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Got into Amsterdam yesterday morning, tired as heck. That was my first long flight -- 13 hours of travel all together, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Anyway, I'm still in a fog from jet lag, but here are some random thoughts on my first impression of this place...
Fifteen minutes by train from Schipol Airport to Leiden through the Dutch countryside. Big windmills, check. Pretty farmland, check. Rows of trees are planted in a very orderly fashion in the countryside, not a lot of random flora. Kind of strange. It's very damp here, a lot like Seattle. Everyone smokes here. In the airport, in the restaurants, in the street, in the hotel. Blech. Most of the folks in Leiden ride bicycles and little motorbikes, and there are bicycle lanes everywhere to accomodate them. Sitting at a cafe last night I saw several couples ride by where the man was peddling and the woman was sitting on a little back seat over the rear wheel. Very cute. Central Europe (as this part of Europe is called in Scandinavia) is kind of dumpy and dirty. There's an odd mixture of 17th century quaintness and Euro-modernness. I really like the old architecture. The new stuff is crap. This is a university city, and most of the kids are dressed pretty shabbily. In America it's fashionable to look that way, but here they mean it, because they can't afford much. The Dutch kids wear their clothes and shoes until they completely fall apart -- duct tape seems to be a popular way to hold shoes together.
I tipped the taxi driver this morning, and he looked at the money and asked, "Is this for Sunday?" I asked him if it wasn't customary to tip in Holland, and he said, "Money is very expensive here." Hmm. Transportation and dining out are expensive. A five minute taxi ride costs 10 euros ($13), and a modest meal for two at a restaurant costs about 40 euros ($50). The prices at the little grocery store were quite reasonable, though. My husband tells me that it seems inexpensive, but Europeans don't make very much (esp. after taxes), so it's expensive to them. Last night I gave some money to a saxophone player at the train station, and he made a big deal about it -- now I understand why. If there is one upside to all this, it's that the people around here all seem pretty fit. I have seen exactly two
overweight people so far. That's mostly due to the amount of bicycling and walking everyone does, but also due to the expensiveness of indulgence. Few people can afford to eat out all the time (hubby and I eat out 3-5 times a week back home) or to drive everywhere.
Lots of natural blondes here. Dutch girls are very pretty. The men. Hmm. The older men are still masculine looking, but the younger men are skinny and lanky and kind of metrosexual. If there was ever an outright invasion here I'm not sure how much resistance these scrawny bicycle-riding guys would offer. Everyone speaks english here, and speaks it well. The accents are absolutely charming. Coupled with the Dutch prettiness, I could see how an American man could fall in love here about every five minutes.
Television is about what I expected. Twenty channels with not much on. Last night I watched Die Hard
with Dutch subtitles. I studied German as an undergrad, and it's quite close to Dutch. It's kind of fun to try to follow along with the subtitles -- I think a person could learn the language fairly easily this way. Anyway, it's always interesting to see where the subtitles are not consistent with what's being spoken. For instance, all of the profanity of Die Hard
was left in, but it wasn't translated literally in the subtitles. My impression was that "yippee-ki-yay, motherf-cker" became "so there, dumb-head." Later in the evening I watched a few minutes of Waking Ned Devine
dubbed in German. Too funny. Irish people speaking like Colonel Klink. There's a lot of German programming, actually, especially dubbed American movies. Tried to watch a few minutes of a John Wayne movie, but the dubbed voice was all wrong and it was just too painful. Let's see, what else... dorky Dutch game shows, a few obscure subtitled American sitcoms and third-rate made-for-TV movies, lots of car racing, lots of rock videos, CNN (naturally), BBC news (naturally), and then in the late evening the sex ads. Tons of them. Very risque.
OK, I am heading out now to the rijksmuseums (state museums) and the gardens. Not sure how much spare time I'll have once the conference starts, but I'll try to check in here once in a while (maybe even with photos!). Until then, Doie!
The view one block away from my hotel. This biggie is now a windmill museum.
The view right next to the windmill. See what I mean? The new stuff is ugly.
Leiden has canals and bridges everywhere. A very watery town.
The view on the way to downtown.
Across from the cafe. The bike culture is very prevalent here. (I decided to rent a bicycle so I can zip around town like a proper Nederlandse!)