Category Archives: daily life

On Dual Passports and Secret Agents

I can’t quite recall if I ever officially mentioned it here, but a few months ago I finally officially received my Hungarian passport.  This statement probably confuses many people who know me in the real world who always just assumed I had it (Hungarian isn’t one of those languages you just pick up usually), but the long and short of the situation is when my twin brother and I were born in 1986 all male Hungarian citizens were required to enter the army.  At the time no one thought the communist government was going to topple in a few years, so what was the point of registering two American-born children for their Hungarian citizenship with a nice requirement like that looming over one of them?

Fast forward about a quarter of a century, and it turned out that one of those twins was getting tired of paying exorbitant visa fees on her American passport, and both of those twins were considering moving to Europe.  So I decided to get that ball rolling, which turned out to be a mess of a process that dragged on for well over a year due to a mountain of paperwork one would expect from a former communist country. Lots of forms in Hungarian that at times made even my mother pause to understand their meaning (to give you an idea, my favorite was one just to confirm I wanted my name spelled “Yvette” instead of the traditional “Ivett”), all of which disappeared into the consulate… and while the process was supposed to take six months, it dragged on to over a year.  Klassz!

But in the end it all worked out, I finally had the Hungarian passport itself in hand in November, and it’s around this time that I discovered my new travel hobby.  Because you see, I now have a passport from a former Soviet Bloc country that is as yet not scanned or marked in any way, on a citizenship that a few months ago did not yet exist on paper…

That’s right, now when I go to the airport I alternate between my Hungarian and American passports when asked for identification to ensure the bad guys can’t trace me.  And I’ve been pretty successful shaking them off so far, except of course for that one gun fight on a speedboat racing through the Amsterdam canals that I don’t like to talk too much about.

Plus hey, my flirtations as an International Woman of Mystery aside, the visa fees to many a country just got a lot cheaper and the E.U. can now never kick me out. Win! As for where it may take me, I will just refer all curious folks to the cover of my passport holder:

Skating on the Amsterdam Canals!

It’s been a rather crazy winter in the Netherlands this year.  Two weeks ago I distinctly recall photographing daffodils along the Amstel River, today we’re one week into the longest cold stretch in a decade and people are walking and skating on the canal outside my apartment!

Continue reading

The Strangest Coincidence EVER

Daffodils blooming on the Amstel River in Amsterdam- taken Jan 21, 2012

Now imagine the following for a second.  It’s Saturday night in Amsterdam, and due to my birthday party the night before I’m too tired to do anything crazy but a low-key drink sounds like a good idea sort of thing.  No worries, there are a bunch of little cafes around here that I haven’t checked out yet and one is hosting a CouchSurfing get-together, so I head to said cafe to see what I see.

The place is busy, but there’s a spot next to a cute fellow with a German accent who is asking intelligent questions about my research, and it turns out he’s a Physics PhD student in a town in Lower Saxony six hours away from Amsterdam, in town for the first time this weekend to help a friend move.  A geek running into another geek unexpectedly is always a relatively rare occurrence so we spend ten minutes discussing our respective areas of study, and then he mentions offhand that he used to study in Auckland.

“Wait, New Zealand?”  I am momentarily confused, then have a flash of recognition.  “Johannes!  Professor LW’s E&M class, the first half of 2007!!!”  He in turn recognizes me and much hugging and squealing ensues, not all of it coming from me, and we chat nonstop into the wee hours to catch up. (So much for a low-key night!) Because you see it wasn’t just that we were in the same class, we actually did problem sets together- which Johannes recalled in much greater detail and fondness than me, he’s the theorist after all- but I never grabbed his contact information before leaving, so I hadn’t heard a thing about or from him in five years.

Let me repeat this again so we are clear on this: I went into a random bar and sat next to a random guy who was randomly in town… and it was one I last met five years ago, half a world away!  I believe we have now passed from “it’s a small world” to The Twilight Zone– or as another friend put it, I have now officially traveled enough that the entire world is my neighborhood.

What’s the strangest coincidence that ever happened to you?  I’m sure I’m not the only one with such a strange story!

