Sunday, January 26, 2014

Times When "Never Say 'Never'" Backfired in My Face

I have not been feeling rather happy with myself as of late. I still have not met my goals of finishing my first novel, of getting down to a healthy, correct weight and of going back to university to get my Masters degree. I thus expressed my discontent through the following sentences:

"I will never finish my book and get it published. What I've written is crap, anyway."

"I will never be thin, so I don't even know why I bother trying anymore."

"I will never get into Trinity College and be able to pay off my studies. I can kiss that dream good-bye."

This mentality is not the best way to start off the year, especially when I have yet to even finish trying to accomplish said goals.

As much as this cliché sounds cheesy, there is some karmic truth behind the reasoning of unwittingly negating a possible occurrence in your life. Reflecting on my own experiences, I can only help but smile on how certain pessimistic declarations of mine later proved to be unfounded and trumped.

1) "I'll never get a chihuahua."

To me, chihuahuas represented the absolute bane of canine companions. They're small, have huge bug-eyes, over-sized bat ears and have got an annoying high-pitched yip. I thought they were little atrocious beasts that only privileged socialites flaunted like accessories.

I am not a privileged socialite, so chihuahuas were certainly not for me.

Then, in some odd turn in life, my family was presented with the opportunity to adopt a dog, which happened to be a chihuahua. I drew a sharp intake of breath before contemplating what would be my definite answer. The moment I saw my dog, all previous chihuahua-based prejudices vanished on the spot.

"I'll never get a chihuahua" became "I am now totally obsessed with chihuahuas, and if you say anything negative about them, I'll haunt you and poke you repeatedly with a stick."

2) "I could never be a teacher."

I uttered this sentence several years ago to a former art teacher after I had asked him for advice on how to manage children and why he still continued doing his profession.

"If you are going to get into teaching, that means you have really have to like kids, because you certainly don't do this job for the money."

He was right, by the way. Only I could not fathom that I would one day find myself doing said profession in France.

Which brings me to my last point:

3) "I'll never visit Europe."

I come from a financially humble family that often struggled to make ends meet. While we were never destitute (or at least my parents never gave me the impression of being destitute), voyages and family vacations were quite rare when I was growing up in Florida. I would get a kick simply by going to the beach or, with any luck, a two-day stay in Disney World.

Even as a child, I dreamt of one day taking an airplane across the globe and seeing the historic architecture, paintings, and sites from other lands. My parents also indulged my curiosity by purchasing books and watching re-runs of Rick Steve's travels on PBS.

When I was fourteen, I got my hopes up when my parents announced that the following year, after my fifteenth birthday, we would take a tour of Europe. Several months passed. So did the years. My hope waned.

Europe was always out of reach for me and by the time I was eighteen, I was fully convinced that I would never set foot on the continent.

Then I saved money, turned 21, and took my first trip to France. Seeing the Eiffel Tower in person broke me and I manifested sheer joy through the tears I shed.

I also learned that being an emotional mess is a sure-fire way to deter and scare off any vendors peddling jingling Eiffel Tower key chains.

Ever since that fateful trip, not only have I returned to France numerous times, I have also manage to venture into Italy, Spain, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England (well, London and Oxford), and the Netherlands.

In short, with the right methods and motivation, life has proved me wrong about my "never" statements. I shouldn't be such a pessimist and just carry on with each day at a time.

Oh, before I finish this post, there is one more statement that I will indulge myself in declaring.


I will certainly never marry
Benedict Cumberbatch,

Gaspard Ulliel,

or Domhnall Gleeson.

*crosses arms against chest, waits patiently*

Barb the French Bean.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Few Things Which Perplexed Me in the Netherlands

For those of you wanting French-related posts, don't worry. This will probably be the last Netherlands-themed post that I will do in a while, at least until I get the opportunity to visit the country again.

