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Monthly Archives: August 2012

So after being on my trip for nearly two weeks, I have tried fries in Amsterdam, Belgium, and Rotterdam, and I  have somehow missed the ones that are so mind blowingly good people all over the world recommend you try them while you’re here. Or perhaps it’s one of those legends that doesn’t live up to the hype.

I can’t remember who said it, but on our first night, someone ate a fry and said, “Never have I eaten a fry that tastes so much like a potato.” The point stood, but there’s nothing to go crazy over. They taste like potatoes and not a lot else, unless they’re drenched in ketchup and mayonnaise, which they often are. I gave the mayonnaise thing a try and it is definitely not for me, and to make matters worse, they might as well have applied it with an ice cream scoop. The giant glob on top made me want to retch a little, and the rest were untouched.

I’m a big fan of fries without sauce, but these ones need more seasoning to make that a good option. Adding salt and pepper makes them tasty, but it’s still nothing special. Overall, I have eaten many fries back home that are better than any of the ones I have found here. In particular, I recommend the fries at Shultzy’s Sausage.

This is my first post in a while and I have decided I’m going to change the way I’m doing this in the future. This is the last “daily” post where I describe a single day. I’m going to try and make future posts shorter, and cover bits from a longer span of time, only talking about the more interesting bits. Hopefully this shortens posts and makes things overall easier to read. I’d love to update more often, but I can’t due to all the good times.

I forgot to mention my living situation at the Bicycle Hotel. There are four people in this room, each of whom gets a twin sized bed.  Three of them are pushed together and I’m smack dab in the middle (lucky me!). The upside is that we get a bathroom attatched, where many people have to share a more public one, a window facing the cool side of the building, and, most importantly, a chandelier. After realizing how much less hot this room gets, I ceased to be bummed out at all.

My roommates were more jetlagged than me, and ended up waking at around 6am this morning. I tried to sleep in, but gave up and by 8 was ready and raring to go. Class wasn’t until 10:00 so I enjoyed a nice long (complimentary) breakfast. I chatted with a nice German girl and her mother, who had just concluded a week long holiday in Amsterdam. They gave me some good tips on stuff to check out, most highly recommending just getting on a bike and riding around town.

Still having some time to spare before class, me, Stephen and April went to the grocery and happened on a neat little playground. I should mention that playgrounds are everywhere here, and a lot of them are pretty legit. For instance, this one had an awesome system of nets and platforms that I can only imagine is for playing King of the Hill while pretending that everything beneath is burning lava, or at least an endless chasm.

As a little kid, I’d have fought to the bitter end to stay in the center of this toy.

Our first lecture was held in a nice park under the shade of a tree. We discussed research at a very abstract level in a way that was reminiscent of the early lectures of Info 470 with Dr. Wobbrock.  Our first assignment is done in groups. Each group is to “research” an excursion appropriate for the whole class to participate in on Tuesday evening, with the caveat that we may only gather and disseminate information via one means. In our case, we were limited to print as a means of information collection/distribution.

We had a little free time between class and the Wikipedia lecture, so we swung by the phone store so people could get phones and SIM cards. I was almost sure I’d get one but when faced with the decision, I decided to wait a while and see if I found myself wishing I had one. We got lunch at a little sandwich place and Ross was nice enough to buy me a Dr. Pepper. I own him one. Unable to read the menu, I went off the pictures, attempting to choose one that looked good and large enough for the price. I settled one primarily because it had “bacon” in the name but was disappointed to find out that bacon was just about the only thing on it. It was alright.

The Wikipedia lecture was in the lobby of the Bicycle hotel, which may sound like a fine idea until you consider how fun it is to cram nearly 30 people into a small and un-airconditioned room for over two hours. Some people were clearly not as enthusiastic about Wikipedia as the guest lecturers. Okay so nobody is as enthusiastic about Wikipedia as they are, but my goal for the lecture was to not out the degree to which I’m a Wikipedia nerd, while still contributing as much to the discussion as possible. I really liked the bits about Wikipedia’s history, and the way pivotal decisions were made, but they talked about other things, like Wikipedia’s future projects and challenges. It felt like a long talk, but I liked it, and would have liked it even more if we had held it in the park.

