Notes from Nederlands

written on Saturday, 22 Jun 2013

Note: This writeup is part of a series of notes I kept on some of my journies . Inspired by many others before me, I decided to keep notes on anything I find interesting while being abroad. Please bear in mind that these notes are assorted and might lack any value whatsoever.


In the following paragraphs I would like to share some notes I took in Delft and Rotterdam this year. They are a transcript of thoughts which were floating in my head while I was there. It was my first visit of Nederlands, I certainly failed to capture things of high importance, many of it might sound like reinventing the wheel [1] and as stated above, it might lack any value.

But I still want to share it from one selfish reason: I don't want to forget.

Update: I returned to Netherlands a few week later and also took some notes <http://mareksuppa.com/blog/notes/notes-from-nederlands-take-two/#content>.

Bicycles

Everyone uses them here. I am not sure if I can judge just from being in one city but it really looks like that everyone has at least one bicycle here. It is a great mean of transport whatsoever but it seams they took it to an extreme here. I definitely should have brought my scooter with me.

What amuses me the most is the fact that people seem not to care about what their bicycles look like or how old are they. The only thing that seems to be important for them is whether it has two wheels and can be steered in some way.

The old czechoslovakian Libertas (or something that resembles them) have a decent market share here, if not the majority.

The locals then later explained the situation to me. It's not that the old czechoslovakian Libertas would posses some artificial abilities which would ultimately increase their value and popularity. The market is just so dominated by them and their price is so low that no one would dare to steal them [2].

Among other things I was also struck with the view of a parking lot for bicycles. Again, I was certain there will be many of them but what I saw changed the definition of many for me. Later on, locals explained to me that some people even have more bicycles, one on every major parking lot.

When I asked whether they are not afraid that someone will steal some of their bicycles I got a response which summarized the whole problem in one sentence:

"Well, if your bicycle is stolen you just steal another one."

A parking lot for bicycles near the train station in Delft.

Canals, canals everywhere

There has been a lot written about this and it's one of those things Nederlands is known for but I didn't think there will be this many of them. It's like where one would expect grass to be, there is going to be a canal there for sure.

Rambling about universities

When I read about the TU Delft at Wikipedia it looked like a nice little university in a nice little city. Well, I do agree it is nice but it's far from being little. Its campus is really big, each department has its own building and each building has its own shape. Combined with bicycles really everywhere it makes you wonder if you really want to leave. Even if you wanted your curiosity won't let you. At such a place curiosity driven learning is not only a theoretically modeled structure but a term which expresses the reality.

While walking around the campus you can easily find yourself wondering about many things (not that something like this should not happen at the university). And sometimes way too critical ideas came to your mind. Long mind. Long story short, here is a question I am not able to find a sufficient answer for: How come that every single scientific institution in Slovakia looks like from a catalogue of boring-on-the-first-sight buildings.

It is not that they are old. There are way older institutions in England or France for instance and their look is far from being boring. Some might even say they are not old and frankly, I would probably agree. 50 years vs. 500 years doesn't seem like a fair comparison to me.

The other side of this problem is that most of these buildings in Slovakia were built in the age of communism. That would be a very fair point. Buildings from that time were required to be functional and boring by design.

But then I've got a news for you: it has been more than 20 years since the Velvet revolution. New buildings have been built since then. And guess what? They are boring too (probably not all of them, I lack the definition of boredom and enough data about newly built scientific institutions in Slovakia here).

So the question is why? And my answer is that I don't know (if you ask those in charge their answer will be money). It is never a good approach to make judgement based on the first sight. A good university does not have to have good looking buildings but great people inside. The thing is that great people don't like to be bored. They will need a good reason to go to a boring building every day. And a way better one to create value there.

It seems like we lack this type of good reasons in Slovakia. But sociologists found out that it's a world wide problem, it's got nothing to do with buildings and it's got a name.

Talent shortage.

