People have wondered—well, okay, MLW has wondered—why it is taking so long for me to get the blog out. As you can see by the publish date versus the date of the event, I am quite a bit behind and readers—sorry, the reader—will be collecting social security by the time I am done.
I say the delay is because I am a conscientious writer, trying to get everything right, recording every detail and nuance. Actually it is because I am a windbag and am lazy and often feel too tired at the end of the day to put finger to keyboard.
However, I promise some of the entries will be shorter. For one, as we become better travelers, nothing goes wrong, nothing funny or interesting happens other than the amazing scenery and history. So I believe some entries will just be like: “This is the place; we came, we saw, we took pictures, here they are. Moving on …”
July 6, 2015
Remember the jet lag day where we both woke up at 1030 all groggy and fuzzy, having the intention of going to Schiermonnikoog? YOU remember … midget golf and lemurs?
OK, if you just tuned in, go back and read the first 6 days, or at least July 3 (day 4).
Alright, now that you are all caught up (all one of you), you will appreciate that we had anticipated this next island trip greatly, having had to alter our plans to visit the first time due to jet-lag.
LCW (Lovely Co Worker of MLW) had also recommended this island to visit.
The island is one of the West Frisian Islands, a municipality, and a national park in the northern Netherlands. Schiermonnikoog has the distinction of having the widest beach in Europe. The sand on the beach is ever increasing because the North Sea dumps more and more silt/sand on the beach.
It also has the distinction of having an unpronounceable name. The International Phonetic Alphabet gives this as its pronunciation: sxiːrmɔnəkˈoːx.
OK, says I.
No longer being a cunning linguist, I tried several different ways to pronounce it when speaking to my Dutch family. I tried pretty much the way it looks: Sheer-mon-i-kog—that got some laughs. When I hear it spoken, it sounds like Shkeer-moan-i-kocch … go ahead, try it:
Anyway, the name derives from the fact that from the island’s first known owners were the monks of Klaarkamp Abbey, a Cistercian monastery near Rinsumageest, on the mainland. “Monnik” means “monk”, “schier” is an archaic Dutch word meaning “grey”, referring to the colour of the monks’ habits and “oog” is also an Old Dutch word for island. So the name Schiermonnikoog can be translated as Grey Monk Island.
I actually got that information from a fellow passenger on the ferry over to the island, but it was confirmed by the Wikipedia entry, which also provides some of the history of the island and is of interest for those so inclined: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schiermonnikoog
Do you remember in the previous entry when I had mentioned not to piss Jeeps off?
I fear that my condescension and then blatant disregard of her directions the previous day resulted, after a night of Jeepish brooding, in a slight problem.
We plugged in the coordinates for the ferry to the island, and set off.
Soon we found ourselves traipsing down narrow country lanes (through some beautiful country, to be sure) which bore no relation to the directions which we had Google mapped previously in preparation for our trip.
Dutifully, fearfully, we continued on in the hopes Jeeps was bringing us some magical route that would pop us out onto a major highway ahead of any and all other traffic, or that she would shake off her truculence and return us to something that resembled the correct way.
Instead, we rounded a tree-lined and narrow country lane corner to be met by a front-end loader digging up the road behind a large NO ACCESS sign. Well it actually said GEEN TOEGANG, but I got the drift.
“Hmmm.” I said
“I knew it!” MLW crowed triumphantly. She had been muttering about how she thought this was the wrong way, that Jeeps was up to something nefarious and we would end up in a canal, or astride a dyke or in a polder, or something equally horrifying.
We backed out carefully and returned a short distance the way we came, then pulled over at the nearest widened section of the lanes, and reprogrammed Jeeps.
Without missing a beat, she started us off in the opposite direction from the way we had been going.
“Trust Jeeps???” I squeaked.
MLW mouthed No! Never trust Jeeps and shook her head. Aloud she said emphatically, with a surreptitious wink … “Yes, of course, always trust Jeeps!”
“Always trust Jeeps.” I repeated, but I am afraid my voice quavered just a bit. We followed her directions, nonetheless.
