Summer vacation - Mostar part 2

As my previous post mentioned once or twice (or 50 times) we loved visiting Mostar. One of the most difficult but fascinating experiences is walking through the parts of the city where the war seems like it may have ended only last week. 

The sniper tower, formerly a tall fancy department store, got its namesake due to mercenary soldiers holing up in the tour for much of the war. As you can see, from the top floor there’s an excellent view across the city. We were told hundreds of people were shot from this tower, many civilians while trying to go about their everyday lives.

The tower has been left in a state probably quite similar to how it was when the war ended. You can walk up through the building - there’s no handrails, windows and several walls are missing. Nearly every surface is covered with bright graffiti, creating a remarkable contrast to the grey cement, broken glass and hanging pipes. 

Very sadly, after 2 nights it was time for us to leave Mostar and head back to the ferry taking us to Italy. But first, there’s two amazing Mostar stories I simply have to share! 


Sometimes, Brodie is an idiot, but the universe loves him anyway

To get to Mostar we had to take a bus for a few hours from Dubrovnik. When we arrived, it was quite late, and dark, we had no idea how to get to the hostel. We get off the bus, collect our bags, the bus drives off towards Sarajevo and we try to figure out what to do next. It was at this moment that Brodie realised he’d tucked his passport and Paul’s (brand new) iPad mini in the seat pocket, and not retrieved them when we got off the bus!

It’s probably timely to remind you, dear audience, that we were in an area where your passport gets checked twice every time you cross the border, and that we had a ferry to Italy leaving in three days time.  

So yes… we freaked out!! Brodie ran to try and find a ticket office and I went into the only open shop in the deserted (except for small gyspy children begging) to see if they could help. The girl I found didn’t speak much English, but we did manage to establish that she had the bus drivers mobile number! The bus driver had found the passport and iPad and agreed to put them on the next bus he found heading to Mostar. ETA - 2 hours. 

Didn’t I say the universe loves Brodie?! This has to be a complete miracle! We settled into our hostel, ate some dinner and 2 hours later went back to the bus depot. A few minutes wait and a bus drives in with, and i am being completely honest here, ‘Peace and Love’ lit up as it’s destination above the driver. The driver hopped off, we looked at him hopefully, and with a grin he produced the passport and iPad! 


The international taxi ride

When it came time to leave Mostar, we’d planned to catch an afternoon bus, which would get us into Split an hour or so before our ferry left for Italy. Perfect. Feeling organised, we wandered over to the bus depot about an hour before our intended departure to buy a ticket. They were all sold out. There were no other buses. 

Oh my god, WHAT were we going to do?! 

While I (not so quietly) freaked out, Paul came up with a plan (thank you Paul). He went over to the line of taxis and negotiated with one of the drivers. Turns out, for not much more than the bus cost, we could get a taxi from Mostar, Bosnia to Split, Croatia, about 150km away.

So everything was fine! Another Mostar miracle! We travelled in air-conditioned comfort, stopped for ice cream, had a much faster immigration queue, and arrived in Split in about half the time!

Never in my life would I have thought I’d be catching a taxi across international borders, and that it would be an affordable option. A classic example of travel planning gone wrong, it was nevertheless quite an adventure. 


We said good bye to Dubrovnik (and Mackie who headed to Berlin) and headed for Mostar, just over the Bosnian border. We ended up in Bosnia somewhat randomly… I read some amazing reviews of a particular hostel there, we had enough to make it, so off we went. 

It was a wonderful, amazing, moving, learning adventure. Definitely, a true travel highlight. We stayed at the absolutely wonderful Majdas Hostel, don’t even think of staying anywhere else. It’s clean, airconned, breakfast is freshly cooked, the staff and other guests are all lovely, and it’s a complete bargain (like everything in Bosnia is for western tourists). I really have to mention the breakfasts again as they were devine - my favourite was little freshly fried donuts. You could have them sweet or savoury, and so had  cream or  ajvar (a sort of capsicum relish that is SO YUM!). There was also toast, fruit and coffee, and both morning we ate outside in the already warm sunshine. 

