paindecampagne

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Archive for the tag “the Netherlands”

The Art and Addiction of Escape: Explaining the Explorer

The following reflection is written by my cousin, Wesley Troost, of Kampen, the Netherlands. He grew up on a dairy farm but began guiding outdoor adventures and participating in extreme sports when he was 17. While searching for what this means professionally, Wesley has traveled extensively as a guide, explorer, and soul-searcher, including a trip around the world in 2010-2011. His greatest victories range from graduating from a year of schooling on personal growth to jumping off a 59-foot cliff into the Vorderer Gosausee, a lake in Austria. Challenges yet to accomplish include solo skydiving and creating a successful company of his own.

Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara, Nepal

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Isn’t it strange how we all fight almost day and night for a secure, settled life but still admire a traveler?

I used to work as an outdoor sports instructor for months in a row. But I knew that I loved, and still love, the thrill of excitement and the satisfaction of feeling alive after completing an awesome trip. This motivated me to search for more mountains and more adventures. As the Netherlands doesn’t have any mountains at all, it forced me to travel. Not a bad thing, you could say. And it wasn’t!

For at least five years in row, I have spent more nights in a tent then I’ve spent at home. On a good night, I’d have a real roof over my head; on other nights, the stars were my roof. But most of the time a couple of framed poles and a sheet of fabric were what I called my home. And every day was a new adventure. I could go on and on about all the stories, but that’s not my point today (although sometimes it is).

Wesley on a night train through India (2010-2011)

Night train through India

The adventures triggered me to keep going and keep searching. And I kept on learning, exploring, laughing, and making friends. But in between all of this I longed for a warm shower in a warm bathroom! I longed for a couch that I could call my couch where I could rest my head, for food that I didn’t have yesterday or the day before, for a closet that I could open with all of my clothes in it, for a heater that could be turned up or down according to my will, for chocolate sprinkles on fresh Dutch bread, for all the friends I left behind, for a house that I could call home.

A couple of years ago I decided to travel the world. After my work season finished in Europe, I packed a bag with the goal of seeing as many countries as I had dreamed of before the next work season would start. I kept a blog about all the great adventures and the beautiful landscapes. Nepal, India, Thailand, New Zealand… I have never felt more alive. If you have ever taken the gamble of going wherever you felt like going — without a plan, without limits — you too know the addiction of freedom. It doesn’t stop until time or money runs out.

People admire the courage. The courage to put your will ahead of the risks.

Jodhpur, India (the blue city) (2010-2011)

Jodhpur, India, the Blue City

But only three weeks into my trip I found myself stunned. It was at a busy train station in Varanassi, India, where I watched backpackers leaving the station, one after the other. Every single one of them held a worried gaze in their searching eyes. Overwhelmed by the culture and the question, now what? As if they had all forgotten why they left their steady homes and everything they had known to live among the complete opposite. Their eyes stunned me with the question: Why had I?

The question left me with only answers that didn’t satisfy. Not only for that day or that month but for a couple of years. Until now.

Agra, India; home of the Taj Mahal (2010-2011)

Agra, India, home of the Taj Mahal

I haven’t traveled a lot lately. But if my bank account will allow me to, I’ll be gone to discover and explore the many more countries that I dream of. Why? To get a break from life. To escape from the pressure of every day. A day in Western culture causes a human more struggle then finding food, shelter, and happiness in a place where we are total strangers. Let me rephrase that: at times I would rather leave my culture, friends, family, and all the comforts of my home to release myself from the world that I wake up to every morning. Sounds a bit alarming, doesn’t it? But it’s the world we created by ourselves. We have so many balls in the air that we sometimes feel like running away for them not to come down on us.

That is why sometimes I choose cold showers. I choose hiking while my feet hurt. For food that is so spicy that it hurts going in as well as going out. For trusting people I have just met. For traveling 33 hours non-stop. For a bed so hard an elephant couldn’t dent it. While in the meantime I enjoy the world’s most beautiful sunsets. I enjoy nature’s prettiest sceneries and all the thrilling activities it can provide. I enjoy all the cultures. All the people and the stories they carry. I enjoy the pure freedom of deciding whatever I want to do the next day. And I enjoy learning more than any other time of my life. With a searching gaze in my eyes.

Varanassi, India

Varanassi, India

30×30: Lesson 19: Family comes first

Over the summer I visited my family in the Netherlands after having helped lead a six-week study abroad program in Nantes, France. The night before my flight home, my aunt Colleen and I walked to a local tennis club to sip wine and watch my uncle play doubles. Afterwards, we crowded around a table with the tennis partners, neighbors, and friends, and one woman’s smiling eyes shifted from my face to Colleen’s face and back to mine.

