Sunday, May 13, 2012

That one time where I bought orange pants..

So there I am in H & M. Looking for shoes, but they caught my eye out of nowhere. Granted, they are pretty hard to ignore. The Pants. Orange pants. I mean, I'm all for colored pants! I think some nice aqua or coral tweed would be adorable. But imagine traffic cones. And oranges that you eat. And Hooters. Halloween.Construction workers. Nike shoe boxes. Yep.  The brightest, loudest screaming orange I could possibly hope for and imagine. I looked in the dressing room mirror for about 5 minutes thinking about how accurately my ass resembled these things and thought, "these are the ugliest pants ever."  I bought them. 

April 30th in the Netherlands is a special day. Queensday, or 'Koninginnedag' if you speak Dutch. It celebrates the birthday of their Queen (although April 30 is actually the birthday of the current queen's mother). Basically, it's just a chance to have one big party. And party it was. Just Google search images of Queensday, and you'll see! I have never attended a bigger event in my whole life. Some might say it resembles Mardi Gras in New Orleans, although I'm not sure having never been to New Orleans. 

I feel, however, that Queensday is not a comparison. It is not just a day that you throw around in casual conversation. You don't go, "oh yeah, I think I bought some pants on Queensday." If you were to say something about Queensday, it would probably be "OH SNAP, I HAD THE BEST QUEENSDAY EVER WEARING ORANGE PANTS." Or, maybe "Duuuddde, those pants are sooooo, ya know, orrraannnge. Duuudde." (depending on how you spent your Queensday particularly) Orange, orange everywhere! Orange cowboy hats, jerseys, T-shirts, tiaras, flags, streamers, balloons, dresses, and pants too! I bought the orange pants in preparation for Queensday, which was a pretty good choice, seeing as I would've looked pretty dumb without any orange on. It was really cool to see the streets packed with solid orange. I imagine it would be phenomenal to fly over Amsterdam on this day and just see gridlines of orange. 

Remember my last post about Amsterdam? Now imagine those peaceful little canals packed with boats full of people dancing, blasting music, drinking Heineken, and throwing things at the casual observers. The streets were even more packed with all sorts of vendors selling yard-sale items, clothing, food, drinks, anything. You name it, you could find it somewhere. 

And the food. Oh my, the food. Right now is where I ask you not to judge me for the amount of food consumed during this trip.... freshly squeezed orange juice, sliced apples with chocolate syrup, Poffertjes (half-dollar sized pancakes with sweet butter), Dutch fries, Kroket-a weird concoction that is basically fried gravy (it comes out of a vending machine), and flaming shots called the Harry Potter. I even had the McDonald's version of the Kroket, the McKroket, which was even better than the real thing. 

The infamous Dutch Kroket in front of its vending machine.
What the inside of a Kroket actually looks like. 

The McKROKET...patty-form
"Harry Potter" shots

I felt pretty much like this graffiti afterwards, "Consumer" 

 The absolute best part of the day was a small table set up with some housewares for sale in a residential part of town. The adults sat in lawn chairs outside conversing, drinking beer, and watching the parade-like throngs of people pass by. But there was a little sign taped to the edge of the table with an arrow pointing down and text that read "slapende kat" (or sleeping cat), and underneath, a small little kid dressed up in a cat costume, laying in a little nest of blankets pretending to sleep, occasionally peeking open their eyes to see if anyone had put a coin in the box. Right on cue, Emily and I both stop and completely melt. We'd have probably  sold our souls to that adorable little cat-kid if asked, and proceeded to empty our pocket change into the box, while the parents laughed at our obvious amusement. 

Trash in the streets during the day.

I wish I could describe the atmosphere. It was somewhere between brawling, obnoxious, pressing, and loud to laid-back, chill, easy-going, friendly, and relaxed. If someone shouted something, they did so for merely the purpose of declaring their happiness. At times, I was pressed body-to-body with people on all sides of me in the middle of a street, the constant threat of being run over by the push of people behind, and at others I lounged languidly with Emily, our legs hanging over the side of the stone canal wall, throwing our faces back to the sun, soaking up the music and smells, and atmosphere. It was just a festival which embraced all the nationalities, all the quirkiness, all the weird, mismatched, and friendly people that Amsterdam had to offer. 

