July 1, 2015
This day dawned early. We were suffering from jet lag and a night out,
but still managed to get up in good time, enjoy the excellent breakfast buffet that the IBIS laid out, pay for parking (an exorbitant 17.50 Euros) and begin our journey north to Leeuwarden; the capital of Friesland.
Determined to figure out the mysterious ways of the GPS before moving another inch; once settled in the CLIO, I turned off the radio and set the course and then tested a move … et voila, the prim modulated British female voice came on, even while the radio was off. I decided then to name the GPS: ‘Jeeps’, as a sort of play on words on Jeeves the butler and the phonics of GPS.
I offered to MLW that I could plug in the iPod, so we could have some tunes for our drive, which received the same lovely glare I have written of fondly in the last installment.
So no tunes to interrupt Jeeps, then.
Listening to Jeeps led us out on the correct route we had already scoped out on Google Maps, so I was confident we could trust the GPS to deliver us to our destination.
Trust Jeeps, I mantra’d in my head.
Holland is flat. And actually looks like BC in rural farmland area; in fact, it looks like Abbotsford, with crops growing right by the airport landing strips, and farms cut through by highways and freeways.
So being flat, highways are mostly straight. I give much credit to the Dutch for building beautiful highways, with bright white lines, large blue and white signs that tell you exactly where to go in easy to understand symbols, at just the right juncture as well as speed limit signs that are round white circles rimmed in red with large 80 and 100 and 130 (yes) painted on them.
It took us a while (obviously we neglected our research in this department) but we figured out that diagonal line or lines across the name of a city or speed meant that you were leaving the city or the speed zone.
I had originally conjectured that it might mean the city had suffered a zombie attack which wiped it out, or that there was an anti-city, a sort of not-city version of the one we just left.
The drive was very peaceful, straight and easy. Jeeps, when she did sound out, came across as slightly bored and testy, like we were neglecting her.
We traversed the Ijsselmeer dam, a large 32 kilometre dike/dam, built in the 1920’s to contain the saltwater Zuiderzee, which was a shallow basin of the North Sea, turn it into the freshwater lake now called the Ijsselmeer, provide a shorter route from Friesland to Amsterdam and according to some, making it easier for the Fries to escape. It is a marvel and considered one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.
Jeeps, apparently bored to distraction, or perhaps stunned by the achievement, suddenly called out: “Turn right in 200 metres!”
MLW and I exchanged glances.
We were in the middle of a strip of land 16 kilometres out in the middle of water on both sides.
We weren’t 100% sure, but considered it highly likely that turning right would cause an interruption to our trip of disastrous proportions. So we ignored her instructions.
After we passed the 200 metre left turn point, Jeeps whined: “Turn around when possible!”
Now as I write this, I wonder if we may have missed something magical; you know, that turning right into the Ijsselmeer would have caused an alternate plane or portal to open up and we would be delivered into an amazing fantasy adventure, traversing space and time, something beyond belief and worthy of multiple movie sequels.
After all, Jeeps was so very insistent that we go there.
“Turn around when possible!” She kept repeating, ever more stridently.
“Can we turn it off?” asked MLW.
”Her. Can we turn her off.” I corrected, gently. “I don’t know.”
I had to keep my eyes on the flat, straight road ahead, so it was up to MLW to extinguish Jeeps’ warnings. Finally, she was able to take the system back to MENU and Jeeps fell silent.
“iPod?” I asked.
MLW only snorted.
I felt slightly disconcerted losing Jeeps, as we had not printed up or written out any Google maps directions (Plus I liked her British accent.) It was fine getting into Leeuwarden—the signage was wonderful, as mentioned, but I didn’t think the Netherlands public works would have erected a signpost to our B&B.
“Perhaps there is a magnetic interference out here that scrambled her brain.” I suggested.
“Possibly,” said wise MLW, “we’ll re-boot her after we cross the dam.”
