Announcement: Sister Act Zarautz

On August 8 Sara and Marieke will leave for Zarautz in Basque Country for a Sister Act style surfing holiday :). We shall surf the whole day, after which we will drink some virgin cocktails in hammocks. This shall be our daily routine until August 17 when we return to the Netherlands, uberfit and with great tans  and sun and sea bleached hair.

Eat your heart out.

sister act

Two days in the Ardennes and other travels

On Monday and Tuesday I got to go to the Benelearn 2008 conference in Spa, Belgium. Spa is a town with a mineral water source (so I actually drank some from one of the fountains, it already has bubbles in it there!), it also has some thermal baths (never been there though), but other than that it’s dead quiet. On Monday I got to borrow dad’s car, so around 6:45 I took off for what I had hoped would be a two hour drive to the conference venue. It turned out to be a 3 hour drive because of heavy traffic but there was some nice scenery on the way so it wasn’t too bad (apart from the getting up that early and missing the first half of the invited talk). There were very few people I knew, but those that were there were cool, it was also a bit hard to get into contact with some other people because they kept speaking French, and my French is OK, but a bit rusty so it takes a while to get into it and I simply didn’t have that time. My presentation went well, and the food was splendid too. The restaurant where the conference dinner took place seemed very close on the map we were given, but it actually turned out to be quite far uphill outside the town, thankfully someone who knew there was a group of people who thought it was walkable came to pick us up. Although we did walk back (downhill is not so bad). We even managed to find a pub (a very typical pub) that was still open on the way back to the conference hotel so we stopped there for a bit for some drinks and some Walloon TV. Usually after conferences I try to stay another day or so to explore the area a bit further or just get some rest, but on Tuesday evening I had to get back to Etten-Leur straight away to travel on to Tilburg on Wednesday morning because Tilburg University had organised a trip and a party at the Efteling for its employees because of its 80th anniversary.

At the university we received a lunch box after which a bus took us to the theme park. In the morning I hung out with Steve, Herman and Tanja and Menno and their 2-year old son Colwin. After lunch Steve and Herman went for some thrill rides while I did the Efteling child-friendly style with Tanja, Menno and Colwin (the Fairy Tale Forest just rocks!). There was hardly anyone there in the Efteling so we didn’t have to queue anywhere which was really great, and again it was sunny as well, but not super hot. In the evening there was food at the Efteling theatre, a great cover band, drinks and dancing after which a bus took us to the campus again. Tilburg University knows how to throw a party 🙂

Weekend in Amsterdam

This weekend mum came to stay me in Leiden and to visit Amsterdam with me. So on Saturday morning she arrived with dad and Hans, and the car with some of my most important stuff (guitar, computer, PS2 and some wall decorations). My apartment is still a lot emptier than it was, but I’ve been sorting out things, reasoning from the fact that in LA I didn’t need that much stuff, so why bother with all of it now? OK, my books are important, but they’re just such a pain to drag about that for now they’re fine under my bed at my parents’ house. After lunch dad dropped off mum and me in Amstelveen where we took the tram to the Museumplein in Amsterdam to go to the John Everett Millais (there is now way photos can capture the real splendour of the paintings) exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum (sadly that was the last weekend so you can’t go and see those marvellous paintings for yourself there anymore now). As always the Van Gogh was horribly crowded, but fortunately we didn’t have to queue because we both have a yearly museum card, and most tourists came for the permanent exhibition anyway. I only knew Millais from his pre-rafaelite work, but he’s done way more than that. Sometimes his style is almost impressionist, and he also did some very impressive landscapes and great portraits. I’m already looking forward to other temporary exhibitions at the Van Gogh (a few years ago mum and I went to an exhibition with work by Dante Gabriel Rossetti there).

On Sunday we went back to Amsterdam again for the biggest book fair in the world. This year Amsterdam is world  book city, so they organised a secondhand book fair consisting of 5kms of stalls, which is a lot. Never have I seen my mother have enough of books for a while but at some point she actually said “I’ve seen enough books for today now”. Unlike Saturday, the weather was splendid, so we had a great time just browsing around. At some stalls the books were so cheap that mum got carried away and didn’t look carefully before she bought a huge and super-heavy book, which turned out to be a book about the most beautiful golf courses in the UK. I’m sure there is someone into that, but we didn’t feel like dragging this at least 3 pound collection of photos that involved a lot of green through Amsterdam so we left if on an empty stall for someone else to pick up :). I didn’t buy any books, but I did find a new pair of Roxy flip flops :).

