By Sergio Della Guardia

Statement of the year: "Pictures are irrelevant!"

T wo, maybe three long years had passed since I met Tao via modem, and since we invited each other to our respective countries... Eventually, at the end of 1995, I managed to buy a ticket for a flight to Amsterdam via Germany. Yes... unfortunately, on my way to Amsterdam I would briefly stop at Munchen, while on the way back I would briefly stop at Frankfurt... The flight was on December the 26th, and from this day I'll start my report.

26th Dec


A fter having waved goodbye to my parents, I boarded on the Lufthansa airplane (yes, unfortunately even the flying company was German...) departing for Munchen. It was about half past three pm when the plane took off. I was sitting at the side of a nice girl, who was at her first flight. The pilot was quite good, and time passed quite happily. I looked at my watch: it's 17:00 ... in 5 minutes we shall land, I thought... in fact, in 5 minutes the plane was going to land, when suddenly...

The plane flew up again. No descent, no landing.

"Looks like there's some trouble with landing..." I said to the girl...
As she showed me a shocked face, and as I realized my unwilled cynism, I hastily added:
"This means that the landing area is busy. That's all. No trouble".

After few moments, a voice spoke German from the speakers, eventually in English:
"Your captain apologizes for not landing: the landing area is busy at the moment. Also, it is completely covered by snow, and it will take some time to clear it. The plane fuel reserves are sufficient for many more hours of flight, so there is no need to worry".

Sure: it will take some time... but how much? I had to embark on the other plane for Amsterdam at 18:05! And what if I lost the other flight? I was getting nervous, so nervous that now it was the girl who kept assuring me, while I couldn't stop calling the hostess assistance for more info. I particularly worried about the luggage: what if I departed, but without the luggage? What if my luggage was sent to New Zealand instead, in the mess?

While I was wondering at these things, my watch proudly showed the time was 18:30, and that I was still over Munich...

Time slowly passed, while I imagined Tao waiting for me at the airport with a welcoming shining chopping axe... 18:50 ... almost two hours routelessly flying over Munich! Almost two hours late ! But we just then eventually and safely landed. While I was packing my stuff and heading towards the exit, the hostess reassured me:

"They will be waiting for you, mister. Don't worry. Just go directly to interconnection flights".

I wasn't listening: my flight departure time was 18:35 and at 18:50 I was still in another plane! I just packed and left the plane hurriedly. I saw myself running for my gate, while the others just calmly walked by... I couldn't understand this: was I silly at that moment? Why there was only me running, while there were other people (I knew) heading to Amsterdam?

I soon found out later... Gasping for breath, I arrived at the proper gate. On its sign there was written.... nothing! It was blank! My flight had already departed!

What now? I just headed to the gate officer and...

"Excuse me, has the plane to Amsterdam already departed?"

"No sir. It has been moved to another gate..."

I just rushed to the other gate and...

there it was! Amsterdam was written on the sign! I went over there, my boarding card ready...

"Sorry sir. This flight is late. Please sit over here, while we gather information about this flight"

Even if the officer was a fascinating lady, what she'd said wasn't fascinating at all... another delay? I pictured in my mind Tao waiting for me at the airport: his axe was changing into an Uzi submachine-gun, ready to fill me with lead. I waited, and waited... time passed, while Tao looked more and more like Rambo... in the end, at 20:10, the boarding procedure started.

Why, 20:10... At this time I should have arrived in Amsterdam, I wondered...

We boarded... yet the plane wasn't taking off... time passed... my watch's opinion was that it was 21:00 ... what the hell is happening? additional 50 minutes delay?!

"Your captain apologizes for not taking off yet, but the weather conditions are poor now, and we're waiting for them to improve. Thanks for your understanding".

Why, sure! Thanks... thanks... tanks... tanks? Are those tanks led by Tao? Are those tanks pointing their fire spewing turrets at me? Is that Tao himself yelling "blow that Neapolitan scum out of Earth!"?

My fervid imagination stopped when, at about 21:15 the plane took off. The flight went on quite merrily, while I calculated I would get to my destination at about 23:00 (about 3 hours late!). And, I wondered, as usual my luggage would be available to take away late, so that another 20 minutes would pass to wait for my luggage, and there was even a probability that my luggage would never get out at all...

Luckily, the plane landed "on time". I went directly to the luggage area and I saw Tao through a glass. He merrily waved a hand towards me: I answered with a smile, noticing he was throwing no hand-granade at me. Few seconds later, my luggage came out, safe and sound. I grabbed it at once and walked directly at Tao, who had been waiting there, together with his whole family, for about three long hours!

Schiphol Amsterdam
Schiphol during the summer (irrelevant).

After I was sure Tao bore no murderous intentions towards me, I went along with my host and his family to his car, which would take us back to his house in Aalten. As soon as I got in, Tao reprimanded me:

"Sergio, you should get your seat belt fastened, you know!"...

Oops! Yes, Tao was perfectly right... the trouble is that in Naples nobody fastens them anymore (we Neapolitans deem it unnecessary), and I'm no exception. After my trips to Portugal, Greece, Holland and France, I believe that South Italians are the only civilized people who never fasten the seat belts... ach! Those silly guys!

Meanwhile the car stopped, as we arrived at what is known as The Aalten House...


Aalten House
An Aalten House! (irrelevant)

A freezing temperature welcomed us at Aalten... I was already homesick: not of my parents, mind it... I wanted my Neapolitan "tropical" temperatures back! When I left Naples the temperature was 15 C degrees. I hardly stood this climate shock...

So, we entered Tao's house. "Come with me, Sergio" - Tao said - "I'll show you were you're going to sleep now"...

All of a sudden I was standing in front of a set of stairs...

Stairs? Wooden, terribly perilous steep stairs! At that very moment I understood why the Dutch call the stairs "trap" in their language: these stairs were a true trap indeed! Yet, I never stumbled on them, by just plain luck!

Just before starting our "excalation" for the second floor, I noticed a thin rope hanging down. "What's this?" I asked.

