Saturday, June 12, 2010

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

This month Princess Victoria of Sweden got married, and Stockholm was all about the wedding. Everywhere you go there are boxes of chocolates, plates, books, napkins, and anything you can imagine with Victoria and Daniel.
Wedding or not, I was just happy that I got to be in Sweden again. I got to be at the cabin with the whole family, play cards with Mormor and Morfar and Milja in the evening, sleep in the room where I always sleep in, and eat everything Mormor cooked.

After the bad experience that Milja and I had trying to get to the Eindhoven airport the last time we went to Sweden, we decided to fly with KLM this time. Within two hours of boarding and without any problems, Milja and I landed in Stockholm. It's that easy!

This time we were going to be in Sweden for six full days, and even though that's a day longer than we were there over December, the time flew by. The day that we got to Stockholm, we spent the night at Mormor and Morfar's house in Spanga, and the next morning I got to eat breakfast in Sweden again.

Why I love Breakfast in Sweden:
  • Yogurt and musli is so good.
  • Morfar always slices pepperoni, and we eat half of it before we've even sat down with everyone.

  • There's that thick honey from Lapland that you just want to eat out of the jar with a spoon- like Ben and Jerry's.

  • Kalle's caviar is always on the table. Even if I don't want to eat it, I like knowing it's there IF I want to eat it.

  • The second my glass of orange juice is empty or I don't have any coffee left, someone fills it up for me.

  • Mormor's bathrobe with Chinese dragons on it.

  • How Morfar always slices the cheese in the most impractical way ever.

I could go on for a while...

Once we'd eaten breakfast that first day, we loaded up the car with all of the food, baked goods, drinks, towels, clothes, and books we needed and drove to "landet"- my grandparents cabin about an hour outside of Stockholm. Ever since I was little, whenever we came to Sweden in the summer, and sometimes in the winter we'd go to the cabin. My mom and her siblings have been going there with Mormor and Morfar since they were little. I love "landet" just as much as I love eating breakfast in Sweden (maybe even more). It's not that there's anything all that special about the house. It's this small yellow house with a concrete foundation and concrete steps leading up to it. Before we got there I told Milja this whole story about how incredibly steep and huge the steps were, but when we were there I realized they weren't as steep or as huge as I'd remembered. Apparently I've grown. But even though it's not a mansion and you can see concrete on the outside, it's a pretty house, and it's at the bottom of a huge green hill. When you walk inside and open the door this smell comes rushing at you, and it's the "landet" smell. Whenever I walk in there I remember all of these things from when I was little that really aren't important at all: The one time Anna got mad at me for eating a sugar cube, fighting with my cousin Sandra about the playhouse, running around naked for the whole day.

This time when we were at "landet" I spent my time a little bit differently than running around naked. I went running right away. I don't know if the air was fresher, or warmer, or if my legs were just happy to be somewhere so familiar, but it was one of those really good runs where you get sweaty and exhausted and you feel super strong.

When I got back from running my aunts were just coming with their families. That day was just like all the other days I remember at "landet." My cousins were running around outside, Mormor was running up and down the stairs between the kitchen and the table outside taking care of food, Morfar was working in the garden, Anna and Karin were trying to relax. This time, Milja was there too- in the garden, fitting right into the picture.

We were only at "landet" for two days: Saturday and Sunday. Both days I got to run, we walked through the churchyard where we always walk in the evenings, we ate rhubarb pie, slept late, had to go down the basement stairs to get to the bathroom, drank "saft" and ate cookies that Mormor had made. On the second day after I went running, I ran and jumped in the lake before I could chicken out. It was so cold, and so nice... another thing that was just like I remember it.

It's weird, because I'm seventeen. It's not like I long for my childhood or anything. I'm still in my childhood. But sometimes I wish I could go back to some of those moments at "landet" or in Sweden; moments when I was scarfing down Swedish candy with mom, stealing food from Mormor while she was cooking, and drinking coffee with Morfar early in the morning. The last few times I was in Sweden, it felt a little like I got to relive them, almost like they were before, but this time maybe even a little bit better.

