Monday, 22 October 2007

Hot spots in Paris for Bujah

(above: Paris pop in the park behind the Eiffel tower, at a special event for handicapped people of non-French background)

As you might recall I had mixed reactions to Paris when I visited it earlier in the year. In fact there were some complaints that I had been a little harsh. Well, no more! I have joined the legions of Paris-lovers! It happens that Bujah will be in Paris for the first time this Friday so I thought I would compose a Paris best-of for her. I went to Paris again for 10 days in September, but haven't got around to that part yet in my summer of Rowth series, so I'm going to get a bit out of order here.

This is a list of my hot spots but it doesn't repeat things I mentioned in my three earlier Paris blogs (the first few blogs I did).

One of the reasons my trip to Paris was less enjoyable that it could have been in Janurary was my lack of French. Actually I did try and learn some using the great BBC online French Steps course but I didn't finish it and I didn't repeat each exercise as many times as I could have.
Here is the French Steps URL:

And here is the link to the Wikitravel French phrasebook.

It's a bit hard to do a best-of of Paris because there is so many sights that most people will do anyhow.

Things you'll probably do anyway

Eiffel tower: and the park behind it
Louvre and Orangerie (I only saw the outside!)

Other things
Place des Vosges and the Musee Carnavalet in Marais
Palais du Tokyo: The art gallery and the cafeteria downstairs

Belleville to Goutte d'or through Strasbourg-St. Denis: world cultures in Paris
Up to the top of Montmarte from Barbes Rochechouart metro on a sunny Sunday
Along the Seine from the Bastille to the Eiffel Tower
Rue de Menilmontant - up the top of the hill there are cute little cul de Sacs that look like houses in the countryside - down lanes with gardens. You might need a guide to find them all though. Still it's nice up the top of the hill.

Marche d'Aligre - place de Aligre, metro Ledru Rollin - has good wine and cheese shops in the streets near the market.
Marche Bastille - the high end of town.

Ile St. Louis cafe: La Charlotte de l'Isle at 26 Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île - get the hot chocolate or the chocolate cake, this is a very cosy place on what can be a very cold and damp island.
Boulevard Belleville for Couscous, Algerian cakes and groceries

(above) Tunisian cakes at Le Bague de Kenza bakery, just off Rue Oberkampf, 106 rue Saint-Maur, Paris 11e.

Cheeses: Roquefort, tete de Moine, anything with the word Moine 'monk' in it - those monks can do no wrong! They are craziest about Roquefort in Marseilles (Roquefort sandwich, pizza, pasta etc.) but it's better in Paris.

Rue Oberkampf for groovy bars (Republique)
La Fourmi - corner Rue des Martyrs and Boulevarde de Rochechouart (Montmartre/Pigalle)

Sport in the Latin quarter:
Hammam de la Mosquee de Paris (steam baths: open for women10am-9pm Mon, Wed, Thu, Sat and Friday 2-9)
Piscine Pontoise-quartier Latin, a beautiful indoor pool from the 20's(?) that's not too cold. You don't just get a locker you get a whole room and a man who opens it for you. But you will have to bring a funny hat or buy one from the vending machine.

Things I would still like to do but didn't:
St. Denis hammam and market
Jardin Botanique Latin quarter
Clubs on a boat: La Guinguette Pirate
Eat every cheese I didn't try yet

Nijmegen autumn recipe

We interrupt our series on the summer of rowth for a brief recipe.

Rowth's autumn stir-fry

Equipment: Electric stove, flat bottomed non-stick wok
Ingredients: 1 onion, garlic, ginger, fresh shitake, carrot, tofu, pine nuts, soy sauce, lime.
Serves 2

Accompaniment suggestions: beer, white rice, salad green, pumpkin (I had some stew-like pumpkin soup but some roast dutch pumpkin would be good too - these are very orange with bright orange skin and round - I think they might be called Chestnut pumpkin)

Chop the bottom half of the shitake stems off. Dice the onion. Chop the ginger and garlic as small as you can be bothered. Chop the carrot lengthways then the other ways, then slice thinly lengthways.
Chop tofu into 2cm cubes and fry in a tablespoon of oil until brown on two sides. Remove. Fry onion for a while in the remaining oil. Fry it a a bit hotter than you would for a European dish. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic, ginger, carrot and mushrooms. Stir intermittently and pat into a lump after stirring so it keeps its moisture.
Grill pinenuts in frying pan slowly while doing this.
When the mushroom has shrunk to about half it's size and seems somewhat slimly it should be done.
Remove from heat and mix in fried tofu and pine nuts.
Put on plate with accompaniments. Squeeze lime juice on veges and use soy sauce.

Sesame oil would probably be nice too if you have it.
Guaranteed to remove winter chills.
No photos, sorry - I already ate it.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Whirlwind tour of summer part 2: Saarbruecken train trip

August: Saarbruecken - of all the dates to have a one day workshop on intonation it had to be my birthday. Really celebrated it in style. No actually I enjoyed the train trip a lot. And it got me out of doing Amsterdam with Richard and Mum BB which I likely as not wasn't up to with all the galavanting I'd already done (see part 1).

Finally got to catch the yellow lego train that I can see from my house (in the winter, when the leaves fall off the trees along the train line). Turns out the reason I never took it before is that it goes to a little place called Venlo of very little significance apart from being on the German border. That took an hour or so and then I changed to a German lego train. Finally after many hours of passing through remarkably underpopulated bits of sunny dutch countryside and some overpopulated parts of Germany I got on a swish German train somewhere on the outskirts of the other side of Cologne.

It was a Saturday, middle of July, nice and hot and I had bought my ticket late so I hadn't got a seat booked and had to keep hopping around when one became free. There seemed to be a Turkish family consisting of two women and millions of children in my carriage (turned out later to be an unrelated couple sitting downstairs having a nice peaceful kid-free trip). The kids were running up and down the aisles upsetting passengers trying to enjoy the view. I found the whole things quite jolly and I got to hear people say in a number of different languages 'What the mother is doing wrong is.... (add your own parenting theory)". The view was quite spectacular. We spent a lot of time going along the banks of the Mosel and the Rhein. There were mountainous banks with small castles and vineyards going up the sides. Small hills get me quite excited after having been in Holland.

