(Full photo set for this post can be found here)
We’re in Enschede, the Netherlands. We got here Friday afternoon and will be here until Thursday sometime.
First things first, and I didn’t know this before, Holland =/= The Netherlands. Here’s why. Now you know too!
We took an overnight ferry from England to the Netherlands. But first, we had to get to the dock. This was trickier than it may sound. For some context, let’s take Toronto (which, until now, is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in until last week). I’ve successfully, and without much difficulty, navigated Toronto’s two-line subway system home from work during rush hour. Sure, it’s busy, but you can get on the subway you want without too much fuss.
The London Underground has 13 lines. And a whole lot more people getting out of downtown at rush hour. And people paid to carry paddles to be used as crowd control to prevent people from being crushed into the subway train when it arrives at the station. It was insane! We had taken the overland train from Charlton, like we’d done the day before, to London Bridge. And then we got on our first subway. That was busy, but manageable. We got to the second subway, and one bunch of people got on, and there were more people that didn’t get on yet, and more people were piling up behind me, and I was carrying a giant backpack, and I was worried about the four of us getting on, so I decided unilaterally that we’d walk to the last station. Which was far better, but heavy (see giant backpack) and still pretty crowded. Anyway, we just made our train to Harwich by about 2 minutes. That train took us to Manningtree, and we changed to a train to Horwich.
Except for the subway, all of it was better than riding Via Rail. All of it.
We boarded the Ferry, which turned out to be huge! Turns out, there are something like 520 rooms on it. If you’re into boats, and your Dutch isn’t too rusty, you can see it here. The rooms were pretty comfy, though unsurprisingly tiny. And I thought I’d be all claustrophobic in a tiny room on a giant rocking boat, but the boat was so big that you couldn’t feel it moving (only when it was backing up out of the dock). The only trouble was that, while it let us board at 20:30, it left at 23:30 (which is actually 00:30, Holland time). And the boat docks at 7:45 (Holland time). They kindly provide you with a boat-wide wake up call at 6:30. Makes for a short night. In the morning, we woke up the kids (Vorlon was unimpressed) so that they could see us dock.
Another train took us to Rotterdam. Then another to Enschede. Well, most of the way. Part of the railway is under construction, so there’s a bus that picks up rail passengers and takes them to the Enschede station.
Again, all of it is better than Via Rail.
So far, Enschede’s been nice. I can, and probably will, write an entire blog post about the bikes. The centre, and older, part of the town is where many shops and restaurants are concentrated. While many people do live there, there’s a whole, newer, bigger part of town that we haven’t had much of a chance to see.
The food is… ok. Nothing stellar yet. They like hamburgers here. And mayonnaise. And sweet things. The kids have been digging the hagelslag. They’re basically sprinkles for toast. Usually chocolate (though they come in licorice and vanilla, and fruit). Apparently, it’s the breakfast of choice for kids around here (though I tried it too. For science. They make it in dark chocolate). I’ve had licorice, which I love. Even the salty stuff, just to make sure I still think it’s gross (it tastes stronly of ammonia. And I only got the double-salt…). I haven’t come across any Dutch chocolate yet.
We’ve been busy with the conference Dr. Thingo is here for. He is attending talks, or hosting sessions, or doing stuff related to the affiliated journal, of which he’s the editor for the next few years (do you have an mathematical art or artistic mathematics paper you’d like to publish? Talk to him!) There was a Family Day which was a big success with Vorlon in particular, in which there were workshops and hands-on demos. There was an informal music night, where people just go up on stage, or bring music and ask people to perform – I volunteered to help out with a short choral piece. That was in a church, and the acoustics are wonderful. There was a mime show that teaches mathematical concepts that was a great hit with the kids (the performers and their kids happen to be our neighbours at the B&B in which we’re staying). There was the formal music night last night, which is experimental, new music. I thought it was kind of neat, but Vorlon lost patience at the intermission, so I missed the second half and took him home while Dr. Thingo and Zebula stuck around. Tonight, there’s a play, which gets cast and rehearsed at the beginning of the conference and in which I was asked to sing a song for the intro (gulp!). It’s been fun, especially with the kids, and it’s really good to see Dr. Thingo in his element. The kids and I went to his talk and, damn, he’s a good presenter. I mean, I knew this, but it’s really great to see him in action. And everybody is nerdy and artsy at the same time, and it’s mostly good.
Our B&B is a refurbished villa called Villa de Pilla just outside the centre of town. It’s nice and bright. We share a bathroom with the other guests. The bathroom is large and has a large trough sink, two shower stalls with curtains for privacy, and a sub-room with a door that has the toilet. It’s a little different from my usual hotel experience, since the bathroom is never really all yours, so you can’t just jump naked out of the shower. Or, I guess you can, but you have to be ready to face your neighbour, who may be brushing his/her teeth right outside the curtain.
They serve a nice breakfast – I love Europe’s approach to carbs: “More is better”! A hard-boiled egg, a big warm roll, cheese, butter, jam, the aforementioned hagelslag, cereal, muesli, and granola with yogurt and milk. I like it. Oh, and strong, strong coffee. Dutch breakfasts make up for the rest of the day. And it’s been fun to hang out with the Chartiers (who were the mimes mentioned above) – they’re here with their kids, aged 10 and 7-ish, and they and Zebula and Vorlon have hit it off.
I love the Dutch language – it’s both softer and harsher than German (which I also love, and studied in university (3 terms !), but have largely forgotten, except for singing Bach and Brahms…). And I suck at it! I feel terrible, but since everybody here speaks excellent English, I haven’t had to try very hard. I did buy a dictionary because I was tired of guessing what the signs mean. I’ve found that saying things out loud helps – there are many vowel sounds that are different from German (ij and ui in particular) that make the word look different when written but sound kind of the same when you say it. Anyway, we’re in the Netherlands for another week, and I will make more of an effort. But the minute people here hear me butcher their language, they assume I speak English and switch to it asap.
We’re here until Thursday – the only firm thing we have planned is a bicycle excursion to look at different important pieces of architecture in the region. That’s Wednesday. We’re going to check out the Rijksmuseum Twente this afternoon (Rijk means ‘reign’, I guess it would translate best as Royal Museum. Twente is the region we’re in. There’s also a Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, so I’m guessing there are some all over the country).
This vacation is nice, but I’m ready to move on. We’ll be heading for Amsterdam sometime on Thursday afternoon and we’ll be there for three nights. We’ll be staying in an apartment right on a canal. I’m looking forward to cooking for myself, if only for a few days!