We had a big group dinner planned, and this one would be covered by the program (which means we’re still paying for it if you think about it). I was looking forward to this because I had not had a substantial meal since the airplane ride. Wait… That meal wasn’t substantial. It wasn’t that no food was available to me, but I had not had much of an appetite.

On the walk there, Lauren began crossing a bike lane without noticing a fast moving scooter headed in her direction. I was standing there determinedly (and silently) trying to calculate if they were on a collision course when Ross had the presence of mind to yell, “Watch out. Watch out!” She scurried out of the way and nobody was hurt. Not sure how close it actually was, but it got the blood flowing a little bit.

I wouldn’t have given her a hard time about it, but getting on the tram, a couple people didn’t realize that the side doors are only for people exiting the tram. On the way in the door closed on Lauren’s arm in a very harmless way. I asked her, “So are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Dinner was great but took forever. I started really not feeling well before the food even came. I was struggling to keep my eyes open and had to excuse myself and step out into the cool air a few times. By the time my pasta came, I already felt full (of appetizers). I really had to force down the food because I knew that eating a full meal was going to make me feel much much better in the long term, but I actually really felt awful eating it.

I got to know a couple of the grad students seated around me who were super friendly. After a few drinks they started playing, “Tell us about a really bad decision you’ve made.” By the time they were done talking about the stuff they had done in their mid to late twenties, I felt like I might have some rough times ahead of me.

I started feeling much better on the way back. It was my first walk through Amsterdam at night and it was quite pleasant.

I’m surprised at how un-jet-lagged I was. I woke up around 9 feeling ready to take on the world. By 10 I was out the door with an agenda. Get breakfast, roam the city on foot, visit Vondelpark, get ice cream, go to Bicycle Hotel by 6. Unfortunately, it seems this part of Amsterdam on Sunday sleeps in a bit later because the only places that looked open were cafes, and I didn’t think they served anything but coffee. Fun fact – I don’t drink coffee, especially in 80-90 degree weather.

So I skipped to step 2. I stopped by a big open lawn with a cool sculpture. Not having any real time crunch, I decided to post up for a while and read a chapter of Pollyanna, while observing the strange not-quite-crows. Eventually I found myself in Vondelpark and let me say, it’s big and awesome. It’s the kind of park you can get lost in, and it’s full of trails, creeks, playgrounds, and people. There was a fountain/water park that caught my eye that was full of families and little kids in a scene that seemed very Seattle Center to me.

By noon, it still seemed like nothing was open so I decided I would go back to Bart’s house and eat some of his cereal (he told me to help myself in his note). It did the trick and I was surprised at how un-hungry I was considering I had barely eaten since the plane ride. I felt a little lame killing the early afternoon at Bart’s, so I assured myself that after meeting up with everyone I’d be a bit more active.

In researching how to get to the Bicycle Hotel (walking with all my stuff would be horrid), it took me about 30 minutes to realize Google Maps probably does public transit in the Netherlands. Take notes Bing. I headed to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare, which I used to get some ice cream. Getting to the front of the line I politely asked, “Do you speak English?” to which the server responded with a smile and a laugh, “Of course!” I started to wonder if it was impolite to ask. My instinct tells me it’s impolite to walk up to someone and assume they speak a foreign language, but Trent informed me later that while asking was not necessarily impolite, it is sort of similar to asking someone if they dropped out of high school or not.

On the way out, I had my backpack on, duffle on one shoulder, and ice cream cone in the other hand. Needless to say, I was a bit clumsy and I tapped a parked bike with my bag. It went right down and took another bike with it. Only having one free hand, I struggled to put them up, which would have been hard without the help of a nice bystander.

