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Lessons learned, part 3: merchandising Marrakesh

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.’ (St Augustine).

Apart from never being able to put down a good book, for me, travelling is also about having fun, getting into crazy adventures and, with every new place I visit, coming closer to uncovering all the countries on my scratchable world map. On the way I might even learn a lesson or two.

3. Merchandising Marrakesh

“Very beautiful small tagine, best quality and very special price just for you madam. Only 250 dirhams!” With a smile I tell the salesman that I´m not looking for a Moroccan cooking pot but just for some dinner and that twenty quid might be a tad overpriced. He points me in the direction of the main square and shouts: “After dinner you come back here and buy a tagine from me, yes? I´ll make you a democratic price, only 240 dirhams. Sold, see you later.”

About thirty minutes and four near-crashes with motorcycles later, the maze of busy, narrow streets that form the medina opens up to reveal Jemaa el Fna. Young men are eager to tout people to the food stalls that fill Marrakesh’s main square every evening, assuring us that the cook is even better than Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver combined. Although that might be a bit over-exaggerated, the food is cheap and tasty, freshly cooked à la minute.

Slippers anyone?

Wanna buy some slippers?

After dinner, snake charmers, acrobats and shopkeepers compete for your attention along with henna-tattooists and more shopkeepers. Tourists wander around the square, buying freshly squeezed orange juice or sweet mint tea for 40p a glass.

There are rows of stalls all selling the same nuts and dried fruits, piled up high in exactly the same order and advertised for the same price. I’m baffled: how can all these shopkeepers make a living? There’re enough snacks to feed the whole country on 100m².

Marrakesh’s catchphrase is ‘Buy, buy, BUY!’ Whether you’re looking for shoes, lamps, herbs, handbags or even false teeth, you’ll find it all in the various souks. If you’re not looking for any of the above you’ll still find it – but ‘at a special price for you my friend’. This is tourist destination number one if you want to non-stop shop till you drop. (I usually get sick of shopping after about two days.)

In an attempt to escape the city’s consumerism and get a taste for the real Morocco, I sign up for a tour to the Erg Chegaga dunes. Getting to the Sahara desert takes a full day by four wheel drive. On the high passes of the Atlas Mountains there’s nothing more to see than vast, barren land. Oh, and souvenir stalls on the side of the road where you can buy gem stones for a “real good price especially for you because you’re from England/France/Germany/Holland/fill in whatever country you’re from…”

No shops in the desert...

No shops for the next 50 miles or so…

Continuing our way through the Valley of the Dades, kasbahs that resemble huge sandcastles make it look like we’re in another century and Ali Baba with his 40 thieves could be waiting just around the corner. Palm trees wave in the warm desert wind and little donkeys are so heavily loaded it’s a miracle they’re still on their feet.

As we reach a desolate spot in the desert after a drive that feels like riding a rollercoaster in a sandstorm (my idea to ever compete in the Paris-Dakar rally is soon abandoned), it seems we’ve finally run out of options to purchase stuff. Not quite: bright blue headscarves are a must to accomplish the Berber-look and our tour guide knows just the place to snap up these bargains. I give in and fall asleep in a tent listening to rhythmic African drum sounds.

Despite the fact that I haven’t drunk a single drop of alcohol, the hangover is huge after having covered only half a sand dune on my camel. Lovely sunrise, but probably best admired on foot. Abandoning the ship of the desert is not done though. No worries, the sea sickness will soon disappear after half a Kwells tablet which are… uhm, back at home. But surely they’ll sell them here?

The look on the face of our camel driver is a mixture of pity and disgust. I swear I hear him mumble “stupid tourist” as he patiently explains that there are no shops in the middle of the desert…

Lessons learned:
1. Names can be a warning: if some kind of vehicle is called ‘ship’ it will most likely stink and make me want to puke.
2. Always take sea sickness tablets.

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Lessons learned, part 2: Danish delicacies

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.’ (St Augustine).

Apart from never being able to put down a good book, for me, travelling is also about having fun, getting into crazy adventures and, with every new place I visit, coming closer to uncovering all the countries on my scratchable world map. On the way I might even learn a lesson or two.

2. Danish delicacies

“I’m surrounded by bubbles!”
“Not like bubble bath bubbles, because there is no real water, but it does feel like bubbles you know?”
“I mean, I know there aren’t real bubbles and this probably doesn’t make sense to you because you don’t feel it. And although it isn’t real, it’s sure bubbly. It also depends on where I have my hands. Wow. This is so cool. Look, I move my hands and it feels different. Oh, no, you can’t see it because it’s dark.”
“Do I talk too much?”
“Well, ye..”
“Because maybe I do, but I just really want to explain how it feels. It’s so cool. And bubbly. It’s almost like diving. In the bubbles. Like a dolphin. Bubble diving. You know?”

