Not the Nine O'clock News

For your viewing pleasure here are a couple of my favourite clips from the old show.

Gerald the Gorilla

Darts Sketch

 

Farewell to Nan Ranger

After a life on the other side of the world I didn't know my Nan Ranger very well and it was only on her 90th birthday I finally met her and got to know all those personality traits including where my father gets his cheeky nature.

It was when I was first born she made her only visit to New Zealand and it took me a while to return the favour. Since then I've popped in from New Zealand a number of times to make the visit.

Her body was old and frail but her mind remained sharp. I sincerely believed she would be the first Ranger (that I know of) to make the ton and get a birthday card from the Queen but it wasn't to be.

I take comfort in having the opportunity to get to know her and for Renate to have meet her this year.

Nan Ranger's 96th Birthday

More on Nan's visit this year with my post Only a four needed for a century

 

Mt Pirongia Tramp 2007

Mt Pirongia is the main landscape feature just to the west of Hamilton. It's very close to Auckland but seems almost forgotten.

Mike, Regina and I headed down on the Saturday morning and planned to spend the night at the hut as always taking tents just in case all 6 bunks were full.

On a previous visit we thought we had taken the wrong track as it was quite rugged and took under longer than expected. With this in mind I checked all the signs and times and we set off up the Mahaukura track.

It was an overcast day with the cloud trapping in the heat so it was going to be a sweaty one. Shortly after starting the walk I had a nagging feeling my car was unlocked and the feeling didn't fade so after running back to check I discovered I had made the right call, locked my car and returned to the others.

Not long after we discovered we were on the correct track the previous trip mostly following a ridge line and using the roots of plants to assist. It took us the planned 6hrs with numerous stops as we weren't in a hurry.

We made it in time to reserve our spots in the hut but since we had our gear and more people were arriving we used our tents.

First things first, remove the boots

That evening at the hut from just under the 1000M summit the sunset was spectacular lighting up the forest and sky alike.

Sunset from Pirongia

In the morning it was much the same with a lovely sunrise and crystal clear sky. After a leisurely breakfast we headed back up to the summit before taking after track down. We could see all the harbours below the mountain and all the mountain ranges across the central North Island including Taranaki, Ruapehu, Nurahoe, Tongariro, Kaimai's, Hunua's and Coromandal.

Looks at Tirohanga from Pirongia

With views all the way down we took the Tirohanga then Ruapane tracks getting back to the car in about 5hrs before heading back to Auckland.  

 

Interesting facts about New Zealand

  • Lake Taupo, the big lake in the middle of Zealand's North Island is the worlds largest volcanic crater.
  • If you were to lay New Zealand on a map of Europe, Invergagill would be about Zurich in Switzerland and Cape Reinga would be 300kms into Africa.
  • Famous New Zealander's include Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first person to climb Mount Everest and Ernest Rutherford who was the first to split the atom and of course the first person to fly Richard Pearse.
  • In 1987 New Zealand became a nuclear-free country free from nuclear weapons and power. Of course this meant the US Government downgraded us from a ally to a friend (C'est la vie).
  • The Kiwifruit unlike the Kiwi (confused by European's as the fruit rather than the bird or person) was imported from China. When I was young this was called the Chinese Gooseberry.
  • Some of the more interesting New Zealand inventions include the Tranquilliser Dart Gun, Milking Machines and Ear tags for farming, Disposable Syringes, Bungy Jumping, Blokart's and Zorbing.

Update You may also want to have a look at Interesting facts about Holland

 

Te Henga (Bethelle's) Walk 2007

After Holland its straight back in the bush, well sort of...

Auckland is one of the narrowest points of New Zealand nestled between the Tasman sea, Pacific Ocean and home to three large harbours. The east coast is littered with sheltered white sandy beaches where as the west coast is a lot more rugged with its black sand large surf.

The walk follows an established and marked route from the top of the cliffs and Murawhai and takes you North along the cliff tops to Bethelle's beach. All in all its not a long walk and the sea breeze certainly keeps you cool as there's almost no shelter from the sun along the walk. Wear sunscreen.

It takes about 3-4 hrs each way but we cheated and parked cars at both ends but in some ways you spend more time doing this that walking.

O'Neill Bay then Bethelle's Beach

O'Neill Bay

Bethelle's Beach

We finished the day a picnic dinner to watch the sun go down at the lake behind Bethelle's beach. All in all, it was a great day except for a bit of car sickness on the windy roads. 

Off to the lake at Bethelle's Beach 

Sunset at Bethelle's Beach

 

Whilst in Holland...