She turned to Colleen said something like this: “Ze is zeker je nichtje.” She is definitely your niece.

I understood and smiled. “Ja,” I said. Yes because the woman was right; but also yes because, due to my family, I can be a million miles away from where I belong and still find a place that is home.

Collen and I, 2008

Colleen and I in France, 2008

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I am humbled by the loyalty of my family, especially when traveling. Knit by something more than a shared dairy farm, my family challenges one another, begs to differ, and then opens its arms anyway.

Countless times have I stepped off a European train into the waiting hug of a cousin I haven’t seen in years. In August 2009, my siblings, Andrea and Jordan, and I took the train from Harrisburg to Philadelphia just to sip coffee, browse markets, and gab like crazy. A few months ago, my aunt Dena invited me to attend an information session on Foreign Service careers in Washington, D.C.; we sat together, asked each other questions, and discussed everything later with my uncle Floyd over a home-cooked dinner. Just yesterday I just received a text from my cousin, Laura, who asked if she could stop in Pittsburgh on her way back from Wisconsin.

My heart resonates when I am with family far from home.

If family is loyalty, family is also priority, graciousness, and forgiveness. Family is learning from your mistakes, apologizing, and being there when you are needed anyway. Family is where you’ve come from and being open to where you’re going. Family is learning to accept love as much as it is learning to give it. Family is a choice — but it can be the most beautiful one.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

28 years abroad: All about…the Netherlands {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by my aunt Colleen Savelkouls, who was born in Pennsylvania and has resided in the Netherlands since 1984. Staying at Colleen’s house in the Netherlands has been the way I’ve slept off jetlag for every single trip I have taken to Europe since 2000. Still strong to her Pennsylvanian roots — and accustomed to welcoming family visitors of all ages — Colleen is a great reference for explaining Dutch culture to Americans and expressing what she loves about both countries.

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As an elementary school child growing up in central Pennsylvania, I still remember an older Dutch woman coming to talk about Holland. All I remember was her talking about wooden shoes and windmills. After all, isn’t that what most Americans think about when they try to picture Holland today — windmills, wooden shoes, and maybe tulips?

But having lived half my life in Pennsylvania and the other half in Holland, I know that there are many misconceptions that exist. First of all, Holland Dutch and Pennsylvania Dutch are not the same. The latter derives itself from the German immigrants who moved to Pennsylvania and introduced themselves with their “Deutsch” language. Second, most stories about Holland that exist in the U.S. are not necessarily about modern Holland, but the Holland that existed during or after World War II. This was the case with the older Dutch lady that I met as a child, who had left Holland to follow her love, an American soldier. Third, the country’s official name is the Netherlands. North and South Holland are actually provinces of the Netherlands from which ships used to sail with spices and Delft porcelain to sell around the world.

Here are a few differences that I have compiled to explain modern Holland, as well as the trials of living an immigrant life.

Learning languages, learning cultures. One month after receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree in 1984, I followed love to Holland. I believed I could conquer the many cultural differences and was willing to try. I was accepted easily by the Dutch, as most people my age learn English at school. Languages abound in Holland: Dutch students begin learning English around 5th or 6th grade, and in high school, they study Dutch, English, and have at least two years of both French and German. (Students going to college often also study Latin and Greek, for a total of six languages at a time.)

However, for me to learn Dutch at age 22 proved to be more difficult than I had thought. While I am now fluent after 28 years of living in Holland, I still cannot write a letter without asking someone to check my spelling. I now have more compassion for immigrants than I once did, especially a husband and wife team who are trying to learn another language as adults. My Dutch husband can correct my writing, but, as it often does with family immigrants, it often lands on the children’s shoulders to translate. After learning Dutch, I was also surprised to find that my language skills would continue to disable me in a job. I have a university level of thinking on how to approach a job, but my language skills have decreased how I can work. I can think and speak myself into a management level, but especially at the beginning, I could not write at a management level. This was limiting and, at times, very frustrating.

Old windmill near Waspik, the Netherlands, 2010

Old windmill near Waspik, the Netherlands, June 2010

Low skies and cloudy days. The first years of living in Holland, I was always asked where I was from, what I missed most about the U.S., and what was the most difficult about living abroad. My first answer was obviously learning Dutch, but the second answer — what I missed — was the mountains. Holland is extremely flat. I also did not expect to be so affected by how far north in the hemisphere Holland is. Holland is as far north as Alaska’s most southern islands, meaning that you get short days in the winter and long days in the summer (in June the sun sets at 10 PM). Due to the Atlantic Ocean, Holland has a sea climate with rain and low clouds. All together, the winters are usually cloudy, rainy, and have only 7 to 8 hours of light! If we get snow, it usually melts fairly fast. In winters, I yearn for sunshine, although I am grateful that neither summers nor winters in Holland are extremely hot or extremely cold. I tease the Dutch that they only have spring and autumn instead of four seasons.

