Happiness

Don't mind yesterday's absence of a post. For once, I wasn't simply slack by not blogging. There was just not enough to write about. We're still in Utrecht, on our final night of three, and it's been great. Our hotel, the Mitland, is slightly east of town, but is lovely. It's close to a bus stop, but we've been walking into the centre anyway as it's a nice twenty minute amble. As it's a small place there really aren't many sights to see, so it's mostly been a time to exhale and relax separately.

Yesterday was a bit of an errands day. I did a long walk out to a laundromat with a few kilos of washing slung over my shoulder. As we had sensed on the first day, the Dutch have proven to be almost universally kind, besting even the Belgians in friendliness, generosity and lack of antipathy in speaking to you in English. From the friendly waitress on our first night, to the woman who helped me with the washing machine, to the candy bar staff member at the cinema - they were all generous with their time and effort.

I had quickly worked out that many shops were closed on Sundays, but I was able to get a feel for the town. It is a city built around cyclists. There are wider roads for cyclists and pedestrians than there are for the cars. There are more bikes here than anywhere I've ever seen. The place is lined with them. They're on every street, every bridge, every railing. They are mental for cycling. You can walk out into the middle of the street whenever you want because cars are so rare. The big central route into town from our hotel has a double bus lane in the middle of the road, a small single lane in each direction for cars, and then a double cycle lane beside the footpath. Even pedestrians are rare.

I love how liberal and inclusive the country is. When I was wandering through town on my way home yesterday, scouting out the Dom church (the only sight in the city and a fairly underwhelming one at that), I was passing a lot of vaguely gothic people with strange hairstyles and clothes. As I entered the churchyard, I discovered an alternative festival, filled with stores selling piercings, hair modifications, punk t-shirts and more.

There was a fashion show, in which people from the crowd were able to walk a runway and show off their look. It was all marvellously bizarre, and happening beneath a sixteenth century steeple. You even see it out in the real world too. On arrival in the train station there was a man in high heels and some strange outfit I couldnt begin to describe. Two little bo peeps walked past me on the way to dinner. And you see two men walking down the street holding hands. It's so nice to see people just being themselves and everyone else not giving a shit. It's so freeing and, despite what it may sound like, unpretentious.

There's a general sense that people could have just left Comic-Con, and not just because in the prime shopping district along the canal there is a plenitude of board game and comic book stores. They're honest about themselves and who they are, they're dressed like a trampolinist in the Matrix, and they're happy. So awesome.

Yesterday was also Dark Knight Rises night, which, as expected, did not live up to The Dark Knight and despite being very enjoyable was vaguely disappointing because of such comparisons. It hurts to imagine what a film with Heath Ledger's Joker in it could have been. Not a bad film, but suffers from a surprisingly bland villain and a surprising dearth of standout moments or jaw-dropping stunts. No semi-trailer flip, no menacing antagonist. A solid effort but not a perfect success, and not as good as Inception.

It didn't help that the film was interrupted midway for a ten minute interval, in which everyone left to get beers and nachos, returning to crunch noisily next to me. I hate being dragged out of a movie and it was absolute torture to abruptly raise the lights and sit there in front of a blank screen. We intend to see it in IMAX in Canada in six weeks or so, so we'll see how it plays on a second and more pristine viewing experience.

Today was more of the same. The weather had turned slightly overcast, so we eased out into the world later in the morning. Sam was meeting a friend from last year's trip, and I had to try and get my watch fixed, which had developed a frustrating habit of working for a little while and then stopping. It thus maintains enough believability on a quick habitual glance while still being wildly and uselessly inaccurate. With stores closed on Sunday, I did a loop of jewellers, watch stores and repairers, but apparently no one in Utrecht does on the spot repairs. That's not hyperbole. I was told by everyone I asked that it just doesn't happen here. They send it off to be looked at. I guess I'll have to try again in Amsterdam.

I had a light lunch - a famous broodje, kind of Dutch sandwich - wandering the canals and boutique shops. I checked out a comic store, went inside the church, found an indie record store and listened to what was cool in the Netherlands (Temper Trap and Julia Stone, apparently), and had a mocha and carrot cake in the sun. Returned for a bit of a spa afternoon, with a workout at the gym, a sweat in the sauna, a quiet and relaxing swim in the pool, some time in the steam room and a shower before tea. All with a beautiful river view out huge windows. Dinner, in an old castle building on the main canal, was accompanied by the house beer that they brew on the premises. On the walk back to the hotel in the moonlight, I was at ease. Tomorrow we head to Amsterdam, and I suspect we'll feel the need to pick up the pace again. I guess it couldn't last.