It’s good to be back

After staying with my parents in Etten-Leur for a while I moved back to Leiden on Wednesday. During a nice walk (because the bus drivers were on strike) from the train station to my house I had plenty of time to admire the city again and to laugh at some of its inhabitants (some girls should be more careful when wearing skirts, let’s keep it at that). My subletters had looked after my room very well, they even rearranged some things in the kitchen that actually make more sense :).


My first race


Today I ran my first race. I’ve never been particularly sporty or competitive, and when I started running a bit over 2 months ago I saw it as a private undertaking to get a bit fitter, but my parents’ neighbour told me about the Lelieloop so i thought why not? Last week when he told me about it I had no clue whether I would be able to run 5 km, because with my training schedule I’d only gotten to week 8, which is 2x running 13 mins and walking 3 mins in between, during which I would run about 4.5 km. So on Thursday evening I decided to just start running and see if I would survive 5 km, surprisingly I did (although my Nike+iPod thingy didn’t register it because I hadn’t attached it to my shoe properly). Anyway, even though it was bloody hot today I ran anyway, just to see how it is to run in a different setting. My iPod was helping me keep my own pace, because it’s quite easy to get taken away by the road runners who just fly away after the start signal, and I made it.

It was actually a very nice run, along the little marina and under a windmill. There was also someone from the organisation cycling along, and we chatted a bit and he also had a sponge which was quite refreshing, so I think I’ll do this more often.

Back in the Netherlands

On Wednesday I touched down on familiar Dutch soil around 09:30. The flight had been quite uneventful, although I did get a little bit sick at the end, probably because I had only eaten the fruit that was served for breakfast since I can’t stand banana bread for breakfast, especially not when it’s cold and damp. Anyway, after I’d collected my bags and my baby I met my parents and youngest brother and sister in the arrivals hall. We then went to the only public Starbucks in the Netherlands, but it was a bit of a disappointing experience. A tall Chai Tea Latte costs €3,90 ($ 6.00) at Schiphol, whereas in Marina Del Rey they only charge $3. Also it was a bit of a chaotic undertaking. But the Chai tasted good nonetheless. We took some pictures of my arrival (with my Halloween hat, a Chai Tea in my hand and my brother carrying my board, as he should do more often), but my other brother accidentally deleted the pics. He also deleted the pics I took of tulips just outside Schiphol…

Anyway, at home my other brother and his girlfriend had set the table for lunch and made fresh tea. My younger brother had also made a sign outside our door to welcome me home and in all the streets all the flags were out (although that was because it was Queen’s day, but it felt festive anyway). After lunch I had a short nap and for the rest of the day I took it pretty easy. On Thursday morning/noon we went to see my grandparents in Zundert. This was quite a heavy experience because while I was in LA my granddad suffered a stroke and he hasn’t fully recovered yet. He’s traipsing around in his garden but he tends to get confused about time and he also needs to learn to carry out ordinary tasks again, such as making coffee and buttoning up a coat. It’s just that when you go to the other side of the world for a while and you’re leading another life there you don’t realise that things might change at home. Anyway, thankfully my granddad is still there and he’s not withering away in some nursing home, although it is quite heavy on my grandmother to look after him. However, when we arrived my uncle was there too to help out in the garden and a few times a week my granddad also goes to some day programme at a farm to stay busy and get ready to run his own place again (my grandparents have a huge garden with goats, deer and chickens).

Even though I stayed up late Wednesday evening and slept all through until Thursday morning I need a little nap on Thursday, and I could, because I was off because of ascension day :).

On Friday morning I rushed to Zundert to keep my granddad company while my grandmother went to a funeral, fortunately the weather had improved so we could drink coffee and tea and do puzzles in the garden. When I got home a gift had arrived from me from Marina Del Rey: a box of Luna bars so I won’t have to miss out on my high protein mid-afternoon snack :).

Late in the afternoon I went to Breda with my parents and youngest brother to have dinner at my dad’s parents (grandmother’s tomato soup is heavenly, and granddad cooked “poffertjes“) and to go to the Breda Jazzfestival with my grandmother. One of the things I missed a bit in California was European terraces. Here it’s very normal to just go out for drinks in the afternoon or early evening and just sit there chatting and watching all the (weird) people that pass. Even though the California climate seems more suitable for this this concept somehow doesn’t exist.

On Saturday mum and I went shopping for a bit (I bought a cool book and we stocked up on much too much meat for our barbecue yesterday) and the rest of the day I lazed about in my parents’ garden a bit. Yesterday we planned a day with our family and my brother’s girlfriend (practically family), so we rented a boat to sail around the Biesbosch for a bit. The weather was splendid, my sister provided some unintended entertainment by dressing up in high heels (not a success when climbing onto a boat), my brothers were their usu al funny selves and everyone got a tan and had a splendid time. When we got home we fired up the barbecue (figuratively speaking as it only involved plugging it in really) and stuffed our faces.