Getting on the bus, I realized I did not have exact fare. I sheepishly asked if I could just pay 3 Euros for the 2.70 fare. I was surprised when the driver not only let me, but handed back change! Take notes King County Metro.

One thing I learned today is that you should never rely on buildings being organized in blocks. Contrary, there are many wide roads that have long rows of tightly packed buildings with no alleyways. I suspect they can pack a lot more into less space, but if you find yourself one “block” away from your destination, you may have to traverse one long row, then traverse back on the next. This is a fun thing to learn while carrying all your stuff for a four week trip on your back and shoulders.

I was initially locked out of the Bicycle Hotel and didn’t know what to do until a group of Americans walked right past me before one turned around and asked if I was looking for the Bicycle. Ah some of the grad students! I thought they looked familiar. It turned out that the door is always locked and you need a code.

We mingled for a bit before Trent began the orientation, which helped me feel less like a clueless child. Nobody seemed more with it than me, and the textbook I didn’t bring started sounding mighty optional. I’m sure I can borrow from others. We then took a short walking tour of the area that ended at a cafe where we mingled over drinks and a local snack called bitter ballen (it’s like deep fried gravy). We played “something interesting about yourself,” which I usually kind of hate. I never like playing the fencing card because maybe I don’t feel it makes me that interesting anymore. Ultimately, I doubled my interesting fact with a word of caution, explaining that I can have a bizarre sense of humor, sometimes thriving too much on awkward situations. Not sure how a fact like that comes off, but it’s here to stay. All-in-all it felt good to have met up with everyone. I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed a similar trip by myself.

Tomorrow is the first day of class at 10:00am and we also have a guest lecturer talking about Wikipedia. Not sure there will be much in the way of afternoon adventures, but we may have some fun in the evening. I’m looking forward to it! On a less “bright” note, while writing out today’s journal entry by hand, my reading light burned out and I brought no spare bulbs. Hopefully I work around this, because if I don’t, the 5 lbs of books I brought is wasted space.

I know it was a good flight because I was fed well and I was drowsy when the captain announced we’d be landing soon. I actually wanted to sleep more, making this the first time I ever wanted to stay on the plane when the flight was over.

Stepping off the plane I started getting hit with a little anxiety. As opposed to sitting on a plane, I’d now have to start making decisions, which means I can potentially screw up. Keep it together Stack, it’s not that hard. Schipol is an awesome airport. It’s huge and bustling. Everything about it feels modern, and it felt like a high-end mall. To quote Dan Berke on the topic, “If Ikea built an airport, Schiphol is what it would look like!”

For my first night, I’d be staying at the residence of a man named Bart, who we found through airbnb.com. I had a printed copy of instructions from the airport to his house/apartment thing. It would be a train, then a bus, then a walk. Didn’t seem too bad.

I got some Euros (at a much better rate than if I had at Sea-Tac) and decided to sit and collect myself before doing anything. While doing so, a shabby looking man approached me and asked if I spoke French. I told him a little, but he seemed to recognize English would be the way to go and explained he had run out of money and needed a train ticket. He assured me if we exchanged emails he’d pay me back. Had I not been as overwhelmed with everything, I’d probably have told him I couldn’t help him, or maybe it was I felt some compassion as a similarly disoriented traveler, but I ended up giving him some of my left over USD. He told me his name was Marco but I immediately regretted the transaction. I’m never hearing from him again.

The train to Amsterdam Zuid Station left only minutes after. The train ride was nice. Super smooth and got me there quickly. Stepping out of the train station into a big elegant courtyard, I was in the open air of Holland for the first time. I immediately felt that it was beautiful, clean, and almost eerily quiet.

Moving along, I almost got off the bus improperly. Paying on entry, I thought, like in Seattle, you’d just walk off the bus, but I noticed people scanning the stub they received on exit and quickly stuck my arm back in until I heard the approving “beep.” My host had left keys to his place at a nearby bike shop. The issue was, I couldn’t seem to find the cross street this shop was on. Stupidly having no real map, I had to go off of the limited map data cached on my phone. Other than the cross street, all I had to identify the shop was that it had a yellow sign, and bikes in front of it. I thought that might be pretty helpful except that bikes are parked everywhere in huge mass.

