Thursday, May 29, 2008

2/05/08 (addendum) – Lunteren: Spooky Doings

What I have not reflected much on is that this was in many ways a Day of Horror. (den, den, derrrr.)

It all started with Catherine singing in the shower. Outside the door, it had an eerie, echoy quality just like the soundtrack of many a horror movie. Upon hearing the sound, my original idea had been to turn the camera on in movie mode and make (probably) the first ever Dogme95 horror movie. With the eerie music playing as we approach the door, then the door bursts open onto the mandatory shower scene and the most realistic screaming ever. I changed my mind when I realised that the resulting film would be less like psycho and end up being more like a Point-of-view porn snuff movie as a naked girl kicks to death the cameraman.

In the end, I settled for merely recording the eerie singing on my phone. This is where it got really spooky, as when I later played back the recording, I could hear nothing whatsoever of the singing. (den, den, derrrr.)

The underlying feeling of horror continued. It reached another peak with the swarm of flies at the tower. And later during our walk after our pancake, we reached a point where we could no longer hear the screaming kids. It was peaceful. That was until the dogs started. They were some way off, but it sounded like they were coming closer. Or was it the thing they were barking at that was getting closer? Neither, it seemed. We were spared. We were not left to be discovered as a pile of limbs in a symmetrical pattern not seen since the same day 50 years ago.

After that we thought we were safe, however when I looked back at the pictures I took the night before, I saw that we had in fact been visited by some terrible, terrible phantom.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2/05/08 – Lunteren: Home again

And after all, I'm your WildwalMore people had checked into the hotel the previous day in a post Queen's Day rush so the breakfast area was much more full. Today the ratio of young to old people was more like 1:3, so we were less concerned about being routed in a fight.

There were even some young kids, one of whom sat on the floor playing with toys, oblivious to the dangers of old and/or tired people carrying coffee above them.

Baby, baby, it's a WildwalWe checked out, leaving our bags behind the counter, and took off on our bicycles for a last jaunt in the woods.

We first headed for De Koepel which several signs in the area refer to. The route took us past the Wildwal. The Wildwal, or Wild Wall, is a protective ditch from the late middle ages. It was used to keep out raiders who either could not jump or who were afraid of depths. The ditch can still be seen running through the woods and we would have missed it if it wasn't for the modern sign. I can only assume there was an ancient sign to alert the raiders of the ditch who might have just accidentally stepped over it in their haste.

KoepelDe Koepel is a lookout tower built in 1913 by a banker or something like that. It wasn't open for going up when we were there so we sat outside and wrote and drew for a bit. We also wandered around it and admired the plethora of flies that it (or perhaps a bin) had attracted. (More on this later).

flies on post
leaning Koepel of LunterenOne of the first signs we had seen when getting off the train pointed to the Pannenkoekenhuis (Pancake House). In fact it featured on so many signs that we saw over our days cycling around - more even than the Koepel - that we began to think it must be an historic site. Perhaps during the middle ages King Berryred the Red had burnt the pancakes there just before the battle of Lunteren. Something of this import could not be allowed to pass us by, so we decided to at least pop our heads in.

Cath cycling on aheadThe Pannenkoekenhuis turned out not to be very historic at all. Perhaps circa 1970. At the very best it was the site where Geert Berryred the hippy burnt the lentil soup just before the love-in at Gijs' place. It's a place to take kids and have them amused. It has a play area and a petting zoo for which you pay admittance to a very bored-looking schoolgirl in an ice cream booth. The booth cried "Ola!" (Dutch for Wall's) but she seemed to be crying inwardly, "oh no, not more kids!"

Steeds hitchedThe menu, as one would expect, was stuffed with pancakes and seemed to be more for the adult's taste than the kids as the Pancake of the Day came with a free beer. As well as pancakes there was a selection of other Dutch classic meals. It isn't a place for people who care what they put in themselves. Sitting behind us were two young girls with a man who may well have been responsible for their existence. The girls were almost dwarfed by plates of chips and frikandel (a kind of sausage filled with dubious (often equine) meats). They looked down at them, daunted, whilst their dad casually finished off his own. Way to kill your daughters, dude.

Fat protesting chefSoon it was time to gather our things and make our way back. During this last cycle back to the hotel, we stumbled upon a hardware store. In the window of this store was a sign saying VVV. Finally, we had found the tourist office. There aren't many places in the world you can get travel advice and two packets of nails at the same time, Lunteren may be the only one.

woodsWe went back on the cute, little, new trains that service the 7-stop Valley line. At Ede-Wageningen, we went down the endless ramps and up the slowest elevator in the northern hemisphere to catch the train to Amsterdam Amstel.