  • Two guests came to stay from New Zealand (not that I expected everyone to come over).
  • 5831 photos taken which in a 2 hour sideshow would mean less that one a second.
  • Two others deserted New Zealand indefinitely. My brother Rob and Stanley a good friend and Salsa instructor.
  • Visited seven other counties (Belgium, Germany, Turkey, UK, Czech Republic, Guernsey and Slovenia).
  • 8 babies born. Congratulations to the parents Matt & Belinda, Rob Hogan & Barbara, Norman & Victoria, Simon & Sandra, Simon & Cara, Kelly & Fiona, Sean & Tracy, Craig & Heleen and another 3 on the way that I know of.
  • 5 weddings of which I was able to attend a couple in Holland. Congratulations Corine & Hubert, Ginny & Nick, Vicki & Rodney, Geoff & Leigh, Brent & Mary and couple more scheduled.
  • 3 people have passed away including my May Sampson my New Zealand grandmother.

 

...and for the blog...

  • I've posted 39 blog entries but apparently they read like encyclopedia articles but I'm not exactly a writer :-)
  • 409 regular visitors to my blog and on average read it 3 times.
  • The most popular articles were Stone Marten (Martes foina), Koningindag (Queen's Day) and Istanbul and Troy, Turkey 2007.
  • Funniest search terms people used to find my blog "renate likes to" and "prague blog stag".
  • Wow, people came to my blog from 45 different countries including Maldives, Kuwait and Malaysia but the Dutch topped out the Kiwis in terms of readership with the US and UK coming in after that. The Dutch also spent longer reading but maybe that may be due to understanding the slang.

 

Likes and dislikes of living in Holland

After 7 months living in Holland where is what I have enjoyed the most:

  • Living with Renate of course but that is the point.
  • No rush hour. Ok so this isn't a Dutch thing but I can wake up in the morning and be working at 7:30 without sitting in a car for 30-45 minutes.
  • Biking pretty much everywhere. The movies, shopping for groceries, going to friends houses or even the forest.
  • Different foods. Lots more interesting types of food to try both at the supermarket and dining our or at friends places. Fresh figs aren't $2.50.
  • Being so close to everywhere else in Europe. Weekend trips to other countries.
  • Meeting new people
  • Learning all the subtle cultural differences (some not to subtle). I even went to a ballet :-)
  • The great selection of beers on offer and of course better access to South African wines.
  • Lack of chain stores - You can go to 20 towns and except for the supermarkets all the small shops are unique (unlike the malls in NZ).
  • Terraces and canals of HollandTerraces - The city centres are pretty much closed to traffic and every restaurant/bar has seating on the street.
  • The streets are alive with street performers and artworks

 

...but there also some things I didn't like or missed:

  • Being away from my friends, family and colleagues
  • The hard water always coating the jug with calcium?
  • The constant McDonald's signs whilst on the motorways. Its almost like McDonald's was the only company to get permission to put signs up above the height of buildings.
  • Unable to have great Asian food
  • Having to call an 0900 number and stay on hold to tell your Internet Service Provider (ISP) your Internet isn't working. Is there something wrong with this picture?
  • Missing the New Zealand bush and mountains... a lot and the first thing I'll do when I get back.
  • Only being able to buy small cuts of meat in vacuum packed containers.

bp_hookervalley

 

Saturday morning soccer

NEC football club (Nijmegen)Just around the corner is the local soccer club NEC whose colours are black, green and red. Every time I go through the park and they are practicing or playing it reminds me of my soccer days.

Wind the clock back quite a few years and on Saturday mornings we would get up early, suit up in our outfits, shiny clean boots and the all important shin pads.

Rain, shine or hail, mum and dad used to take us boys off to our different games which must have been difficult (3 boys and 2 parents). They would stand at the side lines for more than an hour and a half as we warmed up and then played. If it was our turn we would bring along oranges for half time.

My team was East Coast Bays but my brother Nick and I also teamed up in the 2nd 11 for Rangitoto College.

Go East Coast Bays!

The Dutch are soccer mad in the same way as the British and in my reckoning the biggest sport in Holland as it in in New Zealand (if you're under the age of 16). Even kids as old as 5 can kick the ball better than me which isn't saying much :-)

Still, I am yet to attend a game so maybe that's one for the boys on of these days.

 

Camping on the Island of Vlieland in Holland

It's the end of summer here so the crowds are gone leaving the camp sites empty. Renate's parents were at the end of their 3 week holiday on Vlieland so we decided to join them for a weekend. It was such as good idea that Renate's sisters both came along as well with their respective friends/partners.