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Sunny view from the bell tower of Oude Kerk, Delft, the Netherlands, 2010

Breaking bread and drinking coffee — together. Another aspect that I had to get used to in Holland was the coffee breaks and the eating of so much bread. The average Dutch individual — blue-collar and white-collar — eat an open slice of bread or sandwich for breakfast, have a 15-minute coffee break coffee sometime between 9 and 10 AM, eat a sandwich for lunch, have 15 minutes for coffee or tea sometime between 3 and 4 PM, eat supper, and have coffee or tea again around 8 PM. In the beginning, I thought that, with so many breaks, I could never get any work done! Now, I have come to love this time. Visitors usually come to visit for coffee or tea instead of a meal; and they usually only accept one or two cookies when sweets are offered. Taking more is considered greedy. The Dutch also have the most delicious (and healthy) bread I have ever tasted, and the aroma of Dutch coffee is phenomenal! I am addicted! Coffee time is also a time to discuss how your day has gone and to plan the next few hours. This must be why Hollanders are known to be good managers!

In addition to bread, the Dutch export excellent cheese. Delft, the Netherlands, 2010

In addition to bread, the Dutch export excellent cheese. Central Market, Delft, the Netherlands, 2010

Windmills and wooden shoes?  I would assume that maybe only 1% of the Dutch still wear wooden shoes on a farm or around the house to keep their feet dry. In contrast, the Dutch are very fashion-minded and follow the latest styles. Amsterdam is getting world-wide recognition for designs and models. Also, while there are still some old wooden windmills existing, many are not in use. Instead, there are a few provinces, especially Flevoland, filled with modern 80-yard-high windmills. This tells you how windy it can get on some days! Don’t try to keep your hair neat!

Not exactly fashion-conscious, supporting the Dutch "football" team in the World Cup. Rotterdam, 2010

Not exactly fashion-conscious, supporting the Dutch “football” team in the World Cup. Rotterdam, 2010

All in all, I have come to love Holland. I would probably have culture shock if I permanently returned to the U.S. after 28 years abroad. In Holland, I don’t have to worry about the violence of guns, and I strongly recommend the Dutch multiple political party system instead of a two-party system that divides the nation. The news in Holland is more international, whereas in the U.S. the media seems to focus just on America’s own problems. There are truly good and bad things in every country, no matter where you live.

Lancaster company makes Dutch stroopwafel cookies

Sroopwafels

Chocolate-dipped stroopwafel

Stroopwafels are traditional Dutch cookies that are comprised of light syrup pressed between two pie-crust thin, slightly-spiced waffles (the name literally named “syrup waffle”).  I’m familiar with this cookie because my aunt Colleen brings packs of them with each visit home to Shippensburg from the Netherlands (they’re somewhat of a family obsession), and when I visited Europe with my brother Chris when I was 15, we ate a palm-sized stroopwafel hot off a cast-iron griddle in an open-air Dutch market.

I was ecstatic when I discovered Stroopies, a Lancaster-based company that caught onto the trend of stroopwafels in America and now makes their version of the famed Dutch cookie. Here, you can buy two kinds of stroopwafels — either traditional (plain) or dipped with an American-sized portion of decadent dark chocolate. (My Dutch family may never let me visit again if I admit this, but I always buy the one with the chocolate.)

To eat a stroopwafel, tradition mandates that you first rest the cookie on the top of a hot cup of koffee or thee (tea) for a few seconds to gently heat the cookie and the syrup, as shown in the photo above.  After heating, the syrup loosens along with the cookie’s flavors of caramel, hazelnut, and cinnamon.  In the case of the chocolate-dipped stroopwafel, the deep, slightly-warmed chocolate melts into a gooey mess that complements the cookie’s spice.

I love stroopwafels because they encompass what I appreciate about Holland: they are cookies that you’re meant to take time eating. My Dutch uncle, as hard-working as my father, owns a business and works in a carpenter’s shop at his home, but he never fails to come inside mid-morning and mid-afternoon for a cup of coffee, a bit of conversation, and occasionally a slice of cake.  Similarly, it seems to me that you can’t eat a stroopwafel on the run; you have to sit down with it, wait for the coffee to be brewed, and allowed the cookie to awaken.

I buy my stroopwafels individually or in packs each time I visit Folklore Coffee & Company in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, but Stroopies are also available from a variety of local cafes and businesses including Groff’s Candies, Lancaster, and the Hershey Lodge, Hershey.