I may not have mentioned that Jeeps is British. So her pronunciation is possibly worse than mine. She didn’t blink when I typed out today’s destination, which may have been the reason she took us God Knows Where, as to her God Knows Where may be what Schiermonnikoog translates to in Jeepish. After all, it did involve Monks …
I defied her to pronounce it, but she didn’t take the bait, until just before we got to the ferry terminal which, after the reprogramming, she led us to without issue:
“Go left at the roundabout, second exit onto Lauwersseewei <she pronounced La-ow-were-se-se-eh-eh whee>/N361, then, you have reached your destination it is on your right …”
“C’mon,” I encouraged.
“… the ferry to … Skee-er-mon-eh-koh-ogh.” She ended helplessly.
“Yes!” I felt vindicated, although I realized she may have actually have been closer to the correct pronunciation than I had been. Still, it was nothing like what I heard our Dutch friends say.
Jeeps was correct, we were at our destination.
We found ourselves in a parking lot for the ferry to the island. As we entered, I saw that the ticket instructions seemed to indicate for me to use my MasterCard. Which I did, and the gate opened. I did not receive any ticket, which was the source of a short discussion between MLW and me, but in the end we figured it didn’t matter, as one couldn’t get in or out without having paid. So we parked, got out and headed onto the ferry.
This is a walk on ferry, much smaller than our ferry to Vancouver Island, with a capacity of carrying only a few cars or large trucks with supplies.
We sat down and were joined almost immediately by a lovely group of people. Grandmother, grandfather and parents Sarah and Alex of a very young, very energetic boy named Finn and a girl of about 3 or 4 named Anouk, as well as Alex’s female business partner with her husband. The grandmother and grandfather lived in Holland, the rest lived in South Africa. Alex and his business partner were going to The Hague for a business conference in their field of advertising and they had been in Utrecht the week before for the initial 150 km leg of the Tour de France. Alex, his business partner’s husband and the grandfather had actually participated in riding the same 150 km leg as the TdeF riders did and had really enjoyed it. Which gives you an idea of how fit people are in Holland. We very rarely saw anyone with any extra weight, and of course they are for the most part all very tall.
Sitting beside them, I felt like a huge puddle of gelatinous goo in a ball-cap.
Anouk was busy conning the grandfather out of extra sandwiches and Finn was running all over the place with father Alex in tow. It was the grandfather who was telling the others of the history of the name for the island, which I overheard. The grandmother mentioned to MLW that her brother lived in Enderby, BC and that she had visited once and found BC to be very beautiful.
Being very familiar with Schiermonnikoog, the grandfather said one can rent bikes at the terminal, catch a bus for a few Euro, or walk the two kilometres to town. It was then another four kilometers to the other side of the island at the beach on the North Sea.
MLW and I were confident we could walk it, and besides, we had found previously that biking was not good for my back, being bent over at a certain angle. Although in retrospect, the bikes in Holland are more of the old fashioned sit-straight-up-with-handlebars-up-high style rather than the racing-bent over-double-your-head-being-the-first-point-of-impact 10-speed style.
So we debarked into a scene that, with the hordes of people trapped and waiting behind a chain link fence, reminded me of an episode of the Walking Dead …
We began walking down the long spit towards the main part of the island.
You can see it off in the distance.
I looked at MLW; she was looking at me with the obvious question on her face. “Can we really do this?”
“We can do this, no probs.” I said.
As we started, I noticed a very different looking and very noisy sounding bird standing in the middle of the lane, which I presumed was a gull. I later discovered it is the European oystercatcher.
Immediately, we were lapped by people of all ages, walking …
… and on bikes, with their gear in baskets, food in baskets …
and … dogs in baskets.
At first it made me feel better—that there were others walking—until I saw this couple who appeared to be older than us. The man was carrying his medium sized suitcase in front of him the whole time …
… as they walked briskly out of sight in front of us.
It’s hard to tell form this picture, but the farmer’s fields are bordered by canals and lined with rushes. Drunken walking at night would not be a good idea here.
