Archive for the Netherlands Category

August 5th – Olympics / Sleep

Posted in Netherlands on August 7, 2012 by Adam Broome

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!

August 4th – Hook

Posted in Netherlands on August 6, 2012 by Adam Broome

One of the last things I remembered hearing from the night before was ‘Drink up Adam, this a revenge!’. It certainly was, and were it not for my alarm clock on my phone, I would have overslept big time (that’s forward planning for ya!)

I awoke as groggy as could be, wondering just how I was going to avoid any sort of sea sickness on the return ferry today, when Roos suddenly took to speeding about her home in a small panic. She had lost her keys at some point last night – a key ring which had her house key, bike key, goodness-knows-what-else keys, and it had vanished. I was under the impression that it may have had something to do with me losing the two tickets last night (though she denied this), so I got changed and sat in the lounge, a little unsure of what my next move was to be.

Roos seemed convinced it had nothing to do with me though, and soon after our 9:00am wake up call we were heading towards the beach area of The Hague – a popular local holiday spot for the Dutch! I had my eye on the clock the whole time, aware my ferry was leaving at half past two. We arrived at around half past ten at the seaside, giving us a scarce ninety minutes to have a look around.

I saw a pier, some amusements, a few seagulls, and generally everything you’d expect to see down at Brighton. For the first time in the whole trip, I began to feel a little longing for my home country. It was, after all, just across the sea. I bunkered down in a nearby diner with Roos and had – you guessed it – fish and chips (of a sort). The waiter spoke funny, and then asked me where abouts in England I was from. When I replied ‘Notting-ham’, he told me that that was not a Nottingham accent. I suddenly realised he was half-scouse, and his accent had nothing to do with being Dutch (just shows how much your ears get accustomed to new accents!). It is true, when I’m abroad, I slow my pace of talking down a little bit to help with communication. I don’t do it to offend, it’s just that my natural speed of using English is so fast, half of all English people I meet have difficulty keeping up!

 

Fish N’ Chips – There’s always a point towards the end of every expedition that I want a local variant of this dish!

We left the jolly mood of the beach behind, and I left a rather hung over Roos at the train station, after she helped me get my ticket back to my final ‘port of call’ – The Hook Of Holland. Just before we split however, she got a call from her mum telling her that she’d left her keys at the house when she went out last night. She never took her key ring out with us. Needless to say, that was a big relief – for both of us!

Now, before I go any further this post, let me just say one big cultural difference is the fact that trains are just really REALLY slow over here. The Hague to ‘Hoek van Holland’ is twenty miles, tops. It should not take over an hour to make that journey by train. I was sweating like a dog in a kebab shop en route to the docks, wondering if I’d miss my ferry. I had to make a change as well – some sort of cross-train-thing with the line to Rotterdam. I figured that for the main ferry between England and Holland, there’d be better transport links set up.

However

I made it back to the docks with thirty minutes to spare on the clock. Heck, even I knew I was cutting it fine. A half-arabic guy joined me and we ran to the check-in gates, only to find that they were all closed. The place was shutting down, and the staff seemed convinced that we had missed the ferry and we were not getting on – even though it was right outside the dock window!

Looking around though, I made my peace quite quickly with this fact  – the place was like a darn airport. Upon revision of my ticket, it did say (albeit in rather small print at the very bottom of the last page) that check-in closed forty five minutes before sail. That’s right – all across The Netherlands, no link missed, only to miss the final connection by fifteen minutes. Luckily, myself and this guy went to the reception desk, and the lady there was really friendly and sympathetic (it must happen a lot to be fair). She managed to relay our tickets free of charge. For the arabic guy, the same time tomorrow. For me, the night cruise in four hours time. I thanked her, and then I did what any Brit would do – I went to the toilet, took a massive dump, and re-assessed my life.

Hussein

Looking around, the half-arabic guy had sorted all his stuff out. We stood outside a little lost – and bemused – by our predicament. I called my mum to let her know I was going to be about twelve hours late getting home, and then considered going for lunch. The arabic guy had a better idea though. We went back to the station platform, where he had concealed the last of his marijuana before entering the docks. Since neither of us were going anywhere anytime soon, he asked if I wanted to share the last of his ganja with him. We both laughed, said ‘f*ck it’ at the same time, then sat down at the station platform and started blazing (only in Holland).

He told me his name was Hussein, and he was from Afghanistan (yes, really!) We talked a bit about our lives, our hopes of travel and our job prospects – you know, the usual. His train turned up about thirty minutes later, and we bid each other farewell, knowing we’d most likely never see each other again.

This left me at a loose end, so I took a walk in a random direction to explore the local port. About two miles down the coast, I came to a beach. The place was like a retirement village for over-50s Dutch people. There were also several WWII museums, with people dressed in wartime garments stood outside them. I grabbed another of the local Dutch delicacies Roos mentioned – Haring (that’s ‘herring’ to us Brits) in a bun, with onions on it, and a can of Heineken. I bet the check-in people loved me for eating that! (Well, if you’re gonna keep me hanging in a fishing port for four hours…)

Eventually, the storms appeared on the horizon, and I made my way back ahead of time, just reaching the docks as it started to downpour. I killed another hour inside the docking station blogging, before the check-in gates opened. I was one of the first people on the ship.