"Oh, it's just for the bell to be sound. When you pull it down, a bell sounds upstairs, warning anyone up there that he's wanted down here" placidly Tao stated.

I was astonished at this great show of Dutch Philipps technology. If this were my house - I thought - there would be a button activating an electric buzzer... or, at worst, no bells would be used, since my mother's yelling would be more than enough... but Dutch people living in quiet farmlands love silence (something very rare in Naples), and a bell sound is much more discreet than a man shouting...

So, we went upstairs. This upper floor presented me with a slight mess (open, stashed boxes lying randomly on the ground, clothes hung on a string, objects scattered here and there, even if in a well defined area) and with two strange doors: they were covered by blackboard slates! In fact, there even was written something on them with chalk... Wow! This doors are not only doors, but notepads as well!

We entered one of the two doors, and entered a slightly large room. The mess within was overwhelming almost, and I can hardly write of it now.

"Do you truly call this mess?!" - Tao answered my comment - "Why, I even set the room for your arrival!"

I was quite surprised at this statement... but then, at a better glance, I noticed that this mess was a "freedom mess", rather, a "rational mess". I managed to put my "motherly instincts" ("Sergio! Listen to your mummy, keep your room tidy!") away and to actually enjoy and agree with this mess. I realized it is the mess I always wanted, but that I could never have at home due to my mother's education.

In a few seconds Tao exclaimed: "Please, close the door!". I did, also because the room was incredibly cold, even if a radiator was present.

I eventually noticed the room was furnitured with one bed only. As if Tao were scanning my mind, he said:

"Ok, I'm going to take your sleeping bag".

As he rushed out of the room, I thought: "Mmm... he hasn't got Greek origins, has he?" (check the Trip to Greece report to understand this comment!). I had never slept in a sleeping bag before, but I could all too well realize it wasn't going to be as nice as a normal bed or sofa!

When he came back, he had a sleeping bag, but he luckily also got a folding bed... the complex formed no extremely comfortable bed, but considering he had nothing else, it was just ok.

"Ok, let's have a tour of the house, then!" - exclaimed Tao - "We shall start from my brother's room". We entered.

The room was actually much less messy than Tao's, but it was far more eccentric: I think the "theme room" definition sticks to it perfectly. Everything was related to jeans: from posters on the walls to chairs. Probably as a show of wild consumism, a pair of jeans was nailed on the wall. Maybe Tao 's brother used it as "spare" jeans, when his ones wore out? We left the room; as soon as I stepped out of the room, Tao calmly said: "Sergio, close the door, please..."; I did that, wondering if I had listened this sentence before...

Facing the terrible peril of the "trap", we went downstairs, where other absurdities awaited for me.

First of all, I was taken to a room which could be defined as "leisure room". The only normal leisure device in that room were the musical keyboards. As for the rest, there were pretty uncommon things, such as a strange, box-shaped, silly (I daresay) machine, which most of the time was malfunctioning, too; it was one of those exciting pinball-like games which are all the rage in Japan. Probably Tao has that game only to have his index muscle always trained.

But the strangest device was the pinball. Yes, the pinball itself is no uncommon thing, but having it at home is quite weird, at least for me! After that, I was expecting my gaze to fall upon a videogame, but instead it fell upon a door...

"What's behind that door?" - "The bathroom" - "Fine, let's have a walk".

The bathroom... what a bathroom... before speaking of this, in order to let the reader understand my point of view, I'll write about what is an Italian bathroom like: there's a loo, a wash-basin, a bidet, a shower and/or a bathtub. So, quite a lot of stuff... when I entered I faced a small, rectangular shaped room: inside, a washbasin; in the far end, a showerhead was hung on the wall. On the floor, a lone hole.

No loo.

Stop. Nothing more. So this is the bathroom? I experienced the English bathrooms (in which bidet was missing, but that's ok), but what about this? No loo? How was I supposed to... er... center the hole? While I was paling at these thoughts, Tao spoke:

"Sergio, close the door, please. Now I'm going to show you the toilet".

Uh? I need a vocabulary... is there a difference between bathroom and toilet?

You see, in Italian we have only one word to express both "toilet" and "bathroom", and that's all, i.e. "bagno". Well, let's have a look anyway...

My face regained its traditional colours when I was presented with another small room, in which there was a small washbasin and...

... TA DA! a LOO!

Yes, a wonderful, shining, throne-like loo! Thus, I thought, in Holland there's this strange habit of splitting the bathroom in two rooms... luckily, later on, Tao assured me this habit was not common in Holland... In the end, then, I realized that using the hole in the bathroom as a loo would have upset Tao quite a bit, as well as all the other people using it properly as a shower drainage hole...

"Now I'm going to explain you something. The flush of the loo is not a normal one..."

Now, now - I thought - I guess you have to jump on the loo, dance for a few seconds (avoiding to fall inside the loo), say in a loud voice: "A loo is the best thing you can ever have", clap your hands twice and whistle the X-Files tune; as soon as you stop whistling the flush will activate...

"... it's just that when you pull down the cord, no water will come down ..."

Oh, I see... maybe the cord activates a bell upstairs, then, to announce everyone in the house that you're finished with your toilet activities...

"... the trouble is that this flush system broke down and was never repaired. Now, to flush, you have to pull the cord with the right thrust and in the right direction and with the right speed..."

Yes! Now that's why you're taught Physics at school!

"... No guest has so far ever suceeded in flushing it...
... but you, my hero, using the Force, will succeed in this perilous mission!

Yet, strangely enough (maybe because I'm quite good at Physics?), I quite always managed to flush. Or maybe because the Force was strong in me... after all, I had a flushing course at Yoda's...

We went out and Tao promptly said: "Sergio, close the door, please. I'm going to show you the rest of my house".

Excepting several creepy trapdoors ("used to imprison nasty guests" as Tao proudly announced), the rest of the house was quite normal, fortunately; yet, some doors seemed to speak to me whispering: "Sergio, I beg you, close me, please... oh please... "

It was very late, probably sometime after midnight...

err, then I should update the time...

