A few weeks ago a friend of mine visited the cheese market in the quaint little town Woerden, and I said to myself, ‘ek wil ook soontoe gaan!’ (I do speak Afrikaans when I speak to myself). So I did, and though it was not the big annual cheese festival, the weekly ‘Boerenmark’ (farmer’s market) also was a delight, with plenty to see, eat, learn and photograph.
Driving in the beautiful rural farmland area around Woerden, was both relaxing and highly disturbing.
An international distress signal is to hoist your country’s flag upside down. The Dutch flag has three horisontal colours, with red on top. The Dutch Government recently announced they need to lower nitrogen emissions from the livestock by cutting back on farming activities and this led to widespread protest actions.
‘Dutch government proposals for tackling nitrogen emissions indicate a radical cut in livestock – they estimate 11,200 farms will have to close and another 17,600 farmers will have to significantly reduce their livestock. Other proposals include a reduction in intensive farming and the conversion to sustainable green farms. As such, the relocation or buyout of farmers is almost inevitable, but forced buyouts are a scenario many hope to avoid.’ (BBC News 29 July).
Traveling in The Netherlands nowadays the scene is marked by upside down distress call flags and messages against the planned government action.
From Woerden I drove to Oudshoorn, because my mom Susan lives in Baron van Reedestraat in Oudtshoorn. Though Oudshoorn was a town, it is now amalgamated into Alphen aan den Rijn (1918) and there’s actually very little reference to Oudshoorn. Oudtshoorn (the one with the t after the d is the town in South Africa) is named after Baron Pieter van Reede van Oudshoorn (which is the town, that’s not a town anymore, in The Netherlands). Pieter was born in Utrecht (in The Netherlands, not the neighbouring town to my town of birth Dundee in Northern Natal, South Africa, not Brazil – wow, these colonial names make accurate story telling cumbersome) in 1714. He was ‘Heer’ or Baron of Oudshoorn, Ridderbuurt and Gnephoek. Those are all now little suburbs of Alphen aan den Rijn. Baron van Reede was appointed the Governor of Die Kaapkolonie in 1772, but he died at sea on his way to fill his post in SA and never was the sitting governor of the Cape.
In Oudshoorn, van Schaik is the go-to guy for authentic delicious ‘stroopwafels’ and not the bookstore where I bought my university handbooks.
I didn’t see any ostriches.
I ended my daytrip with a stroll on the beach, where many German bunkers, which form part of the Atlantic Wall, are still visible.
The Netherlands is a stunning travel destination, and the links to South Africa is a real pleasure to explore.
It’s commonly known that on 6 April 1652, Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape of Good Hope, or if you’re thát kind of person, aka the Cape of Storms. Johan Anthoniszoon ‘Jan’ van Riebeeck was a Dutch navigator and colonial administrator in service of the Dutch East India Company, the VOC.
It’s probably not that commonly known that now for a few days a week I stay in Delft, in the Netherlands. Other than the strolling through the town, enjoying the architecture, the canals, dodging the cyclists and frequenting much too frequently the many street cafes who gladly serve a wide variety of Dutch, Belgian and French beers, the mere reality of the South African historic links to this part of the world provides me with a lot of pleasure.
I received my bachelor’s degree in 1987 from the University of the Orange Free State. (This irrelevant fact becomes relevant later on, keep reading). Nowadays it’s just the Free State, the Orange have faded away in the post-modern South Africa. The Boer Trekkers, (Voortrekkers), crossed the Orange River in the 1836 ‘Groot Trek’ to settle in a new area, which became one of two so-called Boer Republics. The Voortrekkers were basically the Dutch speaking farmers and ‘Vryburgers’ (free citizens) who were disgruntled with the system of tender fraud and nepotism practiced by the government in the Cape when it came to awarding trading agreements and supply contracts for fresh produce and some barrel aged products to the many passing ships. The Voortrekkers decided to find greener pastures and headed north with all their earthly belongings loaded onto ox-wagons, probably humming Bok van Blerk’s not yet composed ‘dis tyd om te trek’ in their beards, while spitting the sap from their chewing tobacco with disgust on the Dutch Cape soil.
