Portugal! (& Game of Thrones Exhibition!!)


I’m back!

I am in the midst of writing my second long paper and studying for one of my finals tomorrow. So will, alas, make this relatively brief. Well, brief for me.

First, I want to mention a few continual experiences that me and my friend Emily had encountered while in Lisbon.

We are both vegetarian and aspire to become vegan when we land stateside. This as a general rule has not been difficult to receive good vegetarian fare for Europeans generally understand that vegetarian means no meat: red meat, poultry, fish, essentially flesh. In Lisbon, however, we were told several times that vegetarians eat fish/seafood. Or rather “Oh, I’m vegetarian, but I also eat fish.” It’s amusing and understandable as there is plenty of seafood around. Although, what most people I know understand to be vegan (no animal products) seems to not exist to the Portugese, because vegan to them is what we call vegetarian. A little confusion, but it all worked out!

Another thing is that we were constantly asked if we wanted to by hashish. What? Do we really look like the type of people who want hashish? Well, we did look like tourists. But I would think that is about it. Anyway, it wasn’t too sketchy, as we were always asked in very public areas. (Don’t be worried Mom!)

Finally, the hostel we stayed at goodnighthostel was FANTASTIC. Crepes, soup, great employees… seriously. They have been one of the top ten hostels in the world for the last 10 years or so. Check them out if you go to Lisbon!

Now to our actual trip.

We spent 3.5 days in Portugal and stayed in Lisbon. We wandered the city, ate vegetarian food, took a walking tour, visited castles, had dinner with our hostel, visited the neighborhood of Alfama, went to Belem and at the pastry of the city. This is a big deal as only three people know part of the recipe. So if one dies… I don’t know what will happen! They sell over 45,000 of these pastries a day though. Talk about good business! It was a little pastry pie with some custard in it. Pretty good stuff. We visited a gorgeous monastery in Belem as well as the tower of Belem — a cool looking castle right off the beach.


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Later that day we visited Sintra and an estate where tunnels were created by the Templars. We got a little lost, but the over all estate was breath taking! There was also an incredible mansion that had been on the estate for a few hundred years; gothic exterior with a sort of art deco interior. There were also a few cute cats hanging outside of it.

Our final day we took the train to Cascais, a beach town, then took a bus to Cabo da Roca; the most western point of continental Europe. Breath taking, really. It was strange to think that for so many years Europeans thought that was the end of the West. We then took the bus back to Cascais and from there went to Estrobil where we spent close to 4 hours hanging out on the beach. It was a balmy 76 degrees. 🙂

We had purchased sunscreen, however, we were only able to get SPF 20. We got a little sunburned, but not too badly!

We had an early flight the next morning, so went to bed packed and prepared.

After coming back to Amsterdam (Schipol airport to Centraal Station), I decided to visit the Game of Thrones exhibition that was going on at Haarlemerstraat in a church. (They use most of their churches in the Netherlands for exhibitions nowadays.) I went straight there because it was close to the train station and did not want to have to bike back later, as the weather was an overcast 55 degrees. I was alone, but I met a nice new Dutch friend! I’ll likely never talk to him again, but it was an interesting experience. We were each others photograph buddies. His name was Sam and he is 18 years old. He lives in Haarlem, but has an internship in the city for engineering. He lived in Houston for two years growing up as his father (also an engineer) was called out to Texas. He has only watched the HBO series a little bit, but is very faithful to the books. I have yet to read the books, only watch the series, so it was a good time discussing the differences. After the exhibition, we got a coffee.

We saw the real costumes and props they use on the show, including the iron throne! (SPOILER: it’s made of plastic.) I will say that even up close I thought it was made of metal until I sat down in the the thing. We saw the (young) dragons, cool costumes, Jaime’s prosthetic arm (likely one of many used) and other memorabilia from the show. I went on the second and last weekend of the exhibition. I would have gone the first when Arya and Joffrey (the actors) were there, but didn’t want to deal with the crowd. I guess the first weekend the line to sit on the throne took around 3 hours. For me and Sam it was 3 minutes.

Well, I have my last week here in Amsterdam, going to last minute places, visiting a couple more museums and finishing classes of course. Then I’m off on my week long adventure to Iceland, England, and Spain before flying back to the U.S. of A.

This is likely to be my last post as, let’s be honest, life tends to get a bit busy when one is not longer jet setting around the world. If I do, awesome. If not, “Proost!” to Amsterdam.

Thank you for going on this journey with me.

Best,

Alexandra

Prague/Prag/Praha: Czech It

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Prague was so great — Unfortunately, my camera was not wanting to charge…thus I don’t have many photos to share.

First thing first–Prague. I literally had no expectation for the city. The plan to visit the city was planned back near the beginning of March, when it seemed like a 14 hour bus ride one way and 14 hour bus ride return seemed okay for the roundtrip price of 55 euros.

Don’t get me wrong, that is a pretty good price, and our busses were ‘red eyes’ more or less, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy riding on long busses! Still, on the way there it was alright, as the bus was half empty and we each were able to sprawl out a little.

We arrived the following morning and checked into our hostel near Old Town, a.k.a. tourist hole, but that’s okay, because it was decent location.

