Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Back to Real Life








So I'm back in Amsterdam, and buckling down to practicing until my exam in 2 weeks. Then I really get to do whatever I want!!!! Until Domaine. But whatever. Anyways, London was amazing. It was so what I needed. A little break, but also because I'd been before and also because I was there for 6 whole days I didn't ever feel the manic need to sight-see that I sometimes do when I'm on holidays. I basically just hung out with Carmen and Dan, and also did some sight-seeing. So fabulous. Also, I had macaroni and cheese for the first time in a while. It was magical. It's strange the things you miss......I miss ketchup chips and mac n cheese. Anyhoo, London is a ridiculously large city. I'd forgotten what big cities are like. In Amsterdam, you can pretty much get anywhere in 30 minutes (on your bike). Unless you're going from one suburb to another, but even then it's not that big of a city. Just the fact that we bike everywhere attests to that. You wouldn't be able to bike everywhere in London. Unless you have a lot of spare time on your hands. And a death wish. Also I flew into Stansted, which is the farthest airport away from the city. The London City Aiport and Heathrow are both close/in the city, and then Gatwick, Luton, and Stansted are outside the city but connected by train. But of course Ryanair flies into the farthest airport. Probably cheaper airport taxes there. So from Stansted it's a 45-50 minute train ride to Liverpool Street Station, and then from there I got on the Underground. I had to go meet Dan at his office to get the keys cause Carmen was playing out of town that day, but both his office and their house are on the other side of the city from Liverpool St Station. I think it took like 45 minutes on the Underground to get to Dan's work. Anyways, I got into Stansted at 9.30 am, and didn't actually get to Carmen and Dan's until 2 pm. Ridonculous. Anyways, I was so tired and hungry and whatever that I just raided Carmen and Dan's fridge, then went to Sainsbury's to replace what I had pillaged, and then lazed around until Dan got home from work. Then I went with Dan and their neighbours to quiz night at the pub on the corner. It was totally hilarious. And my fountain of useless knowledge came in handy - especially when it cam to identifying random celebrities. The next day I decided to go shopping! In England they have this amazing store called Primark. It's a clothes and whatever store, and it's ridiculously cheap but nice. Also, it has clothes in larger sizes, which is important for me. Half the time in the Netherlands I don't fit the biggest size in the store, and I actually bought a pair of jeans from the plus-size department at H&M......but I always find that plus-size clothes are designed with really big women in mind, so everything's kind of like a variation on the mumu. And while I may be big, I ain't all that fat. So Primark was like shopping heaven. I got a pair of jeans for 8 pounds! And dress pants for 6! OMG! So that was basically my day. Shopping takes a lot outta you.
The next day I went and wandered around Oxford Street, and then I decided to go to Fulham Palace. Carmen and Dan live in the area of Fulham, at Fulham Broadway in fact. And so when I looked up Fulham in my Lonely Planet guide (they sort the city by neighbourhood), Fulham Palace was the only entry. Apparently there's nothing else to see there. But Fulham Palace was pretty cool - it was the summer home of the bishops of London from 704 to 1973. It's a sort of hodge-podge of different architectural styles and apparently until 1924 it was enclosed by the longest moat in England. The oldest part to survive is the little red brick Tudor gateway, and the main building dates from the 17th century and was remodelled in the 19th century. But unfortunately for me, it wasn't open the day I visited but I did get to wander the grounds a bit - the palace is run by volunteers, so it's open at very weird times. Then that night I went to see the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, performing Giselle. It's so handy to have musician friends! The next day I didn't really do much of anything, just bummed around.
