Fear and Loathing in Holland

… is what I’d call this blog post if it wasn’t for the complete lack of fear and loathing. In fact, Holland has immediately jumped up to the number one spot in my list of favourite European destinations. For the discerning Adelaidian, the sibling cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam are paradises on the Earth.

I recently boogied on over to Holland with my two Aussie mates to catch other friends who would also be in the capital city on a separate trip. What started as a rather opportunistic adventure eventually turned into one of my favourite outings so far. Sure, it’s freezing and unrelentingly damp and maybe a bit chaotic on the rail system, but damn… Good stuff. I’m still reeling from it, and probably will be for a few days yet!

Dag Een/Tag Eins/Day One

We bussed to the Netherlands early on Thursday morning to arrive at Amsterdam Centraal in seemingly Arctic conditions. The combination of generally cold weather and a few hours of complete immobility hit us all like bricks as soon as we got off the bus. It was the first time since I’d arrived in Europe I’d felt truly cold… which I realise is something I’ve said before, but it just keeps getting truer the colder cold you experience.

A little shocked and worried, we retreated to Starbucks for about an hour before getting up the courage to stride forward into the hazy dawn.

IMG_20151015_092424079_HDRAmsterdam is a gorgeous and truly characterful city, and appears all the more gorgeous when it is largely empty of souls. Wandering around the canals, without a plan or worry as the water and people sloshed by lazily was just the ticket.

Without anything to really do, no tourist traps that really appealed to us, we spent this first day lazily bouncing from shop to cafe to bar to restaurant and to coffee shop. One in particular, Paradox, really tickled our fancy. Full of oldies and veterans going about their day and indulging in their vices in such an innocent and harmless way was such a cool vibe to experience. After walking through the slightly more outward areas of the city we began to feel at home, like locals. I tell you what, with the atmosphere in that area the way it was, I’m highly considering making my retirement goal a small artsy apartment in Amsterdam.

A window cat called Tum Tum
A window cat called Tum Tum

The whole city, particularly these quieter, calmer areas, has this strange mouldy, medieval and adventurous air, as if its the home to mad genius alchemists and kindly modern witches. Knowing the things that are legal in the Netherlands, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some of these colourful characters around. Even if you’re not a colourful character yourself you have to love the Dutch self-assured, artistic, relaxed and confident way of life.

Of course, one of the best things about Amsterdam is their liberal attitude towards cats. I’ve never been so thrilled to see a cat since my arriving in relatively catless Germany. Here they sit at every window and in corner stores, ready for food and a pat. I find it funny how well cats actually suit Amsterdam. It’s not just Adelaidian heaven, but kitty heaven aswell!

Dag Twee/Tag Zwei/Day Two

“Take and Leave” shop at our Rotterdam Hostel

Our accommodation, picked out because of a complete lack of cheap options in Amsterdam, turned out to be a total blessing. Hostel Ani & Haakien in Rotterdam, an hours ride via Blablacar, is a hipster’s heaven. Of course, I hate using that word, but when you work so hard to cultivate such an arty bohemian air you kind of deserve it. This hostel was cheap, cosy, offered cats to pat, free brekky and a generally cool vibe. Here we also found out about two exhibitions in the city that I just had to get to.

Keith Haring: The Political Line at Kunsthal Rotterdam was an inspiring tribute to the New Yorkian legend and an opportunity to see some of my favourite contemporary works up close. You can really feel the anger and the celebration in Haring’s drawings when you’re in the room with them. We checked out a number of other nifty exhibits in the Kunsthal, like a collection of Soviet art and design and a few installations by Mathias Kessler, before moving onto our other destination.

The Political Line
The Political Line

In the same block as the Kunsthal is Museum Boijmans which, at the time of our visit, just happened to be featuring works from my favourite classical era and by two of my favourite artists, Bosch and Bruegel. Again, just being in the presence of so many amazing works, to peer in to the madness and see all the miniscule details among the cracked paint, was a magical experience. Bosch’s triptych was particular impressive and definitely the heart of the exhibit. I just wish I’d had more time to really soak it in!

