chapter 3: going dutch

Oh hello, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything more than 140 characters so I’m feeling a little rusty. Where did we leave off? *looks at the last post* April?! A lot has happened since then.

Moving house, Germany to Netherlands

molly on the move. again.

Well, I moved from Germany to the Netherlands. My third country in three years. After slumming it as an intern for two years in a country I was only supposed to live in for six months, I finally got the chance to put more than butter on my bread. That’s right, I eat marmalade now.

I live in a city called Leiden, which in German means ‘suffering‘, much to the amusement of my ex-flatmates back in Cologne. I’ve been here for almost three months and now I have an overpriced wardrobe in the centre of town that I can finally consider home. Well, I might as well call it home. Holland is dangerously close to the UK and as it’s a small country brimming with international folk, it’s not unusual to hear English spoken everywhere. It’s a bit of a surprise for someone who’s spent the last three years perfecting her Äs and Øs just to order pizza.

20140701_202514the leiden coat of arms

Admittedly, Leiden is more of a big village than a city. That said, its proximity to the Dutch capital of Amsterdam and the international city of peace and justice, The Hague/Den Haag, means that it’s quite easy to get out and about within a thirty minute train ride. There’s a Leiden market twice a week that sells all sorts of things from vacuum cleaner parts to cheeses of all shapes, sizes and smells. There are quite a few museums here too, adding a bit more to the already booming culture of cafes, canals and coffee shops.

Leiden is small enough to get around but big enough to keep you entertained and if you’re looking to discover more, you’ll find some lovely green areas just two kilometers on the outskirts of the city. There are also swimming and sailing areas a bit further out. This seems like a trek to some people I’ve spoken to but it’s only a 10 minute ride so get on your bike and work off that bitterballen.

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 weekly market

Anyway, it’s 5:30am, the seagulls are squawking and the sun’s starting to rise, so it’s time to return to a bed that I’ll be jumping out of in less than two hours. There’s more to come; watch this space.

orange county

As you may or may not know, I’m from England. This means, amongst other things, that I grew up completely surrounded by water and fascinated with landlocked countries. The thought that you could just leave one border and enter another without the need for a boat or a plane rattles my islander mentality to the core. It’s no surprise that ever since I moved to Cologne six months ago, I have wanted to visit the Netherlands. So when an opportunity arose at the very last minute to visit Leiden, I decided to make a weekend of it and dragged my long-suffering boyfriend along for the ride.

DSCF3078the oude singel canal, leiden

Boarding the train at Cologne Central Station with only one change in Utrecht, The Boy and I settled into our seats and promptly fell asleep. An hour later I was woken up by border control. I sleepily handed over my passport and waited, keeping an eye open so I wouldn’t drift back into dreamland without having my precious maroon book filled with stamps and visas back in my possession. But it never came. The guard with our IDs was now muttering something into his phone. Still slumped in my seat, I cast a glance towards The Boy. It was probably him they were after; his appearance always seems to unsettle particular members of society. Then I heard my surname being spelled out phonetically.

Well, I never! I announced in mock indignation as two more guards hurried down the aisle to our seats. Truly bemused, I sat up and watched as the three guards attempted to unpeel the page of my passport where my photo lay. I usually know how this plays out so I decided to speed up the charade.

Gentlemen.’
The three guards looked up.
‘What are you looking for? Perhaps I may be of assistance.’
Just some technicalities‘, the first guard responded.

He handed me back my passport. I watched him walk off before mimicking his words to The Boy. Just some technicalities. LOL.

DSCF3361‘technicalities’

In the evening a work colleague invited me to dinner with members of the Space Generation Advisory Council. Stuffing my face with all-you-can-eat sushi, we talked about space, living in Leiden and life in the Netherlands in general. All-you-can-eat sushi is some next-level dining, let me tell you. The trick is trying to order just enough food because anything left over will be charged at a premium. This meant a group of us holding our bellies, trying to eat the final morsels, weary because we had too much food. Best first world problem ever. After two hours of food, The Boy and I excused ourselves, groaning, and went to walk it off down one of Leiden’s many canals.

DSCF3180 dutch clogs. of course.

The next morning we got a bus to Katwijk, a coastal town northwest of Leiden with a seaside resort. It was a good thing I hadn’t swapped my scarf for a swimsuit because the beach was so cold and so unbelievably windy. We huddled together in the sand and watched dog walkers, horse riders, joggers and kitesurfers brave the less-than-optimal weather. 

kitesurferrather you than me

DSCF3183shell art on someone’s house, katwijk

We decided to take the train into Amsterdam as it was only 30 minutes away. This part of our journey had been completely unplanned so we decided to be spontaneous about it and find somewhere to sleep once we’d reached the capital. Worst idea ever. Not only was it Saturday, an already busy day in the history of hospitality, but it was also the weekend of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague where Barack Obama and his friends would discuss how to prevent nuclear terrorism. Big stuff indeed. As a result, pretty much every single room was booked. Hostel staff turned us away and signs saying ‘No Vacancies’ stood in front of many hotels. There was even a point where a dodgy man offered to host us in his own room. I could see The Boy wavering so I dragged him out of there. Nuh-uh, not happening, mate.

