Warning: May not be suitable for all ages. Graphic photographs.
July 7, 2015
It was time to leave our wonderful B&B De Hedera Bed and Breakfast.
As our very first experience with a B&B, it had been a warm and wonderful seven days. We fell in love with Leeuwarden and the people we had met, and especially Mia, our bright energetic host.
I had been looking forward to going to Utrecht; it is a city of great historical significance and every image I had seen portrayed a beautiful city with the requisite canals and beautiful walks and promenades, as well as the by-now familiar narrow streets winding amidst ancient buildings.
But beforehand we also wanted to return to the Old Hove tower (de Oldehove), hopefully to climb it and get a photo of the view, and go into the Tresoar to see what we could find, in an admittedly short period of time in the archives of Friesland.
So we got up fairly early, packed up and said goodbye to Mia
We arrived at the Old Hove tower again, to find it was not open until 1pm, which was too late for us, so I had to be satisfied with taking a few more snaps of the angle of incline of the old structure.
We went into the Tresoar and began looking at record books. I was able to cotton on to the system for the registration of our surname of <redacted for security reasons> in 1811 by decree of Napoleon and found a copy of the original document signed by an ancestor named Klaas Klaases <redacted for security reasons> taking the last name <redacted for security reasons> as his family name. Well, an X was marked as his name and witnessed by the oath taker.
I asked for a translation and was led to an amiable man who supposedly spoke English and could translate it, which he did. His English was actually not as good as had been most of the customer service people in corner stores and restaurants, but he was extremely amiable and helpful and as he said, “Well, at least my English is better than your Dutch.”
No argument there.
Basically the translation is that on December 31 1811, Klaas Klaases <redacted for security reasons> certified that the name <redacted for security reasons> is his family name. Thus began the official record of our surname. It had existed prior to that, but as there had been no need for surnames it was often changed and misspelled, so after Nappy had his way, it had to be officially declared as the name the family took on … but apparently, according to the fellow who helped us, only the family of Klaas Klaases <redacted for security reasons>, not his brothers or anyone else had registered the name. Which left me puzzled, but with enough information to work on another day (not while on holidays).
So, not as fulfilled as I would have liked to have been, we headed out on the next leg of our adventure.
Jeeps was fantastic, she led us to Utrecht with no problems at all.
Until we rounded a corner and saw some confusing signs. Jeeps wanted us to go right, but there were construction cones and signs and a helpful placard reading: “Bridge Closed.”
“Jeeps, the bridge is closed. “ I said hopefully.
We went left, as guided by the arrows and traffic cones, but could see no directional detour arrows that may help us reach our destination.
Jeeps kicked in and led us on a path that eventually led us—you guessed it—back to where the signs said the bridge was out.
But this time, there was a harried and sturdy-looking man directing traffic, dressed in a reflector vest and hard helmet. His chest looked as hard as his helmet.
We stopped and MLW rolled the window down.
“Please, can you help us?” MLW flashed her winning smile.
Of course, the gruff looking man melted into a Lego version of himself.
“Yes?” He leaned his head in the car window, with an equally endearing grin, directed towards MLW only.
“We have to go to Bilderstraat (name changed to protect us from lawsuit), and our GPS keeps leading us back here.” MLW purred.
“Yes,” the man said, apologetically. “The bridge is closed. It is out. To get to Bilderstraat you have to take the “C” roads.”
“C roads?” We both said at the same time. Reflector Vest studiously ignored me and answered MLW.
“Yes, you see the big yellow square markers on the poles down the road. Across the railroad tracks?” He pointed vaguely into the distance.
“No.” I said
“Yes” said MLW.
“Follow the ones marked ‘C’ and they will take you around the canal and back into town. You will see Bilderstraat.”
“What signs marked ‘C’?” I asked.
MLW ignored me. She may have slipped her telephone number to the Reflector Vest, I am not sure, but in any case he smiled even wider than before and said: “So sorry for the inconvenience.”
And waved us on.
