This past weekend (and Monday and Tuesday) we were in the Netherlands, home of the colour orange, and a country so awesome it has a princess called Maxima, to visit Sarah, Rohan and Narelle. We got up at stupid o'clock or 4:30am on Saturday to get to Stansted in time for check-in for the 7:45 Rotterdam flight with Transavia. Hugely recommend them by the way; they are a low-cost subsidiary of KLM but don't appear to know that low cost is supposed to mean crap service and no accountability. Also, they are cheaper than Easyjet (or were for that route), give all announcements in Dutch first, which is a nice touch, and they only have one check-in counter at Stansted because they have barely anyone catching their flights. SHORT QUEUES. Very much appreciated.
I forgot to get lollies for the pressure change but as it turns out, flying to the Netherlands involves an ascent of maybe 6 feet 3 inches so it was OK. The total flight time to Rotterdam was under 40 minutes. Seems hardly worth the bother! Rotterdam airport is a dinky pine construction seconds away from the town, so getting there after the flight was very easy and cheap (cf: Stansted, a 45 minute fast train from London at the princely sum of 15 quid each, which was almost the price of the airfare). Sarah met us at the train station which, like every train station in the country, was having BIGTIME SERIOUS RENOVATION - EARTHMOVING - TEMPORARY FENCING craziness going on. They must be coming to the end of their fiscal year or something. We then went on a tour of Rotterdam which, given that it was bucketing down rain, hugely windy, and mostly being dug up was something of a non-event. Does havea cool bridge that looks like the Anzac Bridge as well as lots of folks selling the seasonal delicacy, raw baby herring. Sarah assured us the stuff was very tasty or at least edible. Maybe next time.
Inclement weather forced a retreat by train to Sarah's stomping ground, Den Haag/The Hague, seat of European governance/lawmaking and all round cool spot. We had a weird lunch of fried things on the part of Sarah and Grant and vegetable soup on my part. With meatballs in it. The waitress, who had excellent English like every other Dutch person (they switch from Dutch to English when it becomes obvious you are a helpless tourist) was nevertheless operating under a cultural imperative and had no idea why I was suggesting that if you said a soup was vegetable and it had meatballs in it, you should say that too. Her point was basically that it DID have vegetables. Never mind. Den Haag is a beautiful, beautiful city with glorious old palaces and glorious new skyscrapers and generally seemed a cool place.
Sarah has the World's Largest Apartment just out of town, near forests and sand dunes and the North Sea and so on. Lovely place. We were feeling a wee bit tired so I lay down on a couch and woke up two hours later. I am a very exciting visitor.
In the evening, with gale force winds continuing unabated but the skies moderately clear, we walked the 40 mins or so to Scheveningen, Holland's answer to Brighton, on the North Sea, complete with dodgy but very sturdy pier. My usual practice is to run shrieking towards bodies of water and get my hands in them, but given that the beach was basically a sandstorm, it seemed a bad idea. It was also covered with chunks of what looked like styrofoam but later proved to be bits of sea foam dried and hurled by the wind. This was either cool or icky. In any case, I have still not touched the North Sea. This makes me sad.
We had a nice dinner at one of the beach huts they put up in Spring/Summer and then went back to Sarah's to watch EUROVISION 2007. GO SERBIA! Pretty ladies touching each other inappropriately will always win out in my book, especially when coupled with the block voting power of the Balkans and former Soviet satellite states. The UK, with its ambitiously double-entendre laden pop, was soundly thrashed, having no states to vote for it en bloc. That said, Scooch was no Brotherhood of Man.
And then we passed out, ending a 30,000-step, 20-hour day, which also happened to be Grant's 31st birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
More on the rest of our trip later.