27th Dec

... now, this is much better...

I was saying it was very late, so we just went sleeping... a very cold sleep indeed... it was a funny scene: I was dressed with my pijama, heavy socks and daytime warm clothes, and I still slightly shivered. Tao, instead, was only wearing his light pijama, and that's all... and he felt all right...

The night passed quite swiftly, luckily, and we eventually got up. After the daily washing processes (for the first time in my life, shared between a "toilet" and a "bathroom"), we went downstairs "via trap", towards the dining room table. Another surprise awaited for me there...

In Italy we are used to having a light breakfast, a heavy lunch and a heavy dinner. The Dutch breakfast, instead, looks to be quite heavy. My personal breakfast, actually, consists of cereals and milk, and that's all. Instead, the table was covered with heavy duty food: pan-bread, butter, ham, salame, cheese, other strange foods I never had the guts to taste. But there were some delicious creams to put on the pan-bread, and I particularly liked the crab one. A weird item stood on the table. As I looked the others using it, I realized it was used to cut cheese in slim slices. Later on, I would learn that apparently inane device had its own name.

The Kaaschaf. (I'm sorry Sergio, but this would be a 'Kaasschaaf' -WEd.)

I was so impressed and dazzled by a product of such great Dutch engineering technology I wanted one for myself. Actually, I had one bought by Tao as a present for my parents... yes, Kaaschaf (Kaasschaaf! -WEd) was utterly new to me, as I believe to any Italian, who would just use a common knife to cut cheese.

After such a lunch... er... breakfast, I and Tao comfortably sat on one of his sofas, and chit chatted about our countries and compared them, only to find out the only thing at which Italy was more advanced than Holland were the X-Files issues. Another interesting subject was the crime rate...

"You see" - Tao spoke triumphantly proud of his country - "here in Aalten the crime rate is so low that thefts are virtually non-existant; this is because we're in such a small village that sooner or later the thief would be found out and emarginated, once for good".

Wow... this is the exact opposite situation present in Naples, and in any other large city! Ah, what a paradise...

Time went on happily, and lunch-time quickly came. As it was expected, this time the table was set with much less food. But, at least, there was...

Fizzy Water!

Yes! Finally I could drink fizzy water abroad! Gosh it! Portuguese and Greeks, nor French, don't even know what fizzy water is about, and when a Portuguese friend of mine came to Italy he refused fizzy water since he mistook it for a medicine curing headaches! Only in the UK fizzy water has recently been spreading more and more.

Yet, strange enough for me, there was milk all about, and I was astonished to see it drunk as if it were fresh water. In Italy the only time we have milk is at breakfast or after some strenuous sport activity (and, of course, when we're born).

I missed pasta... oh, my good tomato sauce pasta! My gnocchi alla sorrentina! You see, in Italy we're so used to pasta, because we have it almost every day twice a day... yes! And we also flavour it with other heavy duty sauces and cheese and mozzarella, provola... but, after all, Tao's mother was a brilliant cook, and this "food-homesickness" rapidly faded out.

In the afternoon we planned to go to Alcorhytm's (one of Tao's friends and The Problem members) place by bike. Before mounting on it, I noticed a supposedly alien artifact attached at the rear wheel.

"What is this, Tao?"

"Oh, it's the bycicle lock!"

A lock for a bycicle?! Wow... I could never imagine they existed... I mean, in Naples everybody goes around by moped (me included), and we use heavy locks and devices to avoid thefts. Bycicles are a rarity. Instead, in Holland it seemed that bycicles were the main transport mean: in fact, the streets were often lined with bike parking areas, with bikeways and with other bike comfort facilities. Everybody goes on a bike, even the old ladies. I personally filmed an old lady performing a sharp steer on her left, as if she were a motorbike rider facing a blind bend! Even at the train station there were large bycicle parking areas.

We eventually arrived at destination. Tao instructed me just to leave the bike in the back garden and to enter the house. I just went in and...

"Sergio, close the door, please..."

Then we went upstairs, opened a door, went in and...

"Sergio, close the door, please..."

Another door faced us: it was opened. We went in and...

"Sergio, close the door, please..."


- I eventually answered in despair -

"I'll close whatever blasted door can be closed for the rest of my life!"

Still now I wonder why Dutch are so worried about closing every door they open...

Alcorhytm was in there, working at his Amiga. After a pleasant afternoon playing old Amiga games, we went right back home. Although your ears would get brittler than a thin glass sheet and colder than polar ice in a frostbound Aalten, it was so nice going around by bike, watching so many other people doing the same, running on car-free streets!

I sat down at the table together with Tao and his family. A strange artifact sat upon the table. It was electrical, I noted, since there was a wire ending in a plug...

Tao's mother arrived with several trays filled with meat... well, I love meat... at a more accurate glance I noticed something that slightly shocked me:

it was raw meat!

Am I going to eat that?! As usual, there was an explanation: it was a "do-it-yourself" dinner. The strange electrical artifact was used to actually cook the meat. You would take some raw meat, cook it yourself ("so that you can only blame yourself if you don't like it" as Tao's father said) and merrily eat it with any sauce you wished. There was also the opportunity to melt cheese slices on it, and there was even pineapple about.

"Why don't you try it with melted cheese?" Tao's mother kindly suggested. What? Heated pinapple? With cheese?! What combo is this? Well... I had to try it anyway... I did, and I must say it's a very tasty food combo! You see, in Italy we have pineapple only as a cold dessert...

After dinner, we rung up Alcorhytm to organize with him a trip to The Hague the day after. After everything was nicely set, we went to sleep...

28 December - THE HAGUE

W e woke up on time. Had breakfast on time. Got on bikes on time. We arrived at Alcorhytm's on time. We knocked at his door on time. Even time was on time it seemed....

Not Alcorhytm: he was probably sound asleep. We left the bikes in the back garden and went to the front door. We rang the bell (on time, of course). No answer. Then, I had a brainwave: why don't we throw something at his window? The noise should wake him up! I told Tao, and he promptly gathered some solid snow from the ground, made a ball out of it and aimed at the window and... smashed on it. Nice throw! Luckily the window was still one piece, although Alcorhytm's dreams were shattered.

