Since today is International Women’s Day (Vrouwen Dag), I’d like to say thank you to the women in my life. Thank you for listening, loving, teaching, supporting, and inspiring. And a special thank you to the women who befriended me and helped make my transition to living in the Netherlands easier.
Disclaimer: I rarely mention politics but today I am making an exception. My aim is not to persuade or change your mind but rather to share my experiences and perspective.
On January 21, Amsterdam held a Women’s March in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. The march’s aim was to raise awareness and show support for women’s and minorities’ issues. I found out about the event a week before it happened (thanks to a friend’s post on social media) and debated joining the march. Would it do any good? Would anyone listen? The current political landscape is hateful, divisive, and exclusionary. None of those things help people or demonstrate compassion. I was raised to treat people with love and compassion whether or not I agreed with them. In the end I decided to march because I believe that everyone has a right to freedom, education, and safety. I believe people have a right to be heard and respected.
In the days leading up to the march, I read a bunch of articles covering intersectional issues. I thought long and hard about what to put on my sign. How could I show support everything I wanted to support and yet be clear and concise? (If you have ever tried to write a tweet about a complex issue you can appreciate the struggle.) I learned how to crochet so I could make a hat (yes, I read many articles for and against the pussyhat). To be honest it was less about the hat and more about learning a new skill but I digress.
On the day of the march Mike and I boarded a train to Amsterdam with hand painted signs. (No pussyhat since I hadn’t finished it.) While waiting for the tram, I met another expat and her daughter heading to the march. The woman felt frustrated with the recent election and had been disappointed she couldn’t attend the Women’s March on Washington. She was happily surprised that the Dutch were holding solidarity marches in Amsterdam and Den Haag.
The closer we got to Museumplein the more people we saw carrying signs, wearing pussyhats, or wearing political pins. I wasn’t sure how many people would attend but the crowd assembled in front of the Rijksmuseum exceeded my expectations. The area in front of the I AMsterdam sign was already shoulder to shoulder. Signs rose above the crowd proclaiming support for women’s rights, refugees, immigration, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA issues, Muslims, education, democratic freedom etc. (Some took advantage of the opportunity to protest a certain orange haired individual.)
We chanted “Equal rights are human rights” and “Black lives matter” etc. Some people had brought sheet music and sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “All You Need is Love.” We marched around Museumplein and ended in front of the US Consulate.
As an immigrant/expat in the Netherlands, it heartened me to see how many people (approximately 3000 according to police estimates) came out on a cold winter day to raise their voices in support of each other. Some people brought their families (including pets, the Dutch bring their dogs everywhere it seems). The individuals marching were as diverse as the issues. Most of the people I spoke to were expats from all over, including a Muslim refugee, but I also spoke a Dutch woman or two. Everyone I spoke to came out for different reasons. Some marched for themselves. Some marched for their children or family. Some marched for friends.
I had begun the week frustrated but after the march I felt at peace. I felt heard and no longer alone. If enough of us raise our voices we will be heard and we can change things for the better.
I was flipping through my photos recently and realized that I neglected to post about the Amsterdam Gay Pride festival. Considering what a HUGE event Pride is, this was a big oversight on my part. Oops. So now you get my perspective on the event (just a little late).
The Amsterdam Gay Pride is a week long festival that occurs annually in August. This year Amsterdam hosted EuroPride, a gay pride festival hosted by a different European city each year, so the festival lasted 3 weeks this year. There are always tons of events ranging from drag shows to parties to film screenings. And this year, thanks to EuroPride, there were even more events. Conchita Wurst (2014 Eurovision Song Contest winner) performed this year as part of EuroPride but unfortunately, I didn’t get to see her. It is impossible to attend all the events and parties.
People come from all over Europe (and the world) to celebrate. The streets are crowded with people in pink* and rainbow garb. There are beer and concession vendors (plus information tents) all over the town center. You can also buy (or sometimes get free) swag ranging from t-shirts to penis balloons. The balloons seemed to be quite popular this year. I ended up with a free fan this year.
Last year was my first Pride and I had no idea what to expect. I arrived late to an event and could barely see the performers. It was still fun but I would have enjoyed it more had I been able to see more of the show. This year I decided to do it right. I planned what I wanted to see and arrived early. Dressing up is part of the fun so I spent a lot of time putting together my costume. Mike even got into the spirit with a feather boa. We ordered him an ally pin but it didn’t arrive in time. On the upside he has it for next year.
We decided to check out the Canal Parade and staked out our spot early. We were near the end of the route so it was maybe 15-20 minutes after the start time that we saw the first float. The Canal Parade is a quintessentially Dutch (and extremely popular) part of the festivities. Local groups and businesses put together floats for the parade.
It was heartening to see all the support for the community. Amsterdam is committed to making the city safe and welcome for the LGBTQIA+ individuals and it shows. I’m happy to live in a country where it is safe to be yourself and love who you love. And I’m lucky to have found someone who loves and supports me (and is willing to wear a boa to prove it). Pride was a lot of fun this year and I’m looking forward to the festivities next year.
*Pink is the official color of the LGBTQIA+ community is the Netherlands.
I love Utrecht. It is a lovely town and a short train ride away from me. There are lots of restaurants and things to do. I often walk by the Domkerk when I visit. The Pandenhof is the cloister adjoining the church.
Utrecht also has several canals. There are cafes along many of the canals. One of my favorite wine bars overlooks a canal. At some point I want to rent a boat to tour along the canals.
I am a huge nerd (no shocker to those of you who know me) and I love museums. The Speelklok Musuem is pretty cool and one of the more unusual museums I have visited. They have a variety of mechanical music devices from music boxes on up to precursors of the jukebox. You can still see speelkloken in town markets and festivals all over the Netherlands. The ones in town are usually the size of a keyboard and operated by one person. I love listening to them as I go about errands in town.
