August 5th – Olympics / Sleep

I was one of the first to awake on the boat, having spent the night sleeping on the seas. I welcomed myself to a full English breakfast, whilst also dropping by the recently-vacated internet cafe to try and find out what tickets my mum had bought to get me home. To my shock, I had pre-paid tickets that needed to be collected from a station that was in the opposite direction to where I needed to travel. It was also in the wrong direction by significant mileage. I was the first person to get off the boat, in a bit of a hurry to try and find out how I was going to walk the five miles of track to the next station up the line.

Being the first person at check-in was odd – everyone was talking, then when they saw me, they said ‘We’re up, lads’, and everyone sort of got into position. The Brits I met coming off the boat were stereotypes of the ‘eccentric Englishman’ – all eager for conversation, and permanent strange smiles on their mouths. I was in Essex apparently!

One of the welcoming ‘Essex Ambassadors’ heard I was trying to get to Dovercourt Station, and shuddered at the mention. It was so far away, he had difficulty giving me directions to walk, so kindly offered to give me a lift to the station after everyone had disembarked from the boat. I agreed to take the lift, but after sitting and thinking for twenty minutes, I decided to attempt to somehow get my train ticket from here at Harwich International (even though on the internet, I’d specifically requested to pick them up from Dovercourt). Turns out it’s really easy to get your train tickets from anywhere though – I went to the ticket desk, and asked where the self-service ticket machines were. The man behind the desk said ‘That’s me!’ (told you they were eccentric), and proceeded to get my ticket, simply by scanning the card I’d booked the tickets with. I was so relieved at finally have them, and I’m hoping I’m never in that situation again.

I jumped on the train, and got comfy – my journey would take me down to London, and back up to Nottingham. En route to London, we passed a place I had not expected to see – the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. I saw the tower-thing outside the window and recognised it instantly – it is something big that has been happening throughout the entire trip, so it seemed fitting that I should get a chance to see it on the final leg of my journey. People were getting on and off at the station, and I suddenly wondered if I was sat with a load of Olympians!

The change at London St. Pancras was odd, as the security there was the highest I’ve ever seen. Green and blue berets coupled with machine-gun-wielding policemen were walking around in plain view. It was almost like they’d have a tip-off and knew something was about to go down. I got out of there on the first train to Nottingham, and grabbed a little shut-eye on the way. Trains in England feel like ‘Inception’ compared to the ones from The Netherlands – we hit speeds so high, there’s gravitational pulls. I’d forgotten what that felt like! My mum was there to pick me up in Nottingham upon my return. I saved a tenner on the taxi at least!

Looking Back

Having had time to actually recover from my journey a little, it’s a good time to look back at the events of the last week. It’s obvious that it’s been fun, and there have been very few ‘downs’ in the whole trip actually, even despite missing the ferry at the end. For everything that went wrong, there was always more than enough positives to pick me back up, which was part of what made this trip so memorable.

I always eat loads of food wherever I go (high metabolism?). The food on this journey has been pretty darn good, yet I found it strange that the local Dutch food is quite a well-kept secret. The weather in The Netherlands is almost identical to that in England, so the produce is naturally the same. Thus, the meals are cooked with the same ingredients, but just in different varieties. The Bacon and Cheese pancake was the strangest meal, the Farmer’s Cabbage meal was the nicest, and La Madonna was also great, if only for the nostalgia!

FOOD – Onion soup at ‘La Madonna’ (top), and a Kroket in The Hague (bottom). Both very nice meals I had during the journey!

I feel I got to grips with Dutch culture quite well as well. They evidently know how to party, but I’ve also sampled some of their classic artwork, and their history during World War Two. The trip to the Red Light District was for me one of the most memorable moments, probably because that was the one major place I didn’t visit in Amsterdam last time (and I don’t think I’ll be forgetting that show any time soon either…) By trying to speak the language as well, I’ve also realised how difficult Dutch really is as a language. Speaking to Roos towards the end, I told her about language packs that taught all kinds of language, but not Dutch. She told me that it was because Dutch is only really useful in The Netherlands. She was totally right – it’s the equivalent of learning Welsh. There were certain sounds I don’t think I could ever pronounce correctly, and yet they all speak English very well out there (one rumour you can believe). Some people got shy about their English, but I’ll say what I’ve always said – if you can speak English remotely, then you’ve done better than most of us English people have with Dutch!