MLW pointed left. Finally, I saw the (rather embarrassingly large) yellow square sign mounted on a pole with the huge black letter C emblazoned on it.
I headed for the sign.
As we did so, as if energized by secret C waves, Jeeps chimed in with a newly programmed route, which we then dutifully followed.
“You have reached your destination!” Jeeps finally sang out in her triumphant we-just-won-the Battle-of-Britain-announcer voice.
We found ourselves in a narrow (of course) very busy (of course)cobbled (of course) lane (of course) with no place to park, with bikes whizzing around us (of course).
In front of us was an alley.
“That’s it!” yelled MLW. “Friedrich (name changed-you know why) said the entrance to his place was in an alley”
MLW had been carrying on secret conversations with Friedrich, the landlord of our next lodging place, for weeks now and was wise in the ways of Utrecht alleys.
Now, I must stop here, to mention that I had originally booked this place, largely because it was the first one that popped up when I searched Air B’n’B for lodging in Utrecht and also because it was an apartment with stove, fridge and spacious rooms, where we could cook for ourselves and buy groceries, instead of eating out with all the expense that entailed,plus the banner name was: Stop searching, this is the one! (I always do as I am told) .
It didn’t hurt that it looked like this:
At some point, MLW had taken over the correspondence with Friedrich. Our first hint of anything amiss was when she asked how, when and where we could exchange keys.
Friedrich’s answer was to send her a photo of a green gate in an alley and to tell MLW that he would leave the keys under a rock at the bottom of this gate.
I kid you not. Here are his explicit instructions:
From: “Friedrich On Airbnb”
Date: Jun 25, 2015 11:10 AM
Subject: Fwd: key instructions
To: “MLW” <MLW@mlw.com >
the address is Bilderstraat XXXX, Utrecht [name changed] and, here is the promised key finding guide 🙂
this is the front door :), if you stand with your back to the door
and look to you right you see ‘de bilderstraat’. in this picture you see the small houses on the left,
if you walk into this street, at the end of the houses you will find is a green metal gate. apprx. 20 meter.
at the gate, you see the stones on the left of the gate, connected to the water drainage hole.
under the small stone you will find the keys 🙂
you will find the apartment when you enter the house, straight ahead, at the top of the staircase. it’s the one with the lion head knocker on the door 🙂
In my head: This guy is probably either a serial killer or a con artist that has people steal your stuff while you are out sightseeing and thus claims no responsibility because the key is in a public place and we weren’t careful to hide the location.
To MLW: “Well, maybe it is such a safe area and he does it all the time so there is no problem with that.”
Still, we had naturally assumed that a landlord would want to meet his tenants, show a face, give the keys and any tips or quirks as to the residence. After all, there are always things one needs to know about non-standard lodging. But, Friedrich was apparently, supremely, nonchalant. We in turn became moderately concerned.
Later, MLW had asked about parking, to which Friedrich said it was expensive and gave us a residence code for the areas near his apartment that gave us parking at half price, but also said there was a free parking place ‘in the church down the next street’ and another area about a 15 minute walk away. He helpfully sent a map which we never could make sense of, as he had written: ‘Fee parking area’ and not ‘Free parking area’ in what we thought should be the designated areas.
So here we sat in front of this alley …
A huge truck lumbered up behind us and forced us to move ahead before we could get our bags out, which was okay in the end because we got a spot that took us marginally off the main road.
Someone, it could have been Jeeps, wisely said, “Let’s just get our stuff into the apartment, then we can go look for parking.”
In my mind, forever linked with the word ‘parking’ will be the word ‘fiasco’, already having suffered through Terrified Chinese Lady and Well-Muscled Blonde Oberleutnant. I was fully prepared for some sort of upset with regard to stationary vehicle storage.
But, we ventured into the alley after putting our four-way flashers on in the middle of the street (lane) and found the keys, just as described.
Grabbed some of our luggage and opened the main door …
To see nine flights of stairs.
At least they weren’t narrow like De Hedera had been.
At the top of the stairs, I turned to MLW, who was one flight behind, and said as much.
