19 Nov 1997: The following is taken directly from a (paper) travel journal I wrote in while on the trip, which was in May/June 1997. I’ll be cleaning this page up and filling in some missing links gradually.
As it happens, I am writing this almost exactly 24 hours before the reversion of Hong Kong to China. This is on my mind because the hotel room we are in has CNN on TV, and they have been flogging the story relentlessly.
We are in the town of Zwolle, a sleepy old town in the middle of the Netherlands. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Our trip began, as all trips do, with a cab ride to the airport. Our cabbie was Eritrean, which is kind of interesting, since his country wasn’t a country when he moved to the USA. Our outbound flight plan was Austin-Atlanta-Manchester, and the flights were reasonably comfortable and basically uneventful. We arrived, sleepy, in Manchester, a very new airport with a lot of new construction going on. I was rather stunned that there was no customs check for our baggage: I don’t just mean that no one looked at our bags, I mean that there was no one to look at our bags. Surprising for a country that routinely suffers terrorist attacks. We left the airport and entered a seemingly endless enclosed, elevated walkway, very new and shiny, which brought us to the train station. After some hemming and hawing about whether to go into Manchester or leave immediately on the train, we left for Sheffield. British Rail has handy automated ticket vending machines that nobody seems to use, but years of living in Japan had habituated us to them, so we did use themno problem. On the ride to Sheffield we alternately dozed and watched the extremely green fields pass by.
Upon our arrival in Sheffield, we made for a fish+chips shop, something Jenny was particularly nostalgic for. It was a tatty, tiny place that probably has had exactly the same client base (us excepted) since 1962. We pushed on towards the middle of town, eventually reaching the campus of the University of Sheffield. Unfortunately, that was not our destination: we were looking for the residence halls (dorms). We did find a map on one of the building walls, and that gave us an impressionistic sense of where to go. So we pushed on, asking directions a few times along the way. It is chilly and drizzling at this point, we are both tired and lugging our packs, so nerves are the tiniest bit frayed. Finding the correct dorm, Halifax Hall, proved difficult. First we had to find the road it was on, Endcliff Vale Road. We quickly found Endcliff Circle, Endcliff Rise, Endcliff Whatever, but no Endcliff Vale. Eventually we found that, and then a dorm complex, but no Halifax Hall. We wandered about aimlessly for a while, until a cleaning lady noticed us and gave us directions. Even then we managed to find the wrong side of the building, but eventually we got in and our spirits improved drastically. We were torn between getting some rest and mingling with friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. Mingling won. It was worth itit energizes me.
There was a semi-fancy meal that evening, so we ducked into our room to change into our semi-fancy attire. For me, this means T-shirt, jeans (so what else is new?) and a tux jacket. This combo, especially with my red high-tops, got excellent reviews. For Jenny this means a slinky black velvet number she picked up recently. The dinner was the fabled rubber-chicken affair, with several well-meaning but dull speeches, one being in Japanese and inaudible. Jenny and I ducked out of this, leaving our dining companions, Alan and Connie, to fend for themselves. There was a pub in the dorm. Ordinarily, I would question the wisdom of this, but for our purposes, I reckon it’s a great idea. I had a chance to share a beer with Barry Byrne, who I had previously known only by e-mail. Pubs in Britain close at 11, and that is roughly when we retired.
The next day started with a shower. I must pause now and say some unkind things about British plumbing: it is inadequate. Every day we spent in Britain, we encountered some example of bad plumbing. In Sheffield, it was a weak shower that could only occasionally be persuaded to yield hotno, make that warmwater. I will chronicle events involving the foibles of British plumbing as they crop up throughout this report.
The first regular day of the conference began with a short walk to the conference facilities, led by Mary Gillenderabout a 15-minute walk. This was much less time than it took Jenny and me to navigate to Halifax Hall, but then again, we had no idea what we were doing.
The first session was a plenary session reviewing the alphabet soup of translation groups out there. Fine speakers but boring subject matter.
The second session that I attended was on machine translation. This was a sort of panel presentation with five speakers, one of whom used up way too much time. What was interesting was the perspective put forth by all the speakers (who were all very much involved in the commercial, not academic end of MT), which was that MT systems do have their uses within limits, but aren’t going to challenge human translators any time soon, and in fact can complement them. All well and good, but nobody discussed any serious work on radically better MT systemsones that “break the semantic barrier” as one speaker put itbut I know such work is happening in academia, and wished we could have heard about it. One interesting comment was that as MT software has dropped in price, it has become vastly less profitable, which I suppose might dampen enthusiasm for doing research on radically new systems (or at least commercializing them).
The next session was Robin Thompson’s lecture on Okinawan performing arts. After a regrettably long explanation of the evolution of various Okinawan verse forms (during which I may have nodded off, due to jet lag), he eventually got around to explaining how Okinawan is different from standard Japanese, how a few songs go, and actually playing them, which he did quite well.
The session after that was presented by the guy who went on too long in the MT panel, Ian Gordon. Perhaps I should have known better. This was basically a sales pitch for a kind of computer program”translation memory”which his company sells. This is basically software that matches everything in your source text with everything in your translated text. When it runs into the same or similar source-text phrase in the future, it can insert your previous translation of it. Sounds very promising, but A) requires source text in electronic form; B) doesn’t work J-E, and C) doesn’t run on a Mac. So much for that.
The last session I attended on Day 1 was given by Judy Wakabayashi, on research into what the translation process involves. Judy gave a similar talk at IJET-4, and all the “research” at that point seemed to consist of ivory-tower academic making half-true but half-baked a priori pronouncements from on high. Evidently there has been a revolution in the study of translation: now they are actually studying the translator at work. What a concept. Admittedly there are a lot of problems inherent in this approach, but it seems a vastly more promising avenue of exploration.
After the day’s sessions, there was to be a photo shoot on the steps of the facility, but this got rained outor more accurately, rained indoors. The photographer was also late, so Robin Thompson entertained us with some more music from his sanshin.
Returned to the dorm on foot and assembled for a bus ride out to the nearby town of Castleton, which is noteworthy for having a castle, imagine that. Once in Castleton, there were theoretically two options: 1) hang out in a pub; 2) go hiking around. The weather put paid to option 2. We all broke up into large-ish groups and headed off to various pubs around the town. Our party wound up in a very cozy little pub that served good food.