Milja and I could have stayed at "landet" forever, but Sunday afternoon we had to pack up the car again and leave. We ate dinner at Anna's house, and I got to see Frida and Linn for the last time until October when they'll come to Spooner. On Monday, Milja and I went into Stockholm together and did our best to find some sort of exciting event from "Love Week," since the princess was getting married. We didn't have very much luck, but Stockholm was nice like it always is. Later in the afternoon Milja went on a boat tour and I got to spend a few short hours with Johanna. We'd planned on going into Stockholm again on Tuesday, but we were out-shopped, felt a little bit like we'd seen what we wanted to see, and I didn't feel like going that far away from Mormor and Morfar. So we stayed in the area. On Wednesday we had to leave. This time it was a little bit harder leaving than around Christmas. I know that in a few weeks I'll be much further away from Sweden than I've been this entire year, and I don't know when I get to go back. I guess I'll just have to make sure it's not very long before I do.

Something Old: Mormor and Morfar (old but loved)

Something New: Milja (new in my life... until she's been in my life for a long time)

Something Borrowed: the shorts I borrowed from a teammate in Portugal and wore in Sweden (I know, I know. But SOMETHING had to be the borrowed thing).

Something Blue: leaving Europe soon, "landet" being sold (but they'll be new trips to Europe and there's other places with smells that make me remember things)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Breaking Records

As hard as I've been trying I'm still not getting anywhere close to breaking the Spooner High School 1600m record of 5:13. But on Saturday, I did set a personal record and also, I think, a Spooner High School record.
Personal Record: Fastest 1500m time ever run in Belgium.
Spooner High School Record #1: Fastest 1500m time ever run in Belgium. (To be honest I'm not one hundred percent sure on this one, but I think it's a pretty safe bet).
Impressive isn't it? I have to say that I feel after working so long towards this goal, I definitely deserved to finally reach it.

I must be getting a little spoiled by living in this tiny country, because I found the three hours it took us to drive to Duffel, Belgium kind of a drag. It felt like a long time to sit in the car. To think that I regularly ride that far just to go to Mall of America... Plus, once we were almost there, one of the other girls from our team called and said that they were completely stuck in a huge traffic jam. So then we had to turn around and go back to the Netherlands and then drive back into Belgium with a different road. It's not a stereotype that the roads in Belgium are worse than the roads in the Netherlands. I never got a chance to find out if the stereotypes about Belgium people that Dutch people have are true. Except how they talk- they do sound funny when they talk.
My first thought when we walked into the track at Duffel was that the track was huge. Seriously, it looked way bigger than any other track that I've seen before. Of course that's not possible because every track is 400 meters and 400m is 400m- even in Belgium.
Since we were about two hours early for the 1500m race, I had about an hour when I got to sit and watch the other races all nervously and not do anything else. Then all of us who were going to run the 1500m warmed up together. There were three series of about 20 girls. That's 60 girls who were going to run the 1500m. I was in the third serie, which I wasn't complaining about, I really don't feel like it's neccessary for me to race against girls who run a 4:30 1500m time. The start was brutal though. Everyone pushed and shoved and we were stuck in this huge mob of girls that took about a lap and a half to get unclogged. The pace was still fast, but it was stressful having to watch out for everyone else.
In the end I ran the same time that I ran in the last 1500m race I did. I was disappointed because after the first race I thought for sure that I could run much faster. It had felt faster too because I managed to pick up the pace in the last 300m much more than I usually can.
As happy as I am with my "fastest race ever in Belgium," I would have been happier with a plain old "fastest race ever," considering that was the only race I've ever run in Belgium. But hey, there are still more races before I go home and many years of running to come.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Lilacs Bloom Here in May Too