The first thing that struck me as odd during my visit in the Netherlands was the commercial for a French cheese brand called Le Paturain. In the hotel, I tried to get a feel for the language simply by watching Dutch television. Then after a few minutes of staring at the screen and not understanding a word, I would cave in and start to watch English-language shows displaying Dutch subtitles.

Very often during the commercial breaks, I saw the recurring ad for Le Paturain cheese, an ad which demonstrates, amid the sounds of chirping crickets (rather than cicadas), a Provençale family excitedly noticing that the Dutch vacationers were arriving in their caravan.

"Les Hollandais, ils arriv-EUH!" exclaims the young man. The sleepy village awakens and the French set the table in a flurry.

"Où est le Paturaing?" asks the patronly Southerner with his marked nasal dialect, unable to find and present his guests with the missing cheese. The young man, for good measure, clutches at his shirt and pockets to see if he *somehow* misplaced the tub of cheese upon his slender person rather than leaving it behind on the tractor sitting in the lavender field. It is then that Maman produces the absent cheese just before the "apéro." The visiting Dutchman holds a glass of wine, wishes everyone "Chanté!" (santé = cheers/health; chanté= sang) and in camaraderie, with an almost fatherly gesture, claps the young man on the back.

The commercial itself isn't odd. In fact, it is pretty standard as far as advertisements are concerned. What is bizarre is the fact that this cheese, while actually being French, is one that I, despite having lived in France for four years, have never seen in France.

Nope. Not once.

Never in Paris. Never in Dijon, nor Burgundy. Never in the Loire Valley.

Heck, not even in the South of France...where the commercial was supposed to be taking place!

Mais où est le Paturaing? Not in France, apparently...

Once I returned home, I made sure to check in my local supermarket to see if I had overlooked Paturain cheese in the aisle. I still had yet to spot it, but it was to no avail.

The nagging feeling that I was missing something kept bothering me. I did some Internet research.

I got an answer and soon discovered why Paturain cheese was seemingly non-existent in France: the brand is marketed and sold as "Tartare" over here. And fromage Tartare seems to come across as a second-rate Boursin here in Franceland.

I know it's supposed to be used as an apéritif cheese, but shame on you, Provençale family. How dare you welcome guests who have bothered to drive, DRIVE, from far away only to present them with some run-of-the-mill cheese when France has much, much cheeses better than that.

The second thing which perplexed me was an encounter that I had with a drug dealer.

I was walking down a busy street at night when a hoodie-wearing entrepreneur with a furtive gaze asked if I was interested in buying some of his illicit merchandise.

I shook my head and said "no, thank you."

To my surprise, the man said:

To which I replied:

To which he insisted:

To which I reiterated:

I didn't know what was going on. Either this particular drug dealer was a fan of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" or I failed to realize that grotesquely tall, stubborn six-year-olds were getting in the business of selling narcotics.

He retorted once more:

Then I finalized the exchange with a last

I hope that will be the last time I'll ever have to deal with a drug dealer. 

The third and last thing that astonished me in the Netherlands, more than having mistaken vla for milk, finding ticket vending machines that would accept neither cash nor credit cards, or seeing a four-poster bed floating in a canal, or even controlling a friend who was as high as a kite, was a New Year's Eve special that I saw on television.

For some reason, as I surfed through the various channels, my attention came to a program which displayed prawns (or shrimp as we 'Muricans call 'em). Given the context of the show, I expected that the prawns would be part of a cooking show which would then explain a delicious recipe to people who would probably never take the time and effort to make it in the first place.

Except these prawns were wearing costumes, and they were being controlled like marionettes through the aid of transparent strings. Utterly transfixed, I kept gazing at the indecipherable Dutch language sketch of prawns with high pitched voices. Just when I thought the show couldn't get any more bizarre, music came on and the puppet prawns began to dance in time to the music, their little claws, legs, antennae and dark eyes disturbingly wobbling to and fro.

Then, just when I thought things possibly couldn't get any more bizarre, the close-up shot of the dancing prawns suddenly panned out to reveal an entire Dutch audience watching and enjoying the music to which the prawns had been moving in time. The smiling Dutch hosts addressed their audience and home viewers. An artist came on the stage. The audience cheered. The music continued. The prawns kept dancing.

