November 23, 2013 · 21:03
On my way to work I often get stuck in traffic. So far, nothing unusual for a small European country. Except that I get stuck in bicycle traffic. I usually cycle to work, but even I have to leave home early if I want to get smoothly through the city centre. The school kids flood the cycling paths at 8:00, but the crossroads are filled with cyclists waiting for the light to turn green as early as 7:30, as the roads are swamped by rush hour traffic.
That’s why I really like the school vacations. During the school vacations I can cycle in daylight without having to swim my way through the kids, and if the weather is bad or I’m really not in the mood to cycle, I can take the car and actually be faster than if I’d cycle. The only problem is – in the the Netherlands, you never know when the vacation is due.
Chrismas vacation is a good time for a picnic on the water
The Dutch school vacation schedule is purpose-designed to be confusing. The only vacation that starts at the same date is the Christmas vacation. Well, sort of at the same date. Depending on the day of the week of Christmas Eve, the Christmas vacation can start anywhere between 18th and 25th of December. And that’s actually the predictable vacation. The dates of the autumn, spring and May vacations are all not rigid and its an understatement (the so-called spring vacation is actually in February). To complicate the matters further, this small European country is divided into 3 regions, each of which has different dates for the vacations.
During Chrismas vacation bicycles get stuck not only in traffic
As of this year, the Ministry of Education sets the dates for the summer vacation and the Christmas and May vacation (the not-spring May vacation). They “recommend” the dates of the other vacations, but schools can and do deviate from these dates. So the Ministry of Education did not set the dates for school vacations so far? What did they do then? And why not just set the dates for all vacations, and choose the same dates for the whole country? It seems a case of Dutch megalomania, thinking the country is so big, it actually needs to divide its school vacations between regions. Being brought up in the Soviet Union, the largest country in the world, that had the same dates for school vacations across 10 time zones, I just don’t understand such complications in a small European country.
Where does it all leave me? I have no idea. I live in this small European country for 11 years already and I guess the vacation schedule will remain a mystery to me. I just try to find my way to work here. So far, I knew the vacation has started only when I noticed there are no school kids swarming the cycling paths in the morning. And since nowadays I actually go to work early, I really have no way of knowing. Fortunately, for now, I don’t care, too.
May 20, 2013 · 22:10
I grew up in the Soviet Union. Visiting places like Tahiti or the Bahamas, tropical wreckage pieces of European Empires, was a recurring theme in Soviet humour and satire. The heading of this post is an example of one such bitter joke. Back in the days, this question would be asked with infinite irony, for an obvious reason – the chances of the average Soviet citizen to visit Tahiti were about the same as your chances to go to the Moon. People have been there, it is theoretically feasible but the practical possibility of you ever getting there is zero.
Needless to say, when I was booking a RTW ticket my first question was – will it get me to Tahiti? And the next question was – why was I going there? Well, I was going there to work. A few weeks before we went on our RTW trip I’ve accidentally stumbled across WWOOF – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Never expecting to find anything, I’ve checked whether there are any opportunities for volunteering on an organic farm in French Polynesia (Tahiti is in French Polynesia, in case you wondered). To my great surprise there was a place called Kamoka. It was a pearl farm.
In my life I’ve done dozens of jobs, being pretty much anything from a journalist to a geohydrologist to a gardener. But even in my wildest dreams I’ve never imagined I would one day be farming pearls. Our help was welcome at Kamoka, all we had to do was give Laurent, the farm manager, a call a couple of days before arrival and he would pick us up at the local airport. And so we did. When we arrived at Ahe atoll, the location of Kamoka farm, there was an airport, a farm manager and a farm, but none of all this looked as you’d normally expect it to be. But thinking of it, it all did look quite as an airport, a farm manager and a farm should look like on a tiny atoll in a remote corner of the Pacific Ocean.
As promised, it was no Club Med. But I can think of no Club Med where for lunch you can eat parrot fish you’ve caught 3 minutes ago, where you take a boat ride to the middle of the atoll at midnight to go skinny dipping miles from shore, where you make coconut milk from coconuts you’ve gathered, where to get your dinner you dive among dozens of sharks, where the ocean is your dishwasher and laundromat, where you find out there are 17 ways to prepare chicken with just soy sauce and onions or where you have to use a pan as a shaving mirror. In short, I can think of no Club Med in the world where you can have so much fun.