http://www.digitalhdphotos.com/2013/02/teddy-bear.html

A’dam

(16/10/13)

Shockingly, I managed to catch the ferry from the UK to the Netherlands with no dramas.  I probably should have thought to myself that ‘oh, I didn’t screw up departure, so arrival’ll be my problem’—but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

The ferry is how I usually travel between the UK and the Netherlands actually.  It’s super convenient, comfortable, saves on a night’s accommodation, and gets you there at a really useful time in the morning (ferry company).  It’s so comfortable, in fact, that I just about slept through my alarm, and had rather a rude shock when I realised we’d arrived and that I was unpacked and in my pyjamas.  Needless to say, getting off the boat was a mad scramble, and I then had to get through immigration.

The migration agent was a tall good-looking Dutch guy (funny that), who asked me what I was doing in Holland.  I said that I was visiting a friend.  He looked at me and asked where the friend was from, and I spelt it out: U-t-r-e-c-h-t.  “Utrecht?” he asked, and I just nodded.  He then laughed at my linguistic incompetence, which is totally justified.

An hour or so later, I was in Amsterdam again.  Let me be clear that I do not like Amsterdam.  Or at least, I don’t like the tourists: take them away, and the city would probably be rather nice.  As it is, the tourists are all there for prostitution or drugs (and this is before the stricter pot rules came in), and they really are the dirtiest, most repulsive people you’ll ever meet.  I’d attempted to avoid the worst of them by staying at a hostel further away from the Red Light District this time, though that didn’t quite work.  Eugh, the RLD.  I’m not at all prudish, and obviously prostitution is decriminalised in the Netherlands—for Dutch women.  But the greater proportion of girls working there aren’t Dutch women, but immigrants from much poorer countries: and they aren’t covered by the laws.  This puts them in a prime situation as far as traffickers are concerned, and the first time I was in A’dam (2008) I read a Dutch police report which said that at least 50% and up to 90% of the women and girls working in the sex industry in the city are trafficked.  That means that chances you’re having sex with someone who’s enslaved is pretty high, and every time you go and see a live sex show, there’s a high chance you’re watching someone being raped.  I don’t have words strong enough to describe how viscerally foul that is.

Anyway, I was actually still meant to be working on a tender for the law firm back in Australia, so once I’d dropped off my things, I headed off to try and find somewhere with internet to do some work.  It was suggested I try a place in L-whatever Square (Leidseplein).  Haha that place turned out to be the Bulldog, and needless to say, I was swamped by a cloud of smoke when I walked in.  Kind of hard to write a tender when you’re stoned via passive smoking, so I wandered onward.

I found myself further out of town, along the waterfront, and wandered on into the library.  It took me quite a while to figure out what was going on, but then I managed to find myself both a desk and internet access.  Hoorah!  It’s an amazing library actually: gorgeous architecture, lots of studying room, thousands of beautiful books, and the piece de resistance, a pianist playing classical music on a grand at the entrance.

At about this time, I realised that I’d made a rookie error: in my rush to get off the boat that morning, I’d left behind my teddy-bear.  Egads!  I’m a pretty terrible adult and hate sleeping by myself, so I have a teddy bear.  Feel free to judge silently.  Anyway, I couldn’t get my phone to work, and I couldn’t get in touch with the ferry company, so messaged JFord all a-fluster, and she started sorting it out for me from Australia.  How on earth was that easier?!

That evening I went for a walk through the city to take some photos.  Eugh.  Another thing I hate about Amsterdam: I’m a woman walking around by herself at night-time, so I clearly must be a prostitute.  *Rolls eyes*.  It’s not just turning down guys who are trying to buy you, it’s the fact that all of the tourists look at you as if you are something to buy.  It’s a horrible, horrible feeling.  The city itself is quite nice at night-time though, with reflections on all of the canals (Amsterdam is one of the many cities given the ‘Venice’ label.  Like St Petersburg, though to a greater extent, it’s built on land reclaimed from the ocean, and canals and dikes are ubiquitous).

Amsterdam’s a funny old place, actually.  I find the architecture and statues a little grotesque in a way, as if all of the limbs and boughs are drawn out in torture.  Indeed, there’s a certain blood-thirstiness behind the history of the city, somewhere between a celebration of and an indifference to violence.  For example, there’s this one place where prisoners used to be tortured: if they misbehaved in prison, they were put overnight into a room which would slowly fill with water.  The only way they could survive was by pumping it out all night.  When the prison was later closed down, the place was turned into a public pool (!), and it’s now a hotel.

The next morning, I awoke in the hostel in a state of absolute disgust.  There was a sink in the room, and it was filled with vomit (as was every other sink I could get to on the floor).  Someone had also obviously urinated into it.  Shortly afterward, I was to encounter the culprits: a group of four guys in my room, who got up and proceeded to talk and joke about the prostitutes they’d slept with the night before, in the most grotesque and base and inhuman of terms.  They then tried to talk to me, and I spoke back to them in Russian, pretending not to understand: no fucking way was I talking to them.  Putrid chavs.  After they all went out to find drugs, I talked with the three other people from my room, some cool kids from Melbourne, and they were similarly revolted.

Of course, I couldn’t hang around all day: I was on a teddy bear rescue mission!  I spent a few hours heading to Hoek van Holland and back.  The lady laughed at me a bit when I turned up and said that my teddy was being held for me, but hey.  Then it was a few hours’ work on the tender before heading out that night to meet my friend Edwin.

