Wednesday, April 28, 2010

De fiets / the bike - Part 2

It's now one month into life in Bikeland and I am happy to report back that the novelty of 'de fiets' hasn't worn off - I'm still loving doing as the locals do and riding my bike everywhere! In this time, I have discovered muscles in my legs that I never knew existed and the full extent of my coordination and elegance (or lack thereof).

Now, I'm no stranger to a bike. I distinctly remember learning to ride at a very young age, especially the day my Dad removed the training wheels. I remember getting my all time favourite bike early in the morning on my 9th birthday - a pink and white Malvern Star - and happily riding it around the lounge room. I remember riding this same bike down our very steep gravel driveway AND throughout the hilly paddock. I remember Mitch and I even going through a bike riding phase while we were dating in high school - which involved riding from my parents house to the local McDonalds on a weekly basis. All of this I recall doing with great ease.

In the land of bikes and tall people however, I feel very much like a short (173cm doesn't seem quite as tall here as it is in Australia), sweaty, breathless and uncoordinated Aussie girl who is constantly choking on bugs. Yes, I do need to learn to shut my mouth while riding!!! I find myself constantly wondering... how do the Dutch do it? Dutch women seem to ride their bikes with such grace, while I find myself heaving, huffing and puffing every time I even look at a slight incline. Let me explain:

I leave home in the morning on my bike. In the first couple of weeks, I even bothered switching on the hair straightener to give my hair that extra straightening strength so that I might have some hope of turning up to uni looking respectable. I have since discovered though, that even my ghd is no match for the winds created when hurtling along on my bike at mighty speeds - mostly because I forget it has brakes. I ride along struggling to see with hair flapping in my face and with the aforementioned bugs that seem to miss everyone else but land directly in my mouth. 

Before I know it, I've reached the 'hill' - the nasty incline where I glare at the people happily cruising down on the other side of the path while I pedal furiously with my legs burning and sweating madly (deeply regretting the 4 layers I thought would be necessary that morning), huffing and puffing while I'm being overtaken by Dutch ladies who just seem to glide up the same hill so effortlessly. After the 'hill', I come across a number of bike traffic lights. If you're at the start of the line, fantastic - you can put one leg on the curb and hold onto the pole which allows you to gently push yourself off when the lights turn green. If you're like me however, usually stuck at the back of the line (and often in the path of oncoming bicycles) and feeling short in comparison to the size of your bike, you pull up and struggle to get one foot on the ground without tipping over. When the light turns green, I try and take off too quickly and usually end up missing the pedal with one foot and find myself stuck in the middle of the road trying to push myself along with my feet like an oversized toddler on a trike. I soon regain my footing and happily cruise along until the next set of lights... and so the process starts again.

Hopping on / off my bike: apparently I do this like my bike is a horse. This is according to a little old Dutch man at a nearby bike store who was very excited to tell Mitch this fact while I was out of earshot test driving a bike. I swing my leg up over the back of the bike - I honestly thought this was how everyone does it!?!?! I'll blame my years of horse riding on that one! I am proud to say though, my mounting & dismounting skills have progressed quite a great deal since we arrived: I can now hop off my bike relatively gracefully to the side while it's still moving AND hop on resisting the urge to throw my leg over the back. I still haven't quite managed the pedal hop on though - this involves placing one foot on the pedal closest to you, taking off and then elegantly popping the other leg over and sitting down. I have tried, once but it didn't end pretty...


Ahhh... the joys of bike riding - turns out there's quite an art to it!!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Who knew a torch could be so entertaining?

During the daily scheduled power outage in Kathmandu, I discovered that there are a lot more uses for a simple little pocket torch then one would expect... And so our happy little monster friend joined our group :-)


Our monster friend had some helpful suggestions. He decided that only one Vein Man just wasn't enough bottle-crushing-vein-power - so why not have four???


And instead of having one brain for Fact Man - why not add into the mix the super powers of Sound Effects Girl and Garbage Guts as well???


Our happy little monster friend decided that we were just too much fun and joined us again in the Indian desert! Here he can be seen sporting a traditional turban to keep the sand out of his monster hair.


Who knew a torch could be so entertaining???

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fredunglish???

First came Frenglish... Next came Dunglish... And now I seem to have created an entirely new language althogether: Fredunglish??? 

