The Netherlands, 19/11/12: Staying in Den Haag put within a day trip’s distance from Efteling, an amusement park located in a Dutch forest that Nicole had received some positive reviews of back in Australia.
Efterling was opened in 1952 and is largely a product of the imagination of the late Anton Pieck, a Dutch artist and designer. It distinctive and often fairy-tale inspired attractions were rumoured to have been an inspiration for Walt Disney when he designed Disney Land. It continues to have new attractions designed and built for it by a team of “imagineers”, a JD that, for me, conjures images of wild-haired, over-all clad eccentrics brandishing charcoals and paint-brushes with wild, gay abandon.
It was an appropriately cool and misty Monday when we headed out there and medieval trumpets sieved through tinny speakers heralded our approach along the long entrance path, an indication of how busy this place could get during peak season.
Inside, the sprawling park is divided into sections. Our first call was the fairytale forest, an enchanted world or wonder and delight, brought unsettlingly to life with a combination of sounds, lights and a fairy-pinch of mechatronic magic.
A personal highlight was the museum, which featured surplace or retired creations from the park. The front room was given a house of horror vibe, with dingey lighting, eerie sound effects and shelves full of decapited fairy-tale heads adorning the walls.
There were also rides and other amusements that we explored, ranging from scary (for the cool kids) to scarily fairy (for the namby-pambs) to just downright confusing.
However, the clear highlight for the day was the Indian fairytale. As the English description explained, a hideously ugly witch with a beautiful voice saw the stars and was so jealous of their beauty, dancing on the water, that she turned them into water-lillies. However, when the full moon comes out (so read the description), IT happens…
(I had my own video of this but it proved too hard to upload from my phone at our present accommodation. Stick with this one for a few minutes or fast-forward 2 mins in, there’s a big, Cantena-style pay-off.)
Den Haag (The Netherlands), 18/11/12: Our very excellent hosts in the Netherlands – the Hague / Den Haag more specifically – have been John, Marie and baby Zoe.
Straight off the boat at the Hook of Holland we hopped on the train bound for Den Haag and were greeted by John at the other end.
I last stayed with a pre-Zoe John and Marie about four years ago (in the same place) but over New Years Eve. It was a good time to be in the relative safety of a first-story apartment. Fireworks are legal on NYE here so every man, woman and child is armed with an Australia Day’s worth of crackers and rockets and turned loose in the streets. It crossed the line dividing celebratory and riotous, with head-level rockets being launched down streets and laneways and bonfires at every major junction. There was a memorable combination of these two ideas when some over-excited reveler dumped a box of rockets into a bonfire. That sure got the people dancing. However, the really scary people weren’t your garden-variety upbeat anarchists, rather the passive aggressive groups that would set fire to public property in back-streets then just stand around it quietly and watch. I didn’t get quite close enough to hear, but I imagined a lot of heavy breathing.
The whole city looked and sounded like a BBC special report from Gaza. The paper the next morning said that this year’s celebrations were far more under control since only about 80 cars got torched.
This time round we are a month-and-a-half early for the fireworks (though there are a few warning shots every evening) but we have been instead been lucky enough to experience another extremely Dutch tradition – Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet.
As the story goes, Sinterklaas, the jolly fellow pictured with the snowy white beard and bishops hat, arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat from Spain in mid-November. Children line the streets and sing traditional Sinterklaas carols and sweets are distributed forthwith to the good kiddies.
On the other side of the coin, if you have been a bad child, you are instead spanked with his birch rob, stuffed into a sack and taken to Spain. In the olden days I guess a one-way trip to Spain might not have been so desirable, but as I was shivering in the Dutch mist, watching the parade pass by, all of a sudden sunny Spain doesn’t look so bad.
This is all good family fun but non-Dutch readers might have spotted the elephant in the room here: Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). Yep, it’s a blackface act and also an inseparable and important part of Sinterklaas tradition. As we wandered through the town that afternoon, numerous bands of boot-polished up Zwarte Pieten were roaming the streets, entertaining the crowds, playing the fool and up to their usual mischief.
My favourite was the Black Peter with a walkie-talkie who was directing traffic – mainly car-loads of other Black Peters. It was like a particular episode of The Goodies.
He’s big business here – Zwarte Pieten are in all the shop windows and all the ads and product packaging. You can buy Zwarte Piet cards, chocolates and even make-up kits (in fact, Nicole did just that). There was a remixed version of “Gangnam Style” with the words “Zwarte Pieten Style”. There’s more boot polish applied to faces in this one day than in all of Hey Hey It’s Saturday and The Footy Show combined. It’s huge and it goes off.
