…I take my luggage, say good bye to the flight attendant and look back to see if Adela is still with me. The first step on Schiphol airport and my first impression ,,a lil’bit rainy”. And now a smile runs through my face but this was my first impression. We left a scorching august heat back home and here the Dutch thermometers were showing only 16 degrees. I look around and fill my lungs with the new air…There are moments when you just cannot stop smiling. It is when your teacher slips and falls into a bucket, your favorite joke comes into your mind in church and when after months of trials all of this became reality. You stand there alone for a second, you shut yourself from the rest of the world and smile…Com’on. Let’s get our luggage – I hear Adela’s voice.
You slowly walk through the terminals ‘cause everything is still new, mesmerizing, thousands swarming around you. Some from Africa, Asia or other parts of Europe. Everyone talking in his own language and in the midst of the hustle and bustle you ask a tourist to at least take a picture of you. You smile and thank her. Where can someone find his bags? It’s not that complicated; you just have to follow the arrows and hopefully not end up in the restroom.
They check your passport and with certain pride you stand in the third row because now you are a member of the EU too. No problems with our baggage. We got them in a few minutes and headed to the train station…Until now everything is hi-tech, really new, immaculate and if you’d drop your sandwich on the ground you would pick it up and it eat. The ticket vending machine turned out to be too complicated so we were content using the traditional way. 7 euro 50 replies in English the ticket vender. Well this is a novelty, ‘cause we didn’t even have to ask if duu yu spiik inglish? The bags are heavy, we slightly tired but in the same time absorbing everything that’s new. An escalator later we were already standing near the tracks.
Hello. Hi…Yes….We’ve just arrived…and you call up your worried parents, ‘cause the plain didn’t crash, Osama’s nephew most probably missed the flight and in addition to that we found the right railway track. I only find out now where I’m going to spend the night because it just happened that I forgot that my room would be available the second day. A guy met by Adela on the internet. Well, we’ll see what will happen – I say to myself and the train just arrived. Well it’s not quite the Eastern European personal train…one bag, the second and the third. We take a sit… A not quite tiny immigrant lady probably from Suriname by my side listening to her iPod. I look ahead and a sign in four languages pops-up. Please don’t block the entrance of the ticket conductor. And among the four languages Dutch. Hm…It’s slightly similar to German – I say to myself. I’ll learn it in no time (of course everyone knows when someone is still up in the clouds and doesn’t step on the ground everything seems nice and well and accomplishable). In front of me Adela’s curious figure and next to her another immigrant. The new Western society that is still strange to someone from back home who thinks that in Holland you can only find blond Dutchies. Well not quite.
I stare into the outside darkness broken occasionally by the lights of a building. Ajax Stadium and both of us jump up for a second. Well, we will have to come here sometime. We definitely have to watch a match. – says Adela (she’s a great soccer fan by the way).
A half an hour didn’t even pass when we heard the name of our stop Utrecht Centraal…our new home…the train stops, you get your bags, step of the train and look around. Chilly, a lil’bit messy and you look for a stare among the concrete columns. Oh, look! An escalator! One thing off our minds…A shopping mall appears in front of us. Once again hundreds swarm around us, strange Dutch signs and people talking in an even stranger language…A few minutes don’t even pass when suddenly a Rasta haired Dutch fellow appears. He introduces himself. He would be Core our host for tonight. Taller than average, his jacket slightly dirty, his blond hair spun in a typical Rasta style and still he’s chilled out. He takes one of my bags and with faster paces we walk towards the bus-stop. This is a new world. Totally contrary with my first impression. Although everything is modern and taken care of, the ground is dirty, a good couple of paper sheets play with the chilly wind. Lots of immigrants, smoking junkies…Utrecht bus-station on a Friday night after 1O o’clock…We look at each other with Adela and for a moment we knew what the other was asking himself; if this is the right place?… but our doubts vanished in an instance. Unfortunately I only have one bike, but I can take one of your bags. You have to take bus nr. 3 to Manixlaan station and I’ll wait for you there. – says Core while we were pondering how an earth will he take a 2O kilo bag on his bike. But this is Holland. During rainy mornings when we bike with Ludivine to the University we come across many Dutch mothers carrying three blond kids on their bikes…I hesitate for a moment but eventually I give him my small bag. The newly encountered Dutchy rides away and lightning almost strikes me… Oh, God!!! I have my laptop in it, my mp3 player and all my valuables!! – and I panic for a moment and think of the stupidity I’ve just done. Meanwhile Adela reassured me that he’s trustworthy and many people recommended him on the internet. But it doesn’t comfort me. In a foreign city you give your bag to a foreign guy and believe him that he’ll wait for you in a bus-station of which’s name you can’t even pronounce. So everyone can think that for a good half an hour I had a bundle of carrots up my rear. I was telling myself each minute how stupid I was…
While we were waiting for the bus we took a glance of the city map and started finding our way. This is where we are and this is where we have to go…The bus just arrived. The driver’s a smiling chap, slightly gotten fat behind the wheel. The knowledge of English is something natural so we didn’t have to mimic the place we were heading to. 1 euro eighty and after taking the money he gave us two Strippenkaarts. Before I write about that almost a second lightning struck me upon hearing the price of the ticket I will say two words about this Strippenkaart thingy. In the Netherlands one can travel with the same ticket. It doesn’t matter if you are from The Hague and wonder on the streets of Rotterdam, the same ticket is valid everywhere and according to your destination you get one, two or more stripes (strippens). Of course as someone might have guessed the further you go the more strippens you need and your wallet gets lighter proportionally…So coming back to the present I chocked for a second upon hearing the price but we had to pay for it. You cannot get a free fair that easily. We struggled with the bags and asked the bus-driver to tell us where we have to get of. A couple of words about the driver. Polite, he knows at least one foreign language, you buy the ticket from him and he wares a uniform. A couple of words about the sofer from back home. If he happens to be Hungarian then he can speak two languages, ‘cause he is fluent in Romanian and maybe he even knows a third language (greater chance) a mixture of the previous two. He hadn’t shaved for probably a week, you don’t buy the ticket from him and sitting on the other-side of a glass window he yells at other whacko drivers while in the 4O degrees scorching heat his naked belly rests on the steering wheel. Maybe I was subjective but many would agree.