57 Years earlier, in 1779, one Robert Jacob Gordon, a Dutch explorer of Scottish descent, found and named the Orange River in honour of the Dutch ruling Family; Willem V van Oranje at that stage. This Robert Jacob Gordon was truly an interesting man, as among many other achievements of his, he introduced merino sheep to South Africa, and he spoke French, Dutch, English, Xhosa and Khoekhoe, the Khoisan language.
Willem the Silent, (aka Willem van Oranje) was born in the Nassau Castle to the Count of Nassau-Dillenburg, (in modern day Germany near Koblenz, and a mere 70km from where I stay in Bad Honnef, when I’m not in Delft) on 24 April 1533. Born into the House of Nassau, the 11-year-old Willem inherited the principality of Orange from his cousin René of Chalon in 1544. Surrounded by France, Orange was a sovereign territory of about 12 by 25 kilometres, near Avignon in the Rhone basin. Willem van Oranje is thereby the founder of the Oranje-Nassau branch and the ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands.
Prins Willem served the Habsburg dynasty as a member of the court of Parma, bringing Italy into this story as well, but he became increasingly unhappy with the centralisation of power away from the local estates. Furthermore, he was opposed to the Spanish persecution of the Dutch protestants, and the the Spanish king, King Philip II’s way of evangelising with the sword.
Willem joined and then led the uprising and turned on his previous masters leading the Dutch in this revolt. Willem was subsequently declared an outlaw in 1580 by the Spanish King. He was assassinated by a Spanish assassin Belthasar Gèrard on the steps of his residence in Delft in 1584 and his remains buried in the tombs of the Nieuwe Kerk on the market square. Prins Willem van Oranje is generally seen as the father of the independent Netherlands. My daily walks take me past Prinsenhof, the residence of Willem van Oranje, passing the Stadsbakkerij which was the inn where the assassin Belthasar stayed on his murder mission and over the Marktplein in front of the breath-taking Nieuwe Kerk.
When Jan landed at the Cape of Good Hope 68 years later, and built his castle, the five bastions, Oranje, Nassau, Leerdam, Buuren and Katzenellenbogen, were named after Willem.
‘Foreshore’ a last little bit of castle trivia; did you know that the Kasteel de Goede Hoop was originally on the water’s edge, but land was reclaimed in the so-called Foreshore Plan in the early 1900s, which ‘moved’ the castle inland by about 1 kilometer?
While I’m sitting in the quaint Eetcafé de Ruif staring over the old canal in Vrouwenrecht (street), I’m reminacing over my Texels ‘Skuimkoppe’ beer (genuine, that’s the beautiful name). Its 5 April, and tomorrow its 370 years ago that Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape of Storms aka Cape of Good Hope. I suppose it depends whether you’re a glass half empty or a glass half full type of person which name you use the most often.
Jan left for the Cape of Good Hope from Texel island on 24 Dec 1651 and set foot to shore in Vals Bay on 6 April 1652. Jan grew up in Schiedam, a town just outside Rotterdam through which I commute daily. He joined the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) in 1639, and I can just presume that he either worked at or at least visited the company’s Delft offices many times. 850m from where I’m sitting is the Oost Indiëplaats and the old offices of the Dutch East Indië Company’s Delft offices. The VOC is still believed to be the biggest company to have ever existed.
Some further info and reminiscing: The VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) became so big that they, as a listed company had their own ‘military’ fleet to protect their trade. As a company, they even declared war on governments of countries. However, they became so big that the costs to protect their trade actually liquidated them in the end.
I have researched my family tree, and I know that my great great (not sure how many greats are required here) grandfather joined the VOC as a ‘dragonder’ which is basically a soldier, and he landed in the Cape in 1796, just three years before the VOC went bankrupt. I like to think his (huge) salary is therefore partly to blame for this financial downfall of the largest company ever.
So my question is; what did ‘oupa’ spend my inheritance on, cause I ‘ain’t seen nothing yet?’