And I was dumbfounded.

To any Dutch readers who may come across this post: can you PLEASE explain to me just what on Earth did I watch on New Year's Eve??? Is Dancing High Pitched Voiced Prawns a regular feature on your shows?

Because if it is, then I'm moving to the Netherlands. Dancing Puppet Prawns is high quality entertainment, in my opinion.

Barb the French Bean


Not only did I find out what the T.V. special was, a New Year's Eve Concert, I also discovered the masterminds behind the dancing prawns!

Apparently, they are the product of a comedy theatre group called Hotel Modern, a group which specializes, among other things, in collaborating with prawn sketches set to music!

While I can't show the actual program that I saw, I can provide you with this short documentary on how Hotel Modern makes their prawn sketches, called "Shrimp Tales". Enjoy.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why You Shouldn't Eat Venison While High

(An also possible title could be "Why You Shouldn't Go Overboard with Weed.")

Throughout my week-long trip to the Netherlands, I spent my time hanging with a good friend who had flown over from Dublin.

Now, this friend of mine is a rather decent individual: he is polite, well-versed in general culture and has a fine appreciation of the arts and aesthetic beauty. These qualities meant that the two of us hit off an immediate friendship when we met in Ireland last year.

However, he is extroverted whereas I am introverted. With the exception of one day, nearly every waking moment of our trip was spent with him talking, talking, talking and inquiring if everything was all right with me in the several moments I would run out of energy for social interaction and become silent.

Another way my friend and I differ is on our views of smoking Marijuana. I literally don't care for the stuff and am sensitive to the presence of any smoke.  He constantly spent the trip with a bud of pot dangling from his lips, which meant that I had to walk three paces ahead to avoid the smoke blowing in my face.

It was odd for me, the non-smoker, to observe what effects the soft drug had on my friend. Some notable side-effects included his usual garrulous demeanor being maintained in a more subdued form, having the need to laugh and giggle for no particular reason, and frequently repeating questions. He also took to accusing me of not loving animals whilst we BOTH ate meat-based food.

My friend also reported that visiting the Van Gogh museum while high was particularly enjoyable due to the bright, swirling colors of the Impressionist paintings coming to life before his skewed vision.



"DUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuude..." (Yes, that is the recently discovered painting, complete with a "TARDIS" in the background.) 

"Oh my God. Dude."

"Dude. This chair. It's like it wants to speak to me."

I had to take his word for it.

My friend also reported experiencing headaches from his smoking. On the one day we parted ways, I escaped took a train to Heerenveen to visit my employers, King Stu and the Royal Family while he went to Amsterdam to hang out at the Coffee Shops. Due to having spent a few hours on my own riding the train and roaming the calm streets of Heerenveen, by the time I returned in the early evening, my introvert need to "recharge" in solitude had been met. I was mentally and physically ready to see my friend and hang out with him once more.

I had expected that he would have remained in the city centre all day long. I was therefore surprised to discover that he had returned to the hotel at four in the afternoon. I joined him in the hotel room and found him lying in bed, in the dark, with Dutch T.V. blaring on the screen. I asked what was wrong and why he had left the bustling city so early.

"The Coffee Shops were all crowded, and I felt SO ALONE without you. I really, really missed you. I'm so glad you're back."

"Interesting that you felt lonely while surrounded by other people. Knowing you, you would have started to socialize with somebody in a heartbeat..."

"Yes, I did talk to a couple of Spanish guys, but they left. Then I got a massive headache from all the weed I smoked and needed sleep. I'm so glad you're back. I haven't had lunch. I'm really hungry now. Have you had dinner?"

"I've had some beer and bitterballen, and if you want something now, my friends gave me--"

"THAT'S NOT DINNER. I want FOOD. I want steak!"

