Tag Archives: Holland

Duizendmaal Dank

My stay in the Netherlands is just about complete and thanks to Mieke, Hanneke, and also Fridse, I’ve seen a heck of a whole lot of the country! There’s definitely a lot more to it than just Amsterdam folks. I’d never have even contemplated coming here if I haven’t met Mieke and Hanneke in South Africa last year. They have been extremely accommodating and took great care of this guy while I was here. Seriously, I planned not a single thing! They did all of the hard work while I laid back and went with their flow. Really, I was down for anything. I was just happy to be in another country.

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The three of us are good enough friends where we are constantly joking and poking fun at each other on a daily basis. The Dutch here are a sarcastic bunch, especially towards gullible Americans as myself. Case in point, Mieke told me one of her friends was the youngest person to sail around the entire world. Her friend played along and I completely believed it…until I looked it up and found they were toying with me. They tend to do that, just like when I thought they were actually picking me up from the airport on bicycles. They’re capable of anything!

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Both Hanneke and Mieke went well out of their way to make sure I felt at home. Hanneke lent me her roommates bike whenever I needed it and Mieke would always whip up tasty dinners and would go grocery shopping, all for me! What did I do to deserve these privileges? Same with Fridse and his crew up in Groningen. They treated me as if I were the guest of honor. At least, that’s how I felt! Unfortunately for the girls, they already knew how much food I could eat and had to postpone their usual diets in preparation for my big American appetite.

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I spent my last couple of days in the Netherlands maxin’ and relaxin’. I had to start setting my sights on the future as far as where I’m gonna go and what I’m gonna do next. I have a few pretty good ideas that I’ll share with you all later.

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School is about to start here and Mieke and Hanneke have been adjusting back into the typical student habits. It’s the perfect time for me to explore other regions of Europe. We went out for one last dinner in the middle of Ede and closed out my last night playing Catan at Mieke’s place. I just would like to mention that I’ve won the last four games we played. And now that there is an online version, I can beat them anytime from anywhere in the world! 🙂

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We had to wake up around 5:30am the next morning in order to catch a train from Ede to the airport. I woke up with a headache which I believe is from the lack of both sleep and water I’ve been getting lately. My main source of liquid recently has been beer. Those guys in Groningen know how to drink! Seriously.

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Just like last year in South Africa, Mieke and Hanneke accompanied me to the airport, all the way to the point where they weren’t allowed access. Unlike last time though, this particular goodbye was different. I felt as if I were going to see these guys tomorrow. But I left them knowing for sure I’ll see them again somewhere in this world. And if they ever came to my area of America, they’d get the same royal treatment they gave me…maybe. I still remember when Mieke tried to throw a tomato at my face or when she purposely got me lost on their public transit…twice! Or that time where they purposely left me all alone in Paris. I’ll forgive you guys this time… your kinder efforts make up for it. On a serious note, thanks for everything!! I really do appreciate you two for everything!

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As for my situation of being illegal in this country, my concern has lifted. I was given an exit stamp with no problems whatsoever. I was on my way to Cork, Ireland! However, because of my unplanned plan matra, I arrived into bit of a tricky situation once I landed in the Cork airport…

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I have to yet fully experience Amsterdam since I arrived in the Netherlands earlier this month, so once we finally set a couple days aside to indulge ourselves there, I was pretty excited. But first, I made a brief trip with Mieke and Hanneke to Rotterdam, home of Europe’s largest harbor and then to a town called Den Haag, a city facing the North Sea. It was here where I resumed my hobby of collecting samples of sands from all over the world. The idea is to blend all of the sands I’ve been collecting into one giant super bottle work of art. It’s a long but rewarding work in progress.

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After Den Haag, we went back to Ede to pack a small bag for Amsterdam. It would only be Mieke and I, as Hanneke had school stuff to take care of. We booked a hostel overnight in the center of the city, relatively close to everything. We boarded a train that took a little less than an hour and soon enough we were in the internationally blended city most famous in the Netherlands. We were dropped off right by the Heinken Brewery, so that’s where we went first!

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I went into the Heineken Brewery disliking the beer and came out a new fan! They way they create the beer is crafted with only the best ingredients and the purest of waters. Their international marketing campaigns are carefully put together as well. Heineken beer played a big role in the history of Amsterdam. You wanna find out all about it? Go to the Heineken Experience, even if you’re not a huge beer drinker. The informative tour transformed into an interactive experience where you could pour virtual beer, create lasers that follow your hands, and take pictures along the lines of this…

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There was even a part where we got the opportunity to test our pours making sure we achieved the perfect amount of foam. I did it in one fell swoop.

