On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Dooood, I'm from California

Odd thing happened to me during my afternoon stroll with Nigel. It started off normal enough, I guess. This scruffy guy saw Nigel and immediately squatted down to make that kissing noise that dogs find irresistible. What is it about that smooch, smooch, smooch that they love so much?

So, I'm happy to let people experience the joy of petting my dog. He really is incredibly cute, and I can't blame them. In fact, I worry that someone might steal him. Don't laugh. It happens. My aunt's dog was stolen.

So we're talking, and he starts telling me that his neighbor had a dog like Nigel, only it was clear he was confusing him with a daschund because he informed me that, "in the States we call them wiener dogs." I figured out he was a little off because then he asks me how you say "beagle" in Dutch.

"Oh, I have no idea."

"Oh, you're not Dutch?"

"Oh no, I'm American." Of course, we'd already been talking, and I was amazed he hadn't figured that out as he was clearly American too.

"Doood, I'm American too! Where are you from?" he says, talking a bit faster and with a few extra hand gestures than seemed necessary.

"I'm from Washington."

"No way, I'm from California."

And this goes on for awhile. Here's this older guy with sun-damaged skin rambling off his whole life story to a total stranger on the street corner. I could smell the alcohol on his breath, and I knew immediately what was up. I felt bad for the guy, and I think he was genuinely excited to talk to a fellow American. So, I kept talking to him. Nigel was clearly brightening his day. But he still manages to just slip in that pitch for my pocket change. This one goes down in the record books for smoothness. After talking to him for a good ten minutes, he goes:

"Oh oh yea, what was it that I was going to ask you? Oh yea, I was going to ask if you could give me some change."

I don't take money with me to walk the dog. I had nothing, and that's what I told him.

To which he said, "Oh yeah, forget about that." And then he just continued chatting. Thankfully Nigel finally decided he wanted to go. There's just no escaping the awkwardness of that request.

What's really weird is that I always attract bums. But not just any bums. I attract bums from California and Florida. And here I am living in the European country with probably the fewest Americans, in the city with the fewest Americans, in a neighborhood full or Turks and Surinamese folks, and I run into the American bum from California.




What a Difference a Few Degrees Make

Last weekend, Europe and the UK sprung forward to "summer time" (AKA daylight savings time) nearly a month ahead of the States. To that I say, "AWE YEAH!" The days were already getting longer, but now the sun sets closer 9pm and it's not even April.

The extra boost of daylight is noticeably uplifting moods around town. The temperature is only about 5-10 degrees warmer than a week ago, and in spite of the wind, it's making a huge difference in my own outlook. I may find it necessary to sniff out a few wireless hotspots around town and start working on my laptop in outdoor cafes. How good would that be? It's so good, in fact, that it might entirely make up for the gloomy winter and our travails with immigration.



Groot Markt

Sorry for the short delay in updating the ole blog here. You may be happy to know that I've been spending more of my time living life rather than sitting on the couch with the laptop. Well, that's part of it anyway.

Last week I dropped my iBook on the floor, lid open. Ack! I spent the latter half of last week scrambling to buy a backup drive and a new power pack, which btw cost about half the price of the drive! So far everything seems to work ok, except that the screen is coming apart at the seam a bit.

I also finally managed to get out to the market — specifically De Haagse Markt (do take a look at this site with sound on), which claims to be the largest market in all of Europe. Be that as it may, "largest" does not equal "best." I'd say about 70% of the vendors feature flea market junk, cheap household goods and seriously skanky clothes. You can, however, get incredible deals on fresh produce (4 avocados for 1EUR) and choose from the most impressive selection of fish I've ever seen.

Markets are truly something to relish while in Europe, especially since we don't really have them in the US. Sure, sure DC has the Eastern Market and flea markets still abound, but flea markets are not quite the same as the markets over here. From antiques to organic food to flowers, you can save a lot of money shopping in markets and have a more enjoyable time of it to boot. In fact, they're so popular in the UK that there are at least two shows on the BBC dedicated to buying and selling bric-a-brac at local markets.

