Surprise! I’m actually writing a post … I know it’s been quite a while since I last put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, in this case) and the guilt has finally triggered some action. In my defence, I have been trying to catch up on my video backlog … but still much to do.
Things have changed a bit since my last post … after the first week in our gite in Semblancay we had a word with our host and the heating was miraculously fixed by the twiddling of some special knobs, so we were toasty warm from that point forward. However, the Husband felt that it was a bit isolated so after the month was up (and an extremely pleasant month it was), we headed north. We spent a pleasant few days in Lille in the North of France where we lived when we were first married, and where daughter No.1 joined the family. Then we continued North to the Netherlands to a town called Nijmegen, where we are now staying for the second month. ‘Nijmegen’ is not pronounced as it is spelt but instead requires a good deal of spitting to pronounce properly. I haven’t mastered it yet but there’s still two weeks to go …
It was a bit of a shock when we arrived because the difference in temperature was quite jarring to the system … we went out the first day and our faces nearly fell off! We have now thankfully acclimatised a little bit and we consider zero degrees to be quite mild. It’s not so much the actual temperature, but the wind chill factor. The temperature generally hovers around zero but the wind chill can take it down to around -5, which is pretty damn chilly when you’re used to Auckland winters that bottom out at 10 degrees!
The up-side of the Netherlands is the bicycles … there are bicycles everywhere of course and I’m having a field day with my camera. I’ve noticed a few interesting things whilst observing the natives:
- They cycle in the rain (it rains a lot) … no news there … but the interesting thing I have noticed is that the Dutch generally don’t wear rain gear. In NZ the weather is a lot better than here but people dash about as if they will melt if they get wet and cyclist cover up in head to toe fluoro and Gortex. Here, they just get wet and don’t seem to bother … I wonder why it’s so different in the two places?
- The Dutch cyclists and pedestrians just assume priority … they don’t seem to look around at crossings and intersections very much but just continue on. The car drivers on the other hand move around extremely carefully (sigh! if only it was like that in Auckland). It’s such a habit for the Husband and I to walk and cycle defensively, looking every which way and anticipating what might happen, that we stand out as behaving quite oddly here … we look quite furtive, like we’re about to snatch someones handbag!
- Cyclists in Nijmegen get off their bikes when there is a hill! This really surprised me as I always thought that the Dutch were ‘hardened cyclists’ but of course what I realise now is that they are just people who ride bikes when it is most convenient, which is pretty much all the time because there is great cycling infrastructure and no mandatory helmet law. But when there is a hill, they get off and walk their bikes up as they generally don’t have gears and it is more comfortable to do that. Again this is quite different from NZ where getting off your bike is seen as a ‘fail’ and means you’re not really tough enough to call yourself a cyclist … I of course am exempt from this as I call myself a ‘cyclopolitan’, which is quite a different creature from a ‘cyclist’ and strongly related to its Dutch bike-riding cousins.
- This will be no surprise, I’m sure, but NOBODY wears a helmet here. Actually, that isn’t strictly true because I have seen one person wearing a helmet but they were in head to toe lycra so of course it goes with the image and the outfit. They don’t even wear hats, which is a bit of a surprise as it is quite cold and in the rain it would seem to be a good idea, but any sort of head wear is evidently not ‘in’ in the Netherlands. In NZ, everyone wears hats of some sort or another on a bicycle. There are those who do the helmet thing according to the daft mandatory helmet law we have, and those that don’t wear a helmet (of which there are quite a few) tend to wear a hat of the non-polystyrene variety … hats are magic in NZ – if you have a naked head on a bicycle, often non-cycling members of the public will yell at you. But if you wear a hat, it’s akin to using a jedi “these aren’t the droids you are looking for, you can go about your business” mind trick.
- Everyone rides a bike here – children, parents, the elderly, women, men, teenagers … and of course why wouldn’t they. It’s easy, quick and non-threatening.
- We have also visited a few bike shops while we have been here. I sort of imagined that they would be full to bursting with yummy bike stuff … yes and no! They have lots of bikes (of the sit-up variety) of course but surprisingly (to me anyway) only a few essential accessories such as locks, tyres, lights and pretty basic panniers on offer. In fact, there are more ‘accessories’ available for bicycles in NZ. I should just clarify that the accessories in NZ are very much to do with sports cycling. Then the penny dropped … in the Netherlands, a bicycle is just a functional piece of transport equipment that people use daily but don’t really think about. Whereas in NZ a bicycle is mostly a toy, and of course there are always plenty of add-on (essential) toys, that merchandisers have come up with, to keep the dream alive … at least until reality hits and the toys are put in the back of the garage to gather dust!
We thought the Netherlands would be very nice for Christmas but we didn’t do our homework very well because we found out the other day that ‘Christmas’ is celebrated on the 5th December here … and we missed it! I had wondered what was going on because there was lots of adverts on the TV featuring an old man that looked a bit like the Pope attended by several small ‘golliwog’ type characters. I know that’s a terribly un-PC description but I can’t really think of another way to describe them – it did look very strange on 21st century TV and much more 1960’s. It turns out that the Pope guy is Sint-Nicolaas and his friends are Zwarte Pieten …. I bet you didn’t know that!! The retailers have of course adopted Christmas day on the 25th to extend the buying season but it’s not really a big thing.
And of course the Dutch eat different Christmas food … the traditional event here seems to involve food that you cook yourself on hotplates at the table … it’s a sort of an indoor barbecue so a bit of a twist on the traditional kiwi Christmas barbie. However, we went to Amsterdam the other day and came across a Marks & Spencer (for NZ readers, it’s a bit like Farmers but way better) and they had truck loads of Christmas food so we came back with a good haul of christmas pud, mince pies, liquor chocolates, Marmite, Piccalilli and Cumberland sausages! We have also managed to order a turkey through the local butchers, and after discussion with said butcher they have managed to create some bacon for us so we can make ‘pigs in blankets’. Stuffing will need to be made from scratch, I think, and so will a few of the other Christmas necessities but I think we have the proper English Christmas dinner pretty much cracked! All we need now is snow … although drizzle may be more traditional!
Our big challenge with food at the moment is managing the left-overs. The Husband does most of the cooking and is having a hard time adjusting to the fact that there is now only two of us rather than four. I should also point out that when he caters for four people, he usually cooks enough food to feed six, so you can imagine our problem. Christmas left-overs are going to be extreme. We have ordered the smallest Christmas turkey we can find at 3kg (apparently, there isn’t a commercially available pigmy turkey for ‘empty nesters’) but that’s still a lot of turkey! We are going to have to enforce strict food purchasing sanctions and a mandatory daily turkey quota to manage the backlog before we leave the Netherlands on New Years day!
My sock knitting is going well. I was quite concerned that I might develop ‘second sock syndrome’. I found out about this condition during my Youtube ‘how to knit socks’ research and it sounded like the kind of syndrome that I would definitely get, but thankfully I managed side-step this nasty disorder and I have almost finished the second sock :-). They are very ‘jolly’ socks and not my usual footwear but they have been fun to knit and have revealed yet another brilliant use for my head torch … it makes an excellent knitting light … you never see that on head torch advertising! But then again I don’t suppose Bear Grylls can knit.
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