At Koblenz the Mosel split off from the Rhein and the little spit of land in the middle has been made into an overly germanic piece of stone with a giant statue involving a man on a horse that's rearing up (called the Deutsches Eck - German corner). Together with the millions of sunbathers on the grassy banks it made an odd picture.

Eventually we arrived in Saarbruecken where I enjoyed giving a paper without having to stand up and talk in front of a whole lot of linguists. There were three of us working on it, so the other two talked and I cheered. Got to see some people from Melbourne which was nice. The workshop was a preparatory event before the international phonetics Olympiad (otherwise known as the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences). So I got to smell the tension and excitement in the air without having to do or die myself.

I don't have too much to say about Saarbruecken. It's there that I first got a taste for fanciful buildings made out of deep red sandstone. But I saw more of that in Strasbourg, which as it happens is only 2 hours from Saarbruecken, but I had to go back to Nijmegen in between for Mum BB's visit. Still I can't complain about that as I enjoyed the trip back to Nijmegen on the train almost as much as the way there.

The exciting part along the river only seemed to take about an hour on the way back. But it was still nice. Can't remember exactly where I changed trains to get on the snazzy fast one but there was a lot of confusion. The sign on the platform mentioned two different destinations (e.g. Berlin and Cologne (can't quite remember). It split half way along the journey and one half of the train went one way and the other half went the other way. I managed to lend a hand to some confused spaniards and a guy from Warnambool.

The guy from Warnambook turned out to be a bit of a character. He had been on the train all the way from Zurich already. He was headed for Holland but had forgotten his passport in Warnambool on the first trip to Tullamarine, so had to go back to get it and get on the next plane, which went to Zurich so he had to get the train to Holland. This bloke whose name I've forgotten, develops milking robots. Surely I knew about this develoment - it had been in the paper (The Age?). Not only Warnambool but Gippsland had some now too. According to him the cows don't have to go into barns to get attached to milking machines anymore, they just walk up to these things in the middle of the field, when they're feeling overly full-uddered. Hard to believe but... he was quite convincing.

Also rather chatty, as country types tend to be. Kept looking out the window to check out the farmland and saying 'How'd you be.. I couldn't live like this'. Meanwhile I was quite happily enjoying the train. We even went to the restaurant car, where he ordered heartily on his company account. The most abject thing for the poor Europeans it seemed to him was having to go away for the weekend. 'How'd ya be ... having to go away for the weekend.' As a man who owned a piece of land near Warnambool and got to sit on his verandah all weekend watching his kid ride his motorbike around, it seemed quite sad that these poor Europeans live in such rotten circumstances they are forced to go away for the weekend to seek a meagre drop of happiness.

And here was I thinking these couples putting their bikes on the train and then trundling off for a little bike riding weekend along the river had it quite good. No loading up the car, traffic jams etc. I had a feeling Holland wasn't going to impress him.

After we parted ways, one of my trains was delayed and I ended up having 45 minutes to spare in an unheard place called Monchengladbach somewhere between Cologne and Venlo. Wandering around quite aimlessly, I began to think he might have a point. Even with the warm sunny weather, which is like a miracle for the few weekends it appears around here, the place had a lot of people and very little to show for them. I traipsed out of the train station through the bus depot to a little shopping street. There were a few shops with cheap clothes, $2 shops. A lot of people who could have been Turkish or Moroccan, looking not particularly pleased with their hand. And the rest looked decidedly dodgy.

I tried to find a photo of Monchengladbach online but couldn't. I found this photo, which has some obsene appeal.

Warnambool looked pretty good from there. Still you can get on the train and be anywhere, if you've got a few bucks. Which some of my co-travellers on the train from Monchengladback to Venlo didn't. The dutch border is mainly of interest to those on the other side because it signals the availability of cheap good quality hash. The young guys sitting opposite me seemed to know this and were trying to make it even more of a bargain. But two conductors caught them out, presenting them with their punishments in a rather motherly way. There was quite a bit of laughing and joking from both sides. Maybe the fines aren't too high in lego world.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Whirlwind tour of summer part 1

June 9th: Celeste visits Nijmegen! Yes, exciting isn't it? Celeste seemed to quite like Nijmegen. She took to her bike despite some complaints about a sore ass. And happily pedalled in to town every day, to eat pancakes and window-shop. Although I'm beginning to think she likes anywhere with broadband and a laptop - myspace junkie that she is! First question when we saw her in Barcelona: "Did you guys bring your laptops?" (alright, not the first, to be fair). Nijmegen is probably ideal for a post-India recovering week. We went to the pancake house in the woods and saw the Italy-Serbia under 21s match. Then we went to Amsterdam for 3 days and had a pretty good time (can't remember anymore what we did except that it involved eating drinking and I think some art). Were the victims of some very heavy summer deluges and the undersupply of hotels that Amsterdam suffers from. After that she went to Venice while I went off to Poland.

Poland with Mum and Dad - hiking in the Biesczkady region (see photo). From the photo you might think that the best thing was the hiking maps which show each route as a straight line and omit any natural features, but actually the food was really good too. Highlights were the soups - which somehow mixed chunky vegetables, watery broth and cream really well. How can I learn to make Polish soups? I don't know. Maybe Esther can teach me. Must eat pickle and potato soup again one more time before I die. Plus the ice cream is very good. Weather was good and whole place gave the impression of verdant farmland - very thick and green.

O.k. all you non-commenters - time to get to work. Is my attempt to write more-spicily than David Byrne making the writing just seem overly enthusiastic? Like that linguist who gives talks as if he's wildly excited about his subject matter, and you end up just wondering why.

After a very enjoyable train ride from Rzeszow to Warsaw, we spend two nights and one day in Warsaw. Didn't see much of Warsaw during the day but the last evening me and Mum went to see Dad give a talk. Just had to write it down so he doesn't forget. See we do care! (oops another exclamation mark, tut tut). Lots of funky young Poles there who care about politics for good reason. I then took a train from Warsaw to Berlin. Another lovely Polish train. Are they the last ones full of cabins? When you order a salad in the cafeteria carriage, the guy behind the counter puts on a little apron and chops the veges to make the salad. Still no supersized chocolate cherry cake like on the Berlin to Amsterdam train (can't have everything, at least not on the same train trip).