I've been here before but its nice to be back in the place where Renate and her family spent many years for their summer holidays. It's difficult to describe as its more of a feeling but the words baron and wild come to mind.

Vlieland camp site from the sea

Vlieland is one of the Islands just off the North coast of Holland. Although there are cars on the island they are just for the locals so you need to carry everything you need. After departing the ferry we balanced the tents and bags on the back of bikes and walked them to the camp but a horse and cart is also available.

The tents all have the same sturdy construction designed to take the wind and their sandy colour allows them to blend into the sand dunes. Mostly the camp sites are unnumbered so you can just find a spot in the dunes and setup however parts of the dunes are fenced off to protect them against erosion. Sites are also available if you need power or Internet access. Gosh everyone knows Internet access should be wireless :-)

On arrival we sat down for a spot of lunch after which we set up the tents placing a plastic sheet underneath to keep them clean rather than dry.  

Our tent site on Vlieland

Some keen campers rent a spot for the entire season. For their €1,300 they can come and go through the season leaving their tent where is stands. They normally decorate their tents with bits they find on the beach from old nets, buoys and driftwood adding real character to the place. The toilet blocks are very clean and warm include under floor heating. The kids even have miniature toilets and showers.

PeekabooAs all the tents look similar, small flags help distinguish your tent from others and help friends and family locate you  in the middle of the dunes.

The rest of the trip we took it pretty easy going out to dinner on the beach one night, exploring by bike but otherwise taking it easy.

If you want a good tent in Holland there is only one brand De Waard, and only 3 places in the entire country to get one.

 

Garbage in, garbage out

Don't you hate it when you are in the supermarket and in a split second before you can say "no bags please" they have your bags wrapped inside other bags inside other bags and only put a couple of items in each bag? Sometimes I feel like I come home with more plastic than I do product!

I try to recycle as much as possible at home however I feel like we can always do more. In Europe this is this is almost a reality with everyone brining their own bags which has started to take off in New Zealand.

In Germany I believe if you need something from the deli you just bring your container and get them to fill it for you. Cool huh.

The only exception to this phenomenon has been in New Zealand news recently and that's the one of "food will kill you, you will die" and it needs to be hygienically sealed before hitting the shelves. What ever happed to safe cooking? Except for a few fruit and vege everything in Europe is wrapped.

The supermarkets play their party too hosting machines for recycling. Instead of leaving your bottles in a box on the footpath you take them to the local supermarket and stick them into a machine that can identify a Grolsch Wit beir bottle from a normal Grolsch bottle. The machine then spits out a credit for you to redeem at the checkout. You can also recycle batteries which a lot better throwing them out with the normal rubbish.

I congratulate the Europeans on their stance and I doubt its just a show like the original recycling attempts of some fast food chains in NZ where the recycling bins were just emptied into the normal rubbish.

 

Winter is coming

P1070565 A little over a week ago I looked outside and and there in the middle of the greenery there was a patch of orange. With summer officially over we are into Autumn and the trees are very quickly preparing for hibernation.

Even though we have been blessed with clear skies the temperature rarely gets above 18 degrees. In the sun it is warm but the the shadows are cold.

Everyone is now dressing in their winter clothes with big coats and scarf's but its not actually that cold.... yet.

It's strange to think that if I was in New Zealand I would probably be on a mountain skiing in similar conditions. Perhaps in a t-shirt in September.

Update: Autumn has struck with a vengeance. A couple of weeks later and the days are misty, the roads are covered with leaves and the trees presenting with a colourful display or gold and orange.

 

Snake in the Grass

Yesterday whilst we were riding in the forest I saw my first real live snake that wasn't in captivity. I've seen plenty of creepy crawlies over the years in various countries but never a snake even in Australia.

280pxAnyway, it turned out this little fellow is the stock standard Grass Snake ("Ringslang" in Dutch) identifiable from its distinct yellow/black neck markings. It was actually pretty cute measuring about a metre long but only about 15mm at its widest point and it was curled up like snakes do. I found it in the middle of the road so herded it to safety with my bike safe to live another day.

ringsl

Update I remembered I have seen a sea snake in Fiji too.

 

Op je fiets (On your bike)

The entire time I've been living here we have only used the car once to go somewhere local. Hey it was a rainy night and we felt like curries (Mmmm, oh how we miss Sages).