For me, market shopping is a bit like sticking it to the man. When buying produce in the Netherlands — the world's third largest produce supplier — there's nothing better than skipping the middleman and buying straight from the farmer. Of course who can be sure if the guys at the market are the farmers and if farmers are "little guys" anyway.

However, we have one small problem: our fridge is half the size of normal ones. The market is far enough away that I can't go everyday, and we can't really stock our fridge for an entire week.

Props to anyone who can confirm exactly which fruits and veggies have to be refrigerated and which ones can hang out on the counter.



Right of Passage

They say when you turn thirty, your body quits growing and begins its (hopefully) slow decline. A couple years ago when thirty loomed I felt besieged by the media. Everywhere I turned I was a reminded that my youth was officially over on March 22, 2004.

But the truth is, that year may have been the best year of my life. So, take that National Magazine Company!

So far my 30s aren't so bad, and thankfully, being 30-something is nothing like that dreadful show in the 80s. However, in subtle ways you do start to feel the decline. Wrinkles start to emerge around your eyes, wiry white hairs start shooting out at odd angles from your scalp, and you find yourself staring down your first root canal.

Yup, I went to the dentist yesterday. Dr. A- discovered a nasty ole cavity just where the pain is coming from, and he said I need a root canal to treat it. I figured as much. In spite of all the horror stories about Dutch dentists not wanting to give you pain medication, Dr. A- was kind enough to dope up the right side of my face. Of course, he's not Dutch, so I don't really know what Dutch dentists would do.

The whole thing was generally ok except the horrible, horrible sound of the drill inside if my head. That's not really a Dutch thing though.



Loka Samasta Sukino Bavantu

May all living beings be happy and free. May all living beings be happy and free. I'm trying to calm myself down.

I just got back from a Bikram yoga class. Founded by Bikram Choudhury, this strict form of yoga is sometimes referred to as 'hot yoga' because they jack the heat up. Bikram himself is a very controversial figure in yoga circles. The Economist does a good job summing up his recent attempts to copyright his 26 yoga postures, and consequently sue yoga teachers who might teach them. Even more recently, he is seeking to franchise his business. The teacher section of his Web site reads like a pyramid scheme.

Many teachers feel that the 105F temperature in Bikram studios is unhealthy. Others complain that his manner (he often curses and barks at his students) runs completely against yoga philosophy. Indeed, with a line of sexy yoga clothes, and a Web site that showcases hot girls in said clothes, and the fact that he's living a life of abject luxury in Beverly Hills it seems clear that all he's out to do is make bags of cash. He appears to ignore thousands of years of yoga teachings, which advises against non-violence, non-coveting, non-greed, moderation - generally a modest lifestyle. Those are a lot of shortcomings for a guy who calls other yoga teachers "circus clowns."

The truth is, people say he's an a-hole. I know that that's not a very yogic thing to say, but I'm just relaying what I've heard. Until today I have never had any desire to attend a Bikram class. As a yoga teacher, I don't like the claim that any series of poses would be specially-formulated to bring health and well-being to everyone. Given all the differences between all the bodies in the world, it's arguable that no specific series of postures would do two people the same amount of good.

So, why did I go? I'm desperate for yoga here in The Hague. I've been to two studios so far and haven't found something that suits me. My personal practice is very much hindered by the fact that we essentially live in a studio flat. I was encouraged that the teacher is American, and I was at least banking on the class being in English.

I have never been so EVER mad or angry or even the slightest bit upset in a yoga class. I was amazed at how Bikram's legendary personality was transferred to this woman. I had a bad feeling from the very beginning when she insisted I put a bath towel on top of my yoga mat. Then she asked me if I had a real yoga mat in this condescending tone. What would it matter if I'm standing on a slippery towel anyway.

Then she singled me out in the class again and again to tell me not to do certain postures even though I told her I'd been practicing regularly for many years. At one point I finally told her that I was a trained teacher, to which she said, "I don't care how much yoga you've done before, just listen to me." I was so angry by that point that I immediately dropped into child's pose to calm myself down. I was furious and shocked that she would treat her yoga students as if it was all about her. It was a very long 30 minutes until the end of the class.

