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.

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