Friday, November 30, 2012

An old-fashioned flight

Yesterday I flew with Transavia for the first time and it was nice experience that somehow reminded me of my flights when I was a child. When I was checking in I was assigned a seat, so I didn't have to rush and queue for hours to have a decent seat, I sat on the plane and I found a sickness bag in front of me and before taking off a tv screen played a video with the safety instructions and then, once we were up in the air we were even treated with a movie. After all these goods signs, I was even fooled into thinking that an airstewardess would pass at any moment offering us a beverage and some snack but that didn't happen. Too good to be true, I guess that plane meals are just a memory, at least on non long-haul flights and that if I ever have children they will grow up without understanding why some orange juices taste like airplane orange juice. But still, flying with Transavia was a nice experience and the movie detail was more than appreciated. The only flaw was the uniforms of the airstewardesses, which were quite eclectic and actually one of the stewardess was wearing a sort of tracksuit, designed by the company and consisting of blue pants and a green and blue stripped shirt. I had never seen a airstewardess wearing a tracksuit and it seemed weird to me.

Most of the passagers were quite aged, actually I could say that I was the youngest person of the plane and ironically the film displayed was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is about a group of elderly people who retire to India looking for adventures or simply for a cheaper residence. Maybe it was meant as inspiration for some of the other passangers  who were heading for a sunny holidays in Malaga! But coming back to the film, I had never heard of it before but I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was a beautiful and witty film and I think it's really nice to see great actors playing great roles, despite not having a wrinkless face anymore. Besides, it was also great travel inspiration to me and India is definitely going some places up on my travel wish list.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Maastricht 2018

Image from www.via2018.eu

In 1985 Europe started a very special way of promoting cultural values across the continent. Former Greece's Minister of Culture came up with the idea of choosing every year an European city to be a cultural capital for twelve months during which the designated city will host as many art and cultural events as possible in order to promote the idiosincracy of the country and export its cultural values to the rest of Europe. The iniciative was a real success and since 1985 most European countries have taken part in the programme. In the beginning just one city was designated as European Capital of Culture per year, but nowadays the European Commission proposes two host countries per year and every city of those countries can start a bidding process to be later designated as a European Capital of Culture. The bid usually lists all qualities which make that particular city the perfect candidate as well as proposing a year-long calendarof cultural and artistic events potentially interesting for people from all over Europe.  

In 2018 The Netherlands will host one of the European Capitals of Culture and as you might have guessed by now, Maastricht is a candidate city. I really believe that Maastricht would make an incredible capital of Culture, so I decided to write a brief post to share with you all the reasons that make Maastricht a winner.

  • Maastricht is filled with history and it can proudly claim that it is the oldest city in The Netherlands, even though some people from Nijmegen might disagree. But since the Romans went upwards to conquer Europe their roads reached Maastricht, then known as Mosae Trajectum, and established a settlement here that would survive wars and sieges. The latest achievement of the city was being the place where the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992.
  • Maastricht is an architectural gem and there's no place in The Netherlands like Maastricht! There are no cannals in Maastricht and consequently the city is lacking the lovely houses that line every cannal in every other Dutch city. But there's nothing wrong with it, as it actually means that Maastricht will offer something that no other Dutch city will, a beautiful city center with some buildings from the 11th or 12th century and city walls from the Middle Ages. Besides, there's also a newly renovated neighbourhood, Ceramique, with buildings from renowned international architects which could maybe even rival Rotterdam ... well, just maybe.
  • Maastricht celebrates culture in every possible way! With a couple of relevant museums exhibiting the rich historical patrimony of the city, a theater offering a varied programme throughout the year, an art-house cinema, many festivals and open-air concerts,specially during the summer. There's almost always something to do in the city. And sometimes even for free!
  • It's not only about Maastricht. The bid was done as the Euroregion, including Liege in Belgium and Aachen in Germany, as well as Hasselt in Belgium and Heerlen and Sittard-Geleen also in The Netherlands. So, not only one culture will be on the spotlight but three different cultures. Could there be a better way to celebrate cultural diversity in Europe?!
  • Just because! Just because Maastricht is beautiful, just because it is relaxed, just because the sun shines more than any other place in The Netherlands, just because it is surrounded by green hills, just because it is so easy to reach from Germany and Belgium, just because I am happy living here and I am sure that when the time comes to part I'll be very sad to leave this charming town behind and I can't think of a better reason to come back than to enjoy Maastricht as the European Capital of Culture in 2018.

