There is a saying among existentialists that goes, “There are no adventures,” which attempts to argue that, despite the human tendency to dissect their lives into chapters, life is actually a single story that is constantly building off of itself. No single event can properly be explained without the context of all that came before, and every event will forever be a part of all that comes after.

It’s a morbid thought, but I cannot pretend it didn’t cross my mind. I’m looking at the largest remaining neighbor of Old Rotterdam and realizing how little stood after the bombings. I try to shut it out but a small voice says, “What happened to the city is sadder than all the people that died.” What am I, a serial killer? And yet, I can’t help but think about how much more eternal a city can be when compared to the brief lives of people. Though most who died in the war would probably be dead today anyway, the city may have still stood. Despite all my travels to old towns, beautiful scenes, and places of great history, I feel humbled in a way I never have before. Perhaps one cannot fully be humbled by the eternity of time until he sees something that so distinctly exists in two times.

The relativity of time is something most commonly discussed in physics classes, but is better understood when in company that exists in time relatively. Despite the day and year being the same for every member of the trip, I was among 27 people at different times in their life. As I look to the last year of my undergraduate college experience, I think of all that came before, and what lies ahead, and seeing the many different paths my company has chosen for themselves only makes the questions harder to answer. As I see the contentedness each has with his or her own life, I consider that there is no right answer.

Nostalgia is inevitable when faced with uncertainty of the future. As time goes on, the entropy of life only increases and there is a great temptation to cling to what came before. But like a city flattened by war, some things cannot be rebuilt and regained. Even that which is not violently destroyed slowly becomes dust. It would be enough to make one despair, but Rotterdam stands today tall, beautiful, and full of people thrilled to be alive. And so we learn not to forget the past, but to acknowledge it as a part of what we are as we forge ahead. We preserve what we can, construct new buildings that look like the old ones right next to towers like the world has never seen before, and try not to worry that people will look at the skyline and decide it looks weird.

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This part of Holland is famous for its canals, and I wanted to swim in one for no reason other than their existence. When the owner of the Hotel Baan told us that the canal next to the hotel was both clean and permissible to swim in, I knew I’d be hopping in eventually. At the canal’s bank, I’d feel the water and decide it felt warm enough to hop in, and I’d look across it and say, “I can totally swim across this!”

Eventually the day came when I announced to the lobby that I’d be hopping in, which was met with raised eyebrows. Nobody agreed to join me, but I’d have a few spectators, which was good. If I drown, I don’t want to be alone. This also pumped me up a bit, because once I had an audience, I couldn’t wuss out.

This canal is deep enough that there’s no way you can touch the bottom at any point. I estimate it’s about 70 or 80 meters wide, which for me, is narrow enough to look easy to swim, and wide enough for me to be wrong about that. Once I jumped in, I yelled out to my friends that I was going to swim out a bit to, “see how far I could get,” but I already knew I was going the distance.

The first half feels easy. In no time at all I’m halfway out, but then I look at the non-trivial remaining distance and feel a moment of doubt. Then I look back and realize it’s the same distance. There’s nothing to do but keep swimming.

Two thirds of the way down and my arms start to burn a bit, so I switch to a backstroke. I book it for the last 10 meters, which feel harder than the rest of the distance combined. I reach the wall and climb out. My friends are waving and calling out to me and I wobble around and catch my breath.

I’m feeling pretty winded and I need to rest before I can go back. I half consider just walking to the bridge, but after making it down, not swimming back would feel like a defeat. I need another minute or two to rest, but my friends are still out there just sitting and I don’t want to keep them waiting too long. I feel strong enough to make it; time to dive back in.

The way back is significantly harder than the way there. I feel fatigued before the halfway point but push on. I tread water a bit at halfway and give myself a short pep talk. With about 20 meters to go, it’s getting harder to keep water out of my nose and mouth, but I know I’ll make it. Pretty much my entire body is burning, but I’m too close to fail. April would later tell me that around this point I looked really tired and she was genuinely worried for me, especially because, not being a swimmer herself, she would have nothing to do except watch in horror as I drowned. I push through and touch the wall.

Pulling myself up isn’t as easy this time, but I do it without assistance. Some people said that they felt pulling myself up was as impressive as the swim. Back on solid land, I actually feel a bit faint, and I’m not sure if I’m taking in too much oxygen or not enough. My ears feel like they need to pop, and I feel cold, even though my skin is a perfectly normal temperature. I go to my room and pass out for about 40 minutes.