Mostar is a fascinating little town to explore. I understand it’s the most tourist friendly town in Bosnia (being close to the popular Dalmatian coast), and parts of it feel very touristy - there’s sweetly paved small streets, peaked bridges over deep streams and tourist tat shops. The boys who leap from the Old Bridge into the icy river definitely know how to work a crowd. But the majority of the city is not touristy at all. Many of the regular Mostarians (?) don’t speak much English but are friendly enough. There’s delicious food heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine, and in the long hot summer days we were there, a very buzzy nightlife! What strikes you most about Mostar are the obvious scars from the war the city still bears. Ruined buildings with their empty windows staring out into the street. Vacant lots. Bullet holes frequently mar the doors and walls of buildings in use. You cannot forget for more than a moment that you’re in a country so recently and brutally torn apart by war. 

Talking to Bosnians will bring you even closer to the war. Majdas Hostel is run by a woman (Majda I believe), and her brother Bata runs an AMAZING guided tour of the area around Mostar. Bata and his whole family were forced to flee during the war - Majda to London, Bata to Sweden and their parents to Norway. Majda and Bata are now back in Mostar and their businesses are successful, helped I’m sure by their excellent English, but their parents reman in Norway. Their story of survival and escape from war torn Bosnia is shattering and very moving - Bata twice had his life saved by a person from a different ethnic group than him. This is notable for the fact the war was largely fought on ethnic grounds, by soldiers and politicians at the expense of regular people who just wanted to go about their lives. 

But what we’re really here to talk about is the tour! The crazy mad tour that’d we specially come for! It was AWESOME! Bata is possibly the craziest driver I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a car with, and he deemed blaring Bosnian disco at the loudest possible volume ‘an important cultural experience’. He first drove us round neighbourhoods of Mostar, and described much of the context for the war, what it was like during those years, what’s happening now as Bosnia rebuilds. He discussed the kind of political issues that tourists really get insight into, such as the fact that the vast majority of construction and improvement works have taken place in Croat neighbourhoods, not Bosnian hoods.

We then visited Medjugorje, a seriously important Christian pilgrimage location where Mary is frequently spotted by fervent believers. I had a semi religious experience with a cold drink and an ice cream (40 degree weather plus 12 people in a van means i was HOT!).

Actually scratch that, I really had a religious experience at the Kravice waterfalls, our next stop. After a somewhat terrifying drive down a steep narrow road, diving into cool blue blue water was a thrilling moment. No health and safety worries here, apart from swimming you can also scramble up the rocks, under the waterfalls and into the caves. Personally, i know my clumsy self too well and didn’t venture far, but Paul practically went spelunking, and then jumped off a 4 metre high rock! Adventure plus! 

After a generous lunch - a sort of grill thing, quite Turkish, we went to one of the oldest surviving villages in Bosnia. This incredibly picturesque little place, looking like it’s straight out of a story book, was also fascinating. We had a break with one of the women living there, who served 3 different types of cordial (all grown in her yard!), Bosnian coffee (very strong and very sweet, with the grounds still in the cup like Turkish coffee), fresh figs and other fruit and sweets. We stuffed ourselves silly on the most ridiculously yummy, fresh, organic produce.

The final stop was to Blagaj, a holy place for Muslims. It was originally a monastery and now is a cultural and tourist spot. Visiting at night, with the dark river Buna flowing right out of the cave, it’s spooky and not at all a stretch of the imagination to think whirling dervishes used to practice here. 

This one day tour is so much than I can write here. Bata is quite simply an amazing human being - willing to chat with everyone and share so much of his life. Not only is he a great guide and fount of knowledge about the area and the history, he is one of the most friendly and energetic people I’ve ever met. Bata, you’ll likely never read this, but thank you thank you thank you for sharing this day with us. We loved it, and we’ll never forget you, your story or our day. I tell everyone I can, and I’m telling YOU now - if you ever get the chance, go to Bosnia, stay at Majdas Hostel in Mostar and experience it for yourself. 



Ahhh Dubrovnik. Formerly famous for surviving the terrible siege during the 90s war, now famous for being the setting of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones on HBO, Dubrovnik has a lot to offer visitors. This was easily our favourite stop in Croatia. Even though it’s touristy, there’s lots of interesting history and stunning sights to enjoy. 

The best things we did were all, of course, as instructed by Rick. We took a gondola ride up the Srd, the mountain from where the city was shelled. There’s now a museum about the war, including TV footage of the city being heavily damaged which was pretty dreadful but fascinating. There’s also completely stunning views of the Adriatic on one side, and the hills that lead to Bosnia on the other. You can’t stray too far off the path up there for fear of land mines - a shocking juxtaposition with modern, European Croatia. 