Though most of Europe is nowadays a union, their individual country borders are still very important. Trust me, I have witnessed it this weekend while camping in the picturesque Monschau area of the Eifel. A Dutch guy parked his caravan with the entire a-frame encroaching into the neighbouring German lady’s camping site, and she had none of that (understandably). After an amusing (for me), but serious altercation, and campsite management intervention, the Dutch guy was defeated, and with a lot of ‘brom-brom-brom’ had to swing his caravan by 90°. Only then peace and quiet once again dawned on this little piece of European Union.
There’s a fascinating piece of borderline between Belgium and The Netherlands at Baarle-Nassau. Baarle-Nassau is closely linked, with complicated borders, to the Belgian exclaves of Baarle-Gertog. Baarle-Hertog consists of 26 separate parcels of land. Apart from the main parcel, known as Zondereigen and located north of the Belgian town of Merksplas, there are 22 Belgian exclaves in the Netherlands and three other parcels on the Dutch-Belgian border. There are also six Dutch exclaves located within the largest Belgian exclave, one within the second largest, and an eighth within Zondereigen. The smallest Belgian parcel, locally named De Loversche Akkers, measures 2,469 square metres – or if it actually is square, it means 49.69m x 49.69m! In political geography, an enclave is a piece of land that is surrounded by a foreign territory.
On the German Belgian border, where Heleen and I spent three wonderful days of cycling, there are similar, though not as complicated, borderlines. I have previously written about the delightful Vennbahn cycle route and these enclaves, so apologies for the repeat, but it’s such a delightful cycling area, please bear with me.
The Vennbahn or Venn Railway route has been Belgian territory since 1919, under the Versailles Treaty. It was originally built by the Prussian Government to primarily transport coal and iron, roughly between Aachen and the north of Luxembourg. When the Treaty became permanent in 1922, it meant that five enclaves of German territory (originally six) were formed, with the ‘bahn’ (railway track) a thin line of just a few meters of Belgium with Germany on both sides. The smallest German exclave, Rückschlag, consists of a house and a garden, some 155m x 100m according to my rough Google Earth measurements. I think I love cycling the Vennnahn cycle route for the feel and history of it because of the stunning railway remnants still visible; from old station platforms, railway signal posts and stop lights to the old station buildings. Maybe I love it for our daily stop at Kalterherberg station’s Waffelhaus for a cappuccino and sometimes a Belgian waffle, which really is so much better than any other waffle in the world; except maybe the Scottburgh Wimpy in the early 80’s?
A practical benefit of the open borders nowadays – on Sunday we stopped in Roetgen at a small supermarket to by an onion and iced coffees. The ‘left’ side of the road was in Belgium, where shops are open on Sundays, while across the road on the ‘right’ side, the shops were closed, because in Germany, the shops are closed on Sundays. We had onion on our burgers that evening, and ‘woema’ in our tanks for the Hautes Fagnes climbs ahead.
The area of Belgium is known as the Hohes Fenn, or Higland Moorland. The highland moor, which acts as a natural water reservoir, is the source of half a dozen rivers, including the Rur, Olef, Warche, Schwalm and Our.
The area where we cycled our 170km falls lock stock and barrel in the so-called Battle of the Bulge. The terrain is not all friendly and I indeed did battle with my bulge as well, but then decided I’ll only lose it if I stop those beer and waffle stops! Why would I cycle then?
The Battle of the Bulge was sort of Hitler’s last serious offense to try and prevent Antwerp as harbour to the Allies, before he hit the road, blew up the Bridge at Remagen as part of his retreat and took refuge in a bunker in Berlin for a while (not historically accurate, but you get my drift). However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the American forces in this mountainous area. ‘The Hürtgen Forest occupies a rugged area between the Rur River and Aachen. This Rur is not the same river as the other Ruhr. The other Ruhr River has a ‘h’ in it, and is the water vein of that German industrial area which we all learned about in standard 4 geography. But this Rur is actually the same river as the Dutch Roer, and which flows into the Maas River at the stunning town of Roermond. In the autumn and early winter of 1944, the weather was cold, wet, and cloudy, and often prevented air support. Apart from the poor weather, the dense forest and rough terrain also prevented proper use of Allied air superiority, which had great difficulties in spotting any targets. The dense conifer forest is broken by few roads, tracks, and firebreaks; vehicular movement is restricted. Conditions on the ground became a muddy morass, further impeding vehicular traffic, especially heavy vehicles such as tanks’ (Wikipedia)
Its in similar terrain, bordering the Hürtgen forest in the Parc Naturel Hautes Fagnes or Hohes Venn where I battled my bulge, but on impeccable infrastructure. It remains, for me as a South African, incredible to be in fairly remote and secluded parts of these European forests, just to see a young lady strolling her Sunday stroll alone, and on two-meter-wide tarmac cycle roads for many kilometres, nogal.
