Monday, January 31, 2011

Italian lesson #1

Since I work with a bunch of Italians, it's only natural that I would start to pick up a bit of the language. As far as the actual spoken language is concerned, I've really only learned some cuss words (what else would they teach me?) and "we'll see" (because I wanted to politely decline their invitation to a disco party).

But the real Italian language is in the hands. Seriously. I thought it was a stereotype that Italians gestured a lot when they spoke, but they definitely do. Not only that, but it's not just generic gesturing. The gestures actually have meanings, like an Italian sign language. It's fascinating. To me, at least. Hopefully to you too because I'm going to start giving Italian lessons through my posts.

So lesson #1: delicious. Now, you could kiss your fingertips and make the smarmy Italian face (don't act like you don't know what gesture I'm talking about; that description is spot-on), but that doesn't apply specifically to food. It can also mean beautiful or really good. To say something is delicious, do this:
Then you kind of rotate it back and forth.
So if you kept flipping back and forth between these two photos, I'd be saying delicious. 

Don't press too hard, though, or you could get a permanent dent in your face.

Disclaimer: I know I sound like an expert and all, but I'm not actually Italian. So if you make one of these gestures to a mob boss and I told you the wrong meaning and you get whacked, I can't be held responsible. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mitten smitten

Growing up in Texas, I can't remember if I ever had a chance to wear those adorable mittens with the strings that keep you from losing them. I also can't think of a time when I've seen little kids wearing them, since you don't really need mittens to walk from the house to the car in 40-degree (that's 4.5ish-degree here) weather.

So I'm loving seeing all the kids swinging their mittens around. I love these (all off etsy).

Hot Little Hands in Dutch Blue. How appropriate.

Don't bother telling me how dirty these would get. They're still pretty.

And the award for creepiest mittens (sans string) goes to:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Visiting the Peace Palace

Sorry I can't think of better names for my blog posts, but at least you know what you're getting. On Thursday, some of the other interns and I used our lunch break to take a tour of the Peace Palace that's right by our office. You can only go into the palace on a guided tour and you have to book in advance and go through security to get in. And on top of that, no photos are allowed inside the building, so you don't get to see all the beautiful things that I saw. Sorry.

The inside was pretty spectacular. The ceilings have paintings, there's marble everywhere and basically everything you see is a gift from some nation. We also got to see the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice (where I sat in the head judge's chair). 

We were allowed to take photos outside, so that's all you get from me.

Our group (though you can't see us very well).

This is Sarah, the German, taking some photos. 

I was being a paparazzo.

View as we were being escorted out the gate. Yeah, escorted. They trusted us that little.

Outside the gates is the World Peace Flame (in that gray box on the left) and around it are rocks from every nation. This is Sarah and Joey (he's Australian) looking at the rocks, though I'm not really sure why.

In other news, our new roommate moved in last night. She's Finnish and has lived in Holland before for a year, so she's not really overwhelmed like I was. So far, so good, though. She seems nice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Brussels Sunday

As promised, here's the second part of my weekend in Brussels. I went to bed Saturday night watching The Simpsons (in English, with Dutch subtitles) and Parenthood (dubbed in French). Being in a French-speaking country was actually really refreshing for me. While I'm nowhere near fluent, it's nice to be able to read signs, recognize a fair amount of the words being spoken around me and have a little break from the hacking and gagging of Dutch. 

On Sunday morning, I packed my stuff up, checked out of my hotel and went out wandering again. Just when I thought I was lost, I turned a corner to see this:

Town Hall again. I still think it's beautiful.

Brussels had weather pretty similar to most days in The Hague: gray and rainy. Some of the streets got pretty slick for me and my cheap American boots. You'll be relieved to know that I didn't fall, though I came close several times. I carefully made my way to the Manneken Pis (or at least in the general direction of the Manneken Pis...and a waffle stand).

Once I saw this crowd, I knew I'd found it. All the surrounding streets were basically empty and then suddenly there are 30 people trying to get a picture with a tiny peeing boy. 

See how small he is? I knew that coming into the trip, but I figured when in Brussels, do as the Brussels tourists do.

Then I went to find an area where a few museums live. It's in the higher part of town, so I had to struggle uphill, but I was rewarded with this great view once I got there.

I went to the Musical Instrument Museum, which looks really awesome from the outside. I wish you could tell better from my picture, but if you're curious, go look it up yourself, you lazy bum. Something about it looks kind of steam punk-y to me, and I secretly love steam punk (the design, not the weird sci-fi nerd stuff).

The inside was full of all kinds of musical instruments and cool old things. And I had to guess what some of it was because the explanations were only in French and Dutch.

They had a carillon, which I had never seen before. And I'm not posting a photo so that you'll have to go to Brussels to see it. Or you could Google it, but Brussels is more fun.

A grandpa Mac. I took this photo mostly so my laptop could see one of its ancestors. He's resting comfortably in a display about electronic music.

The worst part about the whole museum was that you couldn't touch any of the instruments. I reeeeally wanted to. Instead, I got to wear big goofy headphones that would start playing music automatically when I stepped close to the instruments. The bad lighting in the place served me well in this photo as you can't tell quite how goofy the headphones are on me.