She was not amused by my forced youthful optimism.
MLW had the keys, so I deferred the first unlocking to her.
She could not get the lock open.
I tried and at first I could not get it to open, either. Then, by fluke or genius I was able to pop it open (I prefer the genius explanation). I examined the lock and noticed that it was some sort of dual-purpose contraption. It appeared that turning it a certain way unlocked the dead bolt and turning yet again another way (this was the lucky part which I could not recall exactly what I had done) opened the main lock.
We made another trip with our luggage and then locked the door, and left to find parking. We came out of the alley to find another delivery van had arrived and boxed us in so we could not move out for another 10 minutes.
We were getting hungry by this time. Neither I nor MLW deal well with hunger.
Finally, the van moved and we headed out. Firstly, we found the church parking lot and entered, following in behind another vehicle. We had to maneuver around a huge Land Rover that had parked with his rear end jutting out and then between a tree and a drunken, apparently homeless man sitting on the church steps with his feet splayed out in front of him like Charlie Chaplin after a pratfall.
Meanwhile, the car ahead went down to the end of the lot and put on his backup lights.
“There is no parking … and he wants out!” MLW exclaimed.
“Turn around when possible!” Jeeps piped up helpfully.
“Shut up, Jeeps!” We both snapped in unison.
The Clio’s backup camera and MLWs careful guidance led us backwards out of the church lot, past the Rover and narrowly missing the vagrant’s feet.
After his near-paedal death experience, the man promptly leaped up from his perch and staggered towards MLW’s window, burping and blurting something unintelligible.
“Sorry, I have no Dutch.” Yelled MLW through the glass. The man appeared confused but lurched away towards the other car who was backing up in front of us, apparently wanting money or the name of a good foot-injury lawyer.
Eventually, we got clear and began the attempt to follow the map that Friedrich had sent.
After a time of driving around, over canals and under bridges, through lanes and alleys and roundabouts, I looked up and notice that we were back at the same spot in front of the lodging’s alley entrance.
You know the glare by now …
We set off again: round and round, over and under, through and between.
Finally, after probably 45 minutes of wandering, we found a spot on a street somewhere north of our lodging and after some gentle persuasion from MLW, I grabbed it.
According to MLW’s phone (which we decided to use part of the data roaming package we had purchased for emergencies like this), we were about a 15 minute walk or five blocks away from Friedrich’s apartment.
I looked around.
“Where is the pay station?”
“I think it is back there.” MLW waved to a lone pylon with what appeared to be a machine-like object set atop it, at the end of the block about 50 metres behind us.
We got out and walked over to it. I was checking out the area to see if I could suss out whether it was comparable to East LA …
or hopefully, downtown Mayberry.
If I was going to leave the car overnight, I wanted to be comfortable that it would be there in the morning or whether it would be on blocks and stripped or vanished and in a container on its way to Saudi Arabia (although I discounted that option immediately, since it was a Renault and not a Mercedes Benz or BMW).
The contraption was indeed a parking meter, but unlike any other one we had seen (of course).
The instructions on it seemed to contradict what was written on a nearby sign on a pole, in that the meter said something about parking from Monday to Friday evening, and the sign on the pole had obviously had something similar written in better days, but was now scratched out.
We accosted a nice young blonde lady who was walking her bulldog and asked her if she could unravel the discrepancy.
“Hmmn, no I never noticed that before,” she said—in perfect English (of course)—after getting over her fright at being spoken to by two disheveled and red-faced foreigners. “I think it is okay to park here, but you must to pay, naturally.”
“Naturally.” We nodded in unison.
“Is it safe?” I asked, as the bulldog drooled on my shoelaces.
“I think so …” she said hesitantly. “I have not had trouble at least.”
Not the ringing endorsement I was looking for, but good enough for us in our desperate state.
We thanked her for her information and time. I leveled a scowl at the bulldog. This did not affect him, as he walked away haughtily with his mistress, leaving a slimy trail behind him leading to my shoes.
“Look, the paystation takes credit cards.” MLW said.
