I got up early this morning, avoided the gym, and headed straight to Utrecht to try to close up my Christmas shopping.
I leave for the US on Thursday, and have to be in Cambridge tomorrow through Tuesday morning, so this was about the last chance to sort it all through. My first tendancy would be to head for a mall, which means driving to Oberhausen and the huge CentrO facility. My Dutch colleagues roll their eyes when I suggest that, though, claiming that there is always better shopping in the Netherlands than in Germany. Point taken, but I gave added points to the likelihood that, with the Sinterklaas season past, the Dutch would be out in fewer numbers, leaving the stores with merry "Korting" signs in their windows. It should be just like having January sales arrive ahead of Christmas for a change.
(By the way, my Recommended Link of the Day points to Invader-Stu, who has the best "Stalking Sinterklaas" story of the season)
So I spent a cold and clear day roaming the streets of the old center with a backpack and my Fortis card, seeking exotic Dutch / European artifacts to take back to my waiting relatives. The stores really had some nice decorations: I like the Dutch use of small, brilliant variations of Icicle Lights. The mood was only spoiled a bit when security asked me not to take pictures. Fortunately, I got away with a picture of this strange Christmas tableaux, reminiscent of late night Dutch television around channel 994: It's a little hard to tell what mood this is supposed to convey.
I found some nice boxes of Christmas Cards on sale: they tend towards simple themes of trees and snowflakes with chirpy "Prettige Kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar" sentiments. Not a lot of religious or over-fancy cards on the tables: the Calvinist influence, I suppose, but I like this style better anyway. (For my non-Christian friends, I collected a "Prettige Feestdagen" assortment: it's still the only time of year I reach out to college friends and I hate to leave folks out.). I couldn't find a good Sinterklaas ornament for the tree with the bishop's mitre (and, ideally, his little assistant): the figures all looked very US-style. There were some cute finger-puppets and other stocking stuffers as a warm-up, then it was on to find the half-dozen gifts that I needed.
The clothes stores don't hold a lot of attraction: styles still look a bit out-of-place for American consumers, and I'm not good at trying to translate between US and European ways to specify sizes. The sports and outdoors store had a nice selection of ski and snowboard accessories and pullovers, but I stayed away from clothes otherwise. There are a lot of good jewelry and watch shops, but with prices in the hundreds and thousands of euros it was out of the question (In one shop, the artisans were making rings and necklaces being made at the back, kind of a cross between Santa's elves and having the kitchen open to view at some restaurants.) The glass shops were stocked with wonderful serving pieces and festive glassware, so I picked up several varieties. Personal electronics and cameras always seem to be priced about double in Europe, so I put that off until I'm back across the pond. Handbags and writing accessories are well made and reasonable, so I made a few selections there.
So, as three pm rolled around, I was pretty well through the list. I am trying to sort out the cumulative size and weight impact on my suitcases, but overall I think I made a good dent and have a practical selection to transport and ship. No Gluhwijn or Eierpunsch, but a pretty good outing.