windmills, beaches, flower markets and much rambling (2004-03-01 - 9:24 p.m.)
Haven't posted for a couple of days and been doing quite a bit of stuff. I'll start with today, though, that being freshest in my mind and all. Today the weather was beautiful (finally!) so Steph and I took off to Scheveningen. This is more or less a holiday town that sort of blends into the edge of Den Haag (The Hague). You have to take the train to Den Haag and then take the tram to Scheveningen. This is a good thing, because a). the tram ride was very cool and b). neither Steph nor I can properly pronounce Scheveningen, and neither wanted to embarrass ourselves trying. As it turns out, we're not the only ones who have this problem. According to the guidebook, during WWII Dutch resistance groups discovered Nazi infiltrators by getting them to say "Scheveningen" - which is apparently as impossible for Germans to pronounce as it is for us! (something like SKAY-ve-ning-eh, but more throaty).
We decided on going to the beach not only because of the weather, but because all the museums in the country are for some reason closed on Mondays. It turned out to be a great idea, though. The beach was lovely and I had a great time poking through the shells and watching the horse and dogs on the beach. It was a huge sandy expanse and I can see why everyone goes there for holiday. I think I prefer rocky beaches, but this was nice anyway. It was surrounded by huge dunes studded with what looked to be old concrete bunkers. From WWII, perhaps - we never did find out. There was staircase off the beach to the dunes, so we climbed it and found a very nice walking path through the grassy hills. We hiked back to Scheveningen (2.4 km) and then walked back to the beach and along it till we found a place to stop for pannekoeken with bananas and apples - yum! Very much like crepes, actually, rather than what I think of as pancakes.
Anyway, it was a nice active outdoors kind of day, which is probably a good idea for me. I mentioned that my underwear was crawling the other day, and Steph (being the supportive friend she is) mentioned that it's probably the increase in the size of my butt. sigh. One of these days I will have to rent a bike and join the rest of the Dutch in working off all the cheese and stroopwaffles.
Steph and I had been sticking close to Utrecht during the latter part of last week, mostly because of the weather (and Steph's addiction to a series of books she's just discovered and consequent reluctance to go anywhere!) We did wander out to the markt on Saturday, though. This is the day of the big flower market, and I was very impressed by it. Stalls and stalls of gorgeous flowers, and super-cheap by Canadian standards. We picked up 25 Gerber daisies (orange) for 3.50 euros - when you pay three bucks for one back home! Steph also got a gorgeous bouquet consisting of three separate groups of flowers and foliage for 5 euros. Just amazing. Steph has resolved to set a weekly flower budget and I can understand why!
We also did a bit of wedding dress shopping on Saturday but didn't get much of anywhere. The first place we went to, the guy told us to check the discount place next door and come back if we didn't find anything there, which put a bit of a damper on the search. But we will keep looking. Wedding dress shopping with Steph is more interesting because she won't be getting your typical big floofy white dress. We will find something much more interesting. I also got to sit in on the planning of the wedding invitation text. Poor old Rem, trying to write with Steph and I both looking over his shoulder picking holes in his syntax! Stephen is designing the invites and I know they'll be great. The wedding itself is going to be a barbeque and a dance, two of my favorite things. And a VERY SHORT ceremony, which I also approve of!
Sunday we did get out of the city, and how! We were entertained for the entire day by Rein and Dorothy, an older couple who are Steph and Rem's primary social contacts so far. They live in Zeist, a nearby town, so we took the train there and they picked us up at the station to go to church. Unfortunately this involved getting up far too early... and I hadn't slept the night before. Then we hung around at the church for a few hours while Dorothy set things up and Rem and Rein sang (they're both in the choir). When the service began, of course it was all in Dutch. I will draw a veil over my feelings on that, only pointing out that I've been known to have trouble staying awake in church when I can understand the language and I'm NOT completely sleep-deprived. Urk. Oh well, the music was nice at least, and I'm sure trying to sing it probably helped my Dutch pronounciation...
The church was of course Christian Reformed, and in the milling around for coffee afterwards I realized that it was populated with the same kind of old lady that is found at community centre functions in Rocky - the kind that will pick you up by the waist and move you bodily out of the way if they'd like to get past! Maybe it's a Dutch thing. Anyway, I was quite pleased to get out of the crush (although we did talk to some very cool people) and go to Rein and Dorothy's. They have a gorgeous sprawling house with a big garden and a glassed-in area looking out on it, which is where we had tea. They fed us lunch as well, and then took us for a long drive to see a big chunk of the countryside. We went on a ferry twice, and drove along some dikes and saw some polders. Saw lots of houses built on big mounds as well. Dorothy is a teacher and was great about giving explanations of things as we went along. I learned a lot about the country, actually.
The high point of the drive, though, was the windmill. Apparently if you're interested, you can buy a windmill for a euro from the government if you promise to keep it in working order and take care of it. We found one that was open and got to go inside and climb all the way to the top! You climbed up tiny little rickety wooden ladders. Note for future reference: do NOT wear floppy wide-legged black pants if there's any chance you will be climbing up a windmill later that day. I ended up tucking my personal pair into my boots and (as Steph pointed out) looked very Romulan.
The windmill is actually in use and we got to see the millstones and how the wind is harnessed to grind wheat into flour. Dorothy told us you actually have to go to school to learn to run a windmill. The windmill guy also stopped the mill and showed us the blades - how they're slats of wood covered with canvas (tied with ropes) and are bent like the sails of a ship in order to better catch the wind. The blades can also be rotated around to catch the wind no matter what direction it's coming from - they move in a circle around the base. Remkes was particularly pleased because he got to buy two bags of wind-milled flour to make bread with! (I hope this happens in the next week though!)
Whew, that was a long post. I suppose I'm in a talkative mood. Heard from former roommate Steve on the weekend, which was great, but I'm starting to feel a bit out of contact with home. I hope that will change once I'm settled and have a phone and address.
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