam next weekend.

We got a hair straightener! Yaay life is good again! I even used it to curl my hair for our masquerade ball. We also bought a blow dryer when we first got here. We looked for a couple days and decided we would get the cheapest blow dryer we could get, because really how bad could it be? That might have been a little bit of a mistake. Our blow dryer doesn’t work if you hold it over like four feet high. So when I stand up or even when I’m sitting in a normal chair, it stops working. Safety feature? Is it safer to blow dry your hair sitting on the floor? To prevent falling? Anyways, hindsight.

I need my bangs trimmed. We have a hair dressing studio in our school and I think I might end up going there. I’m a little nervous letting a student I don’t know cut any part of my hair, but it can’t be any worse than any time I’ve ever cut my bangs. Hopefully I won’t need to break out my headbands and expose my fivehead.

Doing laundry in our sink is turning out to be a very efficient process. We don’t do ‘Wine and Laundry Wednesdays’ anymore because we had to fight over the drying rack. Instead it’s more like ‘You Do Laundry, I’ll Watch MTV and We’ll Always Drink Wine’ day.

De Dop had a Karneval party on Wednesday. Liseanne and I went as Team Canada (That’s right, representin’). They turned the bar into a catwalk and had a best costumes contest and fashion show. It was pretty fun, but like the last Karneval party we went to, it was all Dutch music. Dancing to Dutch music gets old after awhile, and by old I mean boring. On the upside, drinks were only a euro each. It wasn’t until way later in the night they started playing dance music. I had more than one person come up to me and ask me where I was from; it was a hard question to answer, considering what we were wearing.

Ball De Masque was on Thursday night. There was tons of amazing dresses there, and they had events going on all night. We already had our masks from London, so we were well prepared. A live cover band played for a couple hours. They did a few really awesome songs but the rest I didn’t recognize even though they were in English. The other three Canadian girls came out, but must have drank quite a bit before they arrived, because we practically had to carry them into a cab a few hours later. We left with a big group and headed to De Dop (again). We danced with some new internationals we met earlier in the night until the lights came on. Some Irish guy wouldn’t leave us alone, so Can (Turkish spelling for ‘John’) scared him away by yelling ‘The Canadians are with me’, and then didn’t stop repeating it all night. It was entertaining to say the least. We were pretty set on going home when De Dop closed, but we got dragged out to The Vik, another cafe that doesn’t close until 6. We snuck out as soon as we could and got home around 4:30.

Staying out this late all the time is wearing me out. Rarely in Calgary would we have stayed out past two. Last night we decided since Courtney, Liseannes friend, was coming in the next morning that we should have an early-ish night.

We went to an apartment party until 2:30, and when they all decided to head to the center we decided to go home. We got booed by the entire  party!  Its like they never sleep!  We held strong and went home.

We finally decided what we’re doing on our breaks and booked tickets to Greece for our first one and Spain for our second! I’m so excited! We don’t have classes this week, so we’re heading to Amsterdam for a couple days to do some sightseeing.

Love for now!

Ashley

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I’ve named my bike Bianca. She is blue with a few nice orange rusty accents.  She has one hand break that works decently well, which also makes a lovely high pitched squealing sound when I use it. She has a neon green bell twist tied to her handle bar which doesn’t work, but fortunately she makes a low grinding noise when I pedal so people can hear me coming up behind them anyway. I’m taking her to get her chain/breaks oiled tomorrow, hopefully it doesn’t take away too much of her character.

We found out that Thursday here is ‘Student Night’ because a lot of the Dutch students go home for the weekend. We are pretty glad we don’t have Friday classes because we would probably never get to them. We went to ‘Cafe De Dop’ again this Thursday, which is where we usually end up if we go to the city centre. They play more mainstream music there, where as if you stray to the smaller cafes it is mostly Dutch music. Their general bar theme seems to be drinking things out of really long straws. Every night I’ve been there, I’ve seen some sort of intricate chugging contest through 5 foot straws. I google translated ‘De Dop’ to see if it means ‘Giant Straw’ or something like that but it doesn’t.  This week it was ‘Happy New Hair Thursday’ which is exactly what it sounds like. They offer to cut, dye and other wise change your hair in exchange for a shot. Aside from the possibly bad decisions we witnessed, it was a great night. They even played a dance mixed version of Cotton Eye Joe. I’m not sure anyone in the bar was more excited than Liseanne and I.