Stena Line could not have fooled me any more. When someone says to me to me ‘ferry’ I think of the Isle Of Wight boats. Namely, a leaky tugboat with a greasy diner selling hot dogs, rocking to and fro like a catamaran on a windy day. I was expecting rain macs, shaking hands holding a cup of hot coffee, and a few seats inside that people literally committed murder over trying to get custody of. I walk onto the boat and I’m greeted by something that reminded of ‘Poseidon’. Not that it was going to sink, but the ship was like Titanic. It was two football pitches long, easily. Servants helping people to their rooms, a shopping area, a cafe, about five bars, a club, a casino, a play area, a gaming corner, an internet room, a restaurant-for Pete’s sake, I’m going to England, not cruising around the Med’! Yes, it was lovely and swish. Had I known this prior, I was would been at the check-in two hours early. I thought this was going to be some sort of Olympian endurance test against the elements. Not… frigging… Cruise With Stelios!

Classy – My cabin (top and middle), and the restaurant (bottom). ‘Five star’ is really the only term I could use to describe the Stena Line boat, though that may be only be just because my expectations were so low! With the exception of incredibly bad internet connectivity (which is quite important on ferries to and from countries), everything was great!

One big bonus though was having my own cabin. In this, I charged up my phone, my iPod and my laptop. The key card went wrong immediately, but I managed to sort it. Then (because I’m using a Macbook, naturally) the internet went wrong too. This was a bigger problem, because I needed to book some more train tickets for when I arrived in Harwich. I called my mum and directed her on what to do on the internet over her end. This was hassle, as my mum hardly books anything online ever! We did eventually manage to get some form of ticket booked in the end – it brought the total cost of me missing the initial ferry to around £70 (I’d lost my previous pre-paid train tickets).

Then, feeling rather lost, I had some lasagna, grabbed a shower and went to bed. It was to be the last push home in the morning. The trip had one more surprise in store for me yet.

Sunset – This was the last view of ‘The Hook’ before we set off ourselves into that there sun. The industrial surroundings, and the fact that my journey had been so epic, made it the perfect finale to the trip, and possibly the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life (and believe me, I have seen some incredible ones!)

August 3rd – Den Haag

Posted in Netherlands on August 6, 2012 by Adam Broome

I woke up this morning to wonderful sunshine. I checked out of the Hotel Continental seamlessly, got onto a morning train to The Hague (/ ‘Den Haag’), and realised I’d left my seven euro umbrella in the hostel. Whoops. It was not too bad though – believe it or not, it had already started to break. I have another one at home, it’s okay!

Today I was aiming to meet two people – Roos and Davey. I find out today, under the strangest of circumstance, that my naivety towards relationships had got me unstuck. Roos and Davey hadn’t spoken to each other in several months (for personal reasons). I was evidently wandering into The Hague and thinking everyone still spoke to one another, saw each other regularly and everything was hunky-dory. Whoops again.

Roos had a spare room, so I decided to stay with her (no air-beds or sofas guaranteed!). Then I found another problem – both Roos and Davey were working today, until the late hours of the evening. Basically, this was my one day in The Hague, and I realised much too late that I’d only be seeing them for one evening – the shortest time span of all the people I’ve met on this trip.

Unable to get them out of their workloads, I set about finding ‘The Girl With The Pearl Earring’ painting by Vermeer. It was in a museum called the Mauritshuis. It took me well over an hour to find it, with the reason being that it simply wasn’t there. Let me rephrase – the Mauritshuis Museum is closed for two years until 2014. 100 works previously housed there have been moved to some other lesser-known museum several miles away. I’m not entirely sure that Vermeer’s famous painting (possibly one of Holland’s most well-known) was sent to the same museum. With too many unknowns, I gave up the chase, and largely spent most of the rest of the afternoon window shopping.

Tulips! – I had a bit of a ‘piccy day’ in The Hague whilst exploring. The city is full of these red flowers, which I assumed were the stereotypical tulips that take over Holland. Roos later told me they were not, and as she works in a botanist, I’ll take her word for it!

I did stop by a cafe to have a kroket (fresh this time) and some Italian soup (Pomodori?). Both dishes were delicious. The service was exceptionally slow-paced – it could well have been the heat. But let’s face it, I was in no rush! I left a 2 euro tip and the waiter started talking to me and asking me about my journey, so we had a little banter. Later I also had some espresso ‘thing’ (a milky version) in an espresso bar. They sure like Italian food out here!

