This week, I am progressing in my little timeline I have made for myself and you are joining me as I regale the events of my short tour of the European mainland, mostly managing to confuse myself as to what language I should be speaking at any one time.
I am a millennial and so the first thing I did when I touched down in Amsterdam was to turn my phone off aeroplane mode and tell those who needed to know that I had landed (Free and my folks). I had an email from ThaiAir and no luck on the key there. Nothing from my AirBnb host. Matt couldn’t find it. And then there was a message from Charlie. It told me that he hadn’t dropped his key off yet and he would leave it in a secure location for me.
My legs went weak. I don’t know if I’ve felt such crippling relief before in my life. I was nearly crying. I thanked him so profusely he probably thought it was completely fake, but he was literally the only way I could get into the flat. I had been lowkey panicking for twenty-four hours and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that I may have lost five years of my life to it.
Free picked me up at the airport and took me for pancakes which was a fantastic idea and a small hint of what was to come in my next week of exciting Dutch culinary surprises. Pancakes are apparently a Dutch national dish which I embrace wholeheartedly while loosening my belt. And they are not done properly if they are not lathered in maple syrup, sugar, icing sugar or all three. I had to do my guestly duties of course and sample all this.
It was delicious. In fact, all the food I ate all week, even the food I didn’t think I’d like but tried because I had to be polite (beetroot) was so good that I had seconds.
So I had three full days in Delft, a lovely city that seems to be close to a lot of the major cities in the Netherlands (although that might be because the Netherlands is not a very large country) and I realised why a dish the Dutch love is full of sugar and yet there doesn’t seem to be too much obesity problems (I was not looking for it and I didn’t notice it – that is all I know and I’m too lazy to look it up), would be because of the cycling. Cycling is so easy to do here. There are bicycle lanes everywhere and while cyclists don’t necessarily have right of way, if there is an accident involving a bicycle, the cycler is always right. And when you can cycle fifteen minutes into the middle of town, or thirty minutes into a different city when driving would take the same amount of time, plus finding somewhere to park and then walking into the city centre, et cetera, why wouldn’t you?
So the first day, we cycled into Delft, and saw the Leaning Tower of Delft, only slightly less famous than that in Pisa. The thing is, in Delft in the Olde Kerk, they noticed it was starting to lean and so corrected it while building, so instead, it’s more of a bendy tower.
Inside the Olde Kerk, I saw the burial sites of a lot of “Dutch Heroes”, of whom I’d never heard, even though one of them “invaded” the UK by sailing up the Thames into London. Of course, I have forgotten which one did that, as I got distracted by a Dutch name I did know – Johannes Vermeer, who lived and died in Delft, and who, when he died was not very wealthy, and so was buried in an upright position, so they didn’t have to spend so much money on his grave.
Then we went to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) so named because it was built in the 14th century while the Olde Kerk was built in the 13th. And I saw the OG William of Orange’s tomb in all its finery. This is not the William of Orange that became King of England, since he was the third of that name (and coincidentally the third King William of England as well). This was the first William of Orange of the Netherlands, who led a revolution and was assassinated. It’s actually kind of convoluted and confusing and I had a very interesting time trying to learn about it and giving myself a headache. It also happens to be the tombs of the current Royal family, so whenever any of them die, there is a huge procession and stuff for them to this church in Delft, which is pretty cool.
We broke for lunch, during which I backhanded a wasp by accident and didn’t feel bad as it was trying to eat my pastrami sandwich, and it wasn’t as dazed as the one I yeeted (yote) across the square with a menu for trying to get into my Fanta, before we tackled the New Church tower. It was very tall, and out of my comfort zone in two ways. One; it turns out that I can jump out of a plane no problems, but standing 500ft off the ground in a structurally sound church was not a good thing for me (I channelled Donkey’s mantra: “Just keep moving don’t look down”) and two; steps that have gaps between them cause severe discomfort in the form of hugging the central pillar or the handrail when someone is trying to pass me in the opposite direction and not talking while on the move (although on the way up that might have been due to lack of ability to breathe too) all the while wishing that I couldn’t see through the steps down below where I was standing or up to see how far I had to go.
But comfort zones are there to be scoffed at so I went to the top and marvelled at the view while reconsidering my Ravenclaw house status, since the common room is at the top of a Tower too. Just kidding (mostly).
Incidentally, the tower here is also pretty interesting, as they first started building it in the classic red brick, but they wanted the tower to be fancy, so they continued it in white brick, and then ran out of money, so had to finish it with cheap white brick which over time goes black, so the Nieuwe Kerk tower is a tricolore. The height you get up to is in the black part and it is very high.