Even in sunny daylight Christiania looks pretty weird

Ok, this conversation probably doesn’t make any sense to you. (It certainly didn’t to Kai at the time.) Maybe better rewind a few hours.

Earlier that day we arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark. Without any guidebook (I didn’t even know our destination until I saw it displayed at the gate – which is a brilliant way to travel by the way), but with the goal to look at the Mermaid and taste some Gløg (Danish glühwein).

Seeing as we didn’t have a clue of where to get good food, what better way to find a nice restaurant than to ask the owner of the boat we stayed on where they sell the best Danish delicacies? The top-quality recommendations always come from locals, don’t they?

“Ah, Danish delicacies, you’ll be able to get them in the centre of Christiania. They sell all sorts there,” was the answer of our host.

Expecting a studenty part of town with hip cafés and cheap Danish tapas bars offering various kinds of Smørrebrød, one could say we were somewhat surprised when entering the self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of Christiania. This anarchist community has its own laws. They include ‘have fun’, ‘don’t run’ and ‘no pictures’, while big guys dressed head to toe in black make sure all  visitors abide by these rules, especially the last one.

Ok, we did break the third rule a bit

Balancing in the dark over the uneven floor boards, passing groups of guys standing around fire pits, and avoiding broken bicycles left in the middle of the road, the whole place screams anarchy, even if it’s too dark to actually read the graffiti sprayed onto every wall. Dogs, mostly pit bull types, roam free in the streets and the scene looked so much like the Russian slums in Babylon AD, I fully expected Vin Diesel to appear from behind one of the abandoned containers. (Unfortunately he didn’t.)

When we arrived at the centre, Pusher Street, it turned out our host wasn’t talking about food.

Sellers have huddled their shops in camouflage nets – their sarcastic answer to the request of the Danish government to don’t do their illegal business in the open – and proudly display heaps of weed next to blocks of hash as big as PMS sized chocolate bars. Well, there’s certainly enough choice. Some Dansk Pot or rather a bag of AK-47 anyone? In the end I settled for a few grams of Chronic, the seller’s recommendation.

Still hungry, we bought a banana and Nutella pancake from a stall just outside the neighbourhood. This we decided for ourselves since the seller was too stoned to give us a recommendation – he did however explain the art of making pancakes in 23 different ways.

Back on board of our boat I decided it would be rude not to at least try smoking Denmark’s finest treats. Hence why – after half an hour of hanging over the ship’s railing unable to decide whether I actually needed to throw up or was just being stoned – I felt like bath bubbles.

Lessons learned:
1. If looking for a place to eat just ask for ‘food’. Fancy words like ‘delicacy’, ‘gourmet’, or ‘ambrosia’ could be misunderstood or have a whole different meaning in the country you’re visiting.
2. If in doubt, always go with a local’s recommendation.



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Klote motor*

Mijn vriend heeft een nieuwe liefde. Samen brengen ze elke vrije minuut van de dag in het schuurtje door, met muziek, sigaretten en ’s avonds zelfs met bier. Liefkozend glijdt hij zijn handen over haar ronde vormen en droomt hij over de dag dat hij eindelijk zijn Tsjechische schone kan berijden.

Inderdaad: hij heeft een motor. Om precies te zijn twee. Het plan is om de beste onderdelen van beiden te nemen en er dan eentje te restaureren. Ofzo. De realiteit is zwaar klote.

Een weekend zonder regen in Engeland. Ik herhaal: een weekend waarop Twee Dagen Lang De Zon Schijnt, in Engeland, in maart! Om dit te vieren gaan andere stelletjes samen naar de dierentuin aapjes kijken, samen op een terrasje Pimms drinken, of samen hand in hand door een park wandelen. Wij niet. Hij gaat “nog even het tandwiel verwisselen.” Ik zucht en weet: met een beetje geluk zie ik ‘m vannacht weer.

De eerste keer dat hij karrenvol ovenreiniger, schuursponsjes en ander schoonmaakspul kocht, stond ik te juichen: wow, die keuken van ons wordt helemaal spic en span! Helaas, alles werd linea recta naar de garage getransporteerd.

Dé oplossing volgens elke relatiehulp-website is interesse tonen in zijn project. “Goh liefje, vertel eens over, uh, dat ijzeren ding waar je mee bezig bent.” Maar aangezien ik geen masters degree in Technische Motorkunde heb (of verstand van ‘voorvorken’, ‘balansassen’ en ‘cc’s’), is het net alsof ‘ie Russisch spreekt.

Zelfs een knuffel zit er niet meer in want om de met olie besmeerde handen schoon te krijgen moet ‘ie ze eerst helemaal afwassen en “dat duurt zo lang, dan ga ik liever nog heel even door, de kogellagers invetten.”