So we did, but my mantra switched to “Don’t trust Jeeps; never trust Jeeps”.
There was nothing for Jeeps to say for quite a while, so she was silent, but I felt the tension in the car. Was revenge on her mind?
We approached a signpost that said ‘Leeuwarden-Noord’, which I knew from my sophisticated schooling likely meant North Leeuwarden. I waited for Jeeps to signal an exit.
Nothing. We passed the sign in silence. I could almost hear the gears turning in MLW’s head. “Hmmm,” was all she said.
Upcoming was a signpost that had nothing whatsoever for Leeuwarden written on it.
“In 400 metres, turn right and take the exit, then … turn right at the end of the road!” Jeeps said gleefully.
MLW and I exchanged a questioning glance.
“Don’t trust Jeeps!” I said.
We kept going.
Then we realized how reliant we were on Jeeps. We had no map. Nothing to point us to our B&B. In a country where it was still hit and miss if people could speak English or would want to speak it to people so obviously stupid as to go traveling without a real map.
A sign came up for an exit to Leeuwarden.
“Never trust Jeeps”, I muttered as I took the exit.
Then it seemed that Jeeps, subdued to compliance by our lack of faith, began to re-assess and organize another route.
“In 800 metres, go right on the roundabout …second exit!” She said coldly.
Sure enough, there was a roundabout exactly where she had foretold it.
“I guess we have to trust Jeeps for now and see where she leads us; if we get stuck, we’ll just have to get a map, or dare to use my phone data,” decided MLW.
I grunted pessimistically.
Leeuwarden is a beautiful city; capital of Friesland (and of water technology—a signpost reminded us), it is bustling with people all the time, on bikes, in cars, on scooters and motorcycles and walking. According to the Internet, with three colleges and a number of university locations, it was appointed as the ‘student city of the Netherlands’ and it shows. There are lots of young people and they all seem to be on bikes.
As anyone who has been here , or has done their homework unlike us knows, here, in the Netherlands, bikes rule. Motorcycles, bicycles, electric bikes, trikes, scooters and wheelchairs all have the right of way, no matter what. Leeuwarden is no exception.
The difference here as opposed to, let’s say, Vancouver, is that whenever they build a road, they appear to build with the bicycle in mind, so that they separate most bike lanes from the car lanes and the car is not dismissed or ignored; it has its own generous lanes in which to travel, albeit they revert to small ones in the old town, since its layout has been largely preserved. Plus, they manage to provide parking, all inside an old Renaissance-period designed city. Vancouver should indeed take note of how the Dutch have managed it.
To be fair to Vancouver, though, Holland is flat, which is more conducive to everyone riding bikes; plus, the bicycle culture is an old one which generations have grown up with.
People warned us about this, so we thought we were prepared, but the reality makes for terrifying split second decisions at every intersection or roundabout. A bicyclist can whip around a corner, stick his arm out and fly across the bike cross walk (yes they are often separate from the pedestrian crosswalks) without stopping, always assuming that you will halt for them. I cannot imagine what would happen if drivers were texting.
So I drove entirely trusting Jeeps, wending our way through narrow streets, circumnavigating roundabouts, dodging cyclists and pedestrians.
“In 200 metres turn left …. You have arrived at your destination!” Jeeps suddenly cried out in triumph.
And we had.
De Hedera Bed and Breakfast – http://www.dehedera.nl/en/. It is nestled beside Cees Flower Shop.
On a side note, the van for the flower shop had this intriguing photograph on it. I am not really sure what demographic the business may be catering to, or what relation it has to ‘Cee’.
I must assume it is a take on the FTD symbol:
But anyway, I will leave it at that. Discuss amongst yourselves.
We located our hostess, Mia, a trim and an energetic lady of about 60 years old, with short blond hair and a large smile. She showed us to our rooms, which were up a flight of stairs that rivaled the pyramid at Chichen Itza for its steep angle and narrow steps. Carting our luggage up was a challenge and as the carpet on the stairs was dark brown, coming in from the sunlight made it difficult to see the first few steps.