Berlin with Richard and Celeste
Richard and Celeste didn't like Berlin! Maybe we're different types of travellers. Are you the type who has to be grabbed and swept away by a place until you finally have to go home? Celeste had just come from Venice, Richard from somewhere in India (I should know where, but....). Berlin was unusually cold and drizzly for July, and we were staying in a rather bleak part of Friedrichshain, looking over the river at some ugly new office buildings with too many mirrors for a post-nineties building. I like to settle in to a place. Slowly go for walks from my place of abode making ever-greater circles. Berlin, I like.. couldn't say why.

Picture above shows Richard and Celeste having a very good time at Claerchen's Ballhaus (Ball-house) in Mitte. We spent our last night there and had a great time watching people dance tango and eating the best chocolate mousse I have ever eaten. With those famous Brandenburg strawberries. They didn't take to Berlin so much as you'd expect for a pair of Melbourners, but being themselves they did manage to have quite a good time. I think the Berliners frightened them to be honest, and they like hustle and bustle, which you don't really find in Berlin so much.

stay tuned for the next installment: Saarbruecken, Mama BB visits Nijmegen, Strasbourg Yiddish course, the big Meditteranean ramble and Paris take-two.

The blog is back!

(photo: Strasbourg Yiddish course)

Yes, the blog is back. And why? Well immediately, because I was just reading David Byrne's 'journal' on his web site and thinking "This is really dull. I could so do better". Alright you can't be talented at everything - but come on David spice it up! (love the radio station though...). Less immediately, the nights are coming earlier, Richard's away, I'm in Nijmegen and that's how it's going to be for at least a month.
Things haven't been very blog-friendly for a fair while. To put it frankly my life has been quite exciting, and even when I've been in Nijmegen there's been nice warm light evenings to go for bike rides and at the very least Rich, who can be very entertaining. So yes, boredom spawns blogging. Bring on the boredom!
Which begs the question - what to blog about? I last blogged on the 30th of May so the blog-drought pretty much corresponds to the four months June-September, which is what they call summer around here. Actually to give the climate credit we did turn the heating off for four months and didn't feel cold. But not all the usual summer vibes were felt - at least not very consistently. Thus the most recent holiday to Marseilles/Barcelona/Girona.
But before we get to the topic of holidays and other excuses for galavanting around, I think it might be worth starting another post. Rather than go into depth on all the various summer happenings and not get around to all of them, I'm going to give you a whirlwind tour of this past summer. After complaining about poor David's blog, I'm going to have to try and make mine snazzy - but then I don't have so many fans to satisfy.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Food-shoppin in Nijmegen

I did one blog on eating out in Nijmegen. Which as I explained, is a tricky business. What about buying food in shops? Well, it actually isn't too bad. There have been questions from some of y'all back home as to the food here. So I have decided to compile a few of my favourite items. When it comes to stocking the fridge, Nijmegeren aren't too bad at it.

1. De Rit Volrogge honingkoek
The latest discovery. You wouldn't even think about buying a cake in an Australian supermarket, but here they sell these ginger and honey cakes which really aren't too bad, especially once you've got used to the level of sweetness of dutch desserts (I am now able to drink a Chocomel hot chocolate with a cake and not expire immediately from over-sweetenedness).

The De Rit brand ones are a step above, coming from the health food shop, for your 100% bio (organic) honey cake, which is made from rye flour. If you want to get your honey cake really nice and dark, try rye flour. It seems to work.

Recipe (alright, ingredients): 33.5% Wholemeal rye flour (who ever heard of white rye flour! I don't think it has a skin), 27.9% honey, rye grains (or something called bloem), then it has some other chemicals or something and also of course the old cinnamon. So there you have it, bung a huge amount of honey, sugar and a bit of rye together with a dash of cinnamon and you could have some yourself.

2. Pickles
Another good supermarket product is pickles. You can wander right into your Albert Heijn (the most ubiquitous supermarket around) and grab the home brand pickles (go for zuur 'sour' -not zoet 'sweet') and you'll find they are quite delicious.

3. Beer

Plenty of beer in the supermarket. No separate sealed section just another aisle. You can get Grolsh here, although not in the funny bottle, they seem to be getting a bit sick of that here. For a start all that glass is heavy on the bike. Instead of a slab you can get a plastic crate that sits nicely on the bike rack.
(a beer accident, illustrating the plastic beer crates, googling images is a terrible waste of time)

4. Veldsla

This mysterious salad green is not found in Australia, not surprisingly, since it is a delicate juicy kind of baby green, that looks like it could be a baby buk-choi or something, but never grows up. Translated as 'field lettuce/cabbage' it seems to me it probably used to grow in the shade of grasses in the field, but now is probably hydro. It doesn't exactly taste of anything but tastes delicious as a salad, on its own or with lettuce. You have to eat it soon after you dress it - it kind of melts in the dressing after a while. I was getting it at albert heijn in a little bag, but recently discovered the boxed variety at the health food shop - much stronger and with a longer life.

5. Other greens
Even your usual garden variety green veges just taste better here. I think they like the unlimited water supply (except for the 3 week drought we had). So I thought I'd just mention the better ones together here:

Leeks - these are so much juicier here I overcooked them for months, I just couldn't get used to the fact that they cooked so quick.
Green beans - like leeks these are picked smaller here which makes them tasty.

Asparagus - Also taste delicious. Have avoided the white ones even though dutchies seem to have a seasonal obsession with them - just can't quite see the point or how they could taste as good colourless.

Lettuces - very nice!

On the negative side - can't seem to get a decent pumpkin here. They have these orange-skinned round things which are so hollow there's hardly any pumpkin there. Plus they're a bit heavy for the bike.

6. Potting mix

(My happy plants on my balcony)

Potting mix isn't really food, but since it's unlikely I'll write a list of best nursery products I have to mention this potting mix. It is the most amazing stuff, so delicious (to feel, I'm not that nutty). It has the nicest texture, the plants love it and it hardly ever needs watering.

.... to be continued

Monday, 28 May 2007

Musicmeeting madness in Park Brakkenstein

(my photo:

As most of you are no doubt aware, there was a world music festival on this weekend (Pinksterweekend - a long weekend). It took place in Park Brakkenstein, next door to my apartment, or as I like to think of it 'my backyard'. I have been raving about it for months, to anyone who'll listen, but unfortunately most didn't. Anyway, there was an amazing line up of musicians and it was very hard not to listen to music all-day, everyday for 3 days. They had two stages so a different act came on every hour and wouldn't you know it even listening to music can be tiring if you do it persistently enough!