 I wish my photos did it justice. But I didn't bring my camera along with me this time (seeing as I got my phone stolen and, praise Jesus, returned!) so I had to settle for cell pics. I won't bore you with any more details, but trust me, those orange pants were worth every penny. (Although I secretly plan on returning them if I can successfully remove the dirt stain from the leg)   :) 

Oh, and did I mention, I got to watch my favorite band in the whole world perform live approx. 20 feet in front of me the next day? Life was good. I couldn't ask for more blessings.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In Holland, eveerythiijng neeeds eextraa vooweels (and throw in a couple j's too)

Have I spent the whole day in my pajamas? Yes. Have I had two cups of cappuccino, gone no further than the kitchen, and left my hair in its non-showered state? Have I eaten cereal for dinner because cooking pasta was too much work and I ate the last of my cheese two days ago? Yes. But I HAVE finished a letter, completed my short-story's revision for publication (crossed fingers), organized my photos, listened to four of Coldplay's albums, replied to my emails, and started this new blog! I call that success. Maybe all I need in order to be productive is to be anti-productive! I have discovered the secret to life!!! On that positive note, I'm now attempting the daunting task of trying to blog about my trip into the world of windmills, wooden shoes, white cheese, watery Heineken, wispy blonde hair/blue eyes, and the wicked city of Amsterdam. In other words, I visited Emily

Enter, Nederlands.

Train trip from Aachen - Amsterdam = 3.5 hours. To me, that 3.5 hours sounded like a magical adventure where I would board the Hogwarts express and see the magical landscape of Holland passing me by, each turn of the tracks a new world to see through the windows. 
REALITY. Three and a half hours includes a twenty minute connection in the most boring train station in Europe, only to sit in one of the backwards-facing seats in the top of a very full train where the windows are smaller, and there is no leg room. The seats are strategically placed so that your feet have nowhere to go, and just far enough away from the wall so that in order to lean your head against the glass you have to tilt it at a neck-cramping angle. Not to mention the fact that the only way you know you've reached your destination is by listening to the static (fast-food drive-thru like) voice telling me in Dutch which station I'm at. Oh, and that magical Dutch country side? Yeah, it looks just like Missouri. Farms, farms, and more farms. Did I mention farms? The only distinguishing difference between Missouri farms and Dutch farms are that there are small canals that serve as irrigation ditches, and they break up the monotony. Oh, also in Missouri, you won't find a bright yellow passenger train pelting through the middle of a farm, scaring cows off in either direction. I did see a big white swan perched in a field every once in a while, which was rather odd.  

When I finally arrived in Amsterdam, just about anything would've seemed wonderful after that train ride, but     I was completely blown away with how beautiful it was. My expectations of Amsterdam were not high... get it?...high? ...hahaha, bad pun. Anyway. I was thinking  prostitutes, coffee shops, trashy tourist shops, etc, etc. But I might go out on a limb here and say Amsterdam might just be my favorite city so far (well, it's a tie with London at least). 

 #1.) The canals!! I was not expecting that! I mean, I knew Amsterdam had canals. I knew it was below sea level. But I didn't realize how integral they were to the atmosphere of the city. They were everywhere. So in a normal walk/bike ride, we'd cross several canals. There were hardly times when we weren't walking along one canal or another. And they are spanned by stunning bridges (some even light up at night). The peaceful canals just turned everything into a picturesque scene, even the Red Light District! *I sort of begged Emily to take me there so I could experience it. Not a place I'd want to have a picnic in. But the canals made it better! 

#2.) The architecture! It was clearly different from that in Germany. I'm not an architecture buff, so I wouldn't know how to describe it, but just trust me when I say it was beautiful. Lots of really old buildings, and they almost reminded me of something that you might find in more Eastern Europe like Turkey or Slovakia. Lots of red brick with white accents, and intricate detail and molding. Combine that with the canals, and let's just say I was a happy camper. 

