01 May 2021

The Troubles - Northern Ireland is Fascinating

Is it just me or does your brain also block out 2020? For example, when I started to write this I thought, "Last year I went to Ireland." But it wasn't last year; it was 2019. Despite 2020 feeling like it had 27 months and each month feeling like it was 63 days long, when I think about things that happened I tend to skip last year. 

It has taken a long time to write this because I feel like there's a lot I want to say and a lot that I should cover in order to give you as complete a picture as possible.

Northern Ireland

So in 2019 I went to Ireland and Northern Ireland. Did you know they are two different places? Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain. The Republic of Ireland is an independent country.

They split in 1921. Northern Ireland remained under British rule. Southern Ireland became a free state; now known as the Republic of Ireland. But 40% of those in Northern Ireland wanted  independence from Britain so there's always been a large number of people who weren't happy with the outcome of that split. 



EU/Schengen

How does that fit in with the EU and Schengen? Ireland is an EU member. Great Britain was up until Brexit. Neither are members of the Schengen zone. Schengen is what allows you to pass between EU countries without passport controls. It's also what makes people like me sad because no passport controls means no stamps in your passport when entering one Schengen country from another. So I don't have stamps for most of the countries I've been to :(

This map is pre-Brexit as it shows the UK still in the EU.
[https://schengenvisum.info/wat-is-schengenvisum/schengenlanden/]

But What About Brexit?

Brexit is the nickname given to Great Britain leaving the European Union.  There were two main reasons people voted for Brexit (that's very oversimplified and I've further oversimplified those here) although - in an interesting twist - the majority of Northern Irish voted to remain in the EU. 

1. Economics. Leavers felt that being tied to the the EU (which includes countries whose economies are not as strong as that of Great Britain) was dragging down the British economy.

2.  Immigration. The foreign-born population doubled in 10 years due in large part to the economic issue already mentioned. Jobs were hard to find in many countries and the open borders policy of the EU meant  job seekers from hard hit countries moved to places like Great Britain. At the time of the Brexit vote, seventy-seven percent of Brits believed that immigration levels into the country should be reduced.

One of the bigger debates revolved around the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Ireland remains part of the EU. The worry was that if a "hard" border went up between Ireland and Northern Ireland it would reignite tensions.

Back to Northern Ireland - The Troubles

  • Did you think the fighting in Northern Ireland was a Protestant/Catholic issue?
  • Did you think Sinn Féin was a person?
  • Did you think "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland ended in the 1970s or 1980?

Northern Ireland is predominantly Protestant while the Republic of Ireland is predominantly Catholic and the conflict is often presented as a religious feud. But it's much more than that. 

For several decades, the leaders of the Protestant, unionist majority (those who wanted to stay part of Great Britain), discriminated against the Catholic, nationalist minority (those who wanted to be part of a unified Ireland).  The discrimination resembles the American discrimination against minorities (some past, some present) in many ways:

  1. Gerrymandering voting districts so that Catholics always had fewer representatives.
  2. Allowing only property owners to vote.
  3. Discrimination in employment and social housing.
  4. A Special Powers Act that allowed for detention without trial. Since the armed police forces were wholly unionist this was used to punish nationalists.
  5. Lack of official recognition of Irish nationality in Northern Ireland. The Irish language and Irish history were not taught in state schools. The tricolour flag of the Irish Republic was illegal, as was the Irish Republican party, Sinn Féin (not a person, a political party). 

I can't cover everything about The Troubles here. It's complex and a lot depends on which side is providing the information. However, it's important to point out that the majority of people on both sides did not support the use of violence but the violence used by the minorities of both factions came to define the conflict. 3,500 were killed. Tens of thousands more were injured. Untold thousands were traumatized by violence. Thousands were sent to prison. 

Belfast is still a divided city. Literally. Both physically and ideologically. The majority of peace walls are located in Belfast, but they also exist in Derry, Portadown, and Lurgan, with more than 20 miles of walls in Northern Ireland. They divide the predominantly Catholic section of the city from the predominantly Protestant section of the city. Gates close at night. They have separate schools and community centers. 

One of the gates that closes at night.