We literally go everywhere by bike and why not? The steepest street is up a bridge over the river. Fietspaden (cycle ways) are footpaths especially for bikes and scooters. At major intersections they have their own traffic lights but normally bikes have the right of way. This is pretty scary at first deliberately biking into the path of an oncoming car but they stop. Glad I'm not coming from Holland to New Zealand.

Nijmegen is a student town so there are a lot of young people but its also home to many older people and disabled (I can't remember the current politically correct term). They are just as quick on the fietspaden with their supercharged mobility scooters. Maybe Top Gear should do an episode of them. I wonder how many scooter vs. car accidents there are.

The local constabulary often patrol the streets on their bikes and will sting you 20 euros for every light not lit if you're riding at night. Other than that there aren't many rules. Helmets are not required so even in the forest and road riders hardly ever wear helmets.

If you need to catch a train you ca either lock your bike up in a special garage at the station or better yet just take a fold up bike.

dutch kids on bikePeople ride around town, two bags full of groceries on the back, two kids sitting in child seats, one front and one back. One hand holding an umbrella, one holding a cigarette whilst talking on their mobile phone. The children that are old enough to double hold onto their parents like Koala bears.

Except for the hot weather biking (fietsen) is a fast and safe way to get around town and even between towns or countries. Often you can get somewhere faster by bike than by car.

Auckland needs to certainly needs to buck up their ideas and add more dedicated cycle paths. I don't mean the kind that doubles as a bus lane. Buses and bikes don't mix.

For me biking in Holland is a fantastic way to get around. I still need to learn the Dutch way of riding slowly hand in hand having a chat along the way.

P1070745

 

Food, glorious food

Kaas and brood (Cheese and bread) is the staple here for breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner.

Unlike New Zealand the supermarkets are considerably smaller with the local Albert Hein XL (which everyone comments "how great it is to have a large supermarket") is only slightly larger than the local 4 Square. Due to the small size of these establishments the selection is somewhat limited. For example, you can reach to both ends of the cereal section without moving a foot. This is quite unlike the 50 metre isle 2 stories high at the Pak N Save next door with 100 different types of cereal. Where this is "turned on it's head" (opposite for Dutchy's) is the Drop (Dutch licorice) isle.

Kroketten from the wallUnlike myself in Kiwiland who drives to the supermarket next door buys huge amount of food to last me a month, the Dutch go daily to buy what they need for that day and perhaps breakfast the next day. This may seem inconvenient but I don't know how I could fit my normally load on the back of my bike.

Of course there are lots of fast foods as well. Whilst out on the markets of course there is fresh Stroopwafel (honey coated waffles), Haring (salted raw Herring) and of course Dutch Kroketten which you can get out of the window or as takeaways with fries and mayonnaise.

I feel like a kid in a lolly shop as the saying goes. So many new products to try and finally its easy to purchase all those items its difficult to get in NZ such as fresh figs and prosciutto. It's all just there waiting form me to try out new recipes.

PS: What is the world coming to when you buy McDonald's tomatoe sauce in the supermarket like you can here?

 

A litre of petrol...

Texaco Petrol sign in Nijmegen, Netherlands In Holland petrol is €1.56 per litre whilst in New Zealand it's about the same but in New Zealand dollars. That's about half the price so count yourself lucky kiwis.

Petrol is so expensive on the motorways that they don't even advertise the prices. At the smaller stations some unmanned you just use your cash point card and are played ads on a TV screen at the pump as you fill up.

One of the guys in my Dutch class, Ali comes from Iran and recently petrol has increased from 3 euro cents per litre to 8 euro cents per litre in the last few years.

Most people in Holland use bikes to get around or public transport. Of course if you live you live in one place and work in another town off the main rail links people still drive.

Every morning the news shows a map of Holland with all the traffic jams shown in red and measuring hundreds of kilometres. In winter it can be up to 800kms which is more than double the height of the country!

 

Double Dutch

In Holland it means using two different types of contraceptive but I've ways know it as something that is confusing ("This is all double Dutch").

Learning Dutch has been both good fun and hard. Good fun because its learning something new and talk in a different language but difficult because everyone speaks English and you never know the exact words to say in Dutch. I can't exactly have a conversation with Renate after a hard days work "Hallo Renate, Ik ben Antony", its more like "ok, and so the person's foot has rotted away because they weren't taking their medication correctly.

P1040611Everyone in the Dutch class were there learning Dutch for themselves rather than having to learn it as part of living in Holland. We came from a wide area including Estonia, Bosnia, Iran, Iraq, Romania, Thailand, Turkey, Colombia and of our me from New Zealand. Our tutor Peter did a great job although I can imagine the frustration at times.