This museum was full of some crazy instruments. Like this one. It's basically a music box, but somehow it plays horns. I took a lot of pictures of the other crazy things, but a lot of them didn't turn out too well with the lighting and the glass cases. But they had a bunch of traditional instruments from around the globe, trombones with bells that looked like dragons, two-foot-long ocarinas and cornets with curly tubing.

They had a ton of weird-looking pianos (and clavichords). This one's definitely not the craziest, but it's one of the better photos. 

Me again. Behind me are mouth harps (or Jew's harps) and the music they played with it actually sounded really awesome. Good for the Jews.

After the museum, I walked around again (this time downhill) until I found Central Station and was able to hop on a train pretty quickly. And it was actually the correct train this time. (Though I stupidly did not take any pictures of said trains. Next time, maybe). 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brussels Saturday

I went to Brussels this weekend and am proud to say that I made it there and back safely. I had a little mix-up with the very first train I've ever ridden in Europe and ended up at Gouda, halfway to Utrecht, instead of 5 minutes away at the other station in The Hague. Understandable mistake; could've happened to anyone...who is too dumb to read signs or remember a platform number.

The up side: I saw my first windmills of the trip. There were 4 or 5 in a field between here and Gouda. I'm sorry to say that I didn't take any pictures, but I was too busy trying to keep myself from panicking and throwing myself off the train onto a flock of sheep.

I eventually did get on the right trains and ended up in Brussels, free to roam for the next 24 hours. So I just wandered in the general direction of the Grand Place, the big elegant square. I walked down a shopping street (it was unbelievably crowded because Les Soldes are going on and everything is on sale) and got a hot waffle (obviously a must when you're in Belgium). I made it to the Grand Place, which Wikipedia tells me was recently voted the most beautiful square in Europe. You can decide for yourself (though my pictures probably don't do it justice; the weather was pretty crummy).

That's the Maison du Roi on the left.

The Town Hall. On the top, there's supposed to be a statue of Michael slaying the devil or some nonsense like that. And there are a bunch of saints standing around up there. But mostly, it just looks cool.

And here's me in the square, just in case you didn't believe I was actually there. Most pictures of me from this trip will probably be self-portrait style, one of the consequences of solitary travel (and of not wanting to be touristy enough to ask someone else to take it for me).

Then I walked the small streets as all the restaurants began lighting up for the night.

I eventually ended up at one for dinner and a beer. I couldn't leave Belgium in good conscience without having a Belgian beer. My Chimay Bleue was fine, but the restaurant where I chose to eat alone was a little uncomfortable. At one point, I was the only customer there, and the waiters were getting bored, so whenever any potential diners walked by, I felt pressure to act like this was the best dinner I'd ever had in Belgium (which it happened to be, but not because it was anything more than mediocre).

After dinner, I walked back to my hotel, but not before seeing the Town Hall one more time. I think it looks even better lit up (though again, you probably can't tell from my photo. It looks a little bit better if you click it to get the slightly bigger photo).

I'll post about the rest of my weekend in Brussels in the next day or two. I just like to keep you in anticipation so you'll keep coming back for more. And I'm too lazy to resize all the photos right now. 

But I promise it'll be the best second post about Brussels I've ever published.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My internship

I've been at my internship more than a full week now, so I guess it's about time I blog about it. Especially since that's the whole reason I'm here (well, that and to be able to brag about my European adventures when I get home). So here's what I do all day:

I look at rainbows over the Peace Palace from my desk.

OK, that's not actually part of the job description, but this is the view from my desk, and there was a rainbow for about 5 minutes yesterday over that Peace Palace clock tower. Not a bad place to spend my days.

What I actually do basically amounts to PR work for a small nonprofit, Spanda Foundation. It's involved in ethnomusicology, interfaith relationships, solar energy, microfinance; it's got its finger in a lot of pies. Besides the boss/founder, only interns and volunteers work there and they're from all over. We've got 3 Italians (in addition to the Italian boss, and I don't mean that in a mafia sort of way), an Australian, a German, a girl from China, a guy from Finland, a girl from Egypt and an American (that's me!). So I'm learning a lot about other cultures. Just not the Dutch culture, necessarily.

And here's my shameless plug: I update Facebook and Twitter for the foundation, and I actually link to some really interesting things (if I do say so myself), so like the page or follow us so I can feel like I'm doing a good job.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day in Delft

I've been feeling like I should use my weekends wisely since they are limited, so Saturday I went to Delft, a little town about 20 minutes away by tram. It's famous for Delftware, that blue and white pottery, and the guy who painted "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (which is actually in a museum in The Hague that had a line down the block on Sunday). And it's adorable.

That's the Oude Kerk in the background. That just means old church. And by old, they mean built in the 13th century. So pretty darn oude.

Just looking down the canal the opposite way, because you can really never have enough pictures of European canals.

I think it's crazy how these houses are built basically IN the canals. And what are those doors for? The door on the right has a little bit of a porch, but the others? If I had ungracious house guests, that's the door I would make them exit through.