There's very little integration even now, more than 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement - the peace agreement signed in 1998 that ended most of the violence. Although there are hints that the desire is there among some in this younger generation. Some people send their kids to integrated schools outside of the segregated neighborhoods. There are some programs that try to introduce kids to the idea that maybe there's no need to be afraid of the "other" side. So they organize things like canoe trips for kids from both groups.  The fact that this is happening in western Europe (as opposed to the middle east, for example), still today, between mostly white people, Blew. My. Mind! I had SO many questions!!

These houses that back up to one of the walls have cages protecting their back gardens. You can see that the wall had height added. This was because Molotov cocktails liked to find their way over the wall. But the cages stayed. My guide told me that the house on the far end needs to have the sofit replaced, which would require taking down the cage, and was planning to leave it down. This is a small step towards accepting that the peace agreement might be lasting - after more than 20 years.


Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, saw the most fighting but there were over 10,000 bombings in Great Britain the 30 years of The Troubles. 

When I visited Belfast, he downtown area was not much different from a lot of other cites. 

But hire a guide for a "Troubles" tour - Trust me on this! One of the things you'll learn is that part of the Good Friday Peace Agreement involved letting out all prisoners on both sides (those in jail for Troubles-related offenses) so even those who might have committed arson or murder were freed.  Some of these individuals are now conducting Troubles tours. Yup. Your tour guide might be a murderer. They have serious first-hand knowledge of what went down rather than tour guides who just learned a bunch of stuff. In the height of the violence many young people had been born and grown up knowing nothing but cinemas being bombed, busses being bombed, literal fighting in the streets of their neighborhoods. So when their homes and families were under attack they fought. 

I'm not defending them. I don't have a side in this. I can say I consider myself to be a pacifist but my home, my family has never been under attack so I can't say what I'd do. And I can't judge anyone. The British government certainly committed atrocities no differently than they did elsewhere in the world. But the Republicans were not without fault. I want to talk to people from both sides. 

It was so fascinating and I wanted to know so much more that a few days later, after returning to Dublin, I took a bus to Belfast, met up with a guide, and spent a few hours with him before taking the bus back to Dublin (my parents were arriving the next day so I couldn't stay any longer). I could definitely see myself going back to Belfast if I could arrange to just sit and talk to people all day. 

The "Peace Wall" 


Murals

According to Wikipedia: 
Belfast and Derry contain arguably the most famous political murals in Europe. It is believed that almost 2,000 murals have been documented since the 1970s. 

Some of the murals are directly related to The Troubles but many are not. My guide told me that now, in order to be allowed to put up a mural, you have to apply and submit your proposed mural to...I don't remember. A committee or a governmental entity...I tried finding the answer online but came up empty. 









Derry/Londonderry

The site of the Bloody Sunday massacre (of the U2 song) was in the Bogside area of Derry (also known as Londonderry). 26 civilian protesters were shot by British soldiers. It is considered to be one of the most significant events of the Troubles.







 Recent Violence

Perhaps you've heard about a recent spate of violence in Northern Ireland. According to the BBC and ABC News:

Nearly 90 officers have been hurt in Northern Ireland's worst street violence for years, after sporadic rioting in several towns and cities since the end of March.

Young people have hurled bricks, fireworks and gasoline bombs at police and set hijacked cars and a bus on fire during a week of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland. Police responded with rubber bullets and water cannons.

Many of those involved in the violence were teenagers and even children as young as 12. They grew up after the Troubles, but live in areas where poverty and unemployment remain high and where sectarian divides have not healed.

Why is this happening now? There are a few possible contributing factors (and here's why I explained Brexit earlier):

Northern Ireland has been called the “problem child” of Brexit, the U.K.'s divorce from the European Union. As the only part of the U.K. that has a border with an EU nation — Ireland — it was the trickiest issue to resolve after Britain voted narrowly in 2016 to leave the 27-nation bloc.

An open Irish border, over which people and goods flow freely, underpins the peace process, allowing people in Northern Ireland to feel at home in both Ireland and the U.K.

The insistence of Britain’s Conservative government on a “hard Brexit” that took the country out of the EU’s economic order meant the creation of new barriers and checks on trade. Both Britain and the EU agreed that border could not be in Ireland because of the risk that would pose to the peace process. The alternative was to put it, metaphorically, in the Irish Sea — between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

That arrangement has alarmed British unionists, who say it weakens Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom and could bolster calls for Irish reunification.

