Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A weekend in Holland

It was somewhere in early spring that my good friend Conrad informed me that he was going to get married in August. Never one to miss a party (especially if there is a free bar) I vowed that I would come over for the occasion. And before any misconceptions enter the realms of rumour: I went because he is one of my best friends and not for the free bar.
And so it was in early July, that I remembered that I was already late again in booking my flights and found that the options for the inward journey were rather dire.
The Ryanair flight from Dublin to Eindhoven, which I normally prefer to the Aer Lingus flight to Amsterdam, would depart around noon, which meant that I would arrive in Eindhoven at around 1.30 PM which in turn meant that I would be hard pressed to make it to Gouda (where the wedding was) in time. So I clicked on over to and found 4 flights for the Friday. The one that I fancied, at 10 AM, was over EUR 200,- one way. The reason for that price was probably that everyone fancied that time, for the simple reason that you don’t have to get up too early, but still arrive at your destination in time to make something of your day. Or, as it is a flight from Ireland, to get suitably drunk before you have to start worrying about diner.
That left 3 flights, 2 of which posed the same problem as the Eindhoven flight, namely that I would never be in time for the wedding. I consequently found myself forced to choose the 6AM flight from Dublin to Amsterdam. As I fly on a very regular basis, I have definitely had my share of flights departing at fucked up times of the day but still, 6AM didn’t sound too good. I didn’t spend to much time worrying about it because I had no choice anyway. Flying that early also meant getting up even earlier and so I found myself taking a shower at 3.45 in the morning, in order to be ready in time for the 4.30 taxi I had ordered, another consequence of flying in the middle of the night as Dublin public transport does not start that early and even if there had been public transport throughout the night I would have had to leave even earlier so I decided the taxi was worth the 18 euros I had to pay for it.

I arrived at Dublin airport shortly before 5AM and, given that there are not an awful lot of flights on around that hour, I was through security 5 minutes later. As luck would have it, my gate was close to the security area and this left me with 40 minutes to kill. As most of you will know, there are basically 2 things you can do at an airport to kill time, and those are reading and drinking.
Never afraid to multi task, I set out to combine the 2 and ordered a Carlsberg and took my book out of my backpack.

Early pint at the airport

Sleepy airport crowd

I was reading the excellent This is the way to Amarillo by George Miller, but I’ll inform you about that some time later. After reading for a bit and downing my pint amidst a very sleepy crowd at the airport, I had a rather uneventful flight and about an hour and 10 minutes later I was on Dutch soil again. Well, let me rephrase that. I have read somewhere that airports are not officially part of the country where they’re in and are sort of ‘international soil’. For that reason, for example, the bars in Dublin airport do serve drinks on Good Friday while other pubs in the city are closed. I don’t know the exact extent of this rule, but anyway, if the airport is not officially Dutch soil, then it took me another half hour to reach Dutch soil because Schiphol Airport is so fucking big that it takes you at least 20 minutes to walk to the exit. On the other hand, it is not big enough to warrant a monorail like they have in Birmingham, or a terminal shuttle like they have at Heathrow or JFK.

I made my way out of the airport, jumped on a train to Utrecht and found myself there about half an hour later. In Utrecht, I contemplated getting a bagel at Shakies, an excellent place for bagels as all their ingredients are organic and, surprisingly, a fully decorated bagle is only 3 euros. I would like to suggest that the people at Bagle Factory and other such chains take note here and revise the price of their factory produced offerings. (EUR 5,20 for a bagle, in case you were taking notes) Alas, the connecting train to Gouda, which is where the wedding was to be, was leaving 5 minutes later and getting on that train would give me the chance to get to my dad’s house in time for breakfast which had 2 big advantages over the bagel option, namely that I would eat filet americain and that it would be served on bread from the local bakery, which is so good that I would almost come to Holland just to eat that. For those of you who aren’t familiar with filet americain.. it’s a sort of raw beef paste, which is mixed with a special sauce, so that it creates a spread that has more or less the same structure as freshly made guacamole. The taste is, ofcourse, quite different.
I arrived in Gouda to find that there was a 20 minute wait for the bus to my dad’s house, but I did not care at all as the weather was fantastic so I sat down on a bench and read a bit more in my book.

Waiting for the bus

After breakfast and visits to the local supermarket, the chip shop and my mom’s grave, I got ready for the wedding, which basically meant that I dropped my surplus luggage and headed off to the city centre of Gouda, installed myself on the terrace in front of a pub overlooking City Hall where the wedding would be and waited the time away. As luck would have it, my friend Vincent happened to be there already, enjoying a pint of Paulaner, so I joined his table and ordered one for myself too. My other friends Folkert and Vincent (yes, another Vincent) arrived soon after that, so we got a new round of drinks and enjoyed the sunshine.

Folkert enjoying a cold one

Crowd assembling in front of City Hall (Bottom left corner)

The wedding was supposed to take place at 4PM, so that left us with an hour to catch up and have a drink. At about 10 to 4, we heard some noise coming from the square so we set off for city hall to have a look at the wedding. As it turned out, the bride and groom had found an interesting way of arriving at city hall. As they live about a 3 minute walk away from city hall, they thought it nonsense to rent a flashy car to drive them there, so they chose to arrive on a bicycle. I thought this was brilliant and very original, so we stood there as they took in the congratulations from everyone who had assembled in front of city hall.