A view from inside Markthall
A view from inside Markthall

Our visit to Markthall also blew us away, for other reasons. This gigantic and modern building houses hundreds of little stalls all serving amazing food from across the world. You can see just from the photos, hopefully, how impressive it is. It’s a bit different to the old Adelaide Central Market, I tell you what.

After that came our visit to “The Dr”. We were definitely cured of all our ailments here and made some new drinking buddies, but as this clinic was a secret deal, I shan’t go to much more into it. That’s for the interested reader to find out for themselves!

Dag Drie/Tag Drei/Day Three

Our return to Amsterdam in the middle of the day, Saturday, proved to be a bit more chaotic than our lazy Thursday arrival. The streets were packed with people, making it hard to locate our exchange friends until about five in the afternoon. Instead, we did the same as Thursday, bummed around, soaking up the atmospheres and the distinctly herbal scents.

We did eventually run into some incredible parade. What I think to be part of a weekend festival, this cavalcade of madness roared by us quite unexpectedly. There were hundreds of dancing hippies, punks and revellers grooving along to the unbelievably loud and deliciously bassy techno blaring from a number of trucks also in the parade. To see such anarchy, such zest for life and music and thrills, made me realise in that brief moment that there is more to life. You don’t have to fit into these stifling, predefined boundaries. If you want, if you’re prepared to give up safety and security, you can take to the streets and party with the rowdiest of us all. It is freedom in a distinclty post-modern European fashion. Rock on, you crazy animals. God speed to you.

Dinner Cat, Dinner Cat, where did you go?
Dinner Cat, Dinner Cat, where did you go?

The rest of the night was spent in good company (we had dinner with a cat) and chill vibes. And although it was a bit annoying to have to find a way back to Rotterdam just to sleep, I’m glad we had a little calm oasis in the centre of a partying storm.

Dag Vier/Tag Vier/Day Four

Our final destination on the trip was a mystery from the start. With no real plan for returning to Germany and three guys with wildly different opinions to satisfy, things got a little messy and irritating on this morning. Never-the-less, we pulled through and decided on heading to the smaller city of Maastricht in the Netherland’s south.

Maastricht loves it's creepy horse statues... and so do I.
Maastricht loves it’s creepy horse statues… and so do I.

Maastricht is a beautifully university town in a similar fashion to Heidelberg, if it was mixed with a spoonful of grey English suburbia. Absolutely covered in churches and cobblestone driveways, Maastricht was the perfect get away after a rather wild weekend. Though it was quiet and maybe even a little sad on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it was nice to just wander it’s streets aimlessly.

However, the whole deal with transport made me realise how much I prefer travelling alone. In a group like the one I travelled in its all too easy to become a third wheel, especially when the other two wheels can’t decide on anything. I ended up in the awkward position of having to train home alone for quite a hefty lot of Euros. Uuugh, but at least I’m on my way.

Dag Vijf/Tag Funf/Day Five

So as I finish this post it will be rolling over to the next day.  As I sit on this train, listening to comforting and familiar German again, I’m reflecting on my time in the Netherlands.

The canals of Amsterdam
The canals of Amsterdam

Firstly, I cannot believe how much Amsterdam and Rotterdam ticked off the boxes for me. Amsterdam offered the history, the beauty, the bizarre and the party, while Rotterdam offered modernity, hipsterdom and art, as well as some quirks of its own to match the capital.

Secondly, I have to consider the pros and cons of travelling as a group. Sure, there’s safety in numbers which is definitely important in Amsterdam or when taking unconventional travel like a Blablacar, but it comes at the price of true freedom of movement. Everyone gets a taste of things, but everyone also misses out on somethings because the others want to do the opposite. The cat and mouse game if compromise is a bit dangerous at times, especially when the players are old friends who don’t want to upset one another.

If you find yourself in that sort of confused, irritated state while travelling, just be honest, encourage swift decision making and be prepared to break away from the group if you truly can’t catch a break. Be flexible. Be water.

Mathias Kessler at Kunsthal Rotterdam

Of course, there’s so much more to say about this amazing adventure, so many more interesting bars and foods to talk about in particular, but if I drone on too much longer than I already have this will be much more of a short story than a travel blog post!

So tschüss for now, leute! And a sorrowful “see you later” to my lovely Holland!



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