That’s right, good food. The Brits have always gotten a bad rap for their cooking. If I’m going to rag on their plumbing, though, it is only fair that I stick up for the food: evidently they have learned methods of preparation other than boiling everything. Their coffee, however, is still uneven at best. It hasn’t taken root there yet, I suppose. I had good coffee on two occasions while in England and bad coffee the rest of the time.
Back on the subject of plumbing though, I must also observe that the convention of hot water on the left and cold on the right is not observed: they just hook them up any old way. The Dutch are more consistent, but not entirely.
Anyhow, back to the pub. We all had good meals. Michael House was at the next table, engaging in one of his endless, earnest monologues with a hapless victim. This time the topic was not animation but the virtues of the Macintosh computer. Even though I share his sentiments more or less, it is almost painful to merely overhear him going on and on.
On Day 2 of the conference, we were both still having a hard time dragging our butts out of bed, and we both considered blowing off the morning session. We wound up sitting in on Wolfgang’s talk on kanji capability for PCs, something that isn’t exactly relevant to me, but I like to keep my hand in, as it were, and Wolfgang is an entertaining speaker.
For the second session, I wasn’t especially keen on any of the sessions being presented, but I decided on Christian Galinsky’s talk on terminology standardization in translation. This wound up being more interesting than I’d expected, simply because it got me thinking about a problem I hadn’t considered beforethat there might be a body of official translations for regular words, and failing to use them could be problematic. This hasn’t been an issue for me in the past, but part of the reason for going to IJET is to get exposed to new aspects of translation.
Blew off the lunchtime lecture.
For Session 3, I naturally attended the presentation by Jenny and Matt Loader. Jenny discussed her survey results, of course, and despite being nervous initially, eventually got into a rhythm and got more comfortable with the audience. Matt discussed issues of ergonomics, workplace set-up, effects of music on heart-rate, etc. He quoted one translator who claimed to increase his throughput six time by getting a perfect set-up (this was Warren Smith).
Session 4 was mine, on the Honyaku mailing list. I went in planning to sort of play things loose and adapt my talk to the crowd’s level, but this prevented me from having everything mapped out in advance. I was afraid I might not have enough material, and it turned out that just shooting from the hip I did not. However, several people in the audience fed me material, which would remind me of points I had wanted to cover but forgotten. In the end it worked out OK, and resembled a sort of live presentation of the FAQ.
After the day’s sessions, everyone assembled for closing remarks and tea in a very impressive meeting hall. The tea was quite elaborate, with all sorts of delectable items being servedscones, strawberries with cream, tea (duh) and good coffee. This was one of the two places I had good coffee in England.
This tea was where people were saying their goodbyes. Unfortunately, some of them slipped out before I had a chance to say goodbye to them.
When this broke up, Jenny, Mary Gillender, and I all caught a ride back to Halifax Hall with a friend of Mary’s. This was much appreciated, as it was raining. Still. I swear, the weather in England bit the wax tadpole. A more authentically English experience, I suppose, but it makes for a bad trip. Anyhow. Then Mary and I caught another ride with the same friend to Mary’s apartment, where I made use of her computer to switch the IJET infobot message over to the IJET-9 message. I walked back to Halifax Hall, which was close by. Jenny and I were going to go to dinner with Jeremy. This expanded to include Uncle Bill, and then about 12 people in total. Jenny just wanted to have a quiet chat with Jeremy, so when the group split up at an Indian restaurant, us three hung apart. Unfortunately, Michael House was with us. We eventually wound up back at the same Indian restaurant as everyone else, but at a different table, listen to Michael talk about Macs. This went on for some time.
One the way back to the dorm (where Jenny and I had elected to spend an extra night before pushing on), we all ran into Cliff Bender and Tim Leaney. We let them sort of absorb Michael while we faded back and then darted off in the opposite direction, eventually reaching a sort of yuppified pub, where we hung out for a while.
The next morning, there were still a few people left over from the conference, so we clustered together, had breakfast in the dorm, and said our goodbyes.
Jenny and I made our way to the train station fairly early. Although Leeds was the only other English destination in mind, our primary reason for goingto visit Bob Jackson’s factorywould not be achievable that day, being a Sunday. So we headed for the historic town of York instead. York is very touristy, but not objectionably so. It does have lots of shops that obviously cater to tourists, but really no shops selling “I’m with stupid” T-shirts or anything like that.
We wandered along the old city walls until we got to a tiny museum inside of the old city gate towers, Micklegate Bar. We paid our admission and looked around. It had a lot of hand-made displays chronicling the city’s checkered past, how it was heavily contested back in the what was it?1300s. And how the heads of the losers would be hung out on display (People can be so vindictive). And how a tailor once stole some of these heads after they had been flapping in the breeze for 8 years. (Peope can be strange). Plaster reproductions of some of these green, decaying heads adorned the top floor of the museum. Yum.
This gate was one of the three that were the points of entry to the town (apart from the river). A “murrage” (import duty) was charged on all goods entering through the gates, which paid for the upkeep of the walls but made them very unpopular with merchants. They were allowed to fall into disrepair until the 1800s, when some conservationists (even then) started agitating to have them kept up.
We then went into the town. We located a pub tha had a few rooms to let, checked in (perhaps the least formal check-in process on record), dumped our packs, and started walking around. The center of York is a dense network of alleys and streets (come to think of it, this is true for a lot of the towns we saw) that all seem to turn in on each other. We wandered these streets for a while and started scouting a suitable location for lunch. We wound up at a cafe that cought Jenny’s eye because it had a “curry yorkshire pudding” on the menu, which she did in fact order. I tried it. It was OK. Curiously enough, three other IJET people were having lunch there.
We explored the town some more. We looked around Yorkminster Cathedral, which was mindblowing. Incredible artwork and detail everywhere you look. Just to give you some idea what I’m talking about: in the ceiling, all the vaulting ribs were decorated, and a “button” adorned every rib intersection. And every one of these buttons were unique. Cathedrals seem like reefs that are accretions of artwork instead of coral. We climbed Yorkminster’s tower, which was a bit of a workout. Something like 250 very steep steps, mostly spiral. There was a great view from the top, and descending was vertigo-inducing.
We also went a bit out of our way to visit St. Cuthbert’s, a church built in 687, and still operating. I think this may be the oldest artifact I have ever touched.