Stephan (<–Sold me Bianca) and Rafael invited Liseanne and I to come with them on a road trip to Maastricht for Karneval yesterday. At around five the four of us headed out in Rafael’s little car, with a big bag of carrots, a jar of pickles and booze. Apparently having open alcohol in your vehicle in the Netherlands is legal, as long as the driver isn’t holding or drinking any of it. So Liseanne, Stephan and I cracked a bottle and took a ton of pictures of us drinking and dancing in the car, just because we could. It took us about two hours of drinking and dancing to get there. We found a huge concert going on in the middle of the city, where some famous Dutch singers were performing. One of them looked just like Fabio, it was spectacular. For the rest of the night, Congo lines were our main source of transportation around the city center. The streets were packed with people dressed up in all sorts of costumes, the confetti was so thick you couldn’t see the street. We bar hopped for a couple hours, then ended up in this very crowded bar. We met another group of exchange students from all over the place studying in Maastricht, so we hung out with them for a couple hours (We found another Canadian from Queens University!). It was around 4:30 in the morning when we convinced Stephan, who could have gone for another two days, that it was time to head home. Rafael was a great designated driver (FYI for my concerned family ), but our ride home was a little less enthusiastic than on the way there. I hit my pillow at about seven this morning.

Today we slept and watched a lot of MTV and Animal Planet.

🙂 Love for now,

Ashley

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Vlissingen – My First Week

I have the best time table ever! Unlike MRU, at HZ they don’t let you to pick what time you take your classes, I lucked out. My classes are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. That right, I have a four day weekend. I’m willing to overlook my nine o’clock classes for this reason.

We got another room mate! We first met her at the Turkish guys house, she was living with a 17 year old smoker who she thought might be stealing her stuff. She moved into our apartment the next day. Hanna is from Belgium, and she speaks Dutch! This has made grocery shopping so much easier! Not only do we have another pair of hands to carry everything home, we now know what we’re carrying!

In my first couple days here I found out from the other international students that doing laundry here is very expensive. It’s about 5 euro for a small load, and 7 for a medium.

We bought a bucket and have been doing laundry in our sink. We even made an event out of ‘Wine and Laundry Wednesdays’. The three of us did head to the ‘wasserij’ one afternoon and throw some stuff in that we couldn’t see ourselves washing in our sink. Drying is also expensive; we walked home with a bag full of wet clothes.

I have come to realize that nothing here is really what it seems. Most of the bars and ‘club’ like places we’ve been are called ‘cafes’, but they don’t seem to offer coffee, just booze. They also differentiate between cafes and coffee shops. Coffee shops don’t sell coffee either. Our first clue was the distinct smell when you walk by. They sell ‘Koffie’ just about everywhere else.

We haven’t bought any spices for cooking yet, besides the steak seasoning Liseanne brought from home, so we’ve been cooking a lot with our red wine. Killing two birds with one stone I suppose.

On Tuesday I went to a sneak a peek night at the towns theatre where you pay half the price of a regular movie ticket, but they don’t tell you which movie you’re watching until it starts! Their theatre is awesome, the chairs are big and look like lazy boys, and the arm rests are double wide (very important). We ended up seeing 9, which was an alright movie. Apparently all over Europe they have intermissions in all their movies, probably because everyone smokes.

I can still only remember two words in Dutch. Dankuwell, which means thank you, and Dames which is ‘womens’. Dames became apparent AFTER I walked into the wrong bathroom on our pub crawl, twice. (Probably a combination of alcohol and the lack of little people signs on the doors.)