I swam the canal three times in three days and it got easier each time. I found it very cathartic, as it is challenging enough to be proud of myself, without being genuinely very dangerous. It’s also a good workout that takes only 15 minutes. The third time, I did it while it was pitch black out, which made the whole thing a bit psychologically more stressful, but I think it’s good to scare yourself every once-in-a-while. It’ll be too bad when I get back and there is no canal right outside my door.

Let me start by saying I have had little direct interaction with the locals, so I’m not going to make any assertions about their culture, but I want to talk about my encounters with the Dutch so far.

In general, people have been very nice. On the few occasions I’ve opted to ask for help, people have been very polite and did their best to get me going where I have to be. At restaurants, I’ve had a mixed experience. Most servers are nice in a way you’d kind of expect them to be at a restaurant. Generally, they’re patient with our need for translation to English and they ensure we have a good meal. However, customer service here hasn’t been as good as it usually is in the US, and I have had a few irritable servers. One waitress was quite rude to me when I asked if they had to go boxes.

Me: Do you have anything that I could use to take-

Waitress: Like a box?

Me: Yes or something to-

Waitress: No (turns and walks away)

I actually wanted to believe she was joking and had been sarcastic with me but she absolutely wasn’t. I had been asking this for a friend and when I told her what response I got, she went to ask the waitress herself who snapped, “I just told your friend we don’t have any boxes!” Kristine pressed further and asked if they just had paper towels she could use to wrap her bread up with, and eventually she got some.

So far, my most interesting interactions with the Dutch happened on Friday when we went kind of out of the metropolitan area to Kinderdijk to see the windmills lit up. After the event, we had some time to kill while we waited for the bus. Travis (100% Thai descent) and I were exhausted so we desperately searched for a bench to sit on. We approached a playground with a park bench, but when we got closer noticed two things. One, that it was roped off, and two, that a group of young rowdy boys were ignoring the ropes and being loud and obnoxious in the playground.

Not wanting much to do with them, we walked past them and I heard one yell something in Dutch. Not understanding, I didn’t respond, but the sneer in the voice led me to believe that his comment was directed at us. He seemed disappointed to get no response. Once we had passed, he started yelling, “Ni hao! Ni hao!” in a mocking Chinese accent, as his friends cackled.

Perhaps I have too much pride, but this pissed me off. I had half a mind to turn around and tell him to piss off, and I strongly believe that had I been in the US, I’d have done something. However, I was not in the US, and I didn’t want to drag Travis into anything uncomfortable simply because I had a temper. There were also about 5 of these kids and I had no clue how they’d react to confrontation. So we walked right on by. Not acting when I feel that I should have bothers me more than just about anything else.

I was in a bad mood. It was a long day, all I wanted was a place to sit, and me and Travis had been mocked because we looked Asian. Travis didn’t seem bothered, even when I vented to him a little bit. We kept looking for a bench and after several more blocks, we finally spotted one. It was a sight for sore eyes, but before we were even close, two pretty Dutch girls sat down in it.

I couldn’t be mad at them. I was saying to Travis as we walked past them, “They’re probably tired just like us,” when one of them waved and said, “Hello!” in a very friendly voice. I waved back and walked right past when I decided I had nothing better to do, so I turned back and started talking to them. They were eating “Oliebollen” which they told me was a traditional Dutch treat typically only eaten at the New Year. They gave me a piece to try. It was good.

We chatted for a good 10 or 15 minutes and they were super nice. They even asked me mildly personal questions like what I wanted to do after I was done with school. Eventually they got up to go to a party and Travis and I finally got our bench. They said bye many times as they walked off, and a few minutes later, rode by on their bikes and waved bye again. The bad taste in my mouth left by the jerks at the playground was pretty much gone.

So overall, I can’t conclude much about the Dutch people. I’ve run into more nice people than rude people, enough of both to know they’re not outliers, but not enough of either to draw a strong trend line. On an unrelated note, I may need to brush up on statistics.

This is my fourth trip to Europe and over these trips, I’ve learned to expect to see a little more hot, steamy, kissy, action right out in public than I’m used to back in the US. However, this part of Europe (Holland and Belgium) seems to have beaten out even the famous lovers of Paris because I can’t seem to turn a corner without seeing a couple going at it.

And it’s not just young, puppy-dog lovers at bars, it’s older couples too, and it’s everywhere. Just today, I was waiting for a tram at a metro station when I heard a kissing sound so loud and pronounced, Bugs Bunny could have been giving it to Elmur Fudd. I was fine with that. It’s better than the couples who just go all in with tongues and everything. However, after the fifth or sixth smacking sound, I started to get annoyed.