It won't be an easy road as competition is tough. Eindhoven, The Hague, Utrecht and Leeuwarden are the other candidate cities from The Netherlands and all of them are beautiful and unique in their own way. But still, Maastricht has great arguments to be the chosen one. So, GO MAASTRICHT!

UPDATE January 2013: I'm very pleased to announced that Maastricht has made it to the second phase. Now the only contenders left, apart from Maastricht, are Eindhoven and Leeuwarden. Eindhoven is mostly known as the industrial home of Phillips and PSV, as well as a cheap entry gate to The Netherlands (thanks to Irish airline you all know) but even to Dutch people, Eindhoven is not much of a charming nor cultural city. Leeuwarden, which prides itself on being the homeplace of Mata Hari, is an enigmatic place up in Friesland, mainly a countryside province with its own language and a somewhat rich cultural heritage. It is a small beautiful city and I think that it is Maastricht's most fierce competitor. Anyways, only time (and the jury) will tell. But until then, you can go again through all the reasons why I think that Maastricht deserves winning and find many other inspirational posts about Maastricht in this blog.

UPDATE September 2013: Sadly it couldn't be. Leeuwarden has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2018. Well, it is another beautiful Dutch city with an interesting history and it is also worth a visit, though it lies far from the usual touristic routes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sinterklaas is coming to town


Last Saturday the Dutch counterpart of Santa Claus arrived to The Netherlands in his steam boat. Sinterklaas hasn't given any present to the children yet but he's sure started to take note of their wishes and his little helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, are very busy preparing everything to fulfill as many wishes as possible of Dutch (and Belgian) children. So, last Saturday most children went to the streets to welcome Sinterklaas and follow him during the street parade collecting sweets from the Zwarte Pieten. Children also dress up like Sinterklaas or the Zwarte Piet. In fact, since late september some stores already stocked on Sint's capes and Zwarte Piet's make up set!

You might be wondering if Sinterklaas is exactly the same as Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Well, I guess the answer is yes and no. Sinterklaas is one of the many sources of inspiration of the modern Santa Claus but Sinterklaas tradition goes back to the Middle Ages. The original celebration honoured Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop who lived in the 3rd century whose relics were brought to Naples, which was part of the Spanish Kingdom during the Middle Ages. Saint Nicholas was named patron saint of school children and that's how the tradition of a Saint rewarding good children was born. According to the tradition, Sinterklaas comes every year from Spain in a steam boat. He rides a white horse and is helped by many tiny assistants with black faces and bright clothes, who are called Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). Sinterklaas' clothes still remind of those of a bishop. He has a long, curly. white beard and wears a red cape over a white tunic and a red mitre ornated with a gold cross.


Sinterklaas is one of the most popular celebrations in The Netherlands. Families get together and usually someone dresses up as Sinterklaas to trick children into believing. Children will receive their gifts on 5th December (6th December in Belgium) and the days before they get small treats in their shoes: chocolate letters, marzipans, speculaas cookies, mandarines, ... On 5th December family and friends exchange presents and many people write poems telling funny things that happened during the last year. I really like the Sinterklaas celebration and how families enjoy it together. In Spain, the Three Wise Kings also give presents to children on 6th January and we also celebrate their arrival with a parade. However, they just arrive the day before visiting each home at night and children don't dress up to welcome them.

Do you also exchange Xmas gifts? Who brings presents to children in your countries?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dreaming of Switzerland


I am very happy because I finally booked my tickets for Christmas. I will spend almost three weeks in Tenerife, a very long time considereing that this year I've just been for 6 days in my home island. And even better, before flying back to Tenerife I will also spend a couple of days in Switzerland, which is a perfect Christmas treat! I lived in Switzerland for half a year and now I haven't been back for almost a year and a half, so you can imagine how excited I am about being back there and spending some lovely mini holidays with my boyfriend in his home country.

Love took me to Switzerland three years ago and even though Switzerland wasn't on top of my list I fell in love again, but this time with all the charming cities and towns I visited and the breathtaking nature that shapes the country. High mountains covered in snow all year long, green valleys adorned with colourful flowers, small waterfalls, transparent lakes and creeks, everything is amazingly beautiful and picture perfect. Every city and town and also unique, full of history and with compact city centers lined by short elegant buildings with its own style and many a cobbled street which make a walk a town really enjoyable. And then you have the food: chocolate, cheese, many sweet treats and many different and delicious types of bread, my mouth is watering just at the thought if it! And my mind is also drifting away amid all the lovely memories of this small and yet surprising alpine country. It's still five weeks to go and in the meantime I still have lot of hard work to do, and oh, exams again. But having something so good to look forward to will make it a bit easier ... just a bit!

