After Easter weekend, I hit the books (for like two whole days) in order to study and actually do well on my strategy final exam. I know a final exam already? You may be wondering why this is the case since to it seems I have barely had to attend class over the last few months.
Well at the School of Business and Economics in Maastricht there are two semesters a year and there are three periods within each semester. So instead of taking four courses for 13 weeks, you take two courses for seven weeks and then have a week of finals, followed by a re-sit week for those who did not pass exams in the previous period, and then you begin two new courses for seven weeks. They also have a third period where students take a two-week, condensed, skills based course. So I have all this time because a) I only take two classes b) I have no exams to re-sit so another week off and c) I am an exchange student so while I do enjoy doing well in my classes technically it is just pass fail since my grades do not transfer back to SFU directly. However, last week’s almost fail was a friendly reminder that maybe a week long hiatus from class in order to ski does require some follow up work. Luckily, I really enjoy strategy and had actually kept up with the readings through out the semester. Process management on the other hand was just a tad too boring to read hundreds of pages… so I didn’t. As proof for those of you who still doubt I actually am here for university, see the photo below of me in the exam hall, which is not a place I go to just for fun.
Alright so Thursday morning after I finish my exam, I decided to celebrate with a haircut. This is actually crazier than you think. I like my hair the way it is and so there are few things more daunting than going to a new hairdresser because what if she/he screws up? Chances are slim but you never know. I try to get my haircut everything 3 months or so because well I have curly hair that begins to get out of hand as ends split. In South America I chose to forgo the haircut because of the language barrier and it was only four and a half months so I figured I could survive without one. Turns out unruly, frizzy hair does not result in death but my lovely hairdresser, Maryssa, warned against what 8 months might do so there I was getting my haircut. There was no language barrier since what words I did not know in Dutch she knew in English and I returned home with bouncy curls and pink hair. Just kidding, its purple. On the plus side, I did match all the spring flowers starting to bloom as I went for my run.
Friday morning rolls around and it is a big day; my first visitor from across the Atlantic is arriving. So to be consistent with pretty much anytime I ever have to meet up with someone, I left the house with zero minutes to spare. I raced to the train station and so at this point have already begun working up a sweat. Then my bike lock decides now is a great time to be stuck so I fuss around with it and eventually have some luck. Turns out I biked super fast so I actually had a few extra minutes, and I casually walked into the train. Going to be honest I was pretty proud of myself until I realized I left my other bag with my running shoes (very important, you will understand why soon) in my bike bag. I had two minutes to get to the bike parkade and back. Like I have said before, catching public transit is my main source of cardio. I did make it but only just and I was sweating like crazyyyyy on the train. It was so bad the conductor asked me if I was okay. A literal waterfall thanks to the moisturizing sunscreen I decided to put on this morning to keep me looking young and pasty. For some reason, I sweat a billion times more with sunscreen on. The point of the story: I was still on time, just slightly more dehydrated.
My friend Hanna (not the version that rhymes with banana, the more European version), whom I became friends with while in Spanish class in Cusco, Peru, was coming for a quick visit from New York, where she grew up (state of NY) and now lives (the city NY). We became fast friends over a love of food (I was always eating a snack in Spanish class to stay awake) and have kept in touch over the last two years via memes that reference overeating, food > everything else, or anything that even remotely mentions food. If you have read any previous blog posts, you may have picked up on that I like food a bit. I know I am pretty subtle about it so in case you missed, now you will not be surprised that one of the overarching themes over the next two posts is food… yet again. I tend to surround myself with people who feel the same way I do about food so we can share the enjoyment together. Hanna is definitely one of those people.
Alright, so I found Hanna in the airport, treated her to a gevulde koek, and we hopped on a train to meet my mom’s lovely friend Nicole, who very graciously let us stay with her and her family in their beautiful, recently designated a national historical home just outside Amsterdam. Once we dropped our bags off, Nicole was kind enough to drive us to the city so we could begin our adventures. We slowly wandered through de 9 straatjes (9 little streets) before walking past the Anne Frank house (did not go in though, its a long wait for a short wander) and into the Jordaan district. Here we began crossing things off the cheesy tourist list with the classic bridge, canal and bike photo. We then met up with a Dutch friend of mine, Thijs (pronounced like thai-s for all of you English speakers), who studied for a year at SFU with my brother and I and now had returned to finish his studies in Amsterdam. He was nice enough to let Hanna crash at his place Saturday night as I was leaving to Rotterdam Saturday morning (explained shortly I promise, along with the runners).
