Monday, October 3, 2011

Leaving Vancouver; Arriving at The Netherlands

Vancouver—up to Expo 1986, a quite modest and relatively underrated spot—has seen incomprehensible growth ever since the late 80’s, often to be considered the #1 city in the world to live in. The 2010 Winter Olympics which took place there had a lot to do with the immense infrastructure upgrades the city has been experiencing ever since the mid-2000’s. Three of the noteworthy changes are the Sea-to-Sky Highway Upgrade project (converting this fabulous ocean- and mountain-side drive from a 1-lane to 2-lanes highway, each direction); the building of the Canada Line—essentially, a brand-new subway line taking you from downtown all the way to the airport; and the superb renovations made to YVR—Vancouver’s international airport.

Bidding my father goodbye, I departed the 1:30pm train from Yaletown (the Vancouver neighbourhood I live in); 20 something minutes later I was already in the terminal.


Even the terminal’s interior is amazing. The airport won the Skytrax Best North American Airport award for 2010—for the second time (first time in 2007), and the terminal building is very well themed after British Columbia’s most respectable trait—its immense, indescribable natural beauty:


Therefore I wasn’t surprised to find this in the terminal:


As well as this aquarium:


Sat down for a pre-boarding meal at Milestone’s:


Slight flight delay and we went on our way.

$187 spent in an attempt to have a comfortable 9 hours flight from Vancouver to Amsterdam turned out to be somewhat of a waste. KLM flies a McDonnell-Douglas 11 (MD-11) on their direct route from Vancouver to Amsterdam, which isn’t the most convenient aircraft in the world to begin with. Their “Economy Comfort” class, for which you have to pay to upgrade from “Regular Economy”, does buy you some extra leg room but still, flying with Air Canada you can get a better-quality “Premium Economy” seat for about one third of the price.

So keep that in mind if you happen to take such a flight.

Anyway, my immense height (astounding 1.83m) meant I just couldn’t get into a position suitable for any level of sleep, which resulted in a rather unpleasant, sleepless flight. Failing to fall asleep during the flight, I watched that Hollywood movie, “The Adjustments Bureau”. Nice idea for a movie, extraordinarily dumb script and execution. My advice: avoid.

Tired, but happy nonetheless, I finally arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. As soon as I picked up my backpack and arrived at the arrivals hall, flashbacks from last year’s tour kicked in: I am, once again, on the move; and when I’m on the move, I’m alive.

Took me a couple of more minutes to get into “train riding” mode. One way ticket from the airport to Delft, through The Hague—done. To the platform, where a lovely young lady asked me if I could share with her some of my experience in Schiphol airport. Rarely happy to answer questionnaires but always happy to say “yes” to beautiful women (that’s what my mother taught me), I obliged only to start thinking “WTF” when she asked me if I had the chance to use Schiphol’s restrooms. I said “yes”, genuinely intrigued as to what question was coming next.

As the train was approaching, she thanked me and asked me if I have any comments or remarks.

—“Yes, I have one”, I said.

—“What is it?”

—“I think you’re gorgeous”.

A semi-puzzled, semi-embarrassed look wasn’t too far off what I had expected; hopped on the train and off I went on my ride to Delft.

My good friend Jeroen Gerrits, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a few dozens concerts in the past, lives in Delft. I have been here before—if my memory serves me right, this is my fourth time here. It’s a beautiful quiet little Dutch city about an hour away by train from Amsterdam, and about ten minutes away by train from The Hague and Rotterdam.

When I first packed for this trip, I relied mainly on my common sense claiming that this is autumn in Europe so I should better bring some warm clothing. Luckily, I double-checked with Jeroen the day before; turned out that October 1st, the day before I arrived here, was the hottest October 1st in Delft since measurements had begun: 26℃. Therefore I wasn’t that surprised to step out of the train into the platform and be welcome with a punch of warm wind and humidity that I’m sure even hell would object.