We took a couple of trips to help us with our integration. One to a Kaasboerderij (cheese farm) and the other to Den Bosch.

 P1020024  P1020048 

Learning Dutch I felt like I was 2 years old again learning new words, asking "what is this", "what is that" all the time like my nephew Sam. My first Dutch word book (a gift from Renate's parents) is a picture book like something from Richard Scary.

It started off easy enough where you can pretty much substitute words in Dutch for English "Ik ben Antony" is "I am Antony" but it quickly gets a bit more complex:

  • When telling the time you say its "half tien" (half ten) its actually 9:30 and 8:40 is worded "tien over half negen" (10 minutes over half past eight).
  • Many words have several completely different meanings. An Ezel is an esil but also a donkey.
  • Squirrel translates to Eekhoorn (pronounced Acorn) where as an Acorn is Eikel which is also the head of a penis.
  • Shop sales on Monday (Easter etc) are called Sale Sunday but on Monday.

There are also lots of funny literal translations so here are just a few:

  • Letter box (brievenbus) translates to "letter bus".
  • Pocket (kontzak) translates to "bum sack"
  • Snail (slak) translates to "slug" but a slug translates to "naked slug" (naakt slak)
  • Hospital (ziekenhuis) translates to "sick house"

 

The Dutch Wedding as a day guest

It was a lovely summer morning and we needed to drive to Enschede to be there for 9:30am. If you're a day guest the Dutch wedding starts very early.

We started with tea, coffee and cake at the bride and groom's apartment with the rest of the day guests everyone dressed up for the big day. Hubert (the groom) was safely staying at his family's place but soon arrived to pickup Corine and together welcomed the day guests. It was then a short walk from their apartment across the centre to the city council building whilst Hubert drove Corine in the wedding car.

Corine & HubertThe city council is the official marriage in the eyes of the government. Photos were taken in the large halls before moving upstairs into the small chapel like room where the ceremony took place and the marriage certificate was signed.

Afterwards we headed outside and around the corner to a lovely old Catholic church where we were treated to a traditional Catholic wedding with the lighting of the candles and communion. No so traditional was Hubert's sister Lynette's rendition of James Taylor's "You've got a friend".

From the church Corine and Hubert went for these photos whilst the rest of us headed to Bloemenbeek in De Lutte (the reception venue) for a spot of lunch and waited for them to return giving us time to decorate their room as they were staying the night. A little while later the skies opened with a massive downpour but they arrived shortly after missing the rain. We greeted them with a song followed by a slide show of their lives, the cutting of the cake and opening of gifts.

Next on the agenda was dinner so we found our way around the corner to another room where we were seated at a few large round tables for the evening meal. It was a large piece of eye fillet cooked in hay and was heerlijk (yummy). Dinner was followed by dessert and speeches of which Renate shared her experiences with Corine whilst they lived in Guyana working at the local hospital (I modelled the photos).

It was now time for the party which was located in yet another room. There evening guests were already there and the band was playing a great mix of popular tracks. I knew most of them and everyone under the age of 65 was up and dancing. Most were short versions so you didn't get bored with the songs that dragged on.

There was also other entertainment during the evening. Hubert's work colleagues dragged him up along with some of his other friends for a blindfolded air guitar session. The only thing was that as soon as the song started his friends were taken off the stage leaving only Hubert do the song by himself of which he would make any rocker proud. Lynette also did a fantastic job of singing another song "You just call out my name".

The night ended quite late with a complaint about the noise finishing with ham and mustard rolls and satay. We stuck around afterwards and had a quiet drink as we were also staying at the hotel. Instead of going to bed through we had a swim at 2am in the deserted pool room.

Antony & Renate in Enschede

In the morning we sat down with the married couple and their family for breakfast before enjoying some of the surrounding countryside.

I felt privileged to be part of such as special occasion. Congratulations!

Corine & Hubert

Update: Actually Hubert's parents up up and dancing as well and they are 75.

 

Mmmmm, bier

I've always been a fan of Grolsch bier although back in my student days it was a bit expensive for a student budget. Unlike Heineken, Grolsch remains brewed and bottled in The Netherlands and shipped out the New Zealand in its natural form even though the bottles have lost their ceramic cap.

Now that I'm here it's the perfect opportunity to try all the delights on offer including the huge variety of European beers. Unlike the supermarkets in New Zealand you can buy single bottles (or mini-kegs) rather than by the six pack or dozen. This makes sampling the large selection even easier.

Last October I discovered a little known (even amongst the Dutch) named Grolsch Weizen (Wheat even though I thought it meant White). I declare it my current favourite beer.

