A tongue-in-cheek account of a short stay on a Dutch island.
Walking in Windy Weather for Fun
Even though the Netherlands is but a reassuringly consistent speck on the European map, it nevertheless manages to attract its fair share of tourists.
Those looking for Lewdness are promptly dispatched to Amsterdam, while the more salubrious traveller is appeased with a windmill or two. There are also those that claim Art as the Lorelei who lures them to Holland’s shores (which is why museums were invented) and a sizeable portion come to see Nature. And they are in luck, because despite the Dutch diminutiveness there is plenty of Nature.
One such bit of Nature is Texel, which attracts 800 000 visitors a year - not bad for a land stretch of only 20 km. Most of those 800 000 visitors would send Basil Fawlty into a state of apoplexy, for Texel manages to lure rather a lot of Germans to its shores, year after year. Or so my good friend and former boss the Herr Doktor informed me.
Unfortunately the Herr Doktor couldn’t explain why Texel is so appealing to the owners of 2.3 Kinder and a Labrador named Bello, and despite living only half an hour’s drive away I’ve never visited to find out. So I’ve been pondering about it.
Could it be the fact that there are more sheep than people? Hardly, for New Zealand manages the same feat and had to allow a gaggle of Hobbits to run rampant through its wilds in order to sway the tentative Globe Trotter.
Could it be the beaches, highly conducive to marking one’s territory with an array of colour-coordinated towels and other beach paraphernalia? Possibly, but then there are closer shores for the Hansl and Gretls.
Could it be the birds then, which have their own, rather extensive, designated areas for “sitting on eggs while men in anoraks use binoculars to look at them and satisfy a perfectly natural curiosity”? Maybe, but I’m sure they have equally obliging birds in Germany.
Puzzled, I therefore leapt at the chance to find out for myself when the co-habitor informed me that he and his horde of ageing athletes would be playing a football match on Texel on Sunday, and would I care to accompany him for a Saturday night of debauchery. But of course.
It’s a good thing we went on a Saturday, because a number of Texel sheep were using the ferry on Monday to loiter around the Dutch Parliament in The Hague to protest against the presence of a ferry terminal in the city from where the ferry to Texel departs.
Apparently the sheep have turned radical because the city is regularly clogged up with the aforementioned hordes of Germans making their way to the island, and angry shoppers want the ferry terminal moved slightly out of the city so they can get to the supermarket on time.
Only those confounded breeding birds and a number of seals will have to be moved, and that is apparently an Environmental Issue and therefore Sensitive and Expensive, if I understand Parliament correctly.
The last time the sheep of Texel turned radical they had their demands met, but that was back in the Age of Innocence – 1976 - and all they wanted was their dykes raised. Moving birds along is rather more problematic, and therefore the sheep are protesting in bright orange life-jackets this time.
Another reason why it was a good thing that we went on Saturday was the weather: windy but dry, it instantly suggested Holiday to my autumn-weary mind and made me an agreeable travelling companion for the Dorian Grays who had decided to join us. I call them Dorian Grays for the simple reason that they are a married couple who have managed decades of debauchery and still look damn good for their age, a respectable ‘Slightly Above’ fifty - give or take a year.
The ferry journey was brief and enjoyable, and the Dorian Grays only balked slightly at the No Smoking Anywhere Decree, appeased by the view and reasonably good coffee. On disembarking we decided to do a bit of sight-seeing, promptly getting lost between a deliberately picturesque village and unnecessarily imposing stretches of dune.
It was there that I discovered why the Dorian Grays had decided to accompany us and volunteered to drive: rushing down random lanes through pine forests, seemingly lost, Mr. Gray suddenly halted the car, pointed at a meadow, and informed his wife that this was the meadow where they had spent another lost afternoon, eons ago. She disagreed, as is her right as a wife of many decades, and he proceeded to convince her until she did agree. And that’s when I recognised that they were here to rekindle Fond Memories.