Technically I turned seventeen on Friday, May 21'st. But we had decided to celebrate it the Sunday afterwards because then the whole family could come, and I could have the Dutch birthday party that I've been waiting for all year.
Sunday was one of the first really warm days. As usual on Sunday, I had running practice in the dunes. It was already warm when we started training and the dunes were full of people running, mountain biking, and walking with the whole family. Our training was a fartlek run, and it was one of those perfect runs where you feel like you'll never need to stop. I was in such a good mood after running, and the weather was so nice, that I even put on a dress after I took a shower.
Milja's younger sister Connie and her family had spent the night before in a house across the street from us that's being rented out as a sort of bed and breakfast (very handy for when I come back here with all of the hundred people I want to show the Netherlands too). This meant that we already had a group of people sitting in the garden from about noon. We were spread out in the sun, completely relaxed, sometimes talking and sometimes not. Milja had decorated the garden with balloons and banners, and there were lilac bushes everywhere. I felt so much like it was my birthday. The weather was completely perfect that when it was time to walk Misha we went together to the lake where I usually run. Of course Misha got tired after about 20 minutes or so and then Milja had to carry her.
Around 3:00 everyone else from the family came and we ate cake in the garden. We ate the classical Dutch birthday cake, which is called a whipped cream cake, and had a picture of me printed on it. Milja's nephew, Matthijs, had made a sort of white sugar cake with marsipan frosting that we ate for dessert. Plus he'd made a smaller one that we'd eaten the night before. If birthday cakes were money I would be so rich.

Aren't they beautiful?

Everyone drank tea with the cake, and we sat outside for another couple of hours. Didn't I tell you? This is how it works at all of the Dutch birthday parties. We sit for hours and talk and drink. By drinking, I don't mean getting drunk. Mostly people drink tea, coffee, or juice, and once in a while a glass of wine. As soon as you've emptied a glass someone comes and fills another one. I spent the whole afternoon opening presents too. From Milja I got this fresh, springy perfume from Lancome. From Peter I got Bjorn Borg underwear (which I'd asked for, since I can't ever bring myself to buy underwear for that much), one that was "Dutch" and the other one that was "American." Very patriotic. From Adrienne- Milja's niece- I got a necklace. From Marja, Erik, and Inge I got an orange shirt (orange is Holland's official color) for the world soccer championships that are starting soon. From Connie and her family I got a little bright colored bag. From Anita I got a little wooden house from Swahili where her parents live. From Opa and Oma I got "De Hel van '63," the first movie I watched in Dutch without subtitles. And from lots of people I got money.

In the invitation I'd sent out to everyone I'd written that they had to bring walking shoes so we could go for a walk in the afternoon. After eating cake, we all got in the car and drove to a bird sanctuary on the outskirts of Akersloot. We didn't walk very far, but we looked at all of the birds, and then there turned out to be some cows too, so we climbed over the fence and tried to pet them and feed them grass, though they weren't brave enough to come very close.

When we got back to the house everyone sat down outside again and we brought another round of drinks and more food. By the time everyone was completely and totally full from all of the cheese, sausage, and chips that had been sitting on the table, we brought out soup and sandwiches on french bread with mozzarella and tomatoes. As if that wasn't enough, we had the cake from Matthijs for dessert and ice cream with it.

After dinner there was tea again, and more wine, and we sat outside until eleven o'clock around a campfire. Actually it wasn't really a campfire- we were sitting around three metal baskets with fire in them, that everyone uses here for parties. I'm not sure if there's a name for that in English? At some point when the sun started going down we'd moved around to the other side of the house. Then we could talk to all of the neighbors and wave to all of the people who walked by. There was a big group who walked by that turned out to be having a family reunion and they were so happy when they walked by and saw the whole "familie Clazing."

Maybe the Dutch birthday parties don't sound like much. I just realized that what I thought was so much to write about ended up being nothing once I'd typed it all out. Maybe because we didn't really "do" anything... But that's what's so nice. Sometimes it's nice not to have to do anything for a day, to be able to sit with the whole family, and eat, and talk, and laugh. I like listening to the story that I've already heard from Oma three times and that the rest of the family has heard a hundred times. I like watching Marja laugh hysterically and see Adrienne get embarrassed about it. I like sitting outside and being with so many people and feeling like I belong there. That's what makes the Dutch birthday parties- and my birthday party- so nice: that it's just about being together and not about "doing" anything.