From the first moment the wire rips the neck seal and the ceramic top pops with a little cloud of gas escaping you know something special has begun. As you pour its amber contents into a glass the fine froth reaches back up the glass. It's cloudy appearance says its not your usual chemically enhanced purified beer but a more earthy organic beverage.

Suitable for a hot summer day or a cold winters evening this beer is not only tasty but versatile. It's large bottle size means you always need to refill your glass so you're never left hanging wanting more.

There is a Dutch saying (that a not so old Dutchman recently taught me) that sums up Grolsche Weizen:

Alsof er een engeltje op je tong piest

(It feels like an angel is pissing on your tongue) - Sorry Mum


 

Microsoft Surface

Despite the name, Microsoft Surface is extremely cool and will revolutionise where and how we interact with computers. This is a real product that you can buy today for lots of money.

Enough talking, go to the Microsoft Surface site, look and the videos then watch the one below for a actual non-marketing real-world demo.

 

Farewell Nan, we will miss you

Just before heading to Slovenia for a weeks holiday I rang my grandfather in New Zealand to wish him a happy birthday. It was anything but, Nan wasn't doing well and he didn't expect her to last much longer. A day later and after 86 wonderful years she left us.

For as long as I can remember, she has always been a part of my life spending large amounts of time together when I was younger, for this I consider myself very lucky. I was her first grandson and first generation New Zealander in the family.

I am grateful for the family bond and values passed down the generations and will continue this myself with my children and grandchildren. Without her I would not be the person I am today.

We found it difficult being on holiday at such a time and wished we could be there with everyone. Back in New Zealand there is great family support and the mountain walking in Slovenia gave me ample time to reflect on her life and what she meant to us.

It was a beautiful funeral with many people coming to pay their respects. My brother played Across the Universe by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, many lovely words were said and she was honored by the Last Post from her days in the Royal Air Force.

Thank you to all those who helped out the past couple of weeks arranging everything and keeping me informed and to Nick for representing both Renate and myself.

Always looking back with that smile on her face. I will always will remember her this way.

 

Interesting facts about Holland

  • The drinking age is only 16 so I haven't been asked for ID.
  • Soft drugs and only soft drugs like Marijuana and Magic Mushrooms are legal in Holland and can only be sold at licensed coffee shops. You can however grow your own. What's going to happen next year when the smoking ban is introduced?
  • Prostitution is legal but you must be at least 18 years old and you must be at least 16 to participate.
  • Why do Dutchies like orange so much? It's the name of the royal family "House of Orange".
  • Tulips don't actually come from Holland. They come from Turkey just like the Kiwifruit is actually from China (the Chinese Gooseberry). They do however grow and sell the most.
  • Some people still wear clogs and dress in the old "Milk maid" outfits. Of course this isn't everyday people walking down the street on the way to work but older more traditional communities (not just the tourist towns).
  • Holland has the highest population density in Europe with over 493 people per square kilometer.
  • Netherlands literally means low country. Only half of the country is over higher than one meter whilst 27% is actually below sea level. It's highest point is only 321 meters. When sitting on an airplane at Amsterdam the elevation shows as 15m below sea level.
  • A large part of Holland has been reclaimed including the worlds largest man-made island Flevoland. This led to the Dutch saying "God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands".
  • As well as reclaiming huge amounts of land the Dutch also blocked off part of the sea and turned in into a giant lake, the IJsselmeer.
  • New York used to be named New Amsterdam as it was a Dutch colony. Australia was named New Holland and New Zealand was named after the Dutch province Zeeland by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman.
  • Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, Escher are a just but a few of the famous Dutch artists.

  • The Dutch are the tallest people in the world. Men average 1.84m and women 1.7m. None of Renate's side of the family are exceptionally tall :-)
  • Dutch inventions include the cassettes and video tapes, CDs, microscope and telescope.
  • Some of the world biggest companies are Dutch including Philips Electronics, Royal Dutch Shell, IKEA (was Swedish), ING and ABN-AMRO (maybe be British very soon).
  • At its widest point Holland is 260kms wide and 295kms high and it less than one sixth the size of New Zealand.
  • If you were to put Holland in the same place in the Southern hemisphere Amsterdam will be south of Invergarvill just south of Auckland Island. Being on the mainland the temperatures are more extreme than in New Zealand.
  • The Dutch are the third largest exporter of agricultural products which is way more than New Zealand for a lot smaller country.
  • When you buy a car in Holland you get 3 number plates. One for the front, one for the back and a spare for your bike rack.

