Friday, July 30, 2010

Feeling crafty again

As I mentioned recently, for the first couple of months here I was feeling really uninspired when it came to my crafty loves: knitting and sewing. I think this was in part due to the lack of fabric and craft stores in Nijmegen. There isn't a single fabric store here, despite it being a reasonable sized town (the population is about 160,000) and the only place to buy a very limited selection of approximately 10 different balls of wool is an art store in town.

I have recently discovered though that the weekly Monday markets in the town centre are almost solely for fabric. Although I knew that the Saturday markets had one or two fabric stalls, I was blown away by the amount of fabric available on a Monday, as well as ribbons, buttons and other crafty bits and pieces. And one of the best parts - it's cheap. Most fabrics are about 5-10 eur/metre (which, compared to the only fabric store I've been to in Den Bosch, this is extremely cheap) and there are a number of stalls with tables covered in scraps - by 'scraps' I mean odds and ends from rolls but are still a reasonable size. Last Monday I picked up 3 scraps for 5 eur, and they were all over a metre long each: bargain!

Sadly, I'm yet to discover where I can buy decent wool here. I've been getting it from Den Bosch but I'm really disappointed in the variety & price available - it's mostly all acrylic with nothing special that really stands out. I think it's time to investigate the options of online wool shopping...

Anyway, I'm pleased to say that I've slowly been getting back into creating things. While Mitch was away last month and I was procrastinating (it's amazing what you can get done when you have exams to study for), I managed to whip up a few bits and pieces from patterns I found online and through my latest sewing book.


My very first bag - I had visions of it being a shopping bag, but a few mistakes led me to unpicking half of it and then still sewing it up wrong (lets just say I'm not so fantastic at reading patterns) and so the handles aren't attached quite as strongly as they should be. Having made this during the world cup, the orange polka dots were my contribution to the orange fever that took over the country and it's a great holder for my wool.


A pincushion from some leftover fabric - not exactly exciting or challenging, but I needed one and the red thing is my ill fated 'CD holder' - it was my first time sewing with vliesoline and although I was surprised at how well it works, it still doesn't resemble the photo in the book. But this doesn't bother me, as it was intended as a holder for my cottons & bobbins and does the job quite well.

I've got a few more projects in the works (and in my head) at the moment - more to come...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wandering Wednesday - Connemara National Park, Ireland

Mitch and I took a short road trip through Ireland earlier this year, prior to moving to Holland. We both love hiking and so it's no surprise that my favourite part of this trip was our brief stop in the Connemara region.


We arrived in the region late one afternoon after making our way down from Northern Ireland, and spent the night in the lovely little town of Clifden. The town isn't particularly noteworthy in terms of photos opportunities (but in my opinion, I didn't really find any Irish towns particularly impressive - but the scenery made up for it) but I can highly recommend it a rest point for anyone wishing to explore the Connemara National Park. The town was quiet but had plenty of cosy Irish pubs and by far the best restaurant we dined at during our trip, "Mitchells" - yes, we chose it for the name!

After a hearty Irish breakfast at our B&B where I was introduced to 'black' and 'white' pudding (I'll always try something at least once, but can't say I went back for seconds on this one), we donned our hiking boots and set off to the national park.



Although I was initially a little disappointed in the lack of diversity in the hiking trails, the views at the summit of Diamond Peak soon made up for my earlier feelings.








Although there were quite steep and rocky sections towards the end, it wasn't a particularly difficult hike and it's well worth the extra effort to keep going past the first view point and up to the summit. The views were impressive and both Mitch and I felt like we were back in New Zealand; it's very similar scenery. And also much like it's Kiwi counterpart, Connemara National Park is absolutely full of sheep, everywhere you look...





Monday, July 26, 2010

Vierdaagse 2010

For the past week, our quiet little town has been overrun with masses of people and turned into party land: the vierdaagse had arrived for the 94th time. In English, it's better known as the international 'Four Days Marches' and is the largest walking event in the world. Basically, a maximum of 45,000 people walk either 30, 40 or 50 km each day for four days in Nijmegen and the surrounding area. Anyone can participate and I think that how far you walk depends on your age. The military also participate but they must carry 10kg packs. From the moment we arrived in Nijmegen, everyone we met was telling us about this renowned event. I didn't realise what a big deal it really was until it all began a little over a week ago...

