Monday, February 25, 2013

Den Haag, Accidental Amsterdam, and Real Dutch Nature!

              Time is absolutely flying by! Three weeks here has definitely made my room at Kaarsenmakersstraat feel like home, but I am definitely not any closer to being Dutch (still grotesquely mispronouncing words and crashing on my bike). This week I discovered a store in town called the Tucker Box that only sells British and Australian foods and goods. I have never been so happy to read the label on a package. I also made my way to Ikea in Haarlem. No matter what country you’re in, Ikea is exactly the same, full of ligonberry jam and affordable Swedish design. Getting to Ikea was an adventure in itself. The first time I tried, instead of making the right transfer in Haarlem (fun fact: Haarlem is actually known as a pretty ritzy town in Holland!), we ended up in Amsterdam. 
Ikea in Haarlem!
              This was my first time in Amsterdam and oh my was I overwhelmed. The city is hundreds of years old with some buildings leaning to one side or another and built along the canals. It is also VERY touristy. There is no shortage of upscale shopping and iconic cheese stores. However, what really threw me off was the Red Light District. As you draw closer, the streets are lined with sex shops, “coffee shops,” fried Dutch food, and finally big windows with half naked women standing in them. Since we were only in Amsterdam for a Sunday evening we didn’t stray too far, but I was told there are neighborhoods that are less intense with markets and museums. 
Train Station in Amsterdam

Tilted Buildings in Amsterdam

            In addition to Amsterdam, I also made my first trip to The Hague, a really lovely city with the country’s embassies, many international justice buildings, and Parliament. My favorite part was going to the M.C. Escher Museum though which is located in an old Dutch palace. Although you might not recognize the name Escher, he specializes in tessellations and some truly mind boggling pictures altering space and perspective. 
Parliament in The Hague

M.C. Escher Artwork

            Another one of my adventures this week was attending a tour of Leiden’s synagogue. It is very small, used only once a month for Orthodox style services, and today serves as more of a museum. One of the Temple’s board members told us the history of the building from its creation in the 1700s. During World War II it was utilized for cattle slaughter and storage since over half of Leiden’s Jews died in the Holocaust. Today, most of the Jews in Holland live in or near Amsterdam where there are also progressive congregations.
            Last Thursday, I was introduced to one of Leiden’s many student associations (about 60% of students here join one) as a member of Leiden United, which pairs Dutch students with internationals to introduce them to student life here. Quintus was the first one we visited. It has about a thousand members that are divided into disputes of about 30 people. After dinner at the Quintus cafeteria, we had drinks and were able to watch all the different disputes dressed in their group’s costume/uniform for their weekly meetings and hangouts. Unlike, Greek life in the U.S., men and women join the same organization and take incredible vacations together all over the world (my mentor is going to India with her dispute next week and another girl is going to Egypt with hers). The student associations do love to throw huge parties for their members though. So far, I am still pretty happy that Clark has no such organizations.
            This past weekend I went to Hoge Veluwe, one of two national parks in the Netherlands (or as one Dutch person told me, one of the few areas to see “real nature”!) It was a little over an hour bus ride to the little farm we were staying at. All 30 or so of us slept in one enormous bed! We spent much of the weekend eating Dutch food like pancakes, potatos, pea soup, fried dough, and plenty of cheese. The next day we biked through the park and went to the Kroller-Muller museum, which is in the middle of the park and absolutely amazing!! They have the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings as well as many other notable artists such as Picasso and Lipshitz (my AP art and art history classes have paid off a little). The next day we were supposed to take a horse drawn carriage ride through the park, but because of snow, the carriages were actually pulled by cars. After more eating, we headed home to Leiden. 
Giant Bed at the Farmhouse at Hoge Veluwe

Cows at the Farmhouse

Van Gogh at Kroller-Muller Museum

Biking through Hoge Veluwe

"Horse" Drawn Carriage

            Other highlights of the past week include trying a giant Dutch pancake, repairing the loud squeaking my bike was making, and setting up recycling in my kitchen! Next week I have friends coming from France and I’m hoping to try my luck exploring some different areas of Amsterdam.

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