I’ve known Edwin since late 2007, when we lived together in a hostel in Manly (Sydney).  I try to get to the Netherlands to visit him whenever I’m in the area, and it was conveniently on my way this time.  We met up for dinner, then headed out to get our drink on.  We were sitting having some vodka in a rather chilled bar/restaurant, when E decided to cause a scene (he likes to do that).  So he suddenly slams his drink down, stands over the table (and he’s 6’4″, so he really looms), starts shaking his finger and yelling at me at the top of his lungs.  I’m giggling nervously, and everybody else in the restaurant is being quiet and avoiding eye contact.  Then, as a final measure, Edwin slams himself down into his seat: which promptly gives way, and he’s suddenly sprawled on the floor with the most surprised look I’ve ever seen on anybody’s face.  The restaurant as a whole burst out laughing and applauding, it was fantastic!

Next we went to another bar.  I do love that Dutch people are tall.  Tall people make me happy.  Anyway, I started to feel really sick, so we went outside so that I could cool down.  E was completely freaked that it was -7 and I was too hot to wear a coat, while he was freezing!  I wasn’t feeling any better though ( 🙁 🙁 :(), so he escorted me back to my hostel, trying to teach me how to say ‘Utrecht’ on the way.  It must have been at least half an hour of me trying to say it, and him laughing at me each time.  Again, linguistic incompetence!  (At least when it comes to German-ish languages).

The next day, it was off to Germany itself for the first time.

Week of Colours

It’s been a while—I’ve been extremely busy writing papers and having fun.  It’s a hard life, right?  Seriously though, working on my papers has been fascinating (though sitting on my ass in front of a screen all day every day is not what I am built for), and I’ve been having a lot of adventures while doing it.  And quite a lot of pancakes, actually.

The past couple of weeks in particular have been sheer insanity, with just so, so, so much going on my personal life.  On the upside, this has been interspersed with some incredibly colourful experiences—namely, the green of the Zonienwoud, the orange of Amsterdam for the king’s birthday celebrations, and the brilliant purple of the bluebells in Hallerbos forest.

Zoniënwoud

The Zonienwoud is only around 45 minutes’ walk from my house (which I still freaking love and adore), so I like to go hiking there occasionally.  On this particular occasion there was an event on, with world music installations set up on officially designated hikes.  It was a bit of a damp day to be honest, but it was lovely to see all of the green bursting through—spring has finally arrived!

Koningsdag

I was sitting and doing some research for my papers, when suddenly an item from Nat Geo Travel popped up on facebook.  It was about mad world festivals, one of which just happened  to be in Amsterdam, and just happened to be happening three days later.  I immediately jumped on messenger and asked who else was keen for a break, and I’m pretty sure I sold it to Ciara with “Dutch men are tall and have good bone structure”.  And we were off!

We used blablacar ride sharing to get to Utrecht in the Netherlands, with a German hockey player who was an *extremely* efficient driver.  We then caught the train to Amsterdam in an absolutely packed carriage, full of people wearing bright orange.  The festival was Koningsdag—King’s Day—and seemingly the entire population of the Netherlands turned up in Amsterdam wearing orange to celebrate.  It was quite bizarre, actually—you don’t really think of Dutch people as wearing bright colours and getting wasted in the streets.  Stereotypes?  You betcha.

We spent the day walking around the city, having the occasional drink, and going on an epic quest to find a Japanese restaurant which served ramen.  It was Ciara’s first time in Amsterdam—and after all, why not travel more than 400km to spend 6 hours in a city?  We were really lucky in that it was an absolutely beautiful day, though we were altogether wrecked by the end of it.  We made some unintentional friends on the street and in bathroom lines (one guy kindly leaving a trail of saliva on the back of my hand—cheers, mate), and stopped to taste things everywhere.  The streets were full of people and food stalls, and so we basically had to try all of them.  There is a surprising amount of delicious Vietnamese food in Amsterdam.  Another highlight (?) was a bloody mary stall, where the guy making the drinks was very clearly wasted.  To the point where he forgot to put vodka in, which is kind of the point.  Eugh so we went back and asked him to add it, and actually the drink was so gross that we didn’t make it through even half of the cup before having to throw it out.  That’s right, it was bad enough that even students wouldn’t finish it.  Yuck!

I hadn’t booked my trip back from A’dam, as I was leaving my options open—to stay the night, or head back that evening?  In the end though, 6 hours of walking, sunshine and drinks had pretty much ruined me, so we tootled off to the train station and hopped it back home to Brussels.  Such a good break from study!

Hallerbos Forest

There’s a lovely Canadian girl on my course, Katie, who’d mentioned some kind of ‘purple forest’ in passing.  I’m always down for forests, so asked about it.  As it turns out, this forest is blanketed with bluebells which bloom for one week each year—and that week turned out to be last week.  As such we got up at a ridiculous hour (for students, anyway) and caught the train out there.  We then spent a couple of hours meandering through the purple woods, not making much progress given that we stopped every three seconds to take photos.  It was absolutely stunning, and definitely something to check out if you’re ever near Brussels toward the end of April.

In writing-related news, you may not have seen that my friend Sorin and I are currently putting together an anthology in memory of Terry Pratchett, with all funds raised going to Alzheimer’s Research UK.  If you’re interested (or know someone who would be), submission are still open—details are at www.explaura.net/call-for-submissions/.  And in other other news, I’ve written another review for the Piece of Shit Book Club, and it will be going live this Sunday.  This time, the book was about the spiritual repercussions of twerking, and I talk about my ass a lot.

I’ve got another big ten days ahead, as I’ve got an exam, work to catch up on, and a PhD to copy-edit.  But then I go to Moscow.  Oh yeah.  Russia, get ready for me!