27 July 2007

Never Netherland

Let's begin, how long was I there? Um, 2 + 2 + 3, therefore a week (I'm loosing track of time), but wow, what a week it was! It began with my train journey from Copenhagen to the Netherlands, fell asleep, and woke up on a ship. No kidding. The whole train actually goes on ferry across to Germany but I was oblivious to this until I got off and went upstairs to find myself on the top deck of this enormous ship, with duty free shopping and bars, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Bizarre!

After 10 hours on the train, foolishly only bringing a book on physics and 'strange loops' that I thought I might like, I arrived at the historic city of Arnhem on the river Rhine. I stayed in a friend's apartment which turned out to be a 3 storey share house/art den, paint and plants everywhere, reggae music pumping. I suppose I spent most of my time talking to housemates, also they showed me around their very green but unusually quiet city, and rode around for a bit trying out their new longboard (fell off, naturally).

{Playing chess in Arnhem}

Next stop: Nijmegen, a small town towards the south of the Netherlands, to visit my old housemate Jonne. I happened to be there during their famous summerfestival, one of the biggest in Holland. Nijmegen is considered to be the oldest city in the Netherlands, and is renowned for its beautiful village-like qualities – it's a slice of Dutch life without tourists wandering around in joggers and bum bags. By day middle aged people sporting socks and sandals emerged to take part in "Vierdaagse", an annual four day walk, 50km per day, the real reason behind the week-long festival. However, when the sun goes down the movers and shakers from all over Holland descend on outdoor discos set up around the city as some of the best DJs in Europe entertain music-hungry crowds. The streets were littered with Heineken beer stalls and live performances, and music roared into the apartment from all directions. Jonne was a great host: we also drove around the countryside, visited her horse and I rode around the city on the back of her bike – side saddle, that's how the Dutch do it! – to go to restaurants and parties.

Next to ol' Amsterdam, to visit cousins and further explore the city that combines metropolitan verve with a small-town spirit. I spent a lot of time walking along the narrow brick-paved streets in the city centre and Jordaan (my favourite district), framed by a skyline of pretty 17th and 18th century gables, past window boxes bursting with blooms. But I think that the city was best seen at night with the fairy-lit bridges and large-windowed canal houses that looked like lanterns strung along the waterside.

It was great to catch up with family, eating Indonesian (a previous Dutch colony) in de 9 Straatjes, with the occasional black Miss Marple bicycle rattling past. The Anne Frank museum blew my mind, and I was enlightened at the Van Gogh museum – previously I thought he was too faddish, was really limited of me. I loved seeing the flower markets on Spui again, and discovered its cafes favoured by local journalists and the literary set. All around there were constant reminders of the Dutch quirky humour on nouveau-Roman monuments and shop names, and especially from my cousin Pieter.

Even today it's just about having an easy lifestyle. But I once read that that's the problem with Amsterdam, you get so taken up with the ease of the place that you forget why you came. Amsterdam doesn't have the same effortless sophistication of Paris, but why should I even try to compare the two? Amsterdam is the hub of the alternative and social experimentation, littered with the flotsam left by new wave British, American and Antipodean residents during past eras: hippies paradise in the 60s and 70s, gay capital in the 80s, and party haven in the 90s. And today? Who knows?

{Jonne and her horse}

{Amsterdam canal}

{Best blackberries ever, like caviar!}

I have more photos but can't show them due to camera mood swings, but hopefully I'll fix it up when I return to Denmark.