See, I figured that this couple was separating temporarily and this was their loving goodbye. I actually consider this an appropriate time for public displays of affection, as public transit is where many people split up, and it also happens to be, well, public. However, if you are going to kiss your boo goodbye, it should be just that. A kiss goodbye. This couple was loudly kissing, at intervals so regular I could have set my clock, for a good 5-8 minutes. One peck right when the tram got there would have been appropriate.

The worst part was, when the tram got there, they just hopped right on it together! So they weren’t even saying goodbye. Fortunately, they kept their lips apart for the tram ride, though I don’t see what the big difference is on the tram versus the metro station.

Most of the public displays of affection here have not bothered me as much as that couple, but I don’t understand how it is enjoyable to kiss that much in public either. Sneaking a quick one can be kind of fun, but when you’re in the middle of many people and know they all can see, doesn’t that sort of spoil the moment? Is it really so distressing to have your lovers face farther than a foot away from yours, that you can’t go on a day trip without getting some oral support from your lover before getting home? Perhaps I’m just a bit jaded, but I feel nothing heartwarming when I see these couples, and I will not miss seeing these displays when I get back home.

I’m working on a theory that the Dutch, after many generations, have developed bone and muscle tissue so dense it is of super-human toughness right around their pubic area. I say this because after three straight days of biking, sitting down was an activity that had to be handled with extreme caution.

Somehow the common knowledge that biking is huge in Holland eluded me. I was not aware of this until I stepped out into the city for the first time and saw it. By the second day, I stopped even noticing all the 6-foot blonde Dutch women in sunglasses, casually holding onto their bike with one hand while texting with the other. I suspect this is the biggest reason it’s so much quieter here.

Everywhere you look, there is a huge pile of bicycles.

It would have been a crime to not get around by bike a little while here, and the program had covered rental fees for the Bicycle Hotel’s selection of bikes. We all got matching yellow bikes, which was as cute as it was a giant sign that we were tourists. Ultimately we didn’t mind because it made each other much easier to spot. None of our bikes had multiple gears, but this didn’t matter because hills don’t seem to exist here.

Since I have no plans to bike more and didn’t die already, I guess I’ll also publicly admit that I did not wear a helmet (sorry mom!). I wasn’t given one when I rented the bike, and of the thousands of bikers I had been seeing everyday, none wore a helmet. I could have easily gotten one, but the abundance of bike lanes seemed to make things pretty safe. And besides, when in Rome…

My first ride was from the Bicycle Hotel to the big public city library in Amsterdam, which was about a 20 minute ride. I guess it wouldn’t have been so memorable if it wasn’t so intense. Because there are so many people around going everywhere, riding through the city is very stop and go, which happens to be the most difficult part. Overall, the ride went smoothly, but there were a few instances of people being cut off, or not-too-near collisions.

We went on a much longer bike ride to Ouderkerk, but that was outside of the city. It was a beautiful ride so I tried to capture some footage while I was riding. Take a look:

Of course, we couldn’t get through the woods without one incident. I was just hanging out in the lobby of the Bicycle when Dominic walked in with a great deal of gauze and bandages on his elbow and informed us that he had hit the curb hard and had a bad fall. His bike was a little damaged, and he didn’t feel like riding much after that. On a brighter note, he broke his personal record for longest pavement skid.

Unfortunately, our bike setup here in Rotterdam isn’t nearly as convenient as it was in Amsterdam. It seems the best option is to buy a bike and sell it back at a loss when you’re done. I don’t feel like dealing with the complexity of that, so I’ll be sticking to the metro and good old fashioned walking for the remainder of my trip.

So after being on my trip for nearly two weeks, I have tried fries in Amsterdam, Belgium, and Rotterdam, and I  have somehow missed the ones that are so mind blowingly good people all over the world recommend you try them while you’re here. Or perhaps it’s one of those legends that doesn’t live up to the hype.

I can’t remember who said it, but on our first night, someone ate a fry and said, “Never have I eaten a fry that tastes so much like a potato.” The point stood, but there’s nothing to go crazy over. They taste like potatoes and not a lot else, unless they’re drenched in ketchup and mayonnaise, which they often are. I gave the mayonnaise thing a try and it is definitely not for me, and to make matters worse, they might as well have applied it with an ice cream scoop. The giant glob on top made me want to retch a little, and the rest were untouched.

I’m a big fan of fries without sauce, but these ones need more seasoning to make that a good option. Adding salt and pepper makes them tasty, but it’s still nothing special. Overall, I have eaten many fries back home that are better than any of the ones I have found here. In particular, I recommend the fries at Shultzy’s Sausage.