Here I am, standing on Elizabeth Taylor’s grave, just outside St Cuthbert’s
After quite a bit of enjoyable traipsing about York, we returned to the hotel to cool off for a while. We headed out for dinner at a neighboring Indian restaurant, and just outside our inn, we bumped into some other IJET-ers, Judy Wakabayashi and Yuki Sayeg, who were going on one of York’s numerous “Ghost Walks,” tours of all the various haunted houses around town.
When we walked into the Indian restaurant, it was empty. The maitre’d sat us by the window, which is always a good way to make a place seem busy from the outside (and therefore desirable). We chatted with him about the lack of decent Indian food in Austin, and I postulated a new theory: Austin’s Indian restaurants were probably all started by failed engineers, who had no particular aptitude for cooking. Sure enough, our place by the window did draw in some patrons, including one very argumentative couple, who bitched at the maitre’d’s insistence that they order an entree (which admittedly seems a little silly). At any rate, our meal was good, no complaints.
We went for a walk along the river and retired to our room. We had a TV in our room and watched it a bit before turning in. There was a show on featuring a woman named Priscilla, who would spring these “ambush blessings” on unsuspecting civilians. The theme for the show we were seeing seemed to be people with long-lost relatives in Australia. It was a sort of cross between “Queen for a Day” and “Candid Camera.” ‘Cilla’s favorite phrase: “Surprise, surprise.” I think she picked that up from Gomer Pyle. I found the whole thing a bit disgusting.
The plumbing inadequacy encountered in York was the shower, which spewed forth a bracing flow of chilly water. Yikes. The toilet was also noteworthy, in that before going into the waste pipe, the effluent passed through a breadload-sized plastic box that I think of as the “muncher:” the waste pipe was fairly narrow, and I suspect the muncher ground up anything large that passed through it. It would start making horrible grinding noises about a second after flushing. I presume that the muncher occasionally needs servicing, and I can only hope that this is a job reserved for convicts on work-release programs.
We made our way to the train station fairly early and headed for Leeds, home of the Bob Jackson bike works. Leeds is a gritty, industrial town, and when I mentioned my intention to visit it to friends at IJET, they all thought it was a, ahh, peculiar objective. Upon arrival in Leeds, we promptly hailed a cab and had the driver take us to the Bob Jackson shopI had their address and a map they had faxed me.
The shop turned out to be close to the train station, but we probably never would have found it if left to our own devices. The place was largely as I’d pictured it: a showroom, and off to the side the work area, which consisted of a junk room with a blasting chamber, a brazing/machining room, and a painting room with an oven. Bob Jackson shoots with enamel, which is not very toxic compared to some of the new resin paints, so all the spray work is out in the open.
We were met by one of the workmen, an older guy named Michael. He had an accent about a foot thick, and sometimes I could only understand what he was saying through what I would describe as a “gestalt experience”I wouldn’t understand any single word in isolation, but it was possible to understand what each word might be by what the neighboring context sounded like. There was another guy working there and I simply couldn’t understand anything he said. I wonder if he had the same problem with my accent. I doubt it.
The showroom had some real gemseverything from a tandem tourer with fantastically ornate lugs and curly stays (a la Hetchins) to a sleek 853 racer with wishbone seatstays, these very cool filleted “Phoenix” lugs, and 9-speed Dura-Ace. And everything in between. Michael told me that 853 OS was great stuff, and that Reynolds was in fact phasing out all its older tubesets in favor of newer alloys. He also had nice things to say about 9-speed Dura Ace, which surprised me a bit: I expected more of a crusty retro-grouch attitude here.
We both had Michael measure us for custom frames, a process that turned out to be more casual and perfunctory than I expected. We collected a price list and some flyers and chatted with him a while.
I had noticed that adult trikes were unaccountably popular around Britain. Which is not to say I saw a lot of them, but I did see a few, and that’s more than I’ve seen in the USA. I asked Michael about this, and he agreed that it was a pretty strange thing.
Jenny and I had determined in advance that we would take the ferry from England to Holland, but we weren’t precisely sure about where to pick it up or any of the other details. Michael was able to fill us in on this, having taken the ferry himself some time ago (I can only wonder what the Dutch, who generally have an admirable command of English, made of his accent). He even told us that one of the ferries plying the route, the Norland, saw duty in the Falklands war as a hospital ship (later corroborated by others). Michael’s advice determined our route to Hull (Kingston-upon-Hull, technically). He also told us there was a catamaran ferry that left from Harwich, which was much faster (3 hours), but the slow ferry was actually pretty neat, so we should try that. We didn’t seriously entertain the idea of taking the catamaran, and in any case, Harwich was pretty far away.
And with that, we left. I was please as punch to have made the pilgrimage to the place where my bike came from, and I was grinning like a damned idiot.
We walked into the center of town, which was starting to come to life since it was about time for lunch. The city is actually not a bad placeit seemed a lot less depressing than Sheffield to me. Jenny and I eventually happened upon a stylishly modern-looking cafe, with the unlikely slogan “Leeds deserves groovy” (or something very similar) in the window. The place had a bright, simple secondary color scheme and minimalist furniture, making it a little out of place with the rest of the street, but very inviting anyhow. We decided to stop in for lunch. I had a nice sandwich and a caffe latte. This was the second occasion on which I had a good cup of coffee in England.
We wandered about Leeds some more. We saw several piercing parlors, which reminded me of Austin, and a huge covered market that was probably built in the Victorian or Edwardian era, and must have been quite the marvel in its day. Now it is more of a faded marvel, but it is still pretty neat if you can look past the grime and decaythe same could be said for many of the train stations we saw in England.
Wandering around Leeds, we encountered this interesting view.
We stopped into a bike shop that had no Bob Jacksons in stock. I was mildly appalled.
After a few hours of wandering about Leeds, we decided we’d seen enough, so we pushed on to our next stop, Hull. Upon our arrival, which was in the afternoon, we debated whether we should attempt to catch the ferry that day, or spend some time in Hull and catch it the next day. We opted for the latter. We were feeling a little discombobulated, and were having a hard time finding a cheap motel, so we wound up staying in a relatively expensive hotel right next to the station.
Hull is a relatively new-feeling city: most of the downtown area seems to be new construction, and nearby there is a distressingly American-style mega-store shopping mall and gigaplex movie theater. The theater, incidentally, was showing only American movies, including (cringe) “Beavis and Butthead do America.”
Chatting with the hotel staff, we learned several things:
- They like Beavis and Butthead.