Amsterdam was sunny and busy, pretty much as I remember her. But we were relaxed. What was nice was that we'd just had a weekend away and had arrived back just in time for the real weekend to start. Life doesn't get better than that.

Gnarls Treely

Friday, May 23, 2008

1/5/08 – Lunteren: I'm in Hemel

Directly following the Queen's (false) birthday this year was Hemelvaart (or Helatorstai (in Finish), Himmelfart (in Danish) or Ascension Day). It is the day when Jesus vaarted up to heaven after being crossed, buried and resurrected. Knowing hemel (pronounced heymal) mean heaven made me realise why the residents of Hemel Hempstead (in Hertfordshire, UK) are always so smug. They live in "Heavenly Hemp Town."

Hotels spend a lot of effort getting you to go there and then even more effort making sure you don't stay there too much. Breakfast is always set at a prohibitive time for people who are on holiday. And after that, gangs of young people roam the corridors with large trolleys making much noise and knocking on any doors not marked with "do not terrorise" signs. Early breakfasts are, of course, ideal for old people (who suspiciously sleep very little) and other early birds. Because of the segregation policy, it was easy to see the fact the regular guests were very much out numbered by the senior citizens. I scoped out potential exits in case things turned nasty, especially those with steps, but it was soon apparent that these were contented seniors not out for a fight but all chirping contentedly around a well-stocked buffet tree.

SteedsIronically, even though it is celebrating the greatest journey ever told, there is actually very little in the way of transport on Ascension Day. Bike shops too are closed. If Jesus wanted to return to heaven in a modern Ascension Day, he'd have to hitch a lift, walk or ascend on a stairway of angels. Because there ain't no buses and he won't be able to rent a bike for love nor money. It was therefore time to take the valve between the teeth and the bell by the horns. We grabbed our new cycle repair kit, acquired a pump from the hotel and redesignated the inside of our bin as a bucket of water. In short, we fixed it ourselves. Refiets'd, we headed off into the relative wilds of the Dutch countryside.

the forestWe started off trying to follow presubscribed routes, but somewhere along the way we diverged from this. But it wasn't all that long before we were back on a different path and all paths pretty much lead to the national park. Or away from it. Our route ended up taking us along more roads than woodland paths, but this gave us the discovery that the favoured pets in this part of the country are horses.

We lunched on sandwiches prepared by ourselves sitting on tree stumps. Pretty much as primitive man would have prepared his sandwiches. Except perhaps his bread would not have been square and pre-sliced. And his ham would also not have been square and pre-sliced. Nor would he have found a perfectly flat (pre-sliced?) tree stump. He would probably also have been bothered by bears, wolves and demons, so on reflection, it wasn't quite the same at all.

Goats chillin'If horses are the favoured pets, goats seemed to be the favourite livestock. We passed many of the little blighters. Right before the park itself there was a petting zoo. A few chickens, pigeons (!) and pheasant-like things dwelt in a large cage whilst a pen contained several sorts of goat. Some were small and cute, others large and no doubt handy in a fight. I bent down and befriended a young example and seemed to almost immediately hit it off.

Nature, like most things in the Netherlands, is highly managed; and nowhere are cycle paths better maintained than in the national park. But then, they get more cyclists there most other places. As we had our own bikes, we didn't need to avail ourselves of the free, white bikes, but this is a great scheme.

Once in the park, we cycled to the famous Kröller-Müller museum (named after a brand of yoghurt). We didn't have time to go in and round, but some pieces have been conveniently dumped outside. "Line of Rocks," "External Elevators," "Frenchman in the Vein of Alfred Hitchcock" and "A Bunch of Tubes Stuck Together" were the pieces I recall. We cycled on further and reached a snack outpost. We arrived just in time to grab fire-side seats before the hale came down. It threw itself down like, well, lumps of ice, bouncing off the thatched roof and soaking all manner of people. Very soon, the place was filled with damp groups jealously regarding our prime spot.

Virgin Mary[From afar we both thought this was a vision of the Virgin Mary by the stable.]

The hale and thunder passed and we were soon back in the semi-wilds. We hadn't gone far when the storm came back round for more. We huddled in our waterproofs standing under the canopy of trees but not so close to the trunk that lightning would confuse us for something that might conduct better than wood. Fortunately it soon passed again. This was just before we arrived at the St. Hubertus Jachtslot (hunting lodge). This is a grand single-story building on the edge of a very large artificial pond. It looked like it could hold quite a few hunters.

The lake had a low mist rolling over it as we arrived and looked suitably Arthurian. I could picture half-naked ladies emerging from the water, sword held aloft. About which Freud would have quite a lot to say, I'm sure.