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We got our fills of everything Heineken for sure. I liked the brewery so much, that I also felt the need to brand a special edition, one-of-kind, Sellers Abroad Heineken bottle.

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Once that experience was over, we took a tram and headed straight to our hostel right near the center of the city. This was my first time in a hostel since last summer and just being in one again brought back many great feelings and memories of the dozens upon dozens of hostels I’ve stayed in before. We didn’t lounge here long though. We checked in and headed right back out. Our destination: anywhere with food. Thankfully, Amsterdam is flooded with many different restaurants! There were alleys and streets littered with Italian restaurants , German, Argentian, Thai, Vietnamese, you name it. We chose a cozy little Mexican restaurant only because a scouter who worked for the restaurant easily convinced me to come inside. It helped that I’m in love with Mexican food, so it was pretty easy convincing.

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It was growing dark outside, which meant for the perfect opportunity to see the the infamous Red Light District. I just wanted to see all of the red lights. I go to all the places for all the wrong reasons. But here I was.

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In case you didn’t know, this Red Light District is known for it’s hundreds of windows displaying scantily clad women ready for a good time, all perfectly legal; all under glare of sinister red lights. Everywhere you walk, you see adult museums and posters displaying adult things in between coffee shops around every few steps. By the way, the coffee shops here in Holland are not exactly coffee shops. It’s more of a place where you can buy and smoke marijuana amongst the company of other people who enjoy the green stuff. It’s definitely a completely different world than what I’m used to back home. Walking through the Red Light District brought back the despondent feelings I felt back on a certain night in Thailand. These woman were equivalent to caged animals in a zoo. I nonchalantly took out my phone to record video footage which unbeknownst to me, was a really, really bad idea. As I walked past the windows with my phone on record, one of the girls bursted out of her cell window and practically chased after me down the alley screaming not to take pictures and other insane things. “Are you taking pictures of me because your girlfriend is ugly?!” she shouted. I was a tad embarrassed and sped walked away from her. It was then that I noticed, on each girls cell window, there was a symbol of a camera with a strike through it, indicating NO PHOTOGRAPHY. Ooops. Well, at least I still have my video footage if anyone would like to see!

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It was a rainy night in Amsterdam, just like every other night since I came to Holland. It kind of dampened the mood so we headed back to our hostel for the night. The next day we wanted to do a couple excursions and later on meet up a couple friends of mine that I met on previous trips that live near the city. First, we took a boat cruise through the canals of Amsterdam. It took about an hour but apparently it’s the best way to see Amsterdam. I beg to differ. I think the best way is on foot for sure.

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Mieke and I went to a restaurant called CAU where we met up with a friend I met in Muizenberg, South Africa two years ago. Her name is Bruna and she was part of the new group of volunteers that arrived after I returned from Tanzania some time ago. She’s originally from Brazil but now resides near Amsterdam. She has been studying here and on her free time enjoys traveling to different places. She actually worked at CAU and was able to score us a 50% discount on our delicious meal we had there. So great to see ya again Bruna!

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Immediately after, another friend of mine joined Mieke and I. Her name is Charissa and I met her last year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She stayed in the same hostel I was in, the Mad Monkey. While Bruna had to start her shift at CAU, the rest of us went to a nearby bar around the corner. It was almost exactly a year since I saw Charissa and since then she’s been taking classes at the University hospital in Amsterdam and has been hard at work in completing her academics. She took us to one of her favorite spots, a whiskey bar, down the alley where we sampled a variety of different whiskeys. If only you could have seen my face!

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Amsterdam was a pretty cool place! Very touristy, but still fun and interesting. My biggest lessons I learned: never take a photo of those women in the Red Light District or otherwise they’ll chase you down and also bring an umbrella…it rains all the time! At least when I was there.

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Mieke and I had only planned on two days in Amsterdam, so we had to take a train back to Ede that night. I had plans to visit another friend of mine who lives in Groningen, a student city way to the north of Holland. Just like everywhere I’ve been in Holland, I had no clue what to expect.