It was great to see Thijs again, as it had been a few years and it was super funny to see how much we both have changed. He is perhaps going to pursue an honours in Communication Science and actually studies, whereas while in Vancouver he spent a little less time studying and more time, well… not studying. Now I am enjoying the latter in the Netherlands, especially compared to the eat, breathe, sleep and study mentality I had in second year when Thijs first got to know me. With Thijs, we continued down the checklist, walking through the red light district, past the Dam Square and the billions of tourists, the Bijenkorf toilet, and eating a zakje friet with lots and lots of mayo. Side note: the toilet is not really a tourist hot spot but a nice hack if you need to pee and do not want to pay for the toilet, as in the norm throughout the Netherlands. We then bid Thijs farewell as he had dinner plans with friends and we continued on with Hanna’s introduction to Dutch cuisine.
We wandered through the streets from the Dam to Museum Square to see the famous I (Am)sterdam sign, but first we stopped at a local Amsterdamse cafe known as the Hans en Grietje (Hansel and Gretel) for a beer and bitterballen. I took Hanna to this specific one because well I had been there before with mom and dad, it is right around the corner from the sign and Hanna’s nickname is Hans. We enjoyed the last few rays of sunshine on the terrace (first official terrace day in Amsterdam, yay for spring!) before the clouds rolled in. Thankfully, we had the beer and bitterballen to warm us up before we continued on to the sign. Two more things off the list and once we finished our mini-photoshoot, a third. Now, you might think that we were smart and decided to take a break from snacking to save room for dinner as it was now almost 6:30 pm and we had already consumed fries, bitterballen and beer. Ya not a chance. Next on the list: freshly made stroopwafels from van Wonderen Stroopwafels. You can get these at pretty much any market in Amsterdam but Hanna saw this place on instagram so it was on the list of places to go. I must say, the only disappointment either of us felt was because of our decision to share a medium-sized wafel. Two larges probably would have been devoured just as quickly. Chocolate dipped with hazelnut crumbs. Delicious.
We have now reached 7:30 so we begin the search for dinner. Our initial thought was a nice salad place since we had pretty much just ate an entire day worth of calories in about three hours. Where did we end up? At Piet de Leeuw, a typical Amsterdamse restaurant, with a plate of chicken satay covered in rich peanut sauce, fries and a salad in front of us. Before you judge, remember there was a salad, we shared it, and even skipped dessert (healthy only if you ignore the fact that we had dessert before dinner). Finally, we had finished eating, sorry I mean exploring, for the day and took the bus back to Nicole’s. We chatted with Nicole and her two sons briefly before going to bed with full stomachs and tired legs. I mean we had walked about 16 km by the end of day, so we worked off our stroopwafel at least.
Time for a quick tangent. In the last blog mentioned how I enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in a double bed but now I am going to quickly mention how amazing the duvet was in Kiki’s (Nicole’s daughter, away studying in the USA) room was. I felt as though I was tucked in a warm, cozy, not wet cloud and honestly never wanted to leave. Goose feather down duvet is now added to my wedding registry along with the Vitamix and Le Cresuet everything. My wedding registry is also known as the list of things I will purchase for myself down the road when I no longer spend money on tuition. Not sure which will come first – graduation or fiancee with rich family – odds are about 50/50 right now.
Tangent over. We did manage to get out of bed, despite the heavenly duvet trapping us, and continuing with our daily activity of eating. Nicole had prepared a wonderful Dutch breakfast spread and Hanna and I were not ones to be peckish. After breakfast, Hanna headed to Thijs’s and I was dropped off at the train station to head to Rotterdam. I was off to go stay with some “new” family, who are”new” in the sense that I had never met them before, and so I was super excited to continue with creating and strengthening family bonds. I was also heading to Rotterdam to run the 1/4 marathon taking place the following day, thus I needed those running shoes because 10.5 km in Converse was definitely not happening. It was actually because of the race that I had reached out to my mom’s cousin (Han) and he ended up inviting me to stay at his home and was going to run the full marathon for the 12th time so he could show me the ropes.
