First impressions of Holland


To b (log) or not to b (log) that is the question…

Fame and celebrity used to be something reserved for a select few, but then the internet, reality tv, web cams, you tube, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and countless other forms of technology came along enabling Jo Blog and Mary Ordinary to cash on on their 15 MB of fame. Thanks to my extreme form of tech-lexia (the inability to understand and/or navigate computers or basically anything with a screen, buttons and power chord) this is my first attempt at creating my own personal blogbuster.

I am Aussie born and bred but after a whirlwind long distance relationship with a delightful Dutchie I decided that it was time, time to swap Vegemite for Hagelslag, Bega for Goudse belegen, get on my bike and go in search of the boy who stuck his finger in the Dyke.

…So, this is my new adventure. This is me, going Dutch.

Just like me my blog is organised chaos, it is in no particular order. I have been writing since I got here, often in notebooks and on napkins so it’s taking me some time to digitalize it all. Hope you can make sense of it.

Groetjes/ Greetings

Kara.

Let me introduce myself

I grew up quite literally on the beach, in a small sleepy beachside village on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. My high school is so close to the beach that when the surf was big I would sit in class listening to the waves crashing onto the sand drowning out the monotonous drone of my maths teacher. The sand dunes were the back boundary of the school, strong winds filled the basketball courts with sand and most of 1970’s ugly cement box buildings were suffering from salt erosion. Weekends, after school and often during school I was at the beach, it gave me everything I needed leisure, pleasure, sport and work.

I grew up in a airy wooden house high in the trees on a hill where, after a late night I would race home in a bid to get to bed before the birds would start squawking because  once they got their vocal chords warmed up, sleep was out of the question.

When it came time to go to university instead of opting for a big city campus I picked one 17 hours drive north, near another beach. The beach sustained me, it was my teacher, my employer, my distraction.

And then I fell in love with a Dutchman. And, after a whirlwind romance and months of love sick, virtual communication we decided that I would make the move to Nederland.  It was an exciting and daunting prospect, not only moving to a big city but to one half way round the world.  I knew little about Nederland, I actually thought that the Netherlands and Holland were 2 different countries. I am ashamed to admit it but I thought that “the Netherlands” was a state of Denmark. Of Holland I knew only of the internationally exported stereotypes; A land that sits predominantly under sea level, that is covered in tulips, dykes and windmills, with a population of abnormally tall, beautiful and handsome, blond, blue eyed creatures who walked around stoned all day with raging libidos (hence the need such easily accessible legal prostitution).

As the plane cruised in towards Schipol Airport I was struck at how flat the country was that lay below me and how the water seemed to be creeping into every possible nook and cranny. Once on the ground and on the highway (on the wrong side of the road) heading towards Rotterdam I watched as fields of tulips, windmills and sheep whizz past, mixed in with factories, church spires and the occasional glimpse of a city skyline. The stereo types were in many ways alive and well.

When asked me what my first impression was of Holland I replied “horizontal”. Although its such a tiny country, the lack of hills or mountains or any kind of incline or decline in the landscape makes for a horizon which seems never ending.

Eventually we turned off the highway and Rotterdam as we passed rows of old Dutch architecture, space ages high rises and grey concrete blocks. And the bikes. Bikes, bikes bikes, hundreds of them!

As we cruised through the morning traffic I watched the unfamiliar landscape  slide past I wondered if this would become my new stomping ground. This was it, the beginning of my new life, my Dutch adventure.

The big surprise

After Months of waiting, pining, secret keeping (something I wouldn’t class as one of my strengths!) working like a mad (wo)man, more waiting, love sick emails, more pining and mad packing to move out of my flat into my new place for the last couple of months… then packing again moving to Sydney the unpacking and then packing AGAIN (will it never end!?). Finally it was my last week in Sydney and all of a sudden time seemed to be travelling at lightning speed. And, after months of wishing, on every evening star, wish chip, wish bone, eye lash, birthday candles (mostly those of other people) and engaging in any other superstitions that I thought might speed up time, I found myself suddenly wishing I could slow time down.  I suddenly felt like time was slipping through my fingers and that I would not have enough time to see everyone I wanted to see and organise and tie up all the loose ends that needed… tying.