So far I've seen quite a lot in Switzerland. I've lived in Basel and I've been to Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Lucerne, Interlaken, Zermatt, Winterthur, Shaffhausen, Rheinfelden, Sion, Leukerbad, Thun, Visp and Kaiseraugst. But my list of places to see isn't completely crossed out!

TO SEE - TO DO:

  • Discover the most southern part of Switzerland, the Italian-speaking Tessin, or Ticino, just like the locals call it.
  • Make a trip to the Aletsch Glacier, which is not only on my Switzerland to see list but also on my Top Ten places to go to.
  • Visit the Einstein Museum in Bern and enjoy the Swiss capital once again.
  • Practice some winter sport for the first time in my life. Why not?!
  • Daytrip to St. Gallen,a city in the eastern part of the country included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

11 van de 11de - Carnival in November


Today was again 11th November and in Maastricht that means that the Carnaval season has just begun. Every year, on 11th November people in the region put on their costumes and and get ready to down beers while singing and dancing to traditional folk Limburgs music (which resembles a bit to the music you would expect at the Oktoberfest but sung in Dutch). At 11:11 am people count down out loud and the big carnival party starts! However, it only lasts for a day, tomorrow the city will get back to work and carnival won't be back in town until the usual carnival dates in mid-february-mid-march.


Coming from Tenerife I'm used to big, colourful and crazy carnivals celebrations. We have the second biggest carnival in the world, right after Rio de Janeiro, or at least our politicians make us believe so. I remember that in 2000 there was even an extra carnival weekend in May to celebrate the beginning of the new millenium. But still, I find it incredibly unusual to start the carnival season in the middle of November, when the air gets chilly and teh days gets shorter ... maybe it's just a nice way to wave goodbye to warmer days! And the nicest thing about carnival in Maastricht is that everyone joins in: young people, parents and their children, groups of more aged people. Some people wear really wondeful costumes and some others just put on some feathers and sequins and equally enjoy themselves. So, if you feel tempted to join the party any 11th November, or maybe later for the regular carnival, start planning the most outreageous costume. Or simply throw in some golden or sequinned leggings, which prove to be really popular year after year. And if everything else fails, just get something red, yellow and green, which are the colours of Limburg and are proudly worn by anyone in scarfs, leg warmers, hats, feather boas and so on. Whichever way you choose it, enjoy the party!


You can find an overview of celebrations in The Netherlands here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kruidennoten! It's that time of the year again!


I have been wanting to write this post for a while now because the holiday season is my favourite time of the year and I love everything related to Christmas. But for that same reason I've held back as I believe that too much of a good thing can actually take the fun out of it. But now, the city is so full of signs that I simply cannot ignore anymore the fact that we're on the countdown to Christmas! It's getting chilly, streets are already decorated and lit, Sinterklaas and his little helpers are taking over every shop window in The Netherlands and kruidennoten are back in the supermarket since 3rd September! I personally found it a bit weird that they started selling seasonal chocolates and sweets so soon, but nevertheless I was happy to see them back.

Kruidennoten are tiny, crunchy cookies with a spicy taste that are eaten in The Netherlands for the Sinterklaas holiday. You can find them in almost every Dutch shop for three months before the saint gives presents to all Dutch children on 5th December. Nowadays, kruidennoten are sold in different sizes and flavours and kruidennoten covered in chocolate are especially popular and delicious! Besides kruidennoten, chocolate letters are another popular sweet in The Netherlands and if you're good enough throughout the year Sinterklaas will leave a chocolate letter with the initial letter of your name in your shoes ... otherwise you can choose your own at any Dutch supermarket or department store and you'll be spoilt for choice with dark, milk or white chocolate, luxe letter with nuts or marzipan and the list goes on.


It's still a month to celebrate Sinterklaas in The Netherlands and a bit more until Christmas but until then, I'll keep on enjoying all the wonderful treats that this country has to offer. Oh, and I'll be writing more on Sinterklaas soon, in you case you're wondering who this Dutch version of Santa Claus is. 
As I said, I really love the holidays season and I'm always curious about how it is celebrated in different countries, so what about your countries? Do you also have some specials Christmas traditions? And delicious Christmas treats?

p.s. The best way to enjoy kruidennoten is with a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate, sitting on the couch and watching a nice movie. If you want the whole Dutch experience (and dare to expose your ears to the Dutch language) you can try Alles Is Liefde, a sort of Dutch version of Love Actually get loved up just in time to celebrate Sinterklaas. Extra points for great friends around!