This is the Nieuwe Kerk. Guess what that means. This one was JUST the 15th century.

After walking around the city a bit, listening to street performers playing accordions and a calliope(!), I decided to actually go in the churches. This is in the old church. Both had great stain glass windows, but I wasn't interested enough in reading to find out what stories they all told. 

This is in the new church, on a memorial at the tomb of some prince. There were lots of dead important people underfoot. Doesn't this lady look like she's holding a cowboy hat? OK, it's more of a Speedy Gonzales hat, but still makes me feel a little closer to my side of the world. 

And then some artwork on the street. I have my guesses of what it is, but I'd be interested to hear anyone else's take on it.

I also ventured to the beach on the other end of the tram line, but it was gray out and cold and nothing like a beach should be, so I won't even bother showing you either of the two pictures I snapped. And no, there weren't even any topless Europeans there.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quiet afternoon

This is how I spent my afternoon:
It was great weather (I actually saw the sun today!) so I sat by the Binnenhof and read some this afternoon. It's supposed to get cold and rainy again tomorrow so you have to take advantage of clear days when you get them here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Escher museum

I've finally made it through a full week here! This one dragged by, but I have a feeling the rest will go a bit faster now that I've started my internship (and have actual human interaction!).

On Tuesday, my last day of freedom, I visited Escher at the Palace, a museum about artist M.C. Escher housed at some old palace in The Hague.  I felt like I had to do some kind of sightseeing (because what kind of tourist doesn't sightsee?), and Den Haag has about a million museums. One down, a million minus one to go.

Just another run-of-the-mill palace around here.

Escher's probably more famous for his tessellations (I remember having to try to make one in 5th or 6th grade math. It was ugly and we used no math to draw it) or his crazy reality-bending drawings (like below), but I really like his wood cuts, like this one. I'm not entirely sure why; it's something about the 2-D-ness of it and the bold shapes.  

This is one of those trippy ones. So trippy, in fact, they used it in Labyrinth. 

I may not be able to make tessellations like Escher, but I can make self-portraits in big shiny balls like him.

These next ones aren't pieces by Escher, but I just thought this museum had the craziest chandeliers. I don't know if they were in the palace originally, but they're just nuts. 
An umbrella...

...a pipe (in the background)...

...and a skull. Not to mention a wine bottle, a guitar, a bomb, a globe and an artist's palette. 

I'll have another picture post in a day or two, and then maybe something about my internship, depending on how interesting I think I can make it sound. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'neither here nor there'

Before I left home, Will gave me Bill Bryson's book, "Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe." It would've been perfect to read on the plane on the way over here, but I was able to sleep instead, which was probably for the best.

I've been reading it in some of my spare time since I've been here, and I think this guy is a little crazy (hilarious, but a little crazy). I would much rather be having these experiences with someone else than choosing to traipse around foreign countries all alone.

He does describe perfectly, though, what I've been feeling since I got here because I don't know the language (except he finds it exciting while I just find it kind of uncomfortable. But I'm getting over it).

"I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses."

Yep. That does basically sum up my existence right now.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Where I'm living

I've spent the past few days mostly just exploring my neighborhood (and the city center, but that's for another post). I know, I know. Where are all the pictures of the windmills and red light districts and space cakes? Well, those pictures are coming later, once I find my adventurous spirit or some friends. 

For now, here are the boring ones.

My room. It may not look like much now, but imagine me in it. Pretty awesome, right? On the right is my bed, a sink and mirror (and towel/drying rack) and to the left is a desk. And behind me is a little closet with super-retro wallpaper.

This is the view outside my window. What I really wanted to show you were the windows directly across from me where I get to watch a bald dude who is constantly listening to a Discman right by the window. But bald dude happened to be sitting there with his giant headphones when I took these photos and I was afraid he'd go all Rear Window on me.

I'm on the third floor, so we have a balcony instead, but aren't these little gardens cute? And the clothes hanging on the line? Wait. Am I going to have to do that?

Elsstraat. My street.

I knew coming into this that there would be a lot of bikes here. But boy, are there a lot of bikes here. A lot of them have little seats to bring along little people. And then there are some really sweet baskets, like this one. Perfect for groceries, and your little dog, too.

This is several blocks away from my apartment. Doesn't it look so Dutch, though?

This is on the longest street in Den Haag (or so says a kind stranger who helped me when I got lost on this street, I guess to say it was a good thing I asked for help rather than continuing to walk). The grayish bricks are the sidewalk and the red bricks to the right are the bike lane. 

Several miles (or 1.6-times-several kilometers) down that road is where I'll be interning.

This is just a garage door, but I thought it was so pretty for being just a garage door. That sign says, "Uitrit vrijlaten, ook in het weekend," which roughly means, "Listen, buddy. I have to get my car out of here, even on the weekends, so don't you dare park here or I'll have you towed (in the unlikely event that I can't move your tiny car with my bare hands)."

Lastly, I went to the grocery store yesterday, and I'm still not entirely sure what I bought. Except for these: "Cool American" Doritos. I felt the title applied to me, as well.