Got your own interesting fact about Holland? Add it to the comments.

Update You may also want to have a look at Interesting facts about New Zealand

 

The mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes".

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now", said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else, the small stuff.

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you."

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled.

I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.

 

Goodnight Kiwi

Probably more appropriate for my last days here but here it is both the original and directors cut.

For those who have never seen, this clip was played at the end of the TV coverage for the evening in New Zealand before 24hour TV coverage was the norm.

 

Vierdaagse (Four day walk)

Every year at this time Nijmegen hosts its biggest event on the years calendar. Much like the Tour de France but on foot, in Nijmegen, and only for four days.

People flock here from all over the world to join in for the week of walking and parties with over 42,000 people participating in the walking and everyone else joining in on the fun.

Everyone can join in with people as young as 12 and as old as 90 walking 40kms every day for 4 days in a row. If you want there is even a 50km/day walk. This year 63 counties were represented including New Zealand. Some Dutchies do it every year as a sort of holiday with the record being 66 times (that's over 10,000kms which is like walking half way to New Zealand in 264 days).

Every day there is a different walk each taking a different route out of the city and back in later in the day. The streets are lined with seating and some people even reserve spots early by padlocking their couches and chairs to trees in the days before.

So many people gather that the government asks for people to billet some of the visitors, farmers turn their paddocks into makeshift camp sites complete with blow up swimming pools.

I was last in Nijmegen a couple of years ago when Nijmegen turned 2000 years old and hosted the Vierdaagse. It was just as mad.

This year we joined some friends for a BBQ across the other side of the Waal looking back at Nijmegen and watching the fireworks.

 

Prague (Praag, Praha), Czech Republic

I've been wanting to visit Prague for a long time ever since I first saw pictures of the Gothic city covered in snow in winter. Well it wasn't winter but the city is just as spectacular and a lot more vibrant that I had imagined.


It is one of the nicest cities I have been too with beautiful buildings, castles, churches, culture and history. Prague is real mixture of all the architecture styles from Gothic, Renaissance and all the other styles I know nothing about. It is spit down the middle by the river Vltava/Moldau and high up on the hill is Prague Castle, housing its own cathedral which is one of over 250 churches in the city.

Our first excursion was to the Terezin not your usual holiday spot. The town was turned into a Jewish Ghetto/Concentration Camp and nearby prison fortress close to the German border. No one was gassed at Terezin but the conditions were pretty harsh with the Jewish leaders deciding the fate of the citizens as the trains left bound for Auschwitz. Built in 1780, the small fortress was used for political prisoners with huge numbers of people per cell and it was actually home to Gavrillo Princip after he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand starting WWI.

It wasn't all doom and gloom however as we also enjoyed some of Prague's culture. Classical concerts were everywhere so we picked a suitable selection of music and popped along to a string quartet performance in an old church. The acoustics and music were truly wonderful and left us wondering where the rest of the orchestra was and if everyone in Prague is that talented.

Prague is also home to black light theatres. We booked in and saw a silent comedy/magic/illusion show about a magic box which was a gateway to another world (the black light bit). It was all very entertaining.

We were very lucky to be in Prague at this particular weekend as the city was celebrating the 650th birthday of the Charles bridge. Everyone was in medieval dress putting on shows around the city, birds of prey, wenches dancing to musicians on a wagon and people wheeling canons around for other shows (Not to mention the all night parties).

A weekend is far too short to spend in Prague so we'll be back again. Oh, and for the beer lovers... the supermarket sells beer for 7.5 euro cents per bottle.

 

The Dutch Stag Night (Vrijgezellenfeest)

Corine and Hubert will be getting married on the 20th June so it is only fair they get one last night of freedom. Whilst the girls made necklaces and ate Gourmetten the boys headed out of town for an afternoon of fun and adventure.

It started with a Canadian Canoe trip down a river joining two nearby towns. We caught a ride to the start and jumped in our boats. Everyone wanted to avoid being in the same boat as Hubert just in case he was targeted so at the end only Hubert, Pascal and I were left. We finally launched our vessel after the others giving them a head start.

Slowly we caught up to the other boats and after a brief tussle managed to pass each without capsizing. Some of the bridges were so low that you have to lay down in the canoe or hit your head. Other obstacles included mini waterfalls and getting stuck in the reeds.

As we approached the last part of our journey, we stumbled across some children and educated them in river warfare. We concluded the session by indicating another three boats were following. By the time the other boats made it to the finish they were all drenched however one boat capsized themselves trying to make it under one of the bridges with Chef loosing his glasses. There was even a report of one boat being taken out of the water and walked over the bridge.