Als dat takkeding nou nog zou rijden, zou ik misschien nog wat begrip kunnen opbrengen voor deze obsessie. Maar nee, vier maanden klussen en de CZ175 ligt nog steeds in 28 stukken op de garagevloer. Nutteloos te zijn. Tssss, gemaakt in 1972 en ze kan niet eens snowboarden, paaldansen of koken. Ik ben van 1984 en kan dat allemaal wel (ok, toegegeven, over dat koken zijn de meningen verdeeld, maar ik kan in ieder geval brownies bakken en dat heb ik die aftandse bromfiets nog niet zien doen.)

Jaloers op de motor? Ja.
Het zal toch niet zo zijn dat een stuk oud ijzer meer aandacht krijgt dan ik? Bring it on bitch!

Dus in een poging mijn vent op andere gedachten te brengen verf ik m’n haar sexy rood (ok, dat mislukte en nu is het roze, maar dat is een ander verhaal), trek m’n zwartkanten Ann Summers setje aan, prop m’n voeten in m’n meest oncomfortabele pumps (na 50m blaren gegarandeerd, maar met een ‘benen-tot-aan-je-nek’ effect) en wankel naar het schuurtje. Daar aangekomen struikel ik bijna over loslopend gereedschap, maar presteer het toch om semi-elegant in de deuropening te gaan staan en zwoel te fluisteren: “Hi schat, kan ik je ergens mee helpen?”

“Ja, nu je er toch bent, kun je misschien even de schuurmachine aangeven alsjeblieft?”

Ik geef het op en kleed me om. De motor heeft gewonnen. Logisch, ze is een echte klassieker. Wie wil er nou niet zo’n mooie machine met originele onderdelen en elegante lijnen? De man die toevallig door onze straat rijdt in ieder geval wel. Vooral voor de belachelijk lage prijs van maar £10.
Moet ‘ie m wel gelijk in z’n auto stoppen en nu meteen meenemen, voordat vriendlief naar buiten komt.


( *uiteraard is dit verhaal volledig fictief en berust enige gelijkenis met Kai, Kai’s motor en mij puur op toeval)

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Lessons learned, part 1: Raunchy Riga

‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.’ (St Augustine).

Apart from never being able to put down a good book, for me, travelling is also about having fun, getting into crazy adventures and, with every new place that I visit, coming closer to uncovering all the countries on my scratchable world map.
On the way, I might even learn a lesson or two.

1. Raunchy Riga

In Riga, I made a strange man very happy by removing a couple of items of clothing. (And no, this didn’t happen in the hotel sauna).

Latvian market life (needless to say this is not the luxurious Skyline bar)

Latvian market life (no, not the luxurious Skyline bar)

Earlier that evening, Kai and I sat in the Skyline bar. The 26th floor of the Radisson Blue Hotel Latvija is the place to be for the young, hip and cool in-crowd. Local celebs mingle with enthusiastic party goers and the latest Eurotrash pop sensation is displayed on massive TV screens.

Through giant glass windows in the cocktail lounge the town below could be seen, covered in snow. The city areas we wandered that morning, where farmers in worn out clothes sell their home grown cucumbers for about 30 pence a kilo, are so close, yet a world away from Skyline bar’s luxurious surroundings. Here, apart from reasonable priced cocktails, stylish stuck up staff sells Black Sturgeon caviar that’d set you back 128 euros for 28 grams (yes, at this price it does come with toast and sour cream).

My boyfriend went for a cigarette while I stayed behind at our table. A guy strolled passed, checked me out and waited expectantly. When I ignored him he walked on. This happened a few times, and funnily enough the men weren’t even remotely in my age bracket. They all looked a bit hesitant, as if expecting a bit more enthusiasm and maybe even a move from my side, as well as assessing, like a passer-by checking out mannequins in the shop window before deciding whether to enter the store or not.

Me drinking a margarita (and, according to some Latvian men, looking like an escort)

Me drinking a margarita (and, according to some men, looking like an escort)

When I told him about the strange men, Kai laughed and told me the Skyline bar was also a famous place for picking up prostitutes. Great, I’d just been mistaken for a hooker four times in the last ten minutes – while wearing leggings and a black top that didn’t even show the slightest bit of boob. Not sure if I should be offended or could somehow take this as a compliment, ‘at least I’ve still got sex appeal’-style, and should thus be flattered. In the end I settled for amused (and pleaded him not to go for further smoking breaks).

Two frozen strawberry margaritas later, when Kai disappeared to the bar to get us a third one, another man made his way to our table and looked at me. Since I already had my fair share of Dutch courage, this time, I smiled back.

Fast forward a few hours.

