Friday, December 10, 2010

Three Jolly Fishermen

As part of my Get Out of Dodge-enburg campaign last week, I headed south-ish to Amsterdam to visit Claire. The trip there was quite stressful, to be honest. As previously mentioned, I got into Gothenburg from Stockholm at 1:30, and then had to unpack, do laundry, and repack before leaving at 9:30 the next morning. If you've spoken to me for more than two seconds, you know how much I dislike, nay, LOATHE packing; so, I was struggling with packing, and then I woke up early to get my laundry from the dryer only to find the dryer had never turned on and was in fact broken, which was a total bummer, and this combined with a lingering cold from Stockholm and the subsequent remedy of chugging paracetamol tea (actually drinking some right now- is this stuff addictive?) left me frazzled and extremely drowsy and loopy. All of the worries and the tea-daze disappeared as soon as I saw this smiling face:

The stay in Amsterdam was amazing. The city itself is extremely picturesque, and much quainter (gezellige in Dutch, as Claire taught me) than I expected. While there are quite a few bars and neon signs that line the busier parts of the streets, most of Amsterdam was canals lined with brick townhouses and cobblestone streets. No seediness at all; after spending three days there, I still hadn't been in the Red Light District. I think the homey feel I got from the city came from the fact we stayed in an actual home. Claire's abroad program arranges a home stay for them with a Dutch family, and her host parents, Erica and Viktor, were so great. Apparently they've been lamenting the fact that Claire has only cooked for them once during the semester (which she described as "disastrous"), so we whipped up some dinner one night, and chatted about Dutch culture and Sarah Palin over some mighty fine quiche and tomato soup.

Most of the time spent in Amsterdam was in museums, trying to complete The Quest; students get a discount on museum cards, which give you free admission to 37 museums in Amsterdam, as well as museums outside the city. Claire had set a goal for herself to go to every single museum before she left, and I was more than happy to help her complete her task. Over the next few days, we hit eight museums which I think is pretty impressive. Included in that number are the canal houses, which are just old townhouses where wealthy Dutch families used to live, and everything has been preserved exactly as it was back in the day. The best part of those were the geriatric tour guides and desk workers who obviously didn't see a lot of visitors, and they were overly enthusiastic to show us around the place. The houses were quite a sight to see, though; if only I could live in a place with blue velvet wallpaper, fake cats, and French-inspired tranquility gardens:

Also great/confusing was hanging out with Claire's friends, all of whom are named Sarah. We went out to a Belgian bar the first night, and every time Claire said "Sarah," four people turned around. Yay, 1990.

By the third day, Claire had to buckle down and get to work on a 40-page research paper (yikes, whatever happened to abroad wonking?), so I hopped a train to Leiden to see Thomas for a few fabulous days. I loved biking along the snowy canals, watching Christmas movies and drinking white Russians with his friends, getting ambushed by snowballs, going to a hockey game (!!!!):

again, I didn't take this
See, people? Proof that I went to a sporting event! HYS Den Haag v. THE SMOKE EATERS. It was a bloodbath of epic proportions, 13-1. The players on the losing team lost hope and instead of trying to score goals, they just started brawls. I really felt like a bro, drinking beer out of a plastic cup while rooting on sports-related violence. Anyways, this brings me to what I wanted to say earlier. The Netherlands (and Belgium too, I think) separates their Christmas festivities; you celebrate the religious part of it on, well, Christmas, and then all of the secular going-ons occur on Sinter Klaas Day, December 6. Sinter Klaas is the Dutch Santa Claus, who comes in on a boat and fills children's shoes with candy if they're good and beats them and ships them to Spain if they're bad. Sounds pretty innocent, right? Oh, so, so not right. While Santa Claus comes armed with elves to help him with his toy delivery, Sinter Klaas has Zwart Piets, or Black Petes, for assistance. While the Dutch will tell you that Piet is zwart because he went down a chimney to deliver toys to kids and now he is covered in soot, there's no escaping the fact that everywhere you go, there are people in blackface dressed in jester's costumes walking around. It's terrifying. At the hockey game, there were Zwart Piets dancing on the zamboni (spellcheck does not recognize this as a word but I am calling bullshit). Michel, Tara (who are from the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively), and I had a discussion about this Christmas tradition last night, and they explained that, while Zwart Piet surely has some racist undertones, there's no historical context in their countries that would make blackface taboo. Fair enough. Claire showed me this video of David Sedaris' take on Zwart Piet, and it's definitely worth a watch. Begins at 0:30 mark:

So, seeing Claire was amazing, and seeing Thomas was fantastic, but seeing both of them AT THE SAME TIME was the best. We went up to Amsterdam for a bit and hit up the Dutch Resistance Museum and all hung out at a coffee shop for a while together. It was just like old times, awwww. Except, you know, in Europe instead of in Bender library or a frat house. Details, schmetails.

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