I decided to search for the shop using the random direction algorithm. After what felt like hours, the sun started to feel mighty hot, and my bags were getting kind of heavy so I asked some locals for help. Most were very nice, except one lady who looked like I had just asked her what the capital of Assyria was. The most helpful advice I got was that the river up North has the same name as the street I was looking for. My feeling that the city was eerily quiet persisted as I roamed about it. I’m not really sure what it is. Eventually I found the shop, got the keys, and was in the charming little apartment where I’d be staying. Awesome! That only took a couple hours longer than it should have.

Feeling a bit exhausted from my trip, I passed out and didn’t wake up until 10pm local time. I’d have liked to go out, but I was still feeling a bit timid so I decided to call it a night. The only issue is that it’s only 5pm in my time zone and I don’t feel tired at all just yet. On a brighter note, I get to update you all again.

Tomorrow should be a pretty unstructured day. I’ll be meeting up with my classmates at the Bicycle Hotel tomorrow at 6pm to begin the actual program. However, before that I’ll pretty much be on my own. It’ll be nice to have the unstructured time, but I think I’ll enjoy myself more once I meet up with people and get a bit more organized.

This is the first of what will hopefully be many updates on what I’m up to for the next four weeks. If you don’t know, I’m doing a short study abroad in the Netherlands, that takes place primarily in Rotterdam, but also in Amsterdam.

I just got here and I should be out exploring, but I’m so exhausted from jet lag and all the walking to get to my room that I figured I could do a first update and reconstitute momentarily.

Friday the 17th was the day of my flight and, unfortunately, also my last day of summer quarter. My final project for CSE 190m was due at midnight, meaning I had to finish before I left. I didn’t manage to protect from SQL injection. Oh well. Traffic was horrible so we had to rush to the airport.

So I ended up fitting everything for this trip into a backpack and my beloved Seattle Times duffle bag. I really like that bag because it’s like I bring a little piece of home with me when I travel, even though I’ve never really read The Seattle Times. Literally as I was walking out the door to the car, the metal clasp for the shoulder strap just broke. I didn’t think the bag was that heavy… Better now than after I’m in Europe. I stole the strap from another bag and we were on our way.

Broken clasp

My bag honestly wasn’t that heavy. The metal must have been getting pretty old.

The 10 hour didn’t feel long at all to me. Maybe it’s because I slept for a lot of it, but I guess you could say it really flew by ;). Not a lot else to talk about for this day so I thought I’d list some of the stuff I brought:

  1. Laptop – I was really reluctant to bring this as my two options were one whose screen turns off randomly and quite annoyingly, or one that weights a million pounds and gets a measly 1-2 hours of battery life even with a big external battery. I brought it to give you all something to read. I hope you’re happy. See what I sacrifice to entertain you lot?
  2. Smartphone – I bought my European LG smartphone knowing it’d come in handy for Eurotrips. Not sure if I’ll manage to get data, talk, or text to it, but it’s nice to have.
  3. Point and Shoot Camera – The camera on my phone is good not great. I figured it was worth bringing to capture the things my phone can’t. Hopefully my next phone will render this camera obsolete.
  4. Composition Book – My more personal journal will be done by hand. Might come in handy for the academic portion of this trip, though I’ll admit to having thought very little about that.
  5. Books – I am not sure how much I’ll read on this trip but I brought Pollyanna (Eleanor Porter), Mogworld (Yahtzee Croshaw), and Imajica (Clive Barker).

I must admit, I am more nervous about this trip than probably any other before. I travel alone a lot, but never outside of the country and never for this long. So far, things have gone well, and I’ll meet up with my classmates tomorrow.

My next post will be about my journey from the airport to the room I’m staying at tonight. It’s more interesting than it sounds I promise!

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