I’m Still Alive (Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Staying Alive, Staying Alive)

Sincerest apologies for the lack of highly amusing blog posts during the past few months (I hope you have survived without the bi-weekly update, and if you haven’t… my thoughts go out to your family and friends). The thing is… I’ve only gone and bloody emigrated! Yep, I just couldn’t deal with Boris any more. Or Brexit. Or Bangers & Mash. (Linda McCartney, obviously.) (OK so I can’t remember the last time I ate bangers and mash, and would never buy a fake sausage, but, you know, it might be the newest reincarnation of the Johnson and Davis post-cabinet two-piece boyband (both have exceedingly mash-like hair, but I think David would have to take the sausage half due to Boris’ slightly yellow tinge up above).) Am I rambling?

Back to me. (Yay.) I returned home to Blighty in November last year, after my six-month bonanza getting lost in much of wonderful Europe. (The accounts of which, which stopped rather abruptly mid-Porto com Darling Daddy, will recommence – you’ll be thrilled to hear – and will take you step-by-step (bite-by-bite) through the last stages of my trip.) The grand homecoming was great. Aside from the lovely welcome from Mummy Moo Moo at St. Pancras’ exquisite Champagne Bar (the longest in Europe, did you know), I thoroughly enjoyed the proceeding home comforts: the use of non-microfibre towels after showers within which I did not, for hygiene reasons, need to wear flip flops; the comforting feel of the fridge door handle which was never covered in an unidentified suspect stickiness; the ability to dress and undress in peace, and in a space larger than the average toilet cubicle. Oh it was bliss. And then there was Christmas. (I love Christmas.) And then there was the first Valentine’s Day I spent with my new, exotic, European, name-impossible-to-pronounce boyfriend (he came to England and we indulged in some PROPER (greasy) fish and chips). And then there was my birthday (more presents – yay!). And then I thought, “humpf”. “Now that I’m a fully-fledged nomad,” (thought text), “I may as well move to another land, where I cannot speak the language and don’t even own the right currency.” So I did!

For the past couple of months I have been settling in to life in the Netherlands, and settling in to life with an unpronounceably-named roomie. (Both have been testing in their own ways, but I can now officially say that I own a bike (and can ride it with semi-confidence) and can correctly pronounce my boyfriend’s name (at least that’s what he tells me, with semi-confidence). So all in all things are going rather swimmingly!

The language is by far the most difficult obstacle, especially given that I am British and, you know, Brits don’t really do second languages. But I am giving it my best shot. I Het is heel moeilijk. I’m starting to realise that it’s all about the facial expressions pulled while speaking to achieve the correct sounds. It’s the exaggeration of the lips which helps our ‘potato-stuffed’ mouths pronounce these moeilijk words (apparently speaking with an English accent is like speaking with a potato in your throat), and the occasional widening of the eyes for words like watermelooooooon. I am slowly learning to loosen my face muscles in a bid to try to recreate these frankly ridiculous sounds, and in the meantime, while I’m still in the beginner stage, at least people will be captivated by the faces I am pulling even if they can’t understand a word I am saying. (Maybe that’s why everyone finds me so witty?)

Anyway, best get back to the mirror and practice loosening my lips… this language isn’t going to learn itself. But I will leave you with a new Dutch word to add to your one-word repertoire (moeilijk = difficult (if you hadn’t already twigged)). Alsjeblieft = please / you’re welcome, with the ‘j’ pronounced as a ‘y’. (And if you want to say it in a Chinese accent, just for fun, pronounce it ‘asha-bleed’ – I was for a good number of weeks.)

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Dutch Football’s Lucky Charm

This time last year in the Dutch Eredivisie calendar (‘the highest echelon of professional football in the Netherlands’*) I was in Rotterdam, on day six of a six month sortie around much of Europe’s captivating lands. When I woke up that morning, one lifetime of a year ago, I was blissfully unaware of the chaos that was about to descend on the Netherlands’ second largest city. I was also blissfully unaware that I was to have a pivotal part in the success that would cause the ferocious football-mania. I know this now because yesterday I caused the exact same dogged delirium in the country’s fifth largest city, Eindhoven.

