Archive for category Holland

Rotterdam: The Cinderella Story

Rotterdam. It’s a city of contrast. And coffee shops. The real kind, not the fake kind….

Bombed to hell and back by the Germans during World War II, its already flat surface took on a new look of demolition and turmoil, with a large majority of the city being destroyed in the process. Referred to as the Rotterdam Blitz, which makes it sound more like a winter sale than a war-time bombardment, much of the inner city was wiped out entirely as the Germans effectively tore apart the Dutch resistance.

Going forward – the war won, the dictator dethroned, the Dutch government turned to rebuilding the remains of the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Buildings were approved, houses were churned out en-mass; with the main focus on rebuilding rather than re-renovating. This has given the city a rather characteristic style – which I have on my bad days referred to as ‘rather hideous’, or ‘the ugly step-sister of Amsterdam’.

One should not journey to Rotterdam expecting ancient cathedrals. To sum it up for you, and no doubt shorten your journey, I can tell you that we have one. Uno. Een. And somehow the cathedral thinks that it’s a tree and needs to lean towards the sun (which generally lurks on the horizon like a bad smell, afraid to enter the room). You will also be confronted by rather interesting works of art scattered around the city like brightly coloured M&Ms. Much of the work is something that probably should have stayed in the gallery, but somehow managed to break out and invade the streets. One often wonders if the artist was on Acid when he came up with the concept, or the city approver was smoking what was left of the approval certificate. Either way, these works of art make journeying through the city an interesting excursion (please see Buttplug Santa). Please remember to close your mouth as you saunter down the alleyways, as staring is something that the Dutch do much better than you ever will (yes, my Dutch friends, you know what I am talking about).

The Crooked Church and a Hello-Kitty Statue

If one takes a walking tour, it would be quite easy to label the city as the ugly duckling upon a first glance. And on a bad day, shitting down with rain and nearly being killed by speeding bicycles, I would tend to agree with them. If we are judging by surface appearance, Rotterdam would probably be the last one picked for the soccer team. She would be the sympathy vote on American Idol; the slightly chubby girl who sings rather well, but would need some photoshop-assistance to sell any CDs. Preferably with lots of back-lighting and soft focus lenses.

But just as you would with a rather ugly family member – with time, you soon learn to forget the flaws and start appreciating the form and substance behind it. There is a myriad of sights and sounds to discover within the network of streets and alleyways, amidst the smoky haze of coffee shops.

And sometimes, just sometimes, our dear Cinderella gives us a glimpse of beauty beneath the ashes…

View from the Euromast (on a good day)


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Love thy Neighbour

Well, that was an interesting evening. I ran into my dear friends, the ex-neighbours who used to live above my wonderfully over-priced, under-equipped apartment. It was a brief, but unnecessary encounter that I would soon like to forget. Thankfully, I had not eaten anything otherwise I would have felt compelled to empty the contents of my stomach all over his cheap shoes and knees of his female. This all brings me back to little ditty that I wrote a few months back on my eye-opening experience with these wonderful individuals. They are the inspiration for this post, and may they be forever blessed with cement flooring. Or cement boots. Either way a win for humanity. Please read and enjoy:

Hate…. It is such a strong word; often used to describe a number of feelings, reactions, or perhaps casually inserted into our sentences, easy as 1, 2, 3. Perhaps we lack the vocabulary to research deep into our memory banks for a word that is a tad more descriptive; a smidgen more appropriate than something so simple to recall.

Let me attempt to explain my rambling. Where it is used in the context – “I hate Mondays” or “I hate brussel sprouts”  – one really must ask – do Mondays make your blood boil, your vision blur, cause your adrenal glands to head into 5th gear and speed down the highway of your bloodstream? If you’re nodding humorously over this, then you’re falling into the trap again. Words should ultimately be used where necessary and where applicable. If you’re finding that hard to accept, go buy a thesaurus.
For instance, what Hitler did to the Jews, the Gays and the Gypsies was terrible. Your version of a ‘terrible day’ would pale in pastely, anorexic comparison to the reality of the word. It seems that, for the sake of drama, we often interchange words for ones that are less appropriate, but terribly impressive sounding. While it is perfectly human to exaggerate, often we need to curb our desire for enthusiastic boasts to really and truly explain the emotions and events that actually deserve the meanings of the words attached to them.

Oh no, words like “hate” should be reserved for things that truly deserve it. Which leads me to my next point – and please bear with me as I begin to express my feelings of pure, unadulterated hatred where they are most truly deserved.

First, this needs a history of the fauna of the building that I currently live in.

The first floor is home to Dawie, the minute black dog of mixed heritage that someone manages to look like a pug. It’s a bit harder to describe, so imagine a lump of coal that has somehow had legs attached, and a curly little tail thrown because the original buyer got a 2 for 1 special. Imagine a miniature pig, dipped in crude oil with bulging eyes that used to belong to an alien. Attach a leash around its neck, and pretend to talk it.