The second part of the day involved a game of Boerengolf (farmers golf). Basically the golf club is a broom stick with a clog on the end of it and the idea it to smack a Barney or Thomas the Tank Engine rubber ball around a field, trying to sink it in the holes. It is more difficult than it sounds trying to hit a light rubber ball into the wind from long grass with a clog on a stick but it is fun.

After 9 holes the light was fading so we retired to the barn to clean up, sit down to a BBQ dinner and polish off a couple of kegs of Dutch beer. That's all I remember... 

So, the bachelor parties are pretty much the same in both countries in that a good time is had by all but the activities vary somewhat.

 

Guernsey and Sark

Whilst in the UK we took a short side trip to Guernsey to visit my uncle Clive. It's only a small Island just of Normandy a world away from the UK and one of the worlds financial centre's although you wouldn't know it to look. Part of the British commonwealth its neither part of the UK or the EU and this I guess is for tax reasons.

For such a small island Guernsey has a rich history dating back to the stone age 5000BC, the Roman Empire, through the middle ages, Napoleonic wars and even during World War II. It was actually part of the Norman conquest of England back in 1066.

During our stay Clive showed us around the key spots and we even had time to swim in the English channel although it was very fresh.

Much of the natural landscape reminded me of the New Zealand's east coast but the narrow streets, old buildings and walls were of a European village.

On Guernsey we took a day trip to the Isle of Sark not too far away in terms of the boat ride but quite a different story in terms of culture. The island is still governed by the feudal system, so what the Lord says, goes.

No vehicles are allowed except for tractors, horse and carriage and bikes so we found ourselves exploring the islands nooks and crannies by bike. At one stage we came across the combined ambulance and fire station and both we appropriately painted trailers to be towed by tractors and they are actually used.


 

Only a four needed for a century

Ryan Air needs to be seen to be believed and for 20 euro return to the London I'm not complaining. Everything is extra including priority seating and putting your luggage in the hold. It's literally a race to grab a seat as you don't have an allocated seat. Onboard the plane the seats are plastic and don't even have seat pockets. The safety instructions are printed on the headrest of the seat in front of you. Advertising lines every overhead locker as they even sell lottery tickets and rail passes on the planes. The worst part is the landing which the pilots are still trying to master.

I was last in the UK five years ago when my brother got married so it was about time I went back especially being so close.

It was my grandmothers birthday on my fathers side and Nan was turning 96 and just as cheeky as she probably was as a young lass. Just imagine what those eyes have seen from 2 world wars, countries coming and going like the tides and of course space exploration and new technologies like mobile phones.

One evening we popped across to Hyde Park as Crowded House and Peter Gabriel were playing. Minutes before we stocked up on picnic food and wine at the local organic supermarket only to have the wine taken away at the entrance. Its amazing how many people can read the back of a ticket and come up with their own view of what is/is not allowed. Crowded House was great live but immediately after the skies opened flooding the area. We managed to find a spot under a closed beer tent to watch the remainder of the concert.

Seeing all the family and friends again was great as this was the main purpose of the trip however I was able to educate Renate on the Prince Albert . I'm sure we also put on a bit of weight with all the eating.

 

For real?

Strange but true, a New Zealand couple decided to name their child to be 4real. For some reason the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages decided this wasn't appropriate.

I guessed there must have been rules for names but never really thought about it. Along with numbers, a name cannot be Satan, Adolf Hitler or other offensive names.

I can probably guess this was the talking point of the country for a good few days making a change from the usual politics.

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Wild nights in Nijmegen

The last couple of days have been very muggy with the temperature topping out at 31. On Friday night Renate made it home just in time before the skies lit up with a thunder and lightning show.

Fork lightning so close that the building shook and children down stairs started crying. Everyone was at their windows watching natures performance.

Part 2 of the evening started shortly after with the slightly different sound. The Rolling Stones were in town for the night playing at the Goffert Park next door. Everyone got completely soaked at the concert but luckily no one was struck by lightning although the bolt in the photo above looks like its striking the stage.

Shortly after the rain stopped we headed across to check it out. A double fence system separated those with tickets from those without. Similar to the Berlin Wall with a no-mans land in between (except for the mine field and automatic weapons). People were queued up sneaking a peek and listening to the concert. Some people even bought step ladders along and they were selling drinks and food.



The storms have continued over the weekend with another massive show last night. We would have left the curtains open except that it gets light at 4:15am.

 

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