Kai and I were walking along the city streets in the middle of the night, hopping over piles of snow and trying not to slip on the icy roads as we made our way back to the hotel. An old man, probably a tramp, was standing on a street corner, dressed in rags. He smelled, a mixture of puke and booze. Mumbling to himself, rocking unsteadily on his feet and rubbing his cracked hands to keep warm, he clearly wasn’t with it anymore. We passed him quickly, aware of Riga’s reputation of crime, pickpocketing and other scams especially targeted to foreigners.

Then I reconsidered. Turning around, I took off my gloves and offered them to him. He hesitated and looked confused before accepting the two woolly, white and blue coloured mitts and finally smiling. The smile started slowly, but made its way all over his face and ended in his eyes beaming with joy. We continued our way, and when we were halfway across the street he shouted after us: “Thank you!”

Lessons learned:
1. In a world where many people still live in subhuman conditions, small gestures can make a big difference.
2. If I ever get tired of writing and decide to quit my job, I could probably make a decent amount of money as a call girl in Riga.

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Mission Little Monster


Our English housemate had already written it down in his calendar as ‘the German invasion’ (you can say a lot about the English but they do like a war joke), whereas I saw it more as an experiment. Approaching the big three-oh, there comes a point in most women’s lives when it seems the best idea ever to say goodbye to your sleep, your figure and your sanity. Not sure why, apparently hormones take over.

Now that point hasn’t come yet, but you never know, it might. And what better way to convince the hormones that traveling to unknown countries, snowboarding and drinking exotic cocktails is more pleasant than being covered in pee, poo and Pampers, than by having a child in house for a while? Since they don’t have a Rent-a-kid facility in England, Kai’s sister and her 2.5 year old visiting us for a weekend was a great opportunity for ‘mission Little Monster’.

In preparation I bought a fire engine toy. The yellow and red plastic thing gave me a near heart attack when picking it up from the shelf – how could the alarm have gone off when I was a good five metres away from the shop’s door? “The batteries have just been renewed,” the lady behind the counter said in a way of explanation. Her confused look told me that, “Thanks for the warning, I’ll make sure to swap them for nearly empty ones as soon as I get home,” wasn’t the answer she was expecting. I bought a puzzle as well to up educational level a bit; it had cute little dogs, English writing, touchy-feely bits and more important: it was silent.

Next on the shopping list was booze. I explained to Kai that since I sleep better after a few glasses, it might also work for Junior. However, we still had to stall it away above midget-level. Just as the knives, glasses, books, food, and all other items of either material or emotional value. Three hours later we were prepared.

The advantage of having a toddler was clear within minutes: seeing Monsters Inc. which is, let’s be honest, the greatest movie ever (after James Bond, Eurotrip and anything with Jason Statham in it of course). The best bit: you get to watch it 14 times!

There are also disadvantages. I wouldn’t mind hearing the screaming ‘mama I want cacao’, but maybe not at 5.36am. Ok, scrap that, I would mind hearing screaming whatever time of day. Just turn the volume down kiddo. (Note to self: if ever feeling like a glass of chocolate but too lazy to get up, it might be worth a try to up the whining and communicate in a high pitch dog whistle sound that is impossible for human ears to ignore).

The funny bit about children though is that you start to see things from a different perspective.
Trips to the zoo gets way more interesting if at least one member of your group chases the helmeted guineafowl walking outside its enclosure down the lane – screaming with flapping arms (both kid and bird) – instead of just avoiding it. I bet he just wanted to give the birdie some exercise. Besides, I totally share his point of view regarding cages: it’s so massively unfair that all these bars are up, preventing us from stroking the big lion. Especially when you’ve just seen a movie in which a scary looking big blue monster is being called ‘Kitty’ by a little girl and turns out to be really sweet and fluffy.

Three more discoveries I wouldn’t know if I didn’t have a toddler for a weekend:

-          Bedtime sucks. But if it’s really time to say goodnight then insist on taking all your favourite cars into the bedroom and sleep next to them (I bet Kai silently agrees – I caught him measuring up both our room and the garage…)

-          Educational puzzles also suck. Big time. The best toy is an empty egg box. With a bit of imagination and a participating adult it turns into a dragon that eats everything, even the mashed potatoes that should have actually gone in your mouth.

-          The way hide and seek is usually played doesn’t just suck, it’s also wrong. Forget about quietly sitting in a corner waiting to be found – it’s all about running around the house while making as much noise as you possibly can, regardless of if there are any other players involved or not. Also, if something’s fun, why stop doing it? Repeat the action for even more fun. And again, maximum volume. And again. And one more time. And again, this time with extra screaming for some variation. And again. And…well, you get the picture.

When the noise levels progressed from just torturing to ear destroying torturing I knew it: ‘Mission: accomplished’.  Hormones, you’ve been taught a lesson. Easy.