- They don’t see anything wrong with the lack of British (or any non-American) movies, pointing out that British music is disproportionately popular in America, so it balances ou (somehow, I don’t think British music is as popular outside Britain as they do).
- Hull used to be a fishing town, but the local industry was closed down because the waters were being depleted. This shattered the local economy, predictably enough, and it is only in the past seven years or so that the town has started prospering, thanks mostly to the ferry business, it seems.
We had the luxury of a TV in our hotel room, and we watched it a fair amount. There was a documentary about Queen Victoria, which was actually pretty interesting. It turns out that she was a doting mother, which is not what one might expect from a general knowledge of the Victorian era. She was opposed to pomp and circumstance, which in fact had not been a big part of the monarchy before her (her coronation was a low-key and comically inept affair, evidently), but for her diamond jubilee, she was essentially pressed into service as the centerpiece of a bombastic festival. There was also a sort of autobiographical documentary by a Jewish-British screenwriter (whose name escapes me), followed by one of his stories, “Bar Mitzvah Boy,” which was interesting in that it revealed a fairly extensive Jewish community that I wasn’t aware of.
On the 24th, we checked out of the hotel but left out bags at the front desk, so we could explore the town. We went to the nautical museum, which had an extensive exhibit on whaling. I’ve got to say that whale-hunting is an awfully hard way to get oil. The museum also had numerous models of passenger and fishing boats that have plied the local waters, and that was kind of interesting. The whaling exhibit had a skeleton of a young right whale (about 40 feet long), explanations of how all the various harpoons were used, actual diaries kept by men on whaling expeditions, scrimshaw art, etc. I felt like I was wandering around inside Herman Melville’s brain.
The museum had a room set aside for an exhibit of collections kept by people in Hull. This had nothing to do with whaling or sailingthese were just regular folks’ personal collections of stuff. A collection of insect brooches, for example. This was quirky and amusing.
After that, we bought some Dutch Guilders at the local Thomas Cook, and then bought our ferry tickets at a nearby travel agent. The ferry had cabins, which were private, and open seating, which is much like on a train or airplane. It turned out that all the cabins were booked, so we took open seating.
We caught a bus at 5:00, which took us straight to the port. We passed through a few checkpoints and got on the boat. “Boat” is a bit of an understatement. “Floating city” might be more like it. The ferry was enormous. Bars (plural), a restaurant, a movie screen, a dance floor, video arcade, etc.
After absorbing the hugeness of the thing, Jenny and I dumped our packs at our assigned seats and began wandering the ferry. We had stickers made up by a machine that looks like a videogame, but takes your picture with a video camera, composites that image with a decorative frame of your choosing, and then spits out 16 postage-stamp sized stickers. At my insistence, we chose one of the less cutesy frame images, but the whole thing was extremely cutesy and extremely Japanese, even though I don’t recall having seen anything quite like it in Japan.
When it got to be mealtime, we bought meal tickets at the ferry’s information desk. We had to charge it, since we had used nearly all of our British currency. The services on the ferry were all in Pounds only, something I had wondered about beforehand.
In the dining hall we were seated at a table adjacent to a couple of British guys. The older one seemed ordinary enough, but the younger one was huge, heavily tattooed, and had rings through both nostrils and his septum, so he was sort of scary looking. I was curious about the relationship between the two of them. In the meantime I got some food from the very well-stocked buffet. The food was quite goodprobably the best food I’ve ever had in a moving vehicle.
Eventually we got to talking with the guys at the next table. It turned out that they were both bikers going to a huge rally descending on Holland from all around Europesomething like 250,000 bikers, I think they said. They both turned out to be nice guys. The older one had been to the Netherlands a good number of times before, and offered tips on where to stay, what to see, etc.
After a long and pleasant conversationwe were practically the only ones left in the dining hallJenny and I retired to our seats. The seats were pretty comfortable. I managed to sleep tolerably on mine, and Jenny just laid down on the floor, which was not a problem, since there was a lot of spare room. The arms between the seats were unfortunately fixed in place, otherwise it would have been easy to lie accross two seats. Actually, I saw one woman do just that, by arcing her body around the armrest, but it didn’t look comfortable.
The ferry pulled into Rotterdam at about 5:30 AM on June 25th. It took about 30 minutes to get it lined up for us to actually leave, though. Once we walked out, feeling rather bleary, we proceeded through a customs check, where I was asked to produce an ongoing ticket (something that has never happened to me before), and then on to a bus terminal. There was a bus headed for Amsterdam, but it was full-up with people who had bought tickets in advance (probably the same people who had the cabins). The driver told us not to worry, that there would be another bus for Amsterdam “maybe.” Well, that wasn’t especially reassuring, but he called his dispatcher and told us that yes, there really would be a bus in fifteen minutes, and it would have room for us. So we cooled our heels for a bit, watching the ferry being unloaded. It was a bit comical to watch semi-tractors hauling camper trailers.
The bus did arrive as promised, driven by an irritated tall guy who rolled his own cigaretteseven while driving. He also tailgated and made life difficult in general for any vehicle smaller than his. The ride to Amsterdam took about an hour (my memory at this point is unreliable). The bus deposited us on the wrong side of the central train station. We started wandering around in some confusion until we came to an underpass, which clearly led to a brighter, more populous part of town. Once there, we found ourselves on Damrak, the main drag. We went into a shop selling tourist info, and bought a city map and a country map from an irate woman who didn’t want to take a fl25 bill for a fl10 purchase. Jeeez. So far, our encounters with the Dutch people had not been very positive. I am pleased to report that almost all our contacts afterwards were perfectly friendly.
Back out wandering on Damrak, Jenny espied a “Hotel” sign above a Chinese restaurant. Sensing this would be a good bet, she decided we should check it out. It turned out to be a reasonable deal, so we took it. We deposited our bags and headed back out to the street.
The guy at the desk sold us on the idea of taking two nights upfront. I had expected to spend more time than that in Amsterdam, so that was no problem.
For our first day in Amsterdam, we just sort of wandered about aimlessly. The streets around where we were staying were jammed with shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, porno stores, tourist-trinket-traps, and “coffee shops,” the code word for hash-houses. A little further outbut still very much in what the Dutch call the “centrum”were blocks of narrow (really narrow) residential townhouses, often with cafes on the streetcorners. Evidently houses in Amsterdam were once taxed on their street frontage, resulting in really narrow, really deep buildings with narrow, steep staircases. So narrow, in fact, that furniture cannot be taken up them readily. The clever Amsterdamers solved this conundrum by building their townhouses with dormer windows on the roofs, with booms projecting from them. A pulley can be hung from the boom, and the furniture brought in through a window. Makes a lot of sense, actually. Most of these buildings were built with fronts that lean forward slightly. This is disconcerting if you are standing under it, but it ties inthis is done so that furniture doesn’t bang into the building on the way up.