Upon arrival in Rotterdam, Han took me to the Marathon Expo to pick up my number and then we detoured a bit through the city to get to the metro station before heading to his place just outside the centre. I was super grateful to have a veteran by my side since the Expo was busy and a little bit insane. The nerves were definitely starting to kick in as I began to feel the buzz in the atmosphere and was officially holding my number. Had I trained enough? Did I prepare properly? Would I crash and burn? Did I feel an injury coming on? The self-doubt was soon pushed aside as I headed into Han’s home to meet his family.
Growing up in Chilliwack, a lot of my close friends were very tight with their cousins, their second cousins and even beyond that. I, on the other hand, was as close to my cousins as you can be growing up a continent and ocean away from each other (closer than some might expect though) and did not know any second cousins until I was 16 when we visited my dad’s cousins and their families in England but I have not seen them since that 4 hour visit. Han has two children, Jasper and Eline, around my age so I was super excited to meet them and honestly, a bit nervous too. I mean I was not expecting to be best friends with them instantly but sometimes there are people you just click with and others where all you can talk about is the weather. I was hoping it would turn out somewhat closer to the former than the latter but all my years in customer service has honed my skills in the art of discussing the weather. Thankfully, I did not need to use it apart from the normal Dutch commentaining (comment that is a sort complaint) of how nice it is or how terrible it is. Han, his wife and children are wonderful and the short but sweet visit was filled with lots of laughs.
Eline was not yet home but before Jasper knew it he was roped into making me lunch and taking me out that evening with him and his friends to this rooftop bar thing. The poor guy also nearly got dragged into biking with Han and I to the Kinderdijk that afternoon but instead decided to study. I was once again treated to a bike ride through picturesque Dutch landscape, this time along the outskirts of Rotterdam, crossing over with a mini-ferry, known as a pondje, to the other side of the river. We also managed to avoid hitting any tourists as we biked through the Kinderdijk and back through the centre. Trust me, there were a few close calls with some elderly Italians that nearly walked off a bus and into us. When we returned home, Eline was there and we all sat on the patio soaking up the last of the evening sun before a very unique but still yummy dinner combination.
Every Saturday, Han and his family eat french fries, frikandel and kroketten that they fry themselves at home. This makes it healthier… supposedly. I say that too when I make homemade brownies with a cup of sugar and tons of chocolate. It is the classic “it is homemade so it is healthier” trick, fools no one but you did work to make it so it balances out and you at least know a bit more about where it is coming from. Anyways, those foods together is not unique but Han also always eats pasta before he runs a marathon so he and I had pasta paired with the food mentioned above. I stuck to mainly pasta but had to help myself to a few french fries of course, I mean I am Dutch after all. Cannot just eat mayo plain, that is a little too weird. Strange combination aside, dinner was super gezellig (if you do not know what this means by now, I am sorry, but now it is up to you to google on your own). Although I had only just met the Claerhoudts, I immediately felt like I was with family that I had known for years. Little moments like this were exactly what I was hoping for when I began thinking about an exchange in the Netherlands years ago, moments where I went beyond strengthening the bond I have with those I already know here and actually get to form new ones.
Well eventually Jasper had enough of me chatting up a storm (something I may or may not get from my parents) and figured it was time for us to start heading out. Yes, I, Kirsten Hinlopen, went out after 9 pm the night before I had an obligation. I am slowly adjusting to the Dutch schedule it seems. I actually even had a beer. Wild. We first went for a drink somewhere in the centre on the water, taking advantage of the warm night and then headed to a rooftop bar where we met up with a few of Jasper’s friends. Turns out, my second cousin is pretty cool and we got along really well. I think he is already planning his trip to Vancouver, with or without the rest of the family is to be determined. Despite the fact that I was atop a roof with a view over Rotterdam and enjoying engaging Dutch youth conversations, I did make the decision to try and get home by 1 am to maybe sleep a bit before the 7:30 am wake up. This decision did result in once again running for transportation, however this time Jasper and his friend joined, the sprint was a little longer and we missed it. Oh well, just a warm up for the run later that morning.