Then on Friday Carmen and I went on a fun field trip to the Hampton Court Palace. Originally built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1515, he felt obliged to give it to give it to Henry VIII when he fell into disfavour after being unable to procure a divorce between Henry and Catherine of Aragon. As soon as he aquired the palace, Henry set to work expanding it, adding the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal, and the sprawling kitchens. By 1540 it was one of the grandest and most sophisticated palaces in Europe, but Henry only spent on average three weeks a year there! hen in the late 17th century, William and Mary employed Sir Christopher Wren to build an extension, what is now known as the "Georgian rooms". The result is a hilariously awesome blend of Tudor and baroque style (though my lonely planet calls it "a "beautiful blend"). They put on a daily program, and on the day we were visiting it just so happened that the program was the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine Parr. They had a bunch of different things that you could go to, but I'll get to that later. In the Tudor part of the palace, you enter King Henry's apartments through the Anne Boleyn gateway, and into the Great Hall - which apparently has the country's best hammer-beam roof. Then onto the Great Watching Chamber where guards controlled access to the king. Then there's the smaller Page's Chamber, and the Haunted Gallery. Apprently Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, managed to evade her guards and ran screaming down the corridor in search of the king. Her woeful ghost is said to do the same thing to this day........Then there's the Chapel Royal, which is still used as a place of worship today. There's also the Tudor kitchens, which have ben fitted out to look as they might have done in the Tudor days, including palace "servants" who turn the spits, stuff the peacocks, and frost the marzipan with real gold leaf. Mmmmm.....gold....... And there's also the wine cellar, which handeled the 300 barrels each of wine and ale consumed here every year in the 16th century. And this is the room where we went to part of the schedule - Henry VIII enjoying a last drink before his wedding. It was quite funny, and I even got a kiss on the cheek from the king! Then we checked out the King's and Queen's apartments from the Georgian wing. We went for lunch in the Tudor wing of the house, and I had some delicious good old fashioned beef and ale pie. It was really good. And then we went exploring the gardens. We saw the Real Tennis Courts, dating from the 1620s and is designed for the kind of tennis developed by playing in monastery courtyards - bouncing off the walls is totally kosher, and the ball stays in play as long as it hits the wall below a certain line. They still use the court too - when we were there, there was a game going on! And we visited the 800 metre long maze, planted in 1690. We managed to make our way through it pretty quickly, though I'm not sure we ever really made it to the centre. But it's hard to tell, cause it's a maze and all. Then we headed back into London, and I went to another show at Covent Garden that Carmen was playing in, but this time she was playing with a quartet and it was a program of all newly choreographed modern dance works. She only played in one of the dances, but it was a very interesting and diverse program. They even had a piece that was choreographed to a mixture of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, and Obama's election night speech. Then after the show, we headed to the Maple Leaf, a Canadian bar right behind Covent Garden. It was quite funny actually. They had a stuffed bear. And hockey jerseys on the wall. And we drank Sleeman's! It was a little taste of home. If we had gotten there before the kitchen closed, we could have gotten poutine as well.
The next day I was planning on going on a Monopoly pub crawl, organized by some people on Couchsurfing.com. But in the morning I just really didn't feel like it. It's a hilarious idea though - you go to all the streets and train stations on the monopoly board, find a pub, and have a drink. And move on. But it's like an all-day venture. Instead I decided to just walk around and see some things I hadn't seen yet. And I ended up walking for approximately 11 km. Crazy. I started out at Fenchurch station, and I walked to St. Paul's Cathedral, and then down the Strand to the courts of Justice, up to Holborn station and the British Museum, then down Oxford Street to Marble Arch, through Hyde Park and across to Kensington Palace, and then I finally hopped on the Underground at Kensington High Street. I got back to Carmen and Dan's at about 2 pm and I was exhausted. I was sitting on their couch looking at my watch like "how can it be only 2 pm? I'm soooo tired!". But I managed to re-group to go to a Eurovision viewing party that a friend of theirs was having. I love Eurovision. I love bad pop music, so it was so awesome. I was rooting for Greece. Don't get me wrong, that kid from Norway was cute, but Greece was the bomb. If you haven't seen or heard it, you should definitely YouTube it. Sakis Rouvas, "This our Night". Amazing. I need to learn how to dance like that.
