travel diary [The Netherlands 2008]

18.07.2008 - Friday

we flew out in the morning. the knobhead of the morning. friday morning like it was still kind of thursday. crawling from the wreckage with a bowl of museli and at least i'd managed to get a clipcard the night before. you can't buy them at ass o'clock. and it ain't so easy at 9pm either round here, but we manage.

so we took the metro to the airport, me with way too much luggage because i'm going to england afterwards, but i hadn't realised quite how much luggage it was yet, not having had to carry it up three flights of dutch stairs yet, but that's later. the check-in woman was very nice about it anyway. it's surprising how nice they can be when it's more effort not to be nice. and then i realised that, despite being at copenhagen airport many many times, i'd never actually flown from it before. it felt strangely unfamiliar, but as if it shouldn't.

but we get on the plane, me sitting next to two old women and julie getting two young guys. first thing after we've taken off they're given small bottles of champagne each. then they have a can of beer, chased by a whiskey. it's still about 8am, their eyes already bloodshot. i read a story about kilimanjaro, by dave eggers, about a woman climbing it and taking the exact same route i did.

arriving in the netherlands no one checks our passports and it's a little creepy. all i want is a croissant. but this ain't paris.

we get to amsterdam by train, me sitting on my suitcase because a rude guy, who turns out to be swedish, wouldn't move his bag from where my fold down seat folded down to. and it wouldn't have been a problem if everyone hadn't pushed infront of julie when we got on. and everyone's in such a fuck to get out i end up grazing my ankle trying to get our luggage off the train. what's wrong with people? and they weren't even english.

which is a sore point. from my experience it seems that all of the (previously) great european cities have been ruined by tourism. prague and barcelona are standout examples. amsterdam is the other, and it's also probably the worst. because what bothers me so much about amsterdam is that its ruination is primarily at the hands of the english. i just feel ashamed. they come here to get wasted, be obnoxious, and destroy themselves. the city's chalked down as collateral damage. and it´s almost funny to them. they're either unabashed or oblivious.

we had difficulty with the lockers at the train station. it's a crazy complicated scheme with instructions in all languages, but only up until the point you need to use your credit card, when you're left clueless. our problem was that we'd attempted to put all our luggage in a single locker, when clearly it wouldn't fit. the door had jammed and we couldn't open it nor pay for it. it was messing everyone else up as well. when i finally managed to coax one of the station employees over they got mobbed by everyone else who was struggling. intially by an italian woman (don't get me started) but then by a chain of english assholes. one guy had left his locker for over 24 hours, so had to pay a further ten euros. only he was refusing, and claiming he'd spent all his money and had to get to their airport. as if by being rude and shouting at the attendant he could get his own way. i wanted to point out to him that it didn't matter if he'd no money left, it only takes cards anyway. that or cut his face off and feed it to the mutant fish that inhabit the amsterdam canals.

feeling a lot lighter, we took a random walk in search of lunch, finding a little cafe with a resident cat, something which seems quite popular here. found out le tigre played last night. ate a bagel. played with the cat.

we had a quick walk up to the main square and back, saw the cutest little puddle full of birds, flapping their wings and splashing everywhere. then it was time to meet our friends "infront of the train station", the widest train station in the world (this is probably not true, actually it's in kharagpur), which included rachelle, our toronto friend who was getting married, a french couple who'd spend the last two weeks hitchhiking from lyon, and a german woman who'd just been in barcelona and all other places i forget now.

at this point i have to mention the train station toilet, before i forget, because it cost half a euro and if your male you only get a urinal to shit in, and two of those were out of order. trying to go into the women's area gets you shouted at. and then the female attendent came into boys' room to clean, which doesn't bother me but is a bit weird.

what we basically did in amsterdam was the whole tourist walking tour thing. me and julie have been here plenty of times before, but for the others it was their first time. so we wandered, in big disorientating and directionless circles and crosses. past coffee shops and through the red light district, a bit tame during the day, nowhere near as unsettling as at night. less punters and lewd gestures. but less pretty too, with the street bathed in sunlight instead of neon red and purple.

