I get on the train and find my carriage. I’m sharing (so far) with Alan, an eldery refrigeration engineer who has been on a business trip to Sweden. We chat a bit, he tells me about his wife’s cycling, then settles down to watch a film. I do some knitting and cut into my bottle of red. I share my crisps and he passes me a piece of orange.
After a couple of hours we’re joined by a Dutch couple. He’s done some Aikido so we chat about that whilst I sort out photos on my laptop. It’s only half nine so we’re not rushing to put the bunks out. Then another guy gets on who doesn’t want to talk but sits with a hand to his head like he has a migraine or something. I finish up what I’m doing on the netbook and set up the top bunk that I’m on. As soon as I’m done the new guy sets up the other top bunk without speaking to anyone. Once he’s in I ask him if he wants the big light out. He grunts and nods so we turn it off and put the night lights on. Below Alan and the Dutch couple say ‘What do we do with the boots then?’ and the smell finally drifts to the top of the carriage – it’s like he hasn’t ever changed his socks. After some discussion they put them outside.
Saturday morning – smelly feet man and refrigeration Alan have left – we get delayed and so don’t arrive at Amsterdam until lunchtime. Once again I’m impressed with just how easy it is to see a city by bike – within minutes I am away from the main tourist crowd of the central station and spinning along canal sides and little streets. On foot this would take me hours, and be a lot more tiring with my luggage, likewise public transport. The segregated cycle paths mean that I’m never in danger or getting in the way of cars. I wonder if the only reason that Amsterdam isn’t number one cycling city is that they don’t realize they do it – it seems as heavily cycled if not more and as well provided for as Copenhagen. The sun is sunny and the sky is blue and I stop for a beer and a burger which they forget about and so give me another beer to make up but as it means I’ve just had as much internet access as I could want for free it’s fine, and the guy at the next table is very complimentary about the newbike. After a bit of an explore I get another train down to The Hague where I’ll be based for the next few days. Justin, the brother of a friend has (been) volunteered to put me up – he lives in an old school building, originally squatted some thirty years ago and then bought from the council. Split loosely into about twenty units some of which are studios, some entire family homes it’s owned by an association. It’s a great place and my Justin is staying with his girlfriend around the corner so I have yet another amazing pad to myself. They take me to a party in the building – one of the family home set-ups. It’s a great space, open and airy and all the better for having been designed by the people who live there to suit their needs and wants exactly. They are at an interesting point in it’s ownership as the original loan is almost paid off, potentially major renovation looms but there is no clear agreement on what they actually want to do with it. Interesting times ahead I suspect but the host of the party tells me that although they don’t always respect each others opinions, they respect each other and so this will see them through.
Justin has a pile of books on cities – he’s a ‘sound artist’ (which is not the same as a musician) and so I’ve been looking through some. It reminds me how low lying so many of our cities are. If we’re to take some of the worse predictions for sea level rises into account for climate change mitigation perhaps we should all just be moving to the hills rather than pouring any more effort into current infrastructure.