We eventually found steak and my friend, while tucking into his medium-done chunk of Rib Eye, accused me of being a meat-loving carnivore.


It was January 1st, 2014 and it being our last day in the Netherlands, we wanted to visit the Rijksmuseum. My friend disappeared for a few minutes inside a souvenir shop and presented me with a gift. I was wary that, being the first of the year, quite a number of places would be closed. Luckily, the Rijksmuseum was open and we spent a few hours of our day drooling over the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The Milkmaid, currently seen in France as the symbol for selling French custard. 

Prior to dinnertime, I wanted to take a stroll in Vondelpark. We didn't stay long because it began to rain and the sun had nearly set. My friend and I decided that we would scout a quiet place to have dinner for our New Year's Day meal.

We tried finding places to eat around Max Euplein and Leidesesplein. My friend always made a detour to whatever Coffee Shop was open, simply to "see what it was all about." We kept walking and eventually settled at a nice place on Leidsedwarsstraat. The waiter welcomed us to sit wherever there was an empty table. I promptly ordered a nice Belgian beer, a plate of bitterballen and asked what the dinner special was.

"We have mashed potatoes, vegetables, and venison cooked in a red wine sauce."

Perfectly cooked venison, in a red wine sauce? My adventurous taste buds and adopted Frenchness said "YES" in a heartbeat. The waiter left our table to give us a few more minutes to decide on the meal. My friend said he would have the daily special, stood up, stated he would be back and walked out of the restaurant. The plate of bitterballen arrived and I dunked one meatball into the mustard. While eating it, I began to feel sad that I would soon no longer have easy access to such a delicious treat.

My friend soon returned with a plastic container holding a chunk of chocolate cake. His triumphant grin clued me into thinking that his purchase had not come from Albert Heijn.

"Do you want some bitterballen," I asked. "You might as well eat one as it is still hot."

"Soon enough," he replied, still grinning.

The waiter came by our table again, pen and notebook in hand. Before he asked if we were ready to order, his attention questioningly turned to the chocolate lump sitting on the table. He pointed his pen to it and observed "Ah, that's for after dinner."

Little did he know that after our order had been taken, my friend would sneak out once more and eat half of the Space Cake before he had even taken his first munch of bitterballen. I wasn't too worried about him eating the Space Cake because, according to the explanation that accompanied the container, one only began to feel the effects kick in an hour later.

What I had not known about the day was that when my friend left to purchase the cake, he had also smoked an entire joint before eating the Space Cake.

The striking effects of the weed had an immediate result. The conversation during our meal was interrupted by periods of giggling coupled with him making introspective observations and asking me questions.

"I feel sad that we're eating venison. It's just not right," he stated.

"Why? Don't you eat meat?" I asked, fearing that in his drugged state, my friend had suddenly sworn allegiance to PETA.

"Yes, but you are a right carnivore!" he accused. "You absolutely enjoy eating meat, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. And so do you."

"Yes...yes, I do," he conceded in a murmur.

He began to eat his vegetables and mashed potatoes. After a few minutes, I noticed that he made a point to avoid cutting the venison.

"Eat the venison," I said like a mother scolding a picky eater.

"No, I don't want to. I keep thinking of the poor, little deer that was slaughtered for this meal."

"Oh, come now. I know this isn't the first time you've eaten meat."

"I know, but still...the poor, little deer. What did it do to us to deserve this cruel fate?"

I restrained a groan and tried to make him reason.

"You've eaten chicken, right?"


"And beef, and fish, and pork."


"In fact, you had steak the other day. And you liked it."

"Yes. And it was SO GOOD. You really enjoyed eating that steak, too, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did."

"I know you did, because you are a carnivore. You really enjoy eating meat, right?"

"You've already asked me that question about three times."

"Oh. Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. You ARE a carnivore!"

"Riiiiiiight. Well, what makes the deer so different to the other animals in terms of eating their meat?"

"They're not as cute as the deer."

I made the conscious effort to not let my flat palm smack my forehead in public. My friend stared at me with his blood-shut eyes.

