Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I think it's safe to say that spring has finally arrived here! The weather has been beautiful this week and we've been going on long bicycle rides to celebrate. I must have missed the neighborhood memo regarding flower-planting during this past weekend. It seems like all of our neighbors spent Saturday constructing elaborate landscapes in their yards. Ours is still barren with too-tall grass encroaching onto the sidewalk. This reminds me of the first day it really snowed here. Apparently there is a "rule" that you must shovel the sidewalk in front of your house before 8am. I didn't realize that ours was the only one still gleaming white until lunchtime that day. My husband had to buy a shovel (and salt, for good measure) on his way home from work. I think we got some kind of credit for the salt. At least our neighbors stopped staring at our house reproachfully for a few months.

Irish beef stew, potatoes for champ,
Irish soda  bread
St. Patrick's Day wasn't a big deal here. I imagine people might still need a break from the rigors of Karneval anyway. I made a traditional Irish dinner and we invited friends over to wear green and drink Guinness. It was a fun evening and definitely worlds apart from my St. Patrick's Days in America where I would have spent all night at an Irish pub and maybe even drove to Savannah for the greening of the fountains.

Monday was the annual St. Joep Markt in Sittard. It is the oldest market in The Netherlands and lasts all day. I usually go to the market in Sittard on Thursdays. There is an abundance of produce, flowers, fresh fish, baked goods, and cheese. There are also vendors selling everything from shoes and belts to printer ink and CDs and, oddly, underwear. The St. Joep Markt was similar to Thursdays in Sittard, but on a much larger scale. Vendors filled the center and the stalls continued into the tiny side streets. Everything imaginable was being sold and there were even "Made for TV" booths with pushy salesmen convincing onlookers, "This knife is the sharpest you will ever use!" or, "See how easy it is to re-seal a package with this handy gadget? No more stale chips!" Of course, I can only assume what they were shouting since it was in Dutch but it's amazing how many things translate even if you don't understand the words.

I wanted my husband to experience the St. Joep Markt so we bicycled there later in the day. By this time, all of the cafes were crowded to standing-room only. Everyone was drinking beer and wine and people-watching. It was interesting to walk around and look at the wares for sale, enjoying the sunshine and warmer temperatures. But sometimes events like this also remind me that I'm a stranger far from home. I kept thinking about how nice it would be to join the jovial conversations around us, and how comforting it would be to see the familiar faces of friends who were saving seats for us at their table.

It's easy to become accustomed to hearing foreign languages spoken around you all day. It all eventually becomes white noise and you proceed forward with a smile frozen on your face, shoulders prepared to lift in an apologetic shrug if someone decides to speak to you and you can't infer what they're saying. But don't worry; our afternoon at St. Joep Markt had a happy ending. Eventually we were able to find seats in a cafe's courtyard and we ordered La Chouffes and Grimbergens-- lovely remedies for homesickness.

And besides, who can remain downhearted in a place as beautiful as this?

German countryside, from a bicycle path.

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