julie bought a crazy amount of seeds at the flower market, i gawped at some graffiti, then we bought some lunch from a vegetarian bakery, our tofu rolls coming in gorgeous paper bags with stripes in green and yin yang in orange. we ate sitting beside the prinsengracht canal (yes, the prince's prinsengracht canal) then walked up to try and see the tree outside anne frank's house, the one they apparently saved, but we couldn't find it anywhere. we thought about going in, but the queue was long and dense, and it didn't bode well for the inside - being all cramped, etc. even if it might have made the experience a little more authentic.

our next 'point of interest' was the waterlooplein market, which isn't at all very interesting (how were we supposed to know? apart from that i'd been there before) and it was also across on the other side of the city centre. but that's ok, because it's a nice city to walk through, all those canals. you can almost pretend it's venice. except you have to walk past all those pubs with the british people sitting outside and being assholes. one guy, wearing a pink dress and stumbling down the street, managed to blurt out "suck my dick bitch". rachelle said he was dutch, but i wasn't going to be convinced. it takes an english upbringing to be that obnoxious. should have punched him, he was too inebriated to have fought back. or, more likely, run after us. maybe we could have lured him into the canal. i don't know.

instead we just had a beer. a small one. then followed by a slightly larger one. we ordered some chips to accompany our liquid lunch. and then, when the people on the next table left, took some more chips. we couldn't help but laugh slightly when the waiter came over and gave us a funny look, slightly misinterpreted, because then he asked us if we'd like the leftovers. as if we hadn't taken what we wanted already. either way, it was awesome. no waiter has ever reacted like that before.

it was getting late and we still had to get to arnhem, where we were to be staying, which is about an hour and a half east from amsterdam. at least it is if you're lucky, which we weren't. first the platform was changed and no one told us, the stupid tourists with too much luggage to run anywhere. not that we had a chance of making it. carrying my 22kg bag up and down all those steps or not. we caught the next train though, half an hour later, only to miss our connection in utrecht. we all ran from the train, across the platform, only for the doors to shut in our faces. there was about twenty of us running up and down the platform. and the train sat there for a minute before it left. one old woman, who wasn't exactly running, she shouted the dutch equivalent of "cunt" in frustration. we were obviously quite disappointed:

we made it to arnhem late and settled for a dinner of bread and cheese and a bottle of grolsch. plans are made for the following day and beds are set up, us in the corner and the french couple sleeping in hammocks that hang from the large and gorgeously curved roof supports (it's a very nice attic apartment). i pretty much fell asleep as soon as i got horizontal, straight into one of the best nights sleep i've had in a while. sleeping on the floor suits me. also i'd been awake and on my feet for about 18 hours. and all night i dream of trains, which would have something to do with the main train line that runs right by the house.

19.07.2008 - Saturday day

at some point in the morning, julie, used to those early hours, got up and went to the shop for breakfast. although primarily, i suspect, for the chocolate sprinkles for putting on bread. so breakfast resembles dinner from the night before, except for the addition of espresso coffee, which is just perfect.

after a small amount of planning, and waiting for the rain to stop, the two of us headed into arnhem town centre, which is basically a large pattern of pedestrianised streets. it's a cute enough town.

we spent a while in a bookshop, before realising that was a bit stupid, then a bit longer in a very well lit and very tall comicbook shop. they were a bit confused when i asked about anthologies of dutch creators, but i came out with some great looking books from the secondhand section, so they were crazy good value too. unfortunately i can't remember what they were, because they wrapped them quite well and now they're packed away in julie's bag to go back to copenhagen (she leaves tomorrow).

we wandered around, half looking for some bulgar wheat and half just looking. we had no chance of getting any bulgar, so instead we bought some barley, and another box of chocolate sprinkles. and we ate some apple pie at an apple pie cafe, which is something every town needs - apple pie.

but now we need to use that barley, make us some salad. because who knows what vegetarian food might be waiting for us tonight. for once we're actually in force, us and the french couple all non-meat eaters.