War – From ‘Market Garden’ to evacuation of Jewish children, I saw memorials of the second world war at pretty much every destination I went to.

The transport was an odd observation – just because The Netherlands is small doesn’t mean the trains need to slow down to that extent. They should have a few ‘bullet train’ type things that shoot all around the country (five laps a day), because sometimes you just want to go somewhere directly, just like from London to Nottingham. Stena Line was great, but the train links around Harwich and ‘Den Hoak’ make it ultimately pointless. Why pay less to travel by ferry when (without a railcard) it will cost you £100 just to get the train from the Midlands to Harwich in the first place?

But the bikes were cool – not only was it a part of the Dutch culture that I hadn’t anticipated, but it’s also something that means they’re doing a lot more to stop pollution than us Brits are. Unfortunately I can’t ever see me being ‘at one’ with my bike, so I can’t see myself ever living out there, as I just wont be able to get around too well. Walking is dangerous when there’s that many wheels on the road!

Modern Buildings – The view of The Hague from the train (top), and my Amsterdam hotel / hostel (bottom). Something else I noticed about The Netherlands was that they had consistently merged the old buildings with the new seamlessly. It was as if you were watching the modernization of old architecture in-progress. 

A lot of people are asking me what the best part was, but honestly, I don’t have one. How do you compare a three hour bike ride through rural Netherland forests to skinny-dipping at 4:00am in a park? How does one compare seeing a sex show with smoking a legal joint in a cafe all to yourself? There wasn’t a dull moment at any point, which is the way it is supposed to be! I feel I saw a lot of The Netherlands – I may well return to Holland for a long weekend in the future, but such are the similarities between our two cultures, that I reckon there wasn’t much more to see in Rotterdam or Utrecht. I could be wrong.

Karaoke – One thing I didn’t manage to do in Tenerife was do a karaoke. The sort-of ‘rap-battle’ with Kasper in Arnhem was pretty memorable for that reason! (I forget I know most of the Marshall Mathers LP by heart!)

To sum it up, I’d like to remember The Netherlands as being like a slightly better version of Britain. It doesn’t sound all that patriotic on my part (and yes, Britain does have it’s attractions). But The Netherlands is like a whole country of The Lake District. The whole place is like a Beatrix Potter world. The bikes, the easy-going attitude, the application of common sense as opposed to the ‘nanny state’ (something I’m sure all of us Brits can relate to). The fields were green and the animals looked cosy. The cities were busy and the nights were busting with life. At no point did I feel in danger or under threat, which is something that’s a little harder to avoid in England at least. There didn’t seem to be any breakdown of social structure over there, or any form of conflict. Of course, this could just be me being naive – after all, I was only over there a week. But simple things like riding a bike through a forest without the fear of getting robbed or attacked is something that is just harder to find in England. Pains me to say it, but there it is. As I say, despite this I’ll probably never move out to The Netherlands, but for what’s it’s worth, for whatever we’re doing wrong this side of the channel, they seem to be doing a bit better. England should take a few pages out of their book. (But keep the speedy trains – yeah, they’re cool 🙂 )

Boots – In England, we know the store as ‘Boots’. Over in The Netherlands, it’s called ‘Etos’. I spent a whole hour looking for this place, and (in Amsterdam at least) it appeared to be the only shop of it’s sort. If you’re out there and need shower gel / deodorant, you’ll find it a lot cheaper in one of these stores!

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One Response to “August 5th – Olympics / Sleep”

  1. I just wondered, have you ever been to the fens/cambridgeshire? Cause while we don’t have a red light district or many drugs, we do have lots of green places, bikes, night life in the major cities and little crime. Like how I know when I walk across a park in cambridge after dark where there are no lamps I know there’s no way I’d get robbed. I may get lost, but not robbed! The only downside is lots of chavs and upper class people. But they don’t really bother people! =)

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