"You don't love animals, do you?" he inquired sadly. I wouldn't stand to have my dietary habits be vilified by someone who ate meat as much as I did.

"Well, I do like to eat 'em. But I'm not going to sit down to eat a cat or dog anytime soon," I snapped.

He looked down at his plate with guilt.

"Oh, go on," I insisted. "The food is really, really good!" He conceded and took his first bite of the venison.


I thought the mashed potatoes were slightly above average at best, but agreed with him. He had great difficulty cutting his meal and I offered to help. Offended, he struck his fork against the plate with a clatter and said "Who do you think you are, some kind of mother? Do you think that I can't even cut my own food?"

I looked at the plate streaked haphazardly with sauce and vegetables. It resembled a Van Gogh painting.

"No. I don't. That's why I'm offering to help."

He sighed and told me not to worry. He began to giggle for no reason and voiced a desire to drink warm chocolate milk. With whipped cream. And he stressed warm milk. Not too hot, not too cold. I placed Goldilock's order with the waitress, who looked inquisitively at my still-giggling friend. I explained to her that I was a bit concerned about his state, mentioning that he had eaten some Space Cake.

"Oh, well, he should be perfectly fine," she said, being a veteran at seeing drugged tourists. "Usually, you don't feel the Space Cake until after an hour of eating it."

"Yes, but he had also smoked a joint prior to eating it."

"Oh, well..." She rushed to get the warm, not too hot, not too cold, chocolate milk.

"You're in luck. It's apparently Chocomel." He began to drink the warm Chocomel with gusto. He giggled. Then frowned.

"What's wrong?" I asked, fearing that he had found the beverage unsatisfactory. He stared at me once more.

"Oh, the poor little deer...You have no compassion, you carnivore."

To this day, my friend still isn't a vegetarian.

And the gift he gave me?

I should have no trouble fitting in the Netherlands now. :P

Barb the Carnivore French Bean

Minor Update:
I just checked the number of posts (published or not) I've got saved.

Good Lord.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Minister of Transport for Holland Finally Visited Holland

A couple of years ago, fellow blogger and current King of Holland Invader Stu offered me the post of being the Minister of Transport for Holland. Being unemployed at the time, I gladly accepted the job offer with great gusto.

The Holland 305 Project featured sweeping and controversial innovative reforms regarding the transportation systems of the Netherlands as based on those used in South Florida, namely eliminating bus and bicycle lanes and forcing people to be totally dependent on cars.

However, it seems that I had been going on the original reforms of The Holland 305 Project the wrong way. King Stu insisted that the Dutch keep their bicycle lanes. As this short video demonstrates, they went through quite a bit of protesting during the '70s regarding child safety and environmental protection.

As Minister of Transport, I decreed that the Dutch would keep their bikes.

Two years passed with my being on the job and I couldn't help but face one glaring fact: I had a high-ranking position, and I still had yet to set foot in the Netherlands. Not even my ominous cartoon of "SOON" written across the country in vibrant red letters made much sense.


Wanting to personally experience the good work of my fulfilling position, I booked a flight straight to Schiphol airport and stayed one week to discover the country for which I had been working. I was also accompanied by a friend who flew over from Dublin and we ended up residing in a hotel outside of Amsterdam.

After settling into the hotel room, we decided to take a train from Almost-Amsterdam to Amsterdam Centraal Station. It was at the train station at Almost-Amsterdam that I encountered the first hindrance that needed some reformation: the station was manned solely by ticket-vending/OV-chipkaart recharge machines, not actual human beings.

What's worse: these machines accepted either only specific credit cards (apparently, the top popular ones of Visa and Mastercard just didn't cut it) or the form of coins. No, not even bank notes, coins. I jotted this particular inconvenience in my Minister of Transport notebook for things that needed improvement.