Putting my bags into the car to head to the airport was such a bizarre moment, I couldn’t believe that I was finally at this point. My emotions were mixed; excitement to see Denni again and to start a new life in Holland, sadness to be leaving after spending quality time with all my important people reminding me how fantastic they all are, anxious about how (and if) the big surprise would go down and generally excited, nervous and full of beans… and trepidation.

So, off we went, airport here we come!… only to hear on the radio that ALL baggage handlers at Sydney airport had gone on strike, and that several flights had been either cancelled or delayed… PANIC! …but… that the strike would be over by midday and that flights flying after this time should not be adversely effected. Ahhhh…. Crisis averted. At check in we were told that there was still a back log due to the strike but that everything would return to order shortly (hmmm….) we were instructed to leave all check in luggage in large piles by the check in (hmm… what was all that hullabaloo about bags left lying around airports?! Something to do with security was it?) Anyway we made the farewell short and sweet but tearful none the less, I couldn’t help but have nostalgic flashbacks to when I left for overseas in 2002. After a spot of duty free shopping I headed to the departure gate and after an hour and a half delay it was apparent that the strike was not yet over. After a 2 and a half hour delay I began to panic (a little!) I only had a 3 hour lay over in Kuala Lumpur. After almost 3 hours delay we finally boarded the plane sat on the tarmac for another hour and a half and FINALLY after what seemed like an eternity we thundered down the runway leaving Sydney shrinking away rapidly behind us. (YAY!) My relief was short lived when I was told that it was unlikely I would make my connecting flight (FUUUUUK! … excuse the expletive) mad panic ensued and the following 8 hours were most unenjoyable. The tension on the plane was tangible and it only got worse when we finally landed and were told that NONE of the baggage had made it onto the plane in Sydney (AAARRGGHH!!… VERY LOUD SWEAR WORDS!!!!!) From there it was a mad rush to get out of the plane, some of us literally had minutes before our flights closed (mine being one of them) there was a small group of  us on the same flight, I ran ahead to make sure they waited for us. I nearly throttled the smiling attendant who informed me that this was not my flight (WHAT!?) the other (smiling) attendant had not realised that there were 2 flights to Amsterdam with different airlines, my flight was leaving from another terminal (FUUUK! Again excuse the expletive but I can guarantee you that in this instance it was very much called for.). At this point I may have slightly lost any poise I had left and told the aforementioned smiling attendant in no uncertain terms that they had better get on their walkie talkie and let their colleagues at the other flight gate know that there were several people still coming, the (still smiling attendant) obliged, but it was all done in Malaysian and after my outburst who knows what she told them! So I began a mad sprint (barefoot- slippers aren’t good for speed, on slippery tiles) to the other end of the terminal jumped on a shuttle train and then another crazed sprint, sweating like a pig, crying (it was all getting a bit much by now), slippers in one hand while my hand luggage trolley’s little plastic wheels were burning rubber and doing over time to keep up with me. I arrived at my boarding gate (which was of course conveniently located as far away from the shuttle station as possible) slightly frazzled but on time…just!  Once on the plane the sense of relief was so intense (I was so worried that after months of scheming the planned birthday surprise would all fall apart if I didn’t make this flight, oh and did I mention that the next flight was not for 2 days!?) I had a quick cry, a wine and passed out for most of the flight. I woke up and realised that we were only a couple of hours from Amsterdam, my stomach flipped with excitement. I had just enough time to eat and have a chat to my neighbours, a farming couple who had just spent 2 weeks in Malaysia, when I asked them if they enjoyed their holiday they said that they had, but that they had missed their cows and were dying for a decent coffee and a cheese sandwich. I found this amusing!

“Crew, Please prepare the cabin for landing.” That really got the butterflies going, I was full of nervous energy and itching to get off the plane.  I don’t usually clap on landing but this time it just felt like it needed to be done.  After a quick freshen up I thought that not having to collect my suitcase would make the final process go very quickly… wrong! I went straight to the information desk and was informed that I had to wait till all of the luggage came out to make sure my bag definitely had not arrived, I asked if they could check in the system with my baggage number to see where it was, “no”.  Ok. So I waited… and surprise surprise no bag! When I went back to the same desk … “My bag didn’t arrive” “Do you have your baggage number miss and I can check it in the system for you.” (WHAT!? Now they can check it in the system!? GRRRRR… more expletives.)  It was surprisingly easy to organise the delivery of my bag, I had to giggle when I was handed a laminated card with a selection of different bag styles and a colour chart and asked to indicate what my bag looked like and what colour[s] it is. (For the record I chose “Stormy sea Blue, Forest Green and Corporate black, not midnight black!) Customs was a non event, and then I was headed through the final tunnel into my new Dutch life. I couldn’t help but think of walking through a tunnel as being symbolic of re-birth and new beginnings, very poignant I thought.

I was greeted by a larger and louder crowd than I expected Hugo, Tjens. Cj, Reno and Jos had all rolled out of bed at a truly ungodly hour and taken time off just to come and get me! I was truly touched that they had all made the effort to come and I was quite chuffed that clearly, I had the loudest (and best looking) welcoming party! It was truly great to see them all and comforting to know that in re-locating half way round the world I’ve already got a fantastic bunch of friends all lined up and ready to go! (How’s that for organised! … ticket? Check. Passport? Check. Clothes? Check. Fabulous group of friends waiting at other end… CHECK!) After lots of group hugs and general group rowdiness in true Dutch style we had to do a “Bakkie” (slang for beverage) before we set off for Rotterdam. The sun was shining and the sky was a pale blue with fluffy white clouds, a huge contrast to the first time I arrived at Schipol when the sky was ominously dark with heavy grey clouds hanging low overhead. In the car I was reminded of how picturesque Holland is as tulips, sheep and windmills whizzed past. My cheeks were already aching from smiling so hard.

Once in Rotterdam we went to Jos’s place so I could have a shower and do myself up for the big surprise. (somehow I’d had a clairvoyant moment and had decided that I would put my “surprise!” outfit in my hand luggage… just in case!) We wandered around Jos’s neighbourhood looking for a cardboard box big enough for me to fit in after trying a few out I found one that was a comfy fit.  The 10 minute drive to Denni’s felt longer than the 2 plane flights combined! When we got to Denni’s street it we ran a covert operation to get me into the house without accidently bumping into him on the way.  Hugo and Tjens had organised a surprise birthday breakfast, Den’s parents and a few friends were waiting in his apartment when I got there, not many people knew I was coming so I was greeted by shocked gasps. After a quick round of hello’s I had to jump into my box and wait. I was so nervous and excited and over caffeinated that I was shaking like leaf, I remember Reno saying “Kara, try not to touch the sides of the box… we can see it shaking”. So I waited, in my box and tried not to hyperventilate or pass out. Then, I heard feet on the stairs and his voice as he entered the room. I think I actually had a small heart attack  when he put his keys on the top of the box I was in. I could hear him greeting everyone individually and FINALLY I heard Hugo say “your present is in the box over there” I could hear him take the cover off the box and felt the box shift as he tried to work out how to open it (at this point my brain was saying  “jump out, big surprise time!” but my muscles and my motor skills refused to co-operate). Then after 5 months of waiting sunlight came streaming into the box followed by Denni’s smiling face, the floppy blonde hair and those big blue eyes I have missed so much. Bizarrely enough I think I was almost as surprised to see him, as he was to see me! I don’t remember much of what happened next except that there was a lot of kissing and hugging and both of us grinning like loonies at one another. It was just such a nice feeling to be able to sit next to him at the table and to have the 3d version instead of the 2d Skype image I’d put up with for the last 5 months. After a lovely brunch we headed downstairs, set up some chairs on the stoop and soaked up the sunshine, it was warmer than I had anticipated and I was surprised to find myself in a t-shirt. The party continued all day as the coffee flowed and friends came and went wishing Den happy birthday. After a couple of hours in the sun I decided it was time to head off for a power nap. When I returned some time in the mid afternoon the coffee had been swapped for beer and wine and our stoop party had increased in size.

At 8 o’clock it was still broad daylight and I was thrilled to discover that the Late European summer twilights had already started. We moved the party from the stoop and headed to the Vila, a pub on the water just around the corner. It was odd walking to the Vila, because I recognised where I was but everything just looked completely different from when I had seen it all for the first time in Winter, it’s amazing what a bit of greenery and sunlight can do to a place. We ate and drank and generally had a good time at the Villa, I think there may have been some dancing… but I couldn’t say for sure. Eventually everyone started to make a move and we headed out into the (now very cold) night and wandered home. What a day, the whole thing had turned out better than I ever could have envisaged and the surprise had gone off without a hitch! Seeing all of the people that came to wish Denni happy birthday (there was a steady stream of well wishers all day), made me fall a little bit more in love with him I think, seeing how loved he is by everyone around him. He really has an ability to bring people together. I fell asleep on my first night in Holland, deliriously happy, incredibly content and exhausted! I snuggled up next to Denni and drifted off to sleep pondering what my new (Dutch) life would throw at me in the following months.

All in all a truly memorable day and I have to say thanks to everyone who helped make it all happen.

Week 1

Week one. One week. Seven days. I feel like I’ve lost my grip on time, I feel like I have been here for eons yet at the same time I cannot comprehend that a whole week has passed so quickly. Thanks to the jet lag I have spent many early morning hours sitting on the window bank with a cup of tea, staring out of one of the two gorgeous traditional Dutch windows of our flat. I love how these big windows, standard in most of the older dutch building look like eyes, and the arches above them like eyebrows, watching the city rushing past. I’m trying to establish some kind of routine, it’s so odd after working so hard and doing so much for so long to suddenly have nothing to do. I wake up in the morning have breakfast with Den, and thats as far as my daily planning goes. While Denni is working I tentatively wander about the neighborhood trying to get my bearings. We live on the eastern side of the city centre and so far I have wandered around the city centre, been to the market; flowers, cheese, vintage clothes, two days a week = amazing! Yesterday as I sat at the edge of the Maas river watching the masses of cold brown water pulsing past, and watched the huge container ships and barges making their way in and out of the harbor, I couldn’t help but miss the green and blue shades of the ocean, the yellow sand and the warmth of the Aussie sun. I’m in climate shock. It’s the end of the winter and the Dutch are wandering around in short sleeves, I haven’t yet left the house without my padded jacket. The city is overwhelming, it’s like a giant concrete wave that can swallow you up in an instant, I am perpetually lost here, pretty much as soon as I leave the house I am wondering how I am going to find my way back. I am getting to know some landmarks, the bizarre Cubus building, the building that looks like a pencil, the library that loos like a water slide park and the metro station that looks like a UFO. I know how to get to the main shopping street, the supermarket and the river, thats about as big as my world is right now. I have been running a couple of times but the cold dry air is a shock to the system, I’m used to running in warm temperatures and high humidity. The first day I went running it was quite chilly, my lungs burned, my muscles ached, my throat felt like it had been lined with sandpaper and my nose started bleeding… Not exactly an enjoyable experience. The funny thing was that from the centre of rotterdam within 15 minutes I was running past fields of sheep. I’ve heard that the Dutch at experts when it comes to space management in their tiny country but flocks of sheep mixed in between the apartment blocks took me by surprise.                                                                     The language is a bit of a barrier, I have tried using the couple of Dutch sentences that I know, but I rarely understand what people are saying to me, so choosing the right sentence out of my limited vocabulary is pretty much a case of hit and miss. On the whole my first week has been overwhelming, it feels very real now and I feel a long way from home and a little out of my depth. But thats understandable… right?

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