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Netherlands and Paris tour 2018 – Part 1

Netherlands & Paris, September 2018

Part 1 – Getting there,  and getting started

 

I have done a bit of touring through Southern Africa.   Then on a good morning my wife suggested we do something different for our 30th anniversary.  Let’s visit the Netherlands, said she. So we went to the Netherlands.  Her ruse was that the friend that married us back then now lives in the Netherlands with his family for the past 10 years, and would it not be a splendid idea for us to renew our vows before him.  It was said in a fashion that did not seriously invited debate, so I considered it safe to agree.  Not that I disagreed with the idea, though.

 

Banking on a visa

Getting the Schengen visa turned out to be less of a daunting task than expected. If you can get parking in Cape Town, you’re good to go. In fact, the most daunting part of this project was to obtain bank statements. This took six hours.

See, the bank statements had to be in English. To do that the bank required that I formally change my language preference with them from Afrikaans to English. To do that they insisted that I should first provide them afresh with proof if existence and addresses, because the law requires that with a change of address.  And as I was changing my address from “straat” in Afrikaans to “street” in English, this would constitute a change of address.   The fact that one can show a letter that you have received from the bank at your residence also does not convince them that this is where you actually stay.

Once I jumped through all the hoops, they insisted that my wife must do the same, as she has signing powers on my account. So we did just that. But then the bank said they won’t accept the certified documents we provided. No, my wife had to appear before them in person. When I started to show some discontent they offered to solve the problem by simply removing my wife as a signatory from my account. I told them I would rather remain happily married instead and thus physically produced my wife at the bank.  Afterwards I wrote a letter to the bank that made me feel a lot better.

Once I got past the bank, though, it was a fairly simple process.

 

Friday, September 21 – Saturday 22nd

Leaving on a jet plane

On our way to the airport on our day of departure, we got blocked away from the road that should have taken us to the airport.  The road was blocked by traffic officers.  Seeing a large number of taxis in the distance near Bellville taxi ranks, my heart sank. A taxi strike may well cause us to not be able to reach the airport in time, or even at all.  My wife did a quick check on Twitter, which indicated that there had been a shooting incident.  We managed to find an alternative route, and arrived at the airport only minutes later than intended.

 

Dubai to Schiphol

Cape Town to Dubai took nine and a half hours. We arrived in Dubai in 34 degrees Celsius – half-past-five in the morning! Fortunately we left less than three hours later, before the temperature could get serious. Some seven hours later we touched down in a wet Amsterdam – it rains there from time to time.

Schiphol rendered a novel experience: friendly immigration officials. Kudos to the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee officers.  Google was kind enough to teach me how this word is pronounced.  (I just thought this was something you should know).

At Schiphol you basically step from the airport building into the train station.  We contacted our friends on WhatsApp to find out to which of the three Hilversum stations we should catch a train. But before we could manage to buy the tickets, our host arrived and led us back with her to the train and off we went to Hilversum.

The gentleman who sat next to me on the train later gave up trying to figure out why our language sounds like he should be able to follow, yet he cannot. Turns out his originally from Sierra Leone and has been living in the Netherlands for nearly two decades. So he is fluent in Dutch and hence Afrikaans sounding familiar to him.

The Dutch has often been described to me as being very “direct” (their own term), meaning they tend to speak their minds. I saw this characteristic in action just as we left the Hilversum station. A lady was conveying her dissatisfaction with another lady.  She clearly realised that the other lady was hearing impaired, so she repeated herself a number of time with increasing volume.  It was inescapably clear that she was discontent.  I made a note to myself to not unnecessarily antagonize any locals.

 

Sunday, September 23rd

 National Military Museum, Soest

After probably having had only about four hours sleep in the previous 24 hours, I slept like a log.

The next morning my wife and I we went for a stroll to nearby woods to check out walking or jogging routes. Fortunately we had our phones with us with Netherland sim cards in as we had to consult Google maps to find our way back.

After breakfast we set out to the National Military Museum at nearby Soest. On the way there, I was trying intently to figure out how the driving on the right hand side of the road works. I found it very unsettling. Had I been the driver I would have braked every time a car approached from the front, as it just felt so wrong to see cars hurtling towards me on the right(hand) hand side of the road.

It has to be said, people here stick to the rules, and diligently so. Their also seems to be an auto-correct function built into the Dutch.  They are quite keen to point out to you when you get it wrong.  Although I did get an international driving permit just for in case, I decided that this would be for emergencies only.

But I digress.  The museum was impressive. It concentrates on the Dutch Armed Forces.   It is situated in the former Air Force Base of Soest.

We paid a guide (a volunteer who used to work at the Air Force Base as a personnel officer previously) for a tour.  I could follow his Dutch well enough to actually understand a substantial bit of what he was saying. Now I know lots of things about Willem van Oranje.

Afterwards, the road back to Hilversum took us through woods where you are free to walk, jog or ride your bike in safety. For such a small country the Netherlands has surprisingly large open spaces.

 

Shopping

For the Afrikaans ear there are some really funny names for foods and stuff.  Or maybe I just have a dirty mind.  One of the less offensive observations: Coffee is taken with cream, not milk. The cream is sold as coffee cream in liter boxes. Ordering simple coffee with hot milk, is subtly discouraged.  But if you insist on having your coffee with hot milk then you just hit the button on the coffee machine that is marked “koffie verkeerd” (coffee wrong).

Steaks you are bound to go without here, unless you recently won the Lotto. You’re looking at in excess of 5x what you would pay for it in South Africa.

We had nice hard rain again. I like this place.

 

[Click below on Part 2 to read further]

 

 

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