Sunday wasn't the only birthday party I had. Since Monday was another school holiday (2nd Pinkster Day- I doubt that rings any bells), I gave a brunch at our house for my friends from school. Milja and I had done grocery shopping together and bought all sorts of bread, cheese, meat, chocolate spread, hagleslag, orange juice, and tea. Monday morning was a little bit colder than the day before, so we set the table inside instead of outside. There were five girls who came, all friends from my class at school. Once they were all here we sat for a long time and ate and they gave me the present from all of them which was that I get to pick out a purse. They all know how much I love the bag fashion here. The weather started getting nicer and we moved outside to the backyard where we could sit out of the wind. There was all sorts of pop and juice on the table, and after a while I brought out the cake (#4 from the weekend) which was another sort of whipped cream cake but with marsipan over the top. It was as close as anything to the Swedish princess cake that I love.

A little bit later in the afternoon Milja drove us to the movie theater in Alkmaar and we saw "Date Movie." I hadn't heard anything about it all, but one of the other girls had wanted to see it and it turned out to be good (after Evan Almighty I can't help but love how funny/cheesy that actor is). Everyone got picked up from the movie theater. Even though Monday was a laid back party, I was completely exhausted when I got home and so were Milja and Taiana. Watching America's next top model, eating Chinese take out for dinner, and going to bed early was the perfect end to the weekend.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sixteen Going on Seventeen

If you're a student in 4HAVO at Jac P. Thijsse College, like I happen to be, then there are three days towards the end of the year when you have to do a "snuffelstage." This translates to something like "sniffing internship." This "sniffing internship" is three days long and you're supposed to do it by a company or a business that does the same kind of work you're interested in doing and studying once you've graduated from high school. Since I've wanted to do something in writing since I was about ten and stopped wanting to be a veterinarian (every child has their veterinarian phase) I figured right away that I would try to do my internship at a magazine or a newspaper.
When Milja heard that I had to do an internship she started helping me right away and asking everyone she knew if they had any connections with a magazine or a newspaper. There were a lot of places who didn't have time, or didn't respond at all, and she also found a few which I shot down fairly quickly. Finally, Milja's brother-in-law Eric found someone at the magazine "Bovag Krant" who was willing to have me come there for two days. At first I hesitated a little bit because the "Bovag Krant" is a magazine written about cars/transportation for people who work in the automotive industry. Still, it ended up being the "Bovag Krant." I went there for the first day on Wednesday, and I had to take the train to one of the earlier Amsterdam stations, then step onto another train, and then walk five minutes or so to get to the office building. The office from the "Bovag Krant" is right next to the World Fashion Center.
I'm hoping everyone who just read that is thinking impressed to themselves, "Oh wow, the World Fashion Center," without really knowing what the World Fashion Center is. Because that's what I did. "World Fashion Center" sounds extremely impressive and looks extremely impressive, but I'm doubting whether it's actually internationally important or not. Since I was about 40 minutes early the first day of my snuffelstage I wanted to go in and see what it was, because to me it looked like I huge shopping mall. Except then there were these huge and scary revolving doors and a reception desk with security guards sitting at it, and there wasn't anybody else inside. So basically I just went 360 degrees through the revolving doors and walked away really fast again. The thing is- I still don't know what the World Fashion Center is.
After my short experience in the World Fashion Center, I was still 38 minutes early, so I sat and drank coffee at this coffee shop with all sorts of organic juices, and carrot muffins, and that sort of thing.
When it was finally time to go inside, it took me a while to figure out that I had to buzz myself in before the revolving doors would turn (I HATE revolving doors) but eventually that worked out and I went up to the seventh floor and introduced myself to the secretary. One of the journalists came and got me and gave me a tour around the building, because the director of the magazine wasn't there yet. When he came, he gave me a huge stack of all of the different magazines that their company makes (lots of other publications about cars and also about restaurants) and I spetn a few hours reading. Generally I wouldn't be too thrilled to spend hours reading about the automotive industry, but there was such a professional atmosphere in the office with the journalists making phone calls and typing away at their computers that I actually managed to get through a pretty big stack. For lunch at the office they had a whole big table set with all sorts of bread and things that Dutch people put on their bread (that's a story for another day) where they can eat every day. In the afternoon I got a little bit more of a description about everything they do at the office, who does what, and how it finally ends up getting published.
Thursday morning I took the train a little bit earlier than the day before, and got to sit in at a team meeting they were having. Basically the team meeting was two and a half hours long of a fairly heated discussion. This was probably the most interesting thing I saw in the two days I was there, because I've never thought about you have to work together at magazine. I've always just thougth about it as people writing their own articles and discussing with the editor, but at the Bovag Krant they had all sorts of things to discuss about how the magazine works and etc. In the afternoon on Thursday I got a little bit more of a detailed tour, and left pretty early in the because everyone had meetings they had to get too.

