To celebrate the wonderful Christmas holiday, we share with you our favorite Christmas song of our youth…Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!
The world famous Wimbledon tennis tournament begins today, so in its honor, we are proud to present this photo.
Featuring a tennis ball and a District Line train (in case you don’t know, this is the line that whisks you off to Wimbledon from Central London), I found this image to be fitting for Wimbledon in so many ways.
Tuesday is Queens Day (koninginnedag), one of the Netherlands’ most important national holidays. People will flood the streets of every city in the country, dressed in orange, all in celebration of the Queen’s Mother.
The celebrations will actually begin on the night of the 29th—with public concerts and street parties. In many cases, especially in Amsterdam, these parties will last until the sun rises and the real Queen’s Day festivities begin! After all, nobody has to work today (other than those who choose to hawk their wares—more on this later—and schools are all closed).
We have gathered a few bits of knowledge to help you blend in with your Dutch neighbors on this exciting day.
8 Tidbits for Understanding Queen’s Day
- See all of those people selling things? That’s because Queen’s Day is the only day of the year that vendors without licenses can sell products on the street.
- That song you keep hearing? It is called “Het Wilhelmus”, and it is a poem that was written in 1574 about the life of William of Orange and his fight for the Dutch people, in a first-person narrative as though he is introducing himself to the people. Radios are playing it, people are singing it…and you should be too.
- Those people everyone is waving at? That’s the royal family…you should wave too.
- You may not be able to count on the store you want being open, but public transportation will be. Use it. Around large gatherings though, routes may be altered, so make sure you check ahead of time.
- Don’t worry too much about crime, but watch your pockets and don’t cringe too bad if you see someone peeing in public.
- Why is everyone wearing orange? Because the royal family is named “House of Orange Nassau.” In honor of them, you should wear orange too.
- And what are they drinking? That’s most likely oranje bitter, a strong alcoholic drink made by soaking the peel of bitter oranges in gin. You’ll probably see plenty of orange cakes and other orange foods as well.
- Why is the celebration today? Good question, and kind of a convoluted one. In case you want to impress your non-Dutch friends, see this link for the story.
On August 31, 1880, Princess Wilhelmina was born in The Hague. She was the last child of King William III and the only child to outlive him. On August 31, 1885, and on the same date each year after that public birthday celebrations were held for her. The occasion was originally known as Princesses Day (Prinsessedag) and became known as Queen’s Day in 1890 after Wilhelmina became Queen following the death of her father. On August 31, 1902, people in the Netherlands heard that Queen Wilhelmina had recovered from typhus and Queen’s Day became a true public celebration.
On September 6, 1948, Wilhelmina’s daughter, Juliana became queen and from 1949, the Queen’s Day celebrations were moved to April 30, her birthday. On April 30, 1980, Beatrix, Juliana’s daughter, became queen. Her birthday is on January 31, but the date of Queen’s Day remained the same as a way of honoring Juliana. Hence, Queen’s Day is the Queen’s official birthday and the anniversary of her coronation.
Got all that?
One of my greatest pleasures of traveling comes from picking up nuances from each culture that just seem to make sense. I imagine picking a sort of “all star team” of ideas from each country to create a utopian society, which exists, of course, only in my head.
However, one of the tidbits I’d take home from Brazil would be how their nightclubs keep you hydrated (or, if you actually want to be scientific about it, dehydrated). When you first enter, you hand your ID to a clerk who inputs your information into their database and proceeds to hand you a card, as shown below, that resembles a credit card. Each time you order a drink at the bar, you hand the bartender your card, which he or she scans, and returns it to you. At the end of the night, you bring your card to a cashier, who calls up the record of each of your drink (or food) orders, including any applicable cover charge, and, upon receiving payment, gives you a receipt that you can hand to the bouncer to leave the club.
This drove me mad at first. I thought it was so stupid to actually have people queue up to leave a club. But after a few more visits, realizing how much more quickly bartenders (who do not earn tips, by the way) can serve patrons without having to worry about handling cash and credit card slips, I changed my mind. In the States, it would be unthinkable to be at a popular club on Saturday night without having to wait at least a few minutes for a drink, but the same clubs in Brazil get your glass from empty to full in 30 seconds or less, or so it seems. And while having to line up to leave the club at 5am may not seem like an ideal situation for someone who’s had too much to drink and can’t wait to get home, the fact that they have to wait a few extra minutes to make that decision of exactly how they will get home is not necessarily a bad thing.
So please, give me my card and keep the saquerinhas coming!
I should mention that a similar system is commonly used at bakeries and small supermarkets, although I’ve yet to see the real value it adds in those places.
The Middle East, or at least the parts that anyone not from there actually gets to see, is not known first for its organic culture. While it does have a culture that goes back thousands of years, and some places even manage to keep that culture somewhat in tact, the term “Middle East” probably conjures up a different image in the minds of most of us. Whether it’s the gleaming skyscrapers of Dubai or the Bush-inspired desert battlefields, other images probably supercede the wooden dhows and trading villages that date back to ancient times.
There is a breath of fresh air for culture lovers, though. And it’s not in Dubai, but a few kilometers up the road in neighboring Sharjah. For the tenth time, the Sharjah Art Foundation has opened its doors to the world with the Sharjah Biennial, which is on display from March 13th through May 13th at the Sharjah Art Museum. Long regarded as a key grounds for artistic experimentation in the region, there is an authenticity to the Biennial that is noticeably absent at the competing Art Dubai down the road. It is ironic that with the United Arab Emirates boasting huge tourism investments in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including the current construction of a Louvre and Guggenheim in the ladder, it is the lesser-known Sharjah that has the artistic influence. Perhaps that is to the Biennial’s advantage, then–the contrast of a modern, contemporary display by 119 artists from 36 countries, juxtaposed against the Sharjah Art Museum’s majestic Arabian architecture, which certainly lends itself to more of an authentic experience than the ballrooms of faceless 7-star hotels, or the ultra modern layouts of the big names soon to open in Abu Dhabi.