Early trade glitches, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, led to some empty supermarket shelves, fueling alarm. Border staff were temporarily withdrawn from Northern Ireland ports in February after threatening graffiti appeared to target port workers.

There was anger that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who long insisted there would be no new checks on trade as a result of Brexit, had downplayed the scale of the changes wrought by leaving the EU. [Remember - the majority of Northern Irish voted to stay in the EU.]

Unionists are also angry at a police decision not to prosecute politicians from the IRA-linked Sinn Féin party who attended the funeral of a former Irish Republican Army commander in June, despite coronavirus restrictions.

Bobby Storey's funeral drew 2,000 mourners - including Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill - at a time when strict Covid restrictions were still in place, limiting the number of people who could gather in public.

Many people expressed anger at Ms O'Neill for failing to follow the guidance she insisted the public should follow - guidance which had led to loyalist band parades being cancelled last summer.

This shows that despite the Good Friday Agreement being in place since 1998, the peace is still very delicate and tenuous. I wonder whether that house did remove it's back garden cage and whether it prompted any neighbors to do the same. I wonder how far this recent outbreak of tension will set back the very small steps towards progress the generation that came into existence after The Troubles had started to make.  

I'm pretty sure this is the longest post I've ever written. I didn't write half of the thoughts I have about this. I feel like it bounced around a lot and doesn't do a good job of explaining anything really. There's just too much. It is truly fascinating to me. How many times have I used the word 'fascinating?' I'm not sure I can fully explain why. But if it intrigues you and you want to learn more, here are a few starters:

  • Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barkey and The Miami Show Band are available on Netflix (depending on where you live)
  • I, Dolours is available on Amazon video
I only spent a couple days in Northern Ireland (3 out of 11 days of my Ireland trip) but it was one of the most memorable, impactful (in terms of how the trip made me feel), made me want to go back for reasons different than any other place I've been.

Have I made you want to go to Northern Ireland? Tell me about a place you've been that's made this much of an impact on you...whatever the reason!

[Apologies if I got any of this wrong! I tried my best to get the facts right. This is a very complex issue and to present it in a couple paragraphs was very difficult. If you're Northern Irish, Irish, or British and you want to educate me please let me know!!]

04 April 2021

Stumbling Stones - Sundays in My City

Stumbling Stones, or Stolpersteine (Struikelsteentjes in Dutch), are something I just learned about despite being here for years and having probably walked past them numerous times without ever noticing.  

The Stolpersteine project, initiated by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992, aims to commemorate individuals at exactly the last place of residency—or, sometimes, work—which was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror, euthanasia, eugenics, deportation to a concentration or extermination camp, or escaped persecution by emigration or suicide. As of December 2019, 75,000. Stolpersteine have been laid, making the Stolpersteine project the world's largest decentralized memorial. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein]

Stolpersteine can be found in 110 Dutch cities and at least 25 European countries. Most commemorate Jewish victims but there are also markers for Sinti and Romani people (then also called "gypsies"), homosexuals, the physically or mentally disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, black people, members of the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the anti-Nazi Resistance, the Christian opposition (both Protestants and Catholics), and Freemasons, along with International Brigade soldiers in the Spanish Civil War, military deserters, conscientious objectors, escape helpers, capitulators, "habitual criminals", looters, and others charged with treason, military disobedience, or undermining the Nazi military, as well as Allied soldiers. 

There aren't any listed in my village or any of the nearby little villages so I decided to go to Maastricht where there are  225 according to Maastricht's Jewish Victims website where each of the markers can be seen along with photos of many of the individuals. The photos I found particularly compelling because I couldn't help wondering about the personalities of these people. 

We're still in "lockdown" here which is not truly a lockdown compared to our friends in France or Italy but most everything is closed except for essential shops (those selling food or medicine although you can schedule an appointment to go to a non-essential shop if you need a toaster or clothing or garden tools). So aside from going for walks or bike rides,  I've been doing my part and staying home. Yesterday, though, I decided to go to Maastricht and walk around and see some of the Stolpersteine.  

After looking through all the records and photos [All photos of people from the Maastricht Jewish Victims website mentioned above. I claim no rights to any of the photos of people. I'm crediting the source and using them only to humanize these humans (humanizing humans sounds redundant but I want them to be more than just victims.)], I decided to visit the oldest and youngest victims. I also wanted to visit a few whose photos intrigued me somehow. 