Last night we decided to stay in and watch Skins. (British drama serious, Thanks Erika, we’re addicted) We were about to head to bed for the night when we heard some very loud music pumping through our neighbouring wall. The Turkish guys had told us they bought some speakers, but we didn’t really think about them using them after midnight, when we weren’t there.

It was the first time I was thankful for my room. It may be smaller than Liseannes, but doesn’t share a wall with our noisy neighbours. I threw my headphones in and let Jack Johnson sing me to sleep.

With love for now,

Ashley

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Vlissingen – Settling In

The yogurt here is really thick ,  either that or we’re not eating yogurt.  We`re not sure, we can`t read the label.  Our first days walk to school was so bad.  It was raining really hard and the wind was crazy.  I took my new umbrella, which is now broken from turning inside out so many times.  We thought the walk would be about 10 minutes, it was more like twenty.  I bought a bike, it is a piece.  It’s rusted and makes weird sounds when I ride it, but I paid less than anyone else I`ve met here so far.  I bartered with the kid I bought it from for a while, I even suckered him into warrantee-ing  the chain for me.  They don`t wear helmets here.  In fact, I haven`t even seen anyone selling helmets here.  Watching Liseanne attempt to ride a bike for the first time here was hilarious.  (Not that I displayed any great amount of grace)  I had a couple close calls on the way home, apparently the triangles on the road mean something about who yields to whom, but I still haven’t figured it out yet.  I still can`t turn corners very sharp, or without throwing a leg out for balance.   The two Turkish guys in our program, who also live next door, invited us over for dinner.  One of them practices his English by watching How I Met Your Mother, and cracked Canadian jokes from it all night.  We went out to a pub and bought them beer until they gave us the security code for their internet.  Yay free internet!

We made our first home cooked meal last night, and had our new German friend Melissa over.  We had curly pasta with a tomato garlic sauce and sautéed chicken with a crisp salad and red wine.   It was very good.  With dinner we sometimes watch Dutch soap operas and dub over them in English with what we think may be going on.

At our orientation we were introduced to all the student unions (That’s right, they have more than one).  They all compete against each other for members and try to throw better parties than the other ones, it makes our student union at MRU look weak sauce.  They all got together and organized a huge walking pub crawl between all their `home bars` to try and gain members.  They gave everyone t-shirts and bandanas with the pub crawl route on it, so you wouldn`t get lost, even though they were all on the same two blocks.  It was a lot of fun, but every bar was packed. 

Liseanne and I decided before we went that we would leave at midnight, as we had class early the next morning.  We got caught up dancing and ended up walking home with our favourite French guy at 3 am.   We still made to class.  

Love,

Ashley

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Erika took us for a stroll around her neighbourhood and we stopped for breakfast at a little cafe/bakery. They had fantastic coffee and made us pretty pictures in the foam. We walked through a huge park that had a couple ‘football’ fields in it. It was full of these huge amazing trees. I found it kind of strange because when you see trees that big and old in Canada, you know they planned the area around existing trees. These trees were evenly spaced around the outside of the park.

We walked through a flower market down a cobblestoned street. It was hilarious, every booth you walked by the people selling flowers would yell prices at you (`Ten for a Fiver, `Just a few Quid mum`), and gradually get lower as you walked down the street. It was very, very crowded, but we took refuge in a couple cool shops selling handmade coffee cups with figures popping out of the sides, and a pretty vintage teapot shop with a little coffee shop in the back. We made our way back to Erika’s house and packed up the rest of our stuff.

Around 4, Erika walked us to our bus stop and we were on our way to Vlissingen. We couldn’t fly to Amsterdam because our luggage would have cost us the bank to fly over there. So we found some tickets over to the Hook of Holland on a night ferry. We caught the 5:00 train to Harwich International, but we had to switch trains once before we got there.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this yet but England is the least wheelchair accessible place I’ve ever been. There are no elevators anywhere! And the trains always have a six inch gap from the platform and then are another six inches higher than the platform. It’s terrible when you’re dragging a suitcase that weighs 70ish pounds. (Took all the heavy stuff out of my backpack, and put it in my suitcase because we weren’t flying ;). 

