Just before leaving South Africa we attended the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on Irene’s Oval remembering the Irene Concentration Camp and all the suffering that occurred there 110 years ago. One of the leading people who played a role in The Irene Concentration Camp specifically was the well-known writer Johanna Brandt van Warmelo.
‘It was her actions that led to W.T. Stead running an article in the Review of Reviews about the appalling conditions in the Irene Concentration Camp, which contributed to a decline in British public support for the war.’ (Wikipedia)
So, based on the motivation that she actually wrote a book on Irene’s concentration camp as far back as 1905 and seeing in her ’Voorwoord’ that she wrote large parts of her book while staying at the ‘Pastorie, Niezijl, Groningen, I thought it would be great to go and see this ‘pastorie’ and thus another meaningful weekend destination was identified. A 387km roadtrip for a weekend, just what the doctor ordered!
There’s two Groningens. One is the province and the other the city, a vibrant student city with stunning architecture, rivers running through it (pun intended), bicycles and riverboats.
I, however specifically wanted to see a bit of the platteland. You see the province of Groningen is slightly lesser traveled as it is the furthest province north in Holland. Furthermore, this was my first visit to the Netherlands and it most certainly met my expectations. Although we’ve been in Europe now for nearly two months I still find it sort of surreal to be stopped at a 10 meter wide river by booms because there is a 30 odd meter long riverboat filled with anything from gas or coal to MSC containers passing by! Or to drive some 10km from the coast and to see that my Nuvi states I’m actually 17m below sealevel! Or to see a real windmill with emphasis on mill and not ’windpomp’! Its the scenes I read about in books in primary school in Yellowwood Park thinking ’I need to go and see that for myself!’
Now I too understand Jacques Brell’s ’mijn vlakkeland’ concept in context.
I Googled a stunning venue, Olle Pastorie in Vierhuizen (www.ollepastorie.nl) which is a very small town but providing excellent Bed and Breakfast in a recently renovated ’pastorie’. It’s located, obviously, next to the church, but a sad reality of this post modern era we live in is that so many stunning and very old churches in Europe nowadays are simply memories of days gone by and stand unused. This one is no exception, though it is still maintained and every now and then used for music and choir evenings. Irene and Martin has done a splendid job of renovating the ’pastorie’ including a lovely reading room/lounge with some cold wine in the fridge. It being winter and cold, we spent the first evening after arriving late there, sipping wine and finishing Wilbur Smith’s Assagai.
Vierhuizen (N53°21.624’ E6°17.499’) is a little town in the Marne area of Groningen and in the ’Nationaal Park Lauwersmeer’. Lauwersmeer is a man-made lake which was formed in 1969 when the dike between the bay called Lauwerzee and the Waddenzee was closed. The area is scattered with similar little towns and I stumbled onto the tiny and incidently agricultural little town called Niekerk (N53°20.544’ E6°19.804’). I have a few Van Niekerk friends back in SA, hopefully even reading this blog, and now my imagination ran wild with the idea that this is where you guys originally come from, From Niekerk?
The thing a like about staying in B&B accommodation, is that you have the opportunity to chat and mingle with other guests and obviously the hosts. Breakfast becomes a relaxing and interesting occation where stories and experiences are exchanged. This was a similar occasion with a couple from the USA sharing our breakfast table with us and Irene (pronounced Iereene), the hostess hanging around and adding to the chatter. The two from the States are an elderly couple, who’ve been living in the States for 30 years but who are originally Dutch from Zoutkamp, 3km’s down the road. They were doing a family visit trip while nostalgically seeing the old sites which they used to walk as youngsters. They shared interesting insites on the area and suggested Westerbork as a stopover.
The other thing of B&B stays is the breakfasts, which is normally larger and more diverse than the croissant and coffee at a cafe. And with a growing teenage boy in the party, that’s a huge plus!
The thing I don’t like about B&B stays are the price tag; I’ll have to start thinking of other accommodation for my break-aways.
If you look at the map of Europe, and you locate the northern Netherland you will surely see that there is nothing between the Netherlands and Iceland, and ’that cold north wind they call La Bise’ was definately ’swirling around about our knees’ and noses with vigour and sting. Its such a lonely sky. This was the vlakkeland where nothing stops that cold wind and best you stay in the car or some eatery with something warm to protect you. That’s what we did most of the Saturday while driving from quaint little town to quaint little town and enjoying the ‚afrikaans’ roadsigns and names around us. Even speaking afrikaans rather than english with the locals proved easier communication. To exit the highway, for example, simply follow the ’uit’ sign.
I did stop over at Niezijl as well and walked to the church, a simple yet beautiful structure dated 1661 and found what I think is the ’pastorie’ where Johanna Brandt van Warmelo wrote her book, though I could not confirm it was the exact building.
Sunday’s drive back home included a quick stop-over in the city of Groningen which included coffees and a rather decadent cake in the stunning Drie Gezusters which is part of the huge coffeeshop/bar establishment including Groote Griet Cafe.
But I have found that the history of the things that happened in Europe some 70 years ago fascinates me far more than I ever imagined and I did the trip over Westerbork as suggested to me. Westerbork is a sort of transit concentration camp used originally for Jews, Gypsies and other groups who were captured in the then occupied Holland and then distributed further to the likes of Auschwitz. The famous Anne Frank spent a few weeks in Westerbork before she was dispatched to Auschwitz and her terrible and untimely death. As it worked out, the weather came in extra cold with clouds of mist rolling in while we were strolling the camp, adding to an eary and serious thought provoking experience. An experience many people should experience once in their lives. The simbolic stop of the railway at one end and its curled-up tracks at the other end hopefully promises that such atrocities will never happen again.
I’ve often used the quote ’traveling broadens the mind’, but it rings so true that I will probably use it even more. It‘s so much different and more valuable seeing and experiencing things for yourself, than just reading about or seeing it on TV. And this is what I truely enjoy at the moment about being in Europe. Its not just travel and relaxation though, don’t get me wrong. There’s dirty dishes, school homework and finances in this picture as well, to name a few, but the closeness and frequency of new things are just simply tremendous, I thoroughly enjoy it.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard