Rotterdam was lots of fun, though rather rushed. My coworkers and I flew out of Warsaw Sunday night, and arrived at our Airbnb around 10pm. We worked the next three days, and then left Thursday morning.
The Airbnb was very sweet; a charming Dutch home with lots of eco-friendly touches, a cozy living room nook, steep stairs, and several bedrooms. There was even a back patio, but it was quite cold while we were there, and we often weren’t back until after dark.
One thing that was interesting to compare between Dutch and American culture is that Dutch shops are often not open after 5pm, and many restaurants are not open until lunch time (especially on Monay morning). We figured we might find a restaurant that morning to grab a snack before work (we hadn't had dinner the night before), but nothing was open. I kind of like this - it means the people who are staffing these places are not expected to get to work super early, or stay late after normal business hours.
Though it did make it hard for me to go on a mission to find the Harry Potter series in Dutch :D I ended up ducking out during lunch on Wednesday to find a book shop. I had also hoped to find Chris a Virgil van Dijk national jersey (he plays for Liverpool FC), but it was tricky to find a shop that sold jerseys that was open after work. I did get the books, but not the jersey. I’ll have to write a separate post about my growing multilingual Harry Potter library.
On Monday night, we went to an excellent restaurant close to work called Mangiare (we’re in Groothandelsgabouw, next to Centraal Station). They don’t have menus, and just share what they’re making given the ingredients that are in season and available. I immediately was taken by this mouth-watering process being done over and over: putting freshly cooked pasta onto a giant wheel of cheese, swirling it around to absorb the cheese, and then serving it. I did not hesitate with my order. We also got a vegetable appetizer, wine, and I had a chocolate lava cake for dessert.
On Wednesday morning, I also went for an early morning walk to the kubuswoningen (cube houses) and Markthal (Market Hall), which was a refreshing way to start the day. I was able to get a few photos of the architecture not at night. I am also flummoxed by the cube houses. It seems like there must be a lot of underutilized space along the sloping walls? But it still seems really neat all the same. Like, you could attach a chunk of wood at the base of a wall that is sloping outward, and stack/lean books along the wall (until you get to a point that is out of reach).
That evening, we explored the interior of Market Hall and had dinner, interestingly at an American restaurant. My coworkers are Polish, and the server happened to be Polish as well, but a lot of things around us were in Dutch, and I was heading to France the following day, so I was very disoriented.
On Thursday morning, we left our Airbnb and carried our luggage to Cafe Booon, where we had pastries before hopping a train to Amsterdam. We were very down to the wire with timing, and just barely made it onto a train in time to still check in and make our flights. I got on the train very sweaty and uncomfortable and irritable, but a nice ride through the Dutch countryside, passing windmills and farmland, was helpful in cooling me down.
I parted ways with my coworkers after checking in (they were flying back to Warsaw), and picked up a couple of souvenirs for my niece at one of the airport shops. I actually almost missed the flight because I got distracted writing work emails and only heard them calling my name over the speakers as they were closing the gate. Oops. We had a really time-sensitive interview process happening back in the States, and I was putting some finishing touches on that before the US team arrived at work.
I did some drawing on the plane, and then when I arrived in Paris, got pretty turned around. I have a terrible sense of direction, and although I had brought my Navigo card (reloadable train pass), I couldn’t get it to register at the airport kiosk, so I just purchased paper tickets. It’s always a bummer when you feel like you should know something by now, a local sees you struggling, and then helps you. (This is what happened.) I think it’s less the language barrier, and more that I am terrible with trains and maps. I’ve definitely gotten lost in NYC and Boston and Warsaw, not just Paris...
I got off at Gare du Nord, and let me tell you, if you’ve never felt the panic of feeling trapped *inside* a train station, then you haven’t known panic. This would only happen to me, mind you. I did several laps of the entire shopping area, trying to find a kiosk to buy tickets for the regular train, but kept running up against the turnstiles that require you to validate a pass before passing through. I was ready to hop something and make a run for the street level, and just lug my terribly heavy luggage a couple miles to Bastille (where I'm staying), when I made a breakthrough. Really I just discovered an escalator that led to a ticket kiosk.
I had also remembered that Parisian train stations almost never have escalators. While this shows how old the city is, it is not accessible to people with different levels of mobility. Another fun note: I was wearing heeled boots and a giant sweater and coat because my suitcase was so filled with books by this point that I could no longer fit my clothes. It was also a beautiful spring day, about 70 degrees. So by the time I had lugged my luggage up and down and up again (btw it was rush hour at this point), I was extremely sweaty and miserable.
When I arrived at my hotel, the person at the reception desk could not find my name in the reservations, and I had a moment of further panic where I thought I didn’t even have a place to stay. But luckily, with me trying to explain the best I could in my rusty French, we located what was needed. The key wasn’t ready, but I was able to conduct a successful conversation with the manager on the phone later on (second languages get way harder when you’re problem solving) and get one set up. PHEW!
I’ll leave the rest of the Paris trip for another post, but figured the split Rotterdam/Paris day was a bit of a blend so that should stay together.