And so it did, however as we soon found out, not Mastercard, which was the card I wanted to use on our trip to accumulate points.
I located my spare Visa, inserted it with a prayer and as I did so, I realized that the keypad was only in numbers, and it had been so long since I used my Visa card that I had forgotten what my personal code—a name—was in numbers … and no, the name is not MLW, for those who are about to hack.
“Quick, your phone.” I said to MLW.
Now, luckily MLW’s phone has an app or a feature that allows her to mimic the neolithic-style telephone dial sequence of numbers with accompanying letters, so this portion of the evening’s entertainment went relatively smoothly and the PIN was accepted.
Only then did it request our license plate number.
“Why is it,” MLW said in exasperation, “that every place we park has a different system of collection. You’d think it would be standardized.”
Our car, of course was a block away and we had not written down our license plate in our personal effects.
MLW walked back to the car, took a photo of the plate and brought it back to me. The genius of the Android phones.
But by now the paystation had timed out and we had to start all over again.
We got nearly to the end of the sequence and it asked for the residence code. Now, this was important because it gave us the spot at half the regular price.
MLW had to find the email from Friedrich in which he had provided the code.
By that time, the meter had timed out and we had to start over again.
After this last time, everything worked and it spit out a ticket that allowed us to park there for 24 hours.
At a cost of 38 Euros.
Which was half the regular price.
“My god.” MLW breathed.
“Yes,” I agreed. “I am never complaining about Easypark in Vancouver again.””
In the waning light, as it was well after 700pm by this time, we made the trek back to the alley and up the nine flights of stairs to the apartment.
I unlocked the door with no problem and we sort of slithered into the apartment, breathing heavily and sighing thankfully, all at the same time.
We started looking around at where to set things up, computers, clothes, toiletries and so on.
The apartment looked pretty much as advertised, except on close inspection the walls, floors table and windows were smutty, as if no one had come in to clean up after the previous renters. The furniture was old, so although the place did retain a sort of bohemian charm, it was not as stunning as the photographs made it out to be.
MLW had been happy that there was a kitchen and a fridge with a freezer, as we had purchased freezer packs and a bag cooler which we thought to put lunch items in and transport fresh food with in order to save some money. She wrinkled her nose up at the stove, as there were crumbs and other food remains in the burner pots.
Then she peered into the freezer.
“Ewyuck!” She said.
“I don’t know what the congealed mass is that oozed out and froze in this freezer, but it is taking up the whole thing and obviously has not been cleaned since Christ rode a bicycle.” (MLW is prone to interesting vernacular at times, gleaned from a mixture of British, Scottish and Manitoba-farmer colloquialisms.)
But here is the first thing I imagined:
The second thing:
And sliding down the scale of horror (for me):
In any event, I didn’t bother to look.
“So,not using the freezer, I’m guessing?”
I went into the bathroom: no extra toilet paper and the towels smelled musty. I decided not to inform MLW, as I was interested to hear what epithets would spring from her horrified lips when she discovered it for herself. About the towels I mean, not the toilet paper.
MLW doesn’t care about toilet paper. But I do.
At which point, I have to interrupt the narrative now to give a helpful tip for travelers and B&B keepers.
Please have high quality extra soft toilet paper on hand for your guests!
Yes, it costs a little more. But for those people who have <ahem> certain issues in that area, it is a nightmare, if using the cheap and rough stuff, or can be a godsend if the good stuff is dangling from the holder. It would bring my estimation of the lodgings up immeasurably. I mean, so much effort is spent on soaps and chocolates and other homey extras, when simply throwing in quality toilet paper would increase your good reviews tenfold. I am sure of it.
Look, even for people without the afore-ahem-ed issues, it makes a difference; they just don’t know it.
It is like having a stereo system.
Buy the cheap one if you want. Listen to it and you think it sounds okay, maybe even great. Then, you by chance go to another person’s house who has spent more on their system. Man, are you ruined for your own system from that moment on!