It did not really matter too much anyways because I could not sleep well due to nerves before the race. All the self-doubt from this afternoon came back and this also triggered the whole checking how much sleep you’ll get if you fall asleep now but you begin to stress about the lack of sleep so you cannot sleep and the vicious cycle repeats. At that point 7:30 am rolls around and there is nothing more I can do because it is officially time to head off to my first running “race.” I use the term race lightly because honestly I was not really racing, just there to enjoy the experience but I was surrounded by thousands of people so it was not just a regular run. The streets were already packed as Han and I walked from the metro to the Hilton, where his running club had rented a room for the day as a sort of stand-in change room idea. They generously let me crash the pre-party and I could also use the room later to shower before heading back to Amsterdam to pick up Hanna. Not that I would need it… I never sweat.
I started earlier than all the marathon runners so I headed off to the start line by myself, which, honestly, was totally okay with me. I enjoy running by myself as it is a nice mediation/reflection time and the fact that I was surrounded by thousands of strangers did not change that because, well, they were strangers. Do not get me wrong, I love running with a buddy once in while but I only have a limited amount of oxygen and sometimes I do not have enough to simultaneously talk, breath regularly and go up a set of stairs, let alone out go for a run. I was at the back of the second wave so it was about 9:45 am by the time I crossed the start line and just after 10:45 am, and 10.5 km later, I crossed the finish line. I absolutely loved it. Although there were a lot of people running, there was still enough space to stick to your own pace and the atmosphere was super fun. Lots of people just out for a run, music playing all along the course, and strangers in the crowd cheering you on. Turns out, Jasper and Dorine (Han’s wife) had come out to watch me but I, being rather in the zone and also unaware I had fans, completely missed them. Jasper did manage to snap some pictures of me in secret so I guess you could say I had some paparazzi, no big deal. I was also really happy with my time and now know that I can push myself a bit more. Definitely looking forward to the next race!!
I met up with Jasper and Dorine at the finish, before quickly showering in the luxurious hotel waterfall shower and grabbing a lunch while we waited for Han to reach the homestretch of the marathon. It blows my mind that people can run these sub three minute km pace times while I cannot even keep that pace up for a single km. Watching all these runners is almost comical; some people look like they can go for another 42 km while others look like they have gone to hell and back to make it this far. Han came down the homestretch after about three hours and twentyish minutes, looking somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. After, we met up with him back at the hotel and discussed the race a bit before I had to begin the long trek to pick up Hanna and head back home to Maastricht. Hanna and I were heading to Lisbon on Monday so it was time to do some laundry and repack. Teribble, I know. It only took three and a half hours and three transfers to get home because they were working on the train tracks, instead of the usual two and a half hours and one transfer but it was 23 degrees, sunny and I had a wonderful nap on the train so it could have been worse. We also treated ourselves to shoarma and loads of garlic sauce for dinner after the long journey.
The weekend began with catching up with old friends, transitioned into meeting new people, who happened to be family, but as I said farewell to them I noticed they too felt like old friends already. Time is a funny thing; it flies by but also tricks you into thinking yesterday was forever ago. However, it is hard to believe I have officially been away from BC for four months now. This sounds like a long time but it feels like I all did was blink. On the other hand, I also have the feeling that I have lived in the Netherlands for years. I still remember my friend Cecilia and I discussing the same concept while we were volunteering in Peru. We compared life to when you are a kid and time seemed to drag on forever, especially times like the last week of summer vacation or Christmas Eve. I wonder when time moves on from crawling and skips straight to flying… I have a feeling probably around the same time we start having to spend our own money. Please do not think that this conclusion is based on any scientific research. A cheesy internet quote was the source of inspiration and I will let you spend the next few days pondering over it as I write about my adventures in Lisbon, Portugal. No promises but I think it may feature some food, wine and good company.