But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I spent nearly forty hours in transit - Sydney to Taipei Taipei to Bangkok, Bangkok to Amsterdam - which is the longest I've ever been travelling for. I never want to go home, simply because I can't face that thought of that trip again. It was so painful, made more uncomfortable by the fact that I was flying China Airlines, whose aircraft are abviously designed for much more compact people of Asian descent. But I chatted with a lovely young Chinese couple beside me, and the food was okay, and my books were good, so eventually I arrived at Schiphol. (It turns out this is the name of Amsterdam's airport. My friend Glen asked me when I arrived in Shiphol, to which I said, "No, I'm going to Amsterdam".)
My friend Koen picked me up at the airport. It was so good to see him. Not just because I was so tired that I would have wrapped my arms around George W Bush with the joy of seeing a face I recognised (ooh, incisive political insight, that's what keeps you reading this blog, am I right?), but because it's been a year since he left Australia and I've missed him terribly.
Koen drove me to his home city, Oss, via a few other nearby cities. In Australia, people tend to congregate together in huge clumps, like the Central Coast or the Blue Mountains, which are never-ending trails of suburbs. In Holland, there are lots of small, self-contained cities near each other. Holland is a stunning country, and everything looks like a postcard. I'm trying to refrain from exclaiming "Cute!" every two minutes, because that's rather patronising, but the country has such a quaint, wholesome vibe. Everybody's very house-proud, there are recreational cyclists everywhere, many houses have heavily-thatched roofs, apple trees grow in public parks, and it's just lovely. I love the summertime Dutch lifestyle: it's daylight here until ten at night (a fact I am stil getting used to), so the streets are full of people walking and dining outside until late. I'm told yesterday was one of the hottest days of summer so far, but I found i very pleasant. It wasn't as humid as it apparently gets sometimes, but it still missed that malevolent heat that typifies the Australian summer for me.
I spent said sunny day a Efteling, a beautiful, creative and quirky theme park. We had a very lucky day: we didn't queue up long for the rides. Even queuing was often pleasant: the designers have paid great attention to details. For example, waiting to go on a ride called The Flying Dutchman, which is tied in with the ghost ship of the same name, we slowly walked through several rooms and a waterfront in the style of a seventeenth century Dutch town. The rides were fun, too, and Koen even managed to talk me into getting on the Python, a high-speed rollercoast in the vein of the Demon at Wonderland and, OH MY GOD, it was so much fun.
We then came home and made mussels with garlic sauce with a salad of strawberries, brie, lettuce and almonds on the side, which was an interesting and delicious combination. The Dutch seem to like combining sweet, savoury and salty flavours: the night before I had bacon and ginger pancakes, which were rich and delicious. And, OH MY GOD, you should see the booze selection in their supermarkets: cheap, varied and more extensive than the average Australia bottle shop. I could get used to that. Although at the check-out, I went to pay for the groceries with my credit card, which is apparently not done here. I feel this will be the most interesting and frustrating part of my trip: coming up against the unspoken rules of different societies. I barely have a handle on Australia's inherent rules and regulations: trying to master those of a foreign culture within a week or two, I fear, will be nearly impossible.
Today, Koen has to work. I'm just catching up on emails, and will hopefully have time for a nap. I haven't felt jet-lagged at all, but am feeling the effects of rushing straight out of two days of insomnia into a day of walking in the sun. Then, I plan to wander into Oss' city centre, which will be interesting: I haven't had any one-on-one interactions with Dutch people yet, as Koen has always been there to translate and order for me. The few people I have met - mainly Koen's neighbours and relatives - have been very friendly, even if we can't do much but communicate our names and smile at each other. I'm told most of the younger generations speak English, so wish me luck!