My Travel

Gouda in the Netherlands

Gouda is not just the cheese. It’s a fairy-tale town in the Netherlands not far from Utrecht, and if you go on a Saturday, you might just walk right in to their famous market. The cheese (and not just Gouda cheese) makes up a substantial part of it, but there are also stalls overflowing with fruit in the summertime and irresistible Dutch souvenirs. Surrounding the market is Gouda’s historical town square and many beautiful side streets waiting to be discovered, not to mention a canal or two. If you are looking for some more of that magical Dutch charm, this is another place to visit.

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My Travel

Dutch Charm in Utrecht

I’m standing in front of a shop called Betsies Kookwinkel in Utrecht. After the first hour it becomes easier to translate things, even without actual knowledge, and it only reinforces my being enchanted with this Dutch town I found myself in on this summer weekend.

Utrecht is famous for its university (largest in the country) and the local railway station is kept busy due to the student population and the city’s central geographical location. It’s also the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands and looks back on some 2000 years of history.

Quintessentially Dutch, it’s a wonderful weekend getaway for experiencing the Netherlands on a slightly calmer scale than in Amsterdam. A short train ride from Schiphol Airport later you will see impressive construction work going on around Utrecht’s train station. This is ambitiously planned to be the world’s biggest bike park.

In the summertime Utrecht is a vibrant mosaic of green trees, row upon row of house facades I couldn’t get enough of, enchanting canal views along the Vismarkt, outdoor cafes right by the water, flower markets, eating, drinking, cheese, ice cream and cyclists. Almost every lamp-post you see is decorated with a massive flower pot. Shops line the streets, seamlessly blending in with the surrounding architectural landscape and everyone seems energetically driven to explore. If you are staying for longer than a weekend, your days will be easy to fill, as the city boasts a varied cultural landscape close on the heels of Amsterdam. And if a short stay is what you have in mind, like I did, those who love to walk will feel Utrecht’s charm.

I pass scores of bikes locked up by a wall – bikes with baskets, bikes with seats for children, bikes with both, blue bikes, red bikes, pink bikes, a white bike decorated with black flowers. The creativity has no bounds and the way cycling is part of the local culture is mind-blowing. Since my cycling course I can’t stop looking at other cyclists with different eyes, and Dutch ones certainly have a special elegance to how they pedal down their streets. Easier to observe in Utrecht than in Amsterdam, where you are more intent on crossing in time, they seem to glide around the city, looking completely relaxed. They make up Utrecht’s traffic.

After taking pictures of what felt like every house facade in Utrecht and staring at boats passing on the Oudegracht canal (what is it about Dutch canals and boats that makes a traveller hop with excitement?) I need sustenance. I stop by the Luden restaurant and brasserie on Janskerhof, where I may have had the best chicken sate of my life so far. With Dutch fries on the side (of course), that creamy mayonnaise, which for me has a lovely cheesy taste to it, and a peanut butter sauce to rival all peanut butter sauces. High ceilings, sturdy tables of dark wood and glamourous lamps from days of old, mixed with a modern painting here and there, contribute to an enjoyable and afforfable dining experience, as I watch more locals come in who look like they’ve been there before.

It’s the perfect meal to prepare you for climbing those 465 steps of the Dom Tower only three minutes away, or possibly hitting a local market. Or unfolding the conveniently tiny map of Utrecht’s shopping routes. The city charms on all counts.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark: 21rst Century

‘Tis the summer for blockbusters…well, any time of the year is good for blockbusters, but summer in particular. Jurassic World has whet my appetite, so when I heard one of our local movie theaters was starting a Summer of Spielberg event, my delight was apparent. So this very hot Sunday afternoon found me watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, after what must be a 15-year break. What leapt to the eye today with the speed of Indy’s whip-cracking:

It’s still one of the best action-adventure movies ever made and it wouldn’t be what it is without Harrison Ford (though one does wonder if Chris Pratt could fill his shoes).

The (still impressive) special effects provoke a reminiscent and affectionate smile, as well as make you laugh. Really, could you keep a straight face (pun?) when seeing this:

The main heroine is a tough, resourceful woman with heart, who is still relatable for today’s viewers. She owned and managed her own bar in rough surroundings, can hold her drink, punch, kick, scream if need be, reacts honestly to a floor teeming with snakes and she lets Indiana know he mistreated her. She’s also willing to put on an ugly dress to try to escape her prison and she ditches those temporary white peep-toes (SO much more sensible to run barefoot in a desert near Kairo, though it’s not fair Indy keeps his shoes, but let’s not abandon the subject to join that particular debate).

Everyone has issues. And they are quotable.

And in-between there’s some memorable iconic humour.


Jupiter Ascending: Ten Standout Facts

Minor spoiler alert

The DVD arrived and the movie was refreshed in my memory, making me rush to the keyboard afterwards to record the following ten standout things about it (in painfully chronological order).

1. The score composed by Michael Giacchino has music to match the scope of the film with it’s sweeping scenes and expansive space views (not to mention the special effects).

2. Jupiter’s (Mila Kunis) Russian mother speaks either broken Russian or words that barely resemble the language, proving once again that Hollywood assumes no one is going to understand it anyway and gibberish can be planted in to a script. “Stalin’s eggs!” Please. That doesn’t even exist in Russian. Some proper research would be nice, as well as respect not only for the representation of different cultures, but for the fact that, considering modern mobility and global travel, there will most likely be someone in the audience who understands this particular language. Mila Kunis speaks grammatically correct, though with an accent, soothing the occasional wounded ear. At least you get the sense she is trying.

3. Eddie Redmayne in the movie is one the most convincing scary things I’ve ever seen. In fact, the whole pack of Abrasax siblings is scary, but he beats them at it.

4. Cain Wise (Channing Tatum) immediately gives you the feeling everything will be alright, and his air-surfing boots are fantastic. As is his coordination regarding skating up a storm and catching Jupiter when she falls.

5. The first time Jupiter flies out with Cain in a pretty void of sparkling air.

6. Seeing Jupiter’s family seated around a dinner table echoes my above sentiments about spoken Russian in Hollywood films. I get it, this movie also has room for humour, but this is stretching the stereotype way too far. Fat men in tracksuits open to the navel and her mother cursing at relatives at the table? Numerous relatives crowding in to one small house? Someone being adressed as Nino? That’s a Georgian name.

7. We know now that Ned Stark got reincarnated as Stinger Apini (Sean Bean). The moment you hear that accent…”Winter is coming.”

8. In case you didn’t know, “Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty”, which somehow has a poetic ring to it, as Jupiter tries to come to grips with the unexpected events in her life.

9. “We need a plan. We need firepower”, says Cain. And all this is executed while shirtless.

10. Comforting wisdom which there is no harm in repeating: “It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.”