Get ready for photos and videos!! It’s been a whirlwind few days of tourism, with my parents visiting from Massachusetts.
On Saturday we took Isa to the zoo (the other kids were in school.) Mom and Dad thought it was particularly funny to see the exotic North American Raccoons at the zoo here.
And I have to post this clip of the Spectacled Bear at the Artis Zoo. I've seen this bear on a couple of different occasions now, and this is what he does, all day long:
I find it an amusing little routine, but I wonder, should I be alarmed? Is it normal or healthy for bears to have rituals like this?
In the evening on Saturday, we babysat for a couple of little French girls - Kiana, age 2, and Clarisse, age 7 weeks!! For awhile we also had the Russian boys, Igor and Ilya, visiting, so it was quite a houseful. As you can see, I couldn't have pulled this off without my parents.
Sunday was a special day in Amsterdam - the traditional arrival of their Santa Claus, who is called Sinterklaas.
The Amsterdam.info Web site explains it the best: "Saint Nicholas arrives to Amsterdam by ship and upon landing, rides on a white horse through the city center in a festive parade. Large crowds of children greet him and his entourage – as he is usually surrounded by no less than 500 Black Peter servants, 10 marching bands and hundreds of festive marchers."
It was really a fascinating, and odd, day. We walked over to the waterfront to see the boats arriving, and watched Sinterklaas disembark from the boat and greet the mayor. Then we found a spot along the parade route to watch the procession.
Here's a video clip of us waiting for Sinterklaas's arrival. Don't be too disappointed that you don't get to see the man himself - he was too far away to see well with my tiny camera. But you do get to hear the rockin' Dutch Christmas carols.
The parade was different in a few ways from most parades I've been to in the States.
1. All of the volunteers - security staff, drivers of floats, marching bands, etc. were all dressed up in the same Black Peter costumes, which look a bit like a medieval jester in blackface makeup. Creepy.
2. Many of the children in attendance dressed up too, like Black Peter or Sinterklaas.
3. Sinterklaas, the guest of honor, was somewhere around third or fourth in the parade. Not at the beginning, and not at the end.
4. The audience didn't clap at all.
5. Hundreds of the Black Peters carried burlap sacks full of loose cookies and candy, which they handed out by the fistful to all of the children lining the route. Kids held out bags, which were quickly filled with treats. No wonder they don't bother with Halloween here.
Sunday continued on - it started to rain, but we took an enjoyable Canal Boat ride anyway. Seeing Amsterdam from the water is always such a different experience. Then, back at the apartments, it was Baby Shower time!
Here's what I wrote when I got home from the baby shower:
I’m exhausted. Russian parties! I keep being the early-bird party pooper, bailing out after about 4 hours with my kids.
Tonight was the baby shower for Nastya, Pavel’s wife. (this is the other Nastya, not the one I usually hang out with. Nastya #2 speaks not a word of English, but she is a very sweet person!) She is due with her first baby in a few weeks. It was supposed to be a surprise, so we arrived promptly at 6:00. But Natasha, who organized it, just waited till everyone else arrived (close to 6:30) and then went downstairs and invited Nastya up. What if Nastya wasn’t home?? … in any case Nastya arrived in a bright-colored bathrobe, was heartily surprised, and excused herself to go change into some other clothes for the party.
We English/French/Spanish-speakers had no idea what the plan was, throughout the evening, so we just went along with whatever happened. All of the children were parked in front of a DVD. Food and drink was dug into. And then they started pulling out game after game. Somehow I’ve been spared baby-shower games in my first 34 years of life? …but now I have had the experience. A fun one was “name that baby” – we all sent in photos of our little ones as babies, and we had to guess who everyone was. We all failed miserably. A really-not-fun one was “name that baby food” – jars were covered up, and we had to taste the purees and guess them. I could really have spent my life happily without ever playing that game. And then there were the games that were just kind of hopeless with the mix of languages – like guessing the new baby’s name, or listing baby words that began with the letters of the Mom’s name. There were only a handful of us non-Russians there.
By 9:30pm, a few of us were fading (the non-Russians) and started to make noises about leaving, but then Natasha announced that it was time to open the presents. (presents?? …Natasha asked everyone to contribute 20 euros, instead of a gift. I thought the plan was to get Nastya a gift card. Instead Natasha just went out and bought a bunch of gifts, from everyone. My confusion with Russian customs just goes on and on.)
Overall, though I don't seem to have the stamina for these get-togethers, a wonderfully warm feeling was created last night. There were 14 women there, toasting the mom-to-be, laughing and sharing stories and common ground. It was a really supportive group. I'm excited for Nastya as she welcomes her baby, and I'm excited for all of us, that we have each other.