Throughout my time in Europe, above all the wonderful places, great food, and amazing experiences I've had have been the people I've met and the resulting relationships created across cultural boundaries. Following a memorable stay at the Ginger Monkey Hostel in Ždiar, Slovakia, where many such bonds were forged and which I have no problem shamelessly promoting, my partner in crime Griffin and I found time for one last weekend together in Europe, this time in Holland with a new friend: Anne Roorda, a tall, lanky, amiable nursing student living in Utrecht. When I flew from Spain to meet my best bud coming from Istanbul to stay with our new Dutch friend that we met in rural Slovakia, the world became very small indeed. What resulted was a great weekend full of exploring, great food, and a new home and friend I was extremely sad to leave yet again. Anne and his parents provided us with an awesome time in Holland, and in what has become a recurring theme for my time abroad, I was blown away by the kindness and hospitality shown to me by wonderful people.
The weekend was broken up into a tour of three cities, each representing a different view of Dutch culture. Naturally, after a hectic night getting in to Anne's apartment, we started off with a bang: Amsterdam. With a whipping wind, freezing temperatures, and intermittent hail, Griff and I elected not to rent bikes, instead exploring the city's famous canals on foot. Amsterdam is a wonderful collection of waterfront facades amidst numerous canals varying in width, and given the time of year as well as the weather was not very crowded.
The city pushes the boundary between worldly and touristy, as many cultures and cuisines are represented in the many shops and restaurants, with some being admittedly seedier and less authentic than others. Coffeeshop culture is certainly prevalent, especially in the bitter winter, and what has traditionally been a main tourist draw is alive and well. Our day was spent seeing the many canals, passing by the Anne Frank house, and at the Van Gogh museum, easily my favorite part of the day. A self-taught artist toying the line between genius and madness his entire life, Van Gogh's work has always tantalized me, and the extensive collection revealed the amount of experimentation and effort he put forth into developing his now distinctive style. The rough, pincellated brush strokes along with ever present smooth swirls of multicolored chaos were beautiful.
A great day on foot ended with a home cooked feast of warm veggie soup and stirfry at Anne's apartment, and all was well.
Anne joined us for day two after finishing up some schoolwork, and we toured Utrecht, a medium sized city of about 700,000 about 45 minutes south of Amsterdam by train. Utrecht is a gorgeous city winding around a few canals of its own, and lush greenery and old buildings lend a very collegiate feel.
After an hour of rain the clouds departed, leaving a great view of the tallest church tower in Holland and a fun time at the city market, where I ate the best Gouda of my life, along with raw herring with onions (great), salty licorice (interesting), a fresh stroopwaffel, two thin, hard wafers pasted together with piping hot caramel (wonderful), and some horse sausage (...). We spent the night in a town called Zwolle at Anne's parents' where I made my first attempt at a Spanish tortilla after a lesson from my host mom, although I used tomatoes and peppers in mine.
We streamed CU upsetting Kansas, and following some Dutch soccer highlights fell asleep after a long day.
The final installment of the Dutch experience was easily the best. After a breakfast of rye, peanut butter, and Gouda (what more does one need?), we set off on bikes around Zwolle. Holland is certainly a bike country, and the entire lifestyle is built around two wheels. There are bike lanes wider than roads, and the intricate system of byways enables the numerous riders to easily and painlessly commute everywhere. It really was a joy to see, and even better to be staying with the Roordas, a family of avid bikers.
We biked around the city and countryside of Zwolle on a overcast but great day, covering a good amount of ground and stopping in the city of 100,000 for an even smaller, more homey Dutch feel. There was even a sunset atop a bridge on bikes, a pretty perfect way to close out a great day.
Anne's parents cooked a simply superb Dutch meal with a twist, fried rice and stirfry with an Indonesian peanut satay sauce that harkened to a colonial presence in Southeast Asia.
After more muesli and football (soccer) for dessert, we made the sad trip back to Utrecht to start the week anew. It was terrible leaving the Roordas, but the experience was amazing, and I cannot thank them enough for their amazing openness and hospitality, and hope to be able I return the favor in Colorado very soon.
After a pair of sad goodbyes, first with Anne and then with Griff, I headed off to Cologne, Germany, where I spent the afternoon before my flight back to Spain. The cathedral was amazing, more simple and Germanic (obviously) in design than Spanish and Portuguese models but massive and beautiful nonetheless. The city's five Christmas markets have been named the best in Europe, and I had a great time seeing a plethora of different local holiday crafts and tasting an unhealthy amount of gingerbread, speculoos (spiced holiday cookies), and cakes, cheeses, honeys, mustards, breads, nuts, and chocolates of all kinds. Lunch was homemade bratwurst thrown on top of hot, fresh, peppery sauerkraut and boiled kale with potatoes, topped with spicy, grainy mustard...a combination that is really heavenly.
I literally ate so many gingerbread cookies I was sick to my stomach, but they were easily the spiciest and best I've ever had, and it really is hard to turn down smiling, gorgeous German girls offering huge platters of steaming hot gingerbread straight out of the oven. After having a meal's worth of samples, it was clear that some things really are meant to be.
Despite another Ryanair special and a night in the airport, the trip was a huge success. To be honest, a few Dutch stereotypes were realized throughout the weekend, as many people are very tall, there are clogs, windmills, soccer balls tulips, coffeeshops, and bikes everywhere, and the royal family really is orange (in name at least). However, the country is full of clean, compassionate, intelligent, hard-working people who go out of their way to help others and who go about life in a pleasant, enjoyable manner. It was a pleasure visiting and getting to know the physical and cultural landscape in an intimate manner, and I can't wait to see Anne in the States very shortly. As for me, a quick turnaround, an impromptu solo send off weekend in possibly the greatest city of them all, and final exams await in my remaining ten days in Europe. With the end so near, I am trying to enjoy every day to the fullest, soaking in every last bit of European goodness possible. I am too fortunate to be living my current life right now, and love every second spent here, especially with a few boys in the Netherlands.
Until next time,