Tuesday, August 19, 2014

DAY 64 – 18 August 2014; Hengelo to Den Haag

I had gone to bed the previous night with the intention of getting up early to update the posts on the blog. It was done as intended over the many cups of coffee that Chechi made for me. When we get to the house of a friend or family we look to get clothes washed in the washing machine. When I get two days in a place I use shampoo and the wash basin of the hotel room and hang them to dry either in the bathroom or the window sill. It is tricky using the window sill. In Kaunas one such effort landed up in the balcony downstairs. The receptionist could not quite understand when I explained how it landed there, but she helped me retrieve it! Lal and I had accumulated a sizable number of soiled clothes and the previous evening Chechi had helped us get through with them in the machine. In the morning I folded them for the backpack.

Chettan had mentioned that we could leave after 9 am for Giethoorn, once the gardener had been given suitable instructions. Another condition was the weather. Though it was drizzling and overcast we decided to set course for Giethoorn. Prior to departure two families in the neighbourhood came and wished us well. The bags were loaded in the car, the house locked and we left after keying in the address in the Navigator. While getting out of Hengelo we did discard the suggestions given by the Navigator. Once we hit the highway we followed the ‘lady’ like a lamb.

In a couple of hours we were in Giethoorn. It rained heavily on the way and heavy drizzle continued to dodge an otherwise pleasant day. Giethoorn is referred to as the “Venice of the North” or “Venice of Netherlands”. In the past the village was free of cars for it had no roads. The large network of canals and over 180 bridges made the village famous, especially after the 1958 comedy film, “Fanfare”. It is said that the canals were formed by unearthing peat. The opening and closing of the canal bridges itself is an act to appreciate – the precision and smooth operation with least inconvenience and hold up to either the road user of the water user. The canals are kept absolutely clean and non-polluting. Only battery operated boats can operate in the waters there; charging points are provided at designated locations. The village was founded around the mid 13th century by fugitives from the Mediterranean region, the locals recollect. The name of the village comes from the large number of goat horns found by early settlers of the village, perhaps the aftermath of a 10th century flood.

The best way to appreciate the canal system and the life around the place is by a canal cruise or a boat hired from one of the many canal-side restaurants. The cruise was meant to start at 12.15 pm. One had got used to the punctuality of Europe, but in the instant case the cruise operator delayed departure till they were able to get a decent ‘population’ of tourists on board. The covered wooden boat was comfortable and a cup of coffee was included in the fare, as it was advertised. The ride was thoroughly enjoyable; it was peaceful because the boats glided along the waters much like the ducks and swans in it – they are called ‘whisper boats’. The only ‘noise’ was the commentary of the guide. The narrow canals, low wooden bridges, thatched houses, small pretty gardens and the healthy environment could be appreciated during the cruise. Even now many houses in the village can be reached only by boat.

Intermittent heavy rain robbed us of the opportunity to explore the fascinating village any more than the canal cruise. In heavy rain we left for Den Haag. Musthafa, Lal’s friend, was in constant contact with us over the past month. It was through him that Chettan and Chechi had come to know of the journey. He is based in Rijswijk, near Den Haag. We reached his house for an evening lunch! Musthafa, his wife Shihana, son Aditya and friend Rouf received us with a bouquet of flowers. Before we partook of the excellent Biriyani lunch – Musthafa’s passion is cooking – the two families helped affix green stickers on Holland, which signified that we had just 4 more countries to go.

Musthafa had organised a get together of the Indian Diaspora at the Gandhi Centre of the Indian Embassy. We reached the Centre by 6.30 pm and met the Director of the Centre, Mr Vinay Choubey. The Centre operates from an erstwhile church building. After a cup of tea and snacks the formal part of the evening got underway. The session was highly interactive with participants very keen to know details of the journey. I took them through some of our experiences and shared the planning process. Many in the group expressed keenness to undertake such road adventures. Photo sessions were many and so were small group interactions after closure of the formal meeting. It was interesting to know that the country is home to over 250,000 Surinamese, who are basically of Indian origin. When the former Dutch colony won Independence more than half the population opeted to relocate to Holland! Similar was the case with Indonesia.

Musthafa had arranged accommodation in the Novotel Hotel in Den Haag. Chettan, Chechi, Musthafa and his family and Rouf accompanied us to the Hotel. After checking in we walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner. Over a couple of beers I had a huge portion of spaghetti with ham and cheese. I reconnected with the spaghetti dinner Fr had made us in Benefeld – the taste of the sauce he had made still lingers on the palate. I was showing signs of a mild allergy through dinner. I came back to the room, had a strong anti-allergy tablet and hit the sack without any care in the world.

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