Nijntje is one of the more famous Dutch residents; she’s been around since the mid 1950’s. Her name comes from the Dutch word for little rabbit (konijntje). English speakers know her better as Miffy. I totally missed it last time I was there but there are Nijntje traffic lights in Utrecht. There is also an adorable Nijntje store in downtown Utrecht.
This year I have tried to do more cooking with typically Dutch ingredients. Fall is amazing because pumpkins are available everywhere. I discovered last year how much I love pumpkin. I’ve made pumpkin black bean chili, pumpkin curry, and pumpkin risotto. Pumpkin chickpea stammpot is next on my list to make. This year I decided to expand the variety of vegetables I cook. I began with an aardpeer soup.
Aardpeer – I discovered this vegetable after seeing it in a recipe. Aardpeer is a small, ugly root with a bark-like skin. Peel off the skin then roast them or blend them up in a soup. Roasted they take on a nutty flavor but I found that in soup they taste similar to potato. Mike was underwhelmed by the flavor.
Boerenkool, or kale to English speakers, is a Dutch staple. They will put it in everything from stammpot to ovenschotel (a hearty casserole style dish). I recently made a boerenkool stammpot with fennel seeds. It tasted strongly of fennel which is great – if you like fennel. Next time I’d replace the fennel with another herb or seasoning. At some point I want to try boerenkool in a quiche or casserole.
Next on my list to try:
Venkel (fennel root) – A friend swears it is much milder and tastes better than the seeds. He suggested to chop it up and roast it or saute it. This is almost always available at the store or market and the Dutch put it in everything from salad to casserole or even by itself as a side dish.
Also popular this time of year are
Paddenstoelen* (mushrooms) – The Dutch will often refer to them as champignons** (yes, they use the French word and no, I don’t know why). Originally I thought this was to differentiate between the plain button mushrooms (paddenstoelen) and chanterelles (champignons) but then I saw a bag of button mushrooms labeled champignons. So who knows? I really enjoy the flavor of mushrooms and would cook them more if Mike liked them.
Mussels – Given my dislike for shellfish and paranoia about cooking seafood I will not try to cook them.
*Interesting side note in Dutch padden are toads. So paddenstoelen are literally toad chairs which is similar to the English toadstools.
**To my Dutch friends reading this: if you know why people use champignons instead of paddenstoelen let me know.
In looking back through the archives, I realized that I haven’t discussed one of my favorite holidays: Halloween. Unlike in the US, Halloween isn’t as big a deal in the Netherlands. There are no seasonal stores dedicated to creepy masks, fake blood, and costumes for every member of the family (including the dog). No one turns their front yard into a graveyard or hangs cheesecloth ghosts from the trees. I have never seen children go trick or treating* in my neighborhood. Halloween is primarily an adult holiday here.
What you will find are haunted houses, theme nights at pubs and cafes, private parties, and of course whatever spooky movies are in the cinemas. Businesses will sometimes host Halloween parties for their employees. Some stores have a small selection (read a couple shelves) of Halloween goods. You can buy costumes, skull shaped lollipops, or cookie cutters and baking dishes in ghoulish shapes. There seems to be less emphasis on sexy costumes and more focus on the scary side of Halloween. I find that a refreshing change. If you want to deck your halls in blood and bones, buying decorations online or making them is your best bet.
*On November 11, Sint Maarten’s day, children go out with lanterns and sing in hopes of receiving candy. This is mainly celebrated in the Noord-Holland province. St. Maarten is the patron saint of children and the poor.
Today Mike and I decided to explore a nearby town: Naarden, a fortress town dating from the 1300’s. From Google maps you can see the starburst outline of the town’s canals and fortifications. Obviously, this sounded amazing so we had to check it out.
As you approach the city, the fortifications are striking: angular high green berms rise from the ground beyond a beautiful moat. When you enter the fortifications, you can easily see the church spire. We followed the spire of Grote Kerk, past charming buildings in brick or the traditional Dutch green, to the heart of the city.
The church was open so we wandered in. There is a beautiful painted wooden ceiling with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. A nice gentleman offered us a couple mirrors to get a better look at the ceiling without neck strain. On the way out Mike stopped to admire some centuries old graffiti on one of the doors. Some of it looked like it was Latin or Greek letters.
I found poems and quotes painted on numerous buildings around the town.
There are some cafes and wine shops along the main street but sadly most of them were closed. (Monday lots of businesses close or open later.) I think we may go back to check out the wine shops at some point. We did find a nice little place to have some coffee.
Our visit to Naarden was a low key day trip and we loved the architecture and fortifications. I’m really glad we finally got to see it.
Last year, Mike and I planted cilantro, basil, and two types of mint. This year we are expanding our herb garden or kruidentuin. We also picked up peppers and tomatoes. Of course, I picked the rainiest day of the weekend to go to the garden center on the other side of town.
Mike started tomatoes inside in a small container. We didn’t realize how many plants we had until they were transplanted into larger pots. Currently the tomatoes, mint, and bell peppers are flourishing. The hot peppers never sprouted. Oh well.
Last Thursday we visited Rollende Keukens in Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam. As the name suggests this is a several day food truck event. Almost the whole park was end to end food trucks and music tents. We arrived early enough to nab a picnic spot on the grass. You could find pretty much any type of international, fusion, or Dutch food you could want. Our group had bahn-mi, mango-pineapple lassie, seafood burgers, fancy mac n cheese (topped with basil and tomato), stracciatella and churros. I’d love to go again next year.