Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Die Niederlände Sind Vorbei

Chris loves posing for pictures
The view from Chris's apartment in Haarlem

After 5 days in Amsterdam I am on my way to Berlin. At this point fatigue from traveling is beginning to set in, in addition to the fatigue of some training runs with my friend Chris Tyson, each of which reminded me just how much I need to get back into running. I basically felt like a wobbly new-born duck trying to get to the water for the first time, coupled with a choppy, burning breath, and followed up by general soreness in all parts of my body. It’s a shame that any sort of physical activity, from running, easy biking to climbing trees, makes me sore right now. But I digress…

As I sit on the train in Northern Germany I find the time to finally reflect on my time in the Netherlands (literally, The Lowlands). The Netherlands are flat, wet, windy, and somewhat short of warm in September. The climate lends to the fashion, of which the Dutch seem to be highly conscious. However, this Dutch inclination to be fashionable led to the strange phenomenon of 4 out of 5 young women dressing nearly identically. The fashion is characterized by a short black leather coat, a longer sweater in a nice, dull fall color, and tight black or blue jeans. To finish it off, some nice brown Dutch clogs and maybe a scarf placed below a face covered by liberally applied makeup. It’s actually a pretty attractive look, especially when 4 out 5 Dutch girls are thin and toned from a lifetime of biking around town, and it works for blondes as well as brunettes. Wait, I’m digressing again…

The Netherlands is a very comfortable place to be. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, if slightly understated. It is not as grand as say, Saint Petersburg, or New York City, but there are impressive churches, towers and halls on nearly every corner that are seamlessly woven into the city landscape. I didn’t take my nice camera into Amsterdam, but walking around the town of Haarlem (a suburb of Amsterdam) you get the same feel on a smaller scale.

Chris captured this pic of the main cathedral in Haarlem
Away from the city center Amsterdam continues to look much more like a European city than an American one. Rows of 5 story apartment buildings on the outskirts reminded me of a summer in St. Petersburg, but the generic residential neighborhood was much more charming than the concrete “castles” of the Primorskaya area of Vasilievsky Island.

While Amsterdam is the kind of city you can spend all week exploring, I only spent one or two days really exploring the town. One day we traveled to Tyson’s girlfriend’s grandparent’s house in a town called Tiel that everyone kept joking about because it was such a “tiny village.” When I arrived and realized it was a full-fledged town of 40,000, I laughed that the COUNTY that I grew up in in NH had about 40,000 people. It’s all about perspective, right? In this “tiny village” on the river Wall (pronounced, “Vall”… and again my Second World War nerdism is returning to me. Nijmegen, 
Whenever someone mentions a strategically important river,  I'm all like...
Operation Market Garden, Band of Brothers, anyone?) was being held a festival called “AppelPop.” This festival draws some of the biggest bands in the Netherlands, which isn’t really saying much, but it is what it is. While we walked through the throngs of people (somehow it seemed like it was mostly high schoolers in teenage versions of the fashion described above) we drank some over-priced beer and soaked it all in. We stayed a healthy distance away from the hip hop show which seemed to be the main draw, because every song sounded about the same and the only discernible lyrics were “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go” and “Jump, Jump, Jump.” It was just a little too high energy. The neo-80’s rock band on the other stage drew a smaller crowd but seemed more our style. But once they got going it was pretty obvious they weren’t a very good band either (however, the one red-mained head-banger on the rail in the front would definitely disagree with me, and damn he had some luscious locks).

The next day we picked apples from a nearby public orchard to be used for cider and pie. After apple picking, we watched a pretty stellar parade that included about 30 floats made entirely of fruits and vegetables, all of which were pretty darn impressive. I gotta say, the Dutch, who are renowned for their renaissance era art and decorative architecture, definitely still “got it” when it comes to artistic pursuits. As a send off from Tiel, Rachel’s family had an impromptu party on account of my 23rd birthday, which included a few small gifts and some apple pie.

The family dog, Nan, just takes it all in
 Charm, bicycles, girls - Haarlem
Dutch houses

The real birthday celebration, however, was back in Amsterdam. Tyson and I went out for one last bash in the big city, and it didn’t disappoint. First, we went to a beer tasting at a bottle shop called “De Bierkonnig” (The Beer King). Despite it being the most pretentious event I’ve ever been a part of, I got some decent beer and talked to some interesting folks. I tried my first 2 sour beers ever, one of which was named Zwanze. Sour beers taste like rotten beer, but they’re actually a specialty. So I swallowed ém down, and I guess it’s an acquired taste like all beer. 

Feeling pretty buzzed, and with a few more beers in our pockets, we set out to find Tyson’s favorite french-fry shop, from which I ordered “speciaal ketchup” (mayonnaise, onions, and ketchup. Yum!). We sat on the main square, called “Den Dam,” and cherished our french-fries and beer. On Den Dam, there is a hotel called hotel Krasnopolsky, which means “Red Pole,” and I figured this was a good place to get some good Vodka. Tyson ordered me some Russian Standard on the Rocks and managed to get me a free shot of Jager for my birthday as well.

At this point I should have been hammered, but somehow I was hanging in there. Maybe the fries saved me, or maybe I was hammered and didn’t realize it. But we pressed on to meet two of his Dutch friends, Annemiek and Sanna.

It was about this time that we bumped into an American couple we met at the bottle shop. When we first saw them, they were both sober and talking fluently and interestingly. A little while later, the man was having more fun and the woman was making less sense. Shortly after, they left the bottle shop for the neighboring Irish pub, where we later found out the woman sang karaoke. We thought we’d never see them again, but somehow they reappeared at a different square in the city, and at this point the woman wasn’t walking in a straight line. She was singing and dancing party in the USA by Miley Cyrus as the man talked to us about going to a coffee shop (aka. weed shop). Apparently she had performed swimmingly at the Irish pub, shortly after the Elvis impersonator. It all would have made sense if they didn’t have two children somewhere in the city, who I’m assuming were taken care of.

three beers, two shots, and one more serving of French-fries later, it was 3am and time to go home. But there weren’t any more trains to Haarlem, so we needed to walk to Annemiek’s. The night just kept coming together when two of Annemiek’s friends with bicycles showed up, and a third bike appeared out of thin air, and the six of us road 3 bikes back to the outskirts of Amsterdam.

Now, it seems crazy to do in the US, but it’s normal for Dutch people to ride bikes with someone sitting on the back. In fact, bicycle safety is completely unheard of in the Netherlands, with ne’er a helmet to be found. Of course, men are supposed to drive when the passenger method is attempted, but I wasn’t quite used to the weight of having a six-foot tall Dutch girl in a short leather jacket and tight black jeans on the back of my bike. After nearly careening into the side of a building, I had to let her take over.

But after Tyson shamed me for riding on the back of a bike being propelled by a girl, I demanded that I take over driving duties for the end of the ride. This probably wasn’t a good idea, because at this point I was the one incapable of moving in a straight line, and there may have been one or two close calls, but somehow I managed to get myself and Eva home safely.

The last day in the Netherlands Tyson and I were pretty tired from our week of activities, and we simply let the time dither on in Haarlem as we hosted another one of his Dutch friends, Pasqual.

So until next we meet, die Niederlaende sind vorbei. Ich gehe nach Berlin! Where the weather is always perfect and the rivers flow with beer and the girls are beautiful and… wait, didn’t I go through this before?

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