Battle Wounds and Strawberries

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Here’s the view from the place in which we are staying. It’s on the outskirts of the city in a very residential area, but it is by the landmark Windmill Brewery, and pretty close to the University of Amsterdam campus. I would describe it as “gezellig.”  This is the word the Dutch complain is untranslatable, but essentially means cozy, warm, or nice. Oddly, it is pronounced with the “g”s making the very un-cozy throat-clearing Germanic noise English-speakers only use when we accidentally swallow a bug. “HUHHH-ZELL-IHUHHH.” Oh, how cute and cozy!

20140623_154400Today we did the most Dutch thing we could think of: riding a bike.

Now, in the Netherlands, bikes rule the roads. In fact, bikes (not pedestrians) always have the right of way. There are more bikes than people in this city. The great thing about that though, as articulated by one of our lecturers today, is that everyone in a car also has a bike at home, so we can be sure they are cautious of us bike-riders. When you actually hop on a bike, though, it is intimidating! First of all, a “Dutch Bicycle” uses pedal brakes (which I haven’t used since I was eight years old) rather than hand brakes and multiple speeds (the American norm). Second of all, Amsterdammers have been riding on bikes since birth. Parents have little basket seats, back seats, wagons, or handlebars their children ride on. As a result, they could probably do it blindfolded. My favorites are the people who can ride bikes in stiletto heels, or the couples who have one person pedaling while the other sits side saddle on the seat. Thirdly, there are very prominent bike lanes with their own stoplights that are separate from cars and pedestrians, but it is really hard to figure out how to make a left turn! I got the peer-pressure bell warning a lot on this first ride. Also, as a pedestrian, it’s pretty easy to accidentally step into the bike lane and then quickly realize your mistake and fear for your life and limbs. These people are professional city cyclists, and bikes are their main method of transportation. Being a newbie at this whole metropolitan bike game, I did exactly what I was supposed to avoid: I got my bike tire stuck in the tram (or trolley) track. They are grooved and a few inches wide, so my tire got stuck and I fell over! Thankfully I didn’t hit my head, but I did cut my thumb and bruised my leg moderately badly. Oh well- when it scars I will be able to say “Yeah, I got this scar biking in Amsterdam when my tire got stuck in the tram track.” How cool!

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Workers built the canals a few hundred years ago so this maritime city could supply goods and movement effectively. That type of industrialization stimulated the economy and made things much easier. The canals were originally dug by hand, and quickly at that. The canals horseshoe through the city, each having outlets to sea on the upper lefthand and the upper righthand sides. There are drawbridges, houseboats, and boat tours. It’s adorable! I haven’t experienced it firsthand yet, but we plan on going swimming at least once, and the University gave us some sort of boat voucher  we can use to see the canal from water-level.

I promised I would discuss food in my blog, so here is my first update. It took me less than six hours to become wholeheartedly and hopelessly addicted to European strawberries. American strawberries are hollow, dense, and fist-sized. These ones, though, are sweet and melt in your mouth. They are the epitome of nature’s candy. I think my group members think my obsession is a little crazy, but these ones taste handpicked and homegrown. Day three in Amsterdam and I just purchased my third basket of strawberries. The non-GMO fruit here is definitely something to write home about.

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Secondly, I partook in the consumption of my favorite soda today: the European Fanta. It actually tastes like oranges, not just high fructose corn syrup! It seems like it wouldn’t be THAT different, but it really is. Think of it as a really sweet fizzy orange juice – like carbonated Minute Maid. Love it and all of its orangey goodness.20140623_155740

Finally, the Dutch are famous for their cheese, and trust me, there is a reason for that. The cheese museum downtown has free samples! Unfortunately my friends seemed eager to move on, so I only got to try about 80 percent of the cheese (there was a lot of cheese), but they had everything. Truffle cheese, pesto cheese, smoked cheese, and the best Gouda one could ever dream of. It was wonderful. The Dutch really take pride in their cheese, and it’s delightful to be able to taste that dedication and history in the end product. The museum also has an old-fashioned historical cheese scale, which is of tremendous size for wheels like the one in my photo.20140622_104948

Today we learned some phrases in Survival Dutch class, so that’s how I’ll sign off.

Ik vind Amsterdam mooi. Het gaat lekker. Tot snel. Doei doei!

(I find Amsterdam beautiful. I am great. See you soon. Bye bye!)