Paula Kaufmann-Daniels looks like a great aunt who would swat you with a tea towel while laughing about something you've done. She was murdered at Sobibor Extermination Camp in Poland. Simon Os looks to me like a lost member of the three stooges. He died in transport so his place of death is just listed as Middle-Europe. Paula's home is located too far outside the city center for the walk I did yesterday. I found Simon's address but didn't find the marker (and there are supposed to be 8 markers at that address).

The oldest victim was Sophie Elekan-Wesly at 87 years old.





Joop Moszkowicz was the youngest at just 2 years old. His entire family was taken (parents and two older siblings).







If you notice there are only four markers for this family and not five, that's because one of the siblings, Max, survived Auschwitz. From the website, he seems to be the only one who was deported from Maastricht who did survive although I do not claim to have done any extensive research into this. The space above his photo where a picture of his marker would be just says "survived" and there is no year of death listed under his photo. That sent me down a bit of internet rabbit hole.

Max went on to be come a rather notorious lawyer in the Netherlands; defending an infamous Dutch drug lord and the Heineken kidnappers. He has four sons who all also became lawyers; three of whom were later disbarred. He is still alive at age 94.  

Here are the rest of the markers I saw yesterday:






I will definitely be noticing these more now when I'm out walking in various cities. I'll also be digging further into the life of Max Moszkowicz, the Heineken kidnappings, the Dutch Godfather, etc. 

Have you seen these where you live? What have you recently discovered in your neck of the world (yes, that was intentional)?

14 March 2021

525,600

I heard Dr. Fauci say there were 525,000 COVID-19 deaths (in the US) the other day.  Obviously this wasn't an exact figure and with the rate of death still as high as it is, the number is now several thousand higher than that.  But the Broadway-lover in me couldn't hear the number 525,000 and not immediately go to Seasons of Love from Rent. And almost immediately my mind started rewriting the lyrics. I'm not a song writer or a poet, obviously. My apologies to Jonathan Larson!


525,600 loses. 525,000 loved ones so dear. 525,600 memories. How do you measure, measure a year?

In lockdowns, in face masks, in clapping for essential workers.

In nurses, in zoom calls, in hugs we couldn't give.

525,600 families, how do you measure the year this past year in our live?

How about love and loss. How about love and loss. How about love and loss. Measure in tears. Seasons of P...P...E.... Seasons of vaccine.


525,600 loved ones. 525,000 no longer here.  525,600 memories. How do you measure how much we've lost this year? 

In truths that We learned, or in times that We cried.

In bridges that we had to build to reach out when people died.


It's time now to be strong, cuz the pandemic isn't done, let's commemorate remember a year we lost family and friends. 

Remember the love. 

Remember the loss. 

Remember the pain. 

Measure in tears. 

Seasons of love and loss. Seasons of love and loss. 


None of us knows what the final tally will be. Too many, that is certain.

  

How are you measuring this past year?

19 December 2020

Oh, The Places I Didn't Go

To quote a fortune cookie (or, supposedly Confucius according to the interwebs), 

"It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop." 

This was the year we all stopped going (at least those of us who did not wish to further exacerbate a global pandemic). So one of my favorite books,

Copyright, of course, Dr. Suess

should be rewritten as Oh, the Places I Didn't Go :(

I didn't go on a train.

I didn't go on a plane.

I didn't go to London Town.

I just sat home and watched The Crown.

I can't compete with the great Dr. Seuss so I'll stop embarrassing myself! But I didn't take any theater trips to London and I certainly didn't take the first direct train from Amsterdam to London thus cutting out the hassle of airports. It ran empty because non-essential travel was (still is) not allowed. In fact, I only saw one show here locally back in February. It was called We Will Rock You and it was based on the music of Queen.  It wasn't spectacular but if I had known it would be the only show I'd see this year I probably would have enjoyed it more.

I also didn't take a train trip to Berlin and Poland this year either.  I've been to Berlin once in the early 90s and I haven't been to Poland at all yet.  I didn't go to Georgia (the country, not the US state). I didn't go to any sunny warm or extreme northern location for my birthday. 