The weekend before: the party like atmosphere that continued well into the week was kicked off with the start of the vierdaagse feesten on Saturday night. The town centre was filled with a number of stages (I think, maybe 20?) with plenty of live music and even more beer stalls. We met up with some friends and checked out the 'beach' (setup along the river at Lent with a sideshow, stage, drinks etc) and then wandered around town, ending up at the main stage to see Shantel, which was absolutely brilliant (see here for a sample) - reminded me of my favourite Australian band The Cat Empire...

Day 1: Sarah and I had plans to go watch the group walk along the Waaldijk, but when discovering that the first group of walkers started at 3.00am that morning (due to the nasty heat we've been having here), we didn't end up seeing them. At a more reasonable hour of the morning though, we went for a 'jog' (my version of a jog is a fast paced walk with running sprints of about 10m, any longer and I keel over) through Lent and were rather amused at how the oldies who were settled in along the side of the ride to watch the walkers clapped and cheered us on and said a bunch of things in Dutch I couldn't understand - I think they felt sorry for us, probably thought we were the poor unfit people trailing behind the 45,000 participants...

Day 2: Chairs started appearing along our street in preparation for the final day, and even a leather couch covered in plastic was strategically placed along the side of the road so that someone could claim their ideal viewing spot. It amazed me that none of these chairs, couches or even a mattress were stolen between when they appeared on the Wednesday and the finale on Friday.


Day 3: With some delicious home made chicken & avo sushi and a thermos packed in my bike bag, we took a ride out towards Berg en Dal to sit down with a picnic while watching the walkers. We found a pretty tree lined road along the walkers path and settled in only to have the better part of the 45,000 people tell us upon sighting our sushi picnic - mmmmm lekker! And eet smakelijk! And a whole bunch of other words that I only vaguely understood but were very friendly and I think along the lines of - did you bring any for us? It was hilarious and Sarah and I were having a good laugh and a bit of fun practising our Dutch (I have been teaching Sarah the basics) - we said goedemiddag too many times to count, but I still can't seem to get the 'g' noise right... Apparently having Dutch genes doesn't help in this instance :-( Finally we gave up and reverted to G'day - worked well when the few Aussie walkers came along, although I think they thought we were silly European girls trying to be clever with some Aussie slang...

Day 4: The finale! Our street is the finish line of the marches (which by the way, is not a race) and is renamed Via Gladiola during this time. This is because the official flower of the marches is the gladioli, and is handed out to participants on the final day. We were up around 8am and I was surprised to see very few people on the street, considering how everyone had been telling me how crowded it would get.

We had the perfect viewing place in our big windows and by mid-morning, the chips were out and the beer was cracked open...



People slowly started trickling in and more chairs appeared, a little old lady even put her chair out in the middle of the bus lane (this was before the road was even closed - she was brave) to claim her spot and was soon joined by some friends...


Stages were set up for live music & radio stations - we had about 3 different choices of music blasting us all day. A urinal (the first time I saw one of these at a festival here, it took me a minute to figure out what it was and when it clicked, it gave a whole new meaning to the good old porta-loo) was set up in the worst possible position, right below our window - lucky they moved it shortly after...


The first walker powered through at 9.15am and by midday, the sidewalks were crowded with cheering spectators.


There were kids handing out lollies to the walkers and giving out hi-fives...


There was a policeman outfitted in white, dancing on a podium while directing traffic (it was fantastic - he looked like he was having a blast. No photos though, it was a had-to-be-there moment)...

Family and friends were stopping their loved ones and hugs, kisses, and gladiolas were handed out all round...


A lot of walkers appeared to be in pain (not surprisingly) but despite this, they were all dancing, skipping and running down the street with looks of pure joy on their faces. The crowds cheered everyone on, it was almost like the walkers were celebrities for the day, making their way down the red carpet...



We cheered the Aussies on (had plans to blast 'Land Down Under' out the window for them but the noise from the 3 stages drowned out everything else)...


Plenty of wacky outfits and hats came out for the last day...



Lots and lots of military with their packs, and even a few marching bands...




This continued until a little after 5pm - it was incredible to see so many people walking past our front door. 45,000 sounds like a lot, but seeing the constant stream of people filling the road for hours on end made me realise just how huge this whole four day march thing really is...


Maybe, just maybe, I'll do it for myself one day...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

En route to Luxembourg

For the last few weeks, Mitch and I have been planning to take a road trip to Luxembourg. We decided that yesterday would be the ideal time to make our way down to this little country after dropping a friend at Eindhoven airport but our day didn't quite go to plan...

