Amsterdam And Bruges, 2001

Any discussion of Amsterdam really must start with my priest, whose responses to my telling him where I was going ran the gamut from “You dirty slut!” to “Pull yourself together, girrl, and doan’t be goin’ to that city of sin!” (spelling irregularities my attempt to convey his channelling of our Irish housekeeper nun) to “Would you like to borrow a guidebook?”

In hindsight my mid-trip “Hi Mum, I’m in Amsterdam!” phonecall to my mother, who I’d forgotten to tell about my plans, was rather cruel, given that the answers I then gave to her anxious queries could hardly have brought maternal peace of mind eg. “Where are you staying?” “Hostel Kabul”; “Hostel Kabul? Is it safe? Is it full of drug addicts/sex tourists/generally unsavoury characters? Where is it?” “Oh, it’s in the heart of the red light district. It’s quite nice, really, don’t worry…” Sorry, Mum. I probably do this to you too often.

I wasn’t really lying about the hostel. Despite its roach problem (such as me opening my toiletries bag and finding a large roach perched on my toothpaste tube; said roach was given a 5 minute grace period to get the fuck out of there, after which it was unceremoniously hauled out with bare hands and savagely killed) and the fact that from the second night onwards I was the only girl in a 24 person dorm, and the fact that all the men in there with me seemed to be of the resonant snoring variety, despite all this, Hostel Kabul was actually quite all right compared to others I’ve been in. For example, water came out of the shower when you turned it on. This was a plus.

Apart from this, the rest of our (me, Russ) little jaunt involved lots of walking (good) in cold and rain and wind (not so good) with little more than my regularly inverting umbrella (bloody annoying) as protection against this. There were of course the requisite visits to the Anne Frank house, Van Gogh museum, friendly neighbourhood brothels etc., also a day-trip to Bruges, also rambling along the canals, stumbling down narrow wind tunnel streets brandishing umbrellas like shields, Russ chasing his umbrella down one such street, me laughing like crazy until my umbrella promptly did another topsy-turvy, long-drawn-out dinners that left us the last people in the restaurant, celebrating the phenomenon that is the Michelle-Russ dynamic, me making a silent promise to myself and him that things will not change (at least not much) in the light of recent developments in my life, that we will not lose this.

Stereotypical souvenir shopping: Belgian chocolates for hall priests, nun and Mark (Mark got “Woodies”, I obviously chose something different for the clergy), Royal Delft blue and white pattern teacup for mum, advocaat for me and Avril. Considered an inflatable doll for Alec, decided this was possibly not the best gift to give a significant other/boyfriend/whatever, even if he did once send me a tape of a song called Pussy-Pussy-Cat.

All in all, an exceptionally good Reading Week, but I really am determined now to slog for a bit and put in some hours in the library until Christmas. I needed to do this, but now I need to do that.