Yesterday morning I compiled a bunch of pictures from the last year to have printed and sent to my mum back in Sydney. After spending almost the entire day at the Albert Cuypmarkt and having no time to print them, Mats suggested I upload them onto an Australian photo printing website and have them sent directly to her house instead, that way she'll get them before Christmas. This morning I was getting ready to have them printed when I saw I could make a photobook instead, I chose that option and put in the dates; 12.12.08 - 12.12.09 and it hit me, yesterday had been exactly one year since I had left Sydney. One year since we recklessly boarded a plane and moved overseas with no apartment or jobs lined up. One year since I said goodbye to my family and friends, one year since I last crossed Sydney heads on the Manly Ferry. Time has gone so quick.
So here is the book that is now waiting to be printed and shipped to my mum for Christmas, here is my life in one year (click the images for a larger picture).
Christmas in Norway 2008 (Then off to London to look for work - Jan 2009)
Hiring freeze in London, off to Lisbon & Sintra, Portugal Jan-Feb 2009 to look for work and enjoy the sun where it's cheaper, but it turns out it's not that much cheaper. Back to Norway Feb-Mar 2009 to look for work again.
April 1st 2009 we moved to Amsterdam
Spent the next few months exploring Amsterdam and some of the Netherlands, several friends visited and we celebrated our first Queensday.
Mats' Brother visits us in Amsterdam and we all go on a road-trip through Luxembourg, France and Belgium.
We fly to Norway in Aug 2009 for a Summer party hosted by Mats' parents.
Back in Amsterdam we're busy meeting some really cool new people.
Oct 2009 - We celebrate that I finally found a job by spending the weekend eating delicious seafood in Brussels.
Autumn comes to Amsterdam.
Dec 2009 we head over to Germany with some friends for the Cologne Christmas Markets.
This year did not start off easy, as nice as hanging out down sunny Portugal way might sound the truth was we were freaking out about work, money and about where we were headed in life. Deciding to go back to Norway to continue looking for work was a hard decision and we regretted having to leave London, but once we moved to Amsterdam everything fell into place and everything ran smoothly, so smoothly we're convinced it was meant to be.
There is something special about Christmas in Europe, having grown up in Sydney, the days leading up to Christmas' composed mostly of humidity, bikini's and fake snow from a can on windows. But in Europe you really feel Christmas is... Christmas. Hot mugs of glühwein, the smell of cinnamon in the air, people in big coats and gloves, pepperkaker, and ice skating rinks outside, outside!
So imagine how much I was bursting with excitement on the days leading up to our weekend in Köln a weekend dedicated to checking out Christmas markets! A concept I had only heard of a few months ago. After all the excitement I am happy to report back that I was not disappointed at all. The markets, the food, the smells, the sights, the goods were soooo good and so so Christmas'y.
Doughnut men with cherry hearts
Shot 10 seconds before we all gorged on chocolate covered fruits
The Köln Christmas markets turned out to be an excellent way to start to the Christmas season. And on our return to Amsterdam all the Sinterklaas decorations had been replaced with Christmas ones, this weekend we will pick up a tree and before we know it we will be zooming over to Norway for another white Christmas.
Last Saturday Mats and I jumped into a car with Amanda and Dave and drove to Köln. I was surprised to find that it was not a pretty city at all, being almost completely bombed during WW2 most of the cities architecture is from the 1950's so it lacked a lot of the old charm many other large European cities have. But what it did have were some amazing Christmas markets (have I mentioned markets are my favourite thing of all time?), excellent tastes and a pretty good vibe.
I'm sure my body still hasn't recovered from all the delicious beer and market food I stuffed into it - delicious egg nog, yummy (and probably glutenous) potato cakes with apple sauce, currywurst, chili mushroom stroganoff, jalapeno and mango shots, deep fried brie, chocolate coated mandarin pieces and probably many, many more things my brain has conveniently repressed.
My attention was caught by an add on Facebook today; the head of an orangoutang in cling wrap ready to be sold in supermarkets. I clicked the link which took me to a page that warned meat sold in Albert Heijn was soy fed, soy which is grown in plantations in South America that are not only damaging the environment but are also the cause of human rights violations.
I googled around a little and found this video which was part of an investigation by The Economist into Europe's cheap meat, click here to read the full article or watch the video below.
Friends of the Earth in The Netherlands has an ongoing campaigning about this apparently The Netherlands is the world's second largest importer of soy. If you feel as sick as I do right now please read and sign their petition.
We have already cut down drastically on meat mostly because we've found the quality of meat here pretty shocking, after reading this though, there is just no way we will be going anywhere near soy fed meat and instead aim at organic and free range. Can that even be found here in the Netherlands? Eating for me is getting harder and harder by the day. I am now a gluten free, sustainable fish only, extremely strictly non cephalopod, organic/free range meat eater. Bloody great...
Every morning for the past month I have biked through Vondelpark on my way to work and watched as the leaves on the trees slowly turned yellow and orange and fell to the ground. I have only ever experienced a real autumn once before (when I lived in Canada all the way back in 2005) and although I often like to complain that my fingers freeze as I ride my bike, I actually really love experiencing this season.
Vondelpark in November
Autumn for me is synonymous with cosiness, warm candle lit homes, dinner parties in with friends and warm cafe's with rain drops on the windows and Amsterdam is the perfect setting for all these things. So so gezellig...
