Category Archives: Netherlands

Vancouver to Amsterdam to Bonn to Abidjan

On June 8th I left Vancouver to begin my first contract with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF aka Doctors Without Borders), in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. As usual, I didn’t take the most direct route. Before starting work, I had to attend a ten day introduction to MSF, which was held in Bonn, Germany. Another guy from Vancouver, John, was on the same flight, which had a six hour stopover in Amsterdam, so when we landed on June 9th the two of us left the airport to see my old friend Pieter in town.

Clocktower, central Amsterdam

The three of us visited the MSF office, walked around a bit, talked a lot, and had strange but tasty Dutch sandwiches before John and I caught our train back to the airport. There, we met up with a few others heading to the induction, flew to Köln together, and figured out the buses to get from the airport to the outskirts of Bonn for the induction.

I can’t really say anything about the MSF induction itself, just that it was a lot of fun, with some really cool participants and organisers, rather bad (and I suspect perhaps decaffeinated) coffee, and no fresh vegetables for the first few days because of the big E. coli outbreak in Europe at the time. A few pics of Bonn:

Bonn Münster:

Bonn Münster, central Bonn, Germany

Bonn’s historic Town Hall:

Bonn's historic Town Hall

Bonn’s most famous citizen, Beethoven:

Beethoven statue, Bonn, Germany

Street art in Bonn: an East German soldier jumping over the line:

East German soldier skip rope street art, Bonn, Germany

After ten days, all the other participants left Bonn, except for me and one other guy. I stayed part of an extra night in the hostel, caught a taxi to the Bonn Hauptbahnhof in the middle of the night, and a little after 5am on June 19th I was zooming along the Rhine River watching the castles glide by around me en route to Frankfurt by train:

Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany

From Frankfurt it was a quick hop through the sky to Brussels:

Flying from Frankfurt to Brussels

From Brussels, the plane passed over the Mediterranean with its pretty islands and coastline:

Islands in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa
The northern coast of Africa

By 515pm I was on the ground in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, to start a six month contract.

Sunset in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

Amsterdam and the Netherlands!

*This post is long delayed, my apologies for telling some people I would post this a while back.*

At the end of January, the first semester of my Humanitarian Action program ended. Many of our students went to one of the six other universities in the European network that offers this program for an exchange semester, while four of us remained here. We were given over a week off between the end of the first semester and the start of the new one, when all the incoming exchange students were to arrive. I decided to do the only logical thing when presented with such a long break: fly to Amsterdam!

I spent a full week in the Netherlands, sleeping on the floor of my friend Martin’s room (with a real mattress, it was quite comfortable) since he’s studying there now. I have a Dutch friend, Egbert, who is also studying in Amsterdam so I met up with him a few times as well; we hadn’t seen each other since New Zealand back in 2005!

One day, Egbert and I took the train down to the Hague, where his parents live.

The Hague is where the Dutch parliament is, even though Amsterdam is technically the capital of the country. Quite strange! The round corner tower in this photo is where the Prime Minister has his office

These two trucks at the cheese market had an accident, apparently due to poor packing. The guy in charge of loading the cheese into the trucks filled the trucks with cheese but failed to take into account the different densities of the various types of cheese, thus leading to a very uneven weight load distribution toward the top right. A strong windstorm that day (you should have seen us leaning into the wind, though it was worse when rain followed) was the final straw.

That evening we went to the home of Mr and Mrs Prenger, where Egbert’s mom made a really delicious meal. I don’t know what it’s called but it had tonnes of tasty things in it, it was in a casserole, and there was some sort of thin pastry type stuff on the top that sealed the casserole dish as if it were a lid. And then we had fresh apple tarts with cream, awesome! We then made our way back to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is famed for its canals, which I don’t find particularly impressive (maybe I’m spoiled, having grown up by the ocean) but which, nonetheless, add quite a lot of charm to the city. Amsterdam is, in my opinion, quite a dirty city, but I’ve seen much worse. This is a canal boat filled with garbage:

On February 2nd, Martin had time to take me to North Amsterdam, on the other side of the lake IJ (which, in Dutch, is considered a single letter… yeah, weird eh?) which is accessed by a free ferry that takes about 15 minutes from pier to pier.

There is a Soviet Zulu-class attack submarine docked (abandoned?) at the ferry port. The internet has very little information on the sub, but it was apparently purchased by a bunch of Dutch sub enthusiasts and then towed to Den Helder, further north, before ending up in Amsterdam at some point in the last two years. It has 4/11 marked on the sail, but I managed to find one or two photos online and they all have it very clearly marked 4711, so it seems that somebody painted over the horizontal line on the 7 to turn it into a forward stroke (forward slash).

The port facilities were decommissioned some time ago and much of the equipment removed. However, in Amsterdam there are very strong squatting laws (by strong I don’t mean strict, I mean important and legally strong) that allow many inhabitable places to be squatted if they’ve been abandoned. There are rules that the squatter has to meet, such as showing that they have improved the community or something like that (I don’t know too much about the specifics) and after a certain time (I think it’s 2 years?) the property becomes owned by the squatter. Thus, in this abandoned port area, there are a number of squats.

Such as this bus:

No one squats in this massive crane, probably because that would not be legal according to the squatting laws. But it sure would be cool! What a view they’d have!

Squatted streetcars.

Note the stovepipe coming out of the roof:

I’m not sure if this one is drivable. It looks like it’s in good shape, and I don’t know how the laws would see a squatted van. Either way, the owner has a good philosophy, appropriately written in English with Dutch-style spelling (the windshield wiper is partly covering the letter L).

I also went up to Utrecht one evening to see my friends Mirte and Mark. Mirte lived in the same house with me in Cameroon and was a super hardworking volunteer while Mark, her boyfriend, spent several months in another part of Cameroon in order to visit her and work in a local hospital. They made me delicious food, including a typical Dutch thing called a Kroket, which was also really tasty.

Overall, I had a great week in the Netherlands, met a bunch of cool people, and managed to catch up with four old friends, so the trip was a real success!

PS Can anyone tell me what is wrong in six of the photos above? First person to do so (other than Egbert, who already knows) will get a free beer from me next time I see you.