This is my first post in a while and I have decided I’m going to change the way I’m doing this in the future. This is the last “daily” post where I describe a single day. I’m going to try and make future posts shorter, and cover bits from a longer span of time, only talking about the more interesting bits. Hopefully this shortens posts and makes things overall easier to read. I’d love to update more often, but I can’t due to all the good times.

I forgot to mention my living situation at the Bicycle Hotel. There are four people in this room, each of whom gets a twin sized bed.  Three of them are pushed together and I’m smack dab in the middle (lucky me!). The upside is that we get a bathroom attatched, where many people have to share a more public one, a window facing the cool side of the building, and, most importantly, a chandelier. After realizing how much less hot this room gets, I ceased to be bummed out at all.

My roommates were more jetlagged than me, and ended up waking at around 6am this morning. I tried to sleep in, but gave up and by 8 was ready and raring to go. Class wasn’t until 10:00 so I enjoyed a nice long (complimentary) breakfast. I chatted with a nice German girl and her mother, who had just concluded a week long holiday in Amsterdam. They gave me some good tips on stuff to check out, most highly recommending just getting on a bike and riding around town.

Still having some time to spare before class, me, Stephen and April went to the grocery and happened on a neat little playground. I should mention that playgrounds are everywhere here, and a lot of them are pretty legit. For instance, this one had an awesome system of nets and platforms that I can only imagine is for playing King of the Hill while pretending that everything beneath is burning lava, or at least an endless chasm.

As a little kid, I’d have fought to the bitter end to stay in the center of this toy.

Our first lecture was held in a nice park under the shade of a tree. We discussed research at a very abstract level in a way that was reminiscent of the early lectures of Info 470 with Dr. Wobbrock.  Our first assignment is done in groups. Each group is to “research” an excursion appropriate for the whole class to participate in on Tuesday evening, with the caveat that we may only gather and disseminate information via one means. In our case, we were limited to print as a means of information collection/distribution.

We had a little free time between class and the Wikipedia lecture, so we swung by the phone store so people could get phones and SIM cards. I was almost sure I’d get one but when faced with the decision, I decided to wait a while and see if I found myself wishing I had one. We got lunch at a little sandwich place and Ross was nice enough to buy me a Dr. Pepper. I own him one. Unable to read the menu, I went off the pictures, attempting to choose one that looked good and large enough for the price. I settled one primarily because it had “bacon” in the name but was disappointed to find out that bacon was just about the only thing on it. It was alright.

The Wikipedia lecture was in the lobby of the Bicycle hotel, which may sound like a fine idea until you consider how fun it is to cram nearly 30 people into a small and un-airconditioned room for over two hours. Some people were clearly not as enthusiastic about Wikipedia as the guest lecturers. Okay so nobody is as enthusiastic about Wikipedia as they are, but my goal for the lecture was to not out the degree to which I’m a Wikipedia nerd, while still contributing as much to the discussion as possible. I really liked the bits about Wikipedia’s history, and the way pivotal decisions were made, but they talked about other things, like Wikipedia’s future projects and challenges. It felt like a long talk, but I liked it, and would have liked it even more if we had held it in the park.

We had a big group dinner planned, and this one would be covered by the program (which means we’re still paying for it if you think about it). I was looking forward to this because I had not had a substantial meal since the airplane ride. Wait… That meal wasn’t substantial. It wasn’t that no food was available to me, but I had not had much of an appetite.

On the walk there, Lauren began crossing a bike lane without noticing a fast moving scooter headed in her direction. I was standing there determinedly (and silently) trying to calculate if they were on a collision course when Ross had the presence of mind to yell, “Watch out. Watch out!” She scurried out of the way and nobody was hurt. Not sure how close it actually was, but it got the blood flowing a little bit.

I wouldn’t have given her a hard time about it, but getting on the tram, a couple people didn’t realize that the side doors are only for people exiting the tram. On the way in the door closed on Lauren’s arm in a very harmless way. I asked her, “So are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Dinner was great but took forever. I started really not feeling well before the food even came. I was struggling to keep my eyes open and had to excuse myself and step out into the cool air a few times. By the time my pasta came, I already felt full (of appetizers). I really had to force down the food because I knew that eating a full meal was going to make me feel much much better in the long term, but I actually really felt awful eating it.

I got to know a couple of the grad students seated around me who were super friendly. After a few drinks they started playing, “Tell us about a really bad decision you’ve made.” By the time they were done talking about the stuff they had done in their mid to late twenties, I felt like I might have some rough times ahead of me.

I started feeling much better on the way back. It was my first walk through Amsterdam at night and it was quite pleasant.