I finally managed to meet Roos at around half past four at the train station. We got a tram back to her house in the suburbs, where I dropped my bag off and changed into something more ‘summery’. I found that she had the same IKEA wardrobe as me, as well as several other units in her household (again, pretty weird – IKEA is making homes across Europe all look the same, evidently!) Playing music and watching ‘vertigo videos’ on Youtube, we killed time as we waited for the night to draw in. I have to say – Roos was a lot more passionate about her cultural dishes than the others I’ve met as well (insert ‘women in the kitchen’ joke here >                 < ).

We went out to the city centre at around six o clock, and had Dutch pancakes (bacon and cheese, believe it or not!). Coupled with various syrups, this pancake was definitely the strangest meal I’d had in the Netherlands so far. I also had a toastie just to fill up more, readying myself for this sequel to ‘crazy dutch people night’.

Pancake – Bacon and cheese, with maple syrup. Heston Blumenthal’s source of inspiration?

Right before Davey got into town, Roos took me to a coffee shop, where I found that The Hague is probably the last place in the whole county not to have the ‘weed card’ tariff in effect. It was odd going into a bar and asking for a joint, then blazing at the back and everyone being cool about it. Naturally, you get busted in England for that! Roos was not too keen, as she didn’t know what effect smoking and drinking combined would have on her. I didn’t either for myself – another ‘sod it’ moment.

Weed – Although it look like a sex toy, this is actually how you get weed. The joint comes in a plastic test-tube thing, similar to what we drink shots out of in England.

We departed the coffee shop, with me being slightly stoned after a whole joint to myself, and ran into Davey en route to the first ‘port of call’. I sat and spoke to Davey for a little while in a courtyard, as we brought in the first ten beers. However, the big Friday night I was expecting oddly does not occur in the Netherlands (here, the big nights out are Thursday and Saturday. I wouldn’t have guessed this!). After we hit the clubs, I realised we’d be waiting a while before the place got remotely ‘booming’. Unfortunately, after the fifth pint and around ten shots later, the memory of the night starts to fade.

At some point somewhere in time, Roos gave me two tickets for her coat and handbag, which I possibly lost when dropping my wallet on the floor. Davey’s mates were helping to fly the Dutch flag – one of his friends whose name I cannot recall downed a pint of beer in two or three seconds. Even my uni mates would have had problems competing with this guy! The night ended with Davey needing a taxi home. Roos sorted him out a cab, and then got myself and herself back to her house, where I proceeded to crash into her bed… and sleep.

Victory – Okay, I yield. Even though I will ALWAYS claim that Tenerife was a draw, this time there was no contest. The dude on the left drank quicker than I think I’ve ever seen anybody drink before. The Dutch win the drinking contest on that merit alone. It was still a fun night!

August 2nd – Van Gogh

Posted in Netherlands on August 6, 2012 by Adam Broome

Woke up this morning to the worst weather I’ve seen on this trip so far. I slept through a (very quiet) lightning storm that was lighting up the skies last night. This morning, the heavens had opened. Ironically, I wanted a shower this morning, but I had to find some shower gel first. It took me almost a whole hour just to find a shop in Amsterdam that sold that sort of stuff!

I wanted to do one main thing today – visit the Van Gogh Museum in the ‘museum quarter’ of the city. Determined to walk there and see more of the city, I travelled to the train station tourist office in the rain, dodging trams and bikes all the way. I was looking for a map, but found that every single map inside the office came with a price tag. After heading back outside, I bought an umbrella for seven euros.

With the tourist office being an ‘epic fail’, I went back to my hotel and picked up a map from the reception desk. The janitor, of all people, gave me directions. Then, I set off walking, and about ten minutes out I accidentally stumbled upon the Amsterdam Flower Market. The market has surprisingly few flowers in it – most products were bulbs and seeds with which to grow your own. I picked up some nice keepsakes from nearby shops though, and continued on my way to the museum quarter. I walked past the Rijksmuseum, and also stumbled across another thing I’d wanted to see – the ‘I Am Amsterdam’ sign that so many people have had a photo with (I just wondered where the heck it was!)

The queue for the Van Gogh museum was just a couple of people short of full-blown ‘ridiculous’. It took an hour standing in the newly-revealed sun before I finally got in, only to then be relieved of my umbrella and hustled through a metal detector. There were two Spanish people in the queue next to me, and I realised I could understand what they were talking about (so it’s nice to know learning Spanish played a part at some point during this trip!) Inside the Van Gogh museum, you got what it basically said on the tin. I learned about Dutch art (they mostly used browns in their paintings, which is why their historic artworks are usually dark and gloomy), and saw some of the Van Gogh classics – the sunflowers, the bedroom in Arles and The Potato Eaters. It also showed you how he got inspiration, and how his work progressed as he matured as an artist.

The higher floors were to do with art after Van Gogh had died. It all paled in comparison to his work (so in essence, since you start on the ground floor, by this point you’ve already seen the best bit), but it was nice to have a little variety. I walked out the museum an hour later into blazing hot sunshine.

