dinsdag, september 28, 2004

Questions for wedding guests

So Ian and I were just sitting here feeling excited about Jancy and Bobbi and Dan and Patty and Cameron and Ken and ... oh - Ian is rolling his eyes and telling me to just leave it at that for now and get to the point. Anyway, we were wondering about those of you who were going to plan on being here for 10 or more days, and if you wanted to plan trips to other European cities together while you're here.

We would suggest one of the following: Paris, London, Rome, Prague, Berlin, Budapest, Madrid, Barcelona or the Swiss Alps. The above are in no particular order, but none are too far from us. We can get information about cheap flights, hotels, etc. for you. We've found that for travel in Europe, it's much cheaper to get the tickets here, if you buy them in advance. Current flight prices are about 70 Euros to get to Switzerland (1 Euro = $1.22 today), 50 Euro to get to London, 150 Euro to Madrid, 60 Euro to Berlin, and 110 Euro to Prague. You can also get to all of these places by train, and it will be less.

We'll probably do a day in Amsterdam for anyone who wants to come along, but we also know that you may want time away from everyone and explore by yourself. If you want to explore on your own, don't worry - nothing is mandatory.

There are also tons of places and things to do in The Netherlands. At the time of the wedding, there should be some beautiful gardens with flowers in bloom. As an example, you can visit http://www.keukenhof.nl - their site says: "Keukenhof was originally the herb garden ("keuken" means kitchen in Dutch) of the Countess of Holland, Jacoba van Beyeren (1401-1436). In 1840, the horticultural architects Zocher, a father and son, designed the park that forms the basis of the current Keukenhof. They also designed the noted Vondelpark in Amsterdam." Keukenhof is near Leiden.

As for accomodations here in Utrecht, we're going to start researching that towards the end of this week.

Let us know what you think - if you post a comment by clicking on the envelope link at the end of this post, everyone will be able to see it.

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maandag, september 27, 2004

Go Fetch, pt. II

Today the Dutch government played "go fetch" with us again. We were asked to visit our Embassies. Again. In Amsterdam. For documents we have already provided. One of the four things they have asked for is our affidavits of non-marriage. (For those of you who haven't heard of these, you're not alone. In most European countries, you can look up whether a person is married or not. Since we don't have a way in Britain or the U.S. to prove that we're not married, the countries here rely on an affidavit of non-marriage. Basically, we pay our Embassies money, then they ask us if we're married. We say no. They ask us if we promise we're not married. We say yes, we promise. Then they give us an affidavit that says that we promise that we're not married.)

So, this morning we took the bus to the train station and took an early train to Amsterdam so we would get everything done by noon, when the Embassies shut down.

Once in Amsterdam, we got off the train and took a tram to the closest stop to the British Consulate. We then trudged about a mile to the Consulate, where Ian obtained his Affidavit of Non-Marriage.

It was, of course, raining. I know the building doesn't look like much from this photo, but it is nice. The street is pleasant and the Consulate's staff is very cordial. They even allowed me to go in with Ian.

When the guy with hand-held metal detector came over to me before I went into the building, I spread my legs and held out my arms. He smiled and said, "You're not at the American Embassy. You don't need to do that."

They even let me take my camera inside. After we had talked with the vice-consul and Ian promised that he was unmarried, we went to this window where he paid 48 Euro and picked up the affidavit.

We thought that maybe a croissant would take the chill out of the rain, so we crossed the street and went in to a bakery.

Ian looked at all of these wonderful things and got a chocolate-chip cookie. Sometimes I wonder about him...

Full of sugar and starches, we walked back to the tram stop, boarded it and made our way to the American Embassy.

We got off the tram,

and made our way to this building.

We stood at the gate and announced ourselves to someone we couldn't see, told them I wanted an affidavit of non-marriage, then were let inside the gate to the sidewalk on the other side of the gate.