I'm not ashamed to say I'm pretty jealous that Emily gets to go to school in Amsterdam. What was I thinking?? Just kidding. 

We visited a really cute town just outside of Amsterdam. Only after getting on the wrong train out of town, going way past our destination, taking the train back, then washing, rinsing and repeating. We finally made it to Zaanse Schans after walking past a stinky cocoa factory that smelled like chocolate poop. But you turn the corner, and BAM. Water and windmills. 

There was a cheese store with free samples (YES, I tried every single free sample, fighting with any little girl over the biggest piece in the jar), and a wooden shoe shop! 

Emily was a great guide took me to a bunch of her favorite places, restaurants, and bars in the hip, non-touristy parts of Amsterdam, which all turned out to be really cool. I felt as if I walked into a living, breathing, Pinterest world.

 I got to see the Bibliotheek (one of the top 25 libraries in the world!) and we had dinner at the top where we got to overlook Amsterdam. Interestingly enough, the actual book sections weren't very fun to be in. They were pretty plain. But everything else was cool! 

The Kid's section ^^

Eh, we're in a library. Why not feast?? 

I saw a lot of the touristy things too, like Dam Square, the Palace, Anne Frank's house and got my picture with this sign (I really liked the Queens face plastered on the Rijksmuseum behind it, nice touch for Queensday!). 

Anne Frank's house ^

And (in case you weren't aware), Amsterdam has a pretty tacky side as well. Ooooh shocking! (I already mentioned I made a pit stop in the Red Light District) 

Yes, yes, there is a condom shaped like a giraffe.

Oh, hey Britain. Fancy meeting you here!

That's whatcha call a Monopoly.

BEST. CONTRAPTION. EVER. It's a beer bike!! There's beer on tap at the table, and everyone pedals with one person steering!!!!!!!!!!!!

 I'm going to do a separate post about my Queensday festivities later! Otherwise, this would be the never-ending post. I suppose that would be fitting for Amsterdam, but I'll spare your eyes for now. :) 

PS. I changed the background of all my posts from now on so that they're a bit easier to read. Leave me a comment about what you think! 

Beer and Fußball

I know I haven't been doing a fair job of keeping everything updated, so here's my (albeit lacking) attempt to catch up a small bit! The past couple of months have been so busy! I still have to slap myself in the face sometimes to remind myself that, in fact, I have NOT always lived in Germany, and that Aachen is not my real home. I've come to the mind-blowing epiphany that it's not about how long you live in a place that makes it your home, but rather how you interact with it. It's all about how you connect yourself to it, explore it, observe it from an outsider's point of view, and learn to appreciate it. If I would've known that going into college, it wouldn't have taken two years for me to acclimate to Springfield. But i digress.

1. BEER 
No trip to Germany is complete without becoming a beer-lover. Luckily, I didn't have far to go. I didn't realize until visiting the Netherlands how great German beer is. It's can seriously be the Miss America of all beer. I say this bold statement based on two things, taste and price. Mostly price, since I'm a broke college student living in a Euro world with a Dollars bank account. But really.  You can get really good beer (correction: beers**, who just buys one beer?)  for a couple euro or less at the supermarket. Or if you know where to go, you can get a 2 euro half-liter draught weizen (wheat beer....if you don't know what this is, imagine Blue Moon...but 18340967 times better). The bar in my basement (yeah, repeat that in your head....BAR IN BASEMENT) has 1 euro Veltins (from one of the top 7 breweries in Germ.), Kölsch, Jever, and more. In fact, for those days when coffee just isn't enough, I am quite lucky enough to also have a handy-dandy BEER VENDING MACHINE in the basement. I say those capitalized words while waving my hands around in the air above my head to emphasize the revolutionary greatness of this. 
Or, if you want to get really German, you can mix your beer with Coke, Fanta, banana juice (I've tried this and it's surprisingly delicious), cherry syrup, wine, or just about anything you want. It sounds disgusting, but don't hate until you've tried it! (I picture all my blog-readers running to their kitchens right now to whip up a banana beer..don't disappoint me!) 

