Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hamsters and Hagelslag

(just to clarify, there were no hamsters, they are for rhetorical effect only)

Better late than never, so a mere month since my visit to Amsterdam, I finally find a moment to write about it. I flew out with Easyjet (terrible, I know, but the government should reinstate student grants if they want us to travel by train) and my first experience of the Netherlands this time round was what felt like a 5km walk through Schipol airport. However, everything in the Netherlands works the way it ought to (with the exception of the ticket machines that, like in France, accept coins or cards but no notes. How silly), and so I found that it was very simple to buy a ticket, walk to the platform, board the train, and be moving in 30 seconds, in the right direction. Perfect. I was amused to discover that what appeared to be the only other passenger in my carriage decided to make a remark to me in Dutch (it was all Dutch to me…) but it didn't seem to disturb him that I just smiled back and said nothing! Ten minutes later I miraculously succeeded in meeting Iain at centraal station, at which point all was no longer Dutch. Phew!
A short walk via China Town brought us to the grand abode that is the Mission House. Therein dwell many (I think there are 8 but they always seem to be more) lovely volunteers who spend their days helping the disadvantaged of Hamsterland, as I like to call it. When I arrived they were drinking port and playing Halli-Galli while listening to the "top 2000" on the radio…it turned out that this was a pretty typical picture of what life in the Mission House is like! Over the days that I lived there I was fully accepted into their little community and enjoyed the amusement of shifting the table footie set, cooking for half an army, eating many oliebolle, and seeing a delivery of a good half ton of bread to their kitchen, not to mention the New Year's Celebrations!
December 31st took us to Utrecht, where we met up with Elise, a fellow EEA3-steward of mine, and then went to find the Miffy museum only to remember that it was Monday, and to get scared off by some rather dramatic fireworks that were emanating from the square next door. However, the little walk was not in vain, beacuse we found a street called A B C…
…I still haven't found XYZ street though…

Back in Amsterdam, we threw ourselves into preparations for the big new year's eve party, which proved an immense load of fun, populated by dutch, french, british, germans, hungarians…you see, everyone who was anyone was at the Mission House Party (well, okay, not quite *everyone*). At about 11 we made a move towards the Dam Square, where we joined 25000 people. It was a bit of a squash, to say the least. However, armed with elbows and champagne bottles we managed to squeeze ourselves a spot from which to view the explosion of festivities at midnight, as well as all the various random fireworks going off all over the place (this is the only night the Dutch are allowed fireworks, and they are allowed, apparently, to do what they like with them). Afterwards the party continued for a good while, and with much fun had by all, despite our somewhat dubious attempts to relieve Zoe's thumb from huge amounts of pain (she'd shut it in a door…).
Sleep wasn't a big feature of that night, but nevertheless, very early (yes, it was early) the next morning I awoke to Iain's jolly announcement that in 15 minutes we were leaving to go to the sea. "Yes, yes…"I reply, then "Eh? 15 minutes?!" Sure enough we went to the sea, the trains weren't working quite as well so it took us an unpleasant 2 hours to reach Den Haag (which, I was reliably informed later by our dutch companions, means "By the Hedge". Silly name for a capital city!). Still, we made it to the beach just in time for Kim and Iain to take part in the Dutch people's ritual dip in the north sea event, and partake in some free pea soup. They joined 9,998 others. Mad mad people. Still, they certainly didn't have a hangover any more after that!
The afternoon was spent wandering around the Hague with Anna-Meta, Marjolein, Kim and Iain, where we decided to write to the Queen and ask if we could come and live in her palace for a while. There wasn't much to do, although we did (luckily) find a nice café that was open for lunch. Back in Amsterdam, Iain and I spent a day being tourists, and visiting the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and wandering around the lovely streets of Amsterdam. Lovely, if rather chilly for the picnic lunch!

A great trip! I even learnt the odd word of Dutch…