There are lots of things about Prague that are really interesting. For one, the people. If we asked someone a question (like to the lady selling me a pastry, “Can you heat it up?” She promptly replied, “Heat up? Heh, no.”) This similar situation happened to others on the trip. (“Can I try that ice cream flavor?” “No.” “Well, okay then.”) Second, I couldn’t quite place how I felt about the city, because it certainly doesn’t feel wholly Western European (and shouldn’t as it is central Europe), but it reminded me quite a lot of Italy actually. I’m not sure if it was the architecture or just atmosphere, but I would called Prague the Rome of Central Europe.

Still, over the few days we were there, we visited the most important things (in no particular order):

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We visited the belfry/clock tower where this crazy astrological clock is. For some reason, the rulers of Bohemia have always been oddly fascinated with clocks. The picture above is the view from the tower. See how there are castle-like buildings everywhere? There is the Prague Marathon below!

We also participated in a pub crawl called “the clock tower pub crawl.” Quite original. Anyway, it was fun! We met some new people, watched “Save the Last Dance” at a bar and had the opportunity to try absinthe. Yikes, that stuff is potent. Pretty hard to get it down. Not that I’ve tried to drink Listerine, but I imagine drinking absinthe is one in the same. Now, Prague is known for the absinthe and in the U.S., true absinthe is illegal. What makes it true? The use of wormwood, which gives it its hallucinogenic benefits. Now, I did not drink enough to cause that and don’t ever plan on making it my poison of choice.

We also visited the famous Prague Castle. And by castle, they mean buildings within a perimeter  not like the fancy castle in the opening of Disney films. We were taken on a long, 6 hour walking tour. It was also raining and most of us were not wearing very suitable clothing. Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, received blisters. We must have walked at least 20 miles around the city over the weekend.

Any how, on the way up to the castle we visited these beautiful gardens; they weren’t horizontal, but almost felt that way as they were on the hill leading up to the ‘castle.’ See the beautiful greenery below?

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My favorite aspect of the whole trip was probably the John Lennon wall. This wall is named after Lennon for what he represented; peace, happiness, love, etc. However, the wall began after the time of his death. When what is now the Czech Republic was taken over by communism, people would begin to graffiti messages of hope on this one wall and everyday the state would white wash it. This essentially went on for almost five years; guards were even stationed there. After a time, they just gave up white washing it and it has remained there ever since. It is the only legal graffiti wall in Prague.

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May 12th! It was an important day because my friend Valorie turned 21, it was Mother’s Day, and it was the fourth anniversary of me and boyfriend (you know, that guy I went to Rome and Bruges with?) — Not to mention the Prague Marathon! We saw a few tags on the wall remembering the Boston Marathon. It was a nice homage.

P1020206Above you can see, I am next to Lady Liberty holding a sign that says BE HERE NOW. I think it is important to remember to live in the moment.

We returned on Monday (today is Friday), so my apologies for not writing sooner. Unfortunately, I have been busy with school work (wait, I’m here to study??? Where was I when the memo was sent out??); a 15 page paper… which I must complete before going to LISBON, PORTUGAL this upcoming Monday through Friday.

Fortunately, I’m about halfway done. So, I wouldn’t expect another post until next weekend. I can’t believe my time here is almost up!

Time flies when you’re having a good time. 🙂

‘Til next time.

 

Lost in Transition: The Refugee Rights Movement in Amsterdam

This guest post is written by Sophia Seawell, a fellow CIEE student who has been studying at the University of Amsterdam since August 2012. She has both U.S. and Belgian citizenship and when not abroad, studies at Brown University.

In September of last year, a group of about 20 Somalian refugees had their final appeal for asylum in the Netherlands denied, and the deportation process was set in motion. But when a member of the group in a wheelchair could not board the bus to the airport, the rest of the group refused to leave him behind and instead decided they would all stay. This is the unlikely beginning of the refugee rights movement — a movement that brings to the surface questions of nationality, migration, and human rights.

Coming together with Iraqi and African refugees, they set up a camp in Osdorp, a neighborhood of Amsterdam, claiming that they could not return to their home countries due to safety concerns or lack of proper travel documents. Within a month, a judge ruled that the camp—which had grown to around 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan—was to be cleared by the police, citing hygiene issues and public nuisance concerns. This decision was supported by Amsterdam’s mayor, Eberhard van der Laan. Although according to Dutch law, the government is not obligated to aid failed asylum seekers with housing unless they agree to cooperate with their return to their home country, Van der Laan offered the refugees shelter for a month. They refused, fearing they would disappear from the public eye and aware that they would be expected to return home at the end of the month.

As the refugees were being evicted, a group of activists searched for a new shelter for them, eventually deciding upon the empty St. Joseph Church—which the refugees later renamed the Vluchtkerk (“Flight Church”)—in the Bo en Lommer district of Amsterdam West. The student faction of the Amsterdam Squatters Movement squatted the church on behalf of the refugees until they arrived. Though the church’s owners allowed the refugees—who began to use ‘Vluchtkerk’ as a name for their community—to stay during the winter and even aided in the process of making it habitable, this too was a solution with an expiration date, as they were only given shelter in the church until the end of March.

Many of the refugees are from Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, which until recently was considered the most dangerous city in the world due to civil war that has ravaged the country since its governments collapse in 1992. Though the situation has reportedly improved slightly, the refugees claim it is still unsafe for them to return, a statement supported by the Council of State. Thus the government cannot forcibly remove them but also denied them permission to stay, leaving the refugees in a legal limbo.