In the hilly forest of our daily start, is the interesting Kloster Reichenstein, which is currently being restored and where monks will soon again reside. In 1639, in the middle of the 30 year war, Stepfan Horrichem was put in charge of the Reichenstein Monastery as prior. Horrichem dedicated himself with full commitment to the consolation and assistance of the suffering population. Sometimes disguised as a farmer, he went from farm to farm and village to village to protect himself from infringement. In doing so, he earned respect, prestige and even admiration from the needy population. Next to the forest road, is a remembrance plague to Prior Horrichem, which unfortunately reminds us of the many many conflicts of Europe, as we actually see in the Ukraine at the moment.
You don’t have to be a cyclist, nor a camper, to visit and explore and enjoy this amazing part of Germany and Belgium, but to spend time in some of these slightly more remote nature-based camp sites in Europe, is highly recommended. The beautiful clean rivers, lush forests and green farmland hills all convert into real and peaceful scenic beauty.
Disclaimer note: I often use the Afrikaans terminology referring to this part of the world since I grew up with that terminology, and its been embedded as acceptable terms, e.g. veld – open, uncultivated country or grassland in southern Africa. It is conventionally divided by altitude into highveld, middleveld, and lowveld. There are other such terms I use throughout.
As soon as we decided to ‘go back home for Christmas’ I was in secret planning mode. And when Stean remarked, ‘I don’t really know the Karoo’, it was the last straw; my planning and dreaming and longing became acute. I asked Stean whether he wanted to see the Karoo and ‘He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”
We’ve been living in Germany for eight years, and though we’ve been back home many times, we’ve not been there for Christmas – a summer Christmas with family and friends like the days of old beckoned. I knew the underlying idea was to visit family for Christmas, but my wanderlust convinced me very quickly that driving the 1338km down to the Garden Route should never be done in just one day. There’s just too many distractions, stops to be made, and I needed time to show my children the Karoo en route to Wilderness.
I’m fortunate though, I have a brother who lives on the Highveld some 100km east of Pretoria, and a weekend relaxing there with a braai, good South African wines and long chats catching up on all and sundry to get rid of Europe’s cold before embarking on my road trip seemed the perfect start to 3 weeks of bliss in the South African ‘platteland’. The ‘Hoëveld’, or Highveld is that large portion of the South African inland plateau which consist mostly of rolling grassland and open open spaces.
In die Hoëveld, waar dit oop is en die hemel wyd daarbo,
Waar kuddes waaigras huppel oor die veld,
Waar ‘n mens nog vry kan asemhaal en aan ‘n God kan glo, …
Toon van den Heever
Very freely translated it will read
‘On the the Highveld, where its open and the heaven wide above,
Where flocks of waving grass skips over the veld,
Where man can still breathe freely, and can believe in God, …’
“Budapest is a prime site for dreams: the East’s exuberant vision of the West, the West’s uneasy hallucination of the East. It is a dreamed-up city; a city almost completely faked; a city invented out of other cities, out of Paris by way of Vienna — the imitation, as Claudio Magris has it, of an imitation.”
― M. John Harrison, The Course of the Heart
Well, I’m not sure, and to be fair the quote does stem from 1992, but what I am sure about is that visiting places for a third time is a privilege providing opportunity for looking at the same stuff afresh. This was my third visit to Budapest, 26 years after my first.