I did make one trip to Amsterdam to see the World Press Photo Exhibit for I think the 9th or 10th year now. It didn't open in April as scheduled and I thought I might not get to see it this year. I'm glad I did but even though they limited the number of people who could be inside at a time and even though they marked off spaces in front of each section to keep people distanced and even though maybe about half the people were wearing masks (they weren't required) it still caused me anxiety and I didn't stay long.

Public transportation was the only place face masks were required until 1 December when they became mandatory in all indoor public places (FINALLY).

To see Dam Square so empty was very strange. This was August. I've been there on a crappy weather day in January and not seen it this empty!

So what are my plans for next year?  I don't know yet. It seems too soon to start making plans.  Hamilton in London announced that performances will start again in May 2021 and tickets will go on sale on Monday (2 days from now).  I would love to be traveling in May and would love to be sitting in a packed theater (although now I'm not sure what that's going to do to the anxiety I already had in crowds before this all started) cheering as the curtain goes up and the music starts. But I'm not booking anything just yet.  Certainly not anything non-refundable! I definitely hope to see a bunch of shows. I hope to make that Berlin-Poland trip. I'm assuming a half-year max realistically for travel; if we're lucky.  

This year has been such a whirlwind of scientific achievement and science denying that makes my brain want to curl up in a corner and rock like RainMan.  I think we all need to hang tight, give the science a little time to work its science magic, and then ease back into travel. The planet enjoyed us all staying home this year and I don't think we should carbon-assult her too hard too fast (although I'm sure we will) once we're set free.

Where didn't you go this year? Where are you hoping to go next year? 


10 December 2020

Work From Home

 I've been working from home, like millions of people, since March. Like most people, I didn't expect it to last very long and so I didn't set up a very permanent work space for myself.  But after many months of working from a temporary setup in the main living area of my house I couldn't take the disruption any more and I took steps to make a more comfortable, less invasive work space for myself. This space just so happens to have a better view than when I had my back to the front window.







How's your work from home going?

The New Year is Nothing Special

Today is Thursday. No one expects magical things to happen tomorrow. The last day of May was on a Thursday this year and no one expected the next day to suddenly bring forth clarity and relief from the world's ills.  So why do people think that flipping the calendar from December 2020 to January 2021 will somehow make things better?

The calendrical new year is such an arbitrary thing yet it's given such huge significance. It's not based on any observable astronomical event like the solstice or saturnalia which would at least make some sense. Yet people celebrate it as if they personally played a part in the earth making another successful trip around the sun.  They make plans starting in the "new year" as if the coming Friday will be any different than tomorrow.  

So many are saying that they can't wait for 2021 because 2020 has been so awful. Hey y'all...There's no difference between midnight tonight and midnight three weeks from now.  Thinking that there's something special about the new year and waiting for it is the kind of thinking that's holding you back.

 


 

If you're waiting for an arbitrary milestone to make a change, give up a bad habit, start that novel you've been saying you're going to write, reframe your thinking into something more positive...tomorrow is as good an arbitrary milestone as any.  It's one year from a year ago so it's technically a new year.  Stop waiting! Stop putting it off.  Why put off your novel, your happiness, your betterment another day?




11 April 2020

The World Suddenly Got Really Big

I've been to a few places, done some stuff, seen a sight or two...met some folks along the way. I have had a a couple of small-world encounters that made my head spin.  I have two degrees in engineering but I think statistics is (are?) a form of torture that violates the Geneva convention (and my English skills, apparently).

I would like someone to crunch the odds of me leaving Ghana and traveling to northern Thailand where I would meet a random traveler who had come from Europe where he had had met someone (at the running of the bulls in Pamplona) who I knew in Ghana (it's difficult to convey that story in a single sentence).

I previously wrote about one of the more difficult parts of expat life. This is my fifth time living abroad.  I can't say that I really thought about needing to go home for an emergency when I was 16 years old but most 16 year-olds wouldn't.  I did think about it during my time in Ghana and while it was possible the logistics were a bit trickier.  The most frightening thing was a Peace Corps SUV pulling up to your site unscheduled.  This was before the time of cell phones (at least in Ghana) so if there was a real emergency the Peace Corps would send someone to you.  I only got an unexpected visit once and it was not an emergency (it was a program director visiting volunteers (not from my program) who stopped by to drop off a package). I was in the classroom teaching but I saw the vehicle pull onto the school compound and went running out of the class in a panic.  Logistics were also difficult when I was in Afghanistan because there just weren't flights in and out every day.  But  normally you can hand over a credit card and be on a plane from western Europe to the US in less than a day.