As we arrived, the downpour was just about ending. People were cowering in the doorways of the lodge and the mini snack bar next to it. Not very hunter-like, we thought. They looked like cowering peasants as we strode through in with our damp weather-armour.

On the wall of the courtyard is a relief depicting St.Hubertus facing what seems to be a goat. In fact it looked remarkably like the picture of me meeting a goat that we took earlier. Where's my hunting lodge? Where's my Sainthood?

St Hubertus and the Goat
St Peter and the Goat

Cycling back from the lodge, the sun came out highlighting the dramatic landscape and skyline of thick, black clouds. We were at this point in a large open area: Part sandy, part grassy it was like just the Serengeti. You could imagine lions chasing okapi with vultures circling above them. (Note: neither of us has been to the Serengeti.) In the middle of the plain was a statue of Anton Kröller stands on a plinth surveying his domain. He looks like he is about to lift off and soar into the sky for a better look at the world he bequeathed.

We left the park and cycled back through the woods and farms. When we arrived at the hotel we were aching and wet; feeling we'd done enough exercising to last a few weeks. At least, I did. But the best thing was, our puncture repair was still holding on strong.

For dinner, we had reserved a table at De Verassing because it was either that or what the Dutch think of as Chinese. We ate, chilled a little, reading, writing and drawing in the hotel's reading-writing-and-drawing room and then slept like two sore logs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

30/4/08 – Lunteren: Queen's Park

Normally on this day I am reporting on the crazy Dutch customs surrounding Queen's Day (Koninginnedag) where in the morning people of all ages sell their old stuff and in the evening mostly other people get drunk, wear orange and clog up the public transport system. This year we did something different.

Catherine is currently contracting for a big teleinternet company. It is hard, demanding work on top of pleasing her other clients. She's needed a break for a while but it's taken some time to squeeze one in.

So instead of being swept along the grachten in a sea of orange, we waited at Amstel station with two laden bikes. It was early afternoon and the tide of people was still towards Amsterdam. On the other platforms, trains filled with noisy orange creatures arrived and dumped their load. Whist we waited with a handful of people for whom orange was optional and shouting not at all necessary. Many Amsterdammers leave before the madness (which actually starts the night before) and complain that the city is invaded by boeren (farmers). Although in my experience, farmers are quiet, hard working people not prone to shouting except to instruct a dog and rarely to be found wearing garish colours.

At Ede-Wageningen (pronounced Ada-Vargeninger with a little spittle on the 'g's) we got off and rode (separately) down possibly the slowest elevator in the country. We ran under the platforms and up four sets of ramps to get out connecting train. This took us to the supposedly beautiful Village of Lunteren on the edge of the Veluwe.

Revision Note: The Veluwe (pronounced Feyloowa, or nothing like that) is a big forested triangle in the centre of the country. At the heart of it is a national park.

From the station it was a pretty quick and easy cycle to our hotel. We checked in and were shown the facilities - the breakfast room, the lounge and terrace, the intra-red sauna (don't ask me, I don't know either).

The hotelier also told us that the hotel was full of elderly people who had nabbed all of the double beds, the randy buggers. It was not clear if these were long-term tenants or a touring party. It seemed to be the latter. One interesting fact is that there was a segregation policy and the seniors had one part of the breakfast room, the other guests another.

Having checked in and looked (in vain) for the trouser press (I didn't need one but they fascinate me), we were ready for the first bike ride not laden with luggage. Here was our first curve ball. In the time it took to check in, check out the sauna and check for a trouser press, Cath's rear tired had gone as flat as the crepe proverbialle. Sticking out was a huge shard of glass the size of a dagger*. It was a Blackbeard moment: quite disheartening.

(* - some exaggeration here.)

But we refused to be disencourated as they say in France. We both hopped onto my bike - me on the saddle, Cath 'sweethearting' on the luggage rack (or chickrack as it now was). Nearby was a bike shop, but this being queen's day, it was as closed as a Hassidic car showroom on Shabbat. We cycled through the town and sought more bike places. They were as common as trouser presses. Giving up on a cycle shop, we decided that if we found a tourist office (VVV), they would know where to go - even if it was a place to simply hire another bike. The map showed one a little up and to the left of the station. We searched around every street in that area and found houses, houses and more houses. No VVV, no cycle shop and my trousers could easily have been irreparably wrinkled.

The only shop open was a supermarket where, surprisingly, we found a tyre repair kit. We bought it and some almond / marzipan cakes called bruidsgebak (bride's bake) which reminded me of something I used to love as a kid. One of these had to be useful.

