Choose My Side
Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
79Trip End Nov 21, 2006
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Rotterdam is a fairly unique city in Europe, in a sense the most unique. It's towering skyline and shimmering buildings are more like an American or Australian city than a European city. This is because the city was utterly destroyed by the Germans in World War II. Many cities were devastated during the war -- Rotterdam was destroyed (it's interesting, many Europeans consider Rotterdam 'ugly' because of all the modern architecture. Many of these Europeans are from Amsterdam and Amsterdam has a bit of a rivalry going with Rotterdam. It's fun to wind the Dutch up, tell someone from Rotterdam that you loved Amsterdam or someone from Amsterdam that their city is crap compared to Rotterdam and you get quite a performance). At the heart of the city now is an expansive pedestrian zone lined with all sorts of shops and boutiques
My first day in Rotterdam I actually didn't really spend in Rotterdam. Once the new sneakers were purchased we hopped a train to Hellevoetslois, Mandy's hometown (and if you just read out the name of that town, you pronounced it wrong, I know this). One of the great things about staying with friends when you travel (aside from the free accommodation, of course) is that you not only get to hang out almost strictly with locals but you also get to see some places most tourists never venture. Hellevoetslois is out on the coast so for two days I got to be a beach bum. When I knew it wouldn't be mid-September until I arrived in Holland I assumed I'd be getting wet. I just figured it would be from all the rain, not from jumping in the sea (every Dutch person I met in Europe would immediately say 'Bring a raincoat' after I told them I'd be going in September)
That night, her parents, Ina and Chiel, took Mandy, her brother and myself out for dinner in the old town. Now, when I go stay with a friend I really don't expect anything more than a bed and maybe a free tour guide. That's more than enough for me, but when people start treating me to nice dinners it can almost feel awkward at first. But this is the thing I had to realize -- traveling and meeting locals is a two way street. I want to meet the locals, let their experiences and world view enrich my own experience. But at the same time, they want to get the same thing out of me -- her parents, for example, meet nothing but Dutch people, so having an American at their dinner table is just as unique for them as it is for me to have a Dutch family at mine
After we left Hellevoetslois I had a day on my own to roam Rotterdam while Mandy was in class. The weather was too nice to waste it on a museum so I just strolled around. There isn't an incredible amount to see in Rotterdam, it's a brand new city after all, with just about every non-residential building being constructed in the 1970s or later. The whole time I was walking around this brand spanking new town I was reminded of an experience at Sziget. I had spent the day with a group of Irish girls I had met in Prague and at some point while we were sitting around eating a Dutch guy came up and joined us. He was nice enough at first, we were just discussing music (as you do at a music festival) when he offhandedly said English and Irish is more or less the same thing, not realizing how ignorant and borderline offensive he was being
One of the touristy things to see (aside from the bridges, the Dutch are very proud of their bridges. Bridges and dams. And windmills) are these really bizarre apartments that are cubeshaped and put on stilts at a 45 degree angle. You can even pay to go in and see one. So there I was, standing out on the street snapping pictures of a place where people live. In that way they were sort of like the Vatican.
I was supposed to spend the whole rest of the weekend with Mandy, splitting the time between Rotterdam and Hellevoetslois but the more we looked at it, with her schedule (some people still have real world issues) it just didn't make sense to hang around. So in a snap decision I was on a train and up to Amsterdam
(You might be wondering, by the way, why I entitled this entry 'Choose My Side.' Before I proceed, let me say this, if you are a parent -- parent of me mostly -- easily offended or judgmental you can skip this and carry on with your Web browsing. Now that I've made this disclaimer I'll continue. There was a dirty old man, Eddy, who was staying at the Jolly Swagman at the same time as well. He was a 40 year old English divorcee and a bit full on. He wasn't my favorite but I didn't mind him all that much, he was decently funny and was Jewish and had lived in Phoenix so we had things to talk about. Plus I'm not a girl so I wouldn't have any reason to be freaked out by him. Eddy, though, had stumbled upon a little gag that's guaranteed to always produce some immature giggling. What you do is you go up to a Dutch person, preferably a girl and say, 'I'm going to say something in English, you say the same thing in Dutch.' Then you say 'choose my side.' Then they say the Dutch version of 'choose my side.' Hilarity ensues. Then said Dutch person realizes what they've just said and starts laughing and turning red-faced at the same time. It's a lot of fun. And I won't spoil it for you by typing out what happens. You'll just have to find yourself a Dutch person or do some research. I can't hold your hand all the way.)