There is also a thin line between metal poles on the perimeter of the fields, perhaps they are electrified to stop the cows from going for a swim or making their escape from the island like so many bovine Papillons.
You also cannot tell from the photograph, but it was very, very windy; windy to the point that it created a constant dull roar in your ears.
Some of you reading this should remember Robin Gibb, one of the lead singers for the Bee Gees, who unfortunately left us prematurely? Before technology provided in-ear monitors for singers, he had a habit of putting his right hand up to his ear so he could hear himself better …
Or perhaps, if you are old enough, you will remember Gary Owens, best known for being the announcer on Laugh-In, but also for providing the voice of the titular superhero on the animated TV series Space Ghost and who played himself in a cameo appearance on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in 1998. (This reference should impress SIL (you remember from from Day Zero), who is a huge fan of Space Ghost)
Well, MLW decided to attempt impressions of Robin Gibb and Gary Owens, while walking to the village of Schiermonnikoog. I did not point out that Owens and Gibb used their right hand, while MLW used her left. A minor error in an otherwise faultless impersonation.
The village of Schiermonnikoog seemed to be a very long way off …
Or at least Robin Gibb/Gary Owens thought so …
We finally arrived at the city limits.
Not sure what these signs in combination meant …
I checked myself and MLW for blue dots, in case the sign meant this was a no blue dot zone, but thankfully we had none.
Schiermonnikoog is a very old settlement, and the numbers on the houses do not appear to be addresses, rather, they are the year in which the building originated (1621, 1758, 1950).
It is a very lovely little place.
We decided the walk had made us hungry (read: tired, wind burnt and gasping). So we entered a homey-appearing establishment that offered breakfast. There was no one else in the place, except two couples on the outside patio.
In our entitled Canadian traveler manner we asked the young girl behind the bar if we could sit anywhere ourselves or should we wait to be seated. The girls eyes widened in astonishment, as if she had never heard English before (and perhaps she hadn’t way up here in Schiermonnikoog). She shook her head and backed into the furthest corner of the bar, her mouth opening and closing like a cod on dry land. I swear she was trembling.
A man, obviously the owner or manager, came in from the outdoor patio and asked if he could help; already not happy with us, as he eyed his frightened employee or maybe daughter.
We repeated our request.
“Ja, sit where you like!” he said curtly. He brought us menus and left.
We decided on pannekoeken, one savory for MLW and one sweet for moi. MLW went to the washroom.
No one came to serve us. MLW returned, I went to the washroom.
No one attended while I was gone.
Five more minutes we waited.
We were the only ones inside, however the owner/manager/father of terrified girl kept going outside to wait on the people out there.
“It’s because we spoke only English.” I said.
“Skee-er-mon-eh-koh-ogh,” nodded MLW sagely.
As if by magic, the manager/owner/father appeared at our table.
“What would you like?” He smiled, but I sensed venom in his tone.
We ordered the pannekoeken with coffee.
When they came they were delicious and as usual, the coffee was superb, I sniffed the coffee but did not detect any aroma of poison (although I know the best poisons are undetectable). In any event, we did not keel over in paroxysms of spasmodic shaking or ataxia, so I left a nice tip (to assist with the girl’s pending psychoanalysis expenses) and we headed out.
There are two lighthouses on Schiermonnikoog; the lights of which, in former times when seen from a ship, directed boats to sail in between the sandbanks from the Wadden Sea to the North sea. Reportedly, over time the sandbanks moved and made one of the lighthouses obsolete: the white tower close to the village. It was made into a water tower instead.
The other lighthouse is a functioning lighthouse and very important for ships traversing this part of the North Sea. It can be seen immediately as you leave the white tower and head to the sea …
We encountered more thatched roofs.