I could go on talking about German beer for a really long time...but anyway.


I accomplished something major on my list!!! I went to watch an Aachen vs Frankfurt match a couple weeks ago. Alemannia is Aachen's fußball team (yellow and black), who are sadly now in the third league (which apparently no one cares about). We sat in the front row instead of standing with the rest of the crazy fans, which was nice for me because I wanted to take lots of pictures and I didn't understand the game anyway, so I kept having to ask questions. I think my toes might have a bit of permanent frostbite from that game (what a great souvenir!). 

My German friend told me that Alemannia used to be pretty good, but their stadium was always full so they built a bigger and better one. *For the record, the new stadium is reallllly nice. It holds about 30-25,000 people if I remember correctly. But in order to pay for the new stadium, Alemannia had to sell off their best players. So now, no one goes to the games because they suck and the stadium is usually only about 1/2 full (15,000 people which is ironic because the old stadium held 20,000). The game that I attended was an important match because it determined whether or not Alemannia would stay in the (still good) 2nd league, or be bumped into the 3rd league. Frankfurt filled a quarter of the stadium with red, black, screaming, and even fireworks. Due to my complete lack of soccer knowledge, I couldn't even say if they tried hard or not, but we lost 0-3 no matter how well they played. There were some pretty funny moments, though. At one point, one of the Frankfurt players just completely pretended that the Alemannia player pushed him down, so he's standing there happy as a lark, looks at the guy next to him, falls down flat on the ground, and starts yelling. The best part was that the ref wasn't even paying attention. The stands were a mixture of laughter and yelling profanities at him. 

Regardless, it was an awesome experience. During the yellow-card moments of the match, I had never heard louder screaming in my entire life. I'll just describe the rest of it with pictures.

Frankfurt with the ball, as was most of the game.

What a gem.

Poor Alemannia didn't stand a chance.

Extra security at the end of the game to control the rioting.

Frankfurt celebrated their win with fireworks

♫ Ale (sung ah-lay), Ale, Ale, Ale, Ale,
Alemannia, Alemannia,
Ale, Ale, Ale! ♫

On a brief and unrelated  note, I want to complain. It is currently MAY 6th, and 46 degrees outside. Yesterday, I had to put the fleece lining back inside my coat, and wore my warmest scarf. Oh, it's also raining, but I stopped noticing that after the first four weeks of solid precipitation. I pray your weather is better wherever you are!! 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Erster Mai... Happy May Day!

Since the first of May is Labor Day in Germany, there was no class, and I got to stay an extra day in Amsterdam (blog to come later)! But I just wanted to quickly share the cute traditions that they have here! May 1st is also an older holiday where the Germans welcome in springtime. 

People used to believe that witches and ghosts could more easily enter the world on this night. My Czech friends told me that their tradition is to make a small witch out of paper or something, and then burn it in significance of burning away the winter and welcoming in the spring. Some Germans also follow that tradition. Most commonly known is the German May Pole. A large pole with multiple ribbons will be set up in the middle of the village, and the townspeople will celebrate, and wind the ribbons around it. Since I live in western Germany, in a pretty good sized city, there was sadly no May Pole as far as I know. 

BUT, when I got home I saw these cute little decorated trees everywhere! Tied to light posts, buildings, and even the top of a dead tree (that one was my favorite).  

You can't really see the actual tree in the picture, but there is a small white birch tied to that light post. 

They were the cutest things ever! During the night before Erster Mai (May Day), German boys/men will go and cut a small white birch (usually about 5 feet tall or so), and decorate its branches with colorful streamers (But not white! Apparently that signifies dislike). They then go and tie the tree in secret to the house of the girl they love/wish to marry. Some boys get really clever with it; as I said before, I saw one tied to the top of a giant dead tree. 

Since I didn't have my camera on me when I saw most of them, I wasn't able to capture any more pictures other than the ones above, so I took the photo below from this blog.