He eventually got up, reached us at front door, took his bike, while we rushed towards the station.

We arrived. Late. As we were parking our bikes, Tao urged me to hurry up, since we were going to miss the train. I had just the time to park the bike. My hands were ready to close the bike-lock, when Tao called for me again.

I thought: well, why am I so prejudiced? I am in Aalten! Not in Naples! Crime rate is so low! Fine: I'll leave it unlocked!

I did so and rushed to Tao, who was desperately trying to buy tickets from a machine vendor. He was fumbling all the time, so he decided just to jump on the train and buy tickets on board. We boarded and placidly took our seats.

"Err, Tao... in the hurry... I left the bike unlocked. It's allright, isn't it?"

Tao's face grew stern, then worried:

"What? Sink me!" - (well, Tao actually used another, more "refinate" exclamation) - "I told you the crime rate was low! But not THAT low! Argh! Now I'll have to steal a bike if I can't find mine when we get back!"

"What?! What do you mean?"

"Yes! In Holland we have a great "circle of life" for bycicle thefts: whoever has his bike stolen, steals another one's bikes as soon as possible!"

What!? This looks like some kind of comunism! Or is it anarchy? Not even in Naples we've got such a barbaric habit!

By the way, while we were anguished at the thought of a stolen bike, another thief came around: the ticket officer... he asked Tao in Dutch for his tickets, I guessed. From that point on, I couldn't understand a damn thing, only that Tao was arguing animatedly with this officer. In the end he explained me:

"I had to pay a fine..." - he grimaced - "because it is forbidden to buy tickets on board... also, I couldn't even have the ticket discount off my student card..."

So, that day the train cost us a fortune (and Dutch trains are already very expensive too!); I remember that day I almost spent a third of my pocket money! But we eventually forgot everything about it as we arrived.

The Hague: nice, large city. We went here and there, and I found some interesting things around: I found frozen leaves on the ground, something I had never seen so far, neither in Bozen (North Italy) where I'm used to go skiing.

I also found an interesting "frozen sand" on the beach: for me, that was an utter weirdness, having sand mixed with ice! I usually mix sand with warm seas and girls...


This is the same beach, but now in the summer.
The only ice here is ice-cream.
The rest is girls... eh I mean sand (-WEd. irrelevant!)

Lunch time came... "Are you hungry Sergio?" I was asked.

Without blinking, I looked at my watch first and then answered: "Yes".

Now, it does looks strange, uh? But there is an explanation: I had my daily diet so "renewed" in Holland that my stomach decided to stop telling me when he was hungry. So, I was virtually never hungry, and I had to rely on my watch to check wheter I was hungry or not...

silly explanation, uh? I couldn't do better... but , for sure, I did look at the watch whenever I was asked such a question!

After our breakfast... er... lunch (consisting of a plain portion of fried chips and mayonnaise, as it is in the Dutch costumes), we decided to visit the Universum building, which is somewhere you can experience 3D videos.

Near this building there was a gracious, frozen, large fountain. I was fascinated by these natural pieces of art, since I never saw so much ice all in the same spot and with such shapes. Tao, with a great show of heroism, decided to test the thickness of the fountain ice. He had one foot on the border , the other kicked on the ice. He did fine, and challenged, and tested it... I watched him closely, second by second. At a point, the ice ended in clear water... clear, at least from my lower point of view... yet Tao decided that it would be a nice experience kicking a body of water, and...

... splashed directly in the fountain! He lost is balance and only with great effort he avoided to be completely soaked; struggling, he got out of it, his left leg utterly wet with icy water.

"Gosh-damn!" - he probably exclaimed - "I thought there was ice!"

"Really? I thought you wanted to fish! Or were you perhaps trying to imitate Jesus Christ?"

Anyway, we finally entered Universum and enjoyed a great 3D show about the subject "is there any life out there?". We all experienced a detailed 3D trip into the very cluster of matter molecules, and elephants charging over us!

After such an exhausting experience, we decided to go back home... this time there was no fine on the way back, but we were stranded in Arnhem, since it was so late there were no trains that would take us back to Aalten... we used, then, our last resort, i.e. Alcorhytm's father, who, somewhen around midnight, had to leave his warm shelter to drive us back home... I had to give him a pasta box I brought with me from Italy...

When we eventually got back home, we learnt the bike I had left unlocked in the station bike park was still there, and nobody had stolen it. Luckily, that day crime rate seemed lower than average...

But then, such a long stay in Arnhem led us to an idea: why don't we visit it tomorrow?

29 Dec - Arnhem

T his time the trip by train went on swiftly, troublessly. Another character welcomed us at arrival: Roland Martijn van Rijkswijk van Oranje, Knight of the Crown of Holland, Count of Frysland, Baron of Faerieland and Personal High Sage of the Oxford University Teachers' Council (well, he actually was just another of Tao's friends, although he had a very strange way to speak English!)...

"Thou are welcomed to my fair and thriving town. Heed my words, my newfound friend Sergius, as thou shalt be blisseth at the lone sight of the complex threads of Arnhem streets".

Uh? Has he come directly from the Victorian Age? His English was so Shakespearean... Yet, he was very nice indeed and most helpful.

"Let us now pace towards the most attractive leisure source thou may haveth in Arnhem: the Burger's zoo" his Lordship said in a steady voice.

It was actually a great zoo, with separate areas, each one re-creating a Dutch colony enviroment: there was the tropical one, the cave one and the desert one.

Outside the zoo, meanwhile, there was another enviroment: Arctic.

So, the first area we visited was the tropical one... the temperature outside was about -10 C, while inside humidity was near 100% and temperature was about 23 C ... It was so humid I couldn't even take out my camcorder to film the woderful show before my eyes: it was a perfectly imitated tropical enviroment, with many free birds flying around overhead, crocodiles, strange beasts and plants. There was even an adventurous touch to it, as we had to cross small brooks on stepping stones (no, Tao didn't take another fall in the water this time) and we had also to avoid the great "bombs" birds tried to drop on us.

