I’m back from the Netherlands. Pretend that it’s 1986, we’re middle-aged, and you’ve come round my house to sit through a slide-show of my trip to the Netherlands while we eat fondue and slag off Margaret Thatcher. My dog’s started humping your leg, melted cheese is dripping everywhere and you’re basically looking for any excuse to leave. I save the moment by telling you about Utrecht.
It’s a small Dutch city with just one old canal, the Oude Gracht. There’s lots of cafes, bars and restaurants along it, which all look perfectly charming. You can also visit the Miffy museum once you remember that Miffy’s called Nijntje in the Netherlands and that asking Dutch people for ‘Miffy’ has a sinister meaning that has nothing to do with illustrations of rabbits.
We spent first couple of hours there HOPELESSLY LOST.
The Utrechtian expatriate who sold the city so well to me sent me a text message reading ‘Forgot to mention, train station is hideous’ at the precise moment I had a complete breakdown in the station, dropping to my knees and howling at the sky in frustration and disappointment. You can’t exit the station without crawling your way through an intricate labyrinth of shops, all experimenting with combinations of house music and neon lighting to attract customers. Exit signs nowhere, hot air and swarms of feverish commuters bumping into each other everywhere.
Once we were finally outside, we wandered around an Industrial Park for half an hour after following a sign that said Central. Mistake. I had printed off a map, but at a scale useful only if you happen to find yourself in exactly the locale detailed on the map.
Protesting ‘Nee, ik ben geen toerist’ no longer, I approached a kindly looking woman with my tattered map in hand and begged for assistance. She looked at the map incredulously, as if I’d given her a hand-sketched map of 18th century Paris and asked her to highlight any well-known syphilis hotspots. In Japansese.
Unable to assist us, she shuffled off, but then turned as if gripped by mystical insight and pointed over our shoulders, muttering the heart-warming words ‘Dom Toren’. Dom Toren is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands (i.e about as tall as my apartment building) and is slap-bang in the city centre. Hurray! Although far too late in the day to go up it, it allowed us to only get lost enough to make it to the Miffy Museum before it closed before filling up on Leffe and Greek food. Success!