We also walked along the top of the city walls. Again offering great views of Dubrovnik, we rather foolishly did this at 1 in the afternoon and it was absolutely swelteringly hot. The vast majority of the route is baking hot white cement offering absolutely no shade. We stopped for an overpriced but oh so welcome cold drink, and just sat looking at each other and sweating. I’ve seriously rarely been so hot in my life. Plus, there were tons of stairs. Good views that, and now we have a fond, overcoming adversity memory together :p

But the highlight of Dubrovnik is visiting the Buza Bars. These two mini bars are squished onto the rocks outside the city walls, and both have steps leading to the ocean. Just imagine; It’s a million degrees (approx), and the sun is beating down. You climb and climb some quiet staircases and leave the swarms of tourists behind. You finally stumble across a little hole in the wall leading down to a shady calm oasis, that also serves beer. You have a drink and recover your soul a little. You toddle off down the steps, dive into the crystal clear blue ocean and recover a whole lot more. After floating around for a while, you’re thirsty again so you pop back up to another waiting drink. Repeat, as long as you like. It was heaven! I’d put forward a strong case that Dubrovnik is worthwhile to visit just to have the above experience. 

We’d initially contemplated spending a few more days in Dubrovnik, but I’d rumours of amazing fun to be had nearby. And so after 3 days in Dubrovnik, we sadly farewelled Mackie and Paul and Brodie and I caught yet another bus, this time to Mostar, Bosnia…


Summer vacation - Croatia part 1

Ferrying to Split

Our last day in Italy was spent driving effectively across the middle of the country, from Lucca to Ancona. Ancona, definitely not a tourist mecca (don’t go there), but you may have to as lots of ferries to the Adriatic coast leave from this ugly little port town. 

The four of us had rented a lovely but teeny cabin on the overnight ferry from Ancona to Split, one of the big ports in Croatia. My previous research had indicated that the trip was kind of boring, and that food options were limited, so we devised a devious plan whereby we brought a delicious picnic (Italian snacks, cheese, salami, bread and whatnot). Oh, and a shit ton of wine. One bottle each isn’t enough, right? 

Getting on the ferry is sort of a pain in the arse. We went to one location to learn that we had to go to another to get our tickets. We then drove back to our original location at the port, and two us stayed with all our luggage while the others returned the rental car to the airport (of all places). Waiting in the sun for a few hours was actually pretty pleasant - we gossiped and drank Peronis and I yelled at an old man when his dog peed on my bag. Douche. We were then nearly the first ones to board at 6:30pm for an 8pm departure. Queue us tucking into our picnic on the sundeck and generally enjoying ourselves, possibly to the annoyance of everyone around us. 

After not nearly enough sleep we arrived in hot and sunny Split. Split has had a facelift in the last few years, and is actually pretty nice once you get out of the grubby port. We had a great airbnb lined up right near a beach. That day we walked all the centre of the town (pretty small really), doing the sites that Rick recommended. We had a drink sitting on swingy chairs near the beach, and then hit the beach again the next morning for a pre-check out swim. Bliss! 

After only 24 hours in Split, we were off to Hvar!

Dalmatian Coast - Hvar

We got a short catamaran ride to Hvar, and here was where we got our first indication of what Hvar was going to be like. About 90% of the boat was young (average age 20), very attractive, and wearing very few clothes…

We rented an okay apartment a little bit out of the main drag. The bloke we rented it from was a classic ‘no problem, whatever you want’ kind of guy - over promised but under delivered! Sort of authentically nice, but trying to earn as much as possible from clueless tourists. Ahh, he was a character, to say the least!

We enjoyed our two nights in Hvar (pronounced Var, btw, the H is silent), but 2 days was definitely enough. We explored the town, admired the fancy resorts we couldn’t afford to stay at, and enjoyed the beautiful gorgeous amazing weather. We spent nearly a whole day at a white stone beach, alternately roasting on sun lounges and then dipping into the bloody freezing, but crystal clear ocean. 

Hvar is mostly populated it seems, but the young and very beautiful, and the rich. Lots of Sail Croatia, basically a Contiki tour on a boat, ships stop for the night, disembarking hordes of 20 somethings looking to party. The other main group is the owners of the massive luxury yachts pulled up to the esplanade. There were at least a dozen every evening, and these things were serious! You could see into their private gyms/dining rooms etc from the boardwalk. Suited staff waited to lower the gangplank for their owners. Basically, they reeked of serious money and glamour. As none of us had brought sequinned outfits, had all over tans, or were keen to go to crazy loud nightclubs with 100 strangers, we didn’t really feel like we “fit in”. Okay yes, we were also sort of jealous of them. 