The rest of the day was rather relaxed. I went to La Madonna, as I said I would, and had my same onion soup and lasagna that I’d ordered here eleven years ago. The food was really great, but just couldn’t handle the pressure (it was a meal I’d been looking forward to all week!). At the end of the day, it’s still a great place though, and if you ever go to Amsterdam, it’s next to the train station down an alleyway full of shops (about five minutes from the station and the Victoria Hotel – right side).

I went back to the hotel to drop my umbrella off, and the janitor asked me if I’d found the museum okay. I found that I was sleeping alongside two different people in my dorms tonight, but ‘the asian guy who reads books’ is still sleeping below me. I have to jump like a ninja to get on the top bunk – I no doubt wake him up. Oh well – he chose the bottom bunk (probably couldn’t jump high enough). Having performed my own Olympic performance getting onto my bed, I spent a few hours writing up my experiences, before taking a return trip to the flower market, and wandering aimlessly around the plethora of canals.

Canals – There’s a lot of them.

After a few blog uploads, I decided to take another walk around the Red Light District, but I was wanting some food this time. There was a party taking place down a canal, and I went down to have a look. But I was quick to realise it was full of men, with lots of pink flags (remember a film yesterday called Pro Gay?). It was Amsterdam’s Gay Pride Festival. I got outta there so fast, I’m sure I got checked out at least five times. (‘And it felt fabulous’!)

I was humouring the idea of going to ‘Moulin Rouge’ (another infamous sex show / club / thing) but decided against it, as it was probably more of what I’d already seen the night before. I did, however, find a shop that sold marijuana tea, but the people selling it looked ‘well dodgy’, so I gave that a miss as well. Next to it though, I found a Dutch pub, with a dish called Boerenkool (‘Farmer’s Cabbage’) on the menu. It was mashed potato and cabbage mixed together with some herbs, with a giant meatball in ale gravy. This hands down won the best meal of the trip so far. Real Dutch food – all those saying there’s no great national dishes, NO. There were loads of variants of mashed potatoes and beef and carrots and things. It was great to have found genuine cultured food from the Netherlands finally. Indeed, they share similarities with British dishes… but that makes it easier for me to cook when I get back! 😀

Dutch Food – Yummy yummy! Best food of the trip, complete with the essential Heineken, brewed right here in Amsterdam!

I called it an early night, but found that ‘the asian guy who reads books’ was actually on his way home from university, and he stayed in hostels in Amsterdam frequently (hence his lack of enthusiasm!). It was time to rest up – I had a big day for myself tomorrow!

August 1st – Red Lights

Posted in Netherlands on August 2, 2012 by Adam Broome

Today started at what is probably the latest get-up I’ve ever had. I awoke around eleven in the morning, blogged for a while on my Macbook, and had my final cheese sandwich (I would not be able to take the cheese any further on my trip, for lack of a fridge at the hostel tonight). I then went back to sleep. Kim eventually woke Kasper up, and we headed out… at four o clock in the evening.

We were quick to grab some more ‘traditional’ Dutch food. This time, it didn’t seem so out of place! After some chips (which were quite salty), Kasper decided that his final treat would be to show me a local park – however, reminiscent of our Teide expedition, we’d overslept, meaning we now had to make up some time. Time to be made… by BIKE. I spent a fair bit of time trying to convince Kasper otherwise (especially as I was laden down with my heavy back pack on this time). Then, something sort of occurred to me. Dutch people don’t really understand the concept of people having problems balancing – everyone in the Netherlands rides a bike, and to them it is like walking. It’s really not any great deal for them, even with the immense amount of road traffic around.

I knew Kasper could not be swayed, so against my better judgement I once more hit the road, this time on Kim’s bike (luckily, it wasn’t pink, but again the brake system didn’t work properly!) We took a casual ride through city traffic, but luckily the cycle ride was uneventful, and we dismounted and walked the final part to the park, due to a fault on Kasper’s own bike.

The park was huge – comparable to Wollaton park in Nottingham for those who know it. We walked down the park canal to a series of waterfalls, and took some photos. The heat was immense today though – we became rather tired, and decided to have a drink in a nearby cafe before making the return trip to the station.

Poor Robin – Our fourth musketeer was out of action this second day. I hope we shall get to party once again some day. Kasper’s reputation as a party animal had definitely been defended!

We left Sonsbeek Park as the sun was starting to set, and took a slightly longer route through Arnhem’s temporary bus station. I was able to get a ticket to Amsterdam for fifteen euros (roughly twelve pounds). That price still blows my mind to this day. I hopped on a double-decker train similar to the one I’d rode in on, and bid my farewells. I knew Amsterdam would be the solo part of my trip, and I would now not be seeing anyone until The Hague on Friday ( / ‘Den Haag’ – my Dutch is coming along well!)

Via way of Utrecht, I entered into Amsterdam at half past eight, as the sun set over the city.  I checked into the ‘Hotel Continental’ without incident, but found three others already in my dorms. One was an asian guy who seemed quite sated with studying a book and sleeping – odd for living in such a central location, and the fact the room was so damn hot!