It sounds like two tin cans on a string reaching between adjacent houses. In short, it sounds like crap. Which brings me back to the toilet paper. Once you try the super soft stuff, you can’t go back. And you are ruined for anything else forever after.
So, B&B keepers, heed the hint. Travelers, take the tip, maybe buy your own for the road, if you can find it.
Now that I have done my little rant, I will return you to the action in progress …
From the main bedroom, MLW suddenly began quoting lines from any crime/cop drama you have seen on TV:
“Colin, I think you’ll want to see this …”
Then when I didn’t immediately answer: “Colin, quick! Come here … what the Hell are these things!? Bedbugs???”
“Not if you can see them and they are moving.” I said as I hurried out of the bathroom, to find her standing at the foot of the bed.
MLW didn’t reply or even marvel at my bed-bug lore. She only pointed to the duvet cover near the bottom of the bed, where hundreds of tiny bugs were indeed visible and certainly moving.
In my head: ‘Aaa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-ah!!!!!!’
To MLW, as I bent over to examine the little black creatures: “Hmmn,”
Over six legs.
“Baby spiders.” I pronounced, thankfully, but with absolutely no conviction. I looked up. There was an open skylight above the bed. “Probably came in from there.”
Without a word, MLW frantically brushed off all the bugs she could see, stamping about as she did so, an action in which I fervently joined her. Then she climbed on top of the bed and closed the skylight.
“Ugh.” She shivered. “Will I sleep tonight?”
“We could sleep in the car if you want.” I offered.
“Colin, we can’t stay here after tonight. “ She said. And thus our next course of action was set.
As MLW began cooking our own food we had purchased in Leeuwarden, I booked a room back at the Ibis at Schiphol airport Amsterdam. We could easily go to the Hague and Amsterdam city from there.
“Thank God they have a room at the Ibis.” I said.
“WTF?” Said MLW.
I began to repeat: “Thank Go…”
“No, no, I mean this stuff we bought that we thought was a mixture of chicken and rice for quick cooking … there is no rice. Just seasoning.”
“Huh.” I said, ever helpful.
“Never mind, are you okay with chicken and vegetable stir fry?” MLW can make something out of nothing easier than anyone I have ever met.
“Sure.” I replied, “If that’s all you have.”
“We have wine, too.”
We downed the bottle of wine.
Then we ate, but not before MLW scrubbed the plates and utensils, which were also less than clean.
After dinner, I recalled that Friedrich had sent a jocular email saying we could use the seating area on the deck on the roof and that although the chairs were old, he didn’t mind if we broke them as he was planning to replace them anyway; so I searched for roof access.
I found a little door we had thought was a closet and peeked up. Sure enough there were stairs up to the roof … and the roof door was slightly ajar.
In my head, again: This guy is probably either a serial killer or a con artist that has people steal your stuff while you are out sightseeing and thus claims no responsibility because the key is in a public place and we weren’t careful to hide the location and the roof door is left ajar.
To MLW: “Cool, let’s check it out.”
MLW gave me the you-are-bat-shit-crazy-but-you-are-also-the-closest-thing-to-a-male-I-have-around-me-so-I-will-humour-you-and-go-with-you look.
It’s a long look.
I grabbed the camera and climbed up the stairs.
The so-called deck sported decking planks that were moldy, dirty and falling apart. The furniture was silvered and splintery. Unappealing and uninviting.
The view was spectacular, however.
So unfortunately and no doubt to our cultural detriment, all we saw of Utrecht was its narrow streets and this:
We climbed back down from the roof. I firmly closed and locked the door behind us.
MLW emailed Air BnB to advise them that we were quitting this place after one day and requested the procedure to obtain a refund for the nights not spent.
We packed up everything and crawled into bed with our clothes on.
MLW told me later she hardly slept a wink, thinking about spiders crawling all over her.
I did not tell her that I hardly slept a wink because every creak and thump and knock to me depicted Friedrich or bulky friend creeping through the apartment wielding axes or scratchy toilet paper tubes or steely knives glinting in the moonlight intent on serializing us.
In the morning I offered to go get the car while she stayed at the apartment. Just being chivalrous and gentlemanly, was all.