I began to suspect this method of roofing is still fairly common in Holland. Later, I looked it up and sure enough, there are Master Thatchers operating, who provide thatches all over Europe: http://www.mokeham.com/dutchthemag/feature-the-ancient-art-of-thatching/
We went over a dune or two and walked towards the beach on the North Sea …
And walked …
And walked …
Finally we reached the shore. To one side stretches empty beach …
and to the other side much the same, but with a beach house …
I wanted to walk across the stream and into the North Sea just to say I went in the North Sea, but as I got in …
Once it got to my naughty bits and where I had stored my money belt and small camera,
I turned around and came out.
“It’s OK, it is still technically the North Sea,” said MLW, patting my head in sympathy.
I grunted in reluctant agreement.
Meanwhile we watched the windsurfers vault up 20 or 30 feet in the air …
Soon, we decided to head back to the town, as we wanted to make sure we made it to the ferry, and were debating whether to walk or take the frequent buses that ran there, so we thought we would have a bit of a refreshment to assist with the debate.
We stopped at this establishment: The Duinzicht Hotel Café Restaurant
Here we encountered our first real instance of less-than-adequate service (I don’t count the young girl, who was by this time most likely wrapped in a straitjacket mumbling: ‘stoel jezelf … niet Canadees spreken’, over and over).
We sat down in the outside patio area and after a minute or two of being passed over by all visible staff, MLW flagged down a large dour-looking waitress, who nodded and came to stand by our table with her order book in hand.
I ordered: “Een Wieckse Witte bier, dankjewel” I believe I said: a Wieckse (brand name) white beer, thank you.
The waitress looked at me in disdain. “Of course.” And turned to MLW.
“Gin and Tonic, please.” MLW said, with her brightest smile.
“Thank you.” Said the waitress, giving me a dirty look as she flounced off.
I looked at MLW in alarm. “Was it something I said?”
MLW shrugged. “Maybe you told her she had a big nose or something.”
Then she smiled. “Or maybe it’s because your pants are still wet around your naughty bits.”
A younger waitress flew out of the Inn’s entrance with our drinks and set them down without looking at us in the eye and hurriedly leaving before I could squeeze out another dankjewel.
Definitely it was the pants.
We drank our beverages and discussed the merits of walking versus bussing. If we left soon we would make it to the ferry dock with about 15 minutes to spare before the 4pm ferry, whereas if we took the bus we could try to see another part of the island.
We eventually decided to hoof it, which meant we would go right after we were finished our drinks. I had wanted another one, but had not seen our original waitress, or any waitress in fact, since the initial encounter.
I had, however, spotted a cadaverous man dressed in evening wear, full black suit jacket and tie, gliding between tables and talking to various people. It was hard to tell if he was serving, or was the manager, or simply someone hired by the Inn to give it continental ambience.
He walked by, but studiously ignored us both. I had a passing feeling of kinship to Jack Torrence in the Overreach Hotel; perhaps seeing staff that weren’t actually there.
Finally, MLW took the reins (as she often does, to my relief) and flagged the man down. Once caught within our visual net, he appeared quite alive and jovial, and provided us with polite service.
However, I would not recommend this establishment to anyone traveling to Schiermonnikoog.
It did afford interesting viewing of passersby, however ….
We started the long journey back to the ferry slip. I timidly suggested another route in case we might see something different or it might be faster, but swallowed the suggestion after a stern look from MLW, who apparently was eager to try out her Robin Gibb impersonations again.
On our way back along the tiny trail, we heard a rumbling sound like a car behind us. We turned around and, sure enough, there was a little red van coming slowly up behind us.
“For God’s sake! “ Said MLW, crossly. “Why don’t they throw a couple of tractors and a horse or two on this trail, for good measure!”
We deferred to the tiny van and as it went by I saw writing on the side which led me to suspect the driver was out inspecting the canals and the fencing around the fields as part of a business service to the owners.
As we watched, the little red vehicle could be seen traversing the entire square of the farmer’s field, seemingly vindicating my belief.
The intersection to the ferry slip was in sight now and we decided to go to the top of the dyke and check out the sea and layout from a higher vantage point.
It was then that Robin Gibb/Gary Owens decided to join us again. This time a bang on impression with the right hand.