With such a focus placed on the arts scene, it is refreshing to find a place in the Middle East that had the foresight to emphasize the development of art, rather than maintain a strict focus on oil and building a playground for the rich. That is exactly what Sharjah has done, and its next step is to continue to quell the notion that Emiratis buy, but don’t make, art. International though it is, Sharjah’s Biennial already features an increasingly local flair, which will only continue to grow as the rest of the region starts giving increased attention to the arts.
Very rarely can one find one particular cross-section of a major city that represents the city as a whole, but the Portland Saturday Market does exactly that. Just starting its 40th season, PSM is the largest continually operating outdoors arts and crafts market in the US, and operates every Saturday and Sunday from the beginning of March through Christmas Eve (including the “Festival of the Last Minute,” in which it opens daily up through Christmas Eve).
PSM’s unique nature is not so much about what is being sold–arts and crafts fairs everywhere tend to have the same things on offer–but about who is selling them. Whether it is the flannel shirts, the thick lumberjack beards, the messenger bags, or simply the atmosphere, stroll through the 258 vendor booths and you feel 100% reassured that you’re in a city where emo music, veganism, compost and recycling are ubiquitously accepted. There is plenty of talent too, as you may score a beautiful wall decoration, a unique homemade toy or piece of jewelry. That depends on your style. But one thing that is universally true is that you will go home with a happy stomach. With offerings ranging from Polish to pizza and mezze to Mexican, there is truly something for everyone.
Just make sure you make it to the right place–along the Waterfront on the river side of Naito Parkway, since the Skidmore Market adjacent to the MAX station often cashes in on its proximity. The more “authentic” experience is a block or two east, by the river–at the “official” Portland Saturday Market!
Italy is romantic, sure. But Italy is far too romanticized, too.
While the Italy virgin surely holds hopes of evening strolls along calm waterways, perhaps stealing a kiss or two in the shadows of the Colosseum, or luxury shopping down Via Montenapoleone, to enjoy these things, it is almost comical the number of inconveniences that Italians seem to intentionally bestow upon foreign visitors.
Maybe it’s Italian pride, I don’t know. But I don’t possibly understand how urban planners, politicians, and the like can even fathom some of the design elements of Italy’s infrastructure that just make it impossible to navigate.
I’m no inexperienced traveler, either, by any stretch. With 43 countries under my belt, including four previous visits to this very country, I tend to be pretty street smart. I often rely on public transportation, I have a good sense of the layout of a city from just a quick glance at a map, and I manage to find my way. And yet in my last visit, which consisted of just 16 hours, I encountered not one, not two, and not three, but four massive inconveniences.
First, there is an express bus from Roma’s Fiumicino International Airport to Vatican City and Termini Station. Apparently. Despite having no fewer than 50 massive advertisements plastered throughout the arrivals area, finding the stop for it is virtually impossible. While it says “Bus Station No. 1” on the advert, it does not specify any operating hours, and does not give any additional instructions as to where this supposed Station No. 1 is. And when you follow the signs within the airport, the one that says “Shuttle” refers to a within-the-airport shuttle (despite the Express bus to Termini being called “Shuttle” as well). So upon that failure, I walked down to the “Local Bus Station,” only to find distance buses most of which do not go to Roma. The ones that did specify Roma on the departure screen were for the next day, and it was only about 23:00 at the time.
Upon making it on Trenitalia from Fiumicino to Roma Tiburtina Station, the timetable for the Metro specified that the last train leaves just after midnight. I was there about 10 minutes prior to that, only to find a roped off entrance area. This made me depend on a taxi, who typed my address into his GPS. I saw the route pop up, which was just two stops and about five minutes on the Metro, and it was about 3km away. About 20 minutes and 15 turns later, I arrived at my destination—with a 17 euro charge. I screamed at the man in English which he didn’t understand for driving me in a circle, making wild gestures, so he knew I had been here before, and he agreed to 10 euro, which I paid and left. Just expect it—if you don’t speak Italian, you will get ripped off by a taxi driver. If you don’t, it’s your lucky day. In my case, it was just funny that he insulted my intelligence by typing the address into the GPS, and continuously ignoring the suggested route as I watched the machine recalculate, and recalculate, and recalculate. He probably should have made sure I couldn’t see that, anyway, and may have gotten a few more euros out of me.
Fast-forward to the next day. I went to enter the Metro for the two-stop ride over to Tiburtina to catch a 14:03 train back to Fiumicino. When I was near the station, I realized I forgot something important at my friend’s flat, and literally sprinted back, about 800m, to grab it. I got on the Metro, and arrived at Tiburtina station at about 13:57…a semi-comfortable 6 minutes to make the connection. Except that at Tiburtina, as you exit the Metro, the overground trains are one direction, and the only place in the entire station you can purchase Trenitalia tickets is the other direction. Without a sign informing you of that, of course. So in my instinct, I just left Metro and walked towards my track platform, passing about 200m of wide-open hallway. And not a single automated ticket machine. In Italy, you cannot purchase tickets on board, either….so my only option to avoid a 100 euro penalty was to run back past the Metro, to the other side of the station where the ticket booth was. I saw a bank of about 20 automated machines, and was just dumbfounded why they could not put a single one of those machines either at the Metro exit, or in the direction of the train platforms.
I honestly believe that Italians do things this way just to laugh at foreigners…but that’s just my two cents.
If you want to embarrass an American family in France, serve peas. The Americans will undoubtedly touch a few peas with their fingers to get them on the spoon, and the French will laugh hysterically.