Alkmaar, North Holland
Travelling Companion and I spent the weekend in Alkmaar, a city in North Holland.
As at home in Brussels, it was grey, cold and rainy.
Unlike in Brussels, people remarked on this. There’d been sun just a few days ago, they told us; there are rumours of snow next week.
We saw what you expect to see.
Ground floor front windows showing the front room to the street.
(Our next door neighbour in Brussels, R., once told us that in the small town in Bavaria where she grew up, if you were going to have a lie-in you would set the alarm for six, go downstairs to open the curtains in the sitting room, and go back to bed.)
There was more to see, though.
In some ways, compared to Brussels, the place feels rather English. Houses have front gardens. Signs in shop windows express important details in the English language:
JEANS AND BASIC ITEMS ARE EXCLUDED.
Sometimes these signs pick up English and run with it:
KOFFIE – LUNCH – HIGH TEA – HIGH WINE – DINER
Church bells rang at midnight, recalling England; the key was major, though, rather than minor.
A fritkot (is that a Dutch word, or a Flemish one?) advertised Belgische Frites– Belgian chips.
And some other things, too, didn’t feel English at all. Where England might have semis, Alkmaar has terraces. And although every house in Barnes in London, where we were last weekend, seems to have a loft extension, this one would never get planning permission:
We noticed that these public clocks were telling the right time, had not been let run down.
There is no English city as subdivided by canals as this. The only corner shop we saw was a windmill. We saw a combined café and shoe shop; and a combined petrol station and laundrette
– reminding us of Tallinn railway station (combining a Russian and an Estonian language newsagent) or a shop down steps from the street in Suzdal in Russia (combining a grocers and a butchers) rather than England.
There were less dogs than in England or in Brussels. There were hooded crows (grey heads and black bodies).
The feeling of foreignness, reinforced by the bike lanes, reinforced by having been in London last weekend, left us always a bit uncertain which side of the road to look for traffic.
We liked it, the city centre in particular. We caught the Thalys back to Brussels from Amsterdam. I thought of Adieu Sweet Bahnhof by the Nits, a Dutch band. I’m riding through Brussels in the rain.
Brrrrrrrreussul, said the train steward joyously as we came in. She rolled it throatily (and you should hear the way she says Rotterdam). Brhouhksell, she said then in French, middlingly. Brussuls, she said finally in English, pallidly. The r was hardly distinguishable from the sounds that surrounded it.