19.07.2008 - Saturday night

before too long we're on another train, having suffered further annoyance and confusion and platorm changes in dutch. lugging around a huge silver pot of barley wheat salad. late trains, i'm too tired to care. on one side of the train clemence is reading a book by laurent gaude to pierre, trying to finish it before giving it as a wedding present, and it has a beautiful cover too. and on the other side of the train the rain is hitting the window so hard it looks like we're travelling under water. the whole scene rocks me slowly and soundly to sleep.

so arriving at the party it's all a little overwhelming. i'm thrown back into a world where i can't even pretend to understand the language and i'm surrounded by people whose names i have no chance of remembering. there's also a lot of cheese. wonderful comforting cheese. masses of it. i'm surprised i wasn't sick (yes, let's not bring up that french restaurant again).

amongst all the cheese i guess it's important to mention why we're here, the dudes who are getting married. they're having their wedding in canada, so they're holding this party for the european contingent. we're representing rachelle's friends, a small group of assorted people from random european countries. it explains why we can't pour grolsch from tap without getting half a glass of foam. although, and to be fair, when one of the dutch guys showed me how to do it, he poured exactly the same amount of foam as me. so, maybe it was the tap afterall. i'll never know.

the weather held up for most of the night, but they'd arranged an impressive array of pavilions for when the rain broke. there was even a patio heater for when it got too cold. proper organisation, that kind of thing. posssibly the strangest thing of the whole evening was that we were being put up by their neighbours across the street, people who weren't even at the party. we met them once and they trusted us with their whole house. it's great that they have such strong community here.

in the morning, way too early, we were laden with every kind of dutch breakfast. it was quite incredible. then trains, julie heading to schipol and the rest of us heading back to arnhem. at this point i realise the netherlands is all rain and bad trains and i sleep all the way back. and then some more when i reach the apartment, taking advantage of the hammocks the french couple have been sleeping in. so right now i'm trapped in an empty attic apartment, that rain pattering against the angled windows and making a blur of the outside world. when it stops i plan to take my new found freedom all the way to the park and up the hill, where i'm promised a great view over arnhem.

quick, go.

20.07.2008 - Sunday

right now i just want to go home. i have a night to spend in amsterdam tomorrow and it's the last thing i want to deal with. i've tried all the hostel in the centre and they're all booked or sound terrifying. amsterdam hostels, not the prettiest. i should never look at online hostel reviews though, people's standards are way higher than mine. but still. my problem is my large amount of valuable luggage. i can't even leave it at the train station lockers because they don't open early enough for me to catch my flight. i'm half tempted to bunk at the airport, even though i know i'll regret it. it's not worth it for saving the cost of a hostel bed, but the hassle of lugging my suitcase around and getting up at 5am? maybe. i just wish i was flying tonight. it's not like me.

i spent a good few hours or more in the park. it's as large as was promised, but i never did find that great view over the town. i reached what i thought was the other end, only to find it was the middle, but i was determined so carried on through the relatively deserted second half. that's when it really started to rain. it wasn't too bad because i was under the trees, but bad enough that i had to turn back. maybe it's out there somewhere, i don't know. due to a sculpture trail, which was interesting but not essential, the main park area was quite busy. people walking around with their little maps, i've no idea where they got them from, following the little numbers and the giant pins 'stuck' in the trees.

back at the apartment the bedroom door was closed, so i presumed rachelle and mathias had returned, only it turns out they're staying the night at his parents and suzanne is staying instead. it feels weird the two of us being in their apartment, strangers sharing an unfamiliar space. we went out for dinner, almost going for the cheap takeaway pizza, but went to a 'proper' pizzeria in town instead. we sat outside for a few minutes before they told us we had to sit inside, where it was dark and claustrophobic. low ceilings concealing all kinds of dust and spiders, all candle lighting, faux romantic crap. but the pizza was delicious and the company was civil.

i've spent the rest of the evening listening to suzanne's tango music, some great spanish pop, and trying to find me somewhere to stay tomorrow night. and right now, i've never looked more forward to falling asleep on the floor.

