Friday, October 31, 2008

Here we come!

Brett and I are flying back to the US today for a 2 week tour of Washington, DC, Isabela Puerto Rico and Orlando, Florida. Much eating, drinking and shopping is sure to be done. And talking. With me, there's always talking. Can't wait to see family and friends.

Zwarte Piet - A tough Dutch tradition for Americans

Here in Amsterdam, there are two big days for Christmas. The first is December 5th when St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas) comes to Amsterdam by Steamboat from Spain with his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete)to give good children presents. The 2nd is December 24th where families gather for a holiday dinner and open presents.

A skinny Santa from Spain in early December is kind of fun, but the concept of "Black Pete" as Santa's helper makes me uncomfortable. I'm sure my emotions are shaped by our US history with slavery, and I know I'm not in the US right now - but I still can't quite get over my discomfort with this tradition. There's a funny David Sedaris story on the topic called 6-8 Black Men It's worth the read if you've got a few minutes, and summarizes the tradition from an American point of view.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shoe Lacing - Amsterdam style

Did you know that the way you lace your Nikes tells people where you're from? I didn't - but a friend of mine told me this is how people know he's from Amsterdam. Who knew?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vomit Inducing Dutch Carnival Rides

I saw this street fair the other weekend. Maybe it's just me, but these rides look WAAAAAY more stomach churning than the ones I saw at carnivals growing up. Look at the people upside down on the ride on the right. Yikes! I did find the "wheel of meat"above the grill at the refreshment stand amusing though :-)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

We can stay!

Brett and I got our residency decisions from the Dutch government and it looks like they're going to let both of us stay in Amsterdam for our 1 year contracts. That's nice to hear - especially since on our visit to Ireland, my passport was stamped with a mark that said I had to leave the country after 7 days! Brett didn't have that restriction. I'm hoping it was random otherwise I'm going to develop an inferiority complex :-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lost in Translation - again

Today Brett and I started cooking for one of our favorite dinner party menus - Cinco de Mayo. It doesn't really matter that it's October and our recipes aren't Mexican. It's just fun to cook and have a few friends over.

One of our biggest challenges with this party has been finding the right ingredients or finding an appropriate substitute. Today Brett was in the grocery store and he called me to find the translation for heavy cream or whipping cream since nothing looked familiar and the last time he guessed, he ended up drinking something that was like buttermilk...

The online translator was no help so I called a local American friend who has lived here for 10 years. He was stumped too and was describing things like sour cream and things that had the consistency of yoghurt. It was only after I said "it's like milk but used to make creamy soup" that he and his colleagues got it and told us to look for "kookroom" or "cooking cream." Brett finally found it and was able to make his soup :-)

One thing we couldn't find was Cool Whip type ingredients. My Dutch friend said "This is the land of dairy. Why eat chemicals?" Good point.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

European cigarette warning labels

In Europe the law requires cigarette packaging to carry really large warnings about the dangers of cigarettes. Warnings on the packages I've seen are about 1/3rd of the front of the carton. They've attacked it from pretty much every angle - from beauty to health, to fear to relationships. A few text samples are shown below but they're even more frightening with the pictures. Think the US will ever get this agressive?

1) Smoking kills
2) Smoking seriously harms you and those around you
3) Smoking causes fatal lung cancer
4) Smoking causes aging of the skin
5) Protect children. Don't make them breathe your smoke.
6) Smoking can cause a slow and painful death.
7) Smoking contains benzene, nitrosamines, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.
8) Smoking when pregnant harms your baby
9) Smoking clogs arteries and causes heart attacks and strokes
10) Smoking reduces blood flow and may cause impotence.

Some of the ads have supporting pictures as well that are pretty gross. I'm guessing it's working since Europe seems MUCH less smokey to me compared to 10 years ago.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Potato Potatoe

In the US we have TJ Maxx. In Ireland they have TK Maxx :-)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Traffic Calming Ahead

In Ireland we kept seeing signs that said "Traffic Calming ahead." We never figured out what it meant but it made us laugh each time we saw it. Was there classical music ahead? Soothing lighting? Aromatherapy candles? It was probably just a sign to slow down but it was fun to imagine.

