Sunday, September 6, 2009

exploring the randstad

in retrospect, i probably should have gone to bed a bit earlier last night. but there was a party in Diemen, and i knew that this was going to be a rare event because as soon as people learn how far Diemen is from the amsterdam city centre, they will never attend a diemen party again. so i attended, was persuaded by some wily Romanians to drink slightly more than i meant to, mourned with the Americans about our unfulfilled cravings for Mexican food, and watched amused/bewildered as a Scandinavian boy took off all his clothes in the kitchen (is this a Finnish custom i am not aware of? or is it just a boy thing?).

this means that i was not quite as a fresh and bubbly as i meant to be when i took the train through Holland to meet up with Gavin and his geo-physicist friends in Rotterdam. nevertheless, Rotterdam needed to be explored, hangover or no hangover, so i put on a brave front - and napped at every park bench we happened to stop at.

two important facts need to be known about Rotterdam. first of all, it's one of the world's largest ports - lots of imports and exports going on those boats there, and it historically helped build the Netherlands to be the wealthy nation that it became. so that explains the awful "this puts the rot in rotterdam" smell when you walk by the industrial harbours. it's the smell of capitalism. and Protestant sweat.

secondly, while most european cities have a beautiful old city section, the Nazis bombed the crap out of Rotterdam during WWII, so most of the beautiful old buildings are gone. Rotterdam seems to have decided to embrace the future instead of mourning its lost (bombed) history, so instead of the quaint brick house buildings that dot Amsterdam's cityline, Rotterdam is full of crazy fancy daunting avant garde architecture. it's just so newfangle-dangled that a n00b like me who knows nothing about architecture cannot even begin to describe the fancy buildings. so i won't.

some of the highlights of the trip for me included taking a water taxi. given the fact that we were not actually at sea, i have no idea why the waters were so choppy. is it even possible to get seasick in a canal? do the dutch employ a wave machine in their waters like the Kanata Wave Pool does?

we walked by Euromast, supposedly the Netherland's tallest tower for many years...but a Canadian would scoff. At 600 feet, it's no CN tower. on the other hand, nobody rappels down the outside of the CN tower, and we certainly saw three guys just sliding down a rope down the Euromast. i really hope this was part of a paid tourist activity and not some strange not-so-covert ninja operation we witnessed, because there are much simpler ways of descending the tower (ie, the elevator).

afterwards, i decided to follow the geophysicists back to their home in Delft, which was quite the contrast to Rotterdam. if Rotterdam's buildings are THE CUTTING EDGE FUTURE, Delft is a handful of sweet old-fashioned nostalgic quaintness, exactly the sort of thing that makes me want to pick up my Canadian roots and move to Europe. gavin and i took a stroll through the old part of town, and he pointed out to me the Markt and the old church and the "new" church (built only in the 1500s...). Delft is the home of the famous blue and white Delftware tiles, but i refuse on principle to get excited about pottery. it was pretty quiet and peaceful, i guess because it was a Sunday afternoon, but i'm pretty sure this is where Vermeer lived and his paintings were pretty good at looking serene as well, so maybe chillaxing is just a Delft thing. or maybe it's because pot is legalized in the Netherlands.

i had the opportunity to enter my first Dutch McDonalds this afternoon, where i ordered a Bitterballer, without knowing in the slightest what it was. i still have no idea, even after eating the whole thing. it appears to be a deep-fried something. let's just say i know what a Bitte is in French, and i hope that's not related at all. at any rate, it didn't taste particularly bad - sometimes a deep-fried mystery will cure a hangover far better than you'd expect.