Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles – A Note on Travel

Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles – A Note on Travel

George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served; dinner…
George Bailey: No no no no. Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.

-It’s a Wonderful Life

I lie in bed in the loft of my grandmother’s condo, a condo which overlooks a river that trails through a city. A city in the middle of nowhere, I could say. A city in the center of everything, you might argue.

As I lie here, surrounded by overflowing suitcases and half-packed boxes, I gaze up through the skylight. The starry sky shines with all the brilliance of a hot summer night. In the past week, the clouds have gathered, the rain has poured, and the province has flooded.

But none of this matters to me — tomorrow, I’m leaving. Read more

On Moving Across the World

On Moving Across the World

I lean my head against the taxi window.  A plane sweeps down to land, so near that I can make out the seams of its massive underbelly.  My leather jacket is creased with campfire ash — remnants of a night that already seems long past.  Wet skin sticky with salt.  Drifting to sleep to the clink of emptied wine bottles and scattered conversation.  But now the rows of tarmac grow ever nearer.

I shift uncomfortably, my muscles tense from a bike ride along the Vancouver seawall.  That morning, the tide had been out. Fields of bull kelp and green algae littered the rocky shore and I inhaled the Pacific in all its rawness.  It smelled like our island.

I tuck away that ocean scent, along with that of the lingering campfire smoke.  Snippets of Canada, the home that I’m leaving.

Read more

Seven Secrets for Surviving a Dutch Night Out

Seven Secrets for Surviving a Dutch Night Out

Note: This article was written as a guest post for Weekend Student Adventures – a fantastic company that offers weekend trips for European exchange students to some of the continent’s best cities.  I highly recommend that you check out the WSA website, and my original article on there.

Whether you’re going to Amsterdam for a wild weekend; spending a semester abroad in Utrecht; or making a cycling trip through the Hague, it will take less than two Heinekens for you to realize one thing: the Dutch love to party.  You’ll need to know how to keep up to them to avoid ending your night out feeling drained or nursing a bruised leg and a wrecked bicycle.  Here are seven tips to help you conquer the Dutch nightlife scene.

1. “Doe maar gewoon”: If there is one phrase to sum up the typical Dutch attitude, it’s “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg.” (Just act normal, that’s already crazy enough).  This idea is reflected in Dutch partying habits.  As drunk as they may get, most people keep themselves in line.  Raunchy bar-top-dancing or angry, noisy antics?  That’s “niet normaal” (not normal), and generally frowned upon.

There's always a beer in sight...
There’s always a beer in sight…

 2.  Suppress your yawns:  Dutch nights tend to begin around the time that many North American bars close.  They often start off with a round of beers with friends at a Dutch student house.  Around midnight, people will head over to the clubs, and from there, the partying may go on until sunrise.

3.  Bring small change: Although the Dutch have a reputation for being thrifty, they seem to have no problem forking out €0.50 every time they want to use a public washroom.  When you’re drinking at a club all night, this can add up quickly, so prepare yourself with a pocketful of coins.  (Note: larger clubs, especially in Amsterdam, may not charge for the facilities.)

4.  Collect “muntjes”:  Muntjes” are drink tokens, and the Dutch love to hoard them.  Many bars give out a token with every drink you purchase before a certain time.  If you keep these, you can use them later for a free beer or wine.  Sometimes, Dutchies will save up a collection and then plan a bar night that’s entirely on the house.

 5.  Practice your silly dance moves: Perhaps it’s because they’re raised on Tiësto and Armin van Buuren instead of Celia Cruz or Beethoven, but whatever the case, there’s no hiding it: the Dutch are not natural dancers.  This doesn’t mean that you should reject that 1.95 m. blond boy who has been beckoning you onto the dance floor.  Instead, embrace the opportunity to unleash your inner dance-dork.  The moves are wacky but easy to learn.  Try what I like to call the “open-handed fist pump,” the “wiggling fingers,” or the “happy-go-lucky elbow thrust.”

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Not only do you need to know how to ride a bike, you also need to know how to ride on the back of one!