Well after this amazing comparison (let’s not talk about the buses’ quality) let’s get back into the bus where the two Eastern Europeans were staring at the bikes lying on the edge of the road….We stared and looked…Small grey Dutch homes, all of them the same and streets with bicycle lanes and hundreds of bikes on the side of the road…We couldn’t even truly see the city when we heard our stop’s name…Manixlaan. And I have to disclose this too, that in order for the doors to open you have to press a button (it doesn’t just hang there useless like back home where although you press it nothing happens). We get of, I take my bag the size of a piglet and dear St. Mary a miracle! The Rasta haired Dutchy was waiting for us just like he told us. A tone of stones came of my shoulders and a bundle of carrots left my behind. We put the heaviest bag on the bike and slowly started walking on the street as the bus-stations were changed due to repairs (and now a few words about the Dutch work ethic. If someone home thought that laying tar on a couple of hundred yards of road that takes two months is a lot, then most probably he’d never been to the Netherlands).
The three of us were slowly walking on the street while Core was explaining to us that the side-walk is the side-walk and the bicycle lane is the bicycle lane in this country. It’s not good to mix them up because you might and up with a seven foot high blond bloke on your back. As you move away from the center everything starts to seem a lil’bit broken down. A pretty much broken down neighborhood not that far away from Overvecht; but something strange happened. I didn’t care anymore. And this is a huge step as it clearly showed that another type of mentality floats on these streets. As you can see students live in all of these houses. Sometimes we rent them illegally, ‘cause they’re pretty cheap. But they will evacuate us by next year as the City Council wants to build a shopping mall here, – says Core in a slighting voice. We’ve arrived! And he gets his keys.
In front of us lay a corridor les then two feet across after which by our opinion the small student apartment unfolded. But as we later found out by Dutch standards it was a fairly decent sized home. The tallest nation in the world living in the most crammed homes and in one of the world’s most densely populated countries. And still they use their space wisely. Every inch of this city is built up and no piece of land is wasted. In a strange way after you pass the narrow corridors a wide space reveals itself and if your lucky even a small garden lies in the back. And now a few words about this house. As I said before a narrow corridor lead to the kitchen. Three bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and living-room. Quite well furnished and as we found out every peace of furniture came from the streets or was second-hand. Not even one day passed and so many aspects of Dutch life revealed itself. Many, after getting fed up with the old mattress, sofa or armchair, put it on the streets. If the garbage truck or a flat-broke student takes it afterwards is none of the previous owner’s concern.
I have some pizza – says Core. While the Italian delicacy was slowly roasting I went to check out the restroom. In a lot of places the showers and the closet are separated. In many cases it’s tight and a small hand-washing sink hangs from the wall. Not a lot of bathtubs in this country and if someone thought that his 1O square-meter bathrooms is small he should visit this place.
We took a sit in the living room where all sorts of exotic objects decorated the walls and shelves and as we found out he just came back from the Middle East. Have a couple of puffs. It tastes like apple. – and he hands us his Turkish pipe. I hesitate for a moment but what the hack. It’s just a shisha, nothing serious. And while we were chilling and chatting we suddenly realized that something was burning. The pizza! – and in an instance the Dutch Rasta ran towards the kitchen. He took our burnt dinner with a pair of kitchen gloves and in a blink of an eye threw it out in the back-yard. I had only just realized that a bundle of shaky bikes, burnt pizzas and torn up mattresses lay there. We talked for several more hours and asked where we could find a cheaper rent.
In the meantime I tried to finish my 20 years. Although I planned to write the last chapter on the plane it didn’t happen. Two more chapters waited. I was typing for a few more hours while I could here Adela’s and Core’s voices…The blanket on my head, the pillow underneath it and slowly I went to sleep thinking of what the next day would bring.
10th of December 2007 Utrecht