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Fantasyland

I always make it a point to learn a few basic words from whatever language of the country I’m in. Words like hello, goodbye, thank you, sorry, ice cream, and Where can I find ice cream?…you know…the basics. Fortunately, English is the second language here in Holland and most of the people can speak and understand it. However, everything is written primarily in Dutch and I will come across things like this that will completely baffle me…

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Thankfully I have my friends here to help translate everything I come across. Mieke and Hanneke have been great with that! In addition to them, there is a slew of other fellow travelers I met throughout the years that live right here in Holland. One of them is Thom. I met him while backpacking through Thailand with Viola last summer. He actually witnessed me eat a scorpion for the first time there! Thom lives north of Ede in a city called Nijmegen, which is the oldest city in Holland! I can’t navigate the trains on my own yet because everything is in Dutch, so Hanneke accompanied me as we trained it up to visit him.

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Thom met us at a cafe in the middle of the city, where he rode through on his bike from work. By the way, everyone has a bike in Holland. Everyone. It’s one of the main sources of transportation in this country. Holland is so small and flat, I guess it makes sense.

Anyhow, once we met up with Thom, he showed us a bit around the city and took us to a couple of bars and restaurants. Afterwards, he showed us his student housing and we got to see a glimpse of his current lifestyle. Since Thailand, Thom has been working a lot and recently went on a trip to Scotland to visit other travelers he met previously. He’s getting ready for student week in Holland, where all the students prepare themselves for another year of schooling. Picture an American welcome-week and how nuts those can get. Later on, Hanneke and I headed back to the train station, back to Ede. Great seeing ya again Thom!

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Efteling

Mieke and Hanneke have pretty much been planning everything we do here and that is completely okay with me. I don’t know much about Holland at all except knowing how flat it is. Nay a mountain nor hill in sight. Seriously, it’s so flat, if I stood on top of the roof of the tallest building here, I could probably see Germany or Belgium on either side. But as far as planning, on Thursday, the girls wanted to take me to Efteling, which is an amusement park with a fairytale fantasy theme. Its the Dutch thing to do they said. My jet-lag was still in full force, so it was difficult to wake up early for the long drive there. But once I did, I popped a motion sick tablet, grabbed a pillow, and passed out instantly in the car. When I awoke, we were already there! I was still very tired but the peppy enthusiasm of the girls kept me awake, however my expectations for Efteling were almost non-existent. I had no clue what I was in for, but I was game for anything; even if it involved fantasy fairy tales.

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What I walked into was a big nature park packed with gardens, gnomes, elves, dragons, wizards, fairys, and other mythical beings. “What does ‘Efteling’ mean?” I asked. “It doesn’t mean anything” exclaimed Mieke. “It just sounds magical!” IMG_9239I’ve never been to Disney World, but I imagine this is a Disney World on a much smaller scale. I wanted to immediately go on the biggest, tallest, fastest, roller coaster here! “We’re not known for any roller coasters. We do have a few but don’t expect much!” they said. Mieke wanted to start slow and instead took us inside an Arabian palace. We stood in line for…at the time I didn’t know. The girls didn’t tell me anything. But it was actually a controlled boat ride with mechanical puppets on dynamic stages, visualizing Arabian themes fairy tales.

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I was impressed with the level detail put into the action displays, but I was still eagerly waiting for a roller coaster. We went to our first roller coaster of the day, which was on a bob-sled and then a roller coaster called the Python that lasted maybe 25 seconds. I’d say the best attractions were the ones where I stood in line for, but couldn’t understand what the attraction actually was. All the signs were in Dutch so I was clueless as to what exactly I was standing in line for. One ride, which started as a boat ride, unexpectedly transformed into a water roller coaster! Didn’t see that one coming. Another involved us sitting in a room where all of a sudden the room started spinning around creating the illusion we were defying gravity. I still can’t figure out exactly how that one worked. A lot of the attractions were novelty and were catered toward the more magical ensuing guests.

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During our day in Elfeling, I ventured to try new Dutch food, such as broodje döner kabab, and broodje van ons grootmoeder. Both were meaty sandwiches that were completely messy but tasty!

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I also tried a traditional dessert called an oliebol, which is a sweet doughy ball covered with powder. I underestimated the power of the powder.

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We rode a few more thrills and attractions before calling it a day. I immediately passed out again on the way back to Dieren for the night. I’ve never heard of Efteling before this but it’s somewhere nearly everybody living in this country has been to at least once in their lives. So I was happy to have experienced it!