As we tried to find our way to the hotel we passed a campsite from which Mr. Gray had been expelled as a teenager for reasons he couldn’t quite remember (except maybe he had strayed once too often to the Girls section of the campsite) and a beach where they had whiled away a summer, until we stumbled almost accidentally on the hotel.
For those of you that fear that I will now wax lyrically about 1000-thread count cotton and lace doilies, let me reassure you that the hotel invoked Fawlty Towers, right down to the five front doors which all turned out to be locked and forced us to do some detectoring until we found the unassuming side entrance and finally gained entrance into the building – and leave it at that. We checked in. We found our rooms. We dropped bags. We closed doors. We ran off.
The good thing about the hotel was its proximity to the main street, which caters year round for the primary needs of tourists: achingly trendy surf gear, junk food, permanently discounted polo shirts, quantity and variety in all substances of an alcoholic nature, and establishments which pretend to be luxury boutique hotels or quaint - but aren't.
Now with all that Nature Texel has seen fit to create a new phrase for a Lazy Weekend - an “Uitwaai” weekend, which basically translates into “spending an entire weekend walking in windy weather for fun” - so being the obliging sort we decided to give it a go and marched towards the beach. We stood on the beach. We looked at the waves. We decided Mrs. Gray’s spike-heeled boots weren’t proper beach attire and made our way to the nearest bar, conveniently located on the beach, where we learned that Texel has a brewery, and it was only polite to sample the local delicacies. Which we did.
We then made our way back to the main street, where we found a place called “Proeflokaal” – a useful phrase should you be inclined to learn a smattering of Dutch, for it means Tasting Room - and we tasted Bok Bier (a dark beer tasting faintly of caramel, typically served in autumn) and the Month’s Special which had a picture of a nun on the label so we had to try it twice, the Dorian Grays being catholic. Before we left, we were presented with two liqueurs, one a “Schuttertje” which claims to be local but is made in a large vat somewhere on the mainland and tastes like caramel; and another liqueur, whose name is lost in the mist that is my memory but *was* authentically from Texel, and also tasted like caramel.
We then made our way further down the main street in search of something to eat and found a restaurant, where we sampled more local delicacies. After that we found another bar to wash down the local delicacies, run by a German lady who can swear like an Amsterdammer, but couldn't give me a satisfactory answer as to why so many of her countryfolk return to Texel each year.
Eventually we stumbled back to the hotel, where the neighbours didn’t appreciate our (admittedly) not all together silent return, and not only banged on the wall, but further exacted their revenge by taking a bath at six in the morning, a display of hygiene I would normally approve of if the thermostat hadn’t been located in our bedroom closet and proceeded to produce an infernal racket, something akin to a tone-deaf valkyrie enthusiastically molesting a banshee. There was more noise at breakfast from the perky party of pensioners seated at the table next to ours, but the bread tasted like bread and the cheese tasted like cheese, and that was reassuring.
After checking out we got lost again for a bit and managed to see the rest of the island – an empty landscape only noticeably interrupted by a fruit juice stall in the middle of nowhere masquerading as a giant strawberry, a bus stop simply called “The North”, some randomly placed dykes, and a Belgian Harley Davidson gang – until we found the local football club where we were greeted by the rest of the ageing athletes.
While they got changed I accompanied Mrs. Gray and her flags – she flags at her husband’s matches, which is possibly why their marriage is so disgustingly healthy - onto the pitch, to discover that the ageing athletes were to play rather fit twenty-year-olds.
The match then ensued and it involved lots of shouting, running around, a goal for each team, illegal shoving and shirt-pulling, and a last-minute goal for the young ones, which really upset the ageing athletes so we went home to drink beer in our own polder.
Well the others did. I went home and pondered why Texel is so alluring. And I think it has to do with nostalgia: it allows you to slip into holidays past, where you were never bored despite there being little to do; to slip into a slower pace, where just walking in the wind can bring a smile to your face; to slip into mild inebriation (should you be so inclined), assured that your belly will be filled with good food, the company will be agreeable, and you may rest your head on a pillow located only a stagger away. And I don't think you need to be German to realise that’s not a bad way to spend a holiday.