The whole event was rather quaint and very 'Nijmegen'. It was well organised with the main tent being a nice red and white stripey number with a wooden floor and seats. The sound quality was very good and the lights plentiful and colourful if a little nineties. The audience was very grey with very few nutters. Most people were in the 45-60 age bracket and looked like they were off to a theater show, or about to have some friends over for dinner. This might have given it a bit of a sedate air, but they all danced and applauded like anything.

The way it was organised was very nice because anyone could go in to the festival and you could take in whatever you want (including grog). In addition there was reasonably priced food and drink available. So that was all quite nice and different to an Australian festival, where they try and fleece you for everything you've got. You didn't even have to pay for the toilet like you usually do in europe although I noticed most people put something in the tray for volunteers, feeling perhaps a little strange using a public toilet for free. The main stage was in a closed tent and you had to pay to go in but there were excellent acts on the other stages too.

So enough rant, bring on the music! I thought I might share with you some of the musicians who I really liked. As you know, the recordings don't really sound the same, and the two I liked perhaps the best conveyed a lot on stage too.


(photos: stolen from musicmeeting website)

Cherifa Kersit is a Tamazight Berber Moroccan who developed her rough style singing at Berber village festivals and weddings. Three men back her on lute, drums and tambourines [see video above]

Gnawa Crossroads

Gnawa Crossroads

Also from the Magreb there was a band called 'Gnawa Crossroads' - put together temporarily from Moroccan, Algerian musicians and musicians living in the Netherlands, partly to promote the Gnawa festival in Essaouria (would like to go, but...). Gnawa Crossroads featured the singer Hamid El Kasri, who it turned out I had on a CD I got in Morocco. I am now an even bigger fan. In addition the backup singers were great clowns and reminded me of the charming berbers we met in Morocco, always fooling around and somehow serious at the same time.

I couldn't embed anything but you can hear one song with Hamid and see a cute video recorded on location in Morocco here:

This site about the Essaouira Gnawa festival plays good music while you look at it:

Not sure how to upload a music file (any hints?)

The biggest surprise of the festival for me was Exactly as described in the program which didn't give me great expectations: "Imagine a gypsy group and suddenly Eminem comes on the stage". Somehow the lead singer Radoslav Banga really channels Eminem: the combination of whingy teenager and teenage bravado. Luckily no bleached hair and visor though. And yeah lots of musical talent in singing etc. which Eminem lacks.

The theme of the festival was cultural and stylistic fusion, which I find can really go wrong. But for the most part it was not a case of westerners working with 'exotic' musicians, watering it down and adding a cheesy beat, but instead people playing the music they want to rather than some kind of pure cultural product or something like a tourist cultural show (there were 4 altogther that I didn't like for these reasons, but that's all!).

Anyway was really young and energetic and were clearly masters of the gipsy style, and generally did an amazing job of mixing the genres. The tradtional gipsy music they played was heaps better than all the other stuff I've heard over here. I even starting thinking that maybe Eminem wasn't that bad after all! Europe is currently in the grip of a balkan craze - but somehow they often manage to make it sound really monotonous - I wasn't surprised to read that the DJ credited with popularising the balkan beat is a german house DJ!. But now I'm willing to give this Balkan business another go.

I particularly liked these songs:

The rest (or samples of them) are on:

You can even see Radoslav's evil Eminem sneer - don't worry the other musicians were much cuter! Although Gipsy's certainly know how to do the cute thug as well as Nelly or 50 cent.

Now I'm trying to work out how many other world music festivals I can make it to this summer. Won't be able to pop home for a cup of tea at the other ones though.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Eating out in Nijmegen

This post is a list - so I'll keep adding to it as the year goes along.

Since I have resolved to be a cheerful expat - let me start this by saying that beer in Nijmegen is good and always cheap. An excellent range of beers and a cosy atmosphere may be found in almost all drinking establishments. Food and Nijmegen however, are a combination that can cause some anxiety in the minds of expats. Firstly shops are closed all day Sunday - which can lead to the disorganised expat getting a little peckish. But you can buy pretty much anything between the supermarkets, health food shops, toko marts (asian food shops) and Turkish and Russian groceries. As far as eating out, food establishments can be very variable, and are always overpriced so the experience can be somewhat deflating. Which is why you need a food guide to Nijmegen....

As it happens one is at hand. Allow me to lead you around the best food options I've found so far. First I'll give you a picture of my tastes - I am vegetarian, but can eat large amounts of dairy (believe me it's come in handy), tolerate a fair amount of grease (in the absence of sogginess), am not so keen on mixing sweet and savoury or salt in large amounts and above all enjoy fresh vegetables and interesting mixtures of spices (as opposed to the prevaliling one spice per item attitude I find around here - oops I complained!).

I've put an address or link where possible, you can always find your way to these places using:

Tips and warnings:
1. Do not go into any old pizza or kebab shop thinking 'how bad could it be?' You will find out.
2. In many places you need to order dinner before 8pm.
3. Many bars have snacks of some type
4. When it doubt order appeltaart (apple pie) it's is always nice.

1. Maoz vegetarian, Grote markt 19
A little take-away with seating for about 8. The food is good and you always find an interesting crowd, although you won't want to stick around as it's always also crowded. They offer falafels in flatbread with a range of salads and sauces as well as chips and drinks. I recommend the carrot salad and the coriander sauce. The chips are actually crunchy, the only place you can get crunchy chips north of the belgian border. Maoz is a chain, but don't let that put you off. People do eat the salad out of their pocket and then refill it, so don't hold back if you get thrilled by this place (I know I did the first time). I find it a nice place to go when I get sick of my own cooking. Leave plenty of time, if you're off to see a movie or something as for some reason it takes 15 minutes to fry a falafel and stick it into a break pocket. But it's worth the wait.
Prices: 4-6 euros depending on your 'meal' option.
(thanks for the tip JP)