After we completed the visits in all the zoo areas, we left the zoo. His Lordship promptly intervened:

"Methinks we shall forthwith our journey to a magnificent site: the Cathedral".

We went there, and as we entered, a playing church organ welcomed us. Our Sage offered himself as a guide. I took out my camcorder, ready to film the Sage's great speech with the great background of the organ playing. But it suddenly stopped...

"Oh! My good and holy Heavens!" - Roland exclaimed - "Thus, I'm grieved at facing we shall have to do without such a celestial music..."

I started filming.

He started speaking.

The organ started playing again!

All at the same time! Wow, what a luck!

"... thus, you can easily realize a crypt lies underneath the floor..."

After our visit "underneath" (quite a creepy crypt, with skeletons carefully placed here and there), we left the cathedral, and went back to the station. I and Tao kneeled before His Lordship, kissed his hand, said "God saveth Roland" and then went back home.

30th Dec

W hat did we do on this day? Well, nothing special, my endeared reader. Actually, we had a drug party all day long, but this story had to be censured. So, we'll just skip this day and proceed to the last day of 1995.

31st Dec

T he decision was taken: Tao's father would take us around Aalten, to show me around. It was Sunday. A slightly rainy Sunday. We all got in the car and started our Magical Mystery Tour. After some minutes, as Tao's father announced us, we arrived in a small village. We silently visited its small paths, which were silent themselves.

All the houses had their windows shut, or curtains covered. No bird chirped, no dog walked around. No living being saluted us. That village seemed a haunted one to me. I wondered why... maybe they committed a mass suicide using the Kaaschaaf? (Better... but it's Kaasschaaf!!! -WEd.)

"You see, Sergio, today it's Sunday" - Tao's father suddenly broke the ghastly silence - "and the people living here are extremely religious. They think that Sunday is a day for resting only. They refrain from any strenuous activity: they don't have a walk, they don't wash their cars or clean windows. They just do nothing. Maybe, some of them read a book, since that requires minimal physical activity"

What?! If Tao wanted to give me the greatest punishment possibile, he simply had to drop me there. Darn! No activity for 24 hrs? I'd die! They waste their lives this way! Not even Iraqi would think of such a fanatism, maybe!

"And if anybody sees us, they would tell we were heretics, you see. But these are small villages..."

... luckily... I was already picturing in my mind a blob-like mob pouring out from houses and assaulting our car with sharp bladed forks, proudly showing the Inquisition heraldry on their tunics. But... no - I assured myself - it can't be... they couldn't lynch us, since that would require strenuous physical activity... wouldn't it?

After a silent tour in those empty, yet still pictoresque villages, after having visited the mythical windmills and dams, we decided to head back home. On our way back Tao's father said:

"Hey, look there! That restaurant offers a Mafia Evening!"

Gosh! I eventually found out who could employ me in Holland! My Mafia "colleagues"! Mafia Evening? What's that? I imagined the scene...

"Buonasera, vossignoria, ah! What do you want-a, watt-e wil-le jij? This evening-e we've gotta a very nice-a Sea Blackmails, or Fried Rackets; or maybe you just would-a lika something to Snatch'n'carry away? Or what about Hangman's Spaghetti? Do you like them with grinded Drug? They do add a particular-e flavour-a! Or also, this evening we've got fresh Kidnaps, which we just bought at our trusted Black Market!"


"Ahh, don'ta pay attention to that, it's just-a my cook shooting the chicken in the kitchen using his big shot-gun; aah, and look out-a: there is a faida going on this evening (one of our best customers called for such an event), so take cover whenever required. Grazie mille, vossignoria!"

Yeah, nice evening... I guess the bill would be extorted anyway...

We decided to move on ... everything was going fine, when Tao's father exclaimed:

"Look at that frozen pond over there! Wow! Let's go and skid over it!"

Hey man - I though - I'm used to skating on man-made ice-rinks, not on nature-made frozen ponds! My fear about that was a traditional one: walking on frozen ice, I would surely step on a weak point, fall down, get soaked in chill water, loose track of the hole in the ice and drown under an icy, unbreakable ceiling... wow, very scary... yet, the Dutch party forced me to walk on ice. Gosh! Few meters away, near the banks, you could see liquid water! But, after all, the ice was strong enough when I stepped on it: it didn't crack...

It was quite wonderful: such an experience would be utterly impossible in a Neapolitan landscape: it makes you feel strange, standing in the middle of a pond, knowing that underneath (as Roland would say) there's life going on.

We even had a quick run on the ice, and skid, and did all the silly things one does on ice. Strange enough, this time Tao didn't want to check what happened by kicking liquid water...

We eventually got back in the car and drove home. Tao's mother was waiting for us, together with the New Year's Eve Dinner...

1st Jan 1997

A fter the delicious dinner (up to then Dutch food had been very nice), at some minutes past midnight, we went outdoors to operate the fireworks... What? Fireworks? In such a northsome country? I thought heavy fireworks use was a Southern Europe habit! For istance, in Naples we fire a lot of them, while in Milan there is no habit like this. In Milan they just party all night, but no fireworks are operated. In Naples, as in Holland, instead, some people even die due to improper firework use.

Dutch Tulips

These are Dutch tulips in 'De Keukenhof'.
It's summer here! (IRRELEVANT I say!)

While operating the fireworks, some people came by and it was all a "gelukkig nieuwjaar" all the time.

"What's that, Thijs?"

"It means 'Happy new year'"

"Oh, I see... Gel... er... gekullig... uh? Geweluk... gelukkeeg, gelukkig nieuw jaar!"

"Yes, you got it..."

After having said the magic sentence several times, and after the fire-show, I and Tao decided to get to a disco. I happily agreed...

While walking, some strangers passed by...

"Gelukkig nieuw jaar!" Tao hailed them.