As far as how you could spend your last two days EVER being sixteen, the two days at the Bovag Krant were pretty good. And the next day was Friday... all of a sudden I wasn't sixteen anymore.
Since the rest of my class has to do their internships for three days, I didn't have any school on Friday. For Milja it was just a normal work day, and she offered to take off of work, but I had a 1500m race on Friday evening, so I didn't want to spend the day doing anything active, so I thought it was kind of pointless for her to take the whole day off.
Even though we weren't officially celebrating my birthday on Friday, it was a good day. When I woke up Taiana was at school, because she's had final exams for the last two weeks. I ate breakfast, read all the e-mails and cards I'd gotten, and laid on the couch watching a movie because I didn't HAVE to do anything. When Taiana got home the weather was warm, and she went to the store and bought strawberries. Then Milja came home early anyway, even though she wasn't supposed to, and Opa came over too, and a friend of Taiana's. We spent the whole afternoon sitting outside in the sun. My mom called, and Brooke called too, which I totally hadn't been expecting and was such a nice surprise.
Early evening I left with Milja and Opa for my first 1500m track race. It was a pretty small race, there weren't that many girls in teh 1500m, and I was the only one in JuniorenB, which does mean that I won. I was nervous before I raced, but not as crazy nervous as I had been before the 800m race, and I ran much better too. I'd forgotten how nice running the mile (or 1500m) can feel. It was a good birthday race.
After the race I went to a friend's house where I spent the night, and on Saturday morning I biked home, and Milja and I bought groceries for the rest of the weekend, which was going to be quite the production.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hitting the Ground Running

After we got back from Portugal, I didn't have very much of a chance to sink into that after-vacation-depression that always happens. Even though there was a cloud of volcanic ash hanging over Portugal, we managed to get home on Monday afternoon like we'd planned. The night before there had been a lot of discussion about what we were going to do "if" the plane didn't fly, but no one had any good solutions, so it's a good thing we were able to get home. Milja picked me up from the airport on Monday afternoon and I spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking, checking my e-mail, and being completely exhausted, since we'd gotten up at 3:00 a.m. the night before to leave.
On Tuesday morning I was out of bed early again. Milja and I left at 6:30 to take a train to Maastricht for the Maastricht University College experience day that I'd signed up for a few months before. Sitting in the train for three hours on the way to Maastricht, I had my few hours of after-vacation-depression. I was still exhausted because sleeping until 6:30 in the morning didn't do much to help me catch up on the sleep I'd missed the night before. Plus it was gray and freezing cold, and we were sitting in a dirty, empty train.
Maastricht is close to Belgium. Belgium has lots of chocolate. And so, logically, does Maastricht. I've inherited Grandpa Don's love for chocolate, so seeing all the windows full of chocolate helped make me feel better immediately. Besides the chocolate shops there were bakeries, which I've really grown to love this year. It didn't take long before being around the chocolate and the bread, and walking through the streets in Maastricht drove my after-vacation-depression away. It wasn't just the stores that made me happy- right when we walked out of the train station I could tell the city was beautiful. We had to cross a bridge and after walking past more stores with chocolate and bread, we walked through much older streets full of churches and cobbelstone roads. There were cafes with terraces everywhere and little boutiques with expensive looking shoes and clothes. As we got closer to the university I started to get the "college city" feeling. There were students biking and walking everywhere with backpacks full of books, listening to their iPods, and talking on their phones. We were completely surrounded by buildings that belonged to the university- all old and beautiful.

