Sunday, August 20, 2006

Afscheid Posted by Picasa

Week 116 – Exit Visa

So to the last week of my Nederish incarceration. Mary came out to visit for my last week on the Sunday, and on the Monday we went to 's-Hertogenbosch, a walled city hidden beneath which is a canal network called the Binnendieze that once spanned 22 kilometers. In recent years this network was used as a somewhat open sewer until it fell into disrepair, however what remains of it has been renovated and there are now guided subterraneous boat trips through it, which are really fascinating. Also in the city is Sint Jans kathedraal, which is a fabulous edifice filled with ornate workings. If you are ever in the Netherlands, I implore you to go and visit – it’s a truly splendid day out.

On the Tuesday we went to Meppel, about half-an-hour from Zwartsluis. A bus journey there requires changing buses halfway, but this is no matter because we can buy tickets for the whole journey at a mere two Euros each. Coming back, on the other hand, seems rather more complex:
"Twee naar Zwartsluis, alstublieft."
"Flar be laar be laar be laar."
"Het spijt me, Engels."
My Nederish is still embarrassingly weak, but I can’t see the point of expanding my knowledge of it at this late stage.
"That is not possible. I can't sell you a ticket for that journey from here."
"But this is where we want to go from."
Obvious, I thought, but worth stating nonetheless.
"Ja, you can buy tickets from there to here but not the other way around."
Right. This left me kinda stumped.
"Why not?"
"Because it's a different province. They can sell you tickets to get here, but we don't have those tickets."
"So how do I get back?"
"Well, you have to buy a strippenkaart and then for six strips and 80 cents each you can get to where you change, then buy more tickets from there."
Now, this ain't a lot of money, but it strikes me as being pretty bloody stupid, so I smile my dumbest smile (I have a whole range of these which I've been practicing for years) and just wait.
"I tell you what," he says, "I'll take you to where you change for free, then you can buy tickets there."
"Oh, dank u wel, meneer."
So we get to the change point, I thank the driver profusely, we switch buses, I profer my Euros and the next driver tells me that he has no tickets left, so today we ride for free. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna argue 'cause we seem to have got a full days travel for less than the price of a packet of ship's peanuts. Don't you just love integrated transport systems?

My last three days in the office were bitter-sweet, as I tried to complete the job I was working on (actually working the Friday afternoon despite completing my required hours by midday) whilst bidding farewell to increasing numbers of my colleagues who were departing for their holidays before I left –this is particularly notable because one designer actually came in on the Wednesday and then left for his holidays at ten o’clock in the morning. Dutch logic. On the Friday afternoon, I was rather surprised to get a second presentation. I had already used my previous book-token to purchase ‘Visions of the Netherlands’, a rather splendid pictorial guide to all the parts of the country I saw and all the parts I never got to, but I am now also the proud owner of a pair of fluffy carpet-slippers shaped like giant clogs, and a large framed composite photograph, compiled by Sjoerd, which captured many of the notable moments from my time with Grontmij and included a great many of those who I had the pleasure of working with, which was truly wonderful. Most of us then went on to the Grand CafĂ© Lubeck, a bar much favoured by Stuart and I, where our hosts presented me with a bottle of Berenburg (used as chasers by the natives, but actually quite a sweet and refined drink on its own) and Frank, (the manager of Mamma’s, where Stuart and I have been getting our lunches for the last year) also joined us and gave me two bottles of Mama Africa’s Zulu Sauces as a going away present. I was quite overwhelmed, I can tell you. Later in the evening Dewi and Jayson (my English ex-pat mate from Amsterdam) showed up and we progressed into Zwolle main, where there was a festival in progress and we all got merrily sozzled.

So to the Saturday of my departure. Had Mary and I been departing on the Thursday or the Friday, we would have been totally stymied, thanks to the no-fly security response to the total absence of terrorist activities earlier in the week; on the Saturday, however, things worked in our favour since, there being no hand-luggage allowed, the weight restriction on hold-luggage had been lifted. It’s quite amazing how much one acquires in two years, so this actually saved me a small fortune in excess weight charges, and after a delay of just one hour (which isn’t especially atypical at the best of times), we were in the air – looking through the porthole and waving goodbye to the land which had been my home for two years, two months, two weeks and two days. Alright, and another couple of days, but who’s counting?

Of course, Eggbert remains a captive of an ever-expanding team of hostage holders, and his exploits will continue to be posted on Kipnap!. He has recently been up some more mountains, out to China, into deepest France and is currently somewhere in Italy, I believe.

I, meanwhile, have had an experience which I will remember forever, and have made some good friends who I will never forget.

Anyway, many thanks to everyone who kept reading and replying all the time I’ve been out here – if it looks like there’s sufficient interest in my return to Blighty, and if I can find anything to write about, then I may sequel this on blogspot at The Blight of Fles.

Left from Zwartsluis.

Trust the Dutch to take meals-on-wheels to the next extreme. (The legend on the side of the van says 'Dutch Blower', although I suppose it is possible that its occupants fit air-conditioning systems for a living). Posted by Picasa

Kids paddle-surfing outside my apartment. Posted by Picasa

More 's-Hertogenbosch. Posted by Picasa

's-Hertogenbosch central. Posted by Picasa

More waterway. Posted by Picasa

The view up into someone's house from the waterway - skirts are probably not a favoured item of clothing in 's-Hertogenbosch. Posted by Picasa

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By appointment, apparently. Posted by Picasa

The light at the end of the tunnel. Posted by Picasa

Dutch humour. Posted by Picasa

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The deepest depths. Posted by Picasa

The city above. Posted by Picasa

Tunneler vision. Posted by Picasa

Tunnel vision. Posted by Picasa

The spiders long ago abandoned these strongholds. Posted by Picasa

Pot-holing for lightweights. Posted by Picasa

... Posted by Picasa

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Not all of the waterways are covered. Posted by Picasa

Into the open. Posted by Picasa

And looping back in. Posted by Picasa

Outside 's-Hertogenbosch Posted by Picasa