But what a lovely B&B Mia has made! She told us she had been a dentist until she was about 25 years old, when a bad car accident had sidelined her for a time and prevented her from standing bent over people’s mouths altogether. Her daughter suggested she start a B&B, so she bought three houses, one of which she lives in with her husband and the others she has combined and converted to an 8-room B&B. She said we would be in this room for the first night only then would be transferring to a larger room because we had a longer stay than others.
Mia asked us when we would like breakfast, if we liked eggs and gave us the immediate impression that she would arrange everything according to our schedule. She gave us some suggestions for a dining out supper, told us where we could park for free and provided directions to the old city, then left us to settle in.
As we were only staying one night in that room, we didn’t unpack, but decided to go out, locate a grocery store for lunch items and hopefully find distilled water for my CPAP machine—a necessary tool for survival, since my snoring would have led to my demise at the hands of MLW and quite possibly Mia, one house away.
It was hot, but thankfully not too humid, with a constant breeze blowing, which made it bearable to walk. We started our journey into the charming old city. First thing I noticed was this house across the street, with its roof made of some sort of thatch. Not sure what to make of building codes for stairs and roofs in Holland …
The walk is SO scenic you don’t feel as if you are in a city, even though there is lots of movement and people.
I am very impressed with how well the old is integrated with the new. From what I could discern, if the building is not preserved or restored as a museum in its entirety, but rather utilized as a modern shop, then the inside is gutted and the façade is kept and restored, so that the city maintains its Dutch Golden Age appearance throughout. The streets are cobbled with brick, traffic lines are only slightly discernible so as to not disturb the look (unless it is a bike or pedestrian crossing) and bike lanes appear to be demarcated with different coloured bricks, in most places.
And of course, canals run throughout the city, with people using them to reach their destinations in personal pleasure craft, boats full of tourists on guided sightseeing routes as well as sailing ships and houseboats tied up alongside.
We had a small map provided by Mia, which gave us some direction. Our first goal was to locate a store, which we found atop a large parking garage that descended below canal level, called Jumbo.
Picking up some bread and fruit, beer and wine, we hemmed and hawed over RIO de-mineralized water (was it the same as distilled? You decide, the answer will be in the next blog).
We decided to look later for a pharmacy or drugstore that might have the water we needed, so then we trekked back to the B&B. Dropped our goods and went back out, this time to find the recommended restaurant. Our journey was convoluted and we took probably the longest but still lovely route around to find De Vliegende Hollander Restaurant:
De Vliegende Hollander Restaurant (Flying Dutchman) is near the corner of Pepperstraat and Weaze, on Berlikumermarkt – http://vliegendehollanderlwd.nl/. We were amused to see Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone schnitzel, as well as burgers and sandwiches catering to USA and quite amazed at an offering called the Harvey Spector Special, an Angus beef burger, in apparent reference to the main character from one of our favourite TV shows: Suits.
MLW and I both settled on the Zalm Casablanca (Salmon Casablanca) – sorry Harvey – which was a grilled salmon filet in a spicy ratatouille with couscous, accompanied by Sauvignon Blanc for Lynne and a blond ale for me, all of which proved excellent choices. Great service, great food.
Afterwards we trundled up to the semi-famous leaning tower De Oldehove, an unfinished church tower in the medieval part of the city. It leans at more of an angle than the more famous leaning tower of Pisa. We were too weary to climb it then, we might try another day.
Opposite the Oldhoeve is a large mural on the wall, depicting the lineage of Landgravine Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel (7 February 1688 – 9 April 1765) who apparently is an ancestor of all monarchs reigning in Europe, including of course our sovereign Queen Elizabeth.
As we headed back to our B&B, I thought it would be good to try to show viewers at home what the Dutch (in Leeuwarden at least) do to help bicycles and cars co-exist.
Next we head to Franeker, ancestral originating family home.