From one cultural low point, to a historical highpoint - after Croatia we headed to the pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik! 


A visit to the Kröller-Müller museum

One very (very, for NL) warm day in June, my friend John and I took a day out from our studies to go on an adventure. Bright and early, we popped ourselves and our bikes on the train to Ede. From there, we cycled about 30ks through gorgeous forest. It was very idyllic, we even had to stop for a herd of sheep! The forest path followed gently rolling hills, but to our Dutch legs, these hills were surprisingly difficult! 

The Kröller-Müller museum houses the collection of two keen collectors. It’s made up of the museum building and extensive grounds to cycle round, and a huge and stunning sculpture garden. We cycled through the surrounding park (only getting lost a little), and then enjoyed a well-earned picnic lunch in the garden. The sculpture garden is huge - you could easily spend a few hours wandering round here. A lot of the pieces are regular sculptures, lovely to look at it, but essentially just there. But there are quite a few interactive pieces as well, that you can walk through/under/over. My favourite is the massive white platform you climbed a dark little staircase to get on top of. Once up there, the white paint and black outlines confused your eye so much it was hard to tell distances. So great! Another great piece was a hugeeee set of stairs, at least 150 stairs high, just leading up into nothingness. Apparently you used to be able to climb it, but it was closed for safety reasons when we visited. There’s more than 50 other sculptures, most of them fascinating, and exploring the semi-wild grounds was also fun. 

The second part of the museum is their permanent and temporary art housed inside. As well as a pretty cool and quirky collection of modern art, the Kröller-Müller museum also has a large collection by Van Gogh! You can actually see the second largest collection of Vincent’s work here, the biggest outside the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. It’s a really enjoyable collection, plenty of recognisable stuff as well as some more obscure. I actually enjoyed possibly even more than the Van Gogh museum as it was less about learning everything there is to know about VVG, and more about just enjoying his beautiful paintings. 

All in all, it was a wonderful day out. Yes, it was hard sweaty work riding back over those to Ede, but how often do you get to complain about the heat in NL?! (Answer - not often! Enjoy it while you can!). The Kröller-Müller museum is well worth a trip for anyone looking to get away from the popular tourist traps, or any art lover. 


Cultural Cringe

Way back when, before my summer holiday and before I left Utrecht, one of my lovely American friends and I took the time to visit the Aboriginal Art Museum of Utrecht. This museum is in fact the only dedicated Aboriginal art museum in all of Europe!

As well as a small permanent collection of art, mostly dot and bark paintings we’re used to, the museum hosts temporary exhibits. The current exhibit is by two Aussies, and is called BOMB. The museum is correct in describing the exhibition as a very confronting look at racism and nationalism in modern Australia. Walking through the various exhibits was a punishment for me - extreme cultural cringe. Seeing the racism so present in your own society called out so baldly is awful. The theme of the exhibition, to me, seemed to be about how there is no place for Aboriginals in modern Australia. Their culture is not celebrated and has been oppressed and supplanted by white British culture. There were pieces about the death in custody, the national anthem and the Cronulla riots. Several prominent Australian men, such as John Howard as above, and Alan Jones, have been singled out and had their names engraved on bullets. I took this to be a symbol for the violence experienced by Aboriginals at the encouragement, or lack of discouragement, by these men. Obviously though, a much more sinister interpretation could be made. 

Easily the biggest fault with this museum, and with the BOMB exhibition, is that very few of the descriptions are in English. While the film exhibits are in English, and I at least understood the context of the exhibition and recognised many of the events and people being referenced, a lot of the thought behind the art was not clear. I think my mate understood even less as, being American, this was a fairy new topic to her. I’d say the fact this exhibition is largely inaccessible for anyone who’s not Dutch is a real missed opportunity. 

The final shocking part of the visit is that “Fuck off we’re full” shirts are available for sale in the gift shop. Seeing those shirts, a symbol of the most extremely racist and bigoted Australians, for sale next to dot painting knick knacks and tea towels was seriously confronting. I believe the shirts are actually aimed at white people - as in, Aboriginals are the original inhabitants of Australia, and everyone else is an invader. Still though… I hated seeing those shirts. 