We reached the dock and waited a long time behind the chain link fence.
“We are them!” I said to MLW in an obvious TV reference. MLW got it immediately and let her jaw go slack with a little bit of drool trickling out of the corner.
“Nicely done!” I said.
Well, you have to amuse yourself while waiting in queues, don;t you?
Finally the ferry came and we boarded, grateful to escape the grinding wind.
No sooner had we sat down …
then we heard a cheery “Hallo again!” and our friends from the first crossing plunked themselves beside us again. We exchanged more pleasantries which made the crossing very quick.
We debarked and headed to the carpark.
Now we begin parking fiasco number 3 (I think it is 3).
This fiasco would not have happened if we had not endured fiasco 2 (from DAY 6) and as a result, been rather skittish about how parking is paid for here in Holland.
We were excited to be very quick off the ferry and among the first to get to our car. We might even be closer to the head of the line then the end this time, for once, I thought.
We drove up to the exit point, and saw every other driver putting in a ticket into the machine stationed there.
“We don’t have a ticket!” I turned to MLW. “WTF!”
“WTF!” repeated MLW, dutifully.
“Maybe it will accept the MasterCard.” I mused.
“You have to park somewhere and go find out.” Said the ever practical MLW.
I dithered a bit and then decided she was right (of course). Parked and we both got out and traipsed towards a large bank of parking machine units, where everyone else on the ferry was now queuing up.
We watched as a lady in front of us put her MasterCard into the machine and receive a ticket.
“Oh!” I said to MLW, and smiled in a knowing fashion. “It just kinda holds the MasterCard number in there and when you come out it recognizes the card and spits a ticket out for the time you used.”
“Sounds reasonable.” Said MLW. “Why can’t they all be the same in this country, for consistency sake, at least?”
“Well, I guess if we understood the written language better we would have seen something somewhere that would have told us.” I was still feeling guilty about traumatizing the young girl.
After the lady it was my turn, so I inserted my MasterCard with confidence.
We polled nearby parking aficionados.
None knew what the problem was.
“Perhaps see the authorities in there,” said a young clean-shaven fellow with glasses, pointing across the lot to a building adjacent to the ferry ticket office. “They may be able to help you.”
Good idea. Such good English, too.
We thanked the young man and trudged across the lot to the indicated building. There did not appear to be an entrance, but there was a wicket-like window on the side. We approached it and as we did, could hear a male voice speaking in a commanding tone in Dutch to someone. We came closer to the window and saw a blond, crew-cut shaved young man with a day’s pale growth stubbling his cheeks and chin, hunched over a microphone. When he was finished he threw the microphone down with an unintelligible expletive and glanced up at us.
“Please, sir I hope you can help us. “ I did my best Oliver Twist-begging-for-gruel impression. “I used my MasterCard to get in the park, but I got no ticket and when I try to …”
“MasterCard only … you not need ticket.” He began to get up and turn away.
“Oh … so … I just use the MasterCard on exit?”
He turned back and grimaced at me.
“MasterCard in … MasterCard …OUT!”
“Thank you.” I said. I might have bowed a little.
We hurried back to our car.
Approached the exit and inserted the MasterCard with a trembling hand.
The gate lifted and we were free.
“The Terrified Asian Lady Parking Fiasco made us nervous about parking anywhere else.” I said.
MLW just nodded.
For some reason Jeeps was silent the whole way home; perhaps we had inadvertently turned her volume off. Regardless, we followed the red arrow and line, not wanting to mess anything up by trying to reprogram her in mid-flight and we made it home with no issue.
“I miss Jeeps.” MLW said, just before we drove in.
Dead tired, we went to Tom’s cafeteria once again and it was just as good the second time around.
This was the lesson for the day:
*FOOTNOTE: We discovered we had missed quite a bit on the Island, such as a German Bunker and an Allied War cemetery, which I would have liked to have seen. Nonetheless, we can’t see everything on our trip. Just thought I would let people know there is much more to the Island then I have been able to show here. CJK