After the class she tried to justify her attitude by saying that it was the way that she teaches. To which I said that her style was completely different from my approach - that I believe that it's up to the student to know his or her own limits and abilities. She responded by insisting that if she were taking my class that she'd do what I told her to do and not go and do her own thing. Of course she couldn't know that my class is all about exploring the needs of your own body. If someone wants or needs to modify a posture or take it deeper, I'm more than delighted to help him on his journey.

She went on to point out that it was her class, to which B- rightly said ,"isn't it supposed to the students' class?" She cut him off to say, "no it's not about being creative." When B- pointed out that he wasn't referring to creativity, and that it's about knowing your own body, she complained that we weren't being patient. Bikram himself refers to his series as being "easy enough for most Westerners." How patient do you have to be to do something you've already been doing for years?

Again wearing my yoga teacher hat, I'm concerned that she has no consideration for anyone's health. At no point did she ask if anyone had any medical conditions that she should be aware of. All yoga postures have contraindications, not the least of which is pregnancy. She should at least ask if someone is pregnant because of the heat. Her rigid, 'my way' approach prevents her from being objective about the differences in all of us.

Every body is different. Every mind and heart are different. No 26 postures done in a specific way can work miracles. A selfish yoga teacher is a bad yoga teacher.


Too Gross

B- and I went to Amsterdam yesterday to visit the Van Gogh Museum. Good stuff. We definitely recommended it. I also highly recommend getting the audio sets. They did I really nice job with those.

Naturally we took the train to and fro. As sometimes happens on the train, B- had to use the restroom. He returned to his seat looking a little alarmed. It seems that when he flushed the toilet, he could see the tracks below. Meaning... no container.

He wasn't positive, so I had a look. Sure enough, when you push the bottom to "flush" - there wasn't any water or anything - it opened straight onto the tracks.

As B- pointed out, that's the kind of thing you find in India.




Talent for Causing Pain

My tooth hurts. Really hurts. The pain shoots up into my cheek. Aleve alleviates it somewhat, and some days it doesn't even hurt at all. But I need to come to terms with reality. I need to find a dentist. Probably sooner rather than later.

Am I afraid? Oh yes I am. I spent enough time in the dentist's and orthodontist's chair during childhood to last my whole life. The scrape, scrape sound of that hook. Ugh. The high-pitched buzz of that rotary sander thingy. Argh. That antiseptic smell. Gag. That tiny, excrutiatingly painful needle. Save me, Jeebus.

I'm also afraid of Dutch dentists. I'm afraid of Dutch healthcare. After all, they might have killed Milosevic (just kidding!) I'm afraid of the unknown in so much as it affects my health. What if I need a root canal and the Dutch prefer extraction? Will I need to make an emergency trip back to the US to have my roots canaled? Ok, what is a root canal anyway? I wonder if they're into sedation dentistry here. I'll take two of those, please. This may hurt my wallet more than it hurts me.

The worst thing about dentists is that they tend to scold you - a lot - when you haven't dropped by in awhile. I'm sure Dutch dentists, with their direct nature and all, will particularly love to chastise me. Surely they know that everyone is afraid of them, those masochists. The dentist hurts you, and it's completely natural to avoid things that cause you pain. It's smart really.

Man, I gotta do something about this tooth though.


Wish me luck.



Europol Called

Seriously. They called here. Looking for Sharif (sp?). I've mentioned Ahmed and his mother before, but occasionally we get calls for Sharif too. I figure they are all related. I knew that kid was bad.

So the call goes something like this:

Voice on Phone[sing-song tone]: Hallloooo.

Me [Thinking it's B-]: Hey what's up?

Voice on Phone: Oh? Do you speak Dutch?

Me: No sorry. I thought you were someone else.

Voice on Phone [still a little sing-song]: Ok. This is Europol calling. We are looking for Sharif.

Me: Yeah, we get phone calls for them all the time, but it's the wrong number.

Europol [sounding confused]: This is not the number for Sharif?

Me: Nah, like I said we get calls all the time for him and for the mother of Ahmed, but they don't live here.

