This article appeared, in somewhat different form, in on 6 May 1994.

Tulips and Several Beers

in which Alison takes the ferry to Holland, gatecrashes a game of Charades, experiences a peculiar Dutch festival, sees a lot of pretty flowers, eats a lump of Struisvogel and lots of rijstafel, cycles 150 miles and discovers an unusual Japanese tea shop selling scones in Woodbridge.

I went to Holland for a short break over the bank holiday weekend, primarily in an attempt to try cycling in a country with 10,000 km of separated cycle paths, and where the motorists both look out for cyclists and sometimes even afford you the right of way. It was phenomenal. I also drank some beer here and there along the way.

The only beer you can buy on the boat from Harwich is Heineken; I had a few large beers and played shogi in the bar (much to the amusement of passing Japanese) until I was fairly tipsy. Most people in the bar appeared to be British, and some of the lads appeared to have caught onto the CAMRA way of doing things (not) and were asking the barman for topups, failing to realise that Dutch lager traditionally has a large head. About midnight I was intending to go to bed but discovered the Colchester Operatic Society playing charades. Years of practice have honed my charades sense to a steely point, so I guessed the next charade by mistake and discovered that it was then my turn. (Unlike the fannish version, people chose themselves what to act; it makes it a lot less brutal; no-one was miming "Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration", for example.)

The key thing that you need to know to travel with a bike on a ferry is where your towel is. This is because you have to spend about an hour on the car deck breathing fumes, with the bike, waiting to be let off the boat, and it's useful to wrap a towel round your head. However, it's nice to cycle off the boat in a strange country early on a beautiful morning. In this case, we were kicked off the ship, with our bikes, in Hook of Holland at 7 in the morning. There was nowhere noticable to buy breakfast, so we set off for Delft. Saturday was the Queens Birthday; it appears that Dutch tradition on this day is for everyone to turn out their attics and set out a stall on a blanket, so that the entire country is turned into a giant flea market.

We passed through a small town at about 8.30 in the morning and cycled past a marching band heading towards the town square at full volume. In the UK, any attempt to play a sousaphone at that time of the morning would probably lead to the perpetrator being stuffed with his own instrument, but it seems to be standard operating procedure in Holland. Although we reached central Delft fairly early (about tennish) the main parade had already finished.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the street fair, eating saté on the run and drinking whatever was going; mostly Heineken or Amstel. The weather was very good and we were gradually fried to a crisp; we didn't actually notice this until much later.

We spent the first night in Gouda; ate at a traditional Dutch tandoori restaurant (!) and then drank Wieckse Witte in the hotel. Wieckse Witte is a Dutch wheat beer brewed in the style of unspiced Belgian wheat beer; we had rather a lot of this over the weekend because it's exactly the right thing to drink on a hot day after cycling. Sort of the beer equivalent of barley water. The tandoori restaurant would have sold us Kingfisher if we'd wanted, but we actually had salt lassi instead.

You may wonder at this point why on earth we ate in a Tandoori restaurant in Gouda, rather than eating cheese. Overjarige Gouda is our favourite; the oldest grade of Gouda we've so far found, and is quite like Parmesan in texture. However, Gouda the town is rather devalued in cheese terms; although you can buy the stuff there are better places to do so. (Incidentally, I've heard that Dutch cheese farmers were up in arms over the low quality of Edam that's sold to the English, and were only mollified when they discovered that we like it that way. Or, at least, some of us do.) We ended up in a tandoori restaurant because it had the benefit of being extremely near the hotel and we were tired; also because it was Queen's Day the entire population of Holland were eating out that evening.

a trinket, probably a necklace

The second day was spent travelling from Gouda to Leiden, along country roads. As it was Sunday, we were rather limited in terms of shops and eateries, but eventually we found an open snackbar to have lunch in, on the outskirts of Leiden. We had Kylian here; a beer clearly marketed to appeal to trendies. The colour is a deep rich coppery red very reminiscent of cheap hair dye. The bottle said that this was due to the use of Vienna Malt; I suspect Tandoori Food Colouring myself.