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a'damamster-tising

Trying not to feel down at the thought of not having anywhere to sleep, we trekked through Amsterdam, taking in its culture, canals, coffee shops and the tourists. So many tourists. After three hours of walking around until the sun had set, a sympathetic hotel employee let us use his unbelievably slow computer to find ourselves somewhere to rest our heads for the night. I sifted through pages of hotels claiming to be centrally located but upon further inspection turned out to be as far as 30 kilometres away from any sort of civilisation. Finally, I found a place that had dramatically slashed its prices for the night. It was a hotel on a boat. A botel, if you will. I reserved a room, took a photo of its location on a map and we made our merry way towards the promised land.

The botel was situated in a sort of industrial area with one restaurant and a ferry port. Unable to see much of anything in the dark, we ditched our bags in the room and went to check out the restaurant for dinner. Despite the incredibly bad service, we celebrated our day with a glass of Prosecco and with food in our bellies, we relaxed and decided all would be well in the morning. I woke up to a grey day which cleared up after a little rain and brought out the blue sky. I absolutely love being by the water and I think it was the best way to wake up after a hectic day of hotel-hunting.

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DSCF3259boats, boats, boats!

Sunday was a quiet day so the streets weren’t milling with many tourists. With time to spare, we ate extortionately priced pancakes for breakfast and took a final walk around Amsterdam city centre. The train to Cologne passed without incident and after seeing The Boy off as he made his way back down to southern Germany, I sat in my familiar flat, on my familiar kitchen chair, in front of my familiar laptop. It was hard to believe I’d actually left at all. What a weekend! Let’s do it again sometime, yeah?

spring break

colonius in the springcolonius in the spring

My housemate returned home hungover from a weekend of hedonism. Like a saint, a procrastinating saint, I put my thesis aside and sat with her in the sun to support her during this rather difficult time. The emerging spring weather adds a relaxing touch to what has been quite a rather busy week for me and the people of Cologne. The carnival season, which has been going on since last November, has finally reached its peak. One more week of sitting on the train to work with cowboys, pirates, sailors and the Statue of Liberty.

friesenplatz
friesenplatz station at 3am

Carnival (Karneval) in Cologne is quite different to Friedrichshafen for obvious reasons. Cologne is almost twenty times the size of Friedrichshafen so the social activities are bigger and more widespread. But there’s also a different theme up here. Last year I was told Carnival was historically about chasing away the Black Death, saying goodbye to the winter and welcoming in the spring. Here in Cologne, nobody seems to know what the meaning of Carnival is. Most people I’ve asked mutter ‘I think it’s something to do with chasing away the French.’ Whether you can really compare the French to the plague is another matter altogether…

Both celebrating cities do have one mutual characteristic: what happens at Karneval, stays at Karneval. This results in watching German people, generally known for being reserved and conservative, make a sudden transition to hardcore partygoers fuelled by their newfound loss of inhibitions. Costumes, parades and funfairs pop up everywhere. It’s Karneval! If you can’t escape for the week then you’ve got no choice but to bite the bullet and zip up your tiger-print onesie.

Carnival in Cologne

bumper carsif you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Just when you think you’ve had enough, it all comes to an end on Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday) with the burning of the Nubbel. This is a straw figure responsible for Carnival behaviour and setting it on fire allows revellers to atone for all the ‘sins’ committed during the festivities.

It’s as if this bonfire acts as an erase button because the next day everything is silent. The milling crowds of all-day drinkers have disappeared and so have the parade floats throwing sweets into the streets. If it wasn’t for the remains of colourful confetti, now trampled into the ground, you’d never know a major event had just happened over the last five days. It’s so surreal.

a weekend in the city

It’s 7am on a Saturday morning when my flight from Düsseldorf, Germany lands in Copenhagen, Denmark and the cold hits me as I walk bleary-eyed into the airport. Don’t get me wrong, as a Scandinavian student I’m no stranger to temperatures of -17° but admittedly the not-quite-winter-not-quite-spring weather in Cologne has mellowed me. Oh man, am I glad I picked my unfashionably bright orange winter jacket over my usual uniform of a hoody under a thin black coat.

Being back in Denmark is bittersweet. It’s lovely to cycle around all those familiar places and catch up with the mates I made when I moved over from London in 2011. But I’m a little sad. I thought this would be home. I feel homesick not being in Odense even though I never really identified with Denmark and its people. Moving to Germany was only supposed to be temporary. Six monthsI told my friendsI’ll be back. I am back – only it’s 18 months later, empty suitcase in hand, to move out of the country I thought I was going to live in forever.