Members of the Vluchtkerk hoped to bring attention to this situation with a protest in Museumplein on Saturday, March 23. The demonstration began at the church at 1 P.M.; from there, the participants marched five kilometers to Museumplein, where a stage, several tents, and a soup and coffee station had been set up. Several hundred people attended the protest, which was supported by 72 organizations from trade unions to religious groups, according to the organizers.

Over the course of the cold, windy afternoon, various musical groups and guest speakers took the stage. Among them was the band We Are Here, a band comprised of refugees from the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Guinea, and Kenya. We Are Here—which is also a slogan for the movement— has already performed three times at Paradiso to help bring the refugees into the public eye.

Several politicians from the Tweede Kamer (literally ‘Second Chamber,’ or the lower house of the Dutch Parliament,) were briefly interviewed on stage, including Martijn Kool of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, ‘the Labour Party’). Kool told the crowd he did not agree with the government’s approach to the situation and promised to bring the issue to the next congressional meeting; however, a few attendees were carrying anti-PvdA signs and Kool was booed several times while speaking. Other speakers received more positive responses, such as a law professor who described the Netherlands as “tolerant, but not to[wards] everyone,” and a member of the Christian union who said his organization would provide shelter for the refugees if another solution isn’t found.

Federica, an Amsterdam native, had heard about the refugees through her job at an organization aiding undocumented migrants: “The situation is bad for undocumented migrants in general,” she said, expressing her frustration that “a country like the Netherlands would have people living in the gutter, denied human rights.” An elderly couple, Gerit and Janekke, had come from Amersfoort to “put pressure on politicians to find a solution,” Gerit said. “I’m here because I’m a feminist,” added Janekke, who found out about the protest through women’s organizations.

Maries, a Somalian refugee who gained permanent residence in the Netherlands a few years ago, said he had “feelings of fraternity” towards the refugees that brought him to the protest. The process, which he described as “tough, difficult,” took one and a half years for Maries (though it can be longer). Asylum-seekers are interviewed extensively by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND), who determine whether or not their reasons for leaving their home nation are valid. They must also have the correct documents to prove their nationality, a requirement difficult for many refugees to fulfill. Approximately 13,000 people seek asylum in the Netherlands every year.

At a lecture and discussion about the Vluchtkerk at Amsterdam University College, Prof. Nanda Oudejans of Tilburg University used the example of Camp Bulkeley to show how historically social movements have changed national policies. When Haitians were fleeing their country in the early 90s due to a military coup d’état, President George W. Bush ordered the United States Coast Guard to take refugees to Camp Bulkeley in Guantanomo Bay instead of into the U.S. Before being allowed to enter the country, the refugees and asylum-seekers were tested for HIV; those who tested positive were not allowed in and instead were forced to remain at Camp Bulkeley for over a year. During this time, criticism of the camp grew, particularly from student populations across the country. Yale law students, for example, joined the detainee’s hunger strike to show solidarity and filed legal challenges to the constitutionality of the camp. Actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins used their roles as hosts at the 1993 Academy Awards to bring attention to the camp. In 1993, the camp was declared unconstitutional by a U.S. district court and President Bill Clinton agreed to allow the refugees into the country and shut down the camp.

This is what the refugee rights movement in Amsterdam is hoping for; if enough people are informed of their situation and become inspired to take action, the Dutch government will no longer be able to ignore this glaring problem in what is considered by many, at least comparably, to be a utopian and progressive city. Issues of migration, asylum, and nationality are complex, and rarely have easily solutions, but what it comes down to—at least for the refugees—is the message of their slogan: “geen mens is illegal” (no person is illegal).

To find out how you can become involved, visit devluchtkerk.nl

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The rights of a refugee in the context of immigration — always a hot topic.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Remembrance Day, Liberation Day, & IJ-Hallen Flea Market (the largest flea market in Western Europe)!

On May 4th (May the 4th be with you — oh, Star Wars), I went to Dam Square at 8pm for a three minute silence in remembrance of the soldiers who fought in World War II (and other wars). This was the first public ceremony that the new King Willem-Alexander was at since his coronation. Unfortunately, the speeches were all in Dutch. However, lucky for us who were there and only spoke English (a close linguistic cousin to Dutch), we understood (approximately) “that hope is greater than fear and that tomorrow will always be better in the morning.”

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Such a beautiful sun behind the Dutch flag and the Royal Palace.

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I was surprised by how quiet it was in the center of the city. Yes, it was a moment of silence, but not everyone in surrounding areas followed, obviously. It was still a moving experience.

Sunday was Liberation Day. I had originally planned on going to a festival, but I had to work on some homework (unfortunately). 😦

In the morning, however, I experienced the largest flea market in Europe (not counting Istanbul — is Istanbul considered European? Tricky question). It’s called IJ-Hallen and happens on the first weekend of every month. It takes place in the industrial district in northern Amsterdam, so I had to take a ferry to get there with my friend Charlie.

We saw lots of junk, but we also saw lots of really cool things! Such as (pocket) watches:
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Don’t forget all the clothes that were offered! For men, women, and children a like:

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Of course, furniture shopping, too:

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So many analog cameras; every hipster’s dream:

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Old-fashioned suitcases:

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Hardly worn, beautiful rainbow Nike jacket — too bad I’m not a size XL, otherwise I would have TOTALLY snagged this one:

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Do you see all these stands???

