Keukenhof, the Garden of Europe

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Keukenhof is one of the world’s biggest flower gardens and it just happens to be in a small town called Lisse, in the Netherlands. It opens every year from the middle of March to the middle of May and is home to around seven million flower bulbs.

Keukenhof is now closed for the year. Did you miss your chance to visit the Garden of Europe for the eight weeks it was open? Well, I didn’t, so let me give you a glimpse of what to expect when you do go. Eventually. It’s taken me two years to visit Keukenhof because I hate flowers. Well, hate is a strong word. Let’s just say…flowers don’t particularly appeal to me and leave it at that.

So, what can you expect at Keukenhof?

Flowers. Lots of flowers. They are everywhere. I grew up around hayfever sufferers in rather mild England and I can only imagine that this is their one true moment of hell. I am a sucker for bright colours though and these flowers are pretty. Even if they die. Which they will. Still pretty. Keukenhof has an interesting structure. Wikipedia says that means it features things like ‘English landscape gardens’,  and ‘Japanese country gardens’. In short, in some areas of the park, flowers are planted in a somewhat concentrated fashion and in some other areas, it’s like they couldn’t decide what to plant there, so they planted everything.

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Flowers aren’t the only thing Keukenhof has to offer. It’s got trees too. Sure, they’re not exactly the highlight of the park but they offer great shade when you’ve found a fabulous place to sit down and take in the view for a minute or even enjoy a little picnic.

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definitely my favourite part of keukenhof.

There was a water garden with a fountain and stepping stones and even now I remember how excited I was about hopping precariously from one to the other. Gotta keep the child in me alive. My friends wanted to eat lunch first so we headed to the main cafeteria which sells some of the most expensive water I have ever seen. But the frietsaus (Dutch mayonnaise) is free. Alrighty then.

When we finally made our way to the water garden, the afternoon collective had arrived and instead of that fun skip across the water I’d been promised earlier, there was a queue of people, two standing on each stone, waiting for the person in front to move on so they could too. What kind of fun is this? Nooope.

Disappointed, we headed for a shady spot and sat around people-watching. I turned my attention to the creatures of nature, from the ants to the birds and even this little green thing making itself at home on my arm. It was going so well until a bee flew towards my general direction and suddenly it was all ABORT MISSION.

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nope

After five hours of taking in all the flower we could get – and we didn’t even see the Tulpomania exhibition – we decided to leave the Garden of Europe and return to our respective concrete jungles. We skipped the special bus service between Keukenhof and Leiden and opted for a further bus stop away in the town of Lisse so we could walk along the flower fields on the way. These flower fields aren’t actually part of the Keukenhof experience, but they’re well worth the walk. I pass them often when I’m on the train and it’s just this sea of colour just zooming right by. It’s so cool to see them up close!

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So here’s my take on Keukenhof: I expected to be underwhelmed and was pleasantly surprised. I truly thought it was not the worst way to waste money. I know people who have found it disappointing but I think it’s because they expected to see more than flowers. They’re only flowers. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

  • 16 euros (with no concessions) is a pretty pricey ticket to see flowers. I know one or two people who’d rather spend that on another type of plant. Don’t just go for the flowers – make it a social experience, you’ll have much more fun that way.
  • Go early – before 11am. By the time I left the park around 5pm, there was so much human traffic and every step forward was more of a chore than the lighthearted flowery fun experience we all deserve. Trust me, if you like taking millions of the same selfie, flower photography without others in the shot, a shady spot to relax and read a book  or just dislike people in general – get there before 11.
  • Bring your own food and drink. Everything is overpriced. Except the mayonnaise.
  • Take a detour and see the flower fields. You can walk along them and there’s even a dedicated flower route that stretches 40 kilometers (approx 25 miles) if you want to cycle through. I’d definitely be up for that.