Monday, November 5, 2012

Five years ago ...

... I embarked on a journey that changed my life forever. Five years ago I spent a year in Antwerp, Belgium as part of the ERASMUS programme. The Erasmus Project is a student exchange programme run by the European Union that enables students from all member states plus Norway, Lichtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland and Turkey to spend one or two semesters abroad as part of your study programme. As you can imagine, if you've ever taken part in any student exchange, studying is just a small part of it, and probably not the most important. Living abroad on your own, getting to know a different culture and maybe even learning a foreign language, meeting people from all over the world and, of course, travelling and partying are also important ingredients for a satisfying student exchange.

Six years ago I started planning my year abroad and my first choice was Germany. After five years learning German it seemed like a logical step to spend a year in Germany consolidating my German skills. However, my university offered quite limited choices at the moment and the only cities I could go to in Germany where Braunschweig and Bielefeld, which according to a German friend of mine were such boring industrial cities that I would better start looking for somewhere else to go. Next option was Ireland, which wouldn't be much of a language trouble either, but coming from an island I was kind of looking forward to going to the old continent and travel happily all accross Europe. Rumours of Maynouth being expensive and boring also played a part in my decision. And last choice was Antwerp. Back then I had no clue about what Antwerp was. The Spanish name Amberes differs a bit from the original and the website of the uni, written in a weird language full of k, w and ij, didn't ring a bell for me. So, after some doing some research I eventually linked Antwerp to Amberes and I knew that Antwerp had one of the most important fashion academies in the world, that it is the world center of diamonds, that Antwerp has the largest Orthodox Jewish community in Europe and that Antwerp was once under the Spanish rule. Enough! I had made up my mind and five years ago I flew to Antwerp and spent there one of the best years of my life.

Taking part in the ERASMUS programme was one of the best decissions of my life and I still remember fondly every minute of it. University was incredibly hard and I really needed to learn Dutch, as all my courses were in Dutch. But besides the study difficulties, every other thing was simply great! I met great people from all over the world, I travelled quite a lot around Belgium and I also visited 6 other countries, even if just for a weekend, I partied like never before and I also profited from the chance of learning a language in a country where it is spoken, something I hadn't had the chance to do before. And little did I know that learning Dutch would prove so useful for the years to come after my ERASMUS exachange!

I really believe that it is an experience that everyone should have. Ok, not everyone can afford it and not everyone want to, but if it was possible for everyone to take part of it I would just recommend it to everyone to go ahead and spend some time abroad because the outcomes are more than worthy and the memories will last a lifetime. What do you think? Have you taken part in an student exchange programme? Did you have an amazing time as well? 

Back in 't Stad, five years later

p.s. That was five years ago but right now, the newest thing is that I've just added pages to my blog. I was never good at programming and I was kind of struggling with the HTML/CSS stuff to make it look as neat as possible, but I think it's a good starting point!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 2012 - Of Birthdays And Men

I know some people who totally disike their birthday. They start worrying weeks in advance about the consequences of being one year older, instead of just indulging in the pleasures of being spoilt during one very special day or focusing on the rather amazing fact that you've made another year on Earth and probably built on quite a lot of beautiful memories. I really think that these reasons are more than enough to celebrate and to be glad that, for another year, this special day has arrived. This year I've enjoyed my b'day a lot. First because I had just done my exams two days earlier, so for the first time after eight hectic weeks I could just sit on the couch, catch up with The Big Bang Theory and relax. Then, I spent four awesome days in Belgium with my boyfriend and I was really spoilt! I spent Friday window shopping in Brussels and I went to Antwerp on Saturday. And yesterday, I celebrated at home with my girlfriends in Maastricht and it was the nicest of celebrations! I cooked some Indian food and then we watched a girly movie while savouring some ice-cream and chocolates, perfect! As far as my birthday is concerned, celebrations are now over and I'm back to my books, but some other person's birthday will bring me some joy in the upcoming month. At the end of the month I'm flying to Malaga for my grandma's birthday, who's turning 97, or 98, or maybe just 96 (anyways, whichever age it is, I cannot complain about my gene pool at all, as both my grandmothers are over 95 and in top condition!). 

So, these are my thoughts for this November. Don't moan about being one year older and enjoy your b'days as much as I enjoyed mine. Now I just have to get used to the fact that I am already 28 ...

 Have a hopefully not too cold November!
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