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On the roof of the industrial warehouse was a skatepark. The Dutch are quite good with urban planning:IMG_0952 IMG_0953

One of the cooler things we saw was this really old Bible with brass clasps. I’m such a nerd:

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Charlie and I ended up purchasing some old vinyls (Hall & Oats, Cat Stevens, Tom Petty, etc.) — I’m hoping to be able to bring them back safely! If they break, it won’t be too heartbreaking though, because each one was 2 euros or less.

While waiting for our ferry back, we decided to get a nice refreshing snack. I had the BEST sorbet. Why don’t people eat sorbet as often? Way better than fro-yo or ice cream in my opinion. It was fresh. Charlie got a passionfruit sorbet, I believe. He enjoyed his, too.

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This is Charlie. How goofy. We headed back to the main part of Amsterdam.IMG_0959 IMG_0962

After, we decided to take a quick detour (before homework ensued…), we stopped at the NEMO museum (science museum for kids! Think OMSI) and climbed to the top to check out a great view of Amsterdam. We saw some sweet ships as well.
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When we got to the top, there was a large set of chess! I beat Charlie, (muwahaha) but it was a fun game and he was a good opponent. We really wished it was Wizard’s Chess, but this would have to do.

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This is the view from the top!IMG_0968What a lovely city scape. Not sure what my next post will be on yet… so wait and see!

I will tell you though that I am going to Prague with a few fellow Americans (including Charlie) this upcoming weekend, so I expect you all to ‘czech’ out that post when it comes out.

‘Til next post.

Den Bosch: Canals and Cathedral

On May 4th, a group of us from CIEE were taken to the very, very quaint and sweet city of Den Bosch. We didn’t know quite what to expect from the city — I knew there would be canals. I was pleasantly surprised to find out what we would encounter that day!

We started out with our quintessential cup of Dutch coffee. We then had a pastry that originates from the city, called: Bossche Bollen. Not very vegan… but vegetarian! Not very healthy either, but hey — I’m in Europe — I’m going to try the local treats! (Don’t judge me!)

(Doesn’t that look good??) This is essentially a GIANT cream puff covered in chocolate. The interior cream is whipped cream, not a thick ‘creme’ typically used in cream puffs. (YUMMMMMMM.)

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Then we were taken on a tour of the city.P1020046 P1020047 P1020048

We learned about a myth of the city. A young boy was watching the city, but had a weak bladder and was forced to pee 5-6 times per hour. He would always pee in the canal shown below. At the time, this canal was along the exterior of the city. On one of his many pee trips, he spotted the enemy and was able to warn the city that they were about to be under attack.

Thank goodness for poor bladders!(?)

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We then were shown a beautiful gothic cathedral near the center of town named after St. John, (John — 1 of 4 gospel writers) and we were told another lovely myth.P1020059 P1020065

When the cathedral was being built, apparently a worker fell from the top of the cathedral. Unfortunately, a nobleman was walking around the base of the building. As a result, the worker happened to land on the nobleman. The nobleman died and the worker survived.

The nobleman’s relatives tried to have the magistrate commit the worker to jail for killing the nobleman. The magistrate was clever. He told the relatives the sentence put forth for the ‘crime’: A relative of the nobleman will fall from the top of the cathedral on top of the worker who would be below, thus the worker would die and the relative would ‘live’ (…right…).

Well, shortly after that, the relatives dropped the case.

It is a very beautiful, yet haunting cathedral. I think gothic is a striking style. It reminds me of art deco in many ways and that is my favorite architecture style. (Right now, anyway.)P1020067 P1020068 P1020069 P1020070 P1020071 P1020072

Do you see the angel below? Someone convinced a higher-up (bishop? Cardinal?) to create some new angels, including a ‘new-age’ angel. This angel comes complete with a purse and cell phone. I kid you not. This exists. One can also call the angel for a mere 80 cents a minutes. I’m curious what the angel has to say… I was too cheap to find out. And I don’t speak this particular angels language.

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We then proceded to have lunch. Brie, tomato, and pesto on warm rye bread. YUM. We also had fresh squeezed OJ. 🙂

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Charlie and Kim hanging out in the sunshine, waiting for our canal tour.

After lunch, we waited and entered a boat to go on a canal tour! It was calm, beautiful, and so nice to be in the warm sunshine.  P1020082 P1020084 P1020089 P1020093 P1020094 P1020109

These canals are approximately 3 meters deep. Not very deep! The canals were originally used as sewage AND drinking water back in the middle ages. In fact, they used the canal water to make beer. The water was so dirty that making a blonde beer was not possible. It always had to be dark. Thank goodness for modern plumbing and clean drinking water!!!P1020112 P1020118 P1020121 P1020122 P1020123 P1020127 P1020129 P1020134

Do you see the water here? This is the ‘moat’ surrounding the city.P1020138 P1020147We then had a couple hours of free time; we wandered through their local market and retired in a park where we made daisy-chain crowns. It felt good to soak up some vitamin D!

Look for my next post where I talk about my Remembrance Day experience and my trip to the largest flea market in Western Europe with my friend Charlie!

 

QUEEN’S DAY!