We cycled to Lisse through the bulb fields in the late afternoon, and enjoyed them so much that we decided to visit the Keukenhof on Monday; 'the World's Largest Flower Gardens'. When we got to Lisse we had dinner at a traditional Dutch restaurant. This is a rather dubious concept; a little like the 'traditional English restaurant'. There is a strong argument for saying that the English national restaurant food is Indian, and the Dutch is Indonesian, and that the original 'national styles' don't come anywhere close. However, this restaurant was very good. We were asked if there was anything on the menu that we needed translating. We initially said no, (we've got pretty good at reading menus from several trips to Holland and Belgium) but we eventually called the waitress back because there was a word, struisvogel, we didn't recognise. She explained that she wasn't sure of the English word, but it was a large bird that buried its head in the sand.

Much merriment followed; I alleged this was an ostrich; Steven claimed that this was completely implausible, and so on; after which we ascertained that yes, it was ostrich, and no, ostrich wasn't a traditional Dutch food but never mind. I had at least heard of the concept of farming ostriches (thanks to Northern Exposure) but I hadn't had the chance to try it before. It was pretty good, but I was a little sad by the fact that it's clear a lot of care is taken to make it taste like beef. I reckon they're onto a winner though, as it's much lower fat than beef and certainly was as good as many steaks I've had in the past.

The next day we visited the Keukenhof, which was well worth the fairly high entrance price; I was disappointed by the lack of black tulips in the displays (though there were lots in the greenhouse; not actually black but a fairly rich purply maroon) but otherwise was very impressed. I had left my camera in Harwich by mistake (due to extreme speed in packing my panniers) and was using a disposable; the result was glorious photographs with appalling colour balance. The beer here was dull and expensive, but there you go.

We cycled along the dune path to Scheveningen, having booked accommodation before leaving Lisse. It got later and later and I roundly cursed Holland for pretending to be a flat country when in fact it had plenty of hills when you actually looked closely. By the time we got to the pension the owner was out looking for us; they go to bed early in the Hague. (I suppose this was about 11pm.) It's quite interesting that although the Dutch cycle everywhere on day-to-day journeys, the average person would no more cycle between towns than cycle to the moon, and lots of people were astonished that we were doing the trip on bike. (It's really not that far between these towns; we only did 150 miles in total, which included lots of pootling about). We ended up eating in a slabs-of-meat restaurant on the seafront, Twins. This is a notable restaurant because it was the first place that I ever drank Duvel, on one of the first days of Confiction in 1990.

The last day we spent in the Hague, looking at bike shops (Holland has brilliant bike shops; funny that) and having lunch at Rice 'n' Spice, an Indonesian restaurant that was much frequented at that same Worldcon under the name of Poetri Ajoe. I tried another Oud Bruin, just to remind myself of what my least favourite beer style tastes like; it's still sicky sweet and fairly low alcohol. I accept that it's a major style and has lots of proponents, but it just isn't for me. It reminds me of a mild shandy, if you can contemplate such a thing.

We took another dune path to get back to Hook for the boat back, and ate in an Italian restaurant about 2 minutes cycle from the ship. It was quite funny the way that everybody in the restaurant left at exactly the same time.

The people at the next table were in an L-reg Carrera; it was very gratifying to beat them to the check-in queue on bikes. I drank Peroni there; it really is quite amazing how Peroni is the best beer on Earth when you've just been on a bike for a couple of hours. We sighed a little when we discovered that zabaglione wasn't on the dessert menu; the waiter saw our sighs and they made zabaglione for us specially. So; if you're ever in Hook of Holland, I recommend the Italian restaurant.

Once again, we were tipped off the boat at 7 in the morning, and decided to ride around Suffolk for a bit. We stopped at the White Lion in Lower Ufford for a quick pint (it was too early for lunchtime), and had a pint of the Tolly 1994 beer, Beano Stout. By the time we'd finished the Beano, it was pouring with rain; the first poor weather of the trip. So we stayed and had another pint; this time of Tolly Original. They also did some very nice sausages, it being lunchtime by this point.

We also visited two interesting teashops in Woodbridge; Mrs. Piper's in the morning, where we had perfect poached eggs for breakfast, and the Aoyama in the afternoon. One meaning of Ao is apparently a bluish green colour, and yama is most commonly 'mountain', so we reckoned this might be a coffee joke. At any rate, I have a photo of its sign, saying 'Morning Coffees, Lunches, Cream Teas. House speciality Japanese Cuisine'. It had been raining quite hard at this time, and they brought hot towels with our coffee. We were impressed.

Overall, there's something very nice about getting around under your own steam on holiday (well, my steam and Sealink's...). The best thing about it is that the cycling makes you feel so virtuous that all the beer drinking doesn't seem to matter after all. I want to go again now.

A celtic frieze with animals including a moose

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