This is the first time that's not an option.  It's terrifying. It's nerve wracking. It's heart breaking. I have never wanted to hug someone more in my life (and I am not someone who generally wants to hug people). 

[Source]
I have never felt further away and that includes being in Ghana on September 11, 2001 when I might as well have been on a different planet.

In an age where we can fly to any corner of the world at almost a moment's notice (okay, maybe you need to plan ahead to get a visa for a particular country but the flight options are there), the COVID-19 pandemic has made the world suddenly feel as big as it must have felt to the early explorers when it took them years to make the same journey that we can now do in a matter of hours. 

Whether you're in a lockdown situation or a place that's doing a less-than-stellar job at handling this pandemic, I hope you are safe and healthy and staying home as much as humanly possible. If you're a front-line worker, THANK YOU!  Check on your neighbors. Don't hoard toilet paper (I really don't understand this one and it's thankfully not a thing where I am). Wash your hands (why weren't you doing this already?!?!).

What's the situation where you are? How are  you coping? 

16 February 2020

What the Dutch Do During a Storm - Sundays in My City

We've had a couple storms hit here that are big enough to get names.  Last weekend was Ciara and this weekend is Denis.  Winds of 120km/hr (75mph) and driving rain last weekend (yet to be seen how this weekend clocks but Denis is supposed to be less intense than Ciara).  You might think this would send everyone indoors but not the Dutch!




It should be noted that the event had to be shut down eventually due to the high winds (the time clock blew away and the bike truck threatened to tip over). 

As a bike commuter, I can tell you that there's almost always a head wind here no matter which direction you're going and even if you're not on the coast!

But kudos to those intrepid folks who were brave/crazy enough to tackle this.

Would you give this race a try?

01 January 2020

Ziemassvētki (Winter Festival) in Latvia - Sundays in My City

Latvia still celebrates the Winter Solstice!  I'd been searching for a Winter Solstice celebration and was surprised to find that many cold, northern places have Summer Solstice celebrations but I wasn't finding anything for the winter.  I was surprised as I would think places with long, dark winters would want to celebrate the point where the days start getting longer. Well, since I hadn't yet been to Latvia I was happy to hear that they have a true, public Winter Solstice celebration so off to Riga I went!

Riga is a small city and it was not at all crowded which I greatly appreciated!  The entire population of Latvia is less than 2 million.  This was my first trip to the Baltic states and my first former Soviet country.  I had thought it was the furthest east I've ever been in Europe but when I double checked the map I realized that my trip to Romania and Bulgaria back in 2011 was further east.




Celebration of the Winter Solstice (which occurs somewhere around the 21st of December) long predates the modern christmas holiday and many of the current christmas festivities (evergreen trees inside, yule logs, etc) have their roots in Winter Solstice traditions. Even though Latvia did eventually succumb to christian invasion, it didn't give up its ancient rituals such as celebrating the Winter Solstice like many other cultures did.

On the evening of the Winter Solstice in Riga, there were songs (sung in Latvian, old Russian (I was told), maybe other languages I didn't understand?), some dancing, people wearing masks, logs dragged through the old town while chanting and singing and then set alight.















The log dragging/burning tradition was explained so: "The merry-makers will drag a log from one homestead to another, gathering all misfortunes from the past year.  Afterward the log will be set ablaze, and everyone will be able to burn away his/her negative thoughts, failures, fears."

What I like so much about the Winter Solstice celebration (as compared to the ubiquitous red-suited man bringing toys) is that it isn't about STUFF.  It's not about obligation, going into debt, annoying-as-hell music for a month+.  It's just about celebrating the end of the longest night of the year and welcoming the return of more daylight.  Saying goodbye to negative thoughts, failures, and fears?  Sounds good to me!

Even though I couldn't understand any of the words that were being said/sung, I appreciated the ceremony and the ritual of the celebration.  And I applaud Latvia for holding onto its traditions!

What negative thoughts, failures, or fears are you saying goodbye to (or what positive thoughts are you welcoming along with the return of light)?




Sundays In My City

N.B. Any negative comments about the evils of celebrating a "pagan" tradition or anything about devil worship or how we're going to hell or basically anything along those lines will be immediately deleted.  My blog, my rules.  