Nevertheless, it’s always good to see this good Dutchman. Quick setup in the apartment, then off for some afternoon coffee in “Coffee Company” at the Market Square, which is where things are happening in Delft: nothing much happens anywhere else around this beautiful little city.

Dinner time didn’t take much to arrive but did end up being quite the peculiar experience.

Before that, a word about the dining experience in The Netherlands (in general; even though the same holds for a few other western European countries). Tipping isn’t a common practice in The Netherlands as the waiting staff in restaurants get paid reasonable salaries (unlike North America where a part of the waiting staff’s salary is skilfully delegated by the restaurant’s owner to the diners).

Therefore, if you come from North America and you get to the typical Dutch restaurant, under no circumstances should you feel insulted or mistreated should you fail to see the waiting staff doing everything within their powers to impress you. Nobody here is going to kiss your arse for extra tips, which, in my mind, is a blessed norm (I can’t stress enough how annoying it is for me to step into Canadian restaurants and encounter fake smiles and artificially-enthusiastic manners).

So anyway, we were sitting down right in one of the squares, an outdoors patio-like arrangement when we were greeted by a young waiter. Now I can’t exactly recall how everything started—hell, I don’t even remember what I had asked—but within a couple of minutes, we were all having a rather enthusiastic conversation.

Which wasn’t that bad if there were no other customers waiting for service right by us, often looking at him and failing to understand why it takes 20 minutes to take an order.

About 5 minutes into the conversation, I was already familiar with much of this guy’s life. Barely 18 years old, dating a blonde model (he agreed to show a picture. Yes, she has been granted Isaac’s Seal of Approval, despite her being blonde which I usually take points off for). They are moving in together (she is 17), into a house that they bought (again, they’re 18 and 17 years old), much thanks to the guy’s father who happened to win €100,000 in the lottery last year (€40,000 went towards buying the house, another €30,000 towards buying a new car and I could quite get where the rest of the money went).

He was taking on a waiting job as part of his studies, as he wants to be in the hotel business (customer service is indeed a skill worth developing for that purpose). His girlfriend’s sister is 19 years old (blonde, too) and he happens to have a girl friend who is 29 years old, brunette and carrying a D cup-size bra—allegedly, a perfect match for yours truly. She lives in a suburb of The Hague.

This entire thing was pretty strange. I didn’t know whether to become annoyed or to laugh when I realized that the reason for our drinks to be 25 minutes late was merely that this guy found another patron to sit next to and talk to.

20 minutes after asking for the bill, it failed to arrive which prompted us to take pro-active measures and go ask for it ourselves.

Strange… very strange. But funny, nonetheless. Yet another interesting turn of events to add to my never-ending array of social puzzlements.

Didn’t catch much sleep last night. Vancouver is 9 hours behind Vancouver which makes trans-Atlantic visits a living hell for west coasters. It’s Monday, everybody’s back to work so I went on my way to enjoy the city. Perfect weather for walking out and about.

“Hond In De Goot”, according to Google Translate, means “Dog in the Gutter”. There are bylaws in The Netherlands practically begging people to clean up after their dogs (in Canada, this is very strictly followed) but apparently people aren’t listening, so “Hond In De Goot” asks people to at least have their dogs respond to their nature calls over the gutters.

Quite the picturesque place, Delft is:


Now I don’t know about you, but I’d feel quite uncomfortable having to be parking so close to the water. This, however, is very common in The Netherlands.


How about this, a floating patio:


Another huge patio, shared between a few restaurants:


A swan…


And what’s better than this amazing store selling cheese and wines by the truckloads?


Sitting down for lunch, I encountered this interesting item in the menu. According to the menu, that sandwich was a finalist in the “Most Delicious Sandwich of Holland 2010”.


I’m not exactly the type of person to easily dismiss such a bold invitation for a duel. Not cheap for a sandwich but delicious nonetheless.


Around 3:40pm Monday afternoon; time for a nap. Tomorrow—Amsterdam for the entire day, before departing to Dublin on Wednesday. Stay tuned.


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