After my shaky legs continued to be my biggest fans and supported me back down the stairs of Doom, Free suggested ice cream and I think I said yes before she stopped speaking and it was delicious.
Unfortunately, it also put me into a sugar coma during the boat tour and I ended up falling asleep, despite my best efforts to stay awake. This was much to my chagrin as it was a really interesting tour and I learned a lot during the bits I was awake for.
Then it was time for cheese. I was sad at first because I didn’t think I could take any with me, because China has some funny import laws, but it turns out you can take pasteurised cheese with you, which Gouda generally is. I bought some before you could say cheese and I have enjoyed it immensely.
Then, with a quick detour to a windmill (because Netherlands, duh) it was time to cycle home.
Day 2 was arts day. Today we went to The Hague, and my bottom told me that I was definitely not cycling fit and that it protested against a repeat offence. This may have been due to the fact that Dutch people are tall and the Beerses’ bikes at their lowest levels were still slightly too tall for me. This was only a problem when I had to stop, and nearly toppled a couple of times; I could still cycle fine. But my bottom didn’t like it.
Luckily the Hague wasn’t too far away, and I was rewarded with the possibility that I might have ended up on Dutch TV, as we walked behind a reporter person doing their thing while being watched by cameras as we passed through the Dutch parliament. We saw their PM’s office and then went to a museum and William of Orange’s personal art gallery, during which I saw literally the funniest painting I have ever seen and cannot get over. Even looking at my photo of it makes me laugh aloud.
I also saw paintings by famous artists that I had heard of: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, and by those who are supposedly famous but I had not heard of: Gerard ter Borch, Carel Fabritius, Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter, to name a few. It was very interesting going to an art museum with an art historian, something I’d never done before as she told me several things that were actually really interesting. I have to admit that I have never been much for art or art history, but that’s because I realised fairly early on in life that I didn’t have much talent for art and so I wrote it all off in one go. So having someone there who knew their stuff and also knew how to not make it boring was pretty awesome. And I saw some famous paintings up close, including Scarlett Johansson.
But as an art luddite, by the end of the day, I was all arted out, so with aa stop at the supermarket for ingredients for dinner, it was time to go home for more delicious food! The Netherlands food is fantastic and I love it.
In the evening, it was almost compulsory for us to watch The Girl with the Pearl Earring, so we did, and as some of it was filmed on location in Delft, it was somewhat disconcerting to see Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth travel around the same places we had just been the day before.
My final day was much quieter, due to the fact that Free had to work, so I did some work of my own before heading out into the sun and catching some rays of European sun.
The next day we were up bright and early for I was travelling by coach to Germany! I love that I can do this in Europe. In China, it takes me two hours to get across the city I live in. two hours in Europe can get you into a different country.
Ten hours can get you stuck in traffic in Frankfurt, but I’m really not complaining, honest. There’s nothing like being stuck on a warm bus while it’s a beautiful day outside and you are being driven through actual story book countryside. It took me too long to find my camera to get a picture of the most stereotypical German town I’ve ever seen, but the image will stay in my head forever.
Despite all the travel I had a lovely evening with my friends in the Airbnb we were at, catching up and having them ribbing me gently about how often I spoke about China. It was just like old times and I loved it.
The next day was the wedding itself and let me tell you, organising twelve people through the shower wasn’t easy but somehow we managed it and we were all suited and booted and ready to go on time. In fact, the car comrades were early enough to sneak in a quick bev before the other guests started arriving, although Lewis did have a misadventure with alcohol-free beer.
I cried. Everyone cried. We all needed tissues, seeing our two closest friends express their love for one another, Maggie doing it in a language that was not her native tongue. It was a magical moment, made even more so by the very apt addition of some Lord of the Rings music. And then the festivities began, and much drinking was done. I tried to be careful and not overdo it immediately, and I’m afraid to report I only partially succeeded. I remember the whole night, up until when I fell asleep by the fire, but the clarity of my memories does fade in and out, as attested to by the killer hangover I woke up to the next morning. But breakfast and plentiful water cured it in time for a quick jaunt to a nearby lake for a cooling swim.
The rest of that Sunday passed lazily as we were all fairly tired, and most of us had to get up early the next morning as we all departed to various corners of the planet. I completely unpacked and repacked while we played games and casually watched Hot Fuzz and Ghostbusters.
The next thing I knew, I was getting up at six thirty in order to catch a train, to catch a plane, to catch the MTR, to catch the highspeed train, to catch the Metro, to catch a taxi, back to my flat in China. My European tour was over and it barely felt like it had started. But other than one aging twenty-four hours, I had a total blast that was comp