2. Weet je wel (y'know), Priemstraat 13
A little cafe down the hill behind the Grote markt. A bit tricky to find but worth finding. The staff are nice and friendly, also quite attentive. The food is relatively fresh and they always have a few different vegetarian options. One time I had a quiche, the next time a lasagne. Both were very tasty. Food is typically dutch here in being very soft in texture. Being used to that I wasn't surprised that there was no difference between the texture of the noodles in my lasagne and the eggplant. I would steer away from the asian food here - which from the look of it is very dutch-style (sweet, salty brown sauces). With your main meals at dinner time you get the traditional 3 bowls to share a dutch (?Nijmegen) tradition. The three bowls are: salad, (!brown) bread and chips. The yellow walls are especially cosy in winter. You can't sit outside at all, but it's still nice in summer.
Prices: 13-15 euros for a main course at dinner time
Note: You have to order dinner before 8pm
(thanks for the tip - M&A)

3. Australian ice cream, Koningstraat 35
You've heard of New Zealand Ice Cream and all those ones with scandinavian names, now it's time for.... Australian ice cream! Complete with dot designs on their chocolates. I found out from their website that they have 2 shops in Sydney which is pretty funny. Click on the website and listen to the didjeridoo:

First I should mention that the ice cream and chocolate at this place is very yummy. Purported to be a Belgian company, it is actually a chain based in Nijmegen. There is also a chain called Australian ice cream in Belgium but their shop-design is different (green and gold) and the ice cream isn't very good.
They seem to be cutting down on the use of dot-patterns in the shop and on the chocolates, I think they got a bit of flack for it - kind of a shame. Australians do not get a discount - I tried already!
Prices: usual ice-cream prices (under 5 euros)
(thanks for the tip Clair)

There are also some nijmegen restaurants reviewed on this website, but most seem to be the fairly touristy ones:
Virtual tourist website

Translation exercise 2: Shenkie video

My apartment comes with a tv with MTV which might seem dangerous but actually the videos they show aren't that exciting - they have a predominance of dance music videos (boring!) and woofy English rock (Arctic monkeys, coldplay blah blah). But! I happened to see an incredibly amusing one this morning, and even if you didn't find the article from De Brug Nijmegen interesting, I think you'll like this one, although it looks better on tele.

It's by a band called 'De jeugd van tegenwoordig' (the youth of today / contemporary youth). Purported to be the winner of a competition which asks people to make their own music video but actually professionally done. It is extremely amusing, and would probably be classified as child porn in Australia.

Band website:
Filmakers website:
An article about the clip/band/filmaker (in dutch):

I downloaded two different transcriptions of the lyrics - both are totally different! It doesn't sound like it would be such a hard song to hear the words of, if you could speak dutch, but maybe the people transcribing it can't speak much dutch either, or perhaps they're 8 years old. Anyway, the meaning clearly isn't deep, whatever it is (think I'll stick to De Brug from now on).

Reverse, you’re crazy for this one!

(Willie Wartaal)
Dan wat! Ik spit niet goed,
What then! I (something) no good
Ik hop hip als een konijn in de Jimmy Woo,
I hip hop like a rabbit in Jimmy Woo
G in de hoek met groepies G in de hoek met tjoeries,
G in the corner with groupies, G in the corner with [tjoeries]
Eentje voor je praatjes, eentje voor je stank,
one for your chats, one for stink
Eentje voor je …,
one for your [?skins/skinheads]
Want die dames willen gratis drank,
because the girls want free drinks
Dus twee tjoeries en twee keer twoe,
so two [tjoeries] and two times [twoe]
Je hele crew is een beetje moe,
your whole crew is a little bit tired
Nepkomen ik weet niet hoe,
fronting I don't know how
Shenkies zijn played out als Evisu
Shenkies are played out like Evisu

Shenkie in de koelkast
Shenkie in the fridge
Kenker je bent een fool gast
Kenker you're a fool guest
Oublié, quelque chose
(french - help!)
Faffie, faffie, oeh ah

P en faber E en G en een E met een moeilijk streepje Gé,
to the P to the E to the G to the E with a difficult stroke
Ik kraak wat af….,
I diss a bit
Als ik door je heen prik zijn de rapen gaar,
when I pierce you with my weaving rap (a rather imaginative interpretation_
Ja ik ben weer op TV (…),
Yeah, I'm on TV again
Als ik…..(met m’n luchtbalon),
when I... (with my balloon)
Shows in Frankfürt…. ,
En ik hang met Reverse, hij is ook bekend,
And I hang with Reverse, he's also well known
Geld geven heeft zeker zin,
Getting money makes sense
Stort je props maar lekker op m’n rekening,
Kindly leave your props on my account
Wat is al die shine en die slechte geur,
What's all the shine and the bad smell
Fabergé, Willie W en Vieze Fur,
Faberge, Willie W and Dirty Fur
Wat de fok is al die shine en slechte geur,
What the fuck is all the shine and bad smell
Fabergé, Willie W enneh Vieze Fur
Faberge, Willie W and Dirty Fur

(Vieze Fur)
Koetjesrepen in me huis,
Caramels in my house (koetjesrepen are a brand of caramel or some other typically dutch sweet, there's a lot of them)
Koetjerepen in me vacht,
Caramels in my skim
Koetjesrepen in me buik ,
Caramels in my tummy
Koetjesrepen komen hard,
Caramels come hard (?)

Koetjesrepen, koetjesrepen
Caramels, Caramels
Wie wil er nou m’n koetjesrepen
Who wants my caramels then?
Koetjesrepen, koetjesrepen
Caramels, Caramels
Neem alsjeblieft m’n koetjesrepen
Please take my caramels

(lyrics downloaded from

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Cyclists on the footpath: a translation exercise

Recently, R sent me a little package which contained a copy of our local newspaper, which we get in our mailbox every week free at home in Australia, the reading of which often accompanied my breakfast or nature's cuppa. Seeing this newspaper in my apartment in Nijmegen brought back two strong feelings - one of homesickness, of the relaxed kind of time wasting that seems to be only possible at home, another of embarassment or some kind of cringe because it seemed so ridiculous and out of place.

However, since then I have received the latest issue of the local free Nijmegen newspaper (De Brug Nijmegen). Looking at this it seems to be that it's no more or less ridiculous. In particular, an article on the front page caught my eye about cyclists being prosecuted for riding on the footpath, to get around some construction work. Having ridden this particular (illegal!) route myself a few times, I got interested and it seems Nijmeegse are perhaps just as amusing for their over involvement in politics as Northcotians are for their lack.