I preface this post by explaining to all y’all what Queen’s Day is. Queen’s Day is a day to celebrate the monarch of the Netherlands and for the last 123 years that has been a woman. However, the first Queen’s Day did not begin until the late 1800s. There have also been many political and activist groups that have supported or rejected the day and what it symbolised. See what wikipedia has to say:

“The holiday was first observed on 31 August 1885 as Prinsessedag or Princess’s Day, the fifth birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, heiress to the Dutch throne. On her accession, the holiday acquired its present name, Koninginnedag. When held on 31 August the holiday was the final day of school summer vacation, leading to its popularity among children. Following the accession of Wilhelmina’s daughter Queen Juliana in 1948, the holiday was moved to her birthday. Her daughter, Beatrix retained the celebration on 30 April after she ascended the throne in 1980. Beatrix altered her mother’s custom of receiving a floral parade near a Royal palace, instead choosing to visit different Dutch towns each year and join in the festivities along with her sons. In 2009, the Queen was carrying out this custom in the city of Apeldoorn when Karst Tates attempted to attack her by ramming the Royal family’s vehicle with his car; instead he drove into a crowd of people who were watching the parade, and fatally crashed into a monument. Seven people in the crowd were killed, and the car’s driver also died soon afterwards.”
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A royal palace like you see above! The building is the Royal Palace in the heart of the city: Dam Square. Do you see all the orange??

This year was a special year in the Netherlands, however. This year, Willem-Alexander, the son of Beatrix, became King! The first king in 123 years. He will also be the only king for a while, as he has three daughters and no sons. I guess women rule the Netherlands!

Beatrix abdicated this year, which in many ‘monarchy circles’ (is that a thing?) is typically seen as shameful or embarrassing (such as it would be seen in England). For the Dutch, it’s merely pragmatic!

As for why all the orange? Well, the first king of the Netherlands was William of Orange-Nassau, as a result, the unofficial color of the Netherlands (and protestantism for that matter) is orange, even though the official flag colors are red, white, and blue.

How do people celebrate Queen’s Day? With plenty of drinks, costumes, and friends of course!!
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Many people also ride on their boats on the canals and float throughout the city. I know plenty of people who just climbed onto many peoples boats; everyone was okay with it and were just having a good time!

I apologize in lacking other photos, but my camera had a short battery and did not last very long unfortunately. 😦

During the day, a group of us got up early to watch (now King) Willem-Alexander receive his ‘birthright’ and his wife become Queen. His daughters were so cute and are beautiful blonde angels! They will be very beautiful ladies one day.

We then proceeded to walk into the center of Amsterdam, Dam Square, and check out the area. We also visited the Jordan district, which is where several people will sell their belongs on the curb. Many people were also selling barbequed meats. I didn’t eat these, obviously, but I did try a (regular!!) brownie. It was tasty!

Concerts and performances were happening all day throughout the city as well. Little girls were painting nails for 1 euro a hand. Boys were performing magic tricks. Adults were selling the clothes and furniture. There was (fun!) chaos everywhere. So much stimulus! It really felt like one great festival with hundreds of thousands of people.

My friend Robert came to visit for Queen’s Day and we met up with some of his friends who came for the day. We wandered, listening to music, looking at shops, and hanging out with people. By the evening, we were so exhausted that we retired early! I know, I know, I’m only 21! But trust me — all other CIEE students I know stayed in that night. 

It was definitely a great last Queen’s Day. (At least until King Willem-Alexander’s daughter becomes queen!)

Wait for a post tomorrow about my visit to the quaint and beautiful Dutch city of Den Bosch!

Flowers on Flowers

Sorry about the delay in posts! You should all be seeing one a day for the next few days. 🙂

A few weeks ago I visited the Tulip Museum with my friend Charlie!!!

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We essentially learned that a tulip bulb was worth the equivalent of approximately $16,000 … in the 1500s. Insane! People literally paid for their homes with tulips bulbs. Then the first economic bubble burst happened. 😦 Oh, well!

Tulips are such beautiful flowers. 🙂
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A week after that, two weeks ago, a group of us visited a couple of villages outside of Amsterdam. We visited a couple of chateaus, too! Do you see the outside of this one? Such a beautiful reflection. I really love that a real moat surrounds this ‘castle!’

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There were so many beautiful flower arrangements, but I think that this one was my favorite. A towering, twirling tree of beautiful flowers. The chateau was filled with flowers and they smelled SO good. If I was crazy rich a few hundred years ago, owning lots of land in Europe, I would have had fresh flowers in my house, all day, everyday (when seasonably available of course)!!

P1010773A few days after the trip, I visited Northern Amsterdam; it’s the industrial district and a shipyard where ships used to be made. Now, it hosts the largest flea market in the Netherlands that happens during the first weekend of every month. Also, several garages in the area were turned into studios for artists! I originally went up north with my friend Floor; she took me to a delicious and sustainable dinner! On our way we found this awesome retro, orange tram. I loved it. (Thus, the hug.)

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Do you see the organic cola I ordered? YUMMMMY. We then had excellent vegetables, bread, fries, and potato salads.

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A few days after that, a couple of us went to this event put on by the university. There was lots of free cotton candy! And karaoke! And Dutch bands! And a Dutch comedian… who spoke in Dutch. Talk about a cultural immersion of an experience. I know there was a joke about Icelanders, and a joke involving an old man and a young man and 500 euros and someone was blind?