I would say that there were a total of about 40 students at the experience day, probably half of which were German and the other half Dutch. I was immediately interesting because my English was so good (University College Maastricht is taught in English) and everyone wanted to talk to me and know what I was doing at the experience day and how my year here has been. I could tell right away that it was a different group of students than the one I'm used to being around at school.
We spent the first half of the day listening to a talk about schedules, what kind of classes you can take and how they're divided, what the college looks like, and what sorts of jobs and housing are available in the area. Then there was a lunch and in the afternoon we were split into groups to try the "Problem Based Learning" method that they teach at UCM. The "Problem Based Learning" method is based on students having only two subjects per quarter and only about ten to twelve hours of class every week. Out of those class hours, only four of the hours are lecture hours. For every subject you start the week with a lecture from the professor, then you have a discussion about the topic with a small group of students, leave and do research by yourself, have another discussion, and then end the week with another lecture from the professor. What you learn through "Problem Based Learning" then has to be applied to a paper, an exam, etc. At the experience day we had a discussion about whether or not abortion should be allowed for selecting what kind of child a couple wants to have. The practice Problem Based Learning didn't work exactly like it was supposed to, but I did get the idea that I would be able to learn a lot that way.
At the end of the day I couldn't help it- I was picturing myself at school in Maastricht, living in an apartment there, working at one of the cafes in the city, buying bread and chocolate in the stores there.

Wednesday was quite the day for me, because I mustered up all my strength and went to school for a few hours. What a big step... Two and a half weeks is pretty long time not to go to school, and to be honest, after Wednesday it took a while before I went back again. Now that the weather's nice and there's less than two months left of school, there are all sorts of holidays and days when we don't have to go to school like usual.

Thursday was Hemelvaard Dag. I'm not really sure what kind of holdiay that is, but it meant that we didn't have school Thursday or Friday. Thursday afternoon I had my first race of the track season, and my first race after Portugal. Originally I was going to run a 3000m race, but the coaches had decided that I should try 800m to work on my speed. Wednesday night and Thursday morning I managed to get myself incredibly worked up. An hour before we had to leave for the race, I was so nervous that my hands were shaking. Because it was the first race after Portugal I put all of this pressure on myself to run really well. The results ended up being just okay, which I was disappointed in. I ran a faster 800m time than I ever have before, but not by as many seconds as I had expected. Plus, I'd forgotten how hard it is to race 800m. You're uncomfortable the entire time that you're running- it's like one long tortorous sprint. I don't deny though, that it probably was good for me.

Again, I didn't have time to wallow in the fact that the 800m didn't go exactly how I wanted it to go, because right after I'd cooled down from the race, Milja and I went to pick Antea up at the train station. When I went to Texel a month or so before, Antea and I had decided that she would come to Akersloot for Hemelvaard, because after that we couldn't think of a time when we'd be able to spend a weekend together again. There was a minor incident where Milja got a cramp in her toe and had to pull over on the side of the road for ten minutes, but besides that we managed to bring Antea back to Akersloot without any problems. We didn't do all that much on Thursday night: drank tea, looked at pictures from Portugal, walked on the beach with Misha (the puppy), and watched a movie on t.v.

