Monday, 2 February 2015

A Year in Groningen

On the first of February last year I moved to Groningen, hauling all my bits and pieces from the island of Terschelling, and thankfully being helped by my landlord and his son to hump it up the two flights of ridiculously steep stairs (ie: the stairs of death). It has been an interesting year - a fantastic year in many ways, and always an adventure. I've met many nice people, somehow landed my dream job, which was both exhilarating and terrifying, and have been able to properly experience city living.

Groningen is a wonderful city in that it is the capital of the north, yet still has the ability to feel like a market town. It is vibrant, terrifically international, full of culture, music, and lazy terraces for those warm summer days. Personally, it suits me well because it isn't too huge, as I'm a country girl at heart, and while it has everything you could possible want (besides an airport with more than three destinations), it doesn't have the mad rush of true metropolitan places. It has character and style.

Which brings me to my next point: the attic room. I can distinctly remember (and my journal entries back me up on this) sitting down after unpacking and thinking, "Well, it's only for a year." I don't mean to complain, as it is a charming place to live and is only a stone's throw from the heart of the city, and came furnished with the wonders of Ikea. It has also allowed me to have a creative sort of bubble, high up under the rafters, playing music and writing. I've written more here than ever before, which is immensely satisfying.

However. The attic room, at the top of the stairs of death, is sweltering in summer and freezing in winter. As I type this, my fingers are veritable blocks of ice from the rather impressive draught that is whooshing through the room. There is still a rather odd smell coming from the drain of the washbasin that no one has been able to figure out. When it rains hard (as it is doing now), the sound is almost deafening, as is the noise from the street below and the occasional helicopter speeding towards the hospital at the end of the road. I've begun wearing earplugs. During the winter months I've been battling the presence of mice in the walls - pest control in a foreign language is certainly an experience, let me tell you.

This now brings me to my next little tid bit: I celebrated yesterday's "One Year in Groningen Anniversary" with a chocolate muffin, a bout of writing, and searching casually for a new place to live. I went to bed in a positive mood, and was enjoying my book (third instalment of Stephen Fry's memoirs) when I heard a scuffling sort of sound. This is not by any means unusual - just mice moving from one part of the wall to another. I've never seen them, just heard them. Well, there I was, minding my own business reading my book, when from the corner of my eye I saw a movement above me: there is a small gap between the beam of the rafter and the wall, and a little mouse was peeking out. This was right above my bed, and had the dear little terrifying creature missed a step, it would have fallen right into my lap.

It saw me and was gone with a flick of its tail, but not before I leapt from my bed, saying something very unladylike at the top of my lungs. Not quite the excitement I would like at quarter past twelve on a Sunday, to be honest. After a bit more scuffling and stream of further unladylike oaths, it was gone. Or so I hoped. Trying to be practical and calm my heart rate, I sat on the edge of my bed, reasoning that it was highly unlikely Mr Mouse was going to return in the dead of night and abseil down, Mission Impossible style, to see if I was good to eat. Though having read Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH as a child, anything seems possible in the middle of the night.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well. My students suggested tinfoil to stop up any gaps, as the mice can't chew it. I think they would know, as the state of most student houses would be paradise to vermin. I shall buy reams of the stuff today and perhaps some duct tape. No more gaps means no more mice...right?

Throughout this first year in Groningen, whenever I've begun grumbling about my place, I try to remind myself that it has character: the house is from 1896; it's by the canal; I can walk wherever I need to go. It's much more interesting than some modern flat that has been churned out for some housing estate.

To be quite frank, I think my nerves have had rather enough of character for the time being...