Greetings from Amsterdam. I write this as the weekend is drawing its last deep breath, as I watch the sun diving into the IJ and stock up on black bread for an eleven hour coach back to London Victoria.
Aside from the windmills, the dijks, the pannenkoeken and the oil rigs, the main event of the weekend was, of course, Youtube sensation The Tim Traveller’s mass ascent of the highest natural point in the lowest province of the Netherlands.
It’s about an hour’s drive to Urk from Amsterdam and we had no idea how many people to expect at Tim’s first Youtube meetup. The sun was shining, though, so we thought maybe ten or twenty.
Arriving on Urk (‘on’ not ‘in’ – Urkers are proud of their former status as an island) an hour early, we had a cup of tea in a smokey sports bar before walking down to the rendezvous.
About a hundred Internet people were gathered at the foot of the lighthouse, most of them filming ‘the most exciting event to ever happen on Urk’ on their smartphones. Two drones buzzed overhead, flying out of the sun like a scene from Apocalypse Now.
Tim, it’s fair to say slightly overwhelmed, was soon swamped in a cloud of Internet people eager to meet the hero of the hour. Dozens had travelled for hours across the country to meet Tim. One guy had flown from Edinburgh.
After half an hour of hand-shaking and selfies, Tim addressed his public, announced the commencement of the climb, and we set off, a protest march without cause.
The walk from the lighthouse to the church took about five minutes. Visibility was good and there were no accidents, besides the outrageous accident that a silly travel video had brought a hundred strangers together for a very silly afternoon.
At the summit, we were met by a man dressed in traditional costume, who formally greeted the crowds before melting away into the churchyard.
Then we found a pub where, thanks to the extremely high average geek quotient in attendance, we proceeded to learn an awful lot about polders – an understandable point of pride for the Dutch, given that about half the land in the Netherlands is reclaimed from the sea.
‘God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.’
Other things I learned:
- The Netherlands has a border with France. Can you point to it on a map?
- In a politically correct move that divides the country, Zwarte Piet, Santa Claus’ black-face assistant, has become ‘Soot’ Piet.
- People born on the Caribbean island of Curaçao are Dutch citizens, with Dutch passports, but they are not members of the European Union.
- Every twenty-five years, the academy convenes to decide how the Dutch will spell words that might have shifted in pronunciation. In 1996, to the delight of menu printers nationwide, the word for ‘pancake’, ‘pannekoeke’ changed to ‘pannenkoeke’.
Talking of which, the day finished with a stop at a Hansel and Gretel themed pancake house, where animatronic statues of sinterklaas flapped their arms around and every fifteen minutes the tables started tilting up and down for the entertainment of the (mostly under eleven years old) guests. Very gezelligheid.
What was the point of all this? The Tim Traveller gave us strangers – united by nothing more than an interest in the world – an excuse to go out and do something, even if that something was as pointless as climbing the highest natural point in the lowest region of the Netherlands.
An afternoon outdoors, connecting with people you would never otherwise meet, in a place you would never otherwise go. Isn’t that the most beautiful expression of what it means to be human? I think so.