24 August 2019

Year In Review - 2019

Last year was...

  • Another move
  • A bunch of Broadway shows (but I didn't see them on Broadway)
  • A few new countries.

I didn't travel a lot compared to most of my years abroad (reasons being job related), I crammed almost all of my travel into the last 3 months of the year, and I definitely didn't post a lot.  I have this habit of composing posts in my head as I'm walking around places and thinking of things I want to write and facts I want to remember or look up and then once I get home I have so much in my head that it's daunting and I feel like just posting some pictures isn't good enough so then I end up not posting at all :/

Here's a semi-brief synopsis of 2019.

January
I went to see La Befana.  Italy's traditional holiday celebration includes the tale of a witch known as La Befana who arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5th with toys and sweets for the good children and lumps of coal for the bad ones.

Broomstick...motorcycle side car....



February
Once again...I packed up everything (Okay, let's be real, I packed nothing but my suitcase. A team of movers packed up everything!) and moved...back to the Netherlands.  It's no secret that I love the Netherlands and when a position opened up there I pretty much forced my organization to move me there!



A two-day drive and I was right back where I started in 2010.  In a lot of ways, nothing had changed.  And in a lot of ways, A LOT had changed.  Although mostly that was road construction and there had been a lot of road construction since I left in 2013.  New motorways had been built where none had previously existed and the old routes I used to know had been closed off or rerouted and my brain melted a few times when a road that I'd driven hundreds of times was now a dead end.

This makes it look like such a serene, picturesque drive. I don't know what happened to the picture of the long queues of traffic we sat in.  There were a lot of those!

A shaky picture of the sign crossing into the Netherlands from Germany (I was not driving!)

March
After 3.5 weeks in temporary quarters I moved into a house.  The box spring for the guest bed wouldn't make the turn up the steps and so it now resides in the garage.  My wardrobe went in through the bathroom window.



With my house a sea of boxes, I went to London very next day (this trip was planned before I even found out I was leaving Italy) to meet up with a couple friends from Italy. This began the year of me seeing more Broadway shows than any other year ever (or maybe all previous years combined?).

I saw Hamilton (for the 3rd time) with my friends. My flight out of Amsterdam was so late due to high winds that I had to go straight from the airport to the show and barely made it.

There's nothing that hasn't already been said about this show. I'll keep seeing it if I can. It's that good!

This show is everything!!  See it if you can.  I can't wait to see it again!

This show has a teenage Kinky Boots vibe.  The best parts were the old lady sitting next to me who was seeing it for the 2nd time and the guy in the heavy metal t-shirt who was the first to stand and cheer at the end!


April
Another friend from Italy came to visit.  We met up in Amsterdam, saw Michelle Obama, then she came all the way down to where I live and spent a few days.  While I was in Amsterdam I saw the World Press Photo exhibit for the 9th time.


I woke up super early (for no good reason) and rather than fight it I went out and took pictures. The streets were empty and it was perfect for getting reflection shots in the canals.



She's a powerful speaker and a force for good in this world!

May
I traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, where I ate my weight in potato dumplings.  I previously posted about my buddy Čumil.


I couldn't eat it all and still felt like there was a 50lb brick in my belly. It was a slow, painful walk back to my room. I regret nothing1





June
The Women's World Cup took place in June - during a heat wave - and for the first time ever the Dutch women made it to the finals...against the US.  I was torn in two!  I would be both thrilled and devastated by the result.


The US women won but the Dutch played so well!  

July
Despite having lived in the Netherlands for several years, I'd somehow never taken a bike trip. I decided to do one over the 4th of July weekend.  It didn't go as well as I expected.  Maybe I'll talk about it another time.

My bike wanted its picture taken with a windmill.


Then we had another heat wave. We set and then broke records for temperatures this country should never see.  There's no AC here. It was brutal!

I picked blueberries in close to 100F temps!!  I've posted about this (blueberry picking...we didn't have these terrible temperatures then) years ago. I love having this so close by!



August
Another repeat but Amsterdam's Pride is really something to experience!  It lasts about 1.5 weeks and this year the musical Fun Home was showing so I got to add that to my list!  It was in Dutch so I also got to add seeing a musical in Dutch to my list.



Gender bending barbies strapped to the front of a bike. I love Amsterdam!