Pure coincidence? I think not. Granted, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord Rotterdam may be two of the ‘Big Three’ of Dutch football, but, really, who actually takes notice of these league tables anyway? I’m confident that it was my presence, rather than any so-called tactical tenacity or innate voetbal talent, that secured both teams their glorifying wins. Don’t you agree?

Firstly, last year, Feyenoord had gone eighteen years without winning the Dutch league. So of course they were not the favourites to beat Amsterdam’s Ajax. They needed a helping hand. And I gave them two! Along with my new international mates from the hostel, I headed to a chock-a-block pub on the corner of the main street and joined the local crowds in fist pumping, beer swigging and general patriotic merriment (which did include, to my utter embarrassment, slurring some Dutch-sounding noises to the tune of the home team’s anthem).

This time round I went, along with my new international boyfriend, to the chock-a-block ‘bar street’ (which he has been sure to shield me from thus far, but wanted to take me to for the ‘full experience’ of the footy final) to join the local crowds in fist pumping, beer swigging and general patriotic merriment (which did include, to his utter elation, slurring some Dutch-sounding noises to the tune of the home team’s anthem). Unable to actually enter a bar premises due to sheer volume of people (clearly Eindhoven fans are more committed than those from the ‘Dam), we took up a spot on the street, where we were to be surrounded by the tallest and drunkest of Dutch hooligans with a penchant for standing on my feet, dripping beer on my head, and shoving me here, there and every which way possible. I’m not sure if this was the ‘full experience’ anticipated by my personal city guide, but it sure was an experience I’ll remember for a long time to come.

Both times the ratio of beer being flung out of plastic cups, cans and bottles to that which remained within its vestibule was rather dampening. The first goal in Feyenoord’s winning match was scored in under five minutes; for PSV Eindhoven it was at the twenty-third minute. I did appreciate the extra twenty minutes of dry hair and clothes in this year’s final, before the celebratory Bavaria rainstorm. This time I was slightly more mentally prepared for the hoppy onslaught, and even managed to blag said boyfriend’s jacket to save mine from the ever-lasting sticky coating (savvy, hey). But no matter one’s level of preparedness, when one is suddenly thrust upon with gallons of lager, one automatically experiences a shock to the system. But once this initial shock has subsided a little, one must immediately start jumping, fist pumping and celebrating with the rest of the crowd.

The festivities post-match in both cities were (and still are here in Eindhoven) extremely over the top. Shops shut, bars stay open, and people actually take the following day off work. Seriously – most of the city’s inhabitants had already booked it off in preparation for celebration or commiseration. And celebration it was, both times, to be. As the evening unfolds the bars get EVEN BUSIER. The floors get even sticker. The songs get even more Dutch (😱). As you can imagine, it is all a rather inebriated spectacle. One of the few times I can confidently feel less embarrassed about my own nation’s drinking problems, I was quickly brought back into line by one of the group who responded to my (polite) refusal of yet another glass of beer with: “are you even British?”. Seemingly no matter the positive effect I have on their football, I am not any closer to improving the Dutch opinion of Brits as brash, uncultured, binge-drinking messes (I must do better in the future).

With the music still blaring (twenty-four hours post-victory) and the final festivities still to come, I can only bask in my own lucky charmedness. (I certainly can’t face basking in any more beer.) For next year’s tournament there’s still all to play for… if any Dutch team would like to hire me for my fortune services I come at a very competitive rate and can make up convincing sounds for the words to any Dutch anthem after just one-and-a-half beers. Let the bidding war commence.

*Source: the highly reputable and trustworthy Wikipedia.