Once inside the gate, we saw there was a line of people waiting to be called inside the building, one at a time, through what resembled a prison door. Unlike at the British Embassy, no one was joking here. This was serious business.

Sorry - that's all the pictures from my Embassy. They took my camera once we got inside that prison door. Once inside, I was asked to pay about 20 Euro, handed a blank affidavit of non-marriage form and told to fill it out. I did, then handed it back in. A while later, my name was called. I was asked if I promised I wasn't married. I said I promised. I was then given the form back with a signature of the equivalent of a notary and we were out of there.

We went back to the street and waited for a tram to take us back to the station. (The U.S. Embassy was, at least, across the street from the tram line...)

We got to the train station in Amsterdam,

and noticed it was about noon.

We took the train and got off in Utrecht,

And immediately got onto a bus that took us to this place - the equivalent of a city government building.

This is the front of the building. I think this was the third time we had been here.

On the ground floor, we got two certificates (one each) to show where we lived. They cost 10 Euro each. When we give them to the government, the government will be able to deduce that we live together - a requirement for my residency. (Yes, we know it was the government that gave them to us in the first place. What, have you never played this game before?)

After going upstairs to get the temporary residency stamp in my passport extended,

we went home. Six hours after we left (and, after the cost of bus, tram and train tickets, a little more than a hundred Euros later), we had two more documents and one more stamp to add to our collection.

Tuesday, we get to go to The Hague to get them legalized. (I'll explain that later...)

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woensdag, september 22, 2004

Vanochtend ga ik naar de Volksuniversiteit Utrecht

(Or, for those of you who speak English: This morning, I go to school.)

I've started Dutch lessons (or Klingon 101, as I refer to them). I think I'll do ok - however it has been awhile since I've been in a classroom as a student. Enough of the substantive part of the lessons. This is how I get to school: I start off in the bike hall about half a block from our house. The bikes in this picture don't really have their lights on; it was dark and the flash lit up the reflectors.

After coming out of the bike room, I jump on the bike and head down the street,

then turn left at the blue sign.

I ride straight for a block, then turn right (about a block before the windmill) and follow the canal for awhile. Ordinarily, I would cross a drawbridge, then go right and ride down the other side of the canal, but there's some construction so I have to take a little detour today.

Utrecht has 3 main canals - one that circles the city center and two canals that dissect the city. This is canal leads into the city center and joins the one that circles it. There are locks along this block that allow ships to pass from the city canals to the outlying canals.

There's a little bridge up ahead and just to the left...

So I use it to cross over and get to the other side - where I would have been if there hadn't been the construction on the drawbridge.

I go down this street for about half a block,

then cross over the bridge just up ahead to the right.

Once over the bridge, I take a left and here we are riding down the right side of the canal again.

Oudegracht, or the "old canal" that we're now travelling on, is one of the two that dissect the city. It was built right around 1100 AD.

The blue you see ahead of you in the picture below is the start of the main shopping district on the canal.

The canal is still to the left of the street. A little later, after the city wakes up, there will be chairs and tables all aong here and people will take a break from shopping or working and have coffee or lunch.

The guy in the picture below is standing on a bridge that crosses the canal.

The next block of shops. The canals throughout the city are far enough below street level that there are shops and restaurants on the lower level, right next to the water.

This is one of the many flower stands that you'll find everywhere throughout The Netherlands. Wednesday and Saturday are big market days, so, this being Wednesday, a couple of hours from now this intersection will be filled with flowers.

If you look straight ahead, you'll see a building. The canal (still to the left of us) goes under the street there and comes out on the other side of a juncture of streets.

This is probably my favorite intersection in the city. Although you can't tell from this picture, there is another small street just to the right of the building straight ahead. This intersection is mostly used by bikes and pedestrians.

In the picture below, we're just to the left of the small building in the center of the picture above.

And below is the view next to the bridge in the picture above.

We go a block further, then there is a block of narrow buildings to our right that abut the canal.