The exhibition is on for a little longer, so you can visit and make up your own mind. Mostly though, this experience was a strong reminder for me that many Europeans view Australia has a racist backwater (somewhat ironic given what I’ve observed of racism in NL!). It sucks that we have this reputation, and I personally hope I help to change that impression among my European friends. 


Which brand of stroopwafels is the best?

Partly inspired by this enthusiastic review of the Netherlands’ stroopwafels, I thought I would do a definitive and thorough review of available stroopwafels. 

First things first - how they hell do I pronounce this crazy treat? Stroop rhymes with grope, not with loop. Even though I know this in my mind - I still have trouble pronouncing it correctly. In my first day of class we had to share a fact about ourselves and I said I loved stroopwafels… only half the Dutchies knew what the hell I was talking about my pronunciation was so shitty! 


Secondly - what exactly are stroopwafels, and how do I eat them? Stroopwafels are two thing wafels with caramel sandwiched between. They are a delicious delicious treat, supposedly invented in Gouda, the Netherlands. You can easily find them in every single supermarket and bakery in NL!

Fortunately for us, others have written up lovely clear instructions on how to eat stroopwafels. 

The way to eat them properly according to me is a 4 step process. 
1. You have to open up the packet and really smell the amazing aroma that comes out. I just savour that smell before I do anything else.
2. I then put the stroopwafel over a glass of my favourite hot tea. Leave this for a minute or two to let the wafel and caramel soften.
3. Take a small bite of the stroopwafel. The flavours of the rich caramel will marry with the wafel’s cinnamon flavours to produce the most amazing taste. 
4. Take a small sip of tea to help cleanse your palette ready for the next aromatic bite of the stroopwafel. Now just keep repeating steps 3 & 4 until you finish the whole packet of stroopwafels haha.

Source (for both the picture and instructions

And so, in the name of science and delicious wafels and crazy expat experiments, I sought out as many brands of stroopwafels as possible and reviewed them! I’ve scored wafels on taste, texture and price. Skip to the bottom for my oh so scientific verdict! 

Euro dollar - Sweet, but not too sweet. Nice and chewy but still a little bit crispy. No bitter or burnt aftertaste that some stroopwafels have. These wafels are freaking bargain, 60 euro cents a packet! Can’t complain about everything, even though Euro dollar is a budget brand, this is definitely the wafels I’ve eaten the most of over the year. 5/5. 


mmmm caramel-y goodness leaking out the sides! 


Original Stroopwafels From Holland - dissapointing caramel to wafel ratio. Very nice sweetness, and delicious wafel, but much less crumbly than what im used to. Sort of missed the crumb. Wafel is very soft, possibly an old packet? Either way too soft for me. Cost a bit over a euro, think they’re aimed at tourists. 3/5


Plus Brand - really bitter edge to the caramel, wafel not sweet enough. Not a fan of this brand and actively avoid buying them. (Plus is a big supermarket chain). Unfortunately, I only bought these wafels once and forgot to photograph. Cost just over a euro, definitely not worth it. 2/5

Gouda’s Gilde Siroopwafelen - These were Thanh’s favourite. They mell amazing, much more caramel-y than I’m used to. Great consistency, chewy, but a bit crumbly too. Leave a wonderful taste in the mouth, caramel-y but not too sweet. The filling thicker/firmer than I’m used to. Definitely tasted like there was enough caramel filling, but I couldn’t actually see it easily, which was weird. And I like to see caramel dripping out the sides! This brand is famed for good reason, it’s pretty delicious. Ate two straight away. Sold in fancy bakeries, more expensive than I would regularly buy. 4.5/5


Awkward selfie of me enjoying a Gouda’s Gilde stroopwafel… 


Plus brand mini chocolate covered stroopwafels - Thought I’d mix it up a bit! Wafels are very hard on first bite, much much harder than a normal stroopwafel. A bit too hard though, really have to chew through the first few bites. Very little wafel flavour comes through, mostly its chocolate and a touch of caramel with almost a bitter/burnt edge. Once it’s softened a bit in my mouth it’s nicely chewy with a nice bit of crunch too. Lasts in my mouth quite a long time. Let’s face it, chocolate and caramel is always a good thing. It was a pack of 14 and I think I ate half in one sitting, so i must quite like them! (Or, I am a piggy). On the other hand, they’re not really very stroopwafel-y and for 2 euros/bag seems a bit meh. 3.5/5