From Frikandel to Frankfurter

My last stop in the land of the Dutch was Utrecht. A university city, it was full of students and much less touristic than Amsterdam. However this meant that the hostel bar was full of local students working on their laptops which is not the ideal environment to meet fellow solo travellers. I checked in to my room and was surprised and disappointed to be the first to have arrived. On the upside, though, this enabled me to swap my allocated top bunk to a roomy bottom bunk (every cloud) and make my bed in peace. After a tasty tuna nicoise in the bar (see previous post) I headed back to my room to see if anyone had arrived. I was in luck! As the flush went on the toilet I wondered what delightful new travelling buddy I was about to meet. Out walked Matt from South Africa*, an early twenties, eagerly friendly, uber talkative type. I introduced myself and shook his hand (straight away) and then swiftly regretted my eagerness (hygiene wise…).

We went for a wander in the city and I tried my first Belgian waffle (lol – even my geographical knowledge sees through that). Smothered in Nutella, it was a calorie-laden matrix of unadulterated indulgence. Yum. Post-sugar high I soon came to realise that Matt from South Africa was a philosophical, “spiritual” (his words) individual who required such a depth of meaning to each and every sentence to be conversed that, frankly, to me, was a little tiresome. My talk about the latest shenanigans in towie really wasn’t going to cut it. So I humoured him. After a few hours (long hours) we were back at the hostel, and eager (desperate) I was to see if any newbies had landed in room 501. No luck.

We headed down to the bar to claim our 50% off your first drink voucher, and I couldn’t be happier to see a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It wasn’t the best but…it contained alcohol. After dinner we went back to the room – high hopes again, again to no avail. We had discussed going to a wine bar with live jazz but, at this point, a date with Netflix, my headphones and the second series of Fargo seemed much more appealing. As I settled down on my bunk, trading vino in Utrecht for violence in Minnesota, I did not hear the door to room 501 open. My eyes flickered from the screen and fell upon a slightly portly, big-bearded, friendly looking sixty-something man, followed by his wheely suitcase, come trundling into the dorm. Hallelujah! I mean, he wasn’t a perfectly sculpted Greek Adonis with a rose between his teeth by any stretch of the imagination (no matter how many Sauvy Bs you had consumed) but he was ANOTHER PERSON TO SAVE ME FROM THE SOUTH AFRICAN! He turned out to be Ludo, a Belgian professor living in Bruges who was in Utrecht for a conference, and reminded me of a cross between Santa and the curly-haired male doctor from Holby City (I don’t even watch it so don’t know where that came from) who I have just Googled – Elliot Hope. Ahh. Now I could sleep easy.

The following day I had another mooch around the city, going to the cathedral (average) and the Miffy Museum (when the ticket lady warned me it was for children she really wasn’t lying). Touristy to-do list ticked off, delicious traditional frites and EXQUISITE mayonnaise (in nifty cardboard cone with balcony for sauce – genius) were for dinner. Despite the fact that I’m ‘not a huge chips fan’ these organic hand-cut fries from Frietwinkel (😉) were, in my opinion, the highlight of my stay.

Next morning I was off to Cologne – my first time in Germany. As I entered the city I immediately sensed a difference in feel. People seemed less friendly, the city somehow more gritty, and as I walked to my hostel I clutched my phone just a little bit tighter. The city itself was interesting once explored; the nicer, quirkier and more authentic side of town was the opposite end to my hostel, which was situated in the midst of the more touristic, run-of-the-mill neighbourhood.

I had a chilled few days in the Colognial sun, but would say that my experience in the fourth largest German city was not much to write home about (oh the irony)… I am now en route to Leipzig, ‘The New Berlin’, which I have high hopes for. Due to arrive in an hour or so, so, for now, Auf Wiedersehen, pet.< i>*Name and identity has not been changed in any way – praying he doesn’t stumble across this blog.< a href=”https://insearchofhappydotcodotuk.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/img_4317.jpg”&gt;<<<<<<<

Finding Netherland 

Prelude
I just want to point out that I had written one third to one half of this blog post already, and then deleted it by mistake. Gah. Therefore I would urge you to be even more appreciative than normal of the below, as I am so bloody frustrated that I have to write it out again. Thanks v much.

