Having spent a good seven weeks in St Andrews, I decided it was time to escape. I made a spontaneous booking to visit my friend Jessie, currently studying abroad in the Netherlands. I have only ever visited the country as a Model UN student (geek) and consequently never made it out of the school where it was held. I hoped for the realization of my stereotypes, the windmills, the flat lands, the clogs and illicit substances; I wasn’t disappointed.
The Netherlands has, from my brief impression, constitutes an amalgamation of Scandinavian and a more European culture. Like their Scandinavian cousins, the Dutch are for the most part, tall, blond and beautiful: Jessie is so lucky. The tall population does have its drawbacks – one international student I met complained that she wasn’t tall enough to see into the mirror in her bathroom.
On Tuesday Jessie and I engaged in an epic sightseeing tour – trying to encompass the whole of Amsterdam in one day. After another disgustingly early start – as an arts student I can’t operate any time before 11 am – we headed off for my first preview of this famous city. My guide had carefully and precisely co-ordinated our day – sombre start, then fun later. She was an insightful tour operator – ‘over there, see that? It’s a church.’ The Anne Frank museum was indeed moving and emotional, particularly viewing first hand Anne’s diary, and the plethora of evocative videos featuring her childhood best friend, her father, Otto, and the various accomplices to her hiding place. This was despite the fact that we insulted a vast herd of 12-14 year old school boys in front of their attractive male teacher. Whoops.
Despite the careful planning, we were running behind our precise schedule (I blame the school children); ergo we had to run to the Van Gogh museum, around 2 km away. Jessie and I do not find this a natural mode of transportation, especially because I was lugging my laptop around. Nonetheless, with a couple of tourist pictures in front of the canals and Christmas box houses under our belts, sweating, and stuffed with about 30 pink Smarties, we made it. The exhibit was seriously pretty, and provides delight even for an artistic novice such as myself. Despite not being able to get Dr. Who out of my head (you must remember the best episode where Matt Smith and Amy visit Van Gogh in the South of France), I still managed to enjoy the bright colours and beautiful flowers. The exhibition was insightful in its chronological layout – who knew that Van Gogh initially decided to teach himself to paint! There was additionally a dramatic contrast between his self-taught early days – which were sombre depictions of peasant life, and the vivid bright colours of Van Gogh that school children around the world recognise today.
We then, very cheekily – after spending a long ten minutes justifying it to ourselves – descended to a Wagamama’s that we had spied while whooshing past on our way to Van Gough. After a very restorative noodles and yaki soba, we spent some time modelling by the canals and ambled along to the Heineken experience. I found the experience joyous. It was a kind of commercialised Disneyland for beer lovers. We got a brief history of the Heineken factory, drank lots of beer, and enjoyed viewing the shire horses. Did you know that Heineken is made up of 92% water? That it has a special ‘A’ type yeast that is a secret ingredient used in all the same Heineken beer factories around the world? Also that shire horses dragged the beer around Amsterdam until the 1960s? Neither did I! After some sobering pancakes (Jessie and I got slightly tipsy on the free beers), and a brief sojourn around the red light district, I hopped back on the clockwork trains and popped back to Scotland.