Getting on the train to Odense, I asked the on-train catering assistant if it was alright to sit in the quiet-zone with my headphones. Our conversation soon turned to the hardships some foreigners face in Denmark. Her story was quite identical to ones I had heard before – people leaving their own country with decent careers only to end up as catering or cleaning staff in other countries. Some folks abroad tell me I should consider myself privileged, that despite sometimes sharing the same skin colour and/or academic credentials as so many others, the fact that I was born in the European Union opens so many more doors. How on earth do I respond to that? You can’t help where you’re born, not for lack of trying.

Hans Christian Andersen, author of some of the greatest fairy tales, was born in Odense

I got comfy in my seat so I could catch on the sleep I’d missed due to waking up at 3AM to get from Cologne to Düsseldorf Airport.  Two stops later I found myself ousted from my seat by a passenger who’d obviously been smart to reserve it beforehand. Silly me, I hadn’t quite anticipated how busy a 90 minute train journey would be. I mean, who leaves big ol’ Copenhagen for teeny-tiny Odense on a Saturday morning? As it turns out, everyone does. The on-train catering assistant found me huddled up by the doors of the train and took me to a seating area reserved for train crew. I protested, telling her she needed the seat and I could always sit on the steps as I’d done quite often instead of paying extra to reserve a seat.  “Nonsense”, she said, handing me a bottle of water. “You need to sleep.”

H.C. Andersen‘s house, Odense.

When I got to Odense, it didn’t take long to gather my things. As I’ve moved around countless times I’ve really learned how to pack light. I was quite pragmatic about my possessions, giving away my Xbox to friends in Copenhagen and sending unwanted clothes to a Red Cross collection point in town. After saying a grateful thanks to an ex-boyfriend for letting me use his living room as my personal storage area for way longer than necessary, I zipped up my suitcases and moved out of Denmark.

Changing of Guards in DenmarkChanging of the Guards at Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

When I think about the Molly who moved to Denmark in 2011, although I didn’t see it at the time, I realise how difficult it is to leave the comfortable and familiar surroundings that you’re used to and immerse yourself in a country that isn’t yours, to be around people who don’t speak the same language as you. Moving to Germany was somewhat easier because I knew how to deal with the simple things such as getting registered with the local council and setting up a bank account. I learned how to settle in quickly and how to keep away the loneliness and homesickness by being proactive and getting involved in activities with people my age. Oh man, the Molly who moved to Denmark was naïve but I’ve survived it, I’ve got no regrets and if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing – except a wiser choice of boyfriends, perhaps! For me, living abroad is never a problematic struggle but rather a fun challenge and there have been times, even now in Cologne where I still find myself faltering whenever I reach an unexpected hurdle. But it’s just momentary and it’ll pass and I look forward to seeing where the next move takes me. Which’ll be out of my office, where I’m currently sitting at 8PM because it’s quiet and I’m too lazy to get on my bike and go home.

Cycling around Copenhagen at sunrise

I had so much fun being in Odense again and visiting the new houses of the friends who upped sticks and moved to Copenhagen. It’s really nice to know we’re all making that transition into the next step of our lives together and even though I’ve settled in quite well with my job and my friends in Germany, I will always have Denmark in my heart. Jeg kommer tilbage. I promise.

Christiania, Copenhagen

A Schwäbische Christmas: better late than never

Last year I attempted to celebrate Christmas, something I stopped doing years ago because I found the festivities rather overbearing. This time I tried my best to get stuck in, begrudgingly, like a Scrooge-like character refusing to admit he’s actually having fun. Although I took over a hundred photos, these are pretty much the only ones that don’t show me inebriated. I’m sure those images would give you a much better idea of how I really spent my Christmas in the Swabian Alps that aren’t quite alps.

the village of Oberdigisheim. only 800 residents.

on our way to Tübingen

christmas eve: on the hunt for a tree

it took a lot of effort to make it look this simple

bratapfel: baked apples with nuts and raisins

traditional homemade christmas cookies

christmas day in sn-Oberdigisheim

you could definitely spot me in a snowstorm

In Germany, fireworks can only be sold (and used) between Christmas and NYE. People legally get one whole week to set fire to things and they do it everywhere they can. Walking through the street on New Year’s Eve is both exhilarating and terrifying.

NYE fireworkssilvester (new year’s eve) in köln

These photos are among the Schwäbische Christmas set on my Flickr.

the only penguins from philadelphia

I came home to find my housemate attempting to make penguins with olives, cream cheese and carrots. She said she’d seen it on the internet. Of course.

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It looks like messy work but if you like playing with your food, you can find the recipe (along with additional edible penguin accessories) here or anywhere else in this bottomless pit we call the internet.