Then on Sunday, all three of us went on a field trip to Greenwich. We wandered around the old marine college, and up to the Royal Observatory. The college was built in the site of the Old Palace of Placentia, where Henry VIII was born in 1491. It was originally built as a hospital for naval pensioners who were wounded in the victory over the French at La Hogue. Commissioned by William and Mary, it was built in two separate halves so it didn't spoil the view of the river from the Queen's House, just above it on the hill. It was turned into a naval college in 1869, and now houses the Trinity College of Music and the University of Greenwich. The two parts that are open to the public are the Painted Hall and the chapel. The Painted Hall is one of Europe's greatest banquet halls. It's covered in "allegorical Baroque" murals by artist James Thornhill, who also painted the cupola of St. Paul's Cathedral. Just off the Upper Hall is the Nelson Room, where Lord Nelson's brandy-enbalmed body was kept for a week before his state funeral at St. Paul's. He died in the Battle of Trafalgar, and to preserve his body before they got back to England, they stuck him in a barrel of brandy. Pretty classy stuff. Across from the Painted Hall is the chepel, decorated in a lighter rococo style. It was originally designed by Wren, but wasn't finished until 1752. And then in 1779 it was badly damaged by a fire and the present interior is actually the work of James Stuart and was completed in 1789. Then we ventured up the hill to the Royal Observatory. Built in 1675 on orders from Charles II, it sits on a hill in the middle of Greenwich Park, was was built to find a way to calculate longitude at sea. The entire globe is divided between east and west at the Royal Observatory, and in the Meridian Courtyard you can put one foot on either side of the meridian and straddle the two hemispheres. Which is totally did. Every day at 1 pm the red time ball drops at the top of the Royal Observatory (it's on a spire), as it has done since 1833. This was so that ships moored below on the Thames could set their watches and clocks to Greenwich Mean Time - just wait for the ball to drop and you know it's 1 pm. After the observatory we headed back into town and hit up the Greenwich Market. We passed this shop that's directly beside Greenwich Park, and markets itself as the first shop in the world (because it's the first shop on that side of the meridian). Very funny stuff. Then we headed back into town, and I had to pack. So much fun. Not.
I had to catch a bus at 4.20 am to get to Liverpool Street Station in time to catch the 5.10 Stansted Express, and then when I got to Stansted I almost missed my flight because everything took forever!!!! It was so frustrating. They make you check in on these "Express Check-In" kiosks, but then you have to stand in this very huge line to drop your baggage. I was just lucky that some very nice people let me cut in front of them, because I definitely would have missed my flight otherwise. Then, security was ridiculous. Those Brits are so paranoid, though I guess they're the Western nation that's most recently been the victim of terrorism. But this whole liquids thing really pisses me off, because they never ever charged anybody that they arrested with that whole liquid bomb plan, because there was no such thing! But they still won't let you take your perfume with you if it's bigger than 100 ml. But oh my god. I was already late for my boarding, and I go through security, and they pull my bag aside to be checked. Whatever. I know that there's nothing contraband in there. But then I stand around for like 5 minutes while they're all chatting and drinking coffee, and my plane is already boarding. Then they spend 10 minutes searching my bag, making me pull everything out, running it through the scanners, swabbing it for explosives, then scanning it again. It took so long, I was hauling ass running at full tilt through the terminal once I finally got through security. I was just happy I wasn't the last person to board the flight - a few people who obviously got stuck in the same situation boarded after me. But seriously. I couldn't have been there any earlier unless I had spent the night at the airport. Or took a cab, which would have cost me like $100. Next time I just might spend the night, cause then I can leave 3 hours to check in and go through security. So very annoying. But now I'm back in Amsterdam, and back to real life. For a couple of weeks at least, until my exam is over.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

London Calling!!!





It's been a busy time since Queen's Day. We've been heaving into the Enescu project - we had our first run-through at the Theatre School on May 2, and we've done 4 shows since then with our last one tomorrow night. Then on Tuesday morning I'm going to London! Oh, wat leuk! I'm ridiculously excited, because I will see some old friends, and I will see some sights, and I will be on vacation! Only 6 days, but I'll take what I can get. Then it's back to the salt mines until my passing exam is over on June 3. Then I have a couple more things I've agreed to play in, and then before I return to the motherland at the end of June I want to explore Belgium. I have big plans, I just need to come up with the money to put them into motion.
One cool thing I've done is I went to the official public ceremony for Dutch rememberance day on May 4th at Dam Square. I saw the Queen, and Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Princess Maxima lay a wreath at the war monument. I actually didn't get to see the queen in the flesh, since I couldn't see her through the crowds, but I did see Willem-Alexander and Maxima. Plus on my way to the ceremony the royal motorcade passed me. It was all very sudden - all of a sudden there were cops stopping the traffic, and then these black sedans whizzed by. But I whipped out my phone and managed to grab a picture. It was a very cool ceremony, and they had this choir singing and I swear one of the choir members was my evil twin or something. We looked like we could have been sisters or something. Exact same colouring and face shape and everything. It was hella eerie. But I guess it is true what they say about me - I do look very Dutch! Still, you should all beware of me evil Dutch twin running around out there!!!!! Be vigilant!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Koninginnedag!


