‘In Bruges’

Of ‘Bloemen, Dijken en Brugge’

The next morning was Sunday; Easter Sunday, the day of The Resurrection. We started the day with a magnificent sunrise sermon on the banks of the river Rhine, feeling the Good News and seeing His great works in nature. Pastor John and Amos were their brilliant self and fed us spiritually before the men fed us with pancakes, bacon and syrup, the way the Americans have breakfast.


Click on the photos to enlarge them



Then we hit the road.


It was mid-April and the ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’ were standing tall, flowering in their full splendour and we were in the mood for some iPod ‘Ek-en-jy-en-die-highway’-family time on the road again. Thus, westward bound we took off with an initial stop logged as Lisse, the hometown of Keukenhof and the Tulip. We’ve been there before and were not interested in doing the entire garden walk again. We just needed a reason to drive a few 100 kilometers, see some Dutch ‘platteland’ (pun intended) and then see where the road will take us after that.

Keukenhof is beautiful (see my post ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’ dated 19 April 2012) but it is so crowded that one visit somewhere in your life is probably enough. However, do that one visit, if you’re in the area.

'Flower child' at Keukenhof
‘Flower child’ at Keukenhof

This trip was one of those ‘drive in a general direction’ type trips. No specific destination in mind, just see what you’ll find to see. And for this, you need to get off the highways and tread on ‘de smalle weg’. The thing is, we’re in Europe. Its been decadently civilised for many years. Even ‘de smalle weg’ here is a tarred road, with plenty of civil engineering ingenuity to ease up the going! And that’s exactly what we found at Deltapark Neeltje Jans.

However, before reaching Neeltje Jans, I felt quite at home with the day’s drive. We missed Amersfoort but passed Utrecht, Dordrecht, Breda, Roosendal and Middelburg. Dundee was unfortunately over the channel in Scotland.

Neeltje Jans is an artificial island halfway between Noord Beveland and Schouwen Duivenland in Oosterschelde. It was constructed as part of the Oosterscheldedam, which is actually built as a storm water surge protection. After the mega floods in 1953, this well-known civil works construction was necessitated. ‘Most of Zeeland is at or under sea level. In 1953 the dikes were in poor condition and too low. In those days the chance of flooding was once in eighty years. Thanks to the storm surge barrier, this risk has now been reduced to less than once in 4000 years. Take the opportunity to visit this construction inside and outside. You will be surrounded by concrete with a 200-year guarantee, 45 meter wide steel doors are raised to let the tides rush through below them. A must to visit – a must to have seen!’ (www.neeltjejans.nl).


Wind turbine at Neeltje Jans.
Wind turbine at Neeltje Jans.

We were just in time for a stunning sundowner photo-shoot, amongst those monstrous wind turbines that nowadays spoil the entire European skyline. Sometimes I believe the scenic pollution of these monsters is worse than burning a few tons of good quality Waterberg steam coal. Unfortunately, we were too late to visit the museum and construction sites, which gives the added incentive that I’ll have to go there again, with better time management this time. Though we wandered (and not all who wander are lost!) through the beautiful little town at Vrouewenpolder (I’m not sure if the town’s name is actually Vrouewenpolder), we couldn’t find accommodation that late on the Sunday evening of Easter Weekend, and had no other option than to push on.Wind2



Most of the times traveling without a plan and just driving is fun. However, we were now dead tired, it was late and dark and we still had no accommodation for the night. Only option, and I dread to admit that, was to head for the Formule 1 70km southeast on the outskirts of Ghent. Formule 1 hotels are not to be recommended as accommodation. However, if you arrive there after 23:00, need a shower and a bed and plan to hit the road by 08:00; it enables you to see places. In that case, its fine, if you can bare the smell of smoke in the carpets and duvets.

Bruges is beautiful, its clean, its fascinating and has great architecture with the prominent Belfry of Bruges being the most famous. It was famous long before Collin Farrel were even born, as this fascinating bell tower was originally constructed in 1240.

The Belfry of Brugge
The Belfry of Brugge

The ‘little red brickwork’ architecture in this part of Europe must be extremely inspiring for an architect to visit, photograph, copy or simply just admire. I loved our morning ‘in Bruges’. I just hate those plastic silly traveling merry-go-round fun park junk Europe allows on all its magnificent old town squares. No proper angle to take photos, the magnificence of the square spoiled completely by plastic clowns and little bumper cars with irritating continual music sounding worse than those ice-cream Combis from the 70s. I cannot believe in this day and age that there are still people who spend money on those.

Bistros, coffeeshops, restaurants galore
Bistros, coffeeshops, restaurants galore


And fancy that, being served at the restaurant, by a Belgian waiter who grew up in Rwanda and spent his first 35 years there. We were so intrigued with each other’s stories and political commentary that the poor man was in trouble with a few of his other customers. Here was a man who saw serious genocide and had to escape it himself, but who also saw and experienced that magical natural beauty and splendour of the African bush to such a level that he does speak fondly about the place. But, it’s the politics he hates.

1000km in 1 day 6:22 hours and a successful sightseeing family bonding weekend behind us!

Life is good.


Roundtrip route from Köln. 1000km in 1 day 6:22 hours. There's just so much to see
Roundtrip route from Köln.
1000km in 1 day 6:22 hours.
There’s just so much to see

Hup Hup Holland

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.

A river runs through it

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?

From here Van Niekerks?

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.

Never 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