I quickly headed out again though, determined to make the most of my time here. After finding La Madonna again (as well as the Sea Palace floating restaurant), I thought to myself that if I was to spend the subsequent evening eating food, then the only real night to see the Red Light District would be tonight. I wasn’t even half tired – I hadn’t been up that long anyway!

I knew Amsterdam’s city centre relatively well already – half from memory, and half from a small speedy recce. I still had difficulty finding the red light district though – I was wandering around the beautifully lit canals in the local area for quite a while before I found a bunch of chairs in the middle of a square facing a cinema screen. The screen said ‘Pro Gay’, and I thought to myself ‘I wonder what this is film is about?’. I didn’t wait around long however, but I’m pretty sure I passed the area later on, and the film was in English (it’s odd to see an English film with Dutch subtitles!)

A glow of red was the only thing that gave it away – a narrow alleyway that I would never have gone down were it not for the plethora of people in it. Hands on wallet, camera and phone, I proceeded cautiously into the current vice capital of Europe.

The alleyway was just plain surreal. You’ll hear descriptions of it, about either wall of the alley essentially being made of glass, behind of which lurk some of the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen gazing at you in their underwear. It was like walking into pandaemonium – the red lights got harsher as I went down, with the prostitutes occasionally knocking on their glass door to get your attention. I clocked the pimp (if that’s the right word?) in the middle of the alley, and I was actually kind of happy the girls had some form of protection. You know one room is being used when the curtain is closed over the glass. I was walking past one such room when a small stocky asian man shot out the door and made a speedy exit, immediately getting cheered by the lads walking past (who wouldn’t?)

Prostitution gets a sleazy rep for obvious reasons, but the art of prostitution was almost a fine art here, and you could tell by the girls. Engineered to seduce, every item of make up carefully chosen to compliment the face, every hour at the gym calculated so as not to be too bulked out. Literal sex machines – I could see the attraction! (Through the grapevine, apparently it’s 50 euros for fifteen minutes though, so dig deep – no pun intended).

The smell of weed was everywhere, predictably. Thanks to the weed card laws that are already well-seated in the country, there was next to no chance of me getting blazed tonight, so I decided to take a stroll into the main canal of the district (yes, there’s only one main canal, perhaps why it’s so hard to find). There was one area of the district where one side of the ‘alley’ was the wall of a church – the other made of glass. A very curious set-up.

But then, in a complete ‘sod it’ kind of moment that has become so popular in the last few days, I joined a queue to enter a place called ‘Casa Rosso’. It was a sex theatre – the most expensive one in the district by far. The fact it even had a queue was a compliment to it’s popularity. It was roughly thirty pounds to get in (again, no pun intended), but I figured this was probably the best show going. Audiences varied from middle-aged couples to lads out on the lash. I paid my bucks, and went inside.

I was expecting some form of dingy cabin smelling of you-know-what, but my money paid off and I walked into what was essentially an auditorium, similar in size to a cinema room. At the front there was a stage, complete with a revolving and adjustable part that could rise and fall. On the stage were the ‘acts’, just going through at twenty minutes each one by one until some ridiculous hour in the morning. It took a while for me to realise that you just left whenever you wanted to. So there I am, sat next to a load of Polish lads on a stag do, watching a full-blown sex show (who would’a knew?)

Again, despite the obvious sleazy rep, I have to say the show was actually really good! Each act was different from the other. One showgirl acted as a dominatrix, and managed to persuade a member of the audience to be her slave on the stage (the guy in front of me actually – narrow escape for me). She collared him and pranced him around, before blindfolding him and toying with him. It was like a night at JJs on a Tuesday, but more fun. The same showgirl did an African theme show later on too – got three audience members to do the conga this time. Half way through it a man in a gorilla suit snook on with a strap-on and joined the back of the conga, freaking the poor girl at the back half to death! (But everyone knew it was for fun, and it was all in good humour. Spend a few nights at aforementioned JJs and you know the difference.)

Then we had bananas, contortionists, whips, lesbians, glass sex toys and a girl who started smoking a cigar, and then began to smoke it with her youknowwhatlet’s just leave it there. But I was surprised – believe me or not, but the atmosphere was not as sleazy, dingy and repugnant as I had myself believe. Sure, I got offered cocaine once or twice whilst walking around, but that was expected. Go there looking for trouble, and I’m sure you’ll get it. But generally the atmosphere was more welcoming than I had expected. Las Americas in Tenerife had my guard up more. If I return tomorrow evening for a ‘second look’ (giggity), I still wont let my guard down, but I would certainly encourage people to experience it in some way if they ever venture here. I made it back to my dorm with my wallet, my camera and my mobile phone!

July 31st – The Bridge

Posted in Netherlands on August 2, 2012 by Adam Broome

The second day began bright and early with Thijs once more. We played a bit of the game ‘Dead Space’, and then proceeded back into Eindhoven. I picked up a cigar for my next companion, Kasper, and Thijs decided to share one with me too. Unfortunately, Thijs inhaled the smoke, and spent the last hour with me trying to recover what was left of his lungs (we considered it his own ‘ditch moment’!).

