de Stijl’n in den Haag

After two and a half weeks in the Netherlands we have reached the point where I am saying “we leave next weekend, there’s still so much to do!”.

I was keen to head back to Amsterdam, but we couldn’t see how it could fit into other things. Then, out of the blue, Angela and Martin to the unintended rescue (again) when they called on Saturday morning and said “We are heading to Amsterdam tonight for beer tasting, want a ride?”.

Their event was a private thing, but that was perfect as it meant we had a few hours to just wander, which we certainly did.

Amsterdam really is a beautiful city. Nothing needs to be added to create a great vibe.

This wall, outside a museum, had panels from 17th century buildings embedded. See if you can figure out the occupation of the residents.

If you guessed that the CCTV camera represented a spy, you may be right.

Jump back to the map and at the bottom you will see an area called Spui, which is a sort of square surrounded by restaurants and bars. With the backdrop of the old buildings and it being a beautiful evening, it was just delightful sitting having a beer and people watching.

No matter where you walk, there is another gorgeous view.

They weren’t dummies in the 17th century. If you had a 3 story building with a hoist at the top and front it made sense to not have your goods banging into the wall. So as well as the beam hanging out, buildings also leaned forward. It all looks a bit wonky, but adds to the charm.

The buildings, and therefore the bars, are narrow and cool…

with a huge range of beers.

Let’s move on from Amsterdam.

I know I rattle on about bikes, but this is the sort of bike parking that is provided.

Time to catch up with Jeroen and Margot – I won’t explain the pronounciation, suffice to say it isn’t how you read it in English. They are some more old friends of the Tall One, so we ride (of course) to den Haag (The Hague) and start with the Kuntsmuseum (with a K!) that houses some wonderful surprises.

For a start, there is a large collection of Mondrian works and other artists exploring the new De Stijl movement.

But what really grabbed me was a huge collection of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests I suggest exploring the link, but to see them in real life was a treat indeed.

They even had some that you can play with.

The only thing that would be better would be to see Theo trialling one in the wild at the local beach. Jeroen has…lucky bugger.

Oh, and there were also works by van Gogh, Picasso, Rodin, know, all the European favourites.

But it gets better. We head back to Margot and Jeroen’s house and it is in a 100 year old block designed by Jan Wils during the De Stijl era. This is a notable historic building and has several books written about it. Apparently Mondrian designed the fireplace and some internal doors, and it looks like it.

Of course we then settled down to a typical afternoon “snack”.

There was also plenty of discussion about music, and of course, art.

Later we ride back to Wassener, which should be fun, it is raining.

It’s June 2nd everywhere

Celebrating a brthday in a different time zone is a little weird.

It started at 4PM Netherlands time which is midnight in Eastern Australia. We were hanging out, ready for an evening at home when the Tall One announced that we had been invited to Martin and Angela’s place for an hour. It registered as a little odd, but I left it at that.

A 10 minute bike ride and as we walk in I notice smiles on faces and pathetic attempts to conceal them. I figured something was up but, unlike me, I decided not to spoil anything.

Soon I was ordered to close my eyes and voila, a cheese cake (literally) with candles. Surprise! 🎉🌟🤡🎉😀

I haven’t asked if this was a gag or just to hold it together.

Cheese and beer transformed into cheese and tasting several 26 year old whiskeys, yummm. Tha Tall One had a sip, spluttered and very generously left the rest for me.

When we left at 10:30PM Wassener was still struggling to get dark, fortunately, because it was a bit of a wobbly ride home.

Thanks for all the beautiful birthday wishes. If you really loved me you would have remembered that 8AM in Eastern Australia is midnight in the Netherlands. A bit of a disturbed sleep as birthday pings happened through the night.

Aside: Tall One’s father needed something looked at in the hospital this morning. There on the shelf is the hospital magazine with CliniClowns on the cover. Nice!

Beer o’clock

Souvenirs are an essential part of travel. They are brought home then remind of that holiday as they collect dust for years. Then you move on and they are replaced by other souvenirs that begin the cycle anew.