Odd signage in Amsterdam.
There are three U-shaped canals ringing central Amsterdam, so there are numerous bridges. A lot of these are old, old drawbridges, and are designed a little differently than the drawbridges I’d seen before. They have an overhead horizontal beam with a counterweight, and this moves in a parallelogram action with the bridge surface. Many of these bridges are decorated with white lights, except for the bridges in the red-light district (you can guess what color the bulbs are there).
The canals also host a huge number of houseboats. Dutch houseboats are basically just smallish river barges with a cargo section replaced by long, narrow living quarters. Some of these houseboats are pretty funky and hippy-ish, while others look quite nicely manicured and sharp. They all tie into the city’s power grid through convenient hookups along the canals (other Dutch towns have similar arrangements).
At one point, we got to see a houseboat passing through some drawbridges. This was a laborious affair, and one that must require advance reservations, I am sure: a drawbridge keeper enters a control room by the bridge, raises the bridge, the boat passes through and advances to the next bridge. The keeper lowers the bridge, gets on his bike, and rides to the next control room. Repeat.
We speculated on the difficulty of obtaining berthing rights along the canals of Amsterdam. I assume they would be highly valuable. Perhaps they are passed on through families, like heirlooms.
The buildings in Amsterdam are great. They are all made of brickobviously there is no place to go quarrying for stoneand they are well-made. Buildings erected in the 1600s are no big deal around town, it seems. There are a lot of great Art Deco buildings in Amsterdamall around Holland, in factwith geometric stained glass, interesting brickwork, and often some decorative carved-stone elements.
A not-very-portable phone.
Bikes are an integral part of the transportation network, along with pedestrians, streetcars, and motor cars. All streets have bike lanes, and all intersections have separate signals for cars, bikes, and peds. This can be a bit disorienting for the outsider. Almost all the bikes are clunky sit-up-and-beg models, with fenders, fully enclosed chains, racks, and “girls” construction. They are all one- or three-speed (no hills), and many have rod or drum brakes. Many people give their bikes amateurish, whimsical paint jobs. Popular brands are Gazelle, Batavus, Union, and Raleigh. It is ironic seeing the world-championship colors gracing the logos on these clunkers, but there it is. There are also a fair number of recumbent bikes to be seen, and recumbent trikes seem to be fairly popular with bike messengers. This makes a lot of sense, since they have a lot of built-in carrying capacity, and they were fast, too. I noticed one model that uses the front wheel for both steering and drive (which I have since identified as a Flevo), which struck me as very interesting. It was refreshing to be in a place where bikes really belong.
Amsterdam, and Holland in general, have a lot of flowers. England isn’t bad for flowers eithermany people have small gardens, and we noticed in several of the towns we were in that flower baskets hung from storefronts were a city works projectbut I don’t think it stands up to Holland. Flowers were just all over the place in Amsterdam. Mostly roses, not tulips (though it might not be the right season for them). There is, of course, a big flower market along one of the canals, and this has a lot of tulips, but I suspect that is to cater to the expectations of foreign tourists as much as anything.
The flipside to the flowers must be the dogshit. It’s everywhere. You’d think you were in Paris or something. Amsterdam doesn’t really have many grass runners along the sidewalks, so the dogs usually do it right on the sidewalk.
Part of the turd density must have something to do with the fact that the Dutch seem to take their dogs everywhereinto shopping centers or restaurants, onto boats, everywhere. Their dogs are generally pretty well mannered, and in fact seem blase about sniffing other dogs’ butts, or making friends with strangers.
In the course of our wanderings that first day in Amsterdam, we dodged a lot of turds. We also had to dodge a lot of raindrops, because it started drizzling every so often.
After a while, we got hungry for lunch. Feeling parsimonious and vitamin-C deficient, we stopped into a greengrocer’s and picked up a carton of blackberries, another of strawberries, and some yogurt. We improvised a little picnic on a park bench. The blackberries were enormous, soft, and verrry tasty.
We were pretty wiped out, and the weather looked threatening (again), so we headed back to the hotel for a siesta. We hung out in the lounge with Roger for a while. He gave us tips on museums to take in. We also spoke with the proprietor, Tony, who was able to suggest a nice Indonesian joint for dinner, whereupon we set out in search of it.
Eventually we found it, following Tony’s somewhat vague directions. We went whole-hog, ordering their rijstafel, which was quite a production. After some shrimpy-tasting flatbread appetizer, they brought out little flat plate-warmers, five of them, and set two small plates of food on each. Each plate had a different item, most of them swimming in curry sauce. There was another stack of plates on the side with cold condiments as well, like peanuts, roasted coconut, etc. These were meant to be interspersed with the hot courses, but we spaced out and just ate them all at the end. Everything was very good. When we asked for water, they wisely brought us a large bottle and left it on the table. Evidently Americans are known abroad for always wanting water, and then more water. These guys must have encountered that before, and came to this sensible solution. In general, if you don’t ask for any beverage, you won’t get one. If you ask for water, you’ll be offerred the option of mineral water or plain water. If you ask for tapwater, you’ll get a small glass that will not be refilled (unless you ask, I suppose). The tapwater in the Netherlands in just fine. The tapwater in England may explain why the English so often make tea out of it.
Anyhow, after our enormous and tasty meal, we had coffee, and they brought us a few rambutan in syrup for desert. The Dutch drink very potent coffee in very small cups. In fact, I think it is basically just espresso that has been slightly watered down. It was of uniformly good quality, although I suspect the coffee dispensed by the snack trolleys on trains isn’t too great).
After dinner, we waddled back to the hotel through a light drizzle and hung out in the lounge some more. there was another guy there waiting for Tony, and we got to talking. He was from Sri Lanka originally, living in England, and was himself half-English and half-Sinhalese. We talked about the situation in Sri Lanka and politics in general. Nice guy.
Then we took our obligatory stroll through the red-light district. This seems to be a popular tourist activity. It is pretty much what you would expect. Girls in underwear sitting on stools in windows framed in red neon. Live sex shows. Sex-aid shops. The usual. Nobody hassled us.