As we passed by a group of nice (yet unknown) girls Tao exclaimed "Gelukkig nieuw jaar!". When we were far enough from them, Tao whispered:

"You silly Sergio, you should say gelukkig nieuw jaar as well to everybody!"

"Even to strangers?"

"Sure! Why, don't you do this in Italy?"

"Errr... no... not with strangers... yes, I agree with you, though: It's a good thing to say that even to strangers..."

Thus, we agreed to wish a "gelukkig nieuw jaar" to everybody, even to plants and flowers and some bystanding dogs...

We suddenly came across a sinister figure: black-hued, long hair, ear-rings quite anywhere, visible tattoos on a skeletal body. It was a frigthening being... but the situation got even more scary when Tao greeted him:


"Tao... How are you doing?" - he quietly said.

"Fine! Here's Sergio, a Mafia charismatic leader" Marc's voice was quite expressionless, as his glances, even at Tao's great humour about Mafia leaders. His black shape, especially at night, reminded me of someone... but who?

"You know, Sergio" - Marc stated - "I love Horror movies, living nights up, drinking beers and... ehehe..." - Marc chuckled licking his lips - "... well, I also like a role-playing game in particular..."

"Oh! R..really? And ... wh... what is it?" - I stammered.

Marc's eyes transfixed me as his cold voice stated:


Ohh! Now! Now I know who he reminds me!

"Ah! V... vampires... sure... gr... great game..."

"Would you like to play, once?" - Marc's eyes turned enticing.

"Oh no... I can't: I'm going back to Italy tomorrow" I lied.

"Oh" - Marc grimaced - "too bad... well, I guess I shall leave you now... I feel quite... DRAINED ... eheh ..."

With an evil chuckle, Marc swiftly turned his back on us and disappeared in the silent night, as an evil laughter echoed throughout the roads...

"Was that a bat?" - Tao wondered looking in the inky night...

We left the now ghastly place and headed somewhere happier.

We entered the Disco: it was stuffed with people. I and Tao hardly passed through, while tall beer-bringers towered over us, menacing to let a beer-stuffed tray fall on us if we didn't let them by.

We eventually got through the wardrobe... wardrobe? A storage area! Everything was dropped on the floor and mixed with other people's jackets, scarfs, hats and so on... and this mound was even set near the toilets! Yet our smart Tao found a solution: we put our stuff in the cornermost part of the mound, far away from the toilet... leaving our possessions there, we left the "mound room" as well.

We eventually got into dancing, drinking several beers now and then, till one of the beer-bringers decided to offer me one for free... in fact, while I was dancing, I felt a chill shower as a cold beer was spilt on my back!

After this "cool" experience, and after having met Tao's crazy barber (he actually bumped on us, stammering incoherent remarks), plus some other girls, we decided to get out...

easy to say! We had to face the "mound room adventure" first! After a desperate search, we gathered our belongings and escaped the crowd-stuffed building.

A strange surprise awaited us: the road was covered with a thin layer of ice. This can be certainly be put into the list of "strange northern natural phenomena" that one will never experience at my latitudes. Anyway, this phenomenon, combined with the beers we had drunk, made our pacing slightly uncertain.

Despite our faltering steps, we came across some people (at least, these were the first sober ones encountered): I put myself in front of them and proudly stated:

"Geweldig nieuw jaar!"

Puzzled glances rained on me, as those people passed by, giggling...

"Well done, silly Sergio! Geweldig nieuw jaar! Very creative! You just wished them a fantastic new year, not a happy one!"

"Sorry, Tao! I'm a bit confused... at this time, after such night, Ik ben heel gelukkig!"

"Yeah, Sergio, that - at least - is correct. I am very happy too!"

We walked all the way back home, managed to climb the "trap" safely to the upper floor, and just dropped on our beds fast asleep.

We woke up very late - as one is usually does on New Year Day morning. After all, there was nothing much to be done, besides eating our "meager" lunch (meager for me, of course) and packing our stuff.

Yes, packing, since Tao was going back to his beloved university site at Enschede. And of course I had to follow him. Travelling by car, along with his parents, we got there in the evening.

The University site was quite large, with lots of green spaces and quite large bodies of water (unfortunately, as you 'll see reading on). Of course, it had many buildings in which several students had their rooms plus a shared showeroom, kitchen, lounge, toilet and phone line. And then, I assume, there were also the buildings where you would have classes - but Tao obviously never took me there, probably due to his great respect for those places.

We - I, Tao and his mother - entered Tao's building, where already several students were having their self-cooked dinner. Within, as expected, much chaos reigned, since New Year's Eve partying had occurred here too, and not much had been cleared yet by the students. Quite a mess. I was briefly introduced to the other people, and then we scuttled inside Tao's quarters.

His mother just helped us moving the luggage in. Then she grimaced at the messy sight of both the corridor and Tao's room, and whispered:

"I won't stay one second more in this hell. Good luck, Sergio. You are on your own now. Take care - or at least try to".

She left me alone in Tao's room, who went to pay a visit to his most endeared toilet. The sight was quite normal to me - apart from posters stretched on any single inch of the walls. There was - again - just one bed. An amiga survived on a desk in the far end, along with a large and relieving radiator - at least, Dutch icy temperatures were going to be kept at bay this time . Beside the desk, a very comfy chair and a stool. Then, I would never imagine these two items would later on serve me as a "bed", because this system proved much nicer than what Tao offered me to sleep on, that is, a thin inflatable mattress. Of course - Tao was nice enough during my stay to take turns on sleeping in the proper bed!

Of course , after this initial visit, I had as well to say hello to the toilet. After having completed the "procedure", I looked for the flush...

... here we go ! No flush could be found. By good Heavens, why is no Dutch toilet just plain normal?! Why do you always have to find out its algorhytm?

After having explored every molecule of the walls, I truly had no clue. Then I thought:

"Well, we are in Phillips' country, something electronic must be behind it then, it must be somewhat automatic!".

I opened the door, hoping for the flush to activate.... Nothing. I shut the door and, desperate and tired almost, leaning on a wall, I grabbed an exposed water tube.