 6.  Know how to order: The basis of a Dutch night out is beer (for the men) or white wine with ice (for the ladies).  Of course, women often opt for beers themselves, but you’re not likely to see a guy in a club with a wine in hand.  When you order a wine, specify if you would like it dry (droogDROAGH ) or sweet (zoetZOOT).  Typical hard drinks include Vieux; Schrobbeler (typical in Brabant); and Berenburg (in the Northern provinces).  A lot of younger people drink Passoã, Safari, “Bacos” (Bacardi Cokes), or a mixed version of the strong liquor jenever.

 7.  Work on your biking skills: Inevitably, you will top off your Dutch nightlife experience with the greatest adventure of all – biking home.  The Dutch are placed in bike seats from the moment they’re born, so they’re naturals at it.  For the foreigner, balancing on two wheels with a stomach full of drinks and a woozy head is anything but easy.  As you race down the darkened street, struggling to doge cars, drunken Dutchies, and the occasional canal, you may feel like you’re in a video game with a faulty controller. Don’t try anything fancy; just try your best to keep upright!

Missing a Flight — On Purpose: Why I’m Not on My Way to Amsterdam Today

Missing a Flight — On Purpose: Why I’m Not on My Way to Amsterdam Today

I’m supposed to be on a plane right now.  This morning, my flight to Amsterdam took off the tarmac in Rio de Janeiro.  I wasn’t on it.  I didn’t sleep in.  I didn’t get stuck in Brazilian traffic.  I was in Peru.


I was never big on skipping classes, and the thought of being late for anything makes me uncomfortable.  So why would I skip out on my flight to Europe?

1. I just wasn’t ready to leave: It’s been just about nine months now, and people are starting to ask that classic question: are you ready to go home?  I only have a month and a half left in my trip, which to me seems like nothing.  My list of South American destinations to visit is growing, and if I could, there are so many places I would love to return to — friends I would like to revisit, and cities that have captured my heart.  Yet, the holidays are coming: Sinterklaas has arrived in the Netherlands, and Canadians are putting up their Christmas trees.  And that makes me homesick… I just don’t know for where.  

So then — you may wonder — why not go home for Christmas?

2. Christmas will have some “sabor” this year: Although there are a lot of places that I’d still like to explore, the main reason I decided to extend my stay in South America was because I have a wonderful opportunity to spend the holidays with a Colombian family in Cali.  Every year during the week following Christmas, Cali holds it’s “Feria” — an enormous festival dominated by salsa, parties, and music.  It’s Cali’s most important cultural event, and for salsa-obsessed me it’s a bucket-list item.  On top of that, I’m excited about spending Christmas with a local family in a totally different environment.  Although it will be tough to be away from my family (and snow!) this Christmas, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  To get an idea what’s in store for me, check out this video:


3. I’m not moving to Holland… just yet: Even writing this sentence brings out a lot of mixed emotions.  My initial plan for South America was to fly out and into Amsterdam, with no ticket back to Canada.  Eventually I would return, but only to collect the boxes of stuff marked “Holland.”  A (permanent?) move, which would hopefully kick off with a Master’s program at the University of Amsterdam.  But during the trip, my priorities began to shift, and I realized that I couldn’t accept that I already had said my goodbyes to my friends and salsa team back home.  I came up with the idea of returning to Edmonton for a couple of months surrounding some of the Spring 2013 salsa events, and working a bit in the meantime.  That plan was flawed, however, as it would make it difficult for me to secure a work visa and job in the Netherlands in the months leading up to my potential fall school start date.  So, after a lot of consideration, I decided that the only logical solution would be to postpone my move to the Netherlands and spend a few more months back in Canada.  This was a really tough decision for me, and there are still plenty of moments when I question it.  Friends are important to me, but so is the Netherlands.  I have waited years for this move, and now I’m delaying it by choice.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had numerous strangers ask me if I’m Dutch (apparently I have a “Dutch face”) which has been an amusing reminder of what I’m letting go of putting on hold.  In Cusco, I ate lunch in a Dutch-run cafe that was draped in oranje and served stroopwaffels,  and I was almost set to change my ticket again.  But each time I get a wave of rood-wit-blauw nostalgia, I remember the great group of friends and teammates waiting for me in Canada, and I tell myself… Holland will still be there in six more months... unless global warming and rising water levels beat me to it. 😉

So now I try not to imagine a plane jetting across the Atlantic Ocean, with a vacancy in Seat 21A.  Instead, I picture a fantastic Colombian Christmas and and a exciting start to 2013 as I return to my friends and family in Canada.