We eventually retired to our room. There was some literature for tourists lying around, including a sort of newsletter/guide to Amsterdam put out by an English-language comedy troupe called Boom Chicago, which was started by a few Northwestern University grads. This newsletter proved quite informative.
For our second day in Amsterdam, we took a more purposeful approach. We got an early start, stopped at a little bakery for breakfast, and made for the Anne Frank House. This is, in fact, the “secret annex” where the Frank family managed to hide out from the Nazis for a time during the war, until they were betrayed. The visit didn’t hold any startling revelationseverybody knows the story in outlinebut actually being right where it happened is powerfully affecting. That’s one of the things I learned about travel on this trip: when you travel to a historic site, history stops being just academic, dry facts and dates. History is right there. It is in context and it is real.
Our next stop was the Rijksmuseum. It took us too damned long to find this place, especially in the endless drizzle. When we did find it, we were in a rather foul humor. Once inside, we cheered up.
There was an excellent exhibit of nudes. Mostly prints, but also charcoal and pencil drawings. This was followed by an excellent display showing the various printing techniques and their relative advantages. We then moved on to an extensive display of furniture and decorative arts. This was wonderful, and there was just way too much neat stuff to detail here. I will mention one piece we were especially taken with. It was a large apothecary’s chest, which opened to display numerous ranks of tiny drawers, shelves with tiny bottles, etc. Everything on the inside was lavishly decorated with art. The chest had two curved doors that swung open. On the inside of the left was a tiny painting of a young woman above the words Ars Longa. In the same spot on the right side was a tiny painting of a skeleton above the words Vita Brevis. Why the cabinetmaker bothered to put this in there I don’t know, but I love it.
The museum map indicated that there was a room of Art Nouveau furniture. I wanted to see it, but its location was a bit confusing. Once we had navigated to a point near where we thought the room should be, I asked a museum staffer where it was. “Up the stairs, to your left, and up again,” he tells us. “That’s funny, that’s the exact opposite of where we thought it was,” replied Jenny. Indeed. The guy had bullshitted us, for reasons I won’t bother to speculate on. It wasn’t all bad though: it took us to a textile arts exhibit that we also wanted to see.
Eventually we navigated back to where I though the Art Nouveau room was, and sure enough, it was just around the corner from where we had encountered that staffer the first time around. We saw him chatting with a woman right in the middle of the Art Nouveau exhibit, in fact. I thought about asking him why he lied to us, but restrained myself.
The Rijksmuseum has quite a collection of Dutch Masters, which comes as no surprise at all. We were getting a little museum’d out, so we only viewed the most impressive of them. They were indeed quite impressive.
On our way out of the museum, we heard music. There is a tunnel through the museum for street traffic, and a brass combo was playing Hallelujah in there, with the sound reverberating mightily. It was wonderful.
The weather was not. Still. We picked up some raspberries and wandered around some more until the weather cleared a bit. We sat down on a park bench along a canal and ate them. They were wonderful. We didn’t need much lunch, since we’d eaten such a big dinner the night before.
Eventually we headed back to the hotel for our late-afternoon siesta. This had become a habit for us, and it is one I recommend, but it was largely made possible by the fact that it stayed light so late that far northit wouldn’t get really dark until well past 10:00 PM. This was a bit disorienting: we’d look at the light, think that it was too early to eat dinner, and then check the time and discover that it was actually 8:00 PM. Anyhow, these siestas gave us the chance to unload our feet for a while, and often keep us out of the rain. The weather seemed to have a pattern: sunny morning, rainy in the late afternoon, clearing in the evening.
Anyhow, hanging out in the hotel’s lounge, we chatted with Roger at some length. He told us he’d seen four people killed by Amsterdam’s streetcars, one split stem to stern. He told us the reason that all the cheap bikes were so heavily locked (often with two kryptonites) was to prevent Amsterdam’s numerous junkies from absconding with them.
By and by, another friend of Tony’s showed up, a young Romanian guy who lives in Israel. I began suspecting that Tony started the hotel just to put up his friends coming to visit. This guy didn’t have a great command of English, but volunteered that he believed the writings of Nostradamus. The rest of us pooh-poohed all that, which may have made him feel bad. After a while, he hooked up with Tony and took off. We went out a little later for dinner (pizza) and another stroll.
This time, we went in a completely different direction than we yet had. We wound up going past a large and amazing Art Deco apartment building, which had heads of real people (perhaps figures from Amsterdam’s history) as gargoyles. We eventually wound up in a rather prosaic residential area. At one point, we passed a Portuguese Synagogue, which was rather unexpected.
On the morning of the 27th, we headed up to the town of Groningen, in the northeastern part of the country. Walking out of the station we were a bit perplexed”now what??” I saw a sign pointing the way to the VVV (the national tourist bureau), which we followed for what felt like a very long way. At the VVV, we got a guide-pamphlet to the town, which laid out a walking tour. We then located a ‘grillroom,’ a restaurant that serves Middle-Eastern food. These are all over the country, and seem to have reliably good food. It is interesting to note that Amsterdam is a real melting-pot, with Chinese, Indonesians, South-Asians, Africans, and everything in between represented in fairly big numbers (and all speaking Dutch, which seemed a little weird for some reason), but when you get out in the sticks, the only ethnic minority that seems to be widely present is Middle-Easterners. This place was run by a Syrian guy an an Eritrean guy. The food was marinated and grilled mutton, and was very tasty. The guys were able to point us towards some hotels. We wound up at the Hotel Friesland, which was a reasonably good deal. We dropped our packs and started walking the route given in our pamphlet. We didn’t hit every spot, and some were obviously more memorable than others, but the high point was unquestionably the gardens of the Prinsenhoftuin. These is elaborately, rigorously laid out and consists of a large, rose garden in the middle, a circle in a square, with different sections for different kinds of roses. Surrounding this is a pathway enclosed by elaborate, meticulously manicured trellised growth that formed corridors with doorways and windows. The pathway encloses four smaller circular gardens with different kinds of flowers arranged in pie-wedges. Beyond all this was another garden, with flowers arrainged into the letters A W.
We worked our way back to the center of town, near our hotel. We got caught in a big rainstorm and took shelter under a sporting-goods store’s awning, where we were joined by some British bikers. They were in town after the rally, which was evidently quite damp. We had quite a friendly chat. One of them confirmed a suspicion of mine: that Sheffield had been devastated by bombing during WWII, because of its steel industryin the late 1800s, it supplied 70% of the world’s refined steel. I had the impression that Sheffield was a town that had never quite recovered.