Unexpectedly, the tube started shifting downwards. Before I could remove my hand, it had shifted until it stopped.

A friendly flushing sound welcomed me.

At last, by chance, I had found how to operate the flush! Damn it, I had never seen such a creative flushing system! Shifting tubes! Now I realize what being a thief in a role-playing game is all about! In fact, finding a hidden door leading to the treasure room would have been far easier than flushing this Dutch toilet!

Anyway, just before Tao suspected I had developed too much of a friendship with the toilet, I popped back in the corridor, and then straight to the lounge/kitchen where dinner was starting. I had my fair share of food, while meeting new people all along.

Then Tao led me in a visit throughout the building. Graffiti anywhere, posters nailed on walls, even football teams banners (even an actual Red Cross flag!), slight chaos on the floor (if you except Tao's toaster laying forlorn in a corridor), but the most interesting sight was a calendar painted on a wall, where it was showed everybody's birthday - everybody living in the building that is - along with their names and optional additional comments. After that, we went back to the lounge room.

The students living in the building were all males, but there was a nice female guest too.

After dinner, most people had agreed to stay in and watch TV. The choice fell on an xxx movie (well after all we were in Holland, if not in Amsterdam). It was quite nice watching that with a female in a group of 6 or so males. Nobody was shocked, nobody suggested a "movie mimic" (meaning we would imitate what was going on in the movie) or tried to shove her out of the room, or, most simply, turn onto another channel. We just quietly watched it until inky night fell, sometimes mildly commenting on what was happening in the movie. But that's all. And we were utterly alone (excepting the sleeping fellows upstairs) in the poor lit building, which in turn was far away from the other buildings. Then, as if nothing had happened, everybody returned to his room, while the nonplussed she-guest abandoned the building.

"Yes" - I told myself - "we are definitely in Holland".

I followed Tao to his quarters, where my chair&stool bed awaited. Sighing, I placed myself on that, hoping to survive until the day after.

2nd Jan 1997

A lmost aching after a comfy rest on a creative bed, I woke up. The plans for the day were to visit Enschede itself. Well, we actually did so. Unexpectedly, an old friend came with us, His Highness Roland Van Whatever, that nice being we met back in Arnhem. During our walk among Enschede streets (which were utterly identical to Arnhem streets, in my humble opinion), we also had the chance to meet another friend of Tao's, called Martin (I am actually usually a false name, and you'll later on know why). He was very very shy, would little talk, and even his skinny appearance was shy itself.

During our visit we even visited a Simulated Laser Combat facility, were everybody's major fun was shooting Tao in a shower area. In fact, it was quite original, because it wasn't set - as the usual Q-ZARs do - in a bare, black walled, gloomy labirynth. There were many objects around, I mean, it looked like a real house or something we were fighting in!

Anyway it was late and we all went back to the University area to have some dinner. Ah - what a dinner ! I 'll never forget that. I was suddenly presented with an enticing rice dish... and with rice, minced meat... ok, fine! But then...


Rice and peaches? That was creative all right, but then, it was no good at all! The big trouble was when Tao announced:

"Ok Sergio, you had better eat this, 'cause this evening we're going at the Bastille - the University pub, that is - to have a "beer night". I mean, we're going to have tons of kinds of beers, just to let you try how many kinds of it we have in Holland! And you know how easy is getting drunk with an empty stomach!"

Not even at this menace I would eat that rice&peach dish! Not even the idea I wasn't used to drinking beer altogether changed my mind! I simply couldn't stand it. I was going to be drunk - utterly drunk - for the first time in my life, I thought. Well, once a time at least in a life it is allowed, and then I am in no danger whatsoever, being with a strong drinker like Tao, who'll never get drunk!

Well read on. Our quartet - me, Tao, Martin, Roland - arrived at the Bastille, so called by the students due to its resemblance to a fortress. We started drinking.

All those beers were very nice - even a cherry flavoured one - and I was tasting for the first time in my life such strong beers we seldom have in Italy. The trio in front of me started smoking. I was worried to the extent I said:

"Hey, if I get drunk and I ask you to let me smoke, just say no, ok?"

I hate smoking, but you never know. I mean, I would never know what one could do when utterly drunk. Anyway, hours passed, beers were gulped away (as Tao and Martin did) or gently sipped (as I and Roland did).

Well, here's the final result:

I felt completely dizzy, but I could reason all too well... I might actually say so, although, at a certain moment, I proudly exclaimed to the other three: "Hey, I am no drunk, I could even solve a function integral right here and right now!". Well, I must recognize such a comment becomed a drunk person indeed! But, as I said, I had just a slight trouble at walking and seeing, as my sight would keep moving around although my head was set! That's all.

Roland was utterly all right, instead. Although everybody had drunk the same beer amount, Roland had kept his royal composure throughout the "beer ordeal" as His Highness would say.

Tao and Martin were, I'd say, quite drunk instead: they would sing all the time, speak nonsenses. But the worst between them was Martin, who kept stammering:

"You... you see, Sergio, ... do I look like a drunk person? Well, I certainly do!" - he would firmly point at himself then - "But you see, I do know I am drunk. Most people don't". Then, almost yelling, he turned at a stranger: "Hey! You over there! Do I look like a drunk person? Tell me! I have to know! Tao, Roland, what say you?". Then he would turn sad, look at his feet, and then raise his head again, with a certain streak of rage in his eyes:

"Sergio, you have to be careful. Here once used to come a University guardian. He was used to drinking lots of beer - I mean, huge amounts. Yet once he walked out, fell over the stairs tumbling, and died, his head smashed in a pool of blood and beer. Many people died that way, many students and teachers, you know, Sergio. And now... now ... now their souls do not rest in peace, but seek to drink more beer, and more and more, and want the living to offer it to them. If their needs are not satisfied, they call for the guardian, who comes here and makes you pay it dearly, even though his head is smashed still and bleeding! So now , Sergio, you have to pay for me AND for the guardian! Or you'll die !".