It’s cool to be home again. Although I don’t like having to talk to Paul over iChat…

Leaving LA

The past few weeks have been very hectic because of work and getting ready to move back to the Netherlands, but it was still a bit like living a dream. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing my family again, the stuffed terraces in Breda during the yearly jazz festival and shopping at Hunkemoller, but life in California wasn’t so bad either ;).

The past 7 months have been absolutely superb and went by incredibly fast. I fell in love, made lots of friends, went to cool parties and events, had a holiday in Hawaii, saw gorgeous museums and landscapes, lived practically on the beach, learnt a lot and laughed a lot.  Not that the Netherlands are dull, it’s just that it’s not as novel right now as LA still seems (there’s still so much left on my “to see and to do” list….). Fortunately, I get to stay with my family for a few days now because I’m still subletting my place in Leiden…Anyway, this is probably just the post-holiday dip, cos of course California has its downsides too (no decent bread, high fructose corn syrup, bad public transport). But my overall feeling is that I’ve been superlucky to get such an opportunity and California has treated me better than I could have ever imagined beforehand.

Since my last post I managed to write a long conference paper (16 pages!). I finished it just a few hours before the deadline on Saturday morning April 26th, after which I could get some sleep (although I woke up again at 8 because I’d been drinking too much coke the night before). So after staring at the ceiling for a while I got up and went to get some chai tea from Starbucks on Main Street, watched a squirrel and sat on my porch with my Chai and Wired magazine (April issue that I still haven’t finished reading as I fell asleep again this afternoon when I was trying to finish it). In the afternoon Paul had some shopping to do so I took a stroll on the boardwalk to buy an extra bag to transport some of my stuff back to Europe, and had a nap under a palm tree on the beach (the caffeine from the night before started to wear off). At home I filled up my bags while Paul and Jerié were decorating the porch for my farewell party, whose organisation I had nothing to do with, which was an interesting experience as I realised I like to be in control of things. But they threw an amazing party for me. The whole porch was filled with people, there was a barbecue, there was Beatles music, there was lots of ice cream and the weather was also cooperating (sometimes it tends to cool down at night, but not that night :)).

Sunday morning there was an ISI expedition to the farmer’s market on Ocean Park and Main street in Santa Monica (the place with the bike valet parking and raspberry white chocolate scones). So we strolled around for a bit in the sun, I bought my last raspberry white chocolate scone for a while) and for lunch Paul and I went to the French cafe on Abbot Kinney where half of the staff only speaks French :). In the afternoon I had a wonderful surf session at the Venice breakwater. The waves were small, but friendly, and since I was still a bit tired from the previous week that was OK. Some fellow surfers gave me some tips on how to become a proper shortboarder instead of a longboarder who happens to find herself on a shorter board, which really helped. Late in the afternoon I cycled to Marina Del Rey to drag Paul away from work to go watch the sunset in Venice again. The sun isn’t setting in the ocean anymore now, but behind the Santa Monica mountains, which is quite magical too.

On Monday I went into ISI for one last time where I finished the camera ready version of my Benelearn abstract, I managed to squeeze in a meeting with a researcher I’d been wanting to talk to for a while (but I’m an organisational mess so I didn’t get round to scheduling a meeting earlier) and to empty my desk and say goodbye to everyone. I’d planned for this to be only a short working day and to position my arse on a sunbed near a swimming pool in the afternoon, but it turned out to be a full working day, to be completed with dragging home 5 bags of stuff I managed to pull out of and from my desk (I’ve been buying too much off Amazon, but with this exchange rate I could not not buy all those books, neither could my mother). With 13 ISD people I also invaded California Pizza Kitchen for a farewell lunch, which involved heated discussions and playing with straw wrappings and water.

In the evening I said goodbye to Laura and Jerié and my cute little house on Rose Avenue, after which Paul cheered me up at the Rockenwagner café on Abbot Kinney where we had a lovely dinner on the patio (spicy shrimp with asparagus mmm).

Paul accompanied me to the airport on Tuesday morning. I didn’t have to queue for check-in because I was bringing a surfboard and then you get to go to the crazy luggage desk. United Airlines is good for surfboards, they only charged me $64, and my baby arrived safely with me at Schiphol airport. LAX is a horrible place to kill time though. There aren’t any shops before security like Schiphol has so Paul and I found a place in the sun on a pedestrian bridge. With kerosine fumes to wake us up.

When I took off I caught a last glimpse of Marina Del Rey and Venice, now I hope to find some time to sort out all my pictures of good memories into an album, or maybe 2….