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Summer Mollyday: Friedrichshafen

Hello! I’ve just spent ten glorious days on the sunny shores of Friedrichshafen, Germany and they really were glorious! Remember how I mentioned back in February how dark and dreary the southern German city was during the winter? Well now the summer’s here and as promised, the explosion of green everywhere. Not a grey cloud in sight!

mollyday (2) mollyday (1)Lake Constance – can you see Switzerland in the back?

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5 Things I Learned When I Went Clubbing By Myself

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I mentioned before how difficult it was to make friends here when I moved to the Netherlands. Although Leiden’s nightlife includes a decent range of bars and a newly refurbished venue that regularly hosts music nights, there are few social activities that aren’t family oriented or reserved for students. After countless Saturday nights sitting at home with pizza and a DVD, I decided to bite the bullet: I went out dancing by myself. Here’s 5 things I learned after my night out flying solo.

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Leiden on bike

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Cycling through Zijlpoort, one of Leiden’s old city gates from 1667. A bit of history for you there, enjoy the view!

science for kids: communicating to a younger audience

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Introducing science to children from a young age is an important step in encouraging the next generation to pursue it as a career later on in life. One notable example is the European Space Agency’s dedicated website, ESA Kids. Originally an adapted version of ESA’s news section, the ESA Kids site has since then expanded to include an education angle, with a focus on scientific background information. Translated into six different languages, ESA Kids is one of the most widely viewed sites on the ESA portal. With that in mind, I’ve written five tips for communicating science to a younger audience.

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Credit: European Space Agency

1. Go back to basics
While ESA Kids is primarily aimed at a 6-12 year age group, the site is open to parents, teachers and anyone interested in a straightforward explanation of complex science missions. Don’t assume that your audience already knows what these concepts are; going back to the basics will help you lay that much needed foundation and build upon it.

2. Content matters
When speaking to a younger audience, attractive colours, friendly fonts and short and simple sentences are ideal. We all learn in different ways so using various types of media is a great way to communicate science. Visual aids such as videos and animations can go a long way. ESA Kids includes puzzles and quizzes based on current science news.

3. Speak their language
If you want to reach younger kids, it has to be in their words. Now I’m not talking about street slang and I certainly don’t want you to ‘get down with da kidz‘. You should actually speak their language. ESA Kids shares science in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch as well as English.

4. Connect
Social media has proved to be a great way to connect with people and create a community with a common interest. But how do you reach out to a younger audience who aren’t on a social network? ESA Kids uses a mascot called Paxi; a friendly alien who explains the ins and outs of science as it happens. Competitions are another great way to connect with an audience. ESA Kids holds a monthly competition where children are able to enter stories, pictures and projects. While individual entries are always welcome, it’s also fun when large groups from schools also get involved.

5. Let’s take this offline
Not all interaction has to be done online or through a screen. It’s a great idea to use offline resources to teach STEM subjects to kids. The ESA Kids website includes a downloadable Paxi activity book with science-themed puzzles, mazes, colouring in pages and more. For more information on specific STEM tools and resources for schools, see the ESA Education website.

– Molly –

• This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on EJR-Quartz’s website.

total eclipse of the heart…er…sun

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Spring is here – and what could be better than a solar eclipse to mark the arrival of the season?

A solar eclipse happens when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth. When this happens, the Moon gradually blocks out the light from the Sun. If the Sun and Moon line up perfectly in the sky, this is a total solar eclipse.

Those living in the Faroe Islands and Norway’s Svalbard islands were lucky enough to witness this rare celestial event. In Europe, we were treated to a partial eclipse. Although it was too cloudy for friends back in the Netherlands to witness, Dr Marco Langbroek captured this timelapse of Leiden getting darker during the peak of the eclipse.

I was in Friedrichshafen, Germany during the eclipse and the sun was out for us to see – except we couldn’t quite figure out how best to see it. A safe and simple way to view an eclipse is by making a pinhole projector using pieces of card or a cardboard box. But with no paper or cardboard box, (I know, right?) we were pretty much back at square one. Then we realised we could use a Mylar space blanket, one of those heat-resistant first aid blankets that every German driver is required to carry in their car. Perfect! We cut up the blanket into pieces, triple-folded them over and sat back to enjoy the show. Check out our makeshift glasses (and probably don’t try this at home)!

