Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Waar Zijn Jullie?

Westersingel: one direct road to the station and easy to get lost on... apparently.
The wonderful thing about Rotterdam is that so much of the city centre, from the Nieuwe Maas to Centraal station, and beyond, is built on a grid system. This, to most mortals, makes navigating the streets a breeze, but to students? 

It is Saturday 15th April, the sun is shining and feels warm, but we’re all waiting on a street corner. Amazingly, in the half a mile walk from Albert Heijn by the Vaasteland tram stop to Rotterdam Centraal, The Couple have gone missing – building on the curfew-breaking performance of the previous evening.

In my inimitable style, and channelling my inner Julian, I am remaining calm about things. I attempt to call both halves of The Couple, but to no avail. I’ll be honest, although it destroys my idealised version of Rotterdam being permanently covered in snow, I am enjoying the sunshine.

Unfortunately, Pia isn’t quite as polite about the situation. The fuse was lit following the reporting of last night’s curfew breaking at breakfast time. The fuse had half burned as a result of being invited to walk to Centraal station, rather then getting The Twins' favourite #7 tram. This disappearing act by The Couple has tipped her over the edge.

Before her string of [mild] expletives threatens to get the sixteen survivors of the walk arrested for the Dutch equivalent of a Section 5 public order offence, I hand over the train tickets to her and ask the Eritrean and Grenadian to escort her on to the next train to Amsterdam. I ring ahead and let Kevin and Dennis know that Pia is arriving in thirty minutes and to have a fire extinguisher at hand – failing that a coffee will do.

I get a #7 tram back in the general direction of Hostel Room. As I near the Witte de Withstraat stop my phone rings. It’s The Couple. Managing to sustain my sunny disposition I tell them to wait there, using my journey to plot something harsh and evil to say, but I don’t have it in me.

When I find them, their version of events seems to hinge firstly on taking too long in Albert Heijn, not realising that everyone was wandering in the general direction of the main station. They then seem to have gone underground at Eendrachtsplein, realised they don’t know how to buy a ticket, so walked to the Beurs Metro station, and then back to Eendrachstplein once more for good measure, before finally returning to the hostel.

We eventually end up catching a train one hour after the rest of the group and when we arrive in Amsterdam, the rest of the group have gone hunting for lunch and ended up at KFC... as usual. Pia has given them all the slip and headed to ‘t Nieuwe Kafé on Dam Square.

After her second koffie it is clear that Pia’s blood pressure has returned to normal. She disappears off in search of plants of a legal variety, the curfew breakers head off towards the shops, the Twins head off to presumably ride on a few trams, and Kevin, Dennis and I lead a small group for a ‘cultural walking tour.’

We head along Damstraat, crossing one canal, before turning left onto Oudezijds Achterburgwal, passing a number of dens of ill repute – in my students’ eyes at least. As ever, the realities of the sex trade and the cannabis cafés, or ‘coffee shops’, come as a shock when compared with the myths that surround both aspects of Amsterdam life in the eyes of your average British 17-year-old.

Our group of students, consisting of some of the better-behaved students, huddle closely together as we pass women in the windows. As we cross onto Molensteeg and head along Zeedijk towards the Nieuwmarkt, they want to stop and talk. As a group of young females it is hard for them to understand why it is that a sex trade of any sorts can actually be allowed to happen so openly. Kevin and Dennis explain a little about how, with it being regulated the way it is, at least it appears to be superficially safer, however much they may agree with the girls’ sentiments.

Reclining on an afternoon boat ride in Amsterdam.
We continue away from the red light district and towards Waterloopleinmarkt. It is a classified by FourSquare as a flea market and is full of interesting artefacts and trinkets, from swords, to cameras, to clothes. Kevin, Dennis and I can only stand back and watch as the girls look at and scrutinise every stall, engage every stallholder in conversation and start throwing their Euros around.

With stomachs beginning to rumble once more, we stop off for some vlaamse frite on our way back to Dam Square where we meet Pia in possession of some Class A tulip bulbs for her mother.

When the group is together once more, we go on a boat tour of the canals. The students are clearly suffering after last night’s antics and take the opportunity to sleep for the vast majority of the trip – much to the delight of the other customers who seemed unimpressed with our loud arrival on the 5pm sailing.

Dinner is booked for 9pm at the Indian restaurant, Lulu, next door to our hostel, so Pia and I decide we should get going as soon as our tour is over, much to the dismay of The Couple who want to go shopping. We stop, look at each other, shake our heads and turn towards the station.

It transpires that this decision to leave straight away was wise. After realising that our tickets are only valid on the slow train, and after some dancing from platform to platform, we board the double-decker train, only for it to terminate some 25 minutes later in nowheresville. 

With my Dutch being tested to the limit, I just about work out that there are engineering works, but have no idea what to do next. Luckily for all of us, some of our Muslim girls have struck up a conversation with a Dutch hijabi who guides us in the vague direction of a rail replacement bus. At this point I get separated from the rest of the group and onto a different bus.

When we arrive in Gouda, around twenty minutes later, angry Pia is back. Apparently a racist drunkard has been running amok on their bus, talking about Nazis and the like. Fortunately, Pia is a blue belt in karate and so was able to use some of her special moves to repel his racism, but, in doing so, her sense of humour had taken a massive hit. The students seemed to have found the whole episode rather exciting though.

When we roll into Rotterdam Centraal, hideously late for dinner, I grant The Twins their wish and we all take the tram back towards the hostel. After some careful negotiation, the restaurateur lets us in, by this time an hour late for our booking, but has to split us over three tables. 

I look at our remaining money for the trip. Our finances are looking good and so we go all out for dinner, diving into three courses of excellent food at Lulu and the party is only just getting started.

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