The Venice of the North

Today I played hooky to go exploring in Northern Holland, up to Giethoorn. It’s a small town with about one thousand boats within its city limits. The reason that this town has so many boats is because there aren’t any roads! Only around 20 houses are accessible by car, and the rest of them can only be accessed via small boats that go through the city’s  canals. I took a boat tour while I was there and got to see all of the picturesque homes, none of which are the same design. We also boated past a sailing school and got to watch a couple Dutch teenagers almost flip over, which was really funny and I’m sure it would have been even more so had I understood what they were screaming about.

Here are two photos of my favorite house in town! It was the most colorful one that I saw.

A Catch-Up:

As I write this, I officially have 20 days left in this lovely city. Since coming back from Spain, my Amsterdammer lifestyle has been mostly full of school work and large final projects. I try to do work outside, but recently, it’s been incredibly chilly (or maybe Spain ruined my outlook on this rainy, Springtime weather.) Luckily, the weather here is just as hectic as it is in Ohio, so when I go back home, it’ll feel like I’m still in the Netherlands… just with less bikes and more grass. Besides researching and writing all day every day, I’ve been able to get around the city and explore new places.

Last week, I got the chance to go to Trust, a local café in de Pijp that’s built on the owners trusting you. This means that, you get to order anything from a menu that features no prices, and when you’re finished, you pay what you feel the food you ordered was worth. It’s run by volunteers that will also trade hugs for cute stickers. Inside, there’s a large wall called the “Grateful” Wall, where café goers can put up post-it notes about what they’re grateful for. It’s impressively full of the colorful little papers.

I had the best hot chocolate that I’ve ordered thus far in this city at this café.

This past week, I also got to experience something that can very much be called “an Amsterdam problem.” My bike broke, and I had no other means of transportation! Public transport doesn’t let you take your bike on the buses and trams, so I had the opportunity to walk my bike to the repair shop. It was almost two hours away on foot, including ferry time. Luckily, I got my bike back yesterday and am now able to get places again.

Besides the bike debacle and the lovely Trust café, my weeks haven’t been filled with much other than noticing small things about life in the Netherlands. Like, the neighbors cat doesn’t have any manners at all, and he will enter our house to explore inside if the doors are kept open long enough. There is something that light streams through that leaves large rainbows on the floor, but I haven’t figured out where it comes from yet. Tulips are… everywhere- inside and outside, but also not actually from the Netherlands (they’re Turkish.)

With only twenty days left in this wonderful place, I’ve begun to be both excited for going home and sad that I’ll soon be leaving. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get a chance to come back here, and I don’t want to lose my chance to do everything there is to do. Hopefully, the weather becomes nice again before I go.

An Adventure to Zaanse Schans!

This past weekend, my friend came all the way from London to explore the city and visit me. Yesterday, we spent the day at Zaanse Schans up in Zaandam. It’s a cute, picturesque Dutch town that features several small museums and shops. Similar to Sauder Village, it’s got workers in traditional Dutch costume and you can try old fashioned candies and food. We tried on painted clogs, ate too many (not enough) cheese samples, and saw an abundance of lovely farm animals and pets. One tourist even had his dog with him, and he was so well trained that he sat for a photo in from of a pair of giant clogs!!

I had gone to this open air museum once before at the beginning of my semester here when it was still freezing and not many of the novelty shops weren’t open. It was great to see the whole museum experience in action when the weather was nicer! My favorite bits were the old fashioned Albert Heijn (a popular grocery store in the Netherlands to this day), and the lovely cats that live in the neighborhood.

I Got Lost…

These past few weeks have been full of classes and projects, leaving me with not so much time to explore the city further. This is my last week of classes before we head into ISP17636842_1305776196183664_7880861749142551798_o period where each of us work on our own independent study projects and research. Yesterday, I actually ended up getting lost in the city on my way to meet with my advisor for this project. It was a little troublesome, as I didn’t have any service or wifi to connect too, as I was lost in an incredibly residential area outside of the city. Google Maps failed me, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to travel without a hardcopy map of Amsterdam now… Kidding, my reliance on technology is too heavy to turn back now. But! I’m happy to say that I found my way back fairly easily, and I think that means that I’m getting better at navigating this wonderful city. While I was lost, I also found this lovely pink building. I also found the zoo and a pack of flamingos hanging out in a small pond. In the end, the scary moment turned pink.

And for those wondering, no I never got to my intended location. The meeting was rescheduled to a Skype interview… which is much easier to find my way to!

 

Hassan II Mosque

The third largest mosque in the world is in Casablanca, Morocco. We had the chance to visit this beautiful religious building and tour inside. It’s massive and absolutely the most awe-inspiring place I have ever stepped foot in. Including outdoor spaces, over 100,000 people can pray here at once, and the prayer room has a roof that opens up to the sky. There are multiple washing stations and hammams in the building for everyone to cleanse themselves before prayer. These photos don’t capture the sheer size and majesty of this place, honestly. I can’t put into words how amazing going to this mosque was… the only mosques larger are in Mecca and Medina. It’s a sight.

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Magnificent Marrakech

After Fes, we took the bus to Marrakech, a lovely city (albeit very tourist-driven) in the middle of the country. It was a wonderful city with a large medina and amazing shops. We even visited an organization that takes care of disabled Moroccan women and gives them jobs and an income. Their website is here for those interested; they embroider and sew gorgeous clothing. While in Marrakech, I got to take a few photos with some Berber monkeys! They were in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the famous square that also hosted a large group of fruit stands, some snake charmers, and at night there were even contortionists.

We toured the city and visited an herbalist, where we learned about argan oil and other natural remedies made specifically in Morocco. It was neat to see them talk about everything and let us sample it. We also visited Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs, which were both gorgeous. Some others in my group went to a hammam, but I spent the day lounging in the hotel instead, listening in on the gossip of some French high schoolers on a school trip. I also went for a walk and got a little lost. That’s how I found a neat sculpture garden not far from our hotel.

Marrakech is where I finally was able to go to a Starbucks for normal sized coffee! It was difficult not being able to drink coffee at all hours of the day in the other cities, but somehow…. I managed.

The last night there, a small group of us watched Casablanca in honor of our next stop.

Fes.

The second city that we visited in Morocco was Fes (فاس). While it was definitely beautiful, Fes is probably my least favorite of the cities that we went to. There was a variety of things that unfortunately put it on the bottom of my list (getting sick, for example), but even with all of the negatives, Fes was still a wonderful experience! Being my least favorite thing in Morocco doesn’t really mean much, because it’s still one of the best places that I’ve ever gotten to experience.

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Rabat: A Review

An overly enthusiastic group of 25 US based college students arrived in Casablanca, Morocco this past Saturday night, immediately getting onto a bus that would take them to their home for the next week: Rabat. Morocco is a gorgeous country, and we spent the first week of it in their political capital learning about gender and sexuality within the Moroccan context (also, shopping.) I’ve had terrible wifi connection these past two weeks, and tonight marks my last in Africa. I spent the first week of this trip in Rabat, but this past week I was hopping place to place (Fes, Marrakesh, and Casablanca). Each city had so much history and beauty, I can’t possibly pack it all into one post.

Below the read more, I’ll be summarizing my favorite activities during my first Moroccan week in Rabat – with some pictures! (There will be more coming on Flickr and Facebook.)

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