I have no idea what we ate for dinner that night.
The next day we checked out. We actually wanted to stay an extra night, but the hotel was booked. We had decided to spend the day on the northern island of Schiermonikoog. After some confusion and very bad pronunciation, we bought combination bus/ferry tickets to take us there. Unfortunately, the bus runs only every two hours, and we had just missed one. Se we headed to the city museum, just accross the canal, to spend the extra time.
Missing the bus turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The museum was great. The building itself was designed by several hip architects (Allesandro Mendini, Philippe Starck, Michelle de Lucchi, and Coop Himmelblau). Each one evidently designed a different “module” of the museum, which was consisted of several independent structures joined together underneath (the passages between them are in a moat, and as you walk through the passageway, you look out on the water at eye level). The entry module, no doubt the Starck-designed one, is basically a featureless burnished bronze box, surmounted by squarish blue spires at each of the roof’s corners, flanked by curvey, smaller outbuildings in pale green and silver. Another building looked like a random heap of scrapmetal painted red and black, and a third was a squat cylinder in silver, decorated with (I think) bowling-pin shaped blobs at regular intervals around its circumference.
Jenny has already described most of what we saw. One exhibit was a bunch of paintings by a local boy from the 1600s (?). He painted a lot of allegorical paintings, like “Truth Vanquishing Discord,” in which certain stereotyped characters represented these traits. It occurred to me that we don’t recognize these symbolic characters much anymore (except for Justice, a blindfolded woman with scales). It also occurred to me that thanks to TV, we have a new batch of symbolic charactersthink “Costanza.”
The time came for us to get on our bus, so we did. On the trip out, to Lauwersoog (say “law ver shog”), we trundled through a bucolic paradise: snug little houses with neat little gardens clustered in homey little hamlets, surrounded by carefully tended fields.
We got off the bus, and after a typical speel of confusion, go into the correct line to board the ferry (by this time, I was getting a little tired of feeling clueless). They tore stubs off of our bus tickets, and on we went, along with a lot of families (many of which brought their dogs), a lot of couples, a fair number of people with bikes, and a handful of cars. The seating on the ferry was more like a cafeteria’s: booths with tables. They were, in fact, serving snacks from a counter, so maybe it is fair to say it really was a cafeteria.
The ferry ride was uneventful and took about 45 minutes. Once on the island of Schiermonikoog, we walked up the spit of land where we docked to a dyke running around the island. There was a bike-rental place along this spit that had, in addition to normal bikes, a few sit-up-and-beg tandems and a sort of bike-car with 4 wheels, two front seats with pedals, and a sort of rumble seat. We saw three chicks riding in this, lazily allowing their boyfriends (who were on conventional bikes) to propel them along by pulling the bike-car along, holding on to a tube here or there.
It was fun to walk along the dyke (which is really just a grassy embankment) because we could look at the sea on one side and the farms and village on the other. Eventually we made for the village. We passed a sort of petting zoo, which had a number of goats and goat kids. The kids were frisking about, playing king of the hill on some rocks and generally being cute. There were also rabbits, a donkey, deer, and maybe some other critters. The deer were vocalizing, something I’d never heard before. They made a sort of chirping bark, if that makes any sense.
Clover growing along the dike on Schiermonikoog. Holland is a good place to be a bee.
The town was miniscule and almost devoid of motor vehicles. There was a newsstand selling German papers, and we learned that the island was indeed popular with German tourists. We had ice cream and did some more wandering, to the old lighthouse. Evidently the island is so small that the houses don’t have numbers, they have names.
Inevitably perhaps, it started raining. and we took shelter under a grocery store’s awning. The store let its local patrons wheel the shopping carts all the way home. We also saw a woman tow a trailer full of groceries (and her daughter) behind her bike.
After a brief shower, the rain let up and we resumed our meanderings. We headed gradually back to the dock, since our return time was approaching. We wound up lying out on the dyke and catching sun for a while.
For the ferry ride back, no ticket was required. I guess they figured that they’ve got you covered by monitoring outbound travel. During the ride, we struck up a conversation with a Dutch college student sitting near us. Among other things, he recommended that we visit Maastricht, so we pencilled that in on our mental itinerary.
The island was an enjoyable place to spend the day, though our enjoyment would surely have been greater if we weren’t carrying our packs the whole time.
Back in Groningen, it was getting late, which meant that we needed to find a place to stay, and we needed to eat. Our attempts at finding lodgings were unsuccessful, so we had dinner at an Italian place. I had something sort of like spaghetti carbonara, and it was good. Jenny’s was good too. Now it was really getting late, so we tried something different: we got on the train to Zwolle. This was on the way south to Maastricht, which we had decided to see.
Sitting on the train down to Zwolle, we were feeling pretty skeptical about finding a place to stay. After all, we couldn’t find anything in Groningen, and it was going to be quite late when we got in. I thought about fallback plans, like finding a pub and just sitting in the back all night.
We got into Zwolle at about 11:30 PM. Not an auspicious hour for hotel hunting. We marched resolutely out of the station past a bunch of cabbies (I thought about getting in a cab and demanding “take me to a hotel,” but didn’t). We came upon a very ritzy-looking hotel almost immediately. Although it probably cost a lot more than I would ordinarily be willing to spend, this was not an ordinary station, so in we marched. The concierge was a charming fellow who didn’t show a jot of dismay at seeing two scruffy-looking backpackers walk into his nice lobby. He informed us that his hotel was full, but offered to check and see if another nearby hotel could accomodate us. He checked, they could, so arrangements were made. He even called us a cab. Jenny commented that his hotel seemed really nice, and I said that it was a shame we couldn’t stay there. He sympathized, saying it was a famous hotel. “Are you famous?” Jenny asked. “No, just clever,” he answered.
The cab came around and delivered us to the Hotel Campanille, on the other side of town. This is a branch of a French-run chain, roughly equivalent to Holiday Inn.
We checked in for two nights. I was glad to be in a big, comfortable room with a full-sized bed and plumbing right in the room. The room was on the top floor, partly under the slant in the roof, and it had these funky sloping windows that pivoted in the middle.