Happy Couple

The ceremony was really nice and the civil service official performing the ceremony had done her homework really well and did a nice speech, which, fortunately, was not too long. The happy couple signed the register to confirm they were now married and then left the crowd behind to prepare for the party later on that night.

We went back to the pub as we still had the bill to settle and, as we had diner reservations at 6, we decided that there was plenty of time to have a couple more pints. The weather was still brilliant so we basked in the sun while catching up on what everyone was doing at the moment and any plans for the near future.

Vincent (left) and Vincent (right) back at the pub.

We then went for diner at a restaurant called La Cubanita. It is about a minute’s walk from the main square and it is next door to the bar I used to work in. Or rather, where that bar used to be before we were forced out by the city council who, in all their wisdom had decided to use the building to house an art gallery. It is with some glee that I find hard to suppress that the building is still a construction site and pretty much everything that could go wrong in the reconstruction of the building did go wrong. First the builders found that one of the walls that was supposed to be taken down is actually part of the chapel next door, making it a state monument which can not be messed with under any circumstances. Then they found a corpse under the floor of what was our main bar room (a news item that made one of my friends quip that we had literally been dancing on someone’s grave for a decade). And to top it all off, pretty much everything else they were planning to do to the building was put on hold because of some construction mishap that I don’t know the full details of.
We sat down at one of the tables out the front of the restaurant and went about the business of ordering. The good thing about tapas restaurants is that you get to dig in to everyone’s dishes so you can taste 12 to 15 dishes in each sitting. The down side, ofcourse, is that you will have gone through the entire menu after 4 or 5 visits. Now you may say that this will not happen very often, but there were certain periods that I ate here 2 or 3 times a month with a varying crowd of people so I knew the menu quite well. Nevertheless, it had been at least 2 years since I had been here, so I had a great time tasting all the different dishes again. The atmosphere in the restaurant is great, they have very friendly staff, play happy and sunny music and they encourage you to write on the wall while you’re eating so it does not look too formal. Actually, it does not look formal at all, it looks like a beach hut that has been transferred to the centre of a city.

The boys enjoying diner and a drink

Not wanting to be the first to show up at the wedding, we decided to head off to a snooker hall which was more or less in the direction of the venue of the wedding party and played a couple of frames. We then set off for the wedding and as I had never been in the venue, I got to count it for the list so
462. De Spiegeltent
Is a venue that is often used for weddings, corporate events and other gatherings, but I do not think that they have regular opening hours. I mean that as in you can’t just walk in on a Thursday night, have a couple of pints and head out again. The name, by the way, means Mirror Hall or something along those lines. As I said, I had never been there before and I must say that it looked very special. The place is more or less round and is decorated in a very special way. Lots of wood and decoration, without the decoration distracting from the festivities.

Wedding party venue

I noticed to my relief that the beer on draught was Brand and not Heineken as I had feared. As I have told you before, a lot of pubs and establishments in Holland are oblivious to the possibility of offering a choice of beers on draught and so often have only Grolsch or Heineken on draft. I was pleased to find a nice beer on tap, so we had a couple of them to get the party going. The downside to a wedding, ofcourse, is that everyone wants a piece of the couple that’s throwing the party, so rather than catching up with my mate, he and his wife were busy shaking hands, receiving gifts and having their picture taken. I guess it comes with being the main attraction of the evening. I had an excellent time anyway, and met a number of people I had not seen in years, which was sort of interesting. Later on in the evening, I also walked out the back, as the venue is next to an alleyway and square that, many years ago, were the local graffiti hall of fame. I spent many hours there painting the walls, barriers and, well, everything else that I could write my name on. As it was pitch dark in there (some things never change) there wasn’t much to see, so I went back inside and after one or two more drinks, we were driven home by Vincent (the one that had not been drinking all day) so a big thank you to Vincent for that.

We got home around midnight and even though I had been up for over 20 hours, I decided that it would be a good idea to go for a nightcap in a local pub across the street from where my dad lives. I have been drinking there since I was 15, so all the regulars know me and they always have a friendly word for you, even though I only get there 2 or 3 times a year nowadays.

Having a drink in the village pub. Please note 2 things: 1. I did not drink Heineken. 2. People still don't take the pub smoking ban serious in Holland.

The funny thing is that some of the people there are quite unable to grasp the concept of change. Only about a year and a half ago, one of the punters asked me how business at the chipshop was nowadays. When I informed him that I had left that job in 1995, he looked at me as if I was trying to play a joke on him but, on reassurance that this was actually what had really happened, he accepted my explanation and went back to his drink. Another of the regulars asked me last summer how life in Gouda is. It’s been 7 years since I lived there and this is a guy who speaks to my dad at least once a week, so it must have come up at some point. Fact is, I still enjoy going there every now and then but the fact that the 6 faces that are always sitting at the bar there are the same that were there 15 years ago gives you enough indication of the pace of life in places like this.
I had a few night caps to polish of this long and exhausting, but very entertaining, day and went to sleep a happy man.

All the best to Conrad and his new wife Margriet in their marriage and I hope to see them soon.

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