Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I was set to have an early night, I really was. After roughly a 13 hour flight (not including the layover) and not so much sleep and another case of cankles (why does this always happen to me on long flights...) I thought it inevitable I would have an early night. But then I met these friendly Texans who insisted on buying me Jagerbombs and beers all night and of course who can refuse a friendly Texan (they probably have a gun...) so I had a massive night discovering Amsterdam. Yes, I went to a "coffee shop". No I didn't have any coffee. Yes, I walked through the red light district. No, I did not particularly enjoy seeing beautiful, young girls standing in red-lit windows with nothing but underwear on. There was something a little unsettling about girls being put on display in shop windows like merchandise. Not cool.
So after my big night out, I was wrecked for the next two. So I hired a bike and did my own little tour of Amsterdam's cobblestone streets, canals and museums. All the buildings are so old and quaint, tall skinny brick things poised on the edge of canals crossed by arched bridges, it's everything I imagined a European city to be. I have had more art education since I arrived in Holland than in all my years at school and university. I have seen paintings from the best that Holland has to offer, from Vermeer (yes, I saw the Girl with the Pearl Earring and she was more beautiful than Scarlett Johanssen) to Van Gogh to Rembrandt. And I've already had a taste of the European male attention... just walking down the street, guys will call out to you on their scooters or just strike up random conversations with you outside shops, hoping it will lead to you spending the whole night at a bar with them... this doesn't happen to me in Australia. Well, apart from wolf whistling from construction workers... I think guys here are just a little too confident. It's an expensive place though, I think I spent more in a few days in Amsterdam than in two weeks in Malaysia.
So after exploring every nook and cranny of Amsterdam I hopped on a train down to Rotterdam, which is the modern sister of Amsterdam. The whole place was bombed flat in the war, so now they have gone crazy with all sorts of weird architecture. I stayed in these "cube Houses" which were basically big Rubiks Cube looking buildings poised diagonally in the air. I did a day trip to Den Haag (The Hague) which was also a nice quaint old city with the palace where Queen Beatrix lives and some more art museums. Everyone was outside drinking al fresco, as it was a beautiful Spring day. How very European.
Saturday, I catch a train to Den Bosch to see my relatives. One hour on the train is all it takes (to pretty much go from one end of Holland to the other, haha... well almost) and I am met at the station by my very pregnant cousin Eefje. Her baby is due in just over a week. I arrived to a warm welcome from my relatives Jan and Ine, with the assurance that I really will only be staying for a week or two, and had my first delicious home cooked meal in a while. So now I have been doing a round robin of dinners and outings with relatives and various other people in the neighbourhood. What a hard life! The countryside here is very picturesque and green, but it's not like Australia where you can drive for 2 hours and not see a town, there is a town every 2 minutes. The people here are so lovely, everyone knows everyone and they are so welcoming.
Yesterday Jan took me on a tour of Dinther, the place where my Oma lived and where my dad was born. The old farmhouse they lived in is still there, albeit a little changed (it's all renovated inside and the stable is now a car dealer). For those of you who don't know, a quick rundown on family history: my Opa and his wife lived in Dinther with seven children. During World War II, a bomb meant for the Germans exploded in the farmhouse and killed his wife and 3 of their children. My Opa then married my Oma and they lived there for another few years (during which time they had my dad) and then when he was 4, they migrated to Australia for a better life.
So we knocked on the door and the nice people who live there let us come inside and look around. The spookiest part was going under the house into the cellar... you can just imagine the family huddling under there while bombs exploded above ground. They then made a fatal decision to run to the bomb shelter in the backyward, which was when the bomb hit. The bomb shelter is filled in now, but it was surreal being there in the very spot. We then went to the church where my Oma got married and next door was a cemetery where the grave of my Opa's first wife and three kids were buried.
The Catholic church just made me sad. People used to put so much value in religion, as you can see from the massive amount of time and money they have put into their places of worship. I'm not saying the size of the church is a measure of your faith, but it was obviously a big part of their daily lives back in the day. You can't go anywhere here without hearing the church bells ring or where you don't have a view of the church steeple. It was the centre of every town. But every day in the paper here there is talk about the demise of the Catholic church. Not many people actually attend church here, especially not young people and a lot of the churches are closing down. I guess religion isn't so relevant to people any more. I don't find the Catholic church all that relevant either, but man they built some fantastic buildings and funded some amazing artwork. I almost feel like we're coming to the end of an era. I just hope that God doesn't get lost in the confusion.
I visited my first Dutch school on Monday, as I went to Jan's class (10-12 year olds) to talk about Australia. They bombarded me with questions for one hour, which was fun, especially ones like "Do you have a boyfriend?" and "Do people eat cactuses in Australia?" and "Do kangaroos really box?" Haha. Tomorrow I go to another school where they are learning about Australia and want me to talk about it. I'm like a touring circus act.
Today my cousins Ilse and Mieke took me on a tour of Den Bosch, an old 17th century town near here. We did a boat tour of the canals that go underneath the city, did a historical tour and I got to eat the famous Bosche Bolle that everyone keeps talking about. It was a delicious combination of chocolate, cream, custard and pastry. Lekker! Then I went to the windmill in Dinther and got some obligatory photos of a windmill in Holland. Come on, it's like getting a photo of a koala in Australia - it has to be done!
Groetjes! (YOU try pronouncing it - it's easy, [phlegm sound ]+[rolllling rrr sound] + oot + yez)