29 January 2015

(Mis)Adventures in Dutch

Learning languages is never easy (if you say otherwise I'll consider you either a liar or a wizard). I've been working on my Dutch with official lessons for nearly 2 years now; and I've come a long way, but my Dutch is by no means perfect. Sometimes I start to feel smug with my progress, and when I do, something happens to put me back in my place and all becomes right again with the universe.

Yesterday, I was at the Kruidvat (a sort of druggist) looking for eye drops. Nothing fancy, just plain old eye drops to help my eyes from shriveling up like raisins in all the direct wind they take on the bike. For the life of me, I couldn't find them - even though I was standing in front of them I was distracted by the colorful boxes of tea on the next shelf. So I found someone with an official shirt and asked where the eye drops stood. Except I didn't really ask that at all.

Ace: Waar staan de oogdropjes? (Where are the eye "dropjes"?)
Unlucky store employee: *question mark forms over face* ... Dropjes? ... Voor ogen? (Dropjes? For eyes?)
Ace: Dat klopt. Dropjes. Voor ogen. (That's right. Dropjes. For eyes.)

Now, there are some words in English that translate directly over to Dutch with a slightly different inflection or pronunciation. "Drops" is not one of those words. A drop is called druppel in Dutch. In the Netherlands, a dropje is a sort of licorice candy. I call it a candy because it's in the candy aisle at the grocery store, but it's not the sweet licorice that I knew in America. It's extra strong anise flavor sometimes used as a candy but also as a sort of throat lozenge. Most people outside of the Netherlands can't handle it - as evidenced by these videos provided by Stuff Dutch People Like.

Oldtimers Mildzoute hindelooper ruitjesdrop
Dropjes: Available at your local
Albert Heijn or other fine retailer.

No wonder the poor woman was so confused. I was asking for EYE LICORICE.

Unlucky store employee: ... Bedoelt u oogdruppels? (Do you mean eye drops?)
Ace: Oh. Ja. Oogdruppels. (Oh. Yes. Eye drops.)

At least I didn't unwittingly volunteer myself for something again.

What's your favorite language mix up experience? Did you laugh it off or run out of the room covering your face?

***Don't forget! This coming Sunday, February 1 the blog officially transfers over to Ace the Adventure with it's own domain name.***

25 January 2015

Thermenmuseum: A Touch of Rome in the Netherlands

I've mentioned this before, but I'm a history nerd. Like big time. I taught history in a middle school and a high school and I generally prefer history books over most types of fiction. And while I have my favorite subjects, I can get so excited about the history of EVERYTHING that sometimes it's a little hard to focus myself or stop myself from cleaning out the section in the bookstore. I've found while traveling that I love to learn about the history of the places I've been and I've picked up some great books along the way. Lucky for me, my family understands me, humors me, and occasionally shares a historical interest. When my parents and brother came to visit us over the Christmas break, and we took advantage of some of the historical sights in the Netherlands with them. We hadn't spent much time in the Limburg province, so we decided to make a day trip to a couple of sites and were not disappointed.

The focus of our day was actually a trip to Kasteel Hoensbroek and we anticipated that most of our day would be spent at the castle; but since we were going to make the trip we decided to add another activity to our day. By doing some quick research, we found the Thermenmuseum in Heerlen and read in the description that it was a site of Roman ruins. When we determined that it is just a short drive from the castle and accepts the Museumkaart we added it to the day's itinerary without looking much more into it.

The Thermenmuseum is one of those places that I went into with no expectations and was really impressed. The museum is built on the site of ruins of a Roman bath house initially uncovered in 1940. Due to the Second World War, a decision was made to rebury the site until a time when its safety could be assured. In the 1970s, a building was built over and around the site with the intention of making the site into a museum. Today, visitors begin with a 15 minute film (available in Dutch, English, German, and French) to give a little background into the history of Heerlen as a village developed by the Romans and this particular bath house. Afterwards, you can view two exhibit halls and the bath house ruins at your leisure.

You can walk on a catwalk above the ruins or around the perimeter, each providing a great view of the bath house. Special screens on the catwalk give a reconstructed image of what each room would have looked like and how the thermal system would have worked. Other rooms display lots of amazing Roman artifacts discovered in Limburg.

The Thermenmuseum itself is not large enough to spend the whole day, but it is a great stop when paired with Kasteel Hoensbroek or another site in Limburg.

The Thermenmuseum is located at:

Coriovallumstraat 9
6411 CA Heerlen

Opening times, prices, and visitor and contact information can be found here. We received free admission during our visit using the Museumkaart.

***Don't forget: This blog's name officially changes to Ace the Adventure, complete with custom domain name on February 1! This post and all previous posts will still be accessible, so please join me at my new web address.***

12 January 2015

Reading through Travel

I can't really remember any real lengthy stretches in which I wasn't reading something. During college and high school I wouldn't read as often for fun during classes (though there was almost always some books being read for class), but generally I would find something to read while on break. Even now, there's plenty of other things to do, but I still make a point to get some reading done before bed every night. I've got an extensive list (that's always growing) of books that I'd like to read, including many of the books I've picked up through my travels. I tend to be drawn to history books and really enjoy making the connections between what I'm reading and the places that I've been. I've found some really interesting reads along the way as we've made our trips, of which I'm sharing four of my favorites today.* Whether or not you've been to these countries or plan on visiting them, these books are interesting historical reads with excellent narratives.

