We're now in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, which we've discovered is definitely not Nij-meg-en like we thought, but rather Nigh-may-gen - like something coming soon is "nigh" (silent g), the month of May, and with a hard 'g' at the end, as in 'again.' Roughly. Dutch is a very guttural language, and is honestly rather different from most of the other European languages that we're aware of. The Dutch and German languages are therefore really nothing alike, and while much is the same here, it definitely feels like we are in a different country.
But first, our last day in Hamburg with Tom was packed full, as Anderson awoke with Tom for 2nd breakfast at Cafe Lisboa, the Portuguese breakfast cafe, this time complete with fresh-squeezed orange juice, before heading off to the train station to purchase tickets to Nijmegen for the next day (Thursday the 21st). While the ticket counter employee claimed to not speak English very well, the entire conversation was conducted in the language, which Tom explaned as typical German behavior.
After lounging around Tom's for a bit, we headed to the nearby neighborhood Blankenese, which was located in close proximity to the Elbe river. We spent a few hours walking about, checking out the harbor, but mostly walking through very pretty, older and spacious housing, particularly compared to the endless multi-story apartment buildings in Tom's neighborhood in Altona. It was actually a bit difficult to find an outdoor cafe, but we finally ended up at a Spanish tapas restaurant, and although their food was a bit unusual (lots of boiled vegetables), the meal was still quite enjoyable. We then met Tom at his lab, after navigating the buses for our first time. His office shows the signs of having been occupied by the Wisconsin group (from Madison) that he is a part of from for several years now, and in addition to all the computers that fill the room, one wall is dedicated to postcards from all the group members's trips over the years, and another to posters of Madison's hometown bars.
After a brief stop back at Tom's, we headed out the the Popa Chubby show that we'd all been awaiting. We started the night off with some cheap street falafels, at only 3 euros the best deal we've found yet, which "were more than she could handle" according to Liz, before grabbing our tickets from the Fabrik box office. We waited for Tom's friend Matt to arrive after being joined by another coworker Freddy, enjoying some cheap beer during our wait (genuinely a great deal, actually, only 1 euro 30 cents (around $1.75) for 22 oz. of delicious German-brewed beer, of certainly above-average caliber). Really, we didn't have such a thing as a bad beer in Germany, the market is far too competitive for an inferior product to last very long. Anyways, Popa Chubby was definitely a blues/rock musician, not a jazz player as previously reported. To accurately understand the Popa Chubby experience, one must first get a grasp on the man himself: at 340 + lbs, around 6 feet tall, bald except for a lonely wisp of hair above his brow, his arms enblazed with a multitude of tattoos, a sleeveless leather vest with a Woody Woodpecker shirt squeezed around his massive frame, and a self-descibed "big, bad guitar stolen from the Devil," he is a unique and dominating stage presence, a legitimate blues musician who doesn't fear rock 'n' roll, both of the classic 50s and 60s vintage, as well as the edgy metal tone of most of today's bands. Backed by his nephew, a skinny Sid Vicious type who must visit his uncle's tattoo parlor as well, on drums, and a bassist who could pass for a Mediteranian Scott Stapp in every department accept ability, which this half of the Chubby rhythm section definitely possessed. They played for 2.5 straight hours, before the venue forced them to stop at midnight, though Popa Chubby and the majority of the crowd were ready to go much longer.
Since we'd packed up most of our stuff earlier, we only had a few last things to throw in our bags, before we caught as much sleep as we could before 8 a.m. arrived. After saying goodbye to a luckily-returning-to-sleep Tom, we began our day of train travel by taking the S-Bahn subway to the main station, which was a hub for subways, regional and local trains, plus buses as as well. Everything is government run, and is very efficient not only in German, but also in Holland (at least what we've experienced). Our train ride, which involved two transfers, was highlighted by Liz finishing her book, since every ride was smooth and quite comfortable, with the only slight glitch being that our last train within Germany was late, so we missed our train, but local trains within The Netherlands run every 30 minutes, so we really didn't have long to wait, and since Nicole was coming to meet us from an appointment, we all ended up at the Nijmegen train station at pretty much the same time.
We hopped back on the train, for the one-stop 3-minute ride to her stop, the neighboring village of Lent. From the station it's a short walk to her student housing complex (and around a 5-minute bike ride as evidenced by the large student bike shed), which is made up of 7 buildings that formerly housed refugees. But they are comfortable, with a fully functioning kitchen - which we use with frequency, since we've gone to the grocery store several times already, and have made a few meals at "home," and Nicole has her own typical dorm-sized bedroom, though her's is larger than most.
When we go out, then, it's to the very accessible university town of Nijmegen, NL, 15 minutes from the border with Germany. It's a pretty good size town, as we experienced today by climbing 15 flights of stairs to get the view from the top of a mid-restoration midieval castle. Post-WWII the town sold all the original stones for cash, but the town is now remaking it. Go team tourism, but it should be classy, one would hope. The Dutch are all about sensibility, so for it to be tacky would be against the national character. We're definitely in football country, local matches play nightly on TV, often jumping between multiple live matches for a variety of action. We've been to downtown Nijmegen several times, its got a mostly modern shopping area, consisting of many city blocks, featuring shops, bars, and cafes alike all overlooked by a church and clock tower, all situated within a few blocks from the river Waal. The town has 8 coffeeshops, and actually has its own one street Red Light District as well. Nicole has roommates from Hungary, Poland, and Spain, though they all decorated with the help of IKEA, and her friend Enni from Finland has joined us on most of our ventures to Nijmegen. Tonight we ate at an Italian place called Pinoccio's, which served pizzas (uncut of course, served with silverware), and a wide variety of pastas (Anderson's was served with a sprinkling of lettuce and raw tomato on top), that was scrumptious. Grolsch is the common beer, though all restaurants have several choices on tap. Some menus just have "tap bier" for the cheapest option, which seems like it might be Grolsch sometimes, but perhaps a house brew in other occasions. Coffeeshops do not serve any alcohol at all, just juice, soda, tea, and the obvious :-)
The food here is awesome, and since we are cooking most of the time at Nicole's we've been eating a lot of sandwiches (made from high-quality meats and cheeses from the multitude of options - the first market we went to had 4 cheese cases and about the same for meat) and drinking lots of interesting fruit beverages (some mixed with yogurt, others carbonated, some along the Kool-Aid vein, though all with different tastes than what we're used to, plus of course different packaging, both as far ad physical size and also marketing (all writing being in Dutch).
We're heading to Amsterdam tomorrow (on Saturday) for at least 2 days, we're going to play it by ear after that, but we're want to see the Ajax football club play Nijmegen in Amsterdam on Sunday, so we have to go early in the morning when they release tickets to the public on Sunday so that we can. We're going to go the Anne Frank house and the Van Gogh museum for sure, but the other 2 major museums are undergoing extensive renovations, which means most exhibits are currently closed. Nicole got sleep pads from Ikea especially for us, which was very nice and means we are very comfortable sleeping, so we're enjoying comfortable sleep while we still can. Everyone has been so nice to us, not only our friends, but their friends, and all the random people who have assisted us despite the language barrier. It certainly makes being in a different culture with a different language (which means you really can't read most of the signs) - with all the food packaged different, and a lot of it tasting different as well - much, much easier.
Right now we're just relaxing in Nicole's room, listening to some Ryan Harvey on our mp3 player with its teeny-weeny battery-less speakers. You should download some of Ryan Harvey's music though, in all seriousness, he's part of a self-described riot-folk movement from San Francisco, which you owe it to yourself to check out. We are about to go to bed. Now we are...