Am I really writing this? Has the year gone by this fast? Here I am, 8 days left in the Netherlands, wondering where all that time went. First getting here, it seemed like ten months were going to be a lifetime... but all that changed when I actually lived those months, woke up every morning only to suddenly find that another day had gone by. I was told hundreds of time how fast time goes, how you have to make the most of everything coming your way, and yet I'm still amazed at how quickly all of this has happened.
Today was my last day at Twickel, my school here. I can't say I was heartbroken, there were some rocky moments in there I wasn't particularly sad to end. However, in saying goodbye to my classmates, I found myself getting hugs and questions and email addresses for people I thought hadn't actually noticed my being there. I realized (over the course of this year, but overwhelmingly so today) that you always have more friends than you think... you're just usually too wrapped up in your life to notice. I wish more than anything that I had known that earlier, so I could have gotten to know more people and integrated a little more. And to be honest, ten months at Twickel taught me far more about myself and about others than ten freaking YEARS of normal school. There is definitely something to be said for tough love. I learned a language completely through trial and error, was met head-on with my biggest flaws and had to figure out how to deal with them, and now know that nothing you do happens without consequences for yourself, and others. It's a little alarming to see how much I thought I knew going into this! If anything at all, the most valuable thing I've learned that you are never, ever completely right. There are many facets to life, and to people, and to right and wrong and our job as humans is just to explore them. It doesn't matter where you are in the world, what language you speak, your background. We may be born alone and die alone, and figure things out by ourselves - but as little as we might like it, we're all connected beyond our comprehension.
On a less philosophical note, here's what I've been up to in May! It was a fantastic month - lots of sun, the world's best birthday present, and lots of tulips. So many tulips. You don't even know.
My host parents know me really, really well. And they're amazing. Which must be why that one day, after getting the mail, Paula presented me with an envelope...
Paula: This is for you. Gefeliciteerd!
Me: It's... not my birthday. But thanks?
Paula: Well, what we wanted to give you had to be given early. So.
Henri: (bounces on his heels)
Me: ... a Pinkpop ticket?
...And then I passed out and they had to resuscitate me with CPR.
...Not really. But close.
You see, Pinkpop (so named because it falls around Pinksteren, or Pentecost) is the biggest music festival in Holland. This was the 41st year, and it is always awesome. I had vaguely planned to go earlier this year, but scrapped those plans when I saw ticket prices. I regretted it when I saw the Sunday lineup: The Maccabees, Kate Nash, Yeasayer, Florence + the Machine, Pixies, Gogol Bordello, The Prodigy... Henry and Paula were angels and gave me what was without question, one of the best weekends of all time. They even called up my good friend Ivy, a crazy-wonderful Kiwi whose music tastes compliment my own, so that we could go together - and what an amazing time we had!
I spent the 29th and 30th with Ivy in Helmond, where she lives, and in Langraaf, at Pinkpop. All the bands were fantastic, there were tons of people but no uncomfortable crowds or shoving, and the sun even came out for Pixies in the evening. We danced and sang and, in the case of Florence Welch with her eponymous band, stood in awe. If you click on one of those above links, click on hers. I usually hesitate at the term life-changing... but if music can change you, seeing her sing and be amazing up on stage definitely did. Plus, she's got the most brilliant red locks you've ever seen. What could be better?
(not my photo, my camera was so awed it ran out of battery)
It's springtime in Holland, and the tulips are in bloom! I went with Lauren, her host mom Cecille and sister Marleen to the Keukenhof, a famous Dutch garden park filled with tulips, daffodils, and myriad other flora. We had a lovely day wandering through flower beds filled with tulips of every color and shape. It was almost like the garden in Alice in Wonderland...
Concerts are awesome. The only thing better than a concert is a bunch of concerts together, when you have so many choices that you have to run from one to another to try and soak up as much live music by your favorite artists as you possibly can - which is why music festivals are so amazing!
My friend and fellow exchanger Caitlin Stacy hails from Ashland, Oregon. The Pacific Northwest is not all we have in common - she has great taste in music, and we had been keeping on the lookout for good concerts all year. When we found out that some our favorite bands - Noah and the Whale, Band of Horses, Mumford and Sons, and Johnny Flynn were all playing at the same festival in Rotterdam... well, it was a match made in rock n' roll heaven and there was no way we were going to miss it.
Conveniently, Caitlin lives in Alphen aan de Rijn, which is just a half-hour train ride from Rotterdam, so I spent the weekend with her and her lovely host parents. It was the first nice weekend of spring and we sat in the garden for over three hours, in awe of the sunshine and the music-filled weekend ahead of us. Friday night bill: Johnny Flynn and Mumford and Sons. Johnny Flynn is a singer, poet and Shakespearean actor from England, and one of my favorite musicians... so the chance to see him only four days after I saw his former tour mate and other favorite musician Laura Marling was just cosmic.