I hate to admit it, but it happened today, a pang of wanting to be living back by the beach. A pang bad enough to even make me want to be living back in Manly Beach, Sydney. My expressed wish, my "big dream" has always been to live on one of the isles of Hawaii. I feel so far away from all of that right now.
I love Amsterdam and I love liberal European ideals but the cold in combination with the early darkness and the high density urban sprawl was a little gloomy today. I want sun and beaches and nature.
Sunny days followed by torrential rain
I miss clear blue water and waves. I even miss almost being killed* several times while trying to learn to surf "Ang!!! PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE" as a wave the size of me comes crashing down, tosses me around and sends my board slamming into my face.
The Bower Break. Just off our local Shelly Beach
Secret trails to secluded beaches
I miss early morning swims before work, and cracking open a coconut for breakfast at a secluded beach not many people venture to.
Collins Beach, will always remain as Little Penguin Beach to us
I miss smoldering weekends, packing our boards and heading up or down the coast with friends. BBQ's on the beach and the music of guitars with a Corona in hand and our bare feet in the sand.
The mini mal I hardly got to use
Looking at the tropical birds in the trees
I love Amsterdam and I love my life here. But being here is part of a road that will eventually take me away. Until then all I can do is dream of the tropics and enjoy the ride in what I think is the most beautiful city in the world.
Of course this is a joke and I would never abandon or palm off my sweet little kitty just because she has picked up some annoying behaviours (probably from me) lately.
The last couple of weeks she has been seriously bullying us. She has been waging biting wars against our unsuspecting feet and Jumping up on chairs and our bed to bite our arms. We have been trying several things suggested by cat behaviourists to stop this behaviour, spray bottle, yelling "ow", putting our palm in front of her face and forcing her to back off... It just has her coming back for more.
It has crossed my mind that she is suffering a little from separation anxiety because I am no longer here with her all day. Before leaving for work she sits between me and the door and meows very sadly. My aim this weekend is to invest in a lot of kitty toys to keep her entertained during the hours i'm at work, hopefully it helps and I have my happy kitty back before too long!
Last weekend we jumped on a train over to Brussels (something we have been meaning to do for a while now). From Amsterdam, Brussels was only 3hrs away and cost €44 for a return ticket. We treated ourselves (because of my new employment status) and stayed at the Grand Metropole which had some incredible French Renaissance mixed with Art Deco architecture.
One of the things we noticed during our first stop in Brussels a few months ago was the amount of street art and murals all around the city, Belgium also has a big comic book culture and a lot of these characters can also be found painted around the city too.
As well as waffles, chocolate and Beer, apparently Belgium is also famous for having fantastic moules mariniers - mussels cooked in a delicious broth of white wine, butter and herbs and served with a side of fries. It seemed like they were all the rage too, restaurants were full of people eating them and we couldn't resist either.
We strolled through a little antique market, I was hoping of finding some original Art Nouveau or Art Deco jewelry or home wares but instead I got the same feeling I often get at antique markets - that it's just people's old junk they no longer wanted :)
Before heading home we made sure to pick up some speciality Belgian beers and chocolate. Then we spent 3 hours standing up in an over booked train while first class carriages were empty. Apparently Benelux Weekend tickets don't even entitle you to a seat on the train. Thanks a lot NS Highspeed.
The other week Mats and I were out on the town and stopped outside a "Smart Shop" to see what sort of mushrooms they had on display, it was the first time we had been approached by a drug dealer in Amsterdam...
Drug dealer: "Hello there, I noticed you were looking at drugs, that shop is closed but I am open, would you like some drugs, cocaine?"
Mats: "No, we're OK"
Drug dealer: "OK, no worries! (smiles) Well, have a good night" Walks off whistling.
50 metres down the road we walk past him; he smiles, waves and says "hello!"
Open Ateliers in Amsterdam October (and some November) Weekends
One of the first things I noticed when I got to Amsterdam was the abundance of high quality, original art everywhere. And before too long I knew exactly why, Amsterdam is inspiring, it is for the free and it is an incredibly beautiful city, with water reflecting all around you, beautiful blossoming flowers everywhere, world class parks, trees lining the streets and canals, stunning architecture, a laid back atmosphere, several festivals and markets, Amsterdam is a city that is vibrant and alive. And if you're an artist the best part is you live in a country where the government and society supports the arts. There are several world class art schools that attract artists from all over the world and several community programs that get people involved and encourage creativity, to add to this there are festivals, markets, galleries and exhibitions all year round that focus on the arts.
During October and some November weekends Amsterdam has a free open exhibition known as Open Ateliers where artists open their workspaces, it is the perfect opportunity to see how artists work and to see some of their works in progress as well as many of their completed works, best of all you can also meet with the artist and discuss their work.
Yesterday we went to open galleries in The Pijp, it was very eye opening for someone who dabbles in painting to see such a high standard of work among the local artists, probably higher than I have seen anywhere else. Some of my favourites included: Pieter Schmits who's nudes were incredible, with nice uses of colour and an interesting technique of letting thinned out paint flow on his canvas leading to beautiful flowing lines of the female form. Julie Dassaud (below) who had some very cool mixed media paintings with an industrial edge.
John Paaijmans who works with Indian ink using syringes and drips to create some really funky drawings. And, Antonio Fuertes who's beautiful profiles (like the one below) and still life's had a classical style with a modern edge.
If you missed it this weekend, then I really suggest you don't miss one of the other weekends.