The art of balancing Dutch downs with Dutch ups.

So this trip has been comprised of Dutch ups and Dutch downs. Usually there are 5 or 6 of each in any given day, so it's kept things interesting. Dutch up - my show went really well last night. Dutch down - lost 50€ on the way back to my hotel. Hmmm. Dutch up - delicious appeltaart again. Dutch down - everything seems to be closed on Sundays. Dutch down - most of the delicious cafes I have found are lunch cafes, meaning they close at 6 pm, leaving the falafel option or an expensive restaurant. Dutch up - the cafes, when open, have had freaking great food. This country knows how to snack healthily and affordably. I can always find fruit smoothies and salads, as long as I am looking before 6 pm.

So I spent a day wandering around Arnhem, trying to familiarize myself with the town and its unpredictable rain showers. It's a lovely little town - apparently most of it was destroyed in WWII, during Operation Market Garden (a failed British attempt to liberate the town from the Nazis) - but the rebuilding went quite nicely. I contemplated stopping at a Swoopy Snacks for lunch (hamburgers in vending machines) but opted instead for a sausage broodje (bread roll thingie). The day clouded up again so I headed back to the hotel to change and nap before the show. I napped and woke to sunshine - the first in days - but by the time I dressed and headed out, it was raining again (big Dutch down). I wandered the old town, looking for an affordable meal and found all the little cafes closed (this is when I caught on to this phenomenon) but, quite by accident, I found this amazing vegetarian cafe (huge Dutch up) and ate a Thai curry with mango. Quite delicious.

I then headed to the Oranje Koffiehuis for my Friday night show. It is a tiny little place on Noah's Ark Street ... at least I think that's the translation... Arke Noachstraat.... anyhow, it was a blast. I met a real cast of characters, none of whom I am inventing... Ro, a Spanish guy living in Holland...he told me not to be afraid of the Dutch, that they are the least judgmental people on the planet and I can share my opinions freely. Right on. Then I met Gerard, who from what I can tell makes his living as a troubadour, traveling around to castles in Europe and playing a lute...he was a Marine and fought in Africa, where he lost most of his mates and has lost two wives to cancer, plus he's a recovering alcohlic...I learned all of this over the course of about half an hour. Interesting fellow, plus he sang along to my Elvis cover in a deep baritone - gotta love that. My three roommates from the hostel even came to the show - they are three girls from Germany, Switzerland, and Israel who were in Arnhem for a dance school tryout. Only 5 girls out of hundreds were selected, and they weren't part of the five, so they took me up on my invitation to the show to ease their pain a bit. I think after the appeltaart they were feeling better.

Annet and Margriet, the two owners, were so lovely and took good care of us. After the show I was hungry (what's new?), so I tried the bitterballen, these strange gooey Dutch meatballs that were good but a bit unsettling...what else.... oh, Alex played the violin as well for the first time, and it sounds so lovely on Fireworks and Never Been Good. I hope we manage to get a recording of those before the tour is up. Folks - bring your digital cameras to the shows!!!

So the show at the OK was more than okay. And I walked home afterwards, reveling in my Dutch up. And here's where the story gets wacky. I swear I don't make these things up. Also because these stories stress my dad out, so why would I invent them?

When I was a child, I used to have a fear of fire - of our house catching on fire, more specifically. I think it was fueled (ha) by all those firemen that used to come to the school and give talks about smoke alarm safety, changing your batteries, blah blah blah. It was supposed to be educational and inspirational but instead it terrified me. After one of those presentations I couldn't sleep for days.

So when I arrived at Hotel Parkzicht, I laughed to myself when I was placed in the topmost room - practically the attic. The building, like many Dutch buildings, was tall and very narrow (apparently properties used to be taxed on the width of the facade, so everyone built up instead of out), and made mostly out of wood. My old childhood fear came back a bit, and after getting settled in the room, I checked for the fire escape route. I don't know why.

Well that night, after falling asleep about 2 am, I was awakened at 4 am by an incredibly loud, shrill, deafening, terrible noise - the fire alarm. For a minute I lay there paralyzed, still half asleep. I heard no commotion in the hall so I didn't rush to get up, but after it didn't shut off, I decided I had better go check it out. So I dressed and went out into the hall - nothing. I went downstairs and found all of rooms 1-10 wandering around in their undies (major Dutch down, as some of the men were old and scantily clad), but no one seemed panicked in any way - actually, they kind of seemed to be enjoying themselves. So fingers plugged in ears, I made my way back upstairs. After a bit it stopped, and I tried to settle back into sleep, though my heart was quite literally pounding in a way I had never felt before. True fear. Just as I started to nod off, though, I was re-awakened by the siren of a fire truck, just outside my window. I went to the window and looked out. There was a firefighter on the sidewalk, looking up into the windows. He started flashing me signs - an okay sign, a thumbs sign, and then some strange morse code with his flashlight - but everytime I yelled, "Is everything okay???" I got no response, just more flashing. For all I know he was wishing me a good stay at Hotel Parkzicht. But to be on the safe side, I dressed again and went downstairs, only to find the same folks frolicking in their undies. So I went back upstairs and waited for the fire alarm party to die down. It finally did, around 5 am. By that point, the daily trains had started running again - about 500 feet from my window, one every 15 minutes or so. Awesome.

So let's recap - some Dutch ups include: yogurt, appeltaart, fruit smoothies, super friendly people, wide command of the English language, Alex Akela, the StayOkay hostel in Arnhem, the people at the OK, Klaas and his great photos which shall be up shortly on my site, cute Dutch couples on bicycles, Anja who loves Little Films, and oh yes, Vlaamse frites (the real deal Flemish (not French) fry).

some Dutch downs - the damned eternal never-ceasing rain, slightly wonky bus schedules, running to catch trains in that damned eternal rain, smoking in bars, the closing of shops at 6 pm, when I have usually just arrived to my next town, wild fire alarm parties meant to confuse the American guests.

Very good. As I suspected, the ups currently outweigh the downs. Let's keep it that way.

Met vriendelijke groeten,

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