But when the little boy was tired of screaming and running, he discovered yet another toy: the necklace I was wearing. His chubby little fingers moved the blue glass charm around until it slid behind my back, out of view.  Mesmerised by the disappearance of the bangle, he kept himself happy (and silent!) by turning the charm around 7552 times, only occasionally pulling out some hair. Every single recurrence of the necklace was met by an adorable gurgling sound not much different from the ones they use in those too-good-to-be-true cute Pampers commercials. Help, the little monster turned out to be as sweet as Sulley in the movie.

You know what, MAYBE in a year or ten I wouldn’t mind having a little tyke myself.  (As long as it comes with a remote control which has an ‘off’, a ‘standby’ and, most importantly, a ‘mute’ button.)

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Geniet met mate

verbodenVerward loop ik door de plaatselijke Tesco. Waar zijn in hemelsnaam de zakken chips gebleven? Ik zie rijenvol aardappelsnacks hoor, van Salt & Vinegar tot BBQ, maar alleen van die stompzinnige miniporties, zakjes die je in één hap leeg hebt. Na een paar minuten zoeken spreek ik een supermarktmedewerkster aan. “Oh, do you mean the bags to share?” Nee, niks delen, gewoon voor mij alleen. Maar dan een echte zak, iets van 300 gram ofzo. De medewerkster kijkt me meewarig aan en brengt me naar een apart hoekje vol goederen waar met koeienletters ‘family packet crisps, only for sharing’ op staat…

Helaas speelt deze belachelijke trend zich ook af in Nederland. Een normale anti-PMS hoeveelheid chocolade wordt in de AH bestempeld als uitdeelverpakking of gezinszak. De zak wokkels die ik voor de tv leeg eet (slechts 200 gram), heet opeens ‘large size’. Volgens de verpakking verslind ik maar liefst zeven gemiddelde porties wokkel, die elk vijftien procent van de aanbevolen dagelijkse hoeveelheid vet bevatten. Recalcitrant als ik ben, spoel ik mijn 105% vet weg met een liter sangria. Van het woord alleen krijg ik al kotsneigingen. ‘Aanbevolen.’ Het klinkt net iets te veel gebiedende wijs, alsof iemand anders bepaalt wat je mag eten en wat niet.

Ik weet dat ik per dag eigenlijk twee ons groente en twee stuks fruit moet eten, niet meer dan 2000 calorieën in mijn mond mag stoppen en minimaal een half uur moet bewegen. Ik ben me ervan bewust dat blowen je hersencellen verwoest en dat je van roken tien jaar eerder de pijp uitgaat (en stinkt). Maar ik hoef daar niet elke dag aan herinnerd te worden. Een gemiddelde Nederlander heeft een IQ van 102. Dan zal ‘ie toch wel intelligent genoeg zijn om zelf te beslissen of het verstandig is zes dagen per week bij de Burger King te eten en op zondag voor de verandering pizza te bestellen? Nee dus.

De overheid houdt de ene voedingscampagne na de andere:
- Eet verstandig!
- Kies bewust!
- Drink met mate!
Rot op. Ik ben volwassen, betaal per maand meer dan honderd euri aan zorgverzekering en verkeer over het algemeen in perfecte gezondheid. Als ik mezelf een keertje in coma wil zuipen, mag ik dat dan alsjeblieft zelf weten? Hou toch eens op met die betutteling en laat mensen zelf denken. Alle leuke dingen worden verboden: off piste snowboarden zonder helm, overdag de gemiste uitzending van ‘Spuiten en Slikken’ terugkijken, een dagje ziek melden op werk omdat je gewoon liever van de zon wilt genieten. (Het feit dat de zon een hele dag schijnt in Nederland zou sowieso al voor een Nationale Feestdag moeten zorgen). We zijn een beetje doorgeschoten met de Calvinistische moraal van soberheid.

Het lijkt wel of de overheid niet alleen wil dat je met mate drinkt, maar ook dat je met mate geniet.

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suburbiaLiving a conventional bourgeois life sucks. Washing cars, doing weekly shops and organizing street BBQs, it makes me puke. In Holland we have a word for it: ‘burgerlijk’. (Family and friends only call me that if they really want to insult me). I’m not the type for grown up suburban bliss or the white picket fence dream, which I somehow automatically associate with DIY jobs. In my opinion Home and Garden stores should be avoided at all costs and the only reason to go to IKEA would be to get Kopparberg Pear Cider. (They’d have to be on serious special offer if I were to even contemplate visiting the maze-like store on a Saturday).

So seeing as I already have the 9 to 5 office job (suburbia alert!), I quite happy left the house a cosy student mess in order to not fully lose my carefully constructed Peter Pan image. Nothing like living amidst half empty whiskey bottles and bacteria cultures created by pizza leftovers to add a bit of rock star glamour. That is, until I picked up one of my shawls from the ground, swung it around my neck and a big hairy SPIDER (note the use of capitals to show the ginormous size of the insect) was crawling over the shawl towards my head. Clearly pissed off at being woken up, it now tried to kill me by giving me a heart attack. After I barely survived, internet research suggested the presence of creepy crawlers might have something to do with the state of one’s house, which was enough to make me go all burgerlijk.