From a friend’s recommendation, I went to the local market and bought some fresh Dutch cheese. We got some bread from a local supermarket, but I possibly ended up spending more than I should have through faulty labels. It didn’t spoil the joy of eating it though – Dutch cheese is indeed really good, with a creamy rich texture.

I bode Thijs farewell at the train station, and wished him well on his upcoming journey to Slovenia. It was quite sad – I suddenly felt quite vulnerable without a companion. But my attention now turned to the target of the day – Nijmegen Bridge. Thijs helped me with getting me a ticket that went to Arnhem via Nijmegen, as the automated system in the Netherlands doesn’t recognise foreign cards.

I got a train that supposedly took me straight to Arnhem. However, we made an unscheduled stop for about twenty minutes in a field somewhere, and then carried on to a town called Oss. When most people got off the train, something didn’t feel right, so I asked the conductor if the train was still indeed going to Nijmegen. It was not – by my guess, it had broken, and we were all diverted onto another train. I managed to jump off the broken train and just catch the one I now needed to be on. I’d only just sat down when an attractive, smiling dutch girl came and sat next to me, and started talking. I just smiled back, shook my head slowly, and told her I didn’t speak dutch. She wanted some help with her ticket or something – no idea. She quickly left to find someone more familiar with the ticket system. This was not an unusual thing to happen though – I observed several other strangers getting to know each other as we proceeded to Nijmegen on this new train.

We passed a place called Boxtel which had a really big church in it’s centre. Then we passed a place called Pierson College, which had meme ‘Rage Faces’ all over it’s entrance (which, let’s face it, is pretty darn awesome!) Then we crossed two bridges – one of which I assumed to be my mission for the day. After pulling into Nijmegen station, I started to follow the tracks back down the line.

I walked out of the city centre and into some dodgy district full of Dutch chavs on BMX bikes (yeah, even the chavs over here have ‘em!) I followed the train tracks back for around a mile, before finding a crossing. Standing in the middle of the crossing and looking back, I saw at least another mile of straight track. Wherever the bridge was, it was absolutely miles behind me, and it was just not worth chasing it up.

Upon my return journey, around forty minutes after arriving in Nijmegen, I go up a high road, and I suddenly see the bridge. Ahead down the line. I don’t know where the lookalike bridges we’d crossed en route had gone, but I did notice there were four different track exits from the station, as opposed to the usual two. Whatever had happened, I’d found the unmistakable shape of the criss-cross iron arching over the river Rhine, and after a second cheese sandwich at the station (man’s gotta eat) I followed pursuit in earnest.

It didn’t take me long to find the bridge, at which point I took as many photos as I could. Whilst standing on the bridge, I contacted Kasper (who was still in bed at two in the afternoon!) to let him know I was now on my way to Arnhem. I walked across the bridge, and then back again, imagining what it would have looked like during the war, after the third day of both sides trying to take control of it. Then it was a case of re-treading my steps to the station, hopping on the next train to Arnhem, and crossing Nijmegen Bridge the final time to my next destination.

I expected Arnhem to be a countryside town. Whoops. It dwarfed Eindhoven significantly – Arnhem is huge. Kasper arrived a few minutes late, still half-asleep. Although one can tell his approach to life is quite different from Thijs, I remembered all too well his lust for life and for partying. We took a casual walk back to his house, where Kasper took joy in realising he was the only one I was visiting in the Netherlands who had a house of his own.

Thijs had recommended me to try out some local Dutch food – a well-known delicacy being Krokets, and also Frikadels. Both were types of mixed-meat sausages – krokets deep fried, and frikadels cut and stuffed with white and brown sauce and onions. Unfortunately, nothing in Eindhoven seemed to open before midday, so I was now on the hunt in Arnhem for the food. Kasper knew many places to eat out, but they all resembled fast-food places. I was surprised to find one of the only signature dishes of the Netherlands was a fast-food item! (But then I thought about our fish n’ chips dish at home. Hmmm…)

Fast Food – A frikadel on the left, a kroket on the right. Frikadels are my favourite, but they are really awkward to eat! (You have no knife, remember!) Another amazing observation was the actual stores themselves. They feature a wall of mini ovens with pre-baked krokets in each. You just put one euro in, and the oven door opens and you take it straight out! Brilliant idea, since my last trip to McDonalds in Birmingham took me twenty minutes just to get served!

I tried both a kroket and the frikadel at the same time. I preferred the frikadel, although I can see krokets being popular after a night on the town. After that, Kasper had his chance to shine as my tour guide, pointing out all the new-build occurring all around, and taking me to a few shops to buy some food – and booze – for the night. We also stopped by his work place to have a mojito each. Kasper gave me tips on how to make my own – he would be demonstrating his own abilities later that evening (for me though, Tenerife still has the nicest mojitos going!)