The Tall One’s father has a house full of, rather than souvenirs, curios that might one day pass on to her. As if to tease us about our (still outstanding) trip to India, there is a mini Taj Mahal that I suspect is made from marble and came from India.

model of Taj Mahal alongside other knick knacks

Although it might be a little tricky to transport, bringing it into Australia wouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, since I am always honest on biosecurity questions, I would have to declare this item.

carved elephant ivory with other knick knacks

Yes, that thing on the left is ivory, appatently a gift from Africa many years ago. It wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be allowed to be imported. But it does make me wonder about what might happen to such things that are historic yet no longer cool.

We are cycling all over, every day. It is really enjoyable thanks to how integrated bicycles are into the culture. Yesterday we visited the grave of Tall One’s mother. It was a bit creepy seeing Tall One’s exact name on the headstone.

woman pointing at headstone in graveyard

I was relieved to discover that she isn’t a zombie, but was named after her grandmother. Then into the church where I was reprimanded for not being quiet/respectful/guilty/pious enough. Truth be known, I wasn’t being any of those things, but let’s not get into a conversation about my opinion of religion. Having said that, it is a big beautiful church, I can only wonder how they built such huge arches in the early 1900s.

No, she didn’t genuflect or cross herself.

colourful stained glass window in church

2AM might seem a bit late to start eating and drinking, but Gold Coast 2AM is 6PM in the Netherlands. The Tall One’s sister Angela and her husband Martin (Angela’s, not Tall One’s) plus a friend (theirs, not hers) drove us to Leiden, a university town not far from Wassener.

It is old and beautiful.

canal in Netherlands with boats and houses in background

Bikes outnumber cars hundreds to one, it is a treat walking around here. Our destination was the StadtBrouwHuis bar, it was for more than dinner, it was a Dutch brewery experience.

Translated, StadtBrouwHuis is State Brew House, and apart from brewing their own beer, they have a pretty big variety to choose from.

roof handles for pouring beer

I wasnt too interested in big glasses of one or two beers, so negotiated for a series of sampler glasses. Let’s just say I am glad I wasn’t driving, or riding.

table with many half filled glasses of beer
people sitting around table

Rain was forecast for this afternoon so we went riding in the morning. There are several forests around here, all with a network of fietspad (bike paths). One led us to a lovely old building that used to be the local government offices, it is now a reception centre. Except not entirely.

We went inside and while I was looking around, Tall One started chatting to a man who I assumed was the building manager or something like that. I wander over and am introduced to the Mayor of Wassener! After bowing deeply and licking his shoes clean, I half jokingly ask if his office is in the building.

He immediately ushers us through a couple of doors into what can only be described as a sumptuous room that is his office. He told us the story, but there was too much info about the history of the building to remember. Suffice to say it once belonged to the king and the desk and some other furniture is original, dating back to the 17th century.

man and woman in ornate office.  man is mayor of Wassener

Then on to a local modern art gallery.

row of sculptures of people with real person standing in front
sculpture of person standing on head

It is starting to rain, so we will hunker down for the afternoon. Oh, I have seen some windmills, but will wait until I get the money shot.

I do know I have no right to complain about anything, but if you play Wordle, you will understand 335 X/6


On yer bike

Day 1 was a looong days (deliberate plural). Door to door it took 34 hours to get from the Gold Coast in Australia to Wassener in the Netherlands. When we eventually went to bed, it was about 7AM body time, 45 hours after leaving home. That trope about falling asleep the moment my head hit the pillow became a reality.

The Tall One had big plans for day 2 despite my suggestion it be a rest day. It is worth noting that due to what turned out to be her misinformation campaign, my expectations about Dutch weather had me anticipating something worse than Melbourne. But it is magnificent! Sunny and warm.

Weirdly, it doesn’t get dark until about 10:30pm and it happens so slowly, there is no dusk, as such. I can only imagine what time it gets dark in late June.

group of parked bikes in netherlands

We’ve all heard about the bicycle culture in the Netherlands, I can report it is absolutely true and I am wondering if it is at all possible to make real in Straya.