Rebellions: Memoir, Memory and 1798 by Tom Dunne

I've got a certain soft spot for Irish history - it's something that has captured my interest for many years being of American-Irish heritage and growing up around Boston. I've read several books about different historical events in Ireland, so when we visited Dublin, I picked this book up at a great independent bookstore figuring that I'd find something I wasn't likely to see in the States or at the English language bookshops int he Netherlands. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this chance-find is one of the best book purchases I've made in my lifetime. This particular book did a lot to change not only what I knew about the (failed) Rebellion of 1798 but also how I thought about how our own backgrounds and experiences inform our understanding and retelling of historical events. Part "standard historical retelling," part autobiography, and part historiography, Dunne mixes his own life experiences and his family connections/stories to the Rebellion, but also considers how English historians have approached Irish history and how modern political outlooks change our retelling of the past. Since reading this book, I find myself considering personal and political/historical biases of writers of history and thinking more widely about how I approach my understanding of historical events.

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones

Admittedly, I didn't find this book during our visit to London last year, but I did pick this up at an English language bookshop shortly after our return. I was putzing around the history section (as I often do) and started reading the back cover. Realizing that I didn't know a whole lot about the Plantagenet dynasty that preceded the well-known Tudors but did much to establish the English monarchy, I decided to give the book a try. I'll say right off the bat that this is one of the best historical narratives I've read. Jones writes in one of the most engaging manners while bringing you detailed information of a family line's rule spanning nearly 250 years. It's also interesting to read how Arthurian legend influenced certain rulers and how the tales of Robin Hood really related to King Richard and his brother, King John. My only complaint about the text is that it doesn't provide and footnotes/end notes - which I like to read over for sources and additional information about how the author draws certain conclusions - however, that doesn't take too much away from the informative and exciting story that is accessible even to those that generally don't care too much about history. The book is expected to be developed into a television mini-series and released sometime this year, which I'm really looking forward to.

The Tulip by Anna Pavord

Tulips are a major part of Dutch history and what many outsiders know of Dutch culture. But do you really know how much of a mark these flowers have left on Dutch and European history? Family fortunes were made and broken on a few bulbs. Particularly beautiful and unexpected mutations were immortalized by professional artists in case so perfect a bloom was never again to be seen. Elaborate names were bestowed upon particular strains and gained international prominence, like modern racing horses. Pavord provides a wonderfully detailed account of the wild origins of the tulip and it's transition to an expensive show-stopper and back into "commonplace" flower that few think about outside of a seasonal bouquet. This book was one of my first real introductions into Dutch history, and it's a great place to dive in, if only because we'd never assume that one little flower would captivate and drive a country and the rest of the world.

The Last Knight of Malta: Fighting against the ruin of an Order by Thomas Freller and Gabrielle von Trauchburg

I'll admit right away that I'm only about 2/3 of the way through this book. When I was in Malta with my friend Farrah, it was hard to miss how important the Order of St. John had been to the island, so I wanted to know a bit more. So far, this book has been a real treat into the international politics of an order of knights as well Napoleon's reach into even the most mundane sounding daily politics. The book follows the experiences of Josef Maria von Rechberg, a man from a prominent Bavarian family who dedicated his life to the Order of St. John and was fighting against ruinous external and internal forces bent on destroying the Order. While I found the naval descriptions a bit tedious at the beginning of the book (and I would say that this is the least narrative of my recommendations here), the struggles of one person in the "big picture" are rather fascinating - but especially so if you have walked the streets of Valletta.

If you're looking for travel-inspired history reads - these books are great starters. And if you've got recommendations for me, I'll gladly hear them - I'm always looking to make my "to read" list a little longer.

BONUS RECOMMENDATION: Dutched Up! Rocking the clogs expat style

Is it historical? Not really. Is it self-serving? Sure. But my co-authors in this anthology of expat experiences in the Netherlands are fantastic and hilarious writers that provide a wide look of life as an expat beyond just bikes, tulips, and canals.

*In the interest of transparency, all book links to Amazon.com are affiliate links. If you click on one of these links and make a purchase at Amazon, I get a few pennies and the thrill of excitement of someone taking my recommendations seriously.

08 January 2015

Welcome to 2015 and a Blog Announcement!

Hey there! Remember me? The last month has been, well, nuts, but the Season of Crazy has left us and now we're back to just regular levels of crazy around here. Because we've been off for the last month (we've made it through Sinterklaas, visitors, Christmas, and New Years) I do have a LOT to share in the coming days. My parents came to visit us over the Christmas holidays and we did a lot of exploring and day trips around the country which means there are some pictures and trips well worth sharing and putting on your radar. But that's going to take a back seat for a moment to a big ol' blog announcement.

Coming in February 2015, Life in Dutch will be getting a new name and a new face. Starting in February, this blog will become "Ace the Adventure" and will be getting its own domain name and a new design. 

This is something that I've been considering for about the last year. While our lives are certainly continuing to be lived out immersed in Dutch and I plan to continue writing things related to our lives as expats in the Netherlands, I've decided that the new name gives the feeling of more flexibility to what I write (particularly every post that's not explicitly about NL) and reflects more of my personality - and not just because I threw my name in the title. In my mind, you can look at the new title as an imperative statement (Ace the adventure!), a declarative statement ([I will] ace the adventure.), or a description (Ace, the adventure.) - all of which seem to fit my/our experiences at any given time since starting this blog.

It also makes sense to give the blog a face-lift to go along with its new name, so you can expect to see some design changes implemented in the next few weeks. Please bare with me as I make the switch over to the new name and look - I'm hoping for a minimum amount of hiccups during the transition, but it is tech related... I'm excited about these changes and I hope that you like them, too.

So Happy New Year and stick around for what's to come!

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