After returning to Kasper’s house (visiting a local windmill on the way), we picked up with a few more episodes of ‘Game Of Thrones’. At this point, I found out Kasper’s girlfriend Kim was coming round tonight. Although my initial reaction was one of panic for being third-wheeled for the next twenty four hours, Kasper also brought his friend Robin living upstairs down for drinks as well. We put on some music, Kasper made some cocktails, and soon I was on the shots of tequila, liquor 43 and weird rice-sake from China. It could only end well.

Skinny-Dip

In the most random of circumstances, Kim had some bad news that night. Not only did the trains stop running as she was half-way to Arnhem (she lives many miles away on the other side of the Netherlands!) prompting a pick-up from Robin, but something else worried her later in the evening, and she disappeared. Robin went to look for her out in the town streets, whilst Kasper and I did karaoke-esque rap battles to Eminem songs (believe it!).

Suddenly, Robin and Kim ran back in through the front door about half an hour later, Robin having found Kim, and Kim having found a new lease of life. They told us to strip and to follow – we were going swimming.

I had no idea what that meant, but Robin quickly fetched me some waterproof shorts from upstairs. I was actually too drunk to worry at this point – I got changed, and went outside with the rest. Kasper locked up, and we went a short way down Kasper’s street to a little park area at the end (Arnhem is full of parks – it’s one of the greenest cities in the Netherlands as well!). We fumbled and crashed over a locked gate, to a paddling pool in the middle of the field. A water-fair ‘thing’ was happening tomorrow for kids, but the pools were all set up tonight. Hence, we all jumped in.

The water was predictably freezing, but that didn’t stop us from splashing about all over the place. Then, through the darkness, we found another paddling pool and began racing each other to and from each pool. Amidst much laughing, bell-ringing and shouting, Kim and Robin suddenly get halted dead in their tracks by a security man with a flashlight. Upon asking at a later time what they said to each other, it went something like:

“Oh? We thought anyone could use the pools tonight?”

“No. No you can’t. Get out.”

“Okay… we’ll be quiet.”

“Be ‘quiet’? You’ve even woke me up!”

We ‘snuck’ back out of the park, crashing back over the gate. We took a walk around the block barefoot, taking care to avoid broken glass all over the place, before finally returning to Kasper’s pad. Apparently we’d been looking for something that Kim thought she’d dropped, but she’d left it in Kasper’s house all along. I got changed, and finally crashed on Kasper’s sofa, too tired to go any further into the night at around half past four in the morning. Kim placed a little sombrero on my head, and that’s the last thing I remember. Someone, at some point, put a load of blankets over me. For that, I am grateful 🙂

July 30th – Bike Ride

Posted in Netherlands on August 2, 2012 by Adam Broome

Got absolutely zero sleep last night, so shot into the morning of Monday 30th having been awake for 24 hours already. I got a lift to the bus station with my mum, and caught my lift to London Stansted relatively seamlessly. Although I tried to catch some shut-eye on the coach, I have a natural none-ability to sleep on moving vehicles, so I spent most of the ride listening to music, which started with a classic western ‘sound’ like this:

Upon arrival at Stansted, I remembered being there before – on the Prague expedition, now over eighteen months ago (and only seems like yesterday… *sigh*). I determined to take my time this time round, but found my check-in gate was already open. I crammed the last of my pre-packed food down, and headed through (the absolute sh*t storm of) the ‘processing’ sequence. First thing I found was that I had paid for a luggage bag on the plane that I’d never planned to use. Grade A for making it easy for me Ryan Air… jeez. £20 down, I then found I was unable to take my shower gel through customs as (despite it fitting in the quintessential plastic bags) the bottle was just too big. I chucked that one (there was only a bit left anyway), but snuck all other ‘over-sized’ items through customs. Yes… I’m that hardcore. After killing two hours in the departure lounge, I had to walk to what seemed like (as Lee Evans would put it) ‘Gate 95’. Twenty minutes down the freeway, I boarded the plane on the front row, which had the most leg room I’ve ever had on a flight!

I was planning to possibly get some sleep on my ‘two hour flight’. Sadly, ‘two hours’ actually meant ‘one hour’, as the clocks jump forward an hour as you head East. I was just getting comfortable when we landed (they even tried to sell sandwiches on the flight as well. One guy bought a coffee – we’d touched down before he’d finished it!) Looking out the window as we flew over the Netherlands, I saw rolling lush green fields, sheep, cows, farms, and vast evergreen forests. I thought it looked more like Britain than Britain does! At the airport, my first friend to meet on this journey was waiting at 9:00am sharp outside the airport – Thijs Stork, previous Teide ‘blizzard’ mountaineer champion. If you want to hear about that story, a rough cut for a final film I made can be found here. Today was hopefully going to be a little easier on the adrenaline… but that was not to be.

