Monday, October 17, 2011


I know I should write more often. I just haven't had a whole lot of specific excitement to mention. I've had a handful of culture shocks coming back to the Netherlands again or at least the immediate contrast of going from here to Vancouver and back here again highlights them a little better for me. The tiny food portion sizes in the supermarkets is a big one. You can actually shop for one person over here in sizes made for one person. And having free coffee machines in shops is just strange. Not useful to me because I still don't drink coffee, but in the supermarket, travel agency, city hall, etc there are coffee machines to help yourself to.
The biggest shock though is the driving. I've spent lots of time in Europe up to this point, but these last couple weeks have been the first I have ever spent trying to drive over here. It's way more work to figure out where you are going and not kill anyone getting there. The roads and signs are just set up totally differently, bikes to worry about and no obvious navigational tools because everything looks the same. You can't even make a mistake and go around the block because of the general lack of a grid system. I can't imagine getting anywhere without a GPS, but even then you still make mistakes.
The weather at first was excellent so it was still more convenient to ride a bike for short trips but now it is mostly chilly and ridiculously windy. Now I'm really feeling a true autumn and not looking forward to a real winter...
I have spent the last few days in Antwerp, Belgium. I drove down for a reunion with some friends that I made in Brisbane. Antwerp was chosen as the middle ground for the meetup since I'm in the Netherlands and Will is from Germany. We stayed with Jens at his father's home just outside the centre of Antwerp. Very nice place they have. I was expecting a typical European apartment but this was a large house that has been in the family for a while. Jens and Will were around in the hostel in Brisbane in Dec and Jan and Will was the one person from the hostel that also ended up getting a job at the milk factory for a while with me.
I had not been to Antwerp before and we were lucky that the weather cleared up and was perfect for the time I was there. The 3 of us spent a few afternoons exploring the city centre on our bikes or hanging out in the parks juggling. It's good to see friends again and get the "Belgian" cultural experience, meaning we ate massive quantities of fries, ate chocolate for breakfast (Red berry yogurt chocolate is amazing. I think the white chocolate version is the best blend of flavours but the milk chocolate one is special too), had the mandatory sugar rush waffles and had an ongoing joke about all meat being horse (which you can buy in the supermarket there).

Me, Will (Germany) and Jens (Belgium).

The main church in the city centre.

A very large mouse made of chocolate at the chocolate shop :)

Antwerp is one of the major ports of western Europe so although the population is small, the traffic (especially the number of freight trucks, which is just unreal) would have you believe it is much larger than it actually is. Because the weather was so nice there were a lot of people out but unfortunately no events. Antwerp was apparently rated the youth capital of Europe for 2011 and has almost non-stop events and activities going on all through the summer. It is also a lot more international than little Alkmaar, and I only really notice because I haven't seen orthodox Jews or covered Muslims in quite a while. Unfortunately my camera is broken so I don't have one at the moment. Mom and dad will be back soon and will bring me my new one that I ordered with Air Miles just before I left. Savannah and Kees have just taken off to Istanbul for a few days to relax, leaving me all alone here.