My first visit was in January 1994, when Budapest and Hungary were actually still busy stepping out from behind the Iron Curtain. In those days you could still feel the cold eastern atmosphere in the Budapest streets. Strolling the streets in those days, you could see and feel the cold, grey and life’s weight on the residents but from a traveller’s perspective it was gloriously exciting. Since that trip, it has changed a lot. Budapest nowadays is a vibrant city, with a modern feel, many tourists ensuring the worldwide irritation of pedestrians texting while walking, selfie-sticks in abundance and English spoken everywhere. Don’t get me wrong when I refer to the latter negatively, but the globalised impact of being understood everywhere does dilute some of the traveling experience of old. It was exploratory on my first trip in 1994 to struggle being understood, adventuring through menus and using sign language to get to destinations or pointing at which ‘torta’ you want with your coffee. Nothing in Hungarian hints in any way to its English word, not to even think Afrikaans. Sitting in Ferenc Liszt Budapest airport just after arrival I was, for example, trying to find links between the Hungarian I saw on restaurant signs and English. Who would have thought that ‘péksütemények’ means ‘pastry’, or even shorter ‘deeg’ in Afrikaans? On that first trip, 26 years ago, there were no translate apps, no Googlemaps, nor commercial GPS’s, no Costas nor Starbucks and hardly any English; just the decent and proper ‘old world’ classy ‘cukrászda’ coffee establishments, such as Gerbeaud. Furthermore, in those old days, the clientele of Gerbeaud did not stroll in wearing hiking boots, loose hoodies and backpacks, they were dressed in old fashioned classy coats and scarves and vintage Fedora hats. In a sense, travel has become too easy, and dare I, who love wearing shorts, say, too casual?
Belgium was never particularly high on my list. I’ve always loved the relaxed passion of the Mediterranean nations, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Southern France; the language and ‘joy de vivre’ of France and I was naturally intrigued by the Afrikaans heritage from the Netherlands. To my layman’s understanding of Belgium and Luxembourg they were sort of the mix that wondered whether they were French, Dutch or German, not excelling at one of them, yet thriving on their political stance as home base of the EU. Last year’s trip, (see Summer in the sombre ‘The Somme’) to Flanders was the beginning of my enlightenment, but having spent a magnificent six days over Easter in the Belgian Ardenne, opened my eyes and made me realise that Belgium was a full longed and proper travel destination where you need time to meander, read, listen and just sit around to observe. It is rich in history (not all of it is good though), culture, engineering and finesse. Belgium is sort of my new Number One – sorry Jacob.
We were based in a gîte just outside of Bastogne called Savy555 (find Christine on Booking.com – I recommend that) with a cosy fireplace for the relaxed evenings, a nice ‘stoep’ outside with stunning views over the spacious lawns towards the duck pond end. To perfect the amenities, there is a small braai for the good weather dinners I prepared.
Braai ≠ barbeque nor grill, but for clarity’s sake, let’s use those synonyms if you’re not South African
It is one of those songs, which I cannot read the words without singing the tune. I still have the record (LP) ‘Come along and sing along’ with Charles Berman and company
which I’ve listened uncountable times as a kid growing up in Yellowwood Park, Durban. In my head this Em’rald Isle they mentioned was some exotic sunny island with coconut palms, white sandy beaches and hours of leisure in the sun. I simply had to one day visit it! It was with a big ‘Ahh, they talk about Ireland’ that I later learned what the Em’rald Island actually was, but it never tempered my curiosity to one-day travel over this island.
Nowadays the musical reference to Ireland is probably more Ed’s Galway Girl, and that too is a great song, rather than Kelly.
If I still had a slight expectation of sunny beaches and leisurely hours enjoying those sunny beaches in my head in anticipation of our 10 day Ireland trip, I was rudely jerked into reality when we received the message from Ryan Air about 36 hours before our flight informing us our flight was cancelled! Not delayed, sommer completely cancelled, gone, finish ‘en klaar’. Europe was caught in a week of serious snow and bad weather and Dublin airport was closed for a few days. After frantically phoning around and surfing around (the web kind, not the anticipated sunny waves kind of surfing), Cara was able to get us a 22:00 flight, for the Sunday evening! We were supposed to fly Thursday but had to wait until Sunday night. Before you think of my Ugly Story post and that infamous Lufthansa flight LH572, this was different and we accepted it as such, while keeping our eyes peeled to weather forecasts and news bulletins of the European weather scene. Oh, by the way, after 22 months, Lufthansa refunded us a few euros per ticket, of which the lawyers took nearly half.
