Alkmaar – North Holland

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.


man bike station Alkmaar 119.JPG

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:

public writing English shop Alkmaar 119 JEANS & BASIC ITEMS ARE EXCLUDED.JPG


Sometimes these signs pick up English and run with it:

English HIGH TEA HIGH WINE Alkmaar 119.JPG


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.

Belgian chips bike Alkmaar 119.JPG

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:

house extension Alkmaar 119 2.JPG

We noticed that these public clocks were telling the right time, had not been let run down.

house with clock Alkmaar 119.JPG

clock Alkmaar 119 2.JPG

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

garage with washing machine Alkmaar 119.JPG

– 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).

hooded crows Alkmaar 119.JPG

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.

bicycle priority sign windmill Alkmaar 119.JPG

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.


West London

Hammersmith 119 bollards.JPG

With Travelling Companion and Daughter I spent some end-of-holiday days in west London. We stayed in a flat in Barnes and visited Putney, Teddington and Hammersmith. There were a few falsely sunny mid-mornings (I wasn’t up early enough for the false dawns) but basically the weather was the same grey we’ve been having in Brussels.

Boris bike tube 119.JPG

On the tube train that took us from St Pancras to Hammersmith was a Boris bike (a street rental bike). It didn’t seem to be with anyone. The woman in the photo stood up and moved to to make it clear it wasn’t hers. A few stops later, though, a young man who had been made homeless and was begging down the carriage came along and rolled the bike off onto the platform.

When I lived in London in the 80s I was a north London boy, more or less. These places in the west are new to me. North London has hills. West London seems to have the river round every corner.

Thames Barnes 119.JPG

This is where the Boat Race takes place. Everywhere except Teddington, people were out rowing.

rowing boats Hammersmith bridge 119.JPG

In Barnes we ate well in an Italian restaurant (Riva) and a pub (the Brown Dog). Elsewhere, not so well. We were told by Son, who  joined us, that Instagram has changed what people eat. Dishes that bulge have become fashionable.

alleyway Barnes London 119.JPG

I like the snickets (back paths) in Barnes.

milk bottles delivery Barnes 119.JPG

It seems you can still get milk delivered to your doorstep there. I wonder if there are newspaper delivery rounds too.

In Teddington we visited a housing development whose residents share a broad lawn that slopes down to the Thames. They provide themselves with boats, apparently, to putter or row across to a pub on the opposite bank. It made me think of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, which I’m in the middle of.

combined football and rugby goal Teddington 119.JPG

West London seems to be the rugby-playing area of London. I liked this combined football and rugby goal.

To get to Teddington we caught a train from Barnes station, which is to be found, oddly for a station that serves an almost-inner suburb of a world city, buried in a wood.

map railway station Barnes London 119.JPG

In Hammersmith we went to riverside pubs – the Rutland and the Dove, where, allegedly, James Thompson wrote the song Rule Britannia in 1740:

The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves:
Britons never never never will be slaves.

We also went to see the pantomime, Dick Whittington, at the Lyric theatre.

the Dame Lyric theatre Hammersmith 119.JPG

This is the Dame. Another character was a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a pigeon who is mayor of London.

Not all pantomimes have a message but this one did: London is a great city, and anyone who lives here is a Londoner.