Europol: You see the last time he called here it came from this number, and we took note of that. And we believe that he is still using this number.

Me: Well, we got this number in December, so I think the phone company just turned over the number too soon. Like I said, we get calls all the time.

Europol [a little disappointedly]: Ok I see. And do you live at X street?

Me: No. We live at Y.

Europol: Ok, thank you. Good bye.

Man, the trail has run cold.



I Got Nothin'

Ok, this is little more than a courtesy post because I really don't have much to say. Work has been crazy, and by crazy I mean busy. By busy, I mean working on the weekend. By working on the weekend, I mean haven't left the house except to go to Dutch class or walk Nigel in almost two weeks. So, unless you want a preview of my FY07 budget proposal, I got nothin'.

So, enough about me... what about you? What do you guys want to know?


Driver's License Wanted

Many thanks to El Cap-E-Tan for reminding me that I love to drive. Like I really love it. I'll happily drive most of the way on long road trips. I also really, really, abnormally loved my VW GTI. Its lime green stylings packed a big punch in an unassuming, little package. Dieter, my GTI, and I were like this, man. Like this. These new GTI ads rule - Holding it down on the German engineering tip, ya'll.

Sadly, I traded Dieter in for a more economical (and larger) Subaru Forester. Poor Deiter was getting wrecked by dog hair and camping gear. Haruki-san could take the beating and did. It was impractical to bring Haruki-san over to the lowlands, so we left him in America to find another outdoorsy couple who'd love and cherish him. Sayonara, Haruki-san. Sayonara, mobility.

The saga of our Dutch integration continues. The latest chapter is entitled: How to Get a Dutch Driver's License, or I Wait, I Wait, I Wait, I Wait.

We'd like to join this car co-op thing. By signing up to GreenWheels you can use of any number of cars parked around town. It's perfect for the occasional trip to areas not accessible via public transport like... the pet hotel out near Gouda, or the upper middle-class neighborhood of Wassenaar where I think I have the best chance of picking up a yoga gig. GreenWheels would prefer their clients have Dutch driver's licenses.

Like many aspects of our Dutch integration nightmare, on paper it's supposed to be pretty easy for expats of a certain variety to just switch their driver's license to a Dutch one. This time the hook revolves around the so-called "30 percent ruling" -- a tax break that expats receive as part of a tax equalization scheme.

Like most steps of this process, B-'s application for the 30 percent ruling hasn't come through yet. We're expecting about another month for that, and another month to process the paperwork for our driver's licenses including medical questionnaires. If we answer yes to any of the questions, the process is delayed further as we must add medical exams to the to-do list. B- wears glasses, so he answered "yes" to one of the questions. We haven't heard back from them yet.

Now, none of this happens at an office. It's all processed through the mail. Man, this is why Americans will only ever be just so liberal. It makes no sense to pay more taxes to your government when they're completely inefficient about handling the money. I'm all for social services, but if getting a driver's license is such a pain, can you imagine filing a medical claim?

It could get a lot worse for me as we have mixed information about the situation of trailing spouses and partners. I could face a written and driving test! I'm 16 all over again. Thankfully they occasionally offer the written exam in English. I don't know why they can't just have two forms, but for some reason I'll have to wait to take it with a group of other English speakers. I'm not sure how to take the driving test without a car.

Say what you will about the DMV back home. At least you leave the building with your license in hand.

This is all very annoying, but here's where I start to get mad. EU citizens don't have to switch their license. I have no problem with that. What's got me a bit riled up is that a handful of non-EU European countries and others such as Taiwan, Singapore, Israel and Japan all get to follow the trade-in scheme. Not the US, not Canada, not Australia. The expectation is that citizens of these countries will generally qualify for the 30 percent ruling. But my ability to take advantage of B-'s 30 percent is in question.

I'd like to know why Japanese get to trade in their licenses when they don't even drive on the same side of the road. What is it about Taiwan that makes them such better drivers? Now Singapore, I totally get because they're strict about everything. And what, pray tell, does your tax bracket have to do with your ability to drive??