Although it was already midnight, we wound up staying up for at least another hour because “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was on TV. In fact, almost everything on TV at that hour was something American with subtitles. This caused a certain amount of speculation on our part: why is it that American media is so popular abroad? It isn’t because of the exceptionally high quality, that much is obvious. I think it has something to do with economy of scale. The cost of producing a typical sitcom or news-magazine show is going to be fairly inflexible. An American programmer can recoup that expense fairly handily by showing that program in a huge market, which must generate substantial advertising revenues. Having paid for itself, the show could then be sold to foreign markets. The market for Dutch-language programming is obviously much smaller, so it would logically be harder to recoup those costs. That said, Dutch TV has hardly any ads compared to AmericanI understand that some shows are shot with “euro-minutes” to pad out the gaps left by removing American ad intervals.
Our first full day in Zwolle was a Sunday. We wound up getting a fairly early start on the day, despte being up so late. The hotel breakfast buffet had fruit, something that had been generally lacking from our dietnot so bad as to cause scurvy, we hoped, but the fruit was quite welcome anyhow.
Sunday is a bad day to be in Zwolle because everything is shut. This is not typical of Holland, but a woman at the hotel pointed out that Zwolle is a very religious town. We wandered all over it in the morning and hung out in one of the squares writing postcards. We had lunch at a shoarma joint, which was open obviously because it was run by Moorish infidels (thank God). We then headed to the Stadhuis Museum of Naive Art, which was probably open because the town figured they needed something to appease the tourists. It started raining on the way there, and once we got inside, it really started pouring. The museum was just about the only thing to do in the town that was open on a Sunday, and it was a good thing, otherwise we would have been confined to our hotel room.
The Stadshof Museum, where we weathered the storm.
The museum had an extensive collection from all over the world (obviously a lot of Dutch stuff), and had a special exhibit of Indian artists. It was fun. There was a wide spectrum of stylesfrom intentionally childish to untutored-and-energetic, to naturally talented, and everything in between. All media were represented, too. Sculptures, paintings, drawings, etc. There was a sort of dollhouse in one room, and life-sized dolls in another.
We stopped for coffee in the museum’s coffee shop. Jenny asked the teenage waiter “Do you speak English?”. Rather than the usual “Yes” or “A little,” this uncouth lad answered with more honesty: “Of course” he said. I had suspected that it might actually be a little insulting to ask that, so I asked him which seems worse: to assume that everyone speaks English and just plow ahead; or to check first. He wasn’t sure.
We wound up chatting at the front desk of the museum with the clerk (he may also have been the curator, for all I know). He was impressed by the fact that we had visited Schiermonikoog, and suggested that Venlo might be worth checking out.
By the time we were ready to leave the museum, the rain had let up. We stopped at a place selling “Italian ijs”this was not Italian ice in the American sense, but rather gelato. They would scoop umpteen little balls into a cone, which was quite a trick. Jenny and I each had four-scoop cones (with four different flavors), but they’d scoop as many as 16 to a cone, I think. It was goooood.
We had dinner at the hotel, did some more wandering around Zwolle, and then hung out in our hotel room reading and watching TV. There were bikers from the rally staying at the hotel, ad we would see them in the hotel dining room.
Zwolle may have been the prettiest town we visited. It does get some tourism, but not enough to spawn overtly touristy businesses. Unfortunately, that also means that the town doesn’t really go out of its way to accomodate touristsby having business hours on Sunday, for example. We never got a list of attractions in Zwolle or anything (the VVV was closed). Even obviously historic churches were sometimes lacking the bronze explanatory plaques that are ubiquitous in the Netherlands. The town could clearly do some business on Sunday, evidenced by the large number of people wandering the town center at loose ends.
One of the shows we saw on TV in our room was an English documentary filmed by Miranda Richardson about wealthy women and their nannies. Really twisted, but very interesting.
The next morning, we got on the train for Venlo, on the strength of the recommendation we got, plus the fact that it was right on the way to Maastricht.
Venlo is nearly spitting distance from the German border, and it is a popular tourist destination for Germans. Unfortunately, this meant the VVV had tourist info in Dutch and German only, so that didn’t do us much good.
Venlo is on the Maas river, but the river is not the center of the town, and the town doesn’t have much of a canal system, so it has a much different feel than the other towns we had visited to up to that point. I had just been getting used to the pattern of an old city, ringed by a canal, with new development outside of thatthis was the pattern in Groningen and Zwolle, and Amsterdam too, after a fashion.
I suspect we did not see Venlo’s best side. We didn’t really know what to look for, and we didn’t find anything especially interesting. From what we saw, the town seems considerably newer and busier than the previous couple of towns we visited.
In the evening, we got it into our heads that it would be fun to walk to Germany, so we set out to do it. Unfortunately, we got turned around at some point, and wound up walking along the Maas for some time before we realized we were going the wrong way: we were following signs pointing towards Eindhoven, which we thought was in Germany for some reason. It isn’t. By the time we figured this out, we were considerably less keen on the whole expedition, and the weather was threatening, so we headed back, stopping along the way at yet another grillroom, where I had a pizza (I think). We had stopped in a department store earlier in the day, where I picked up a notebook, so when we got home, I started keeping this trip diary in it.
Points of interest? Crossing the Maas river, we saw some swans. That’s about it. Oh, and there were some guys laying paving blocks near the hotel, using an interesting contraption to move these very substantial bricks around. It consisted of a vacuum head with a rubber skirt that sucked onto the block, and the head could be raised or lowered through a sort of forklift-like apparatus. The whole thing could be wheeled around to get the brick into position.
Our hotel room was a bit odd. A bathroom had been retrofitted to it. Since the bathroom had to fit inside a bedroom that wasn’t too big to start with, the bathroom wound up being very long and narrowso narrow that the toilet had to be placed in it slant-wise.
The next day it was on to Maastricht. This involved a transfer on the trains, so the woman at the ticket counter helpfully printed out a little itinerary showing the track numbers and times. The transfer was in Roermond, and for whatever reason, the train we were supposed to get on was taken out of service, so we had to get off and get on another train, which was a bit confusing since we didn’t understand the Dutch announcements and didn’t know what was going on. Sometimes we could make out a word or two from the platform announcements (or we thought we could), but this probably just fuelled our anxiety more than anything else. In any case, we got to Maastricht without incident.
Upon arrival, two things had to happen: Jenny had to pee, and we had to find a hotel room. The main drag in Maastricht is littered with hotels, so we figured that, in theory, accomodations shouldn’t be a pr