Monday, May 01, 2006

All roads lead to Utrecht*

(A rather appropriate piece of graffiti under a bridge in Weesp)

I do believe it is possible to fall in love with a place. To be ready within hours of your arrival to be willing to give up a stable relationship; give up the ability to communicate, give up any semblance of a career because you have suddenly found a place which feeds some hidden part of you that had been ignored for so long you forgot it existed.

Holland is beautiful, as I’m sure you’ve heard. Water seems to be the life force of this country, with canals coursing through it at each turn. We were staying in the town of Weesp, a small historical city of around 18,000 inhabitants – bridges, fortresses, windmills and WWII bunkers all lend to the charming atmosphere of this town a mere 10 minute train ride from the center of Amsterdam.

After a few hours of walking around in Weesp – I asked Stephane if he could possibly get a job in Amsterdam after his contract is up in Nottingham. After only a day there we were both looking at housing prices. I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise your children – water babies that are born on bikes.

We spent one day in Amsterdam, touristy boat ride through the canals – where I found out the interesting facts that one car on average per week falls into the canals despite the expensive addition of low metal railings installed in the 1960’s in hopes to cure this very problem and that all houses in Amsterdam have the exterior hooks at the top to raise furniture in and out of the windows as the staircases are too narrow.
We walked and walked and walked. I never tired of the site of dozens of bikes lined up against walls or the gentle curve of a house-lined canal. In order to feel that we were at least getting some culture in the city that has the most museums in the world, we made a quick stop into the Sex Museum – which had surprisingly clean bathrooms and fabulously tacky mannequin displays.

Amsterdam’s red light district reminds me of 7-11. Those seedy places where all morals are left at the door and people come to act like the lowest common denominator of themselves. A place where the store clerks give you a devilish grin because he knows exactly why you all of the sudden decided you needed a sweaty foot long hot dog, a big gulp and while we’re at one of those magazines in the back covered in a brown paper bag thankyouverymuch. Except in Amsterdam the hot dogs are replaced by sweaty dildos, the magazine is replaced with videos of women raping dogs - the big gulp stays the same – but it’ll cost you extra here.

In the defence of the Dutch, you’d be hard pressed to actually find one in this area. It’s a sordid tourist trap with dark men doing drug deals on street corners. As it was Sunday – not all of the prostitutes were working, so many of the windows were empty. Most of the girls I did see were tall and thin and plastic pretty, some were large black women with luxurious rolls of flesh spilling out of their lingerie, some were men dressed as women, all wore too much make-up and all of them had cold dead eyes.

Outside of this area Amsterdam is lovely and I am anxious to return and give this city more of time.
My work host took me on scenic drives between Tilburg and Weesp, where we rode on a narrow and winding dike that had a wide and clear river to one side and expansive farms with gorgeous homes and gardens which were dotted with cows, sheep and their young. Some of the farms had small ponds with ducks and lily pads. My host explained that this is because at one point the dyke broke causing the other side to flood and the pond to appear over night.

I did my best to pick up as much Dutch as possible. Not that it was necessary as most everyone can speak a little English, but I can now understand the majority of a menu, and can say Thank you, Good morning, Goodbye, Cheese, Chicken and Grandpa.

Equipped with large chunks of Gouda, a bag of Weespermoppen, a sweet cake that is a specialty of Weesp I made my way back to England. I had clear skies as I flew over the coast of Holland, which is all sand beaches. I think I have become so enamoured with Holland because it has been way too long since I have visited a new country and the joy of discovering a new language, culture and countryside over took me. Perhaps the grass is always greener. But then I started flying over the East Midlands and realised that the grass at home is pretty damn green too.

* It was explained to me that if anyone is ever lost in Holland, you simply tell them to find Utrecht. Because in Holland - all roads lead to Utrecht.


stacey said...

Fabulous-- who doesn't like a new culture? Actually, I'm sure many don't-- but I do! And FYI your pics (at least for me) aren't loading up. If you click on them they do lead to the Flckr page...

Lauren said...

The pictures should be good now.

Danielle said...

I love the way you painted a portrait with your stories and pictures. Simply beautiful... I wish I could go!

Donny B said...

Wow. Great pics, good stories. That's kind of funny/strange about all the cars falling into water. I know there's a lot of it but can't drive into it?

Trish said...

I love reading about your travels, Lauren. Makes me want to plan my own....