The University of Auckland- taken February 15, 2007

Photo: Map of Where I’ve Been

I hosted my birthday party earlier this weekend, and because my friends are awesome they knew just what to get me- a towel so I’ll always be a frood who knows where her towel is, a gift certificate to the outdoors shop, and a scratch map where you can scratch off where you’ve been like a lottery ticket.  I finally recovered enough from the merriment to tackle the map with a guitar pick (more precise than a coin), and the resulting picture above is a generally good idea of where I’ve been on planet Earth in my 26 years here.

My only comment (beyond thanks again guys!) is geez, nothing like the Mercator projection to make a girl consider traveling to Russia, Greenland, and Antarctica!  When that happens, I’ll be sure to take the towel.

2011: A Year in Review

When I think back on 2011 it will undoubtedly go down as the year where I did more in 12 months than most people do in a lifetime.  If I didn’t personally already defend a thesis, become a published author, move to a different country, and explore 20 countries on 4 continents along the way I would accuse myself of lying because I’m tired just thinking about it.  But I apparently did because I lived through all of it! Continue reading

Dutch Culture Shock

Whenever you move to a new country it turns out many people are rather curious about the state of your culture shock.  Some have even asked me if I have much thanks to my travel/ Hungarian background, and the answer is of course a few things have popped up though I’m not going to be weirded out by, say, the existence of trams or that the plugs are different.  I mean I wanted to move here because it would be different!

That said, here are a few things that I’ve noticed are rather different in the Netherlands- and a few that actually I expected to be problems that really aren’t… Continue reading

Settling Into Amsterdam Life

Things are coming along- a few days ago I moved into an incredibly lovely apartment in Amsterdam!  And while there are a few hundred too many folks stopping by this blog daily to allow for a full tour of the premises, this is literally the view of the canal when I step out onto my tiny balcony-
When not stopping to check after each rain squall whether that low-lying boat with the blue tarp has sunk yet (there are a surprising number of sunk and presumed abandoned boats in the Amsterdam canals) I am enchanted and can’t stop admiring the view.  Isn’t it exactly what you imagine a view from an Amsterdam apartment to look like?  Not to mention there’s always something going on on the water, from tourist boats to pleasure boats to ducks and gulls and even swans.

I should also mention that said little balcony with an amazing view also has a now-barren flag pole, so I was getting all excited to fly a Dutch flag until I was told it’s actually illegal to fly one if you’re a private citizen on all but 5 days of the year for reasons I cannot begin to fathom!  I really can’t say I’ve ever heard of such a rule before in any country…

Anyway, this is another shot taken just a little bit down the road from me which I include here because it contains the elaborate spire of Westerkerk (literally, “the Western church”) which is the largest Protestant church in the Netherlands and even where the current Queen Beatrix was married- Rembrandt was buried here too, though no one’s entirely certain where.  You can’t quite see it from my apartment as there is a tree in the way (though that will likely change come winter) but that doesn’t mean you can’t hear it- the clock tower chimes every 15 minutes without fail, and you can hear it from anywhere in this part of the city.

The thing is you probably knew about the Westerkerk chimes but realize it- the exact same chimes today are the ones Anne Frank mentioned it in her diary as she hid a stone’s throw from the church.  The Anne Frank House is just a few blocks from mine actually and Westerkerk still plays the exact same chimes today, so it’s quite something to ponder how we’re neighbors in three dimensions albeit not in the fourth.And if an address isn’t enough I now have what most will tell you really qualifies you for living in the Netherlands- a proper Dutch bicycle!  I got mine at the market and it’s known as an oma fiets, literally “grandma’s bicycle,” which is just the name of the style and not an insult before you guys get ideas about my taste. *wink* The thing that has struck everyone about the bicycle is its color- virtually all bicycles in Holland are black so I opted to pay a few extra Euro for one I could find in a crowd.  Still need a name but I’m trying to not get terribly attached- despite heavy-duty locks the Dutch joke that “all bikes are really rentals” has more than an element of truth to it.

I should also mention it’s rather interesting riding a Dutch bike as they’re pedal breaks like a child’s bike in the USA instead of hand ones, and while a single speed isn’t an issue most of the time it does leave some huffing and puffing in some places.  Not to mention the absolute insanity of some of the normal cycling that goes on around here, but that’s probably a story for another day.  The Westerkerk clock is telling me it’s time for bed!