When we switched trains we were looking around the platform for where the next one was supposed to be, and we saw it across, on the other side of the tracks. We had to drag our suitcases down two flights of stairs, and then back up to get to the other side. I’m not sure how many more flights of stairs my suitcase can take. (Okay, not my suitcase, sorry Dad.)

Anyways, we got to Harwich at around 8 pm. Turns out we looked at our tickets wrong, and our ferry didn’t leave until quarter to 12. So we waited. They were showing antiques road show on the TV in the lobby of the station. They have way cooler antiques here. They boarded us around 9:45.We found our ‘super economy’ room, which consisted of two tiny bunk beds and a bathroom. Liseanne called bottoms; the higher bunk had a rail about two inches high to keep you from rolling off. We couldn’t figure out how to get up onto the top bunk, there was no ladder..but there was a small platform that pulled out from under the bottom bunk. It still would have been a 4 foot jump to get to the top. We started thinking maybe these Dutch sailor people were just really really tall, when we finally spotted the ladder hooked on the back of the bathroom door. We felt a little dumb. (Are they trying to make life confusing? Why not just leave it hooked to the bed?)

We strolled around the boat for a couple hours, ate and went to bed. I woke up around 6 because the boat was trembling kinda hard. We freshened up in the little bathroom and grabbed a bite to eat before we docked. Again, we had to take two trains to get from the Hook to Vlissingen. Only one of the stations had an elevator.

We almost got stopped at Immigrations. HZ had told us not to apply for visas, and just to come and they would help us make all the arrangements we needed to make. What they didn’t tell us is the immigration guys probably wouldn’t let us through when we tell them we’re staying for more than three months, and we don’t have a visa. Luckily I had a copy of the email from HZ telling us they would set up our appointment. We got a stern warning and a deportation threat from the officer before he let us through.

We took a cab from the station in Vlissingen to our apartment, because it would have been a very long, and very confusing walk. Our apartment was less clean than we would have liked (It was so disgusting). We carefully placed our bags on the barren carpet, locked up, and headed straight to school.  We found the international group, they gave us a brief run through of what our week would look like and a schedule.

It was around 2 when we made it back home and decided to get some groceries. We ended up in a hardware store at first, but finally found somewhere to get groceries. A Dutch lady got stuck between two doors, and then told me what I think was probably joke in Dutch. Unsure, I laughed along with her.The grocery store was a nightmare. We sat in front of the ‘spreads’ for a good twenty minutes before guessing at a bar, hoping it was butter. At one point we asked where we might find a milk substitute like rice milk, and got a vague hand gesture towards the milk section. We finally escaped with enough food to keep us alive for a few days and enough cleaning supplies to kill every germ in our apartment.

We scrubbed for a few hours and got ready for dinner with the international group.We met at 7:30 and walked downtown to the restaurant. We met two Belgium girls at dinner, who offered to take us to their home town, because it is better than the Netherlands (apparently). They swore they have better fries and better beer. One of them asked me half way through dinner if I knew Bob from Canada. I laughed and continued to eat. It turns out she was serious, had never heard that joke before, and there was another group of Canadian students.

A bunch of us went back to Bobs place after dinner and sat in a room filled with people who chain smoke and had a couple drinks. It might have taken a couple years off my life, and my eyeballs have never been that dry. Liseanne and I ended up back at home at about 2 am reeking of smoke and puffy eyed. I got to sleep around 3:30 after rearranging my room. (They had my bed right next to the electric heater on the wall. Totally a bad idea, right dad?)

Love,

Ashley

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London – Day 9

Day 9

We woke up quite late, as we expected we might after the night before.  I was not feeling my best.   It was a little chilly but beautifully sunny outside and there was hardly any trace of snow from the night before.  Erika took us to a small breakfast place about a 15 minute walk from her house, and we had a proper English breakfast.

