Blacktop Rain

…and other secret joys


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Why are you learning Dutch?

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Me, being Dutch

I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.

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All the wild horses

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I’ve written another blog post for the excellent City Creatures blog, run by the people at the Center for Humans & Nature. The post is about visiting the Oostvaardersplassen, a nature reserve in the Netherlands, and seeing the wild konik horses. It’s also about what it means for an animal to be wild and how visiting the Oostvaardersplassen shifted my notion of how a wild animal should behave.

Here’s a wee extract: Continue reading


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Crossing borders: Amsterdam to Duisburg

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This weekend I caught the train to Duisburg to visit my stepmum and younger brothers. Duisburg is just across the border from the Netherlands, so I wasn’t sure that I would be able to tell when the train had crossed over. I expected the landscape would be similar to the one I’m familiar with (mainly the western portion of the Netherlands) and that the border would be indecipherable. After the train pulled out of Arnhem, which I knew was very close to the border, I watched attentively from the train window. And there it was, a subtle shift in the lay of the land, a change in the palette, and the thought popped into my head – we’ve crossed the border. A little further along I saw a German flag, which confirmed my suspicion (though I later saw plenty of Dutch flags (and even Union Jacks) in Duisburg, which made me question whether the flag was really a reliable guide). Continue reading


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An island day: exploring Texel

Image by Jan-Willem van Aalst via Wikimedia Commons.

Image by Jan-Willem van Aalst via Wikimedia Commons.

Last Friday, we decided that we would get up early the next day, catch a train to Den Helder, hire bikes, hop on a ferry and spend the day cycling round Texel (pronounced Tessel). Why? Because Texel is an island and isn’t that reason enough?

Texel is part of the Frisian Islands – a chain of islands that stretches from the Netherlands up along the coasts of Germany and Denmark. Before I moved to Amsterdam, I loaned of a guide book to the Netherlands from the library. I remember flicking through it and coming across a section on the Frisian Islands. I’m not even sure what it said about the islands – perhaps just that they existed – but whatever it was, the idea of visiting them was lodged in my head. Continue reading


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On writing nostalgically and being in place

Manchester Oxford Rd train station (because apparently this is the only picture of Manchester I've taken)

Manchester Oxford Rd train station (because apparently this is the only picture of Manchester I’ve taken)

Two weeks ago I spent a few days back in the UK. I thought I’d probably end up writing a blog post about it, because I expected it to be a noteworthy experience. In a lot of ways it was, but not in the ways I expected it to be. I had expected to feel as though I was back in the UK, to feel a sense of having returned. I expected reverse culture shock.

I did notice a few differences. Oddly, one thing that really stood out to me is that people in the UK look, well, kind of miserable. Though perhaps that’s not so odd considering that Dutch children are the happiest in the world (UK children rank 16th), whilst the Netherlands was ranked 4th in the 2013 UN World Happiness Report. But on the whole, I didn’t really feel a sense of being back in the UK. Continue reading


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Spring is here and so am I

2014-03-02 15.05.08It’s felt like a busy few weeks. We had two weekends in a row of visitors – first, my stepmother and brothers and then, some old friends from university. Aside from the fact that it was lovely to spend time with family and friends, I also enjoyed showing off my new city. Acting as a tour guide for our visitors helped to divorce me from the day-to-day realities of being an expat in a foreign country and instead see Amsterdam as a tourist would. It’s hard not to fall in love with the place as you wander along sunlit canals and down narrow alleyways, lined with shops and cafés. Amsterdam certainly has some unique and oddly specific shops – so far we’ve come across a shop that just sells coffee and one kind of cookie (probably the most expensive cookie I’ve ever eaten at €1.95 a pop), a canvas shop that sells nothing but canvas fabric, and – I kid you not – a toothbrush shop. You have to love a city that can support that kind of economy. Continue reading