Friday morning I had to bring my bike to the bike shop to get fixed. It wasn't really broken, but I'd somehow ended up with a flat tire, and since I didn't want to walk an hour back home, I'd ridden my bike anyway. Apparently that wasn't a very good idea, but nothing the bike mechanics in Akersloot can't take care of. Once we'd dropped my bike off Antea and I took the bus and then the train into Amsterdam. On one hand, it was beautiful there because for the first time since September or so the sun was shining and it was warm. On the other hand, the garbage workers in Amsterdam were on strike, and there was garbage everywhere. It was disgusting. We didn't want to sit down on any benches, or stand in the square because everywhere you looked there were piles and piles of garbage. Even the side streets had canals and apartments overflowing with garbage.
Instead of going shopping right away like we usually do when we're in Amsterdam, Antea and I had decided to go the Albert Cuyp market which is a market that they have every day in Amsterdam. It took us about half an hour (and a few added minutes of being lost) before we got there, but all the walking ended up being worth it. I know I should probably stop, because I always bring it up- but walking through the market was another "Europy" moment. Everything was super cheap, and a lot of it was completely worthless too, but it was fun to look at. We walked through the food part of the market more than once because there was so much to look at: nuts, chocolate, fruit, vegetables, fish, Turkish food, Vietnamese food, stroopwaffels, ice cream, and fresh smoothies.
When we'd seen everything there was to see at the Albert Cuyp market we'd had enough walking, so we took the tram back to the street by the Dam where you can shop (I always think of Dad when I see or ride a tram because I remember him warning me more than once about how fast and silent they are: a.k.a. deadly). Our attempt at shopping was pretty weak, because both of us were exhausted from walking around the market all morning. Instead we ended up spending most of our time in this store called "Rituals" with all these expensive lotions and creams that smell really good. I don't know how we made the connection between lotion and living in Amsterdam, but we ended up talking about what it would be like if we were both going to college here, and all the things we would put in our apartment (expensive lotions included- forget the fact that we would be dirt poor).
Around six o'clock we were ready to find someplace to eat, and we dragged ourselves all the way to the Leidseplein for dinner. Ever since I went with Milja and Anita to watch flamenco dancing on the Leidseplein I've been wanting to go out to eat there, because the atmosphere is so gezellig." It's the perfect mix of tourists and Dutch people. You don't feel like you're in a trap of people taking pictures and trying to see everything in five minutes, but you can still enjoy being around everyone speaking different languages and sitting on the terraces.
Way earlier in the day Antea and I had decided that we wanted to eat foreign food for dinner. Walking up and down the long street with restaurants by the Leidseplein we had a lot to choose from. There was Turkish, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanase, Vietnamese, and Italian food everywhere. We finally picked a Chinese restaurant with lots of people inside and a medium priced menu. There's nothing like sitting down in a comfortable chair and being served good food after you've been walking around Amsterdam all day. We were so grateful to the waiter every time he brought us something, and we spent a good couple of hours sitting in the restuarant. When we were done it was only about 8:30, and we spent some more time walking around. There happened to be an H&M still open with way cooler clothes than all of the other H&M's we'd seen that day, which meant shopping a little bit more, and then eventually taking the train back to Uitgeest where Milja picked us up (whoops- it happened again) and brought us home.

The next morning was get up and go- again. I was out of bed at 7:30 to run, Antea had set her alarm clock and was just getting out of the shower when I got back, we ate a fast breakfast and were in the bus by 9:00. We'd bought online tickets for Madame Tussaud where both of us had been wanting to go all year. The reason we hadn't gone all year? Tickets were 20 euros and turned out not to be worth it. It is incredibly cool seeing all of the famous people almost in living flesh and blood (wax) but it only takes about an hour to see all of them and take your picture in various poses standing next to them. Add in the fact that there are mobs of tourists walking through all the pictures you're taking, pushing, and driving you absolutely crazy, and it totally wasn't worth the 20 euros. At least now our curiousity is satisfied.
Since we'd started out the day as tourists, Antea and I figured that we should just keep on going the way started, and bought tickets for a boat tour around Amsterdam. If you ever happen to be in Amsterdam, and then you happen to decide you want to go on a boat tour, then you're in luck. There are lots of companies that offer boat tours in Amsterdam. We picked a one hour boat ride for eight euros, and this time we weren't disappointed. Since we'd already spent the weekend in an "if" mood (if we went to school in Amsterdam, if we lived there) we added "if" we lived on a houseboat, or in a huge flat along the canal to the list. Even though we'd already walked by most of the places that we road by, or heard about the places, seeing them from the canals gave us a new perspective that made everything much more interesting and prettier than usual. We spent the whole ride enjoying how sunny it was and talking about "if's."
Antea and I had plans to meet Milja around 2:00 because Milja and I had tickets to see Sound of Music (yes the musical!) in Dutch and Antea had to go back to Texel. By the time we were done with our canal tour it was only about 12:00, so we sat on a terrace for a while and drank coffee. It was incredibly busy though, and there was still garbage lying around everywhere, so the atmosphere wasn't very nice. Eventually our legs were rested enough that we could get up and walk again, and we decided to walk to a shopping mall in this old church building that I had just noticed and was all of a sudden dying to go into. On our way to the old church/mall (which was about a block away) we came across this group of men in blue shirts, and one in a karate outfit. After they called us over to them, we found out that they were all at a bachelor's party and the man in the karate suit was the bridegroom. For his bachelor's party he had to have 2000 kilograms of women kiss him on the cheek. Before I got used to the whole Dutch-cheek-kissing thing, I never would have agreed to this, but now I'm a natural, so I stepped right up on the scale and gave him three kisses. We'd done our good deed for the day, and made it the rest of the way to the old church/mall without anything else exciting happening.
After we'd walked around the mall for about five minutes and gone to the bathroom there (it took a while for us to get in, because between the two of us we only had fifty cents, which meant we had to walk through the gate at the same time like we were one person- it might have looked a little weird) we went and sat at the Dam waiting for Milja. She found us there and took a picture, saying that we'd found the most touristic place to sit in all of Amsterdam.
This time it was extra sad saying goodbye to Antea, because we both knew that it was the last time we had to spend a weekend together before we have to go home.