This is Dawie and he is pleased to meet your acquaintance.

Dawie owns an old Dutch woman of advanced years, who he takes for walks on regular occasion. Dawie is also highly fluent in English and Dutch, and is able to converse in a number of different languages, including Hindi, Afrikaans and American. While the little old lady, who shall be referred to as the little old lady from hereon, enjoys many a rambling conversation with Dawie on the likes of important world events, like the chronicles of “Did we get mail?” and “Oh, I see it is cold outside”, these conversations are strangely one-sided. Dawie knows that his words of wisdom should be kept silent, lest they fall on unwanted ears and has since made a vow of blessed silence for the rest of his doggy life. Dawie also enjoys rolling in faeces, long walks in the park and chasing the seagulls that tell him the “hondenpoep” is theirs, theirs, theirs.

Dawie also hates black people.

This is a rather sensitive topic, and we are going to skim over the greater details of this issue. When questioned on this matter, the little old lady has on occasion mentioned that Dawie is merely expressing his desire to urinate on the next passing fire hydrant, which causes him to become excitable. This should not be confused with the crazed dog-shrieks that are directed at those of darker complexion. Moving on

The second floor is, of course, occupied by our resident princess, her royal Burmese highness – Tori. Tori cannoned into our lives a few months back, with the aid of a large bank account, endless amounts of cuteness and a strong desire to spend 500 Euros on “something pretty to match the furniture”. Anyone who has ever owned a Burmese will already know that the lines between Owner and Owned are quickly scribbled over like a 3 year old attempting to colour in a Disney picture in an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Now this is where the story leads us. To the jungles of the third floor. Each floor of the apartment building contains a most rare and interesting furry companion. We have spoken about Dawie, the wise and venerable racist mutt. We have spoken about Tori, and her obvious feline disregard for humanity and pot plants and the bank account. Now we get to the wonderfully misunderstood creature that inhabits the third floor.

The pygmy elephant.

Do not let its four-foot-five appearance deceive you. Or the fact that it wears a skirt and cannot reach the top shelf in the kitchen. What this creature loses out on in terms of size, it makes up for in foot-pounding, earthquake-shattering, behemoth-stomping madness that could only be described as small nuclear explosions detonating on your ceiling. If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, then this creature is the beast that launched a thousand stampeding feet down the canyon. For many months, my little family and I were terrorized – no, molested – by the frequent stampedes of this creature. Often times I have lain awake thinking of how it really has, has, has to be a washing machine making that noise during the midnight hours (including complimentary squeaking).

Words like hatred should be reserved for times like these, where I can truly say that I HATE this creature from the depths of my small, grubby little soul. This uncomprehending, socially unaware little demon that possesses the floors above me, haunting my waking hours with the noise of its travels, and my dreams with the sounds of its mating rituals.

Yea my fellow readers. Do not disregard the power of exaggeration, for often it can capture truly the nature of the beast. When I reserve the use of the word hate, I hold it back in the corner of my mouth, just next to the tongue, and when I need it, I will spit it out into the face of the pygmy elephant and its boyfriend.

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What Santa brings the bad kids….

This is one of my favourite pieces of art. Not that it’s truly awe-inspiring in the artistic sense – more that it reaches out and slaps you right in the sensibilities, reminding us all of why city-wide approvals of artwork should not be done by doddering old men with no grip on reality, or a Google-search function to find out the meaning of certain words.

Referred to as “Santa with the Christmas Tree” by little old ladies who know no better, and commonly called the “Dwarf with a Buttplug” by the rest of us, this wonderful statue decorates an open expanse in Eendrachtsplein, Rotterdam, sharing a spot with my favourite coffee shop. You can find a Google Streetview of it by clicking here.

It stares at you with a stupid smile (buried somewhere beneath the beard), sitting so serene in the square with the innocence of a garden-gnome, and is anything but Bashful (I’m sorry, I just had to go there) of all the commotion that it causes.

Interesting fact: The organisers of the annual Gay Pride Parade requested to use this wonderful little man as their mascot. The request was denied by the now mortally offended city officials. Because – of course – it would be terribly embarrassing for the city of Rotterdam to allow the friendly gnome to be used in such a manner. As if displaying it in a public square is not bad enough already. I would liken this to wanting to wash the dishes while the house is on fire.  In your underwear.

I understand that the city took around seven years to decide where to put it. And by this I am referring to the statue… Please keep your minds out of the gutter, folks.



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Octogenarians, Girls-who-are-not-students and a racist mutt called Dawie

This week has been a rather interesting one – and despite some of my best attempts at jotting something humorous down (read: absolutely none), I have been a bit distracted with the imminent move to Denmark and therefore starting this blog has slipped down the list. Unforgivably so.