So strange. It’s sort of how I imagined people who don’t speak English encounter English. With less throat-y ‘g’ noises.

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The following weekend, I visited the infamous Keukenhof garden! The largest flower garden in the WORLD. It is only open for two months out of the year. Do you see this lovely picture of me laying in front of the tulips? Silly, I know, but everyone was doing it, so I figured, hey — why not?
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I went with my friend Charlie. We saw so many beautiful flowers and wandered the grounds, which included a maze! It was pretty small and I was disappointed — we didn’t get lost at all! We made it to the center in one shot!

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Do you see these gorgeous tulips??? There were so many types and varieties, different sizes and colors… I used to think tulips were kind of lame, because I thought of the little flowers. The giant ones were my favorite though. 🙂P1010892My next post will be briefly on Queen’s Day I believe! Look for it tomorrow!!

Two Fathers, Two Mothers, One Family: “Pink Families” in the Netherlands

This guest post is written by Anne Strand, a fellow CIEE student from the other Portland suburb: Portland, Maine! She is a literature student at Bates College in Maine.

Over a decade ago, in September of 2000, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize marriage for same-sex couples; the legislation passed in the Dutch House of Representatives by winning 77% of the seat votes. By comparison, in the year 2000 in the United States, not one state had sanctioned same-sex marriage. It wasn’t until 2004 that Massachusetts became the first state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. Today, nine years after Massachusetts’ ruling, nine out of fifty US states have legalized same-sex marriage, and the campaign for equal rights continues, most recently with they highly publicized Supreme Court cases regarding California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the Netherlands, legislation surrounding same-sex marriages has moved on to a more complex matter. Debates have surfaced surrounding a concept coined as ‘pink families.’ A pink family is a family structure that consists of four parents–one gay couple and one lesbian couple–that bear children using the males’ sperm and the females’ eggs and subsequently raise the children together. The result is that the children of such families grow up with two fathers and two mothers. According to a 2013 article in the Japanese Times, there are between 20,000 and 25,000 children currently living within such ‘pink families’ in the Netherlands. Simon, a child being raise in a pink family said to the Times, “I think my friends are a little jealous, because I’ve got two mommies and two daddies and they’ve only got two parents.”

From a legal standpoint, the children of these pink families technically only have two legal parents: the mothers. The actual child bearers, and not the insemination providers, are awarded legal guardianship of the children, including authority over medical decisions and inheritance rights. In the case of a split between the couples as parenting pairs, the females also possess the right to terminate the males’ participation in the children’s lives. Some Dutch citizens argue that this legal stance is not equitable, that if it is legal for same-sex couples to marry and also legal for same-sex couples to adopt children, then there is not a legitimate reason for why all four of the parents should not obtain legal guardianship. Dutch political parties such as the Green Party, the VVD (free-market party), and the PvdA (social-democratic worker party) stand in support of amending a bill in the Netherlands that would serve to recognize parental rights that go beyond only awarding legal rights to the biological parents. Green Party member Liesbeth van Tongeren commented on the current status of the law, stating, “this does not represent the diversity of families in the Netherlands.”

The make up of such pink families as seen in the Netherlands requires a new interpretation of the modern ‘nuclear family,’ a family structure that many Americans esteem. Whether it is a product of Hollywood or perhaps general pressure for American adults to secure a life of happiness and profitability, our view of a nuclear family relies on the traditional notion of two heterosexual parents and their children. Of course, fewer of these ‘conventional’ families exist today, but that does not mean this structure is no longer viewed as an exemplar. As sociologist Mark Regnerus explained in a 2012 opinion piece in the New York Times, “Just because Americans’ family behaviors have shifted some doesn’t mean they’ve rejected the ideal. It means they’ve had difficulty accomplishing it. But ideal it remains.”

Assessing more intricate family structures as seen in the Netherlands might cause an American citizen to consider, would such a legislation even be questioned in the United States, with a current 41 out of 50 states still standing in opposition to same-sex marriage? And more importantly, what can the United States learn from nations such as the Netherlands, or Belgium, or Denmark; countries that have moved on from the fundamental question as to whether same-sex couples should have equal rights are now considering the legal rights in a 4-parent-family? Karin, a mother in a Dutch pink family, reminded her interviewer from the Japanese Times of the pervading take away message, despite debates surrounding what is and what is not a conventional family structure: “What matters is that we’re all four of us their parents and that we love them.”

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Super interesting, is it not?

Expect to see a couple more guest posts in the future!

Queer Amsterdam

I attended a television series premiere in Amsterdam at the beautiful movie theatre Pathé Tuschinski a little while back. The theatre itself was built in the 1920s and has detailed art deco influence. I personally have always appreciated this style of architecture, because it is capable of being classy while gaudy in many ways. There is such intricate detail; this type of detail can not simply be manufactured in a factory (okay, maybe now it could), but was well crafted and designed by those who sculpted the theatre. Not to mention, art deco took place during the roaring twenties, so you know, everyone had loads of fun.

The premiere I went to was with a group of fellow CIEE students. As we were all waiting outside in the mist for our other peers, we examined the pink carpet. Yes, the pink carpet. After gathering our trip, we entered and were greeted by a few fabulous drag queens; some were serving cake and others champagne. There were other drag queens giving interviews to news crew. To say the least, this premiere was–no other word for it–swanky.