Bakker joop stroopwafels - Wafel slightly darker brown colour than I’m used to. Opening the packet brings overwhelmingly wonderful smell, sweet and caramel-y, delicious. Take a bite, it’s not bitter or burnt at all. The flavour is really wonderful actually, not too sweet, very more-ish, almost floral notes. Wafel has the perfect chewiness, not very crispy but in a good way. Damn delicious all round and very possibly my favourite. BUT, more expensive than euro dollar… 4.5/5image

Albert hejin brand with less sugar - not sweet enough! Stroopwafels are supposed to be dessert and these just aren’t sweet enough. I found the cracker dry and not chewy enough. They have a nice aroma, no bitter edge, but i just wanted to eat a proper stroopwafel after finishing. Only buy these if you have zero sweet tooth or want to punish your self. 3/5


And ladies and gentlemen, for our grand finale, FRESH STROOPWAFELS! For you my lovely blog readers, I photographed the stall at the Utrecht saturday market like a crazed tourist. 


Very nice stroopwafel baker man. Sorry I didn’t get a better photo of you mate. 


Surely the pinnacle of all stroopwafels is warm fresh ones. I mean right? All baked goods are better straight of the oven! Warm stroopwafels are often available at markets and other events where there are food vans and the like. I’ve never been able to resist a fresh stroopwafel when I do stumble across one! Taste wise, they are delicious! Much crispier than regular wafels, with less chewiness factor, but in a good way. The caramel is shmeared a bit thinner than on regular wafels (probably a good thing so it doesn’t drip down one’s shirt). The flavour is mild and well balanced, no hint of bitterness from the caramel but not overwhelmingly sweet either. The wafels quite big, at least twice the size of a regular wafel and I feel pretty full after just one. All round… pretty wonderful. 4.5/5

While I have nothing but praise for fresh stroopwafels, and I know they’re very popular in the Netherlands… I think I somehow still prefer the prepackaged ones! I like how chewy they are, it’s not really missing from the fresh ones (the crumbly crispy-ness more than makes up for it), ultimately my favourite wafel is going to be a chewy one. 

And so… drumroll please… the best stroopwafel in the Netherlands is… 

Euro dollar! 

I simply can’t go past the value for money of the euro dollar wafels, frequently half the price of other brands. And they are still perfectly chewy and delicious!

Trying stroopwafels is an absolutely must do when visiting the Netherlands. If you’re feeling fancy, definitely definitely seek out some Bakker Joop wafels from a bakery. But if all you try is Euro dollar wafels from ubiquitous Albert Hejin stores, well, you’ve done nothing wrong. Enjoy your cheap scrumptious treat!  

If you have tried stroopwafels before… what do you think? I am wrong? Have I missed an amazing brand? 

Dinglish / Dunglish / Dutchisms / language matters

What does Dutch sound like I hear you ask? Watch above to find out. Yes, this is what I face everyday! 

Gotta be honest here. 12 months of living Dutch-side… and I speak embarrassingly few words of Dutch. I can say:
"Hi, how are you? Can I have a beer? Please. Thank you. See you soon!"
I can identify vegetarian items on most menus. I know the numbers and how to tell the time. But… that’s about all! 

Let’s be honest though… is it really my fault? Dutch is, quite frankly, a pretty weird language. I still think they sound a little bit like adorable stroke victims in conversation. Anyone else get that from the video above? Furthermore, Dutch grammar rules are mad and riddled with exceptions, and I’m simply not a dedicated enough student! 

The other reason my lack of Dutch isn’t my fault is that trying to speak Dutch is rarely met with success - the person you’re speaking to will just reply in English! After all, the Dutch are the third best English-as-a-second-language speakers in the world! 

However, that’s not to say I have run across some pretty adorable Dutchisms in my times - moments when a Dutchie just can’t quite the words out (as illustrated below!). One of my favourite is when I was touring the Domtoren in Utrecht. Our lovely guide, who had an excellent un-accented English, called steps “step-stairs”.

"There are only 158 step-stairs to go, you’re already climbed 73 step-stairs!"

Freaking ADORABLE! 

However, I don’t mean to be discouraging, and a few of my non-Dutch friends have made much greater language learning strides than me! There are tons of excellent and interesting Dutch language resources everywhere. If you’re really fascinated, I suggest you start here and here.