A couple of hours into our journey, the road signs changed from Dutch to French and we realised we must have crossed the border into Belgium. A few minutes later, Mitch suddenly realises - ummmm, do we need passports to go to Luxembourg? Coming from Australia, I associate all overseas holidays with hopping on a plane and therefore always requiring a passport. Although we've been over here since March and this isn't the first time we've lived in Europe, I still tend to forget that this isn't just one big country and when going on a road trip, my passport is the last thing on my mind - hence why it was still safely tucked away in the cupboard at home.

Considering the lack of border control over here, I figured that our Dutch identity cards should be sufficient and we kept on going, only to realise a few moments later that Mitch had forgotten his wallet and so had no ID on him whatsoever. By this point in time, I was distracted and had missed the Luxembourg exit off the motorway, it was raining and miserable outside, and we had spotted a Carrefour (French supermarket). The thought of French wine and croissants was just a little too appealing and we decided to postpone our Luxembourg adventure for another weekend...


Carrefour: although I consider myself more of an Auchan girl, it's still quite a decent supermarket. Like Auchan, Carrefour is also a 'hypermarket' - having grown up on Coles and Woolies supermarkets, it is unbelievably huge (in France, it's employees wear roller skates to scoot up and down the lengthy aisles) and you can outfit your entire house (not to mention the camping equipment, pet section, books etc) from one store.

I've posted before about my love for supermarkets in foreign countries and the Belgian version of this French supermarket giant was no disappointment. Mitch and I grabbed a wheelie basket and an hour later, we were still wandering up and down the aisles...

I was overly excited to find items that I haven't been able to find ANYWHERE in Nijmegen (after much, much searching) - it's amazing how finding simple things like measuring cups and almond meal can really make your day... And the wine selection - ohhhhhhh, we were in Cote du Rhone heaven :-)

After having a bit of a giggle at being able to say bonjour and merci and au revoir again to the checkout operator, we were on our way back to the Netherlands but once again became distracted - this time by the cheap price of diesel. Deciding it would be an ideal time to fill up our little red car, we were both pleasantly surprised to discover just how much French can be remembered when the situation arises... The pumps at the petrol station weren't working and Mitch had to go in and talk to the cashier who spoke only French to figure out what the issue was - I was so proud of my boy who was able to break out into basic French no worries (considering all I can remember is merci and au revoir), after a few years of no practice! Turns out we had to pre-pay for the petrol inside before filling up - random....

With a boot full of brioche and a tank full of diesel, we were on our way and decided to go visit the very south Dutch city of Maastricht. My travel to do list in the Netherlands is huge despite the size of the country and since being here, we've barely crossed anything off the list - it just seems to keep growing... Despite not getting to visit Luxembourg, it actually ended up being a really nice day, getting to explore another part of this flat little country we're calling home.






We spent the day wandering around the city centre, through the small markets, down all the pretty little streets, into many, many shops, along the river and enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the town square.

And my personal highlight of the day - discovering the nijntje store. Better known as 'Miffy' in English, this strange little white rabbit is a favourite of mine and I spent way too much time in the store, stocking up on a few gifts here and there, it really is just too cute...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wandering Wednesday - Pyrenees, France

The Pyrenees are a spectacular mountain range bordering France, Spain and covering the tiny country of Andorra (still on my travel to do list). I've only ever been through the French side of this awe inspiring piece of countryside, but seeing snippets of it on le tour this week have brought back memories of our road trip here a few years ago...



We drove through the Pyrenees solely for the scenery, along steep and winding mountain paths. Coming across groups of cyclists on the frighteningly narrow roads and tunnels sure got our hearts racing. It also makes you realise just how tough the pyrenees stage of le tour is - I could never imagine being fit enough to tackle these hills...




My favourite thing about the Pyrenees was the "musical" sheep, as Mitch and I named them. Whenever there was a space to pull over, we'd park the car and just stand in the fields, breathing in the crisp mountain air and listening to the soothing sounds of the sheep bells... 



I loved seeing all the happy little ponies wandering through the mountains... Sadly though, I discovered shortly after that these ponies aren't so happy - apparently they are what ends up in the supermarket :-(


Pony parking...




Our final stop in the Pyrenees was this little village which I can't seem to remember the name of. Despite the constant sound of annoying musical beavers (souvenir toys - if you've heard them before, you'll know exactly what I mean), it was really pretty and I was super excited to see little bits of snow of the mountains in summertime...

I love the Pyrenees - and I love how every July, I can be transported back to this little bit of mountain paradise thanks to a group of racing cyclists....

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