This has been a regular tradition since before blackface started happening in earnest elsewhere in the world and well before it became offensive. If anyone suggests that the tradition is out of step with current sensibilities, they are shouted down in an outcry. There have been attempts to gild the issue by suggesting that Zwarte Piet is sooty from coming down a chimney, but then why the curly wigs and red lipstick?
For my part, when I spotted a young African-Dutch kid dressed as Zwarte Piet, complete with black make-up, I decided that it’s an unmovable tradition here and an bracingly European novelty for foreigners like us. A pretty good start to the tour of the continent.
England, 16/11/12: The best thing about Harwich was leaving Harwich. Stop saying Harwich.
We said our farewells to our Warwick hosts Val & David and set forth on British Rail to the coast where, that evening, an overnight ferry would romance us across the Channel.
We stopped in London for just long enough to make me think we could get from Liverpool St Station to the London Bridge and back without missing our connection. Almost true – with our suitcases rumbling behind us we got to within a few hundred metres before retreating back to the station. Close enough.
Eventually we arrived in Harwich. Harwich is where boats to the Netherlands go from. Since we were starting the day in Warwick with three train trips in between, I booked our tickets to get us there in embarrassingly good time – four hours prior to departure. The terminal is suggestively called “Harwich International” – surely a bustling and cosmopolitan port and therefore an easy place to kill a few hours, right?
We were instead greeted at 4:30pm by darkness, a think fog, some vacant carparks and shipping containers and two bored attendants in an otherwise abandoned terminal building. One attendant suggested we could kill some time at a local supermarket, 20 minutes down a dark road, just past a derelict service station on the left, so off we went. We tried to make the best of things.
In fact there were two supermarkets and a home & garden store on offer. We camped in a cafe section in one of them (dinner closed at 7 though) and whiled away the hours until, inevitably, we headed back on the same long, cold, dark road. This time, however, there was the very real prospect of a ferry ride at the end.
After a dinner of Aunty Barb’s 4-and-a-half star lasagne, Mum & Dad took us for the tradionally panicky drive to the airport. With minimal queuing at the airport, this left plenty of time to take in the glamour of airport duty-free.
We were in the big fancy Emirates A380’s which feature a top deck for the master race. A curved staircase and primly-dressed attendant prevented me from seeing it for myself but rumour has it they feature full-size beds, a cocktail lounge, light-up disco dancefloor, a shooting range, a cryostasis option and live show-jumping.
Still, Emirates treats the peons pretty well too. Tonight’s entertainment included two films I actually wanted to see in Moonrise Kingdom and From Rome With Love. The abitrary meals served (dinner, breakfast, breakfast again, lunch) were far better than what Qantas offered us days earlier with some interesting Arabic Twix, I mean Arabic twists.
We managed though and even came out of the time/matter transfer at Heathrow, 11:30am, feeling basically human. Good times.
Melbourne. If photos were all I had to go on, it would look like all we’re doing here is eating and drinking. Not too far from the truth, but also I enjoy stories about food & beverage more than ones about that time I bought a blue business shirt.
After a holiday start we opened with a meal betwixt brunch and lunch at Stone Ground, Richmond.
Really nice muesli & yoghurt plus coffee for me and Nicole enjoyed her BLT. Oh and cheap! Not to labour the point but it was half of what I would expect to pay in the two-speed economy of Perth.
A short tram ride found us in Melbourne town where we picked over a couple of Japanese $2 (approx) shops – Tokuya and Daiso. Nicole did well to limit herself to about 10 or 15 items but she was in cute overload.
Then in keeping with the theme, light lunch at Yoyogi.
*boring shopping expedition goes here*
The evening saw us first at Josie Bones, Collingwood with cousin Mikey.
I got word of this place back in perth and indeed their selection of beers was at once intimidating, delicious and boozey.
Back into town to meet the ever-affable Anton & Felicity along with lovely Liz. Kokoro Ramen was in our future but the agreed meeting spot was the nearby Mai Tai bar, where happy hour is all the hours.
But the main event was two doors down.
It was a good, greasy ramen. The stock was thick and rich, good quality noodles were used and the eggs were just right. If I had to choose a last meal, a good ramen would right up there.
But like all good things it had to end. As luck would have it however, we were just round the corner from celebrated whisky bar Chez Regine and so for the second time that evening we were confronted with an impressive and boozey directory. I settled on a Linlithgow 1982, foreshadowing adventures to come. I think the picture says it all.