Fredunglish consists of a mix of: 
1. English (my mother tongue)
2. French (The ultimate romance language. I discovered the joys of Frenglish during our 6 month stay in France in 2007-2008)
3. Dutch (Hmmmm.... no words can describe this language)

Now, how to tell if someone has mastered the linguistic challenge of Fredunglish??? Individuals who speak this language are easily recognised. They are the person standing in line at the supermarket who responds with 'oui' when asked if they'd like the receipt and can't figure out why the cashier is giving them a funny look; the person who when trying to pronounce a 'g' word such as 'goedemorgen' or 'dag' manages to not only make the throaty 'g' noise that sounds like you have a mouth full of saliva, but actually manages to splutter this saliva onto the unsuspecting other half of the conversation; the person who claims they can count from 1 to 10: een, deux, drie, vier, five, zes, seven, acht, negen, dix; the person who attempts 'hallo' but it continually comes out sounding like 'hello'; the person who greets you with Salut! And farewells you with Dag!... 

A fluent speaker of Fredunglish generally has a giant red stamp - FOREIGNER - on their forehead; the aforementioned symptoms make this stamp glow ever so brightly :-)

Monday, April 19, 2010

De fiets / the bike - Part 1

I knew there was a reason we nicknamed Holland 'Bikeland' (along with Dutchland and Flatland) before leaving Australia: in the few weeks we have been here, the use of the simple bicycle - or fiets as it's known in Dutch - has blown me away.

The very first thing we did when arriving in Nijmegen was go shopping for some second hand bikes. Initially, this was because we are unable to do ANYTHING in this country (such as buy a car) without a social security number and it takes weeks before this number is issued. Since getting my new set of Dutch style wheels, I've discovered first hand why the push bike is the preferred method of transportation.

1. TRAFFIC!!! Traffic in the Netherlands is simply awful! We are currently living on a main road and as I sit here and type this, I can see the traffic jams from my window. Although I will be glad to soon have a car, I'm already dreading having to sit in line to get anywhere. Although there can be a little bit of 'traffic' on the bikeways (you should see the streets leading into Radboud at 8.45am!), it doesn't even begin to compare to the traffic on the motorways.

2. Cost: bike riding is not only good for your health, it's a cheap method of transport. In a country where petrol sits around €1.45 / litre and road tax is upwards of €1000 / year, riding a bike is far more cost effective then driving and even then catching the train. Employers such as RU even give small monetary incentives for employees who choose to ride to work, the amount varies on the distance you ride each day.

3. The infrastructure: in Australia, I would only ride my bike if it was along designated bikepaths (such as the Kedron Brook bikeway). This was not because I'm lazy, but out of fear for my life! Riding a bike through inner city Brisbane is something I found frightening as you have to share the road with motorists who in my experience have no regards for cyclists. In Nijmegen however, it's a totally different story. There are bike paths EVERYWHERE! Even the roundabouts have bike lanes! One only has to Google street view the area to see how well set up it is for cycling. Even when there are no specific bikeways and you have to share the road with cars, I still feel safe. This is because bikes have right of way over everyone else. Cars actually seem to look out for cyclists here!

4. Parking!!! Parking in most European towns is notoriously expensive and can be hard to find (and physically park in, if you're a driver like me that avoids teeny reverse parallel parks like the plague). Bike parking however, is... free!!! But I have to say, it is proving itself to be somewhat hard to find. On a weekend, trying to park your bike in town is like trying to park your car at Chermside shopping centre at 10.00am on a Saturday morning. Mitch and I can cruise around town for ages looking for a park for our bikes to no avail. We've discovered that the done thing is to just chain your bikes either together or to the nearest tree and leave them be.

I have to say, I'm loving doing as the Dutch do and riding my sparkly green Gazelle fiets everywhere... It's such a good feeling to ride along and know that I'm contributing to a greener country and improving my fitness at the same time :-)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spot the photographer

My trusty photographer snapping away...







Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ten Things

10 things, thanks to Meet Me At Mikes for the idea...
  • My first time on a plane was a holiday in Fiji when I was 20. Since then, I've travelled through a total of 19 foreign countries and love exploring the big wide world!
  • I love to eat and have an enormous appetite. I love trying new things and will give just about anything a go. Mind you, I haven't been to a country yet where delicacies such as guinea pig or dog are on the menu so this may change...
  • Apparently I hop on and off my bike like it's a horse. This is according to a little old Dutch man at a local bike store who gleefully informed Mitch of this fact while I test drove a bike. Turns out Dutch ladies are a whole lot more elegant then myself.
  • When I make a cold Milo, the cup is 3/4 Milo and 1/4 milk - the only way a cold Milo should be made!
  • I was afraid to put my head underwater until I was 6. School swimming lessons tried to rectify this by putting me in the calm corner of the swimming pool and have someone pour buckets of water over my head for an hour - to no avail. I finally got myself over this fear by filling the bathroom sink and regularly sticking my head in it.
  • I hate pencils. The sound of a pencil on paper is like fingernails on a blackboard to my ears.
  • My all time favourite toy is a doll made by my Mum. When she was given to me (I don't know when, but I was very little) I was asked what I wanted to 'name her' - and so I called her 'Namea'. Namea was much loved, so much so that Mum had to replace her hand painted face (once, maybe twice?) and her entire body had to be re-covered in a new fabric thanks to lots of cuddles.
  • I took on figure skating as an adult and am proud to say I can now skate backwards, bunny hop, pivot, crossover, lunge, mohawk, spin, spiral, three turn, waltz and do a basic jump!
  • I can't decide if I'm a city girl or a country girl. I miss having horses and the peace and quiet of the countryside, but I do love the buzz of a busy city and a bit of retail therapy. I have to say, our new home in Holland is the first place that I've been to that seems to have the ideal combination of both city and country.
  • I can honestly say that my husband is my best friend: we met when I was 15, started dating when I was 16, got married when I was 19 and have been living happily ever after since :-)
And that makes 10...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

To market, to market

Well, maybe not to market, but to Jan Linders anyway... It's no Albert Heijn, but on a cold rainy day it's our most convenient supermarket and after heaving home my kgs of purchases today, I got to thinking about the humble supermarket.

One of my favourite things about being in a foreign country is a visit to the supermarket. Corner shop or Walmart-style, it doesn't matter: I've always found a certain enjoyment in doing the groceries. Sounds boring I know, and it may be my love for food and eating that has brought about this fascination but I could honestly spend hours aimlessly wandering the aisles and trying to decipher if I'm buying beef or horse (seriously - I once went to the checkout in France with a lovely fillet of horsemeat!).

As I have only just started my Dutch studies yesterday, my grasp of the language isn't quite good enough yet to fully understand the various goods that line the aisles. I never take a dictionary with me however - I love just winging it and figuring out exactly what I've bought when I get home. It makes the simple things in life - like buying museli and yoghurt - somewhat entertaining.

I have discovered though that leaving my pocket translator at home isn't always the best idea... On Tuesday, I bought a few bottles of milk from AH. Now, milk seems like a simple thing to buy - from my basic translation, I had figured out that it's similar to France: you either buy the incredibly popular long life milk (no thanks), koffie melk (also, no thanks) or you choose from the very limited selection of fresh milk: full or half cream. This morning I came downstairs to see Mitch eating toast for breakfast. Being highly unusual for my Special K eating husband, I asked him why he wasn't eating cereal. Turns out, we have a fridge full of karnemelk: sour milk/buttermilk. Mmmmmm!!!!

So, I went to the shops today with the intention of a quick visit to buy some replacement milk and some other staples. After an hour, I finally exited the supermarket with a truckload of Dutch goodies and various other things that I just couldn't resist - including this poffertjes packet mix! Now to buy a poffertje pan...


And of course, some yummy sweets for afternoon tea: speculas (spice biscuits), stroopwafels (wafers filled with chewy caramel) and my all time favourite - almond fingers. Yum!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ah, the joys of being unpacked

After a couple of weeks in transit, we arrived in Nijmegen a few days ago. Although I generally don't mind living out of a backpack, it's nice to finally be unpacked and settling into life in Holland. It's been a busy few days but from what I've seen of the area so far, I think we are going to have a great couple of years :-)

Here are a few photos of our new (temporary) Dutch home which is located in a pretty little village. It's unfortunate that it's only for a short time as it is a beautiful and rather roomy 3 bedroom apartment - now the search begins for a place of our own...





Thursday, April 1, 2010

A dog named Slinky

I fell in love this week with a beautiful Russian Terrier named Slinky.

We've just had a lovely time with our friend Sarah who has been lucky enough to house sit a beautiful place in the English countryside over the Easter holidays. I felt like we were on a country retreat and had a fantastic time during which I was in animal heaven... Especially when it came to this beautiful dog - I would have brought her on the Eurostar with me to Holland if I was allowed!

Sarah and I tried to teach Slinky how to fetch the ball... With a little bit of success!

We took her for a walk through the icy fog


Which was followed by lots of cuddles in front of the Aga!

We even gave her a bath

With an extra special doggie hair-do of course :-)

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