We also saw this sign in Dingle. I guess you don't want to drive off a dock while driving in Ireland. Perhaps all too common an occurance here if they had to put a sign up? :-)

Sunday, October 19, 2008


In many ways Ireland felt very similar to the US. Maybe it's the shared language, but the pub culture was also very familiar - especially if you've frequented an Irish bar or two in your lifetime. My favorites this trip: The Laurels (my namesake) and Murphy's (my favorite Irish bar in Old Town, Alexandria).

We saw live Irish music one night as well, and while I don't have any pictures it was a memorable experience. Picture 4 Irish guys in their early 50s jamming with a fiddle, accordion, guitar and drums. The locals all stopped by to shake their hands and buy them a pint between songs, while the crowds stomped their feet and clapped to the beat. It was a really festive and welcoming environment and all you could do was smile.

One other thing that made me laugh was the things for sale in the tourist shops. They had everything from slippers made to look like Guinness pints to Irish sayings such as:

"Finnegan: My wife has a terrible habit of staying up 'til two o'clock in the morning. I can't break her of it. Keenan: What on earth is she doin' at that time? Finnegan: Waitin' for me to come home." :-)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stay left

Our "Opel Antara"

After spending 1 day in Dublin, Brett and I took our rental car out into the Irish countryside. They drive on the left there, and the driver sits on the right. The shifter is on the driver's left as well, so it makes for an interesting experience. At least the windshield wipers didn't go off everytime you wanted to turn left in Ireland like they did on our trip to New Zealand. That part of the steering column matched US cars. My job was to remind Brett to "stay left" at every turn or roundabout. For once, he didn't mind me being a "back seat driver" as it's easy to slip into US driving rules if you aren't vigilant.

We drove from Dublin to Limerick and then stopped in Killarney for 2 nights. We used Killarney as the home base for our drives in County Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula over the next 2 days. It was was overcast much of the time and there was a good bit of rain as well, but that's what gives Ireland such lush green landscapes.

The Ring of Kerry in County Kerry

The country roads are narrow and bumpy and we encountered more than one sheep on the road who had escaped their pasture, but overall it was a very pleasant drive.

A "red" sheep. We saw sheep painted blue, and green too.

The beach at "Inch" on the Dingle peninsula

Thursday, October 16, 2008

You knew this was coming - another post on potato chips :-)

I'm sifting through all of our awesome countryside photos so stay tuned for those, but in the mean time, here's our Ireland potato chip post.

At the airport in Cork we had dinner at Subway. We tried a "local favorite" sub with chicken tikka in it. It was tasty - but then Brett spotted them. Prawn Cocktail potato chips! There they were, in a shrimp colored bag - but without any sign of shrimp or cocktail sauce on the package. The only supporting visuals beyond the bag color were icons featured a cutting board with peppers and cheese.

The only explanation we could think of was that the cutting board icons were a symbol of the Walker company's "Do us a flavour" promotion where all new chip flavors are submitted by consumers. It's a cool promo where you take a picture of the flavor you'd like to see on a chip and send it into the chip company. If your flavor idea is selected, you'll see your chip in stores for a limited time. On the Walkers web site there are some really interesting flavor suggestions like jelly bean, creamy cheese and bacon or salmon, avocado & soy. How fun!

As for our chips: they didn't taste like shrimp or cocktail sauce, but they were tasty.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Irish Castles

While in Ireland we saw lots of castle ruins. We didn't go to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone (as you know I can gab just fine already), but we did visit Ross Castle and also stumbled across ruins on our drives. They're very cool looking. It makes me want to stay in a restored castle to imagine what it was like to live in one.

Castle Ruins on the "Ring of Kerry" drive

Ross Castle (County Kerry)

Dublin - Land of Guinness

Brett and I spent the past few days in Ireland taking in the sights. We spent the first day in Dublin and toured the Guinness Brewery and the rest of the town. We had a laugh at a few of the sights as it appears that the Irish take their Guinness and their alcohol availability very seriously.

Check out the "Guinness Quality Truck." I love their dedication to ensuring that your pint reaches you "in the finest condition."

or the "Booze2Go" store. At least they don't have a drive through :-)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hey - he stole my ball!

That's what Holly must have been thinking last night. I took her to the Beatrix Park to throw a tennis ball around when a little dachsaund stole it from her and wouldn't give it back no matter how hard his owner tried to retrieve it.