The reason for the pink carpet and drag queens were because the premiere we attended was a Dutch television series called Queer Amsterdam. This title may not seem shocking for those who are only familiar with Amsterdam as a progressive place with a large queer community, however, this series is a big step for Amsterdam.


*Warning: Video is in Dutch, however, you can view the bright personalities that were there!*

This fictional drama covers the stories of several (separated) couples. All of them have intertwining relationships: Best friends, lovers, ex-lovers, and business partners. The characters in the cast are exclusively queer. They are somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual/Transvestite, Queer). Watching the show was a tad difficult. Not for the sex scenes between some couples, (which would not even be shown in the United States, even between heterosexual couples,) but only for one cultural reason: I cannot speak or understand Dutch. While most shows and films in the Netherlands are English spoken with Dutch subtitles, this series is all Dutch (with no English subtitles). Despite this, I understood most of what was unfolding. Personal identity was being questioned, HIV/AIDs was a topic between an ex-couple, and everyone was trying to figure out what love they could give and receive from others, physically and mentally. In truth, this pilot exhibited aspects of many loved primetime shows showed in the United States and all over the Western world.

So why is Queer Amsterdam more different than the likes of the American television series Will & Grace? It is the only television series created with a cast of character’s exclusively queer and they do not all fall into a stereotypical role. There is no quintessential gay best friend; no wholly awkward and butch lesbian; no individual who is hated solely for his or her sexual orientation. These aspects may change with the course of the series, of course, but these coined characters were not ever-present. Not to mention, this series has a serious tone, a similar feel to the UK’s popular series Skins, but without the straight characters and teenage drama. Another reason why this series is different is because it has not been picked up by a network in the Netherlands or Belgium (where people speak a dialect of Dutch, known as Flemish).

It is not because audiences have not over all enjoyed Queer Amsterdam, but because it is not seen as a popular enough subject to invest money into, particular during such an economic crisis. This tells me that even in Amsterdam the queer community has a way to go to be seen in a favorable or interesting light. While I would say that the queer community is generally accepted, particularly more so than many parts of the world, they are still often viewed with indifference. This is very much an over-reaching observation of a young, white, and straight female from the Northwest corner of the United States, but this is what I have noticed. I hope that the series is picked up, however, because I want to know what happens next; not only for Queer Amsterdam, but for queer Amsterdam.

Hope you enjoyed embarking on this literary experience with me. ‘Til next time.

The Eye of the Grey Cloaked Monk (Schiermonnikoog and 21st Birthday!)

Hi all!

This last weekend consisted of two ‘main’ events.

One: CIEE took a weekend trip to an island up north in Friesland (in the Netherlands) that was the first national park in 1989. It is so beautiful; the most variation in landscape I’ve seen while here. It was partially swampy, partially green, some moss-like vegetation, part beach, and some HILLS. This is a big deal, as there are literally NONE in Amsterdam or anywhere else I’ve been in the Netherlands.

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Two: It was my 21st birthday on Saturday, April 13th! Wooowhoo! If someone would have asked me where I would have been or what I would have been doing on my 21st birthday, the likelihood I would have said a small island in the Northern Netherlands would have been nigh impossible.

Still, it was great. There was a fellow CIEE-er whose birthday was Friday, April 12th. We were able to celebrate together.

Now, I want to clarify a few things about this island. First, etymologically speaking, Schiermonnikoog, the name of the island means, roughly, the eye of the grey cloaked monk. Well, that’s odd Alexandra. Why on earth would such an island be named that? Thanks for asking. I’ll tell you!

The first inhabitants of this tiny island were monks in the 13th century. They apparently wore grey cloaks. Not as exciting as you might have thought. However, you might be wondering how did they and cattle get there? Ships? Boats? Walking on water? The answer actually isn’t too far from the latter. When the water is on low tide, people are capable of walking from the mainland to the island. Granted, one only has approximately two hours to do this, but it turns out to be just enough time. Many tourists (ourselves included) participate in this activity called ‘mudflat walking,’ but I’ll talk more about that later.

Friday: After driving two hours on a bus as far North as we possibly could, we got off our bus and transfered to a ferry. This is also where we met three other students from CIEE, but they are a part of a program in Groningen, NL. While the focus in the Amsterdam CIEE program is social sciences, the Groningen CIEE program focuses on urban planning. It is a pretty small group; total they have 5 students in the program! The three we met, however, were very nice. A group of us got to know them pretty well.

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From left to right: Cherry, Emery, Sheila, Sarah (from Groningen), Sarah (from AMS), Colin (from Groningen).

After playing some B.S. on the ferry, we stepped off the ship and received our rental bikes. OH MY GOODNESS. Now, let me say that, my bike at home is not the best thing on the planet. It was bought in a garage sale when I was around 9 (I was pretty tall for my age) for approximately $10. It’s a mountain bike; bright green and white. The thing about mountain bikes is they sort of force you to hunch because of the way the seat and handlebars are. When I arrived to Amsterdam we got such cute bikes with thinner tires (not quite road bike thin, but close) and the seat forces you to sit up straight, partially due to the higher handlebars. I looooved my bike in Amsterdam. But after experiencing the bikes on Schiermonnikoog, I am so spoiled. Not only was it in the same fashion as my bike here in Amsterdam, but it was BRAND SPANKIN’ NEW or at least looked like it. Such a smooth ride! No rust! No funny noises! (My bike in AMS is not as smooth, a bit rusty, and makes funny noise.) By the end of the trip, everyone wanted to bring their rented bikes back! Alas, this was not possible.