Stroopies have been profiled and approved by the Netherlands-America Association of Delaware Valley, Inc. in their spring 2012 newsletter, De Brug.

Folklore Coffee & Company
1 North Market Street
Elizabethtown, PA 17022

Groff’s Candies
3587 Blue Lock Road
Lancaster, PA 17603

Hershey Lodge
325 University Drive
Hershey, PA 17033

Friday Photo: Bruges and the Belgian Friterie

Belgium, February 2008

I was fifteen when I first tasted it: French fries “drowned in” mayonnaise, as explained by Vincent Vega in the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.  It was a Sunday afternoon in Holland in July 2000; my brother Chris and I were visiting my three cousins, and my uncle allowed us to watch TV while munching on our lunch of oven-baked fries and slim finger-length sausages.  My cousins eagerly dipped their food into mayonnaise that they’d squeezed from a tube, and I tried it, too — the greasy, salty fries pleasantly warming the sweet mayo into an altogether-new taste sensation.

Little did I know that years later, I’d be back in Europe in 2008, sharing the double-fried fries with my boyfriend from a paper cone on the street of Bruges, Belgium, as mentioned Friday, February 24 in the New York Times.  This time, however, I was more adventurous, choosing the curry sauce, the mayo and relish, and pickles on the side.  I love the picture above not just because the shopkeeper of this Belgian friterie is … er … clearly gearing up to make our order; I love the photo for its imagery.  The colorful array of French fry condiments are in large glass jars in the case next to raw meat patties, pre-rolled for frying; on the left side of the case is the line-up of cold drinks including Jupiler beer.  The offerings of sandwiches and fried fricadelles are written in Dutch on the back wall.

While Dutch and Belgian food can be elegant, this photo shows another side of Europe — the one that is not built up by our imagination into something too pretentious to handle.

LOCAL FOOD RECOMMENDATION:
Cafe Bruges
16 North Pitt Street
Carlisle, PA 17013

(717) 960-0223

Sun–Thu 11:30am–9:30pm
Fri–Sat 11:30am–10:30pm

Friday Photo: Markets Around the World

I am fascinated by stores: sparkling cheap jewelry made to look expensive only in bright lighting, polished plates in geometric shapes, the shelves of spices in the baking aisle, the spines of new books.  I adore entering a Sheetz and twirling amid the Twix bars to my right, and suddenly being distracted by the Chex Mix to my left then realizing that I could buy any flavor of Red Bull that I want.  I don’t even know if Red Bull has flavors, but it doesn’t matter!  It’s all within reach!  Look at the colors!!  Everything’s possible!!!

On this Black Friday, it would seem appropriate to comment that I’m an ideal shopper, except for the fact that I only love looking at stores, not buying the products within them.  In my opinion, a group of people can be best understood through the act of buying and selling, because this action discloses a culture’s needs and priorities, perceived or otherwise.  In Chile, stores selling similar products are located in the same area of the city — a mall of hair salons, an alley of hot dog vendors, a street of antiques — to increase efficiency.  In France, bakeries open early because fresh bread is bought almost daily. In Italy, I’ve heard that it’s bad luck for a street vendor to lose his first sale of the day, so he’s often willing to negotiate for a lower price.  In Trinidad, boiled corn, still in the husk, is available on the side of the highways — you just veer off on the shoulder and roll down your window.  When buying and selling, convenience, need, creativity, and want all come into play.

On Black Friday in 2007, I was stuck on a crowded train between Luxembourg City and Brussels with a woman who was on the phone directing a jewelry purchase in New York.  Today, however, in honor of my friend Kara who posted a similar set of photos on her blog, I post a few photos of markets around the world, where what’s on sale reflects somehow we somehow all live through our consumerism — for better or for worse.

buying breadfruit in Trinidad

shopping district in Lille, France

cheese market in the Netherlands

calves for sale at the Greencastle Livestock Market in Greencastle, Pennsylvania

buying morning newspapers in Santiago, Chile

Friday Photo: Toothpaste Mustard

Let’s assume that you don’t speak German, or at the very least, speak it fluently.  Then you would be as surprised as I was last week whenever I saw two brightly-colored tubes on my kitchen table and was told that they were not filled with toothpaste.  The mind spins:

“Süßer senf”: a phrase intended to help clear the nose of blockage during a cold?  “Mittelscharfer senf”: a relation to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt?

No matter — a Google translator tells me one of these is a Bavarian sweet mustard; the other “medium-hot mustard.”

Just squeeze from the bottom up and don’t mistake your toothbrush for a hot dog.  What genius!

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