I have only one office to blame - the US embassy. Isn't it their job to negotiate these kinds of deals? Seems that the Japanese, Taiwanese and Israelis are on top of things. What up, Roland E. Arnall? I know you just started last week, but c'mon get to work. Ok, I'll cut you a little slack, but what was the last guy doing?? I have to write a letter.

Good Dutch Things: Cheap and lovely flowers - sold everywhere. Nearly every shopping block has a florist where you can buy excellent bouquets for a mere fraction of the cost in the US.



It Just Keeps Getting Better

Any self-respecting, 30-something, city-dwelling, politics-following, liberal-leaning person watches the "Daily Show."* John Stewart is to fair and clever Democrats as Bill O'Reilly is to crazed, mean and nasty Republicans. Even B- loves it.

No sooner had I sung the praises of iTunes' TV show selections did they launch a new "Daily Show" multi-pass. Pay 10 bucks now and receive 15 shows that will automatically download as they become available. This is just so great. CNN World airs a weekend wrap-up show, but it's really not as fulfilling as the real deal. Sweet!

So, after I posted yesterday, I got to thinking... what did expats do before the Internet? Before email? Before Skype? Before Amazon.com? Before Yahoo groups? Before IM? Before iTunes? I just couldn't imagine.

Domestically, I rely heavily on online translation tools, viamichelin.com for maps, expat Web sites for any clue as to what goes on around here, restaurant reviews and very basic information like where the post office is. A woman in my Dutch class is taking online continuing education classes. I need to get me some of that.

For those people who don't know me and occasionally trip over my blog, I'm an Internet professional myself. For over 11 years, I've been producing Web sites. I've always been a big fan (recall one drunken conversation with redsnapper at Clarendon Ballroom) but it had all started to become very same-ish. The end of the browser wars killed innovation, and though blogs and podcasting are popular these days, there really hasn't been a change in browser technology in ages. Microsoft, having won the browser wars, can barely be bothered to produce new versions of IE.

As I struggle to stay sane and happy with few friends in an alien land, I have come to appreciate once again why the Internet is so great and how it has really permeated the lives of those of us who use it. After years of trying to get her interested, even my mom finally has an email address.

Mom, this post is dedicated to you.

* Don't bother protesting this sentence; it's a definitive statement used for literary effect. Of course you can be all of those things and not like the "The Daily Show."



A Tribute to iTunes

Mere days before I left for the Netherlands, Apple released it's latest, greatest iPod ever - iPod Video. Mind you, I don't have one, and I don't even want one. I'll even go so far as to say that watching video on a one-inch screen is just lame.


What's so great about iPod video is that Apple was compelled to add video clips to iTunes music store. And not just any ole video clips - current episodes of American television shows. Hallelujah!

I may be snobby about a lot of things but I've never been a TV basher. My only problem with TV is that I usually just didn't have time to watch it. With a bit more free time to channel surf in My New Dutch Life, I have much greater appreciation for American TV than I ever had before.

Most of the channels on my Dutch TV are totally useless. I'm left with BBC1 , BBC2, BBC World (news) and CNN World. And frankly, I don't get the BBC. Their news is super slick and shiny, but they must film their TV shows on 8mm film or something. B- and I have been watching the UK version of "The Apprentice," and in spite of the fact that it's brand, spankin' new, it looks like it was filmed 30 years ago. It's all grainy and kinda sepia toned. The voice over is clinical. Having said that, we were totally sucked into this new show, "The Amstrongs," which is a bit like "The Office" only not.

Back to iTunes...

So, when B- went away to China, I rented Season 1 of "Desperate Housewives" from the shop across the street. I'd seen it a couple of times back home, but never had time to get into it. It's really a great show. I'm not ashamed to admit that not only am I hitching a ride on the bandwagon, but I'm falling in with a whole wagon train. It's just really good. Once I got through Season 1, I was left a bit high and dry until I realized that iTunes music store uploads new episodes the day after the show airs! No commercials! Sweet, sweet non-denominational deity, you shined on me again!

Lately, ABC appears to be running reruns, so I've moved onto "The Office." Awesome. Just plain, awesome.