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Wrapping the space blanket around my camera, I tried to take a photo of the partial eclipse. You need to protect your camera or phone otherwise you’ll fry your lens. It took a few tries to get it right but after playing around with my ISO settings and shutter speed, I was able to get a shot. It’s exactly what we saw through the space blankets – in broad daylight too!

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Did you manage to get a glimpse of the solar eclipse where you were? Tell me all about it🙂

– Molly –

so you’ve moved to a new country… what now?

Moving to a new country is exciting and scary at the same time. It’s a complete change from everything you’ve ever known. You’d think having lived in five countries, I’d find the process easy by now but emigrating to the Netherlands has been my most difficult move so far. It was the first time moving to a country where I wasn’t going to be a student or an intern. I moved to Leiden not knowing a single person and it made my first summer here a really lonely one. Luckily, things have started to pick up and I’m looking forward to seeing what my second summer in the Netherlands will bring. Here are five tips from me to anyone who’s having a little trouble settling in.

1. Get sorted

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So you’ve finally moved. Congratulations! Now’s a good time to get all that initial admin stuff figured out. Get yourself registered at the local council and buy a prepaid SIM card for your phone. Perhaps you’ll even need a new bank account. These are the things you only need to do once and you’ll be set up for good.

2. Make yourself at home

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So now it’s time to take a look around your new surroundings. Find out where your nearest supermarkets and grocery stores are. Go out, turn left down that road, where does it lead to? If you’re not a wanderer, that’s OK, be a total tourist and see what your new city has to offer. Visit museums and cultural centers and other places of interest. Soon enough, you’ll find that cosy café that’ll feel just like home.

3. Get local with the lingo


It’s impossible to be immediately fluent in your new country’s language, unless of course, you already knew how to speak it before you set foot on land. While you’re not expected to know every word in the dictionary, it’s a good idea to pick up some key words and basic phrases. I find that knowing how to say ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can take you quite a long way. Over time you’ll recognise particular sentences and know how to respond to them. I still don’t exactly know how to say ‘Would you like your receipt?’ in Dutch, but I know to respond ja, alstublieft. My friend Nikita has written some great tips on learning a new language. Check them out.

4. Try new things


I recently visited Portugal with a couple of friends and one of them insisted on being served an English breakfast [not on the menu] in one of Lisbon’s most popular eateries. It drove me absolutely crazy. Now I don’t expect you to embrace the snails in your soup, but do consider trying out a local delicacy. It doesn’t have to be extreme, it could even be a simple staple food, like ‘vla‘ in the Netherlands or ‘spätzle’ in southern Germany. This also helps with your grocery shopping as you’ll find alternatives to the favourite foods you left back home.

5. Make friends

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Having moved around a lot, I’m quite used to being ‘the new girl’. But it took a lot longer than I expected to find a social circle when I moved to the Netherlands. This was mainly because I really didn’t know how to meet people outside of university or an internship. First I turned to social media. I checked Facebook for ‘New to the Netherlands’ pages in the area, came across Leiden Expats and attended a couple of expat meet-ups. From the Facebook group I found a weekly pub quiz, invited others to join me and eventually created a regular group to fail pub quizzes with. The next thing I did [and the bravest!] was sign up for a dance class. Not just any dance class, but a dancehall choreography class. I was terrified of tripping over myself to music I never listened to, but the class was free and I needed the exercise so what did I have to lose? It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. I still can’t dance to Sean Paul but I’ve found myself a new circle of friends – even a few with two left feet like me!

It’s now been 10 months since I upped sticks to live with the Dutch and I’m only just starting to settle in. Hopefully this advice will be as helpful to you as it has been to me. Perhaps you’ve got a tip or two – feel free to share!