Since my dutch is coming along rather well and I'm getting lots of pats on the back for it, I decided to try and translate the article - it's probably not as amusing in English, but I've tried to stick as closely to the original as possible.

A bit of background: on my usual route in to town, I noticed last week that for one block the road is fenced off because it is being resurfaced, following others I simply rode along the footpath for this block, although I did notice others go off and do the other 3 sides of the block instead. As you can see from the article, I was one of the lucky ones as the police weren't around the (numerous) times I flagrantly broke the law. But as you will see from the article some of the cyclists who got booked weren't happy about it. Note acronyms refer to (real!) political parties.

Politie moet gewoon haar werk doen (The police have to do their job)
De Brug Nijmegen, Wednesday 16 May 2007, volume 48, number 20, page 1.
"The police have to be able to do their job" states Mayor Thom de Graaf. "There was nothing wrong with the bicycle-checking patrols that took place on the Heyendaal street. People are not allowed to ride their bikes on the footpath".

Mayor De Graaf was responding to the bicycle-checking patrols that took place last week on Heyendaal street and caused a commotion. The police were right to have stood on the corner and booked the cyclists who rode up the kerb. According to the cyclists they didn't really have any choice: there was construction work on the road so only the footpath was available. One student videod the situation and published it on
According to the mayor it got hyped up. "The police book people to keep order. The situation has been blown out of proportion. "
During this time the PvdA-faction lodged written inquiries about how the business was handled. The independent youth wing of the VVD also responded to the situation. According to the young liberals the police did the right thing. The construction work was taking place right next to a school ground which the bicycles were riding past, creating a dangerous situation. "It is generally recognised that cycling on the footpath is forbidden and because of that it is shameful that the booked cyclists are not willing to take responsibility (for their actions)" said chairperson Marloes Kuijpers.

Amusing? Or only for me?

Here's the original if you want to give me any tips:
Politie moet gewoon haar werk doen

NIJMEGEN - "De politie moet gewoon haar werk kunnen doen", meldt burgemeester Thom de Graaf. "De fietscontroles die zijn uitgevoerd op de Heyendaalseweg waren niet verkeerd. Men mag niet fietsen op trottoirs."
Burgemeester De Graaf reageert op de fietscontroles die vorige week werden uitgevoerd op de Heyedaalseweg en waar commotie is over ontstaan. Die politie zou 'om het hoekje hebben' gestaan en vervolgens de fietsers de over de stoep reden hebben bekeurd. Volgens de fietsers hadden zij echter geen andere keuze: er zijn wegwerkzaamheden en de stoep was alleen vrij. Een student heeft deze situatie met zijn camera vastgelegd en gepubliceerd op
Volgens de burgemeester is het een hype geworden. "Die politie deelt bekeuringen uit om situaties te handhaven. Ik denk dat deze situatie nu wordt opgeblazen."
De PvdA-fractie heeft inmiddels schriftelijke vragen ingediend over de gang van zaken. Ook de onafhankelijke jongerenorganisatie van de VVD heeft gereageerd. Volgens de jonge liberalen is het juist goed dat de politie controleert. De werkzaamheden vinden vlak voor een school plaats waardoor het fietsen over het trottoir gevaarlijke situaties oplevert. "Het is algemeen bekend dat fietsen over het trottoir verboden is en daarom is het schandelijk dat bekeurde fietsers hun verantwoordelijkheid niet willen dragen.", aldus voorzitter Marloes Kuijpers.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

12 Adventures in Nijmegen

Photo: from a dutch Naturists (nudists) site.

Not that I would want to compare Nijmegen to Antwerp or anything but the guide book '12 Adventures in Antwerp' has inspired me to rack my brains and think of 12 exciting things to do in Nijmegen. I'm going to make a start here, and I might not finish until I've finished my time here (at the end of the year) but I think I'll get there.
(drum roll)

Number 1: De Thermen
A sauna-complex that has been rated number 3 in the Netherlands (not sure how to but I really want to find out which are numbers 1 and 2!). There are many different saunas - very nice of different temperatures with nice wood smells in them. Also different spas. My favourite part is the steam room in a middle-eastern theme: blue and white tiles, a turkish-style fountain, pin-point lights in the ceiling that change colour and a round pool to sit in when you get too hot and very soothing music. De Thermen aren't very expensive - you can go in for 20 euros, but you might be tempted to relax around the artificial fire in the restaurant/bar and spend money on food and drinks later. The food isn't bad. If you have your own bathrobe and thongs (flip-flops) bring them. Clothes are generally forbidden, it is mixed at all times but you must wear a bathrobe in the restaurant/bar. The website has the address:

There is another sauna-complex in Nijmegen: The sanadome. This is part of a resort hotel with more of a corporate-feel and much busier. It's main appeal is a big round pool outside - especially nice in the winter. De Thermen only has a small outside pool between the building and a fence.

2. Duivelsberg Pannekoekenhuis (Devil's mountain Pancake house)
In the warmer weather, it's a nice bike ride up to this Pancake house in the forest. I recommend the buckwheat pancake with blackberries. I un-recommend the savoury pancakes (although the flesh-oriented might be tempted by the local bacon and apple pancake). It's only open until 8pm I think, but it is nice in the evening as the sun sets.

3. Musicmeeting
A world music festival, held over Pinksterweekend every year. See blog above for all the details.

..... to be continued

Friday, 11 May 2007

Carousing in Antwerp

Small photo: The dumpbrothers, big photos: Petrol nightclub

Carousing - what they do best in Antwerp. Wherever you go this (spring) time of year you will find people carousing, often where you least expect it. Drinking, drugs, singing, dancing, playing music, dressing up and staying up late seem to be generally well thought of by most if not all of the popluation (including Neo Nazis, Jews and Muslims of various persuasions), [I didn't actually witness any neo nazis carousing but I'm guessing].
So how to get in on it? Actually you could probably just wander around, any time of day except maybe 6am-12am and you'd happen upon something. But if time's short as it often is for the intrepid expat, having to get back to work on Monday, then here's some hints. I'll start with where you probably want to be at the end of the night and work backwards.

Scheld'apen and Petrol - two reasons you want a bike, unless you're a keen late-night walker. To find them go along the river until you pass over a big freeway that goes under the river (everything goes under the river, there's no bridges in Antwerp) keep going a short way and you'll get to Petrol and Scheld'apen, follow someone to find the entrance.