Combining old with new

I like old buildings. I like to think about the history that took place in them and the old ages they reflect. It always makes me sad when people way more intelligent than me decide to replace old building with a new one, even if it's not necessary (you know, it brings new possibilities, long term value is secondary). We can create pretty much anything with technology. But we cannot recreate history.

It is not that I am against new buildings. To keep gears up and running we need to replace old stuff with new stuff. Their lifespan is also limited. But there is an unpleasant fact that accompanies this process. The style of new buildings is usually significantly different when compared to the old ones and the resulting bigger picture is often aesthetically unpleasant.

It might again be just another half-baked judgement of mine but it seems that in Nederlands they managed to find a way of combining old buildings with the new ones in such a nice way that one complements the other.

Even the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, which one would expect to be by all means different fits nicely into the scenery.

Also, the amount of graffity on old buildings is close to nothing. This was a surprising finding for me. When I went on a discovery walk around ordinary streets of Paris it was incomparable (others documented it better than I could).

Driving

Having lots of bicycles on the street also means different driving habits. Sometimes completely different than those you are used to.

Cars will stop if you are about to pass the street. I really mean it. I am quite used to rather wait and let the car go than risking that someone who is in the hurry will be occupied by something else than driving.

Natives then explained it to me. It is not cars you should be afraid of.

It is bicycles!

Hmm, it seem that the situation is different in different parts of Nederlands .

Embracing the unexpected (journies)

When I was younger and outside of borders of my homeland I used to look up some facts about my destination, mark interesting sightseeings and get a general idea about the place before I stood my foot there.

But I no longer do that.

I'm not particularly sure why but I think that I miss way too much. If I follow a tour guide I'll see what many others saw before me. For some people that might be just enough.

I aim for special. So rather than knowing where I should go I take the first road I find interesting.

Without a plan. With the journey being the goal.

And it usually pays off. I'd never guessed I can find our very own Pat a Mat in Rotterdam.

Pat a Mat in Rotterdam

People

When I was waiting for my flight in Rotterdam (which I never boarded, see Epilogue) I decided that I want to see what a Sunday evening in such a city looks like from an outsiders point of view. So I sat down on a sqare in front of a cinema and started reading. At first I read a book. But then I got bored (it was an extremely boring sociology textbook) and started to read faces of people instead.

There were many of them. Not in terms of numbers but in terms of types. All kinds of people walked around, met, smiled, argued, shouted, played, had fun ... This part of the city was really busy on this particular Sunday.

It was not obvious on the first sight but after a while it started to be apparent that there were some differences between different groups of people.

As any country with high living standards, Nederlands is an immigrant destination. I am not totally certain but most of the people I saw that afternoon were immigrants. It's quite funny when you think about it. Suppose that you are a random traveler who is trying to dicover this city on his own. Let us also suppose that he/she somewhat coincidently ends up at this square. The scenery of many different (immigrant) groups of people can lead to false conclusions about people.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to meet many very nice Dutch people on this visit and can recommend you one thing: do meet with the locals (I mean the local locals). They are a great bunch of people an you won't regret it.

Epilogue

My first trip to Nederlands was indeed awesome. I've met many great people, hopefuly helped more than hurt and seen a very nice country.

I would like to thank Peter van Lith, Martin Klomp, Jan te Bokkel and Xin Wang for taking care of me while I was in Nederlands for the first time and organizing this awesome competition called Dutch RoboCupJunior.

Dank je!


But life is not a romance and so this sweet story has also has a piece of bitterness in it. I didn't get on the plane in Rotterdam, had to book a new flight, get myself to Amsterdam and fly from there to Warsaw and then to Vienna. That made my trip a bit more expensive, one day and roughly a thousand kilometers longer and even more energy demanding.

Some would say it wasn't worth it and some would be right. As crazy as it might sound I am glad it happened to me now and I will know how to handle such a situation next time.

[1]Just to be clear, this was a feeble attempt of using a metaphor for stating what has already been stated many times before. And yes, I wanted it to sound profoundly technical.
[2]Not to mention that stealing them would probably be technically impossible in bigger scale.