I started with lawn mowing. You can’t get any more suburban than cutting the grass in front of your house on a Sunday afternoon, can you? Spiders usually live outside, so I figured by making the garden a bit neater I’d at least see them coming. In an attempt to make my DIY a bit more fun (in the B&Q commercials it looks like people have the best time of their lives when gardening so why shouldn’t I?), I went creative. My housemates were not that impressed with the crop circles. Back to mowing the perfect English lawn which is boring as hell. Sorry tree, I wasn’t paying attention.

The next drama, I mean DIY challenge, appeared when it rained. I’m all into eco showers and stuff, but I don’t want to get wet when sleeping. The leakage was easily located (just follow the drips) and appeared to be somewhere in the roof. Since it was still raining, it had to be fixed from the loft. This called for serious action. The plan was to not only repair the hole with home-made concrete, but while up there also create a rocking chair bench, add a wooden balcony, replace half of the bricks on the roof by glass to make a conservatory and design an arty interior – all with the goal of turning the attic into a charming in-house pied-à-terre. That was, until I arrived at the loft and saw it was more spider infested than the Amazon rainforest. A bucket would have to do.

Maybe I should start simple, with decorating my room. Since spiders hate wet and cold, I figured I’d best put up various pictures of blue seas and snowboarding holidays. Do you guys know Blu Tack? It’s an innocent looking blue chewing gum like substance described as ‘repositionable’, ‘reusable’, ‘versatile’ and ‘clean& safe’. This ‘great alternative to pins and tape’ apparently is a fool proof way to stuck pictures to the wall as you can just peel it off afterwards, leaving no mark whatsoever, even not on porous surfaces. Ideal for when you live in a rented house where you aren’t allowed to damage the walls. Or so I thought.

Two hours later, I went out to get some anti-spider spray and hoped my housemates wouldn’t wonder too much why the floor was covered in bits of plaster and the huge wardrobe was now inconveniently placed right in front of the bed, ‘coincidentally’ covering the walls. Conclusion: DIY and I are not compatible. However, although I’ve proven again that I’m not burgerlijk, I now fully understand why they sell booze in IKEA – everything seems a whole lot better after a Kopparberg Pear Cider or four.

By the way, if you ever plan on doing any form of decorating, take this tip from me: never underestimate the destructive power of Blu Tack.

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Travel bug

bug 2Looking through old holiday pictures I realised: I desperately need a travel bug.

No, I don’t mean I need to obtain the urge to go traveling – that craving isn’t not something I require, it’s something I already possess. 24/7. A weekend break in sunny Spain? Hasta mañana! A one way ticket to a faraway island? Perfect, where do I book? A half year round the world trip? Give me a sec and I’ll throw some stuff in a backpack*. I have a never-ending gigantic urge to go travel (just not the matching never-ending gigantic back account – hence why I’m still here).

(* read: ‘give me 3,5 hours and I’ll spend three of them whining about the fact that all my dresses, pyjamas and high heels don’t fit into a backpack, 20 minutes having a semi-nervous breakdown when discovering the backpack doesn’t magically enlarge itself at my command, and the last 10 mins gathering the little stuff I always take).

Back to the travel bug: when seeing some photos of myself in Cuba I was pleasantly surprised. Not just because the photos reminded me of good times and even better mojitos, but also because I actually had a bikini proof body back then (to be honest: all pictures were taken on the first day of our stay, before we started working our way through the cocktail menu and back). This shape was due to two months of traveling with my mum in South America. In those eight weeks we didn’t only walk the Salkantay trail, but also ran up the last bit to the Machu Picchu, climbed the Wayna Picchu and managed to do the Colca Canyon tour in just two days.

Basically we did countless gruelling exercise tracks involving f*ckloads of walking that would make Bear Grylls’ extreme survival expeditions seem like a casual stroll in the park. All without access to proper junk food – for some reason they didn’t sell chocolate brownies on the floating reed islands of Puno (Peru). Throw in the fact that due to altitude sickness in Cuzco and Bolivia the only snacks we were chewing non-stop were coca leaves and you’ll get the picture.

(Before you ask, you won’t get to see any pictures, especially no ‘then’ and ‘now’ ones. I’ll probably faint trying to take a ‘now’ picture, since I’ll be holding in the tummy caused by the combination of an office job and a lack of exercise, in a vain attempt to look like the ‘then’ picture. It’s not that bad, it’s just that I, and with me probably 50% of the world’s population, feel fat when watching Holland’s Next Top Model. Problem.)