***

I had high hopes for The Netherlands after a disappointing, lack lustre, boring, [insert derogatory adjective of your choice] twenty hours or so in Antwerp. (Twenty hours that I will never get back.) To my delight I arrived at my hostel in Rotterdam – King Kong – to find it was, like, totally the coolest place ever. The walls were decorated with signs made of lights and teddy bear apes and the staff were of the Urban Outfitters / The Breakfast Club variety: I-can-pull-off-even-the-most-ridiculous-of-outfits-because-of-my-vibe. Their over-enlarged personal sense of coolness didn’t fool me, however, but, you know, I just went with it.

Too early to check in and with Belgian beer withdrawal symptoms intensifying by the second (it had been over an hour since crossing the border), I took a seat in the hostel’s quirky and mismatched cushion adorned bar (continuing the UO theme nicely) and ordered my new favourite tipple. Ahh. Now? Lunch. After a quick perusal of the menu I HAD to go for the falafel and houmous on toast (totally up my street). It was everything I thought it would be and more, and will be one I recreate back in the UK (you can thank me later).

In my post-houmous happy place I checked in to my room to find ropes and monkey bars hanging from the ceiling; new elements to the playground of bunk bed ladders I am becoming ever more accustomed to. (I only now – well, the first time I wrote this post in actual fact – have realised the reason behind these objects (if you’re as slow as me, clue: hostel name). I can’t believe I didn’t catch on sooner. Haha.) Also in my room I met the super cool (and super tall) Trine from Norway. Four years younger than me and about four feet taller, I spent the following two days trotting along about a yard behind her, out of breath trying to keep up with the effortless strides,  wondering what an hilariously ridiculous duo we must look. (Now I have an understanding of how my mum must feel when walking with me when I’m in a hurry…sorry Moo.) Despite the disparity in leg length we were mature enough to put our differences to one side (isn’t that what travelling’s all about?) and set out to plan our first night in Rotterdam. Having left the UK a good five days before the EuroVision song contest final, I thought (naively) that I would escape the lengthy and painful experience that is watching it on the TV. Wrong. Turns out Trine is a super fan… So I spent my first night in The Netherlands in a gay bar watching the EuroVision song contest surrounded by Trine’s fellow Dutch super fans. It was actually quite a good laugh.

The following day in Rotterdam marked the final of a national football tournament in which the local team – Feyenoord – were playing for gold, a feat that they had not achieved for 17 years. We watched the game in a little Dutch pub that was full to the brim of die-hard football fans (plus the little and large blonde duo), and managed to get a spot right by one of the screens. Feyenoord scored their first of three goals within the first minute, causing the entire pub to go absolutely mental and what felt like an entire pint of beer to be poured straight over my head… They went on to win 3-1 and it was fun to experience such sporting patriotism in another country (albeit a little bit sticky).

After a thorough hair wash the following morning I headed to the second ‘Dam (this time of Amster). Again, this city did not disappoint! It was chilled, interesting and beautiful (if you ignore the omnipresent scent of weed) and is the city I have felt safest in thus far. (I think everyone is too high to care about pick-pocketing or being leery.) My time spent in the capital was an equal mix of culture and…cocks. The high brow Van Gough Museum was balanced with the raise of an eyebrow Sex Museum, and the picturesque canalside walks were cheapened by attending my first (and last) peep show. Without getting too graphic, picture an out-of-shape bold man dunking his undercooked supermarket own brand frikandel into an out-of-date and overcooked steak pie that is lacking some gravy… Given I was in the capital of sex it was truly the least sexy thing ever. If you weren’t turned off already a stroll around the red light distict past window upon window of desperate looking ladies really does the trick. But, it was an appropriate way to end my last night in the city!

I have now touched down in Utrecht – unknown to me before being recommended by fellow travellers – for my last couple of nights in Holland before moving east to Germany. The hostel seems cool so far, and I can recommend the tuna nicoise (although it is nothing on the houmous and falafel on toast).