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Het Withstraat Dagboek: Zondag Zonneschijn en Tot Ziens!

View from Willemskade, looking towards Erasmusbrug, with Noordereiland beneath.
Alright, if you insist on booking a trip to mainland Europe to take place during February then you expect grey skies, clouds pregnant with impending snow storms and ice-cold temperatures. To this realisation I am willing to concede, but I do like a surprise.

It is Sunday 17th February and the sun is shining in the cold winter air and there are but a few wisps of cloud in the vast blue sky.

Accompanied by Emma and Pia, I head to breakfast at the Bizar again. It seems I really can’t get enough of rubbing my clean-living ways into the faces of the two other teachers. Envy doesn’t really rear its head as they tuck into more duizend-gaten-flensje. The joke is once more on the guy with the gluten allergy who has no other option on the menu.

After breakfast I have my first real mission of the day. I need to head off to the station and buy a ticket for my Italian student. She’s heading to Rome for the half-term and is flying directly from Amsterdam Schipol a good few hours before the rest of the group’s flight to London is due to leave.

I wander around the corner to Rotterdam Centraal. Although still in places a bit of building site, the vastness and cleanliness of the station makes my local station, Walthamstow Central, look like a rural halt - Ironically, both are owned by the Nederlandse Spoorwegen. European rail travel is something quite alien to me, so I find the atmosphere, the ebbs and the flows of people very intriguing, and no one seems to be in a rush.

In the ticket office I try my broken Dutch on the sales assistant. I start, “Ik wil een ticket naar Amsterdam Schipol.” The woman frowns at me slightly, before replying in English, “On the fast or slow train?” The frown, I later discover when I get to that point on my Michel Thomas Total Dutch CD, is because I demanded a ticket using ‘I want’ rather than asking for one using the more polite “mag ik” (literally, ‘may I’). At least I tried.

This awkward encounter over, I buy a disposable chipkaart (like a disposable oyster card) and head back on the number 7 tram to 59a Witte de Withstraat, there to organise the annual ‘where are the keys’ pantomime starring the students.

As I arrive, the students’ production is in full swing. There are: spare beds in the wrong rooms, empty Coke bottles in every possible storage space, the faint odour of day-old shawama, clothes all over the floor, and, in a variation on the usual formula, all the keys are present, but none of them are in the rooms they are designed to open the doors for.

Art on Witte de Withstraat: "Suddenly, when I just want to kiss my nipple..."
A little while later, the students head off into town to go shopping around Oude Binnenweg, Pia and Emma head off the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition in the Kunsthal and I take the number 2 tram to Wilhelminaplein. 

Once there I get off the tram, heading over the Spoorweghavenbrug along Stieltjesstraat, over the Koninginnebrug and onto Noordereiland (lit: North Island).

Noordreiland, a manmade island completed in the 1870s following the construction of the Koningshaven, is today home to around 3,600 residents. To an outsider like myself, looks like a nice place to live. In some ways it is very separate from the rest of the city, being as it is an island, yet, with the Koninginnebrug and the Willemsbrug connecting it to the mainland, there is a sense that the island is still very much a part of Rotterdam.

After taking my now obligatory photographs of De Hef, I board the tram from Laan op Zuid and to Willemsplein. After basking in the sunshine beating down, relatively speaking, on Willemskade, and capturing a few panoramic shots of Erasmusbrug and the Kop van Zuid, I turn the corner onto Veerkade and head into a bar/restaurant called Loos (pronounced a bit like “lows”).

Here I ‘demand’ a coffee and wait for Pia and Emma to arrive, killing time by looking up words in my recently acquired dictionaries. When they appear, after some typically amateurish usage of Google Maps by the pair, we take some time to reflect on the trip. The students have been well behaved. Good, There has been some sunshine. Good. We had the chance to discover some ‘new’ areas. Very good. 

The vibe seems a little flat though. There’s no doubt that organising the trip has been more difficult this year than in previous years. Money is increasingly an issue for cross-curricular trips. Perhaps our mood is reflecting the very real possibility that this could be our last visit with the students, or maybe it’s something else.

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