The whole country is recovering from Queen's day (which was yesterday). For some, they're recovering from raging hangovers. For others, they're getting bailed out of jail. And for the politicians, they're trying to figure out why the hell some guy tried to drive his car into the Queen. But more on that later. Queen's day actually starts with Queen's night, which is the night before Koninginnedag. Not the night of Koninginnedag. So for Queen's night I started the party at school, where the student society was hosting Koninginnenacht drinks. Then I met up with Niels, Ana, and Ari, and we decided to hit up the Jordaan, but first we stopped at Niels' place in the Red Light District to drop off stuff and meet up with his brother Jens and their friend Casper. Then we headed over to the Jordaan, to the Noordermarkt. It was insane. So many people. And the cool thing too is that it was mostly Dutch people, which never happens in Amsterdam. So we drank and danced Queen's night away in the Jordaan, migrating around the Prinsengracht. Queen's day didn't begin bright and early, on account of the late Queen's night. Niels and I set out from his place, and headed over to the Nieuwemarkt to get some cash and some food. Two very important things to have. The we just walked. We walked over to Spui, and then Koningsplein, and then decided to go to the Vondelpark. Easier said than done. To get to the Vondelpark we had to leave the canal belt, and it was a huge traffic jam of people. We were on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat and it took us about 25 minutes just to get the one block over the bridge and onto Stadhouserskade. It was just this huge crush of people and everyone was pushing, and to make matters worst they had lined the bridge with stalls for food and stuff, so it was just like this tiny funnel full of people. But we made it through (finally) and into the Vondelpark. The Vondelpark was actually quite nice. It was a more chill atmosphere than the rest of the city. There was a lot of people of course, but they had set up games, or were playing music, or just sitting in the park. Lots of families and kids, so that made it less of a drunken idiot atmosphere than other areas of the city. So we sat in the park for a while, to refuel, and then set out towards Jordaan. We walked all the way down Rozengracht, and then through Dam square and back to Niels' place. It was so noisy, and there were so many people everywhere, and the streets were just covered in garbage. We hung out at Niels' for a while, and then Ana joined us and we went for dinner on the Zeedijk. This really nice Thai place that our dutch class went to in the fall. Then we went back to Niels', and Jens and Casper showed up, and then Ana and I decided to head home. I was so tired, from combined lack of sleep and walking around in the sun all day. But getting home was an experience in itself. There were people everywhere, and I was just glad I hadn't drunk anything but water all day because I almost ran into so many people who just walked out in front of my bike. And the streets were like an obstacle course because of all the garbage and broken glass and everything. Whoa. But I made it home in one piece, and went to bed. I've never had a better sleep. So nice. I read a news story today with the official Koningennedag numbers from the Amsterdam police. Apparently 196 people were arrested in Amsterdam this Koninginnedag. This year, police had announced they would be cracking down on boat revellers. In total, eight people on boats were arrested, including four captains who had drunk too much. Some 36 people fell in the canals. Of them, 27 were on boats which sank. But this doesn't count the people who fell into canals and hauled themselves out, cause we totally saw a guy do that outside of Niels'. I wouldn't want to fall in those canals though, cause they were dirty. Very very dirty. Floating garbage everywhere.
So in addition to Koningennedag being a big country-wide street party, there is an official royal aspect to it. Every year on Koningennedag the royal family makes a traditional return to the Het Loos palace in Appeldorn. This is what they were doing when the "attack" happened. A guy drove his car through the barricades, through a crowd of people (killing 4 and injuring 17 of them), and narrowly missed the big open bus carrying the royal family before hitting a monument. He was a middle-aged Dutch guy from Gelderland who'd recently lost his job and his house, and he has since died from the wounds he received in the crash. I doubt we'll ever know why he did it, but they're saying that this will mark a big change in the accessibility that the public has to the royal family and politicians here. It's not unusual for MPs and ministers to bike to work, and the royal family themselves also bike around town like normal Dutchies. Not the Queen, but the princes and princesses. All in all, public figures in the Netherlands are much less sheltered and unapproachable than they are in most other Western countries, but that's also because nothing like this has ever really happened before. Of course this is all the babblings of newspaper editorials and the like, so we'll see what really results of this all. If you haven't seen the video yet, here it is with subtitles in English of what the announcer is saying - it was all caught on camera by the official TV coverage of the royal family's Appeldoorn visit. video