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We all biked to our ‘farm house’ where we were staying. We got our sheets and covers together. It was essentially hostel. When we got to our room, it was incredibly humid! The whole island was, but you can clearly see the humidity capture on camera. (See below.)

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We proceeded to eat dinner. Pasta with marinara and vegan meatballs for me! I was a little scared that I ate meat meatballs though, because these meatlessballs were good; but tasted like meat. Actually. They showed us the box and everything, though, and they were meatless alright!

The head of CIEE then commenced to serve us cake!! Yes, there was dairy in the cake, but I wasn’t going to say no to perfectly delicious cake! And that is what it was. Delicious.

The group then commenced a ‘pubquiz’ AKA trivia night. We were placed in teams. And whose team won? Only the best! (…Mine.) We had an excellent group of people with varying knowledge, so that helped a lot. I love trivia because I know lots of random things, which tends to help during trivia and it sure did!

After we won our prizes (a key chain), we proceeded to the local bar on the island. (Yes, this island with a population of around 800 has a bar, of course!) Shortly after arrival, it was midnight and officially my birthday (not accounting for time differences)! A few lovely friends bought me drinks of different varieties. I will tell you this. Whiskey is not my particular favorite, but tequila done properly is not too bad. Also, not a fan of jenever (essentially Dutch gin).

Of course, drinking in the Netherlands at 21 is not any type of deal, but being around many Americans, they knew the significance. We then commenced to dance until 3 am and returned to our farm house, which was less than a quarter of mile from where we were sleeping.
(Sorry, no pictures. I forgot my camera. Actually, though!)

Saturday: In the morning, we ate breakfast and prepared for our bike tour of the island! (I also received more ‘happy birthdays!’)

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We biked around the island, stopping now and then to learn a bit about the history every 20 minutes or so. This is where we learned about the name of the island, how the monks got there, that it was the first national park, sailors crash(ed) there often, and it was the first place there was a graveyard where Allies were buried with German soldiers. The people of the island did this because they were soldiers too and deserved a soldiers funeral. They also knew that one day, the war would be over and that there would peace again. The saddest part was looking at their ages. Most of them were 19-23 when they died. I know this is typical in war, I just wished there was nothing typical about it at all.

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Leaving the graveyard, learning about the island.

We continued biking around the island — I took lots of photos, but I’ll just put a handful up here.

P1010649 P1010653 P1010654 P1010660 P1010663 P1010668 P1010673 P1010679Afterward, we had free time, so we had fun with the horse on the farm, played some card games, played soccer (juggling-and yes, I actually did this), and had a vigorous discussion about eating animals and their products. Super interesting!

P1010684 P1010688 P1010695 P1010698For dinner, we had a BBQ! As in it was meat on a grill. There were veggie-friendly alternatives though and they were really good! It’s funny; there were ~40 or so of us there, and almost a quarter of us vegetarian, except lots of the non-vegetarians kept trying to steal ‘our’ food. Not that the meat was ‘unappetizing’ or ‘unhealthy’ looking in the conventional sense, it’s just lots of them would rather have not eaten meat (not all of them by any means though).

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Meatless (left); meat (right).

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Soccer while waiting for dinner!

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Cards before and after dinner.

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The game of Presidents. Also known as pimps and hoes. Depending on how PC one wants to be.

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Me and Chase! Chase is also from UO, but will be here a whole year by the end.

After dinner and some more cards, we prepared for a bonfire! (When I say prepared, I mean we drank a couple of Amstel beers, which *fun fact* is vegan beer!)

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My hair is a hot mess.

We played a classic game of Marry, One Night Stand, Kill. (The premise is three people are listed and you have to assign them each one. Sometimes it can be easy, but other times it is hard. Consider the cartoon characters Ed, Edd, ‘n Eddy. That is a challenge. Probably only 90s kids will get that reference. Google it.)

After s’mores and stroopwaffles, we returned to our farm house and talked for a couple of hours. We had to go to sleep though, as we went MUDFLAT WALKING at 7 am.

Sunday: This was what the monks had to do to get to the island with their cattle in the 13th century. Basically, we walked in sandy mud for almost two hours. Description wise it may sound lame, but it was really awesome! And it was funny to watch some people fall in the mud. Sorry, but it was!

Unfortunately, at this time my computer refuses to upload the mudflat photos. 😦

I will try again, but in the mean time, just picture someone wearing rainboots and getting suctioned into the mud so that when they try to lift their foot it throws them off balance and KABOOM they land in the mud. This didn’t happen to me, luckily, but when it happened to others it was certainly amusing.

Then that was essentially it! We cleaned up our space, played more soccer (juggling), then went back to the ferry. We said goodbye to the Groningen students and took our bus back home to Amsterdam.

While the location of my 21st birthday was not necessarily conventional, I still went to a bar, had a BBQ, and went to the beach for a bonfire with lots of fun people. Can you tell me you hit all three?

‘Til next time.

P.S. I found this great tumblr; it is 100% accurate about Amsterdam, check it out.
http://theamsterdamlife.tumblr.com/