'Me speek goed englisj'

^ This is a seriously accurate representation of strong Dutch accent


Auschwitz and today’s asylum seekers - terrible parallels

For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe

This memorial is translated into 21 different languages - the languages spoken by those who were murdered here, plus English

Barrack foundations through barbed wire. 

My visit to the Auschwitz museum was as horrific and heart wrenching as expected. It was made all the worse by the number of parallels between the persecution of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and others 70 years ago, and the increasingly extreme politics surrounding immigration policy in Australia today. 

I definitely recommend a visit to the Auschwitz museum. The guides are incredibly knowledgable and they share the facts and stories of everyday life in Auschwitz sympathetically and professionally. The museum’s displays are well-presented, and a lot of historical context is included. The fact that the museum is crowded with brightly dressed tourists offers a stark contrast to the dank cells and barbed wire.

Our tour guide at the museum, who has been a guide there for 20 years, spoke a lot about how people from all over Europe were brought to this camp. Many languages and peoples brought together. What they had in common is that they were unwanted minorities; Jews, Roma, gays. No country that could protect them, would protect them. They were abandoned by society. All these people were forced out of their homes, and having nowhere to go they were left to the mercy of the Nazi extermination camps. 

In Australia, boatloads of people are arriving fleeing violence and persecution. And yet our politicians call them “economic refugees” and send them to tent cities on tiny island nations that can barely look after their own population as it is. Nations where the Australian Government recommend its own citizens not set foot. 

Australia’s current immigration policy is inhumane. It denies people their basic human rights. It persecutes those already fleeing terrible situations. Only two weeks into the election campaign, Australia’s politicians are stooping lower still

In 70 years, are we going to look back on this period in our history with shame and regret? Look back knowing that as a country we could have saved, improved and changed lives and yet chose not to? 

Memorial next the ruins of Auschwitz’s gas chambers. Pits hold the ashes of thousands of people.

It is not my intention to accuse the Australian government of atrocities similar those committed by the Nazis, nor to lessen the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust. But I don’t believe the parallels of fleeing minorities being persecuted can be denied. And it makes ashamed these policies are implemented in Australia; that these politicians represent us. 


Backpacking moments - Poland

In the Tatra mountains south of Krakow, we’re staying in a wee hostel near Zakopane. We’ve only travelled 2 hours south, but the temperature has dropped about fifteen degrees to a gloriously comfortable low-20’s. My travel companion isn’t feeling well, so we’ve elected to spend the afternoon lazing around. Only a few other guests are around during the day, including a group of posh public school English boys, undoubtedly on their ‘gap yah’. They did not acknowledge our arrival. 

I’m lying on a musty couch reading when I hear a saxophone riff. The gap yah boys have got out their guitar and started jamming. And then one of them got out the saxophone he is apparently carrying on international travel. He plays for about 40 mins. He’s excellent, I keep forgetting I’m not listening to a CD, I’m listening to a 20 year old kid sitting on the balcony playing from memory. 


It’s at 35 degrees. We’re on a 3 hour train from Krakow to Warsaw. The cabin is tiny. I swear it should only be for 6 people, but there are 8 of use jammed in here, bags as well. The corridor window is open, the cabin window is open. Hot wind rushes past my face. Wishes (you know that tree fluff that floats everywhere, which you’d grab and wish on as kid? I don’t know it’s grownup name) drift through the cabin. 10, 20, 30 wishes at a time. The train sways, the wind is so warm, and the green and gold countryside rolls past. I feel exhilarated and peaceful. 


In Warsaw, I went out for a few drinks with my dorm mates. We sat in a crowded courtyard and drank cheap beers talking about school systems in our respective countries. At 2am we arrived home, sleepy and happy. 

3 hours later our remaining dorm mate arrived home too. I didn’t hear him come in, but I have to assume he was absolutely blind drunk. A short while later, I woke to the sounds of a hippopotamus on the bunk opposite. I’ve never heard a human make sounds like this. Snoring, grunting, snorting. It was deafening. And disgusting. It was loud enough to wake all of us, except the perpetrator. One girl tried poking him “I cannot even believe the noise you’re making right now”. He slurred an apology and fell instantly back asleep. Then the farting started. He snorted and grunted and farted and rolled over and did it all again. The rest of us shook with laughter on our beds, unable to believe we were witnessing this. Witnessing this so early in the morning! I think this was the earliest we arose the whole trip. Anything to escape that tiny sweaty smelly dorm room! 


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