The fact that we were going to see Sound of Music- the musical that I spent hours and hours watching over and over when I was little- made me feel better. Milja and I made it just in time, because it turned out to be further walking to the Theater Carre than we thought. The musical was good, and just the same as it would have been English- except it was in Dutch, even all of the songs. There was another thing I could cross off my to do list- seeing a musical.
We walked back to the central station again, and in the nice weather Amsterdam was so... alive. Everyone was outside sitting on the sidewalks, boating in the canals, ordrinking a glass of wine by a cafe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pictures of Portugal

I have a coach who trains us well and takes good pictures too... handy, isn't it?


Passion doesn't come in moments; it's always there and it never goes away. Passion is what has made this year so important for me, and what made Portugal such an experience. And passion is what is going to make it so hard for me to leave TDR in July.
When I first started running with TDR my goal was to make the most of ten months of training with them, improve a lot, and be able to perform for the cross-country and track season when I got back to Spooner. Of course I wanted to be able to keep up with the other runners and to feel like I belonged, but I never really thought it was a possibility. Over the last few months that's changed. I've gotten so caught up in the passion of the other athletes, of the coaches, and the passion I've gained, that I don't even want to imagine what it's going to be like to train without TDR again.
It's not honest to say that passion is the only reason I love TDR- it's not. I love how professional it is, that there's a website with a real slogan, that we're sponsored by Nike, that we warm up for an hour before starting the rest of the training, that we have to send training logs to our coach every week, that we train in the dunes on Sundays, and on the track Tuesdays and Thursdays. I could go on forever about everything that I love about TDR, and it doesn't all have to do with passion. Still, passion is a huge part of it, because it's what makes everything else possible. No one can train as much and as hard as the athletes from TDR do, or coach as much as the coaches do without passion.
At the end of the two weeks in Portugal we all sat down and talked about how we thought it went, what we'd learned, and what could have gone better. When the discussion was over, the coach from the other team asked which people from the youth team thought that they could make the step over to the other team within the next year. In that moment it hit me so hard how lucky I've been. The coaches all have the same goal as the athletes: to train runners who will eventually be strong enough and fast enough to run with the other team. But I don't fall under that category. We all know that I'll be leaving in July and then I'll be done with TDR, but the coaches still coach me like everyone else, give me just as much attention, and train me with just as much passion as they do all of the other athletes. I don't know how Milja found TDR or why the coaches let me start training with them. I don't really understand how it all began, but I know it's going to be incredibly hard to let it end.
The thing is, it's just starting now. Right now, I'm starting to run faster, to be able to train harder, and to feel like I belong. In Portugal, the practices weren't about not being left behind anymore. They were about running the right times for myself and focusing on real goals. Getting left behind didn't happen very often- I ran with the rest of the team, not behind them. Now, almost every practice goes better than the practice I had before, and over two months (less than two months) I have to leave. I love running more than I ever have before.

I'm doing my best to hold on to the "Portugal feeling." I don't ever want to forget what the days were like there; training, eating fresh bread on the balcony, napping every afternoon, training again. I'm not going to forget what it's like to be taken so seriously, to run up a hill and feel like you could do it ten more times, and to run on the track with so many strong athletes.
More than anything I hope that after I leave I can hold onto the passion I've gotten through this year: through all the races, all the practices, all the long coversations about running, the other athletes, the coaches, and through Portugal.