ZEELAND HOLIDAY (4 august 2007)
If -- for whatever reason -- you happen to be in Zeeuws Vlaanderen and you go from Aardenburg to Sint Kruis , you'll soon find a road called Appelstraat on your left hand.
There are very few houses on this road, which is rather narrow and not much longer than one kilometre, bordering on farmland on both sides. I hope you're not superstitious for we stop at no 13, at a house named Platluus .
"Platluus" seen from Bakkersdam
It used to be a tollhouse, shown below in a photo dating from 1934.
No toll has been levied here for a long time. But after modern traffic had taken its toll twice when automobiles crashed into the front of the house, a kind of protective parapet was made in front of the house.
Those who like mountaineering, water scootering or going out wildly, had better leave the Platluus alone. But these activities are not exactly what the Overtoom family are after for their holidays. What they are looking for is something to counterbalance the busy bustle of Amsterdam, and for that end a bungalow park is definitely less suitable.
The Nissan Micra is aptly named. To give just one example, its trunk is far from spacious. So one seat has been reserved to hold luggage. But that's no problem: Tom still has a free railway ticket left. So while Lea is driving away from the Overtoom kerb, Tom hurries towards the railway station. His has a rather quiet train ... if we ignore the family of six who board the train at Roosendaal and whose youngest kid seems to suffer from ADHD -- or is otherwise for no reason at all crying his lungs out and violently dragging his brothers from their seats during most of the journey.
As soon as Tom boards the boat at Vlissingen (which the English seem to call Flushing - as if it refers to a toilet ), he gets out his mobile phone. Not to irritate his fellow passengers with the all too familiar drivel which these devices too often seem to evoke, but to report his boarding the boat. He learns that the rest of the family has just arrived at the Platluus -- where Lea now leaves the luggage behind and swiftly starts the car, so after a quarter of an hour Tom sits down next