Scheld'apen is your ferally kind of place basically a small old building that is a bar, surrounded by a kind of vacant lot with nice trees and some outdoor stages. Probably not so good in inclement weather for this reason. The night we were there they even made food, although the dish was called 'wok' which is disturbing to an Australian, I didn't try it. We saw the dumpbrothers play there (see photos above), and there were about 300 enthusiastic people in the audience, so I think they might be the house act.

Petrol is a big shed with an asphalt floor. The decor isn't bad (see photos) but it seems to have really good acts! (Why don't we get these in Melbourne, there's only 450,000 people here). The night we were there it was a special one-off night called Microob (not sure if it is a regular event or one off). It was some kind of showcase of local talent. There was a really good DJ mixing up all kinds of stuff, I think it was the one called TWENTYSOMETHING but he doesn't have a myspace - damn! One band we saw which was quite good was sukilove, they have a webpage which is quite cute and you can hear their music:

Apart from that, just wander the streets in the old centre at night to see plenty of carousing in little bars. We were almost home Sunday night, when we passed by a tiny bar, half filled with a band consisting of a drummer with one drum and a cymbal, a bassist and a very drunk singer with keyboard (who sung loud enough not to need a microphone). Add to this a few tables and some very drunk customers carousing as much as was possible in the space, of various ages and degrees of eccentricity (judging by appearances). One had a little dog with him, a lady accosted another couple who were leaving, apparently accusing them of taking something from her handbag. Buying a drink didn't seem to be possible, instead were given Cava, the Catalonian Champagne which is the latest craze all over (I prefer it to Champagne myself, doesn't have the spew-aroma). Apparently the band had been walking past and asked if they could play, being as it was not a typical venue. After a while we left, the singer just got too drunk and stared at his keyboard telling everyone to wait a minute when they complained and two british tourists came in, one slapping his knee and insisting we sit on it.

Antwerp bands: since leaving Antwerp, I have been lucky enough to see two Antwerp bands play here in Nijmegen. DAAU (Die Anarchistische Abendunterhaltung - The Anarchic evening entertainment) are pretty good - you can listen to their music here:

They played this song:

dispositioning system

This one on their website is good, it is with a singer called An Pierlé who seems cool, although I never heard of her:

The lost pussy

They do a mean static. I saw them would you believe at a place formerly known as the Open Air Bible Museum. Recently renamed as Museum Park Orientalis. Wierder and wierder but wait.... forthcoming: 12 Adventures in Nijmegen.

Antwerp hotels and transport

I've only tried two hotels in Antwerp so far so I can't really claim to be an expert. The first time we stayed in hotel Rubenshof whose beautiful breakfast room is shown above. I think it says something about Belgians that the breakfast room is often the nicest room in the house. Unfortunately I can't say much for the actual bedroom at hotel Rubenshof, or the shower (dribble, dribble..) or the location - which is a little dull and not that convenient to anything.

Last time we stayed in 't Katshuis (I'm not going to bother giving web addresses because you can easily google these places). We got a much better deal in terms of a big room with a bathroom and plenty of water coming out of the shower. However, should you be sensitive to noise at all, or should the weather be warm enough that you have to leave the window open - you will not get any sleep at all! At least on the weekend, because there are bars downstairs and the cathedral is very near and the bells ring pretty much continuously all day Sunday. This didn't worry us because we sort of slumbered in total exhaustion after all the excitement we were having. Also Katshuis is very convenient - it is just off the Grote Markt and everything is handy.

Some parts of Antwerp are close together - the old centre, the river, the Centraal station area and the Hasidic area - but there is a lot to see further afield. If you love trams (teeny weeny ones) - you can get them. Otherwise a bike is a good idea. We got them from a place on Steenplein in the centre and they were very handy despite being extremely poorly maintained. I would recommend going for the cheapest bike, since having gears didn't help my bike at all and is probably what was making it slip constantly.

Antwerp: a guide to tourist info

Photo - a house in Zurenborg, an area mentioned in '12 adventures in Antwerp'

First thing to know about Antwerp is it's not that much use looking in guidebooks. They really give it short shrift as they don't actually expect anyone to go there [Come on lonely planet! You start the entry saying 'Antwerp is cool' then give it about 5 pages, mostly listing chi-chi restaurants of the type you can find anywhere].

The Antwerpians though, are more than happy to show you around and what's really wierd is they actually know what you want to see. They love their city, almost as much as me and for the same reasons. Have a look at the Antwerp city website to start with:

When you get there head straight to the Antwerp tourism office on the Grote Markt (there's no sign or anthing on the building, but you should find it). They have really good free maps and also all sorts of brochures and booklets. They keep these behind the counter (so they don't get wasted of course). They don't really want you to get the good stuff so look at this part of the Antwerp city website which lists all the brochures so you know what to ask for:

There is a really good booklet called '12 Adventures in Antwerp' which goes through all different districts of Antwerp and lists attractions and gives a walk suggestion. It's 3 euros. There is also a free 'guide to Antwerp for young people' - which is made by the Use-it crew. I never thought I'd like anything for young people, but you're never too old to try these guides. Use-it has a website:

You can download the use-it guides there. If you can't print A2 or whatever size it is you can get all the use-it maps for Antwerp, Ghent and Brugge from the people at the Antwerp tourist office, if you ask for each one by name. Only Antwerp seems to have a chunky little booklet from use-it.

Antwerp: gush gush gush

O.k. I don't know how I'm going to make this interesting because I am just crazy about Antwerp. After being disappointed with Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Cologne (not that there's anything wrong with them...) I've finally found a place, not too far from home, where you get the feeling interesting things are going on.

Arrival point: Antwerpen Centraal shown in picture above (alright it's in all the guidebooks!). When I first saw it I had a sense of deja vu. I think it was represented exactly in Spirited Away. The cartoonist probably found it so inspiring and couldn't think of possibly imagining a better train station, so just copied it as is. They have just finished building some lower levels to the train station, so now you can actually get this photo, as you're coming up an escalator.