So, to counteract this minor but unwanted weight gain around my waistline, I see only one solution: going on a world trip. It won’t even have to be an active journey of any sorts. I could just go to a country that is underdeveloped in the hygiene sector so I get massive food poisoning (aka the travel bug) et voila: an improved, slimmer bikini body. Not a serious illness (the ultra-skinny, starved Twiggy look might have been hip in the sixties) but just a healthy bout of D&V that will make me lose five kilos. Or maybe 10. It’s not hard: try having a Mac Maharadja burger in Jaisalmer, sampling bang lassi in Pushkar or just drinking tap water anywhere in India. Success, or gastroenteritis, guaranteed.

It will be –mildly put- somewhat inconvenient at the time, especially when trying to do an Egyptian (for those of you who’ve never eaten at a Thai night market: that’s vomiting between your legs while you’re sitting on the loo having diarrhoea), on a 12 hours bus journey. But hey; no pain, no gain. Also, everyone knows that these things make the best travel stories. A guy in our Salt Plane tour had to go for a clandestine shit in the middle of the, up to that point, pristine white Bolivian salt lakes. With a flat, salty plain as far as the eye could see, nothing to hide behind, and a very nervous driver inquiring impatiently whether he was done emptying his bowels already because it is highly illegal to leave any form of crap behind on the salt lake, it could not have been a nice time. However, I am positive that when he got back home, the guy never had to worry about finding an (un)suitable party anecdote ever again.

I understand that, hypothetically speaking, one could also obtain the desired bikini body by other means than traveling. However, personally I don’t think they are that effective: there is exercise (basically impossible with a 9 to 5 office job in winter time, especially as saving for traveling means unable to afford a gym membership), healthier eating (but Ben & Jerry’s just tastes soooooooo good, especially with some Baileys on top) or staying at home and drinking the milk that has been in the back of the fridge for the last eight weeks and is now spreading itself to the nearby cherry jam.. (I hope I don’t need to explain that this would be completely gross, unhygienic and a bad idea). Also, those ways aren’t that fun (uh, I mean ‘educative’, ‘horizon broadening’ and ‘enlightening’) as having a holiday in another continent.

Problem solved! (Well, apart from the matching gigantic bank account bit). Now where’s that chocolate?


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meat“Ik ben vegetarisch.” Dat zeg ik altijd als gevraagd wordt naar (di)eet-wensen. Niet helemaal waar, wel zo gemakkelijk. Anders moet je het weer compleet uitleggen. Ik eet namelijk eigenlijk geen vlees, maar soms wel. Een stukje runderrookworst hoort gewoon bij de winterse boerenkool, maar een biefstuk krijg ik niet naar binnen. Vooral niet als er bloed uit de lap koe druipt. Bah, ik ben toch geen vampier?

Of iets geschikt is als voedsel of niet ligt vooral aan de aaibaarheidsfactor; over krokodil doe ik niet zo moeilijk als over een klein, lief, wollig lammetje dat een paar dagen voordat het bruut vermoord werd nog vrolijk in de wei huppelde met zijn vriendjes. (Pluizige kuikentjes zijn dus ook een no go).

Vis en schelpdieren schep ik dan weer wel smakelijk op. Hypocriet hè? Net alsof zalm niet schattig is. Of zielig. Kreeften en mosselen worden nota bene levend gekookt en bij garnalen moet je de kop van het dode beestje afscheuren alvorens zijn rug te breken, maar daar heb ik geen enkel probleem mee. Probeer dat maar eens uit te leggen.

Bij een excursie in Australië dacht ik het alternatief voor ‘ik ben vegetarisch’ gevonden te hebben. Er was zelfs een categorie voor: ‘veggie, chicken & fish’. That’s me, mate. Totdat ik bij de lunch opeens een net dode kip met poot en al op m’n bord kreeg. Er zaten nog net geen veertjes aan. Afkluiven maar! Uh, nee, eerder kotsneigingen… Dat ziet eruit als echte kip-kip die op de boerderij rondscharrelt en niet als filets die op magische wijze in het koelvak van de supermarkt verschijnen.

Het is niet alleen een kwestie van visuele (on)aantrekkelijkheid, het is ook de smaak en vleesachtige textuur die door mijn smaakpapillen als onplezierig wordt ervaren. Mijn moeder maakt de beste lamsbout van de wereld, zo’n grote homp die uren in de oven moet, geserveerd met honingthijmsaus. De hele familie zit al lang van tevoren watertandend aan tafel, maar ik kauw liever op een blaadje sla.

Ik eet wel kipnuggets van de Mac, want die smaken toch naar karton. Geen ander McVlees, al ligt dat meer aan het walgelijke, slappe broodje dat je erbij krijgt. Stukjes kip in de burrito zijn geen probleem; door de overdosis chilipoeder proef je immers niets meer. Ook gehakt door de bolognesesaus merk ik meestal niet eens vanwege de halve fles rode wijn die basically an sich de saus vormt.