MLW started off a sentence with: “If you think …”
Which I won’t repeat all of, as you can no doubt get the gist.
We walked—with our fingers crossed—to where we had left the car. As we rounded the last corner we saw that …. Yes! The car was where we had parked it and there was no damage at all to it.
Thank you, blonde lady with drooling bulldog, you were right. But you still owe me a pair of shoes.
Jeeps faithfully led us back to the alley. Well, she had been there at least a dozen times the night before, so she should have known the way.
We left the car with 4-way flashers on in the near-empty street and hurried up the stairs. We reached the top. I inserted the key and twisted it.
The door did not open.
I tried again.
Still bolted firmly shut.
“You have got to be frikkin’ kidding me!” said MLW from over my shoulder.
“I’ll get it.” I said.
I twisted it both ways, looped around once and back, twice and back, held the door to, pushed it outward as I twisted. Again and yet again.
My thumb and forefinger were cramping.
Ten minutes went by.
Skin was being scraped from the outside of my forefinger as I twisted and turned the key to no avail.
MLW had to go downstairs; she was red with anxiety and couldn’t bear to watch my efforts.
Echoing from nine floors below, I heard: “That’s it, Colin, I am calling the locksmith.”
“I can get it!” I shouted back, not caring about the neighbours who may be still sleeping at 8:00am.
I paused and tried to picture the inside of the lock system and imagine how the dual assembly worked. I breathed in and out. I was the lock. I was the key. I was …
“Our. frikkin’. luggage. is. in. there,” said MLW, suddenly only two stairs down behind me. (She has mad ninja skills sometimes.) “We need to get in.”
“We will, just give me a bit more time.”
“I’m looking up a locksmith.” I could hear her punching up her phone.
“Maybe call Friedrich first.” I suggested, as I wrestled with the stubborn demon key, fingers cramping and chafing. “Maybe he has a solution, a trick to it.”
I flapped my hand in the air to get rid of the cramp. MLW alerted to the movement like a deer in a meadow.
“Let me try. Give you a break.” She grabbed the key and wrestled with the mechanism a couple of times. I stood back and waited for her inevitable success.
“Maybe …” she grunted as she turned the key one way.
“If you pull the door …” She grabbed the door handle.
“It will allow the lock to … uh …” She began to pull the handle.
“No, wait, I already tri …” I couldn’t speak fast enough.
The doorknob came off in her hand.
“…ied that.” I finished.
MLW handed me the doorknob, spun on her heel and headed at some speed back down the stairs.
“I am calling Friedrich and if he has no solution, you have ten more minutes and I am getting a locksmith to come and punch the damn thing out so we can get the Hell outta here!” She fumed, her voice receding as she neared the ground floor.
Now I was under a deadline.
I was sweating.
I hated the idea of a locksmith. It would probably take hours anyway, especially with a possible language barrier. But MLW was determined and a determined MLW is not someone you want to cross or stand in the way of.
So I frantically jimmied and jammied, wiggled and wangled, cursed and cajoled the lock apparatus. As far as I could tell I was simply repeating steps I had done 100 times before. A red scaly blister was appearing on my finger.
Snap! … Clik!
The latch gave way and the door opened, as smooth as silk.
I could hear MLW talking to someone, so I yelled down, in fear she had already collared a locksmith.
“MLW, I’ve got it! I’ve got it. It’s open!”
MLW yelled back. “OK!” then apparently into the phone: “Yes, Friedrich, we got in now. Thanks. I will let you know what we decide.”
She appeared on the landing, shaking her head in incredulity.
“How on Earth did you get it open?”
“I have no idea.” It was the truth.
I was more worried about the fallout from an MLW bombing run … “What did Friedrich say?”
“He said maybe the heat has jammed the door and to try pulling on the handle …”
We couldn’t help it; we both burst into laughter.
We grabbed our suitcases and fled Utrecht as if it was 1672 and the army of Louis XIV was at the gates.
Goodbye Utrecht, we hardly knew ye!