All 2 entries tagged Travel Writing

Throw her out of the country

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October 03, 2005

Durham With A Bullet

I've put this entry in the Travel Writing category, partly because it is writing about travel but partly because it's ironic. In the proper sense, not the irritating student sense. Basically irony is saying one thing and meaning another and I class travel writing as writing about interesting places and not actual travelling which is satan's very own scrotal pleasure. Ack! But this entry is about the act of travellling to Durham and, oh gods, was that an experience.

Five bastarding hours on a Virgin train.

And that's the actual stated journey time. We didn't have any hilarious Virgin excuses to add to the journey ("I'm sorry everyone, due to a porn film being shot at Banbury, this train i being diverted via Constantinople and Vladivostock, we apologise for any inconvenience"). All we had was five hours in both directions. Erk!

The new Virgin trains were designed by someone who lived in a bucket for 37 years before having the Starship Enterprise described to him by a man for whom English was merely a third language. This man was then asked to design a train and decided to do so in a way which would appeal to James T Kirk. However rather than the ship train being built by Vulcans from the 26th century it was built by people in Rotherham or somewhere similar. Therefore the doors go whooooshuck like on the Enterprise, but they don't actually open that far. Or for that long. And when they close you have to push to button to get them to open again, otherwise you get sliced in half. For some reason this happens a lot to the elderly.

Then there's the toilets. The only place where the doors don't obey the above rules rigourously. In fact these doors open when they feel like it, regardless of whether you have pressed the Lock button or not. This exposes you and your shame to the crowd of pissed up rugby fans who couldn't get 7382578245791 seats together in the crowded coach D and so decided to fulfill their life dreams of being a fire hazard on public transport. Also the toilets stink. Bad. Like the toilets at the Leeds Festival do after five days of continuous, cannnabis drenched piss. Do they clean train toilets?

Anyway, spending five hours in the company of dismembered geriatrics and piss stained rugby fans is great, as any LSD victim can tell you. But I wasn't on LSD. Or even Nytol. No, all I had was glucosamine sulphate (yum) and sandwiches. My own on the way there (chicken caesar, ridiculuously large and costing 12p) and the bought Virgin ones on the way back (a sliver of chicken, an unidentifiable spread, a small amount of hamster droppings and all costing a tenner). Plus the newspaper (Grauniad Saturday edition) and a coursebook. Five hours there and back. Is it any wonder I went batshit and tried to gnaw my own leg off?

The fellow travellers were the usual mix. The two nice old Geordie ladies who had a big conversation about cannabis and heroin and Kate Moss. They concluded, despite the Daily Mail one was carrying, that it was probably best to legalise cannabis and treat, rather than jail, those caught with drugs. The Daily Mail has clearly not triumphed yet over common sense. On the way back it was three trainee soldiers who all turned out to be about 12 years old. They mildly abused students for a while whilst I just shrugged. It's not wise to argue with someone who can get their hands on a tank.

So what did I learn? Nothing. Seriously, I can't afford a car, and I don't like coaches so there's really no other conclusions. My friends from home are still pretty much entirely found at Durham, Newcastle, York and Leeds, all of which are a long way away in the north. I can only reach them, and their 21st birthday parties, by train. Even if it does involve arriving at the party with old people giblets on me.


August 24, 2005

One Dutch Week In July

Bonkers, absolutely bonkers.

Sure, every country has its myriad of stereotypes and myths. But I never for one moment believed that anywhere would conform to quite so many. In conclusion I am totally baffled by Holland.

Wooden tulips!

The end…

Alright, so that's not quite the conclusion (jeez citizens, you ever seen me do a short blog entry?) so I think I might explain.


They all ride bikes. No seriously, every angle is covered, from all sides they flow. You look right, then left, then right again before crossing the cycle path and you still only narrowly avoid getting hit by one. Or twenty.

I couldn't figure out why the car users defied the laws of European driving by being neither continental (i.e. French, Spanish, Italian and driving too fast with road signs as mere suggestions rather than laws) nor anglo-saxon (sure you keep broadly (ish) to the laws but you do so sullenly and with only your hardwired politeness to prevent you from mowing down all and sundry).

However, if you lived in fear of the cyclists you'd drive politely too. You would. I guess it only works that way because the country is totally designed for bikes, cycle lanes everywhere and plenty of places to park bikes. Plus there were so many, and they were all so similar, that there's probably no point stealing a bike as it'll only be the same as the one you already own. Nice plan. There were even plenty of opportunities to rent a bike for the day which is great for tourists who want to get around cheaply, heathily and like the locals. I'm afraid I had to pass on account of having legs which refuse to go anywhere near a bike at all.

Bikes. Shitloads of them.

The Food

Not generally amazing but not bad by any means. I'm not a fussy eater or a vegetarian so I wasn't stuck at any stage, it's just that I can't really remember many of the meals I ate which suggests nothing good or bad… with one exception. The cheese. Mmm.

I cannot explain why I like cheese so much but the gouda, the edam, the lot. Yum. I came home loaded not with sweets and curiously coloured alcoholic drinks (actually that's a lie, I did) but with cheeses. Not entirely sure of what my parents made of their twenty year old daughter running round cheese shops like a six year old in the sweetie aisle of the newsagents, but they didn't laugh too much. It's their own faults really. And yes, it is damn fine with cheese and wine shops everywhere. Like some middleclass dinner party mecca.


I like flat. I don't do inclines, hence Holland is roughly 40 million times better than the Lake District. And best of all, to make it interesting there are windmills. Shitloads of them. Don Quixote wouldn't know what hit him. They make good landmarks to navigate by. Except when there's lots of them, then you get confused and end up like me and Ex-Housemate:Els did that time we went looking for Niamh who was "in Stratford by the tower." How were we supposed to know there are 3184090115 towers in Stratford? Well, for every Stratford tower, there are 40 Dutch windmills.

Anyway, the flatness of it all means they can build really cool buildings which won't fall over or be wonky or require much engineering nous. Cool buildings include the two below. The one on the left is Rembrandt's house which included a pretty bloody interesting mock up of how it was when he lived there. I'm an art lover, albeit a contrary one, my mum and dad are proper art fans, and my brother may not know art but he knows what's boring, and for once everyone liked it. It's a good one as there's context, paintings by those who Rembrandt liked and patronised, as well as his really cool room of stuff.

The other house (below right) was just a cool house. Imagine living there.


Of course the houses weren't as cool as the really big old buildings like the palace in the centre of town.

The People

Were all helpful in that nice genuine way which is so rare. Being used to the British sullenness, American 'have-a-nice-day' at all costs and the French indifference, I found the Dutch attitude quite refreshing. Must be a small country thing, it's fairly similar in Ireland (except for the parts which don't like the English for historical reasons).

And yes they do all speak better English than we do.

The Place Itself… Odd

So in conclusion go to Holland. Here are some small things I noticed whilst over there which amused me.

A sign on a butcher's door. I don't know if it's possible to make out the chicken's eyes which are little crosses like a cartoon character would have.

Well quite. The showers there were in general very good.

The stereotype of the Dutch/German metal fan is artfully illustrated here. Do they have more words for metal than the Inuit have for snow? I couldn't say but what I can say is that, according to this market stall, Deep Purple are both "Heavy Metal" and "Very Metal". Intriguing.

The Hague/Den Haag

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