Amersfoort to Alkmaar

18th July

A red wine hangover on the top of jetlag is not a well thing.  Today has been set aside as the last and final day of relaxing and purging ourselves of jet lag. And red wine.  It’s a slow day. It rains on and off. We find an internet café, catch up with mail and walk the crowded streets of our village.

After a long morning suffering from a hideous hangover, I hide in a darkened room and sleep for 2 hours. Christina processes wine better than I do and is infuriatingly bright and cheerful. Ha…I say,  she has little recall of the previous nights shenanigans.

After a sandwich lunch we find a fish shop that offers traditional Dutch treats. Lekker bekkjies, gerookte paling and nieuwe haring.  The paling has a simple translation. A smoked freshwater eel caught in the Ijsselmeer.  Delicious.

I have no translation of lekker bekkjie but it is a firm white fish deep-fried in a crisp batter. With  a mayonnaise based sauce they supply it is divine.  Devine however,  is not a word that springs to mind when describing nieuwe haring. Interesting would be polite.

Let me explain. The Dutch take a perfectly good herring and remove a small gland from the gill area. This allows the fish to turn but prevents the fish from rotting out completely. The flesh is firm but slimy. It tastes of slightly slimy, turned fish.

This I promise. Haring is not a cure for a red wine hangover.

Christina chewed her portion and swallowed. Nonplussed, she nodded told me gently, “ I can see how the taste could become addictive.”

Not. No way. Not if hell itself froze over.

I, rather rapidly, suggested we find a small pub offering something to remove the taste and feel of slimy, cold, bad fish.

I know my lover. It’s not that hard to twist Christina’s arm.

Thank Christ , for the cleansing bite of hops in two glasses of ice-cold Grolsch.

After our first home cooked meal, we head back to De Grote Slok , a café/pub dating back to the 16 century.  We drink a small glass of Pils and sample Jenever a smooth Dutch gin.  The Café overlooks Langstraat, the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Amersfoort. On Thursdays the shops stay open until 9.00 pm.  Shopping night.  The thoroughfare is packed with hundreds of happy people, young and old.  Some are definitely shopping, lovers walk arm in arm and the many young singles are checking out who’s  checking them out.   It is a calm, happy, festive time. Two Policemen make their way through the crowds mounted on neatly groomed horses.

We notice how thin and healthy the general population looks. There are few obese people here. Fast food outlets are less obvious.  Everyone cycles or walks. Everywhere. It seems cars are reserved for longer trips.

Christina wants me to photograph a man wearing clogs but I decline. He’s bigger than I am and may object aggressively to having a camera shoved into his face. The working class Dutch are adept at removing a clog at lightening speed and making you wear it.

As a hat.

The clogs are no surprise. They are very functional, being warm and dry although they take a little time to break in.  Splinters and all that.

20th July

I wake at the ungodly hour of 2.30 am and give up trying to sleep. I creep downstairs and make coffee. Jo phones at 5.00am.  We have a short conversation that wakes Christina.  Both of us are struggling to shake jet lag.  We breakfast on toast, marmite and boiled eggs.   We walk to the station and catch a train heading to Amsterdam central and a train change to Alkmaar.

Alkmaar is the center of cheese production in the Netherlands. Every Friday in the spring and summer months Alkmaar holds a large cheese market.  Large rounds of cheese are lined up in the village square. The cheese is sampled and judged by the buyers, then auctioned off to the highest bidder. The cheese is then carried on “cheese barrows” slung between two costumed carriers, who run the cheese down to the Weigh House.  This is a tradition that has been going on for centuries.  I photograph the carriers and their colorful costumes.  Christina heads off away from the crowds and photographs the old town. She gets an excellent shot of cheese being brought in to the market by boat.

The town is literally packed with hundreds of tourists all trying to get close to the auction. The streets have a carnival atmosphere with street performers, vendors selling touristy knickknacks, snacks, and flower bulbs.  Toward mid-morning the tourist crowds increase. We don’t tarry. We drink a beer, sample some cheese, including an interesting green one and head back to the station.

I find a vendor selling Olie bollen a sort of small doughnut. I cannot resist but Christina rolls her eyes.  There are many flavors, I choose apple. They are warm and crunchy, full of apple and powered sugar.   The vendor encourages me to come and stand next to him. Christina takes a photo.

Of a fat bastard-me…full of olie bollen.

We forgo dinner and snack instead on smoked fish, a fresh crusty sourdough loaf and cheese.  We are both exhausted.

I’m limiting my red wine intake and we are both asleep by 9.00pm

Drunken revelers use the alley under our bedroom window to move between bars.  They sing an obnoxious Dutch rap song that has a shouted repeated English chorus.

Mother fuckin’ this,

En’ Mother fuckin’ that.

Not the most creative lyrics, but then that’s most rap I know of.

This happens three times in the wee hours.

Have you ever wished bodily harm on someone?

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