If anything previous experience should have told me, it was that Thijs was always one for pushing the boundaries. I was surprised (and a little humbled) to be greeted at such an early hour on a Monday morning. We headed straight into Eindhoven to find breakfast and have a look around. Thijs got into ‘tour guide’ mode straight away, pointing out the local art work and the stadium. The art work was very ‘minimalist’ (the Tate Modern would have a hay day). As it was though, we didn’t have to walk for long  for me to realise that this was the ‘Birmingham’ equivalent in the Netherlands – namely, there wasn’t much to do except shop. I visited a mountain shop and a ‘CEX’ equivalent called ‘Media Market’. Then, once shopping desires were sated, it became apparent that there wasn’t much else around.

Art – In the eyes of the beholder?

Breakfast consisted of a nine euro omelette (which was, to it’s credit, very nice). After that, we departed for Thijs’s house. Now, at this point, another thing became apparent. This was an important find regarding Dutch culture – everyone was riding bikes. I mean, like, there were the same amount of bikes as there were cars. Apparently in some places of the Netherlands, people have two cars to each person. But as we headed out into the suburban areas around Eindhoven, it became apparent that I would definitely be riding a bike at some point during my trip around the country. One hour later, and I’m on one.

Ham and Egg Omelette – First Dutch meal of the day!

Now, I’ve got a bit of a problem with bikes. I’ve always had issues with riding them since I was a kid. My rides usually ended with a spectacular crash of some description, and sometimes with the ‘write-off’ of the two-wheeler. Although I almost always opt for walking around places, I felt it was important to experience bike riding in the Netherlands, as it was so integral to the infrastructure and the culture (every pavement on every street has a bike lane running alongside it). It took five minutes outside Thijs’s house, but I eventually manage to get the hang of riding a fairly old, tall bike. Major problem – not really any brakes, you just had to try and pedal backwards to stop the bike from moving. Understanding that it wasn’t going to be easy, I set off anyway – for food, and to see the local area.

Bikes – There’s a lot of them over here! 

The pedal into the nearby town of Nuenen was relatively uneventful. We parked out bikes in the town centre, and loaded up with supplies for a marathon of ‘Game Of Thrones’ in the evening. This included a drink called ‘Safari’ – a tropical cocktail drink that was easy on the liver. I noticed that the town of Nuenen had a close connection to Vincent Van Gogh – we went by the house where he grew up. This was funny, as I am planning to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam later on into the trip.

Nuenen – Where Vincent Van Gogh grew up.

Once laden (Thijs, not me!), I followed Thijs out into the countryside. The weather looked so-so, but we chanced it anyway. The journey took us into a forest, where the roads were definitely not for beginners! Avoiding various dikes and sludge pits, I saw de-forestation beginning to occur. We debated over whether cutting trees down and then re-planting new ones was a viable option for more wood, but to be honest most of the time I was just trying not to crash. Our route took us out into a vast expanse in the middle of the forest, where we ate a few wild berries (not dissimilar from the ones in England!). But then the pitter-patter of rain came, and we decided to head back sharp-ish.

It was allll downhill from here in terms of riding the bike for me. I figured I’d done admirably to make it this far, but after narrowly collapsing off the bike into a puddle, and swerving into a tractor on a side road, my luck finally ran out on a country lane not one mile from Thijs’s house. I missed a turn-in and tried to make a large u-turn in the road. There was a ditch running alongside it completely covered by foliage – and the rest is history! It was a proper ‘bumbling Brit’ moment – I was sat in the ditch, legs up, bike in the shrubs. After a moment of (natural) surprise, I was so, so glad to not feel any water below me. The shrubs were so dense they were probably suspending me above it to be honest! Any other time I might have felt a bit self-conscious, but I actually found the situation hilarious. Evidently this stuff does not just happen in films! Two dutch girls walking down the road were laughing there asses off, and so was I. Thijs pulled me out the ditch, and the bike was unharmed. I got straight back on it, and pedaled for another half-mile, before eventually striking into the classic ‘bollard’. Realising for the first time that I was actually running on no food, forty plus hours with no sleep, and a bike with a brake system I was having difficulty with, I decided to walk the last fifty meters. Sod it – I’d done my biking for the trip!

A scrape from my hand had left a blood mark on my white shirt which is what bothered me most. Thankfully, Thijs’s mum washed and bleached it for me, before cooking a really beautiful meal of lasagna and salad. I talked about my upcoming trip and the people I was going to meet, before eventually settling down to a TV series I’ve wanted to watch for a while – ‘Game Of Thrones’. Thijs and I talked for bit, played Portal 2, then set up my air-bed for the night. We crashed asleep at episode four of our TV marathon. Luckily, there were no dreams of Sean Bean, or any nightmares about bikes!

The Bike Ride – Deforestation (top), and Thijs meeting a playful dog in the central opening (middle and bottom). Sadly, we forgot to take a photo with both of us in it before I left Nuenen, but I’m sure there will be a next time! And for the record – at three hours, this was also the longest bike ride I’ve ever undergone as well!