September - October
My parents had a trip to Ireland planned. This was an organized (not by me) group tour. So of course, I had to fly to Ireland to surprise them (I spent 1.5 weeks there and saw them when they arrived, just as I was leaving).  But by now our family had done this enough that they fully expected me to surprise them.  A hurricane hit the west coast of Ireland while I was on the west coast of Ireland. That was...fun? It wasn't. By far the part of the trip I enjoyed the most was Belfast and that deserves its own post and I will, I swear. 

I went to the city of Limerick because I read that a certain bar held limerick readings on Wednesday nights so I planned my whole trip around being there on a Wednesday and then the limerick readings weren't happening :(

Gaelic is a beautiful language to listen to but it's a good thing signs were also in English!

The Cliffs of Moher the day after a hurricane (furthest north in the Atlantic ever) came through. It was still insanely windy and dangerous so I didn't go very far.
They closed the visitor center the day before because of the winds...trying to discourage people from venturing out along the cliffs.  Several people warned me (before I got to the cliffs...one before I even got to the coast) about people getting sucked off the edge by the winds (not blown off, but sucked off by winds blowing in from the water and up the side of the cliffs) so I made sure to stay far from the edge (which wasn't really hard because I don't like being anywhere near the edge of things I can fall from anyway!).

On the island of Inis Mor two days after the hurricane.

The Peace Wall separating Belfast.  The City still closes the gates at night.  It's so fascinating to me that this is not something from history but present day.

The murals were so amazing to me that I traveled back to Belfast a 2nd time just to see more of them. This one is particularly relevant right now!


Mom and Dad...somewhere in Ireland

Book of Mormon came to Amsterdam which upped my total to 5 Broadway musicals but I wasn't done yet!



November
My dear friends Nancy and Lisa came to visit.  I did my best to give them the grand European tour in their 11 days and managed to get them to Germany, Paris, a river boat cruise from Maastricht to Liege (Belgium), and of course Amsterdam.

Nancy and Lisa in Maastricht

Half-timbered houses in Monschau, Germany.

Visitors make you a tourist in your own back yard.  I'd been to Valkenburg before but never to the train station. The Oldest Station in the Netherlands.

So much has changed since the last time I was here.  There are fences around the Eiffel Tower, unfriendly security and metal detectors and you can't walk up to it unless you have a ticket. Which is very sad for someone like me who loves to stare at the intricate metal work.  I'm very glad I saw it years ago.

I don't think of myself as a "cat person" but I went to a cat cafe in Paris and this cat decided I was his person for a couple hours.  Most of the cats just ignored the people and everyone was jealous because they wanted attention from the cats and here I was with a cat in my lap as if it was my cat (sorry for the boob shot).

Another place I've somhow never been to before is Zaanse Schaans.  It's so quintessential yet I think I was just saving it as a place to take visitors. 

I spent Thanksgiving in London seeing a whopping 5 shows in 4 days for a grand total of 10 for the year.  It was fantastic and exhausting!

Okay, not a musical. But it's still theater and all theater is a healing medicine to me and seeing this man live felt like a gift.

The show was moving theaters because their old theater was in terrible condition. In the interim they were doing a staged concert. I'd seen the show once years ago and I've seen the 10th Anniversary concert video countless times so I expected this to be amazing and was not disappointed.

If you love the music of Tina Turner (and who doesn't?!?!) then this is the show for you.  There was a VERY tall man in front of me so I had a really hard time seeing but I could hear it all and it was phenomenal!


THIS!  You need to experience this! The messages in this show...everyone needs to see and hear the messages in this show. I've been waiting years for this to finally come to London and I bought tickets the day they went on sale back in Feb. but then I still had to wait 9 months for the show to open.  I saw it with a friend I made in Dubrovnik in 2018 who happens to live in London (for anyone who thinks I don't make friends....you're mostly right but it does happen occasionally ;-)).

The dessert course of my Thanksgiving theater week was pie baked with love and it was delicious!  

December
For my birthday I took a long weekend hop to Sicily for a little sunshine. It was chilly and a little rainy but that's okay. I got to practice my Italian...sort of...Sicilian dialect is very different from the Northern Italian I learned.




Then to close out the year I went to Riga, Latvia to celebrate the Winter Solstice.




Stay tuned next time for a run down of all the places I WON'T be going in 2020 *SIGH*