The canal opens up again,

we go one block further ...

then turn left away from Oudegracht.

We go one block

then turn right onto Nieuwegracht ("New Canal"), so called because it was built aaround the 1500's.

I stepped across to the other side of the canal to take this picture of the school (Volksuniversiteit Utrecht) where my Dutch classes are held.

Tot Ziens!

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dinsdag, september 21, 2004


This is a short one - no pictures, thankfully. For about a week after I moved here I felt great. No jetlag. The time zone thing didn't bother me. I was up for about anything. Then, for about three weeks, I was either sick or almost sick every single day. It seemed like every time I got over a virus, I caught another one. I was so exhausted it was all I could do to walk down the stairs.
Ian mentioned that when he moved here he went through the same thing. Others have also reflected on it. It could be that my immunities are (were?)getting used to the bugs of another country, but somehow that doesn't seem right. We're a global community now, aren't we?
At any rate, I feel much better now.


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zondag, september 19, 2004

Six Flags over Holland

For Ian's birthday, I gave him a day at Six Flags over Holland. We both like theme parks, so it was kind of a gift to me, too. Actually, we both like roller coasters more than we like theme parks, but you have to go to theme parks to get the roller coasters, so . . .

I knew Six Flags Over Holland was going to be special from the moment we got there. I'll have to back up a moment to explain why. We woke up early, drank lots of coffee, a smoothie and some water, then got on our bikes and rode to the station. There we took an 8:30 a.m. train out of Utrecht and then a bus in order to get to Six Flags in time for the park's opening at 10. Lots of fluid and lots of bumpiness. You see where I'm going with this.

Anyway, after the gates opened a little late we ran through them and found the toilets. (Why someone didn't plan for toilets just outside the theme park when they knew there would be several hundred excited patrons with full bladders waiting for the gates to open each morning just shows how similar the planning process must be the world over.)

At any rate, you can imagine my glee at being able to literally piss on this:
(Click to enlarge, if you can't read it...)

The first ride, Superman, was right inside the theme park - just after the toilets, thank God.

After Superman, we rode a wooden coaster in the "England" portion of the park. Sometimes, the wooden coaters shake you around - something I don't care for too much. This one wasn't bad, though.

Next was Goliath. This was the one you saw as you approached the park, but I'm not sure what area of the park it was in.

It's 46 meters high, has a first drop angle of 70 degrees and reaches speeds of 106 km/h.

Next we meandered over to the Mexican themed area of the park. We were a little hungry, so we stopped for lunch. There were no tacos or nachos to be found in this Mexico, but they did serve double cheeseburgers with fries and a Coke. After eating, El Condor was the next ride. The attraction to this one was that it had several loops and circles - always fun after a meal.

In the Canadian theme setting, we rode a log flume ride. This one (Crazy River) was nice because the drop was more like a roller coaster than a log ride. And we both managed to stay dry.

We decided to see a stunt show in the Hollywood area of the park, so Ian asked me to suprise him when I asked what he wanted to drink. Bringing him back a pint of beer at 1 in the afternoon certainly did that.

(And he calls himself British...)

What better after a beer than another ride! On to Italy and La Via Volte. I think this was my favorite of the day. You go backwards up a steep incline, then are released,

shot forward, around a circle and a loop, up the other side, then you retrace the whole ride backards.

We have a little side bet when we go to amusement parks. They always seem to have "Kentucky Derbys," although they may be called something else depending where you are. You roll a ball into holes, and where it lands decides how many spaces your horse will trot along a board. Sad to say that Ian won, here in Holland. (And no, although the park is in The Netherlands, it's not really in the Holland area of The Netherlands. Go Figure.)

Here he is with Ollie the Elephant, his prize.

One more ride and we called it a day. This was El Rio Grande - a river ride in a big, safe inner tube.

All in all, a great day (if you don't count my loss at the Derby...).

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