Bikes are everywhere, every road has a bike path, there are bicycle specific traffic lights. It is fantastic! The photo above is pretty typical, bike racks are outside every shop, in the streets, all over the place. Notice the bike path, well away from the road, leading into the roundabout.

bikes in bike path at roundabout Netherlands

Even in the roundabouts , bikes are kept separate from cars and cyclists are treated with care by car drivers, unlike in Australia where there is a certain level of contempt.

Another common sight…

children in buggy on front of bicycle

As the woman said, “this is very Dutch”. There are all sorts of variations on this for carrying kids, goods, whatever.

But it gets better. There has been a shift in the culture here where what were once manicured lawns are now allowed to go wild, encouraging insects and therefore, birds. There are definitely a lot more insects here than at home, though as Tall Girl pointed out, they are much bigger in Straya and like everything else, liable to kill you.

long grass in road verge

Just before we left home, I had floated the idea of letting the front lawn go, maybe I will soon have less to mow, at least I now have some ammo to justify my idea.

white flowers growing in grass

We have a couple of bikes and today set off to a beautiful protected area along the coast known as the dunes, because…there are dunes. There is a constant stream of cyclists going in both directions, I can’t quite figure out if they are commuting or just going for a ride. I suspect it is a mixture of both. It is only about 10km to The Hague, the capital of the Netherlands, which is at the end of the substantial and well signed bike path along the coast.

black water birds with white faces sitting on a nest

For those who don’t know me well, I hand-built an earth walled house about 30 years ago. So seeing these beautiful thatched roofs was so wonderful. If only I could see one being replaced or repaired. Though my Dutch isn’t close to good enough to be able to have a conversation…yet…if ever.

house with thatched roof

Banks are extinct here in Wassener for some reason. There literally isn’t one left, which makes getting some cash hard. Apparently the rest of the Netherlands isn’t the same, so not sure what is going on here. But oddly, despite no banks, ATMs are critically endangered, the closest is a 10 minute ride and there is only 1 in each of the local shopping areas.

Finally, I would like to thank big finance for making the exchange rate 1 Euro = 1.5 $AUD which makes calculations easy.

Praise Cheeses

Hooray, borders are open and May 16th has finally arrived. After our non trip to India at the start of 2020 it was good to be travelling again.

Holidays are boring if they get off on the right foot and we had a great start when we thought our ride was taking us to Brisbane airport, but he thought he was taking us to the train to Brisbane airport. Forensic inspection of emails revealed that somewhere I did mention train, but that is no excuse for Dave not knowing I meant airport.

Fortunately, the fear of covid paperwork and airport chaos meant we had left way too early for my liking, but perfect timing for relationship harmony.

As it happened, Brisbane airport is a very big place for there to be only one flight leaving, so checking in was pretty stress free.

people standing in line at airport

But it likely wasn’t so stress free for an amphibian attempting to stow away. The bag owner had no idea where they had picked up a frog on top of their suitcases. With all the rain last week it was likely looking for higher safe ground. Much hilarity as I chased it around the line of passengers. I hope it survives where I released it in the little garden at the front of the airport.

It had been so long I had forgotten the joy of long haul flights. Seven hours to Singapore, 3 hours transit spent trying to spot a single butterfly in the butterfly garden in the airport – haven’t they genetically modify butterflies to be nocturnal yet? – then 13 hours to Amsterdam.

Photos never do justice to sunrises, this is titled Full Moon Rising Over Wing Above Turkey. The flight wasn’t too bad, the entertainment technology is pretty cool these days. Apart from a huge range of movies and TV shows, there is an excellent Where Are We maps thingy with loads of options to help passengers help the pilot not get lost.

And here we are, in Wassener, Netherlands. It has a reputation as an upmarket area, I have told Dutch people this is where I am going and the response is always “oooh, Wassener” and little sounds indicating that Wassenarians (I just made that up) are snobs.