We were walking to the bus station when I received a small slap in the face from Karma.  The street we were walking on was long and I couldn’t see a garbage can anywhere to put my gum, so I threw it in a forward direction just off of the side walk.  The street was slanted towards where I was walking, and my gum rolled right back in front of me and I stepped on it.  (Moral – Littering=bad)

When we got to the train station the train we usually take was not in service so we took about 5 trains to meet Jen and Malaika.  We bought tickets for a benefit and awareness concert for climate change.  KT Tunstall was playing alongside Katherine Williams, who has the most amazing voice, with Graham Coxon and Robyn Hitchcock.

 The show didn’t start until 7:30, so we went shopping through a nearby market and grabbed some coffee.  The concert was really great and it was nice to get out and see some live music.  It ended at about ten, and we called a little Thai place that Jen knew of, and they said they would stay open for us if we got there before 11.  We hurried our way through the underground and got there just before 11.   It was the coolest little restaurant!  It was BYOB, and they supported the little off-license next door and encouraged you to buy there.  (I wasn’t quite up to drinking again yet)  All the tables were covered with old newspaper clippings.  Ours was covered with a huge trivia quiz, with hundreds of questions and an answer key on one side.  It was a very entertaining way to spend our time before we got our FRESH cooked Thai food.  We headed home on the last train running through the tube.  It wasn’t my favourite ride on the underground; it was PACKED so everyone was sardined into the train.  We got home around 1:30 am, and I decided to repack my suitcase and backpack because we were leaving the next day.  I managed to stuff everything back into somewhere and I headed off to sleep.

Love,

Ashley

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London – Day 8

Erika, Liseanne and I headed down to Spital Field market to find some masks for the Renaissance ball we were going to later that night at the V&A museum. We also strolled through a few vintage shops and Erika found a very beautiful lace dress. I bought some lace black gloves to wear with my black and gold dress I had bought earlier in the week, and a pretty little lace mask. You would all be very impressed that we got ready without a hair dryer (Malaika took hers with her when she moved) or a straighter/curling iron of any kind, and we looked good.  We headed out and grabbed some snacks and wine before heading to Jens house, which is very close to the V&A. After having some difficulty getting up to Jens flat, (We were ringing the wrong number, good thing they weren’t home) we stayed there and had a few drinks.
The ball was amazing (and free)! Everyone there was dressed so beautifully and the venue made it seem like we had gone back a couple centuries. There were tons of events happening inside the different areas of the museum, from classical opera singers, to ‘tale tellers’ and it was packed. In the last half an hour there was a big waltz in the main hall, it so beautiful!
The event ended at around 10ish and we headed to Amuse Bouche (Champagne bar where Erika works) for a bottle of champagne and a few bottles of wine. We headed to the downstairs lounge while they finished closing up and polished off our wine and celebrated the first couple hours of Liseannes birthday! Liseanne had the cutest little brownie cake, and a candle to blow out just after midnight. At around two thirty, after everyone finished closing up and locking up, the seven of us headed to the Bath House which is a ‘anything goes’ techno club that closes at 5 am.
On the way there we encountered a crazy man who had gashed open his arm, and kept asking us for cash. It would have been a little bit scary if we hadn’t been with a big group of people.
The Bath House was fabulous! The front door lady was beautifully extravagant, very tall and surprised me with her deep and very masculine voice. Inside was a little dark and dingy. The DJ was enclosed in a pretty birdcage, it was very eclectic. There were a few very pushy and forward guys there, but Biff was nice enough to keep them away for us. When I left, the y stamped my hand with a ‘paid’ mark so I could re-enter. Mine came out as PAIL.
Again, as we walked home in the early hours of the morning, the birds were singing. I was one lace glove short, and had a huge run in my nylons from my ankle to the middle of my thigh. The majority of our journey home I walked the streets shoeless because my feet were cramping from wearing heels all night. Hindsight.
Malaika, Liseanne, Erika and I made it back to Erika’s flat at about half past five in the morning. We all had a bit of the munchies, and apparently missed out on a McDonalds run with everyone else, so we made some toast and Gouda sandwiches with Erika’s brand new toaster. It started snowing at about 6, just as we were climbing ‘upstairs’ and into bed.

Love,

Ashley

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