You're So Ugly, Your Mama [rude remark here]

redsnapper posted such a HI-larious comment to the phrases in my Dutch book that I want to make sure everyone sees it. Here's the comment in all its glory:

redsnapper said...
Last month I learned that Piemontese schools apparently teach kids the following key English phrases:

"The book is on the table."
"Where is Mr. Brown going?"
"Mr. Brown is going to the beach."

Useless. But with the skills taught in this Dutch course you can form sentences like:

[so-and-so] is so ugly that after drinking 20 beers I made an honest mistake.

Now, I can see where that might come in handy.



Spreekt u Engels?

I'm halfway through my Dutch lessons this week. In fact, we turned in a "take home" test on Monday. I thought I did well.

The class is going ok. I'm getting pretty used to all the mind-blowing grammar points, so at least I don't always feel quite so beaten down after each class. I have to say that Japanese is easier to learn than Dutch.

At this point, I can confidently ask, in Dutch, if the person I'm talking to speaks English. I can also say that I don't speak Dutch. I think this is good progress. So, when people call our house looking for the mother of Ahmed, I can at least get them to quiz me about Ahmed in English. I dunno what Ahmed is up to, but they're always calling our house looking for his mother. He must be a very naughty boy.

I dunno what this says about Dutch culture, and maybe it just speaks more about the writer of my Dutch book, but the examples and sample conversations are really weird, often negative and, in a way, kind of inappropriate. The scenes often take place in a bar with the characters getting too drunk. In one, a husband is out dancing with this secretary while his wife is at home taking care of the kids. In this particular scene, a bum manages to woo the secretary away from the boss with tales of flying her off to Paris in his private jet. And actually, my interpretation of this person is that he was a bum, but the text actually referred to him as a "dirty, old man." I couldn't make this up if I tried.

My seemingly benign homework for today included the following sentences:

1) I don't think he worked hard the whole year.
2) I thought you made an honest mistake.
3) Gerard Depardieu is so ugly that everyone finds him funny.
4) Hamburgers were tastier when Clinton was still president.
5) Mr. de Vries stayed on the toilet all day when his stepmother was visiting.
6) Most people get drunk after drinking 20 beers.



Big Ben, kids. Parliament.

Merry ole London. Such a great town. So damn expensive.

After my first real trip to the UK, I have this to say about Europe's largest city: It's really hard to appreciate such a dynamic place while penny-pinching at every turn. Accounting for the exchange rate, we spent around $3.00 on each one-way bus ticket, and double that on the tube. In no time, you're spending $20 for a couple of take out sandwiches and fruit juice. At 30 bucks a pop it's difficult to feel impressed by the Tower of London.

And then there are the shops and department stores. Such beautiful, beautiful department stores. Harrods is definitely worth a browse, especially the Egyptian room and food halls. I also thoroughly enjoyed our Saturday afternoon tea at Liberty. In spite of the high prices, we loaded up on fine chocolates, nice French cheese at the Portobello Road market, and splurged on a few books. No matter the modicum of .com riches I've amassed over my short career life, London has a way of reminding you what real, old money smells like. You can look, but you can't touch.

All in all, I liked London a lot. Here are a few more shots.

Protest signs across the street from parliament.

London bridge.

Oh England and its funny bushes.

We left early enough on Sunday to take the long way home through Belgium. B- had his heart set on visiting a trappist monastery to sample tasty Belgian brews, but we were thwarted by Sunday blue laws. We settled for shops instead.

Approaching the chunnel train.

Our little Ka snug as a bug.

Just outside Lille, France is the small town of Tournai, Belgium. We're thinking of starting a tradition of visiting Europe's least-known sites. The Grande Place (above) sits next to the city's gothic cathedral (not above), a World Heritage site. For B-, the main attraction was a specialty beer shop that stocks over 300 varieties. Alas they were already closed for the day.

Onward, to Brussels, Brussel (in Dutch), Bruxelles (in French).

We spent only about 4 hours in this intriguing city, but so far we like we we've seen. With it's mix of really old and really new, the city is much more classically European than our excursions in the Netherlands have turned up so far. The tight, little streets culminating at the city's Grande Place or Grote Markt (below) were quaint and also impressive.