We only arrived at 10 this morning and I already have my favourite cheese shops and bakeries. They are constantly changing as I discover even more amazing cheese shops.

cheese shop

I have been cycling a lot recently and starting to lose weight, this could be my undoing.

cheese shop

I’ll be updating here as often as possible. You can look forward to our trip to Germany and a visit to the notorious Amsterdam cafes. OK, there may be more than one trip to the cafes.

Daar gaan we

Map of the Netherlands

It has been over 3 years since I have been able to exercise my position as a privileged western white male and leave for somewhere else.

Today Erna and I head to The Netherlands for 3 weeks. Mostly to visit her aging dad, but also sharing a big adventure.

rows of colourful tulips

That’s about all I really know for now, except this should be gezellig.

Hint: in Dutch a “g” is pronounced like you are clearing some phlegm from the back of your throat.

Dutch windmills with water and tulips in the foreground

Can’t complain about Indian railways

Day 4 of our isolated un-trip to India and things are going much more smoothly than I could have imagined.

Indian Railway system is possibly the only lasting benefit left by the British during their occupation of the place. The network is extensive, trains are frequent and mostly run on time.* Also, at least outside of cattle class, they are quite clean and sleeper beds include linen. Did I mention fares are also pretty cheap?

So our trip from Amritsar to Haridwar (near Rishikesh) would have been fun and a new experience for Petronella, had we taken it. But I think even had our flight not been cancelled, all Indian trains have been.

Right now we would have been on the banks of the upper Ganges River, wondering why it seems compulsory for Western women to wear yoga pants 24/7 in this city. Well, I would have been, she would like have been wearing yoga pants.

Ganges River at Rishikesh

Tonight we won’t be travelling by train to Khajuraho, site of the Karma Sutra Temple. In a day or 3 I’ll share some rather racy photos and update you on the incredible things we don’t do.

* this is based on experience, not any collection of data across the whole network. For all I know hardly any of the trains run on time – and it wouldn’t be surprising – but apart from 1 that was cancelled, 1 that was 5 hours late, 1 that was estimated 12 hours late and a few other delays…OK, so they sometimes are on time.

Best travel leg ever

Jetlag is a pain. You arrive at your destination and for the next couple of days your body is catching up with local time.

But not this trip. It is as though our bodies are on local time all the time. It is incredible, people are using our regular currency, speak our language and we blend in as though we belong.

I know Air Asia is regarded as a budget airline, but this time I am all compliments, it was as though the flight over didn’t happen.

I have to say that in all my travels, airline food has never looked like this.

Airline breakfast

Who ever heard of getting Montmarte Patisserrie croissants on a plane? And for lunch, Chilli sin Carne and salad with home-grown ingredients.

Not Airline Food

Of course, departure day didn’t quite go as expected. Before we flew we had to handle the flu with a last minute vaccination. Despite initial fears, no one fainted which was a good thing.

Flu shot

Thanks to our corporate sponsors for providing free shots.

Next stop won’t be Amritsar where we won’t visit the Golden Temple, the Pakistan Border or the maze temple. But more about those places when we don’t get there.

Troublesome travel companions

Perhaps a more experienced traveller can help me with this.

Our flight has now been officially cancelled. Air Asia has sent an SMS advising the flight isn’t happening and suggesting I read an email that they haven’t sent. That isn’t the problem.

My anxiety comes from the fact that we aren’t leaving in 24 hours and Erna still hasn’t unpacked. Does she plan on leaving it to the last minute?

If this is how our non-trip starts, what is going to happen when we don’t arrive in India?

Your suggestions are welcome.

Less that one week to not go

We’ve been looking forward to our trip to India for months and it is now less than one week until we don’t leave.

We are pretty excited as we start unpacking all those special things we bought for this trip.

Of course it is important to make sure that all the necessary documents are in order:

Visa cancelled? CHECK!

visa cancelled

Refund status: Don’t be ridiculous

Air ticket cancelled? CHECK!

air asia cancelled

Refund status: Amount credited for 1 year

Train tickets cancelled? CHECK!

Refund status: 100% refunded!

We are so not looking forward to not leaving next Saturday.

Starting then you should keep your eyes open for regular updates on where we haven’t been.

Internet permitting, of course.