Graham, City of Rotterdam, The Netherlands
After a somewhat awkward conversation with the waitstaff at a restaurant and bar not too far from Central Station (where we had stared blankly at a waitress speaking to us in Dutch before hesitantly stammering out “English?”), Kyle and I were relieved to meet our first Dutch Warm Showers host in the City of Rotterdam. Graham assures us that most people do speak English and will kindly speak it for tourists. After dealing with our culture shock a bit by teaching us a few Dutch words and answering some of our questions concerning etiquette, Graham shows us around his apartment located right in the city center. Originally from a small town just outside Antwerp, Graham now works in IT in Rotterdam. In his spare time, he participates in bicycle races, tours around The Netherlands and hosts quite a few travelers coming through the area. After sharing dinner, Graham offers to give us a cycle tour of Rotterdam, a city in The Netherlands located within the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt river delta at the North Sea. Due to Rotterdam’s position as having the largest cargo port in Europe and an extensive distribution system, it is nicknamed “Gateway to Europe.” In WWII, the city center was almost completely destroyed in the “Rotterdam Blitz,”giving way to a vastly different architectural landscape than seen in most other Dutch cities. Though people were quick to dismiss Rotterdam as a place to visit elsewhere in The Netherlands, Kyle and I actually consider it to be our favorite city. During our tour with Graham, the city is lit up with a pre-storm backdrop of oranges, reds, and yellows, making it even more breathtaking to see quirky mixture of modern and post-modern structures bordering the river. Afterwards, Graham treats us to drinks at one of his favorite places, the Fenix Food Factory, a market and brewery housed in a converted warehouse along the river. As we swap stories and experiences, a live jazz band fills the place with good music and a great vibe. The storm finally breaks over us as we head back, but hot tea, John Oliver griping about city spending on sports stadiums, and a fixed gear bike race on YouTube awaits. Thank you Graham for a terrific first night in The Netherlands!
Daniel, City of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
After camping out next to a river just a few miles outside Amsterdam, Kyle and I are delighted to hear from our host the next evening that we can drop our things at his place before going into the city. Arriving at Daniel’s apartment, we are confronted with the news that yet another significant rain shower is about to hit the region. Deciding to stay and chat with our new host for a few hours while the rain does its thing, we sip tea, try Dutch peanut butter (amazing), and discuss country politics. Daniel has a degree in English liberal arts with a minor in American Studies, making this quite a fascinating discussion. He has only recently begun taking in travelers through Warm Showers; visitors from Canada still have their things drying in his apartment. Throwing another record onto his old school record player (wouldn’t listen to music any other way), Daniel tells us how he has been selling all of his things at the flea market to purchase his first touring bike for the purpose of touring Asia. For a moment he laments over the fact that people from Turkey have to barter or die, annoying to the Dutch who consider their first price quote to be very fair. A bookshelf still filled with books sits in one corner and DVDs rest on top of a mantle (“I kept the ones I couldn’t part with,” he tells us). The rain finally lets up, so Kyle and I journey into the beautiful city center of Amsterdam. We don’t stay overly long, just long enough to check out all the 17th century canals surrounded by amazing Dutch architecture, the bicycle mania, and track down a gluten-free pot brownie (just kidding). While the sun did come out for our excursion, so did all the tourists! Cycling back to Daniel’s apartment, we offer to take him out for a drink at one of his favorite local bars. After our drink, Daniel takes us on a walk around the more non-touristy part of Amsterdam, giving us a different flavor of the city. Later that night, we grill shish kabobs in the glow of a log flame in Daniel’s back garden, watching the smoke spiral upwards (Daniel makes sure there is no laundry hanging out on the railings above). After trading jokes and stories outside, we end the night watching a speech from Daniel’s favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, prompting me to download a free pdf of Daniel’s favorite book, Infinite Jest, onto my IPad (the last part I read was about a robber turned burglar by accidentally suffocating a man with a cold by gagging him). The next morning we say our farewells, but not before we each get a picture. Ours of course is not as professional – our host is a self-employed photographer! Oh yes, I must add that Daniel did teach us the Dutch “you’re welcome” during our visit: just shrug your shoulders and you’ll be fine;)