During our cycle we had also scoped out the town's supply of restaurants. They were none too inspiring. Two Chinese restaurants of the type where most people order Bami Pangang which is Holland's most favourite Chinese dish, even though it's Indonesian; There was an Italian where most people order pizza; and several snack bars outside of which were giant effigies of the great god Frites (also known to the Romans as Fries and the Ancient Britons as Chips). It didn't bode well. There was however one small place that looked promising. It was called De Verrassing (The Surprise) and advised reserving. It looked the sort of place that wouldn't foist chips on you at every juncture.

We freshened up and popped over there early. It was quiet enough that we could get a table without a reservation. It never quite filled up, but it got reasonably busy as the evening progressed.

The surprise of the place is that it looks like a fancy restaurant and the food is prepared and served in a fancy way, but nothing on the menu is fancy. It's very gewoon (ordinary). Steaks, onion soup, even lekkerbek (fried fish much loved by the common people). But it's all done very well and with a touch of class. And is tasty. The other interesting thing was the waiters were not snobbish like they often try to be in classy restaurants, they were jovial and, for Dutch waiters, helpful.

After eating far too much, we went off into the woods for a walk. There was a bit of time left before the night fell and it became infested with bandits and/or Hobbits.

Towards the end of the stroll, we found an enclosure containing various sorts of ducks and an aloof of black swans (as I imagine the collective term is). It was a good reminder of the cruelty of ducks. They were up to their usual tricks of picking on weaker or deformed colleagues and holding down females with their beaks to try and mount them. I guess it was mating season. I don't recall those particular Donald Duck cartoons: "Donald Does Daisy in the Dirt" or "Rapesody in Blue." After this, cats seem like cute, fluffy things.

During the meal, we counted people walking and cycling past wearing clogs. In Amsterdam, in seven years, I've seen one tramp wearing clogs, the traditional wooden shoes of the Netherlands. And in Leiden I've seen a couple of builders wearing them in my time. In Lunteren we saw five people in half a day. Some of them young, as well. Even the bar in the middle of the town was called de Klompjes (the clogs). This is clearly a more traditional part of the country and it gave us hopes of seeing girls in pig tails carrying churns of milk or maybe a boy with his finger in a dyke. Mind you, the latter you can see in Amsterdam, if you know the right place.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Niet Leuk

At 22:05 on 23 April, David Dabekaussen passed away after an intense battle with leukaemia. He was 27. David was a shining light in the Dutch improv community; a member of the awesome Fluffy Suicide Bunnies. He was talented, creative and energetic; an accomplished musician (with the band Mr Moody); and a truly great improviser. It's hard to imagine him not being around.

When I picture him, I see him stand nobly in the Crea bar, his girlfriend Binky skating around him. Or I picture him at the end of the 2006 Amsterdam Improv Theatre festival, being showered in roses after deservedly winning the accolade of Maestro after a hard-fought competition.

He was very photogenic, and more than that he always manages to look very different in every photo you see of him. But in nearly all, there is the tell-tale cheeky grin. It is a testament to his spirit that he never seemed to lose his sense of humour no matter how the fight with the disease went.

this is the best picture I have, alasNaturally, this good humour inspired others, and his funeral last Tuesday was filled with much of it. Binky, now his wife of a few weeks, recalled some things that were typical David which made a whole room of hundreds of sad people burst into laughter. Karen, a fellow Fluffy Suicide Bunny, came later an delivered a speech to him filled with laughter and regret, showing characteristic Bunny humour. She recalled a recent argument about her giving up performing to spend more time studying, noting David's mock dismissive response and the saying "and now, at your funeral, I get the last word." Humour and sadness is a potent mix.

There were several other speeches and some moving music before it was time to follow the coffin down to the cemetery. It was not, of course, your ordinary coffin. Usually these things are highly polished dark wood looking more like granite than wood. David's was plane pine on which loved ones had written personal notes or pithy sayings. I realised this is exactly what a coffin should be. It should be personal and contain things that tie the dead to the living, and not be some impersonal slab of wood trying to resemble stone.

There being several hundred people, the road was soon clogged up as we left the church hall. The police soon arrived to first stop traffic and then redirect us. It was impressive and testament to a life that touched so many people. I find it hard to imagine some one meeting David and not enjoying the process. Even the weather was enchanted and the sun definitely walked with us.

At the grave, we crowded round as best we could. A poem written by a friend was read and we all filed past in ones and twos. We all dropped flowers into a hole barely big enough to contain them all and certainly not big enough to contain our loss. So even though it was the disease that won, it was still David who was once again being showered with flowers.

[Various tributes to David have been or are being staged. easylaughs is having a benefit on 16th of May to raise money for a leukaemia charity. Further reading: David's Blog.]