Luckily, all was not at a loss. The station may not have been equipped with real personnel, but it did have a couple of SOS call boxes that allowed people to communicate with an invisible being. I dubbed these boxes as "the god box." After pressing the button, the intercom crackled, and a woman's voice with a charming Dutch accent came through.

Thus the god box had so decreed. My friend and I waited for the next train and upon its arrival, we set ourselves on a quest to seek someone who looked like they might work for Nederlandse Spoorwegen. We boarded a second-class carriage, heard the doors shut behind us and peered at who else was in the compartment. Nobody else except other passengers. A heavy sensation of guilt struck my stomach and, mildly panicked, I suggested to my friend that at the next stop (Schiphol airport), we would get off and ask someone to purchase tickets.

Luckily, at the Schiphol airport stop, I was informed by a helpful Nederlandse Spoorwegen employee that there were indeed real living, breathing human beings who worked at the ticket counters.

"You can't miss them," he said. "You'll see them, the crazy people. They are my co-workers!"

Thus far, I was very impressed by the Dutch bilingual tendency of being able to speak English well enough to have an excellent grasp of its fluency to make jokes. I found the aforementioned "crazy people," purchased tickets and eventually made it to Amsterdam Centraal. My friend and I omitted to using the public transportation for one night and opted to explore the city on foot.

Strolling down the main street lined with illuminated kiosks and bustling tourists like myself, I was blown away by the decorations of the Christmas market. Living out in the French countryside, I had almost forgotten that large cities actually made the effort to spread the cheer with lights, garlands and, in Amsterdam's case, a man dressed head to toe in a snowman costume dancing in an inflatable snow globe.

Dam Square

The Palace

I could have kept on strolling all night just looking at the decorations. My friend, on the other hand, had other priorities. Within the first five minutes of our evening promenade in the Christmas market, he voiced his desire of finding a Coffee Shop.

"I haven't seen any Coffee Shops since we've been here."

"Really?," I asked, incredulously. "We've passed at least three of them already."

"WHAT?! Why didn't you tell me?!"

"Uh...'cause I'm not actually looking for them like you are?"

Now, for those who may not be in the know, I am indeed a big fan of coffee, particularly of sweetened Cuban espresso. Prior to departing to the Netherlands, I had heard that this country is actually known for having an enthusiastically high consumption rate of coffee. Therefore, being the coffee lover, I was stoked to go out and taste Dutch coffee.

However, don't be fooled for one second that I was about to mistake a café with the Dutch "Coffee Shops," establishments which certainly do sell beverages but are more well-known for providing marijuana to the clientele.

(Just so we're clear on this: no, I didn't ingest or smoke any pot while I was in the Netherlands. I did, however, become proficient at recognizing the smell of pot simply by walking past giggling, red-eyed tourists.)

My friend eventually found a placed called the Bulldog and skipped inside to purchase some pot. I sat outside and, pinching my nose at the stank aroma emanating from the building, took pictures of the canal across the street.

My friend lit his joint on the spot and spent the rest of the evening walking around the city with bloodshot eyes.

The following day proved to be a wet one. We lingered in the hotel in the morning hoping that the day would improve. We eventually made the short trek under the rain to the train station (pre-purchased train tickets in tow) and arrived at Amsterdam Centraal. During the ride, we discussed what we wanted to do. I wanted to go to Vondelpark and see some museums. So did my friend. He also wanted to purchase a lighter, see another Coffee Shop and take a tour of the Red Light District.

With the poor weather, we didn't do much that day apart from walking around a street lined with several "massage parlors," walking in Kalverstraat and sitting at a café to have some coffee and hot chocolate.

In front of the train station

 I soon realized that Amsterdam had a rather creative vibe to it. Even if boring people like me were sober, the city simulated what it would be like to be high. Lo and behold, in the middle of a canal, I spotted...a bed.

And not just any bed: a four-poster bed floating like a boat.

I kinda want to have this bed back home...

We shopped at the supermarket chain Albert Heijn where I purchased some dairy products. I don't know what makes Dutch milk so tasty, but even I have to admit its flavor is superior to French milk.