We landed in Dublin at 23:30 Sunday night, picked up our rental car, grabbed a serious coffee or two or six, and headed into the snowy, misty darkness of the M4 and the 215km I had to drive to get to our Galway accommodation.
It was a good call to drive through to Galway that night, because we woke the next morning at our destination, with a view across the bay, and a little grocery store stocking real bacon, eggs and cheddar among a few other necessities just around the corner. English breakfasts instead of continental in itself is sufficient reason for visiting Ireland.
‘On day four, it was time to move on. Francois and Talitha said their goodbyes and headed back to Wildernis, while we headed north-west, towards Mata Mata and its border post. We still had 10 days ahead to explore the vast distances and rugged beauty of the Namib and Etosha. Distance for today was 774km of dirt road; pure ‘lekkerte!’’
Mata Mata is one of the three conventional camps in the Kgalagadi and lies on the eastern border of Namibia with the convenience of a border post. One can enter and exit Namibia at this post if you stay in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for two nights, preventing the park becoming a transit route, which is obviously a good rule. Namibia has vast distances and travellers more often than not underestimate the travel distances and times. I too made that mistake. Not so much in my planning, but more so in my execution. Enjoying the goodbyes with Francois and Talitha, the showers in Twee Rivieren and the game drive from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata too much, meant that we exited South Africa about three hours later than initially planned. We still had 570km to cover from Mata Mata to Sesriem, and it was already after lunchtime. Of the 570km 90% was dirt roads, which translates to at least 8 hours of driving. Its normally not a problem, but this being wild country with plenty of wild animals, its not wise to travel after sunset. That clichéd quote ‘its better to travel hopeful than to arrive’ really rang true that evening, with frequent encounters with oryx, zebra, kudu and other large animals roaming the roads in the dark. Fortunately, we travelled well and arrived safely at Sossus Oasis Camp Site, Sesriem.
Namibia must be one of the best-kept secrets and I actually don’t want to promote it too much through my blog, as I’m afraid of more people traveling there and spoiling it for us selfish ones. It is pristine, wild, mostly dry, tranquil but rough and expansive. And why I have a very selfish stance on trying my little best to keep it that way is because people spoil things. Sitting and enjoying our campfire late afternoon the next day, sipping a Pinotage from Tulbach and not speaking much, the serenity was abruptly ended by an Englishman and a German entering a particularly abusive shout-fest over their camping spot and access to the electricity. Right there and then, Europe spoiled a perfect African setting for the better part of an hour. But the rough beauty of the place convinced me to ignore them and enjoy the splendour of God’s creation.
Though Lufthansa may be at risk, due to their lack of customer service (see my previous post Flight LH572 July 22, 2016 : An ugly story), we eventually did arrive in South Africa, and we did enjoy all the promised ‘braais’, ‘kuiers’ and catch-up with all and sundry; exactly the things Expats do when returning home for a visit. It was fortunately not ‘allesverloren’!
A truly special place is the Kgalagadi. Its one of those places which I truly wish I could show off to everybody I meet in Europe. It’s a pristine wilderness in the dry western parts of South Africa and Botswana as God intended and where wild beasts roam freely. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the most pristine conservation areas on earth, and that was the first destination of our two week Kgalagadi and Namibian safari.
Special places require special equipment. Though the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has normal dirt roads and its theoretically accessible with a sedan, its not advisable. Even when the roads are well maintained, you are still confronted with high sand walls next to most of the roads, which means while we are scanning the wide plains for Oryx, Springbuck, Lions et al from the raised elevation of the Land Rover, the sedan driver scans a meter high sand wall for ants, grouse and desert rats! To fully enjoy the Kgalagadi, one needs to have a bakkie, kombi or similar high, big tyres vehicle.