However, in my defence, this week has been full to the brim of exciting Dutch madness. The kind that I have grown strangely used to – and perhaps even a little fond of (admittedly after a glass of wine and the prescription medications have kicked in).

I have a dear old (that goes without saying) octogenarian living below me. Along with her life-long companion – Dawie, the racist pug who loves white people (and does not like chocolate) – our octogenarian friend spends most of her time doing three things:

a) Getting drunk at the local corner restaurant. Life is a big-piss up apparently and should be drowned in a cheap glass of wine at every opportunity you get.

b) Convincing people that she is a naturally gifted magnetic healer. Note: numerous attempts at having her perform her ‘skills’ on my octogenarian-like back have been inconclusive and frankly downright embarrassing (a.k.a a fat waste of my precious time).

c) Appearing at my front doorstep for no apparent reason, where she allows Dawie, the wonderfully curious mutt that he is, to charge into my apartment and terrorize my two Burmese. What the woman does not realise is that the one cat could probably make mince-meat out of her beloved companion, yet repeated attempts to warn her in broken Dutch fail to strike a neuron. Stay tuned for more exciting updates on mauled dogs. And a picture if I get lucky. It’s almost worth the insurance claim..

My partner in crime made the deliberate (and rather stupid move) of giving her the number for our land-line. This probably falls on the list of “Top Stupid Things to Do”, just below “Pressing that Red Button that specifically asks you not to press it” and just above “Opening that Gay Club next to a Mosque and handing out promo-flyers during prayer-time”.  So, with our number set on speed-dial, our octogenarian friend makes good use of her free minutes, calling when the fancy suits her – from early in the morning to late at night. At this point, I have to cut in and point out that even my beloved mother avoids calling me after 11. This old woman has no compunction, or her internal clock and common sense all seem to be pointing in the wrong direction.

What makes this week’s drama all the more interesting is that – as luck would have it – the washing machine decides to pack in and do a rain-dance above the old woman’s kitchen. Calling the handy-man was a cinch. Dealing with an old woman who wants blow-by-blow accounts of the repairing process when she cannot understand a word of English is not. In fact, I have created a new rule for my personal life because of this drama. Call me more than thirty times in one sitting and I will disconnect my land-line.

You stupid b**ch.

Aside from the broken washing machine and the lack of clean tighty-whiteys, our upstairs neighbours have also signed the secret contract to annoy me and my family. Perhaps we are a little sensitive when it comes to noise levels, as we had problems with the previous tenants – they tended to gallop around the apartment like it was a relay, and the fate of the world depended on them making it around the make-believe circuit. The paper-thin ceilings did not appreciate the Olympic-style event and neither did we. After numerous complaints (yes, I turned into that kind of neighbour – but for valid reasons: listening to someone do the down-and-dirty, complete with animal noises is not the kind of PG evening I wanted to have. Luckily for us, the guy was a sprinter, and not a long-distance runner) – where was I? Ah, yes, after numerous complaints, they finally evacuated the apartment and returned to the trailer park and the shallow end of the gene pool where they rightfully belonged. The landlord – now sick to death of me and mine – decided that it would be a good idea to give the lease to three med students.

As I write this, I wonder if that was a stupid decision, or clearly calculated as payback for my thoughtfully-worded emails to the landlord’s office. Whatever the case, the med students – three lovely little girls with a tendency for high heels and drunken revelry – often mixing the two, as they would their cocktails (i.e. badly) – come with their own brand of annoying, which borders on put-a-drill-in-my-ear-and-rotate kinda irritating.

We hit it off fabulously after they corrected me for referring to them as students. Having already mentioned that they were not fully-trained doctors, and that they were in the process of writing exams, I thought that it would be safe ground to tread on.

Apparently not.

Nevertheless, these delusional little girls seem to have created a limbo existence where you live, drink and party like a student, but have a real job. Before I go on, please could I just say: Where is this company, and where can I apply?!?!

That little bit of awkwardness aside, tonight they are celebrating a birthday party and I am to expect the usual noises of demolitions and high-speed roadworks above my head. I have been invited to the celebration, but I must admit, I would rather drink toilet-water. Discussing Justin Bieber over cheap liquor just isn’t my thing. Tonight, if the fancy takes me, perhaps I shall record the sounds, and then set it as my ring-tone in the office. Annoying my colleagues is one of my few, but exquisite pleasures that I savour like a lolly-pop.

If this post has been a tad on the b**chy side, I must apologise. I have a curious suspicion that I am deliberately attempting to get mad at the collective Dutch nation in some misguided attempt at trying NOT to miss them. Perhaps this is a type of self-adjustment, a preparation for my departure to Denmark. Perhaps this will make leaving a place that I have called home for the last two years easier.

Or perhaps I am just full of sh*t.

We shall see, my pretties.


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