Night time approached and my friend reiterated his desire to see the Red Light District. I sighed and thought that I might as well get it over with.

To be honest, the Red Light District didn't shock me as much as I thought it would. Living in France and seeing topless models splashed on porno magazines in the local newspaper stand have dulled me to feeling much, if any, horror. Yes, there were indeed scantily-clad ladies modestly advertising themselves and their sexual acts behind illuminated glass windows, but if anything, the whole spectacle of seeing silent, living mannequins made me feel a bit sad for them. (Besides, there wasn't anything remotely interesting for me. Shows with "Live shagging?" No, thanks.)

In fact, the feature that truly fascinated me the most about the Red Light District was seeing the canal filled with a flock of swans.

(Again, I'm a fairly boring individual.)

We returned to the hotel and being thirsty, I tore into the milk carton of something called "chocolade vla." I assumed that the container, being a milk carton, bearing a picture of a cow, had contents that were fit for a drink.

I tore the top, grabbed a white mug and tipped the carton over the mug.

Rather than having a creamy stream of fluid pour out, the unctuous "vla" dripped in a lugubrious fashion.

"But...what IS this?" I wondered, perplexed.

Hint: it's NOT milk.

The milk-like packaging also doesn't help.

But it was still good.
On Saturday, my friend and I visited the Amsterdam Museum...

Doing some more bicycle research

And fashion research. 

...the Flower Market...

...and a couple of cafés providing nice food and selling good Belgian beers. It took nearly an hour of roaming the streets to find these places and each one, to our dismay, was fully booked for dinner and featured a waiting time of an hour and a half. Still, I had my nice Belgian beer for the evening and was a considerably happier Minister of Transport.

Walking around the glowing Amsterdam neighborhoods, a stark contrast to dim French streets that cover every window with shutters past 9 p.m., my friend was shocked to discover that the Dutch had a considerable lack of curtains to cover the windows. And it really disturbed him.

"Ah! I really don't like this! I don't like this at all! You look straight into their houses and see what they are doing!"

"So, let me get this straight," I started, "you have absolutely no qualms about smoking marijuana or seeing prostitutes, but not having curtains on a house bothers you?" He chuckled sheepishly.

Not wanting to limit my travel to an Amsterdam-centric voyage, I reserved tickets to visit the port city of Rotterdam.

Waiting at the station, I was dismayed by the large typos seen on the special-edition orange train.

It's supposed to stay "Stuart," not Alexander. As Minister of Transport, I order that this discrepancy will have to be rectified.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived in Rotterdam. It is much calmer than Amsterdam, is home to the impressive Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, and, with its port, had a feel of Belfast.

A well-functioning tramway.

I instantly loved Rotterdam.

The following day proved eventful. I had arranged to meet up with my employer and the Royal Family in the city of Heerenveen, right in the province of Friesland. I couldn't ask to have better bosses like King Stu, Queen Simone and Princess Sophie.

This grand masterpiece is entitled "The Totally Legit Official Royal Portrait," Barb the French Bean, 2014, Sablé-sur-Sarthe. It was made using the medium of colored pixels on MS Paint.

I finally saw some curtains in the Netherlands.

Just your friendly neighborhood windmill.

Like all good journeys, one week simply isn't enough time to discover a country. I sincerely hope that I'll have the opportunity to further review the museums (the Rijksmuseum is DEFINITELY worth a visit) and chug several liters of Chocomel and eat Frisian treats.

Courtesy of the Royal Family (Thanks, guys!)

One more thing: the annual nomination round for the Bloggies has come around again. Please, please, PLEASE vote for Invading Holland under "Best European Blog."

You do have to nominate two other blogs under this category (*cough, cough, nudge, nudge*), but all I ask is that you vote for King Stu!

And just so you get the idea about how serious the Dutch are with their bikes, get a load of this:

It's a multi-level parking garage, for bikes. This brings tears of joy to my Minister of Transport eyes.

Barb the French Bean