That evening was definitely an adventure for the ages! Rotterdam isn't the easiest city to navigate, and armed with a poor map and the advice of a few (un)helpful citizens we managed to get very very lost and late for Johnny's set, eventually ending up across the street from a strip club before deciding we were probably not in the right neighborhood. Finally, after sprinting over four city blocks, we managed to get to the right venue... where we were told we had to go over to the office and exchange our tickets for wristbands before being let in. so we sprinted more, over to the office, waited in line for the most excruciating ten minutes of my existence (not an exaggeration) and ran back. sweating and breathing hard, we stepped into RoTown, a small bar with a wooden floor and raised stage. there were quite a few people there, but it wasn't so packed that we couldn't elbow our way to the front. which we did. we had deserved it, after all! and all that just to catch the last twenty minutes of his set was totally worth it.
The next evening went a lot smoother, what with us knowing where to go and what to do. we were right in front for Noah and the Whale, meeting up with another AFSer, Ivy, and her friend. Noah and the Whale are also British, and Laura Marling used to play with them. Everything is connected...
We also saw Band of Horses, a fantastic Seattle band whose live show was really energetic and fun. Ben Bridwell, the lead singer, was grinning and jumping around, and everyone on stage looked like they were having at least a good a time as the audience. One of the best, unexpected benefits of this year has been the access to great concerts - I have another music festival to look forward to at the end of the month! Pinkpop is the biggest music festival in the Netherlands, and as an early birthday present Henri and Paula gave me a ticket for Sunday the 30th - the lineup includes Kate Nash, Florence & the Machine (!!), Pixies (!!!) among many others... pure heaven. I can't wait!
(The padlocks on the lamp post above have the names of couples written on them. Lovers lock their names onto chains and lampposts all over the city.)
When it comes to field trips, Europe has America completely busted. Along with my art class, I spent a week in Rome - wandering, taking pictures, and speaking a strange flow of Dutch, Spanish and English. Another exchange student in my school, Valeria, also came along. She's from a different program (Youth for Understanding) and comes from Ecuador, so she helped me brush up on my totally abandoned Spanish. Thinking in two languages is hard, but three is ridiculous - I have a lot of respect for kids who go on exchange to learn their third or fourth language!
The trip was fantastic, especially the first three days; We had flawless weather, in spite of the weathermens' claims of wind and rain. All that showed up on day four, when we went to the Vatican- it was like being in a hurricane! Luckily the rest of the week was milder, and we donned our zonnebril/sunglasses once again. The teachers kept us on our toes - we crossed the city time and again, past monuments, through ruins, in one cathedral door and out another. Our feet felt crippled by the end of the day, but everyone managed to walk to a little cafe for dinner every evening, a different one nearly every night. Pizza, pasta, more pasta, lots of meat... typical Italian fare. I felt no guilt eating so richly every night, with the amount of walking we were doing. Our rooms were on the fourth floor of our hotel, with eight flights of stairs leading up to them!
It really was an amazing week in all respects - I made a lot of new friends, got to see a lot of little corners of a hugely famous city, and of course see so many works of art and achitecture that I've seen pictures of all my life.
In contrast with January, February was peaceful. Truth be told, I didn't do much - the weather was still cold and dark, and all I really wanted to do was curl up with a blanket, a book and my ipod. I did get out a little bit - I visited some friends in the south, and my friend Joss came up for a weekend baking extravaganza. We made blueberry pancakes, oatmeal raisin cookies, and to top it off, a fantastic vegan chocolate cake with decidedly non-vegan icing.
So! Quite a lot has happened since my last post... in January... sorry everyone, I'll try to post more!
The long winter is finally over... spring has sprung in Overijssel! There's a warm breeze, daffodils are sending up shoots, and the grass is green again. I'm laughing at my poor Alaskan fellows with their meter of snow. So what if you all got snows days, for the first time in decades, because I'm wearing sunglasses and a hoodie. Thpp.
It's definitely been a busy winter/spring - a ski trip to France with my host aunt and uncle, passing my big Dutch test from AFS (yess) and a school trip to Rome just the week before last.
Juggling events has never been a skill of mine but I've survived thus far! Today is actually my 7 month mark, so I've been reflecting on how much I've done this year... I'll post updates in chapters!
My sojourn to France was fantastic - thanks to Margo, Ton, Robbert, Monique and Imke for inviting me along! We stayed in a beautiful mountain chalet just a quick walk from the lifts, complete with a gorgeous view of the French alps with the tiny village of Puy de Saint Vincent tucked in the foothills. Our first evening there, the owners of the house (Ton's niece and her husband, Illonka and Vincent) took us on a midnight snowshoe trail by the light of the moon. It was breathtaking - the stars and moon above us and pure, sparkling powder below our feet. Looking out on the tiny illuminated village below us, I felt like maybe I had found a mountain town to rival the beauty of my own home.
We spent six glorious days skiing and snowboarding there. It was so relaxing, to wake up in the morning and slip right into underarmour and ski pants, sit together for a breakfast of fresh bread, Dutch cheese, and meat, and then shoulder our skis for a morning in the mountains. Imke and Robbert are both talented snowboarders. Most of my friends at home ski, so it was fun to see the different ways we could interpret the slopes on our chosen equipment. I didn't think I'd have the chance to ski this year, so I felt really blessed to have such a great host family!
Imke giving cousin Emmy a ride
(more on flickr soon!)