We had to cut our play session a bit short, but Holly still had fun as you can see in the videos :-)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Donkeys, pink unicycles and pigs

I love looking out the window. From my office I can see huge windmills and cruise ships. From the tram I enjoy looking in all the shop windows to see what's new. Today I had an especially interesting view. I saw:

1) A man carrying an entire frozen pig (hog) on his shoulder as he walked down the street.
2) A girl riding a pink unicycle
3) A donkey tied to a city parking meter

As I walked out of the office today I noticed a film crew taking pictures of a man and woman dressed in Mexican clothing. Then I saw the donkey. He was wearing a sombrero and was tied to a parking machine. I took a photo of the spectacle and got on my tram.

On the tram I was thinking about the donkey and the strange scene I had witnessed. I decided to look at the photo again and noticed a "boot" on the donkey's leg. Not a protective animal shoe, but a boot like you'd see on a car that has too many unpaid parking tickets.

I don't know for sure what they were doing, but I suspect it's a public service anouncement about parking enforcement. The Dutch have a funny sense of humor about these things. When I was in baggage claim at the Amsterdam airport a few weeks back there was a suitcase on the carousel with a sign on it that said "Have something to declare? Go to the red line at customs." It was only on the 2nd time that the bag went by me that I noticed the fake alligator tail sticking out of the suitcase. :-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cool American Doritos

In the US, we have "Cool Ranch" Doritos. Here in Holland we have "Cool American" Doritos with the same flavor. It reminds me of the "Big Americans" pizza box we saw that had a "Texas style pizza" callout. I guess they think all Americans are cowboys when the word ranch gets translated to American :-)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Metal Lizards

A month ago I posted about the metal tree trunk "art projects" around Amsterdam. The other day I ran across this field of metal lizards. I'm not sure what the significance of this project is, but it is kind of cool and did make me stop. Maybe that's the point.

Sausage and Makeup together - an interesting sales tool

I was in a store called Hema the other day. I can't think of how to describe it other than as a Dollar Store/Walmart/Deli counter combined in a small space. In other words, a real hodge podge. Party balloons, socks and deli meat all in the same 1000 square feet.

Just after entering the store, I noticed a display of warm sausage in between the make up aisles. It seemed like an odd placement to me. The picture quality is poor, but if you could see inside the bin with the "kielbasa pictures" on the side, you'd see loose sausages, tongs, and bags to put the sausage in. I guess a girl can get hungry with all that lipstick shopping.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fish roll ups and hot dogs for dogs

At the pet shop the other day I notices some interesting dog treats. The hot dogs for dogs were unique, but the thing that grossed me out a bit was the fish roll ups. The name alone just sounds terrible - especially if you were raised eating "Fruit Rollups." In addition, Holly's breath smells awful even without me feeding her dead fish. Needless to say we passed on this purchase :-)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

World Animal Day

Our dog walker brought Holly some treats yesterday in celebration of World Animal Day on October 4th. The most unique gift was beer made for dogs. I'm sure Holly will love it since she likes to lick up the few drops of people beer that Brett occasionally gives her.

In celebration of World Animal Day the pet shops had special events and giveaways and even the bars were getting into the spirit. One bar had dog beer posters in the window, and a man dressed like a kangaroo was out front welcoming guests. I love that you can take your "best friend" to the bar for some suds.

We also got Holly a small treat, which she's eagerly enjoying as I type this.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More pictures of Cologne

Since my camera battery croaked while I was in Munich, I didn't get many pictures in Cologne. If you want to see more pics though, check out the blog of my colleague, Jenny Cisney. She's our Chief Blogging Officer and I hung around with her most nights after the show ended. She takes some great pics.

American Groceries in Amsterdam

When Brett and I were walking around the Leidseplein area on Saturday we found an American food Grocery store. They sold things like Lucky Charms and Oreos and had such nutritious staples as Marshmallow Fluff and Chips Ahoy. I didn't need any of that, but I did pick up corn flour (for making sweet corn tomalito) and some baking soda for making cookies. They even have Stubbs Barbeque sauce. The only issue is the price. It will cost you 5 times the price you'd pay in the US - but when you've got an insatiable craving or a favorite recipe - it's well worth it. I made sure to take good mental notes of their inventory. We're pretty stocked up right now since Brett and I both brought suitcases full of American food home with us in the last month or so - but it's good to know they're there when you've got a craving for a pop tart :-)