Antwerp is a hidden little pocket of Europe where things are actually able to happen. As in Berlin, people actually have the time and the inclination to do interesting things. But how did such a place happen to develop here, in the middle of western Europe, unlike Berlin which is more or less on the border of east and west? I think at this point we have to give it to the Flems, who seem to have been able to make the most of being at the juncture of English, French and German cultural influences.

The atmosphere of past glory also gives Antwerp it's feel. The fact that the cost of living is way behind that of neighbouring areas means that it has attracted a fair few migrants and also those of the artistic persuasion. Also it's reputation for being 'dodgy' and 'dangerous' has probably helped.

O.k. enough gushing and on to the practicalities.

Coming out as a Nijmeegse

O.k. there is no point maintaining my mysterious blogging persona any longer. I'm living in Nijmegen - a rather inconsequential town in the Netherlands between Amsterdam and Antwerp. I didn't want to talk about Nijmegen or even the Netherlands in particular because I didn't want this to be so much an expat blog but more of a travel blog. Being as it is, inconsequential it is hard not to start to feel fond of Nijmegen, so I thought I might blog about it. The travel blog will continue.

Thus the lovely pictures of my local 'botanical gardens' (quotes because they're rather more modest that what you might have in mind as a botanical garden). This patch of land was extremely unimpressive until recently but now that spring has sprung though there are new flowers popping up almost every day - and don't those European plants look so much happier in their home country - happily growing in the almost permanent light rain. I tried to capture the yellow water irises but alas, they don't look nearly as impressive in the picture.

That's all for now about Nijmegen, I have to gush about Antwerp, my new love - but Nijmegen will be back - like a commercial, between travel blogs as it isn't nearly as dull as it seems on the surface.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Paris: Actually interesting and cool stuff

You know how you always pictured Paris: the cultural-melting pot? The interesting fashions? The amazing food? the beautiful scenery? Yuh well, are you in for a shock. Most of it is fairly monotonous grey buildings with fairly monotonous Parisians grumpily going about their mundane lives, and even the teenagers wear unbelievably conservative clothes - but wait! There are two areas where all your dreams come to life: Belleville and Goutte d'or. My recommendation: Stay in Belleville, hang in Goutte d'or.

Belleville: A place for anything North African: Couscous restaurants, amazing Algerian cakes, North African goods: food, slippers, carpets. Things are livelier when the market's on but there's nothing you'd actually want to buy there (unless cheap plastic shoes and clothes are a fetish). And it's pretty lively at any daytime hour.
Funky bars down the sidestreets, High-density chinese street up one end.

Goutte d'or: Senegalese and other West African stuff happens here. If you're whitey and you forgot for a moment, you'll remember here. Rue Leon has got a very cool bar in it called Olympic cafe where we saw an amazing Senegalese band. The best chip-butty/omelette roll is to be found nearby on Rue Leon too. They get a baguette, smear it with Moroccan style tomato sauce meets harissa and fry egg with chips on the grill. Feed 2 for 3.50! Locals are friendly, but you might feel a bit conspicuous walking around late at night, if you forgot.

Rue leon is so cool it even has it's own website:

There are heaps of shops piled high with 6 meter lengths of very colourful patterned batik fabrics. Assuming these were african imports, I expected them to be very cheap, but they are all made in Holland (and claim this proudly 'guaranteed real dutch wax') and seem to be made for export - perhaps people take them back home to Africa as presents? Didn't see that many people in Goutte d'or actually wearing this kind of thing. I bought a beautiful red and blue piece with fish on it for 12 euros (see photo). There were also ones with messages marking different historical events which were cool.

Strasbourg-St. Denis: a more mixed multicultural street (go through the fake-roman arch), between the two other areas, not as fun if you ask me.

Paris first-timer

An unglamourous photo of Paris: someone's got to show it as it really is!

Yes, shocking that it is, I'd never been to Paris until recently. It all goes back to a diplomatic stand-off between France and a certain country about French nuclear testing in the Pacific (something sobering to think about while enjoying French culture). This meant some visa-restrictions that caused trouble for 17 year old girls to enter Paris without parental permission. Maybe they were trying to cast aspersions on what the girls were planning to do in Paris. The only other place where I've seem restrictions on underage girls travelling was from Burma to Thailand.

Anyway, Paris for the newbie. This Paris metro interactive website is incredibly cool and what's more, will actually help you reach your destination, if you know where you want to go that is, which is not necessarily the case for the tourist (see above for some suggestions).

French-deaf? Well, I don't know if I can say this website helped me, but it was a lot of fun:

Actually the French people spoke sounded completely different to what the charming Hakim speaks in the bbc videos, couldn't really make head or tail of it. But if you need the basics - like how to pick up a gay guy in a cafe - you'll find the phrases in the online bbc course.

Paris hammams

Every wondered what to do in Paris? Many people don't. They think there's too much to do anyhow. Well, when I was there I had the urge to do one thing - bathe. It turned out that hammams (Moroccan or Turkish style baths) are quite the thing there.
The Hammam de la mosquee de Paris one is easy to find and central. Most days are women only, apart from Tuesday and Sunday. It tends to be crowded which makes for a fun atmosphere. It attracts a mixed crowd so you won't feel like the only whitey.
The building is a type of fake Mosque, built by the French government apparently, to try and balance out the large number of churches in the city centre. Thus it is sort of a concrete replica of someone's generic idea of a mosque, and apparently not really used by any Muslim community. Regardless, it has a tastefully decayed atmosphere inside. Only a little light comes into the steam rooms, from small dirty sky lights. The innermost steam room is so full of such hot steam that you need to bend over to walk into it (the hottest steam goes from the ceiling down to about chest-height). Inside is a lovely cool water pool, worth crawling to.

Techincal details:
Bring friends and plenty of equipment (see for some ideas), there's space to do your own scrubs and massage. The scrubs (gommage) given by the staff are rather short and not particularly enlightening. Everyone was wearing at least bikini bottoms, many wore tops too (French are prudish it turns out).
There's lots of info on the web about other hammams. Search 'paris hammam' and you'll see. I found some good info on the iwanttogotoparis blog, and there are millions of other local ones not mentioned in guidebooks or online. The Hammam des grands boulevards which is centrally located but unfortunately seems to have completely closed down. Be prepared for crowds on weekends and holidays. They can even get full by the afternoon and not take any more people. (Why aren't there any good sites about baths? - see for an example of a not-good site about spas - this is the biggest one I've found).