Mieke, Hanneke, and I had to prep ourselves and pack our bags because we had a trip to Paris, France in our sights over the weekend!

Illegally Dutch?

I still haven’t decided if I prefer to call it ‘Holland’ or ‘The Netherlands’. I’m thinking ‘Holland’ because saying “the” Netherlands every time has already gotten old, real fast. So here I finally am, in Holland!

Thankfully, my big backpack was at the airport in one piece. I always get worried that whenever I’m crossing through multiple countries and airlines, my bag and I will end up in two separate places. This was not the case! I grabbed my bag and immediately went to the arrival gate and instantly, I saw this…

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It was Shrek and a kitten with a huge sign that had the fugliest pictures of me from last years travels! I fully expected them to have made some sort of sign, however I did not expect to see Hanneke and Mieke dressed in their Halloween costume’s from our party in Kayamandi last October! Even so, I was pretty excited to see them again!

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Mieke and Hanneke have both just got back about a month ago from South Africa and have been readjusting to life back home. They’ve been aware of my arrival for months and have prepared for my Dutch invasion. It was 10:30pm or 22:30 and I didn’t know if I was tired or not. I was just excited to be here!

The girls both live in separate student houses in a small town called Ede, which is about an hour east of Amsterdam. That’s where I’ll be residing most of the time, visiting different cities throughout the coming days. I know next to nothing about Holland, so anything and anywhere sounded great!

After passing out for a couple hours, I woke up for a good chunk of the night and fell back asleep well into the afternoon because of jet lag. This was going to take me awhile to adjust to. But the girls didn’t let me sleep too long because they had planned to show me around the area. We first went to visit Mieke’s mom in Dieren where she whipped up a nice lunch for all of us. I was baffled at one of the items in particular…

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It’s bread with butter spread and topped with chocolate sprinkles! What the what? Mieke said that it’s typical Dutch to put chocolate sprinkles on your bread for breakfast. So of course I was gonna love it!

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After lunch, Mieke’s mom took us to the train station. From there, we took a train to a city called Arnhem, which is the capital of Gelderland. I consider Arnhem just a bigger version of Ede; streets of outdoor malls and lots of grandiose churches with chiming bells. On our venture through the streets, we came across this:

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Hallelujah! My first McDonald’s in The Netherlands! I always make it a point to compare the McDonald’s in each country I visit to find the best in the entire world! While still good, this McDonalds was not the best. I anticipated the portions in Europe to be much smaller than they are in America, and I was right about that. A medium size meal was comparable to a Happy Meal at home. But that’s not the only reason why this isn’t ranked a little higher. It’s the simple fact that I had to pay 30 euro cents just to use the restroom! The menu did have a lot of different items you don’t see over in the States; like the lime shake, McKroket, and Bitterballen. Regardless of any faults, any McDonald’s will always be my single most guiltiest pleasure. Typical fat American.

We took the train back to Ede where we relaxed and played games. The next few days, I still had issues waking up for hours in the middle of the night and waking up late in the middle of the day. This is gonna take some adjusting to. But I did have some delicious Dutch delicacies when I was awake. Like this frikandel…

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and bitterballen…

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Frikandel is similar to a sausage, except without the skin. It contains chicken, pork, beef, and sometimes horse meat. Rumor has it that frikandel also might contain the eyes of a cow, the intestines of a horse, and the tail of a pig. No one knows for sure. Bitterballen is a deep fried meat-based snack rolled into a ball containing beef or veal. Definitely had an unusual texture but didn’t taste half bad!

On one of the nights, Mieke cooked a wonderful dinner using chicken, beans, pineapple, and potatoes!

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By the way, I should mention. Shortly after arriving in Amsterdam, we realized that I never got a visa stamp when exiting the airport. I didn’t even think about it at the time and kind of just walked right on out! I don’t know what this means but in other countries, you usually can’t leave unless you have a stamped visa of some kind. Not sure what the rules are here. If anyone knows, feel free to message me! Both Hanneke and Mieke were confused on how I didn’t have a stamp. When we told other strangers of my predicament, they also thought it was strange and their only piece of advice was to “stay out of trouble!” I could be trapped here in Europe! We’ll see how this plays out later.

I’ve been in Holland for a few days now and closed out the night playing on the rooftops of Ede and looking forward to what was coming up within the next few weeks.

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Some pretty exciting stuff I must say! 🙂