Brussels is definitely more elegant than Amsterdam, perhaps owing to the lack of drug tourists that inevitably kill the mood along A'dam's canals. Below is a shot of one of the little restaurant streets tucked just behind the Grande Place.

We stopped in for the requisite dish of Belgian mussels before heading home to The Hague. Yummmmmm...

Good Dutch Things: Dierdorado pet hotel. Nigel spent five days on vacation too, and apparently played really hard. The little guy's zonked!



Tally Ho

B- and I have fled to the UK for a few days, visiting his brother D- and family.

Without getting into the complicated details, we ended up driving over via the auto-train through the chunnel, Tunnel sous la manche as the French signs said.

Our late night road trip (naturally, we were running two hours late) took us past Rotterdam, into Belgium via Antwerpen, skirting Gent and Brugge and then on to Calais in France.

What we learned about driving through Europe:

It was a bit disappointing driving through different countries as there was no fanfare whatsoever when we crossed the borders. No "Bienvenue a France" or anything, just a puny little European Union-blue sign that said France with gold stars around it. We got our fanfare a bit later, though.

Between cities in Belgium, there is no posted speed limit. Consequently, they drive like maniacs. There we were in our 2-cylinder Ford Ka with Audis running up on our butts every five minutes, flashing their lights and giving us dirty looks. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a lead foot, but the little Ka has no juice. Grrr.

Also Belgian highways are crap, and boy was that rest stop outside Gent nasty. They also have these sickly, yellow street lights that make it more difficult to see than if it were pitch dark.

By contrast, the French would rather we drive nice and slow... causing us to miss the 1:30am chunnel shuttle. See, they don't just let you drive along under ground, you have to load up on the train and ride along. Boooring. With two hours to wait, we curled up in the teeny weeny Ka as best as we could for a quick snooze.

The fanfare came when the French customs officers decided that we must have dope in the car, you know since we come from Holland. They searched everything. It would have been like Tijuana except that it was clean and they didn't look like they'd accept bribes.

They sounded more than a bit disappointed when they asked, "Do you have any cigarettes?"

"No, nuh-uh."

"Do you smoke sometimes?"



They did manage to find my credit card under the seat, but weren't able to find the gloves I'd lost earlier in the night. Bummer.

On the otherside, we were quickly reminded to drive on the left and we were off, feeling like we weren't making any progress at all. Again no speed limit signs, what up? we just came in from another country?? They thought it better to spend more money on signs warning you about the speed cameras instead. I expect a pile of traffic tickets when we get home.

So, yeah it felt like we were driving in molasses. The distance markers on the road signs just weren't dropping very fast. It wasn't until we finally came across a speed limit sign that said "60" that we realized we'd switched from kilometers back to miles. What? You mean Americans take all this crap for not going metric, and the Brits haven't either?? Pshuh!

We crawled into bed at the wee hour of 5am thankful we made it at all.

(Note: I'll post photos when we get back to The Hague. We aren't able to download the photos to D-'s computer.)



Mmmmm Vla

We recently discovered vla on the recommendation of an adult person. I'd seen the cartons all over the shops, but it looked decidedly like pudding to me - something I usually only treat myself to at a Shoney's salad bar. Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.

My online translator says that vla is custard, but it's not quite that thick. It's also not quite as thick as pudding, but essentially that's what it is. It comes in a variety of colors like pink, yellow and dark brown (shown above). We were advised to stick to chocolate. It's a bit weird that it comes in a carton. Mainly, I'm concerned that I can't get the very last drop out of there without ripping it open. Yeah, that would be a little crazy. I won't do that.

Suffice it to say that vla will not be permanently added to my shopping list. It's just too unhealthy. Thank god for the biking because Dutch food is really not good for you. You've got your vla, your olie bollen, French fries at every single meal, deep fried cheese, grilled-cheese sandwiches, sausage rolls, corn dog-type things, meatballs, donuts, etc. etc. They love heavy, fried, saucy, creamy foods.

Good Dutch Things: Dogs Allowed! in restaurants, shops, stores, trains, buses, nearly everywhere.