I could hardly recognize the once-shy Martin. He was very serious. So serious Roland had to intervene in Dutch and that Tao stared at him befuddled. I though it was high time we had to leave. Leaving the pub, nobody fell over the stairs, no head was smashed, nobody died. We then reached a small lake in the campus. A car was parked near its shore. Tao suddenly stopped singing (he had been singing all the way along) and scuttled towards the car. Then stopped, turned back , and said:

"Come on people! Let's push that car in the water!"

What!? I had drunk as much beer as he did, yet I had no heinous intentions at all! While Martin went on merrily singing alone - he had completely forgot those ghost stories - I and Roland had to physically restrain Tao to avoid him pushing the car in the water (he would have done that for sure had we not stopped him!). When the group gathered again, I just asked the singing Tao:

"Hey Tao, are you drunk?"


Although his looks were very serious - almost offended - just then I realized a sheer reality: you cannot at any given time ask a possibly drunk person if he's drunk, because you can never be sure of it by his answer. Desperately, I looked for Roland's help:

"Your Majestic Highness, do thee think Tao is bedrunked?"

"Affermative, Sergio. Indeed he is. Never shalt thou believe a drunk person! And this I deem quite wise to say!"

We finally got back "home". Roland as well had his own room in one of the campus buildings, not far away. But His Highness' room had no mundane floor - it had a moquette! Thus Roland, fearing Martin to be sick onto his royal carpetry, issued such orders : I was to sleep in his quarters, while Martin was to take my place in my chain&sofa comfortable bed. Tao accepted, agreeing on the fact that Martin's liquids would bring around far less trouble onto his mundane floor than on the high quality moquette in Roland's room.

Roland was bidding farewell to the drunk duo. But then something dismal and grievous came to my mind: my luggage was on Tao's room floor, Martin was going to sleep in Tao's room, Martin was going to feel sick on Tao's room floor, so then...

Martin was going to feel sick right into my luggage!

So I convinced everybody to move first at Tao's. Once there - sure I looked really drunk at that time - I hastened moving all my luggage onto the highest spots possible! I closed and sealed all my bags, under everyone's silent eyes. Had been there a hook in the ceiling , my luggage would be hung up there for sure!

Hoping Martin hadn't got any superpower allowing him to feel sick upwards, or in a fountain-like manner, I and Roland left the drunk duo by itself.

Roland's place truly was appropriate for high-society members as he was. I was offered a proper double inflatable mattress and blanket bed facility.

"May your dreams be blissful with peaceful rest. May God be with thee..."

"... and with thee, your friendly highness!"

3rd Jan

W ell, you are expecting me to be feeling terrible the day after, struck with headache, dizzy, etc...

None of that. I was in perfect health. Maybe was it due to Roland's blessings?

Anyway Tao showed up at Roland's place much later in the morning, and then we had some brunch. I even had a shower, in the shower area. Dutch people are very democratic, and so on the shower area door there was a formal sign: a barred circle containing a bent man, from whose bottom departed some wavy lines; under this drawing, there was written in clear letters:


Tao proudly went on stating he had not been drunk the previous evening, and that he remembered everything. Yet, when I asked him how he liked wet cars, he simply left the question unanswered...

Anyway, dear reader, I am sorry to say what happened during the afternoon and night has been censored , so please proceed to the next day!



Amsterdam tourboat in the summer!
Erm... not that it matters.

O ur bus for the station departed very early in the morning, at 6:00am. I and Tao activated many measures to avoid getting up late - but none unfortunately worked. The result was a breathtaking rush towards the university gate where the bus stopped. While Tao carried my not-too-light backpack, I dragged along my wheeled case. Tao got on the bus before me, of course, and barely managed stopping the bus to let me on it. That rush even cost me a scarf ( you truly need scarves in Holland in wintertime! ), but at least I eventually got on the bus with no further possession losses. The bus driver was extremely ill-tempered at the delay (I assure you, less than five minutes!) and shouted at me - luckily in English:


Oh, really? Of course! He had realized I was a frequent customer of that particular bus route, wasn't I ? Pretty silly comment of him. I'll probably never set my foot in Enschede again for the rest of my life.

Anyway, we eventually got to Amsterdam safe & sound. Grinder was there waiting for us. He was going to be our guide, after all.

Amsterdam differs quite a lot from the standard Dutch town - of course - and it is very enjoyable. During the whole day we visited several places, but the most important and impressive were the Red Light District (naturally), the Rijkswijk (hope I spelt it correctly!) Museum, and the riverside.

In the Red Light District, while walking around, a man came near to me and whispered: "Black or white?" . At first, I though he was advertising a M.Jackson's popular song, but then I realized he was referring to drugs! Then, passing by a shop windowframe, I saw some extravagant condoms, and then I realized it was a sex shop. I even saw a christmas tree shaped condom! Even a Santa Claus one! Oh my, pretty uncomfortable, I daresay!

Well that was the last thing I could film with my camcorder, as we approached the very Red Area. Grinder even suggested me to take my hands out of my warm pockets, because in this area having your hands hidden in parts close to the "life-giver organ" suggests "self-pleasing activities".

Maybe you are wondering why? Well, because in the very red area you can see perfectly normal shops, although what's behind their windowframes is perfectly uncommon indeed: you just have live nice female beings looking wantomly at you, even tapping on the glass to call for your attention, to lure you inside to have some "pleasant chat" with them, of course at a certain price. Pretty original, uh?

As the sun set in the horizon, we bid Amsterdam and Grinder goodbye. We headed towards the station (where my luggage had been safely left), to go back to Aalten.


T he rest of the journey was quite plain. From Aalten we got back to Amsterdam by an expensive two-decked train in a chill and windy dawn, and from there, after meeting Grinder again (he worked at the airport), I flew to Naples.

I was the very last person to climb on the airplane. I was nicely walking towards my seat, when a hostess tugged at me, and said:

"Excuse me, Mister, please close the airplane door!"

Story written by Sergio Della Guardia from Italy.
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