Misschien moet ik in het vervolg maar zeggen dat ik een erg hypocriete, weinig-vlees-in-kleine-hoeveelheden-als-het-maar-niet-naar-vlees-smaakt etende zeikerd met voorkeur voor tonijn-sashimi ben. Wel zo eerlijk.

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Hand baggage

kofferHe was fighting a losing battle. Even from my place at the end of the queue I could see that his suitcase was never ever going to fit in the box of 55 by 40 by 20 centimeters. Also, the boarding steward wasn’t going to give in. It was either fit it in or f*ck off.

I knew the man was Dutch before he opened his mouth and started to argue that the box’s measurements were incorrect and that therefore he refused to pay the extra fee. The accent confirmed what his reluctance to follow rules already told me. Country of origin: the Netherlands. Once again the stereotype was true; the Dutch are stingy rule breakers.

Part of me wanted to scream. “Look, you twat, you just paid £21.99 for a plane ticket from the UK to Holland. For this amount of money you wouldn’t even make it halfway across the Netherlands in a crowded NS train that is probably delayed and smells of beer drinking, pot smoking youngsters. Get this straight: you spend under 25 quid for a journey that would cost at least five times as much and take six times as long when travelling by car. Do you realise you paid less money for a flight than most people would spend on a haircut, a new shirt or a meal? What do you expect? That they let you take more than the allowed 10kg of luggage? Dream on!”

I kept silent though. Maybe the guy was stupid (he surely didn’t look very intelligent, breaking what sounded like a few CD cases while vigorously jamming his fists on the side of the suitcase) and – as he was trying to explain to the boarding steward – genuinely unaware of Ryanair’s strict cabin baggage policy. (After all, 30 minutes earlier I didn’t know that a lip balm was a liquid. I assumed the fixed state of the lipstick, together with its inability to flow, was a bit of a giveaway and put it automatically in the category ‘non-liquids’. However, the security staff taught me that even syrups and pastes were considered liquids nowadays. Better rewrite those Chemistry books, guys).

Then again, you can’t be that dumb if you manage to book a flight with a budget airline. It takes quite a bit of persistence: searching online for the best prices, entering your details exactly as they appear in your passport and carefully making your way through the booking process while avoiding the extra charges (priority boarding, rental car, text message, hotel, sport equipment or preferred seating anyone?), like a soldier avoiding landmines on enemy ground. Also, it’s pretty impossible to miss the cabin baggage allowance as it’s displayed EVERYWHERE – I even received an e-mail from Ryanair titled ‘Travel advice for your trip’ and explaining the bag restrictions in what can only be described as a 100% idiot-proof manner.

I felt bad being a Dutch girl, almost embarrassed on their behalf. Here, in a queue consisting of mostly British people, everybody obeyed the rules and behaved normally – apart from the one crazy Dutch guy, his wife and their teenage son (who kindly offered to jump on the suitcase to make it fit). Why on earth did they expect that Ryanair would make an exception for them? Because they can correctly pronounce the word ‘Scheveningen’? Why did they assume this would get them a VIP treatment?

Finally, after what seemed ages (and was almost as entertaining as watching the Jerry Springer show – albeit with less shouting and most of the swearing done in Dutch so the airline staff couldn’t understand), the guy managed to jam all his stuff in his wife’s suitcase, ignoring her weak protests to mind the just ironed clothes which he was now crumbling and creasing in order to stuff his mega laptop in.

A little voice in my head wanted to tell him. “Look mate. Next time please spare us the unnecessary delay. Just deal with the fact that you’re one of the sheep in this animal-like transport. You knew the rules on forehand and agreed to them when clicking on ‘purchase’. Embrace it, or at least accept it. Either pay for check-in luggage or leave your bag behind in the future.”

However, I didn’t say a word and waited for my turn in the queue. When I made it to the front I lifted my Ryanair-proof suitcase in the box with one hand, making it seem as easy, breezy, and effortlessly as possible so they wouldn’t make me weigh the damn thing (at least 15 kg). I tried to smile to the boarding steward without sweating – made even harder by the four layers of clothing I was wearing – and handed over my passport with the other hand that also held a magazine, water bottle and Giant Duty Free bag. When receiving the passport, I made sure nothing fell out of my over-bulging pockets. I semi-casually swung the Giant Duty Free bag (obtained when buying a £ 1 water bottle on the airport) over my shoulder, taking great care the handle wouldn’t brake as it was overloaded beyond duty; containing my handbag, books, camera and high heeled shoes.

Well, what can I say. The Dutch don’t like following rules I guess, especially when it comes to hand baggage restrictions…

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