Europe by rail, part 2 of 11: The Netherlands

Hoek van Holland (the Hook of the Netherlands) might be Harwich’s counterpart, but it’s much nicer. There’s no visible litter here yet Harwich used the side of a bridge as a skip; no collapsing buildings where Harwich had one whose windows had been replaced with breeze blocks that had then fallen away.

Motorbikes can use cycle paths, at least they can on this particular stretch of cycle path. I didn’t even notice the signpost indicating this until a motorbike drove past. It feels right, somehow, to group motorbikes and bicycles together like that for their own safety — but that might just be because none of these motorbikes looked like they were going over 30mph, quite possibly only 20mph.

Walking from the Hook of Holland to Rotterdam looked plausible on the map. But the local maps had a misleading scale and I took needless detours that turned it into a literal marathon, and I gave up halfway: I’ve never done a full marathon, nor even a half one before this trip, and even if I had, sensible people (stop laughing) don’t do them while carrying a rucksack full of luggage.

The local area seems quite well-off if house prices are anything to go by. Somehow the streets of Maassluis, just like the streets of Amsterdam when I visited a year ago, remind me of Chichester. I can’t see why, but somehow they do. The style of the shop fronts perhaps? I cannot say.

Anyway, onto the train. More expensive for me than it needed to be; one off ticket, one way, bought with a debit card from a different country. A local offered to help, but the ticket machines are multilingual.

Ooh, just seen some graffiti. I would say that’s the first here, but I saw some earlier by a church with a fancy bell tower. The earlier graffiti was geeky (31516) and on a skateboard ramp, so I discounted it as art, but the new graffiti (next to the Vlaardingen Oost station) looked more crass.

More bad graffiti before Schiedam Centraal. Poor Schiedam.

As I arrived in Rotterdam Centraal, a medical emergency occurred right outside the station. Found out later that someone had suffered heart failure. I saw the paramedics run fast, but the details came when chatting with the tourist information lady about the helicopter parked out front with a large crowd gathered around it. Seeing a helicopter land in the middle of a city, other than on the roof of a hospital, is something I’ve never heard happen in the UK, and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing — but I do foresee a time when remote controlled paramedic drones make tasks like this easier.

Despite further needless detours, I reached my hotel for the night. Once there, I collapsed into the bed and checked the damage to my feet. It was worst than I had thought: I had blisters on the balls of both feet, and one of the blisters is collecting blood. Now I have to walk without putting any pressure on them, which gave me a strange feeling limp, one that left me self-conscious (not that anyone seemed to notice). The plan became “sports shop tomorrow for blister treatments, then Germany”, although when the morning came I just waddled to the train station for the earliest train to Berlin. The route took me past Aldi for breakfast, which is pretty much the same as in the UK. The walk showed me that Rotterdam is surprisingly similar to the UK in other regards too: multicultural, chewing gum stained pavement, similar architecture in many (but by no means all) cases. An early train was a good idea, as it ended up being delayed by more than the transfer at the next station. Rotterdam Centraal station itself is nice, open, bright and big. The smaller stations on the route from there to Utrecht, along with the background views between the stations, could mostly have been British stations and British views, down to the Brutalist architecture covered in graffiti. The biggest difference in the towns was the better car parks next to the blocks of flats. The countryside was flat, of course, and that’s something you only see in England when visiting the Fens near Cambridge.

Passing through Gouda, and of course there’s a building with cheese themed architecture next to it. There are far more bicycles parked by this station than parked outside even Cambridge railway station (before the redevelopment of Cambridge railway station turned the bike park into a building site).

Woerden has a windmill whose blades still turn in the wind. I’ve never one working before.

Utrecht is even more like England than the other places I’ve been through, at least from the train. I won’t explore it this time, but perhaps I’ll see it properly in the future.

The next stage of the trip was a German ICE International train. It was a bit rough pulling out of Utrecht, but smoothed out soon enough. The announcements are either bilingual or trilingual, but my Dutch consists only of those words the language shares with German, French, and English so it’s hard to tell.

Students, one of whom appears to be doing quantum mechanics at Delft, were sitting across the aisle from me, working away on their laptops and drinking beer. They sound American, but a surprising number of American accents are still clear derivatives of European accents, so I can’t be sure. But they were talking in English, so I still reckon they’re Americans.

Arnhem station. Lots of plastic panelling in various shades of blue and green. Duck egg blue, teal, the hue of fluorescent green without any of the actual fluorescence, and in the distance there are office blocks of sky and ocean blue, of lime green and the blue-white of thin cloud. Then dark grey, but I don’t know why that pattern was broken.

Apparently the seat reservation system is broken. I’m glad I followed the advice of a local and ignored the signs saying every seat was “GGF. RESERVIERT”, and am now sitting in a random seat where I shall stay unless and until someone asks me to go. (I’d do that automatically in the UK, but here my confidence has taken a hit from my low German comprehension of only 2500 words, and the German reputation for following rules).

In theory, this train has WiFi. In practice it fails to get me an IP address. Best stop wasting phone battery on that.

Train has stopped moving, but not at a station, just as I was wondering if I would notice when we leave The Netherlands and entered Germany. Perhaps this is that point?

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