Sketchbook pages here!
This is the first time I've been home for Thanksgiving since 2011, when I was still in college. From 2012-2015, I was working retail and the holiday shopping season made it impossible to grab three days to make the trip home, eat, and come back (especially without a car and the limitations of a multistep bus trip). In 2016 I spent Thanksgiving week in Florida and visited with my grandfather one last time before he passed away a week later. And last year I stuck around Boston and celebrated with Chris's family.
This year, I decided to make the trip because it's my ten-year high school reunion. There was some confusion with planning so it ended up falling through almost entirely, but I still got to see some of my classmates who I haven't spoken with since graduation. So many people are married, expecting, parents, and/or live out of state; some of our classmates have even passed away. It's weird how things move forward so quickly.
I left at first light Thanksgiving morning, and because there was zero traffic, I made the five-hour trip in only 4 hours and 15 minutes, including a stop for gas. It was also a beautiful sunny day (albeit 10 degrees out) and I split my listening between Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on audiobook and assorted music from my iPod when I got antsy.
It has been such a relief to have a few days at home with my parents. My mom is an excellent cook, and nothing says home like her potato and cheese casserole (lovingly referred to as "cheesy taters"). She also prepared apple and pumpkin pie and in my biased opinion, pies made by my mom and my aunt Mary are the absolute best out there.
It's back to work tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to having an almost two-week break to return home in December. I've been working holidays so I can save up vacation days and can't wait to cash those in. Work has really been running me ragged and I can't wait to just be at home where all I need to think about is what book to read and which baked good to eat. My brain desperately needs a rest.
As some bonus material, I've also included a photo of my varsity letter. Apparently we got a pin for everything.
Just going through some more photos from Austria. Here is a delicious soup, a soufflé, and a small serving of gazpacho. Yum...
And here are a couple of panoramic views from St. Stephens's.
Catching up at this point because the wedding really took it out of me! It was a perfect storm of jet lag, Schnapps, Austrian beer and wine, and staying up chatting with wedding guests until 5:00am. I passed out as it was getting light, briefly woke up at 10am to eat something and drink some water, and then didn’t fully get dressed until well after 2:00, basically resetting to American time. I haven’t stayed up that late or drank more than a couple glasses of wine probably since college, so I feel like I'm still recovering two days later.
That said, it was such a fun wedding! The ceremony took place under a long line of linden trees in the front lawn, looking over the valley. I tried to covertly take some photos while also staying out of the way of the actual photographers and not ruining any photos with my camera being out. They did a nice job of pairing English and German, and the ceremony was completed with the bride and groom signing their names on a marriage certificate, as well as the Maid of Honor and Best Man. After they walked back down the aisle, they took part in an Austrian tradition of cutting a heart shape out of a large sheet, each racing to cut out their half. Lukas won, but Katie was a good sport.
We had drinks on the lawn, took some photos, and then headed into the hotel for the reception, which included speeches, slideshows, messages from family and friends near and far who couldn’t make it, and a couple of hilarious newlywed games. Before dinner, the server, my cousin Tina, and even the bride checked in on me to make sure my vegetarian needs were covered. So sweet! And the resulting veggie-friendly dish was absolutely delicious.
After dinner, I spent a lot of time chatting with my parents and family I hadn’t met before. I was feeling a bit socially anxious so didn’t really join the dance floor that much, but it was still nice to do a lot of visiting. Once my parents went to bed, I hung out with my cousins, did a bit of dancing, spent some time at the bar in the lobby, and even made some new friends of Austrian descent.
Like I said, I’m catching up now because I didn’t end up doing much of anything post-wedding aside from sleeping and taking a leisurely dip in the pool. Then today, we left the hotel and headed into Vienna. We’re staying at the Hotel de France, which is pretty conveniently located close to a lot of the sites we want to visit. More on what we’ve been up to later, but here are some photos from the wedding! I’ll add them to the wedding photo tab once I’m back in the States.
Drawing of Katie and Lukas from the wedding.
The vegetarian dish, and one of the most amazing desserts I've every had. Also the crème brulée served at the restaurant, which I had multiple times during our stay.
The pool, and sunset on our last night at the hotel.
We had an amazing wine tasting last night!! Reunited with the cousins, and finally met Lukas (Katie’s fiancé). The founder of the hotel directed the tasting, and even gave us a sample of a wine from 1914! Note his spectacular mustache. After the tasting, we had dinner at the restaurant again, and had some family time.
This morning, I slept in extremely late, and then had some pastry with mom and dad. Afterward we walked along the grounds and took some photos, then I went out for a run and boy am I out of shape. Although in my defense, it’s all hills and it’s also almost 90 degrees out. I ventured onto a trail in the woods, and then got a bit spooked and turned around. I only did a couple miles, and then joined the folks at the pool. I’ll have to get some photos of that tomorrow.
Next up is the wedding! Everyone is getting their makeup and hair done now, so I’ll probably get changed shortly.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Mansfield, MA.