21.07.2008 - Monday morning

so now i'm on my way back to amsterdam, still a little unsure as to my plans for the night. my worst case scenario isn't that bad, i have plenty of ginger cake in my bag and a good book. it's all good. full of strong coffee and melted chocolate biscuits that may have come all the way from spain. and it's only kind of raining. and i'm not going to be alone all day trying to find something fun to do in amsterdam - suzanne has a list.

most ironic sweets ever?

you probably can't see, but they're littel gummy cars. total loss.

22.07.2008 - Tuesday morning, followed by Monday

so. i woke up at 5am, picked myself up off the floor and tip-toed into the kitchen. i'd finally gone to bed at 1am and barely slept. all night spent staring at the display on my phone, watching the digits tick over and get nearer to the time i'd set the alarm too. redundantly. i made myself a crap sandwich, cheese and cherry tomatoes, maybe some cucumber, i can't remember. i poured myself a glass of mocha chocomel and then found myself out on the back balcony, looking down on what might be a nice garden if it wasn't for all the scaffolding and construction work. everything all grey, the sky still dark from the night. so peaceful i barely felt concious. my stuff was already packed so all i needed do was wash in the black tiled shower and get out of there as quietly as possible, leaving my sheets folded and another thank you message on the blackboard.

streets are beautiful at half five. is it because there's no one on them? they're owned by the birds and foxes. alien time, nothing feels normal and that's something akin to progress. floating along in a bubble, actually going somewhere. if you can find the train station. it stradles the road and has numerous entrances for different platforms, so of course i take the wrong one first. then the ticket machine wont take my card and i have no cash, but if someone wants to try hassling me over it it's only going to ruin their morning. when i arrive at amsterdam station and buy my ticket on to schipol airport it costs more anyway.

for the first time in the netherlands i am ahead of schedule. i can barely believe it when the train slides out of the station going in the right direction. looking back over amsterdam, jesus rays cut through the grey sky, throwing light over the waking city. i am gone.

which leaves my last day in amsterdam - me and suzanne wandering around, chasing streets she'd scribbled down in her little book. i'd wanted to visit a comic book shop, but it was massively disappointing, and i'd already bought my comic quota already. what we really wanted was soup. we found a place on the map and i was trusted with taking us in the right direction, partly because i had the easily accesible waterproof pocket to store the map, but also because i didn't really need the map once i'd got my bearings. weird, being in amsterdam and having soup as your priority. but the soup was fantastic. thick columbian corn. chick peas. crazy awesome ingredients. we sat looking out the steamed up window as the rain came down. drinking latte.

our next stop was an anarchist bookshop that i'd somehow manage to spot through the rain. i felt kind of bad spending so long in there, whittling down the 200 euros i wanted to spend to a mere 50, but in hindsight, given the amount of clothing shops suzanne went in, i shouldn't have felt at all bad. actually that's unfair, she'd noted down a few choice shops on friday and it was all very reasonable. plus, her trying on clothes gave me good time to take photographs of the surrounding streets and graffiti:

then we tried for the anne frank house again, but the queue was still huge and the thought of the cramped interior still put us off. instead we went looking for a supermarket to buy dinner. suzanne was to be staying at one of mathias's friends house and he said i could stay too, solving all of my problems, and we'd offered to cook him dinner. only we couldn't find a supermarket. we'd walked almost all the way back to the station before asking someone and having to walk half the way back again. we figured pasta and a mozzarella salad would suffice. which is funny, because over dinner we discovered he didn't particularly like cheese. but that just means more four cheese pasta for me.

after dinner we drank a few beers, watched the end of 'deep impact' (i don't know why), watched the simpsons, watched malcom in the middle, and then i was about to just die. i had to be up in four hours. we hauled down a mattress from upstairs (why are stairways in holland so narrow?) and then i was set. this returns us back to the start and explains why i was on some random persons floor. he wasn't that random, his favourite movie was the matrix.

anyway. with sleep like that i may as well be coming back from canada all jetlagged and messed up. and now i'm landing in england. so, the end. finally.

were not wasting paper [or grammar]
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