Monday, April 04, 2011

Weekend in Holland

A glamorous university friend who has spent his life moving between the UK, Vancouver and Holland is now in Rotterdam so we went there for the weekend. It is always nice when someone knows the area and can drive, as you get to see so much more than when you are a regular tourist. We spent Friday in Amsterdam, Saturday in Rotterdam and Sunday in Delft, then back to Amsterdam.

Dutch people (and Europeans in general) feel very "foreign" to me. Even though they are geographically very close, I feel that I understand Americans much more (though understanding doesn't neccesarily mean "approving"). It's probably due to the shared language and the fact that so much American tv and film is drip-fed to British people from an early age. Europeans though - I can't make them out, and it's not just the language. I can look at a Brit (and to a lesser extent, American) and instantly be able to make numerous judgements about their social class and their values. But with Europeans, I come up against a blank wall. I can't tell who's rich and who's poor (there don't seem to be any poor people - at least, not ones I can tell - maybe it's due to the higher taxes they all pay, resulting in wealth being more evenly distributed). And they all have weird fashions and hair - including the men. A lot of them look old-fashioned - sometimes as if they've stepped out of the 1950s. While others look futuristic.

Amsterdam is especially disconcerting. I am always terrifed of the trams and bicycles, which seem to share pavement space with pedestrians. The fact that they drive on the other side of the road means that I sometimes don't even realise they are coming, and that ringing sound is a tram/bike which is on a collision course.

Actually it wasn't transport that I needed to worry about this time. It was blue cheese. On Friday evening I had a blue cheese salad. Then on Saturday we walked across a bridge in Rotterdam (past a man surrounded by police who was in the middle of a suicide attempt, with ghoulish people taking photos of him) and visited these houses in Rotterdam.

At first I thought it was the funny angles, but once we came out of one of them, I started feeling ill and getting stomach cramps. I ended up having to urgently use the loo in a random gym. I felt a bit better after that, and we spent the rest of the afternoon on Rotterdam's gay beach, warding off interested nudists (I took my t-shirt off to meet them halfway but that was as much as I could offer).

In the evening we had a meal in an Italian restuarant and I had pasta with a blue cheese sauce. About halfway through I started choking. Somehow, the blue cheese sauce had glued itself to my throat and was blocking my windpipe. I tried coughing, but it wouldn't clear. Apparently I was turning purple. I suddenly felt rather odd, like I was slipping out of consciousness, like someone was turning the volume down on the world around me. It felt sort of nice, and I wondered whether that was what people who do auto-erotic asphyxiation are trying to achieve.

Everyone around me looked panicked, and luckily at that point I managed to dislodge whatever was at the back of my throat, and things went back to normal. I've seen people choking in restaurants a couple of times, and always felt sorry for them - as it's physically painful, but also socially rather embarrassing. I'm glad I survived it. Death as a result of blue cheese does seem to be a rather silly way to go.


Anonymous said...

Poor you! I'm glad you survived, too, and that you were a la table rather than by the sea: dying from a blue-cheese related incident in a restaurant is one thing, but choking to death on a gay beach would have been an unfortunate end indeed.

I also find Europe rather strange, and Holland particularly so, but probably because it's so unnaturally flat. I'm used to the Cumbrian hills and anything else is just not normal. And you're right about its sort of being caught between the past and the future: sometimes you feel as though you're in a scene from The Third Man, with dark, scuzzy hallways and electrics that don't work properly, and then suddenly it's fifty years in some imagined future, where everything is sleek, shiny and ridiculous efficient.

I spent two days in Rotterdam and really enjoyed it; the architecture was particularly interesting. However, as I was leaving, someone pressed a tourist brochure of Rotterdam into my hands, and so on the train back I flipped through it, wondering whether I could pick out the things I'd seen in order to show people back home. But I could find nothing. In fact, the brochure portrayed a city that looked totally unlike the one I'd been in, and had - allegedly - been taken around. I've a feeling - the brochure was in Dutch - that they'd actually given me a guide to the industries of Rotterdam, because quaint, four-storeyed, canal-side apartments were conspicuous by their absence.

To my shame - my school wasn't clued up enough to offer geography and history at the same time - I didn't even realise that Rotterdam *had* beaches, let alone ones where you can slip your T-shirt off while others go slightly further. Maybe we'll save that delight for the next trip.

And I'll pass on the blue cheese. I'm not a big fan of veins, on dairy produce or, indeed, anything else, if the truth be known.

Lubin said...

I have a slight addiction to cheese, the stronger the better, so I don't want to give it up.

I wouldn't have known about the beach if it hadn't been for my friend and his car. You weren't missing that much really - unless you could take it as a kind of ethnographic study...

Old Cheeser said...

I love those houses in the pic, but disconcerting to hear you felt ill afterwards as a result. Perhasp living in one is like being on a permanent merry-go-round/fun fair ride. Sorry to hear about the blue cheese experience. One of my favourite sauces actually but getting it stuck in one's throat can't be good.

I have been to Amsterdam many times as my father lives there (oddly enough a few streets away from one of the main gay areas) and I love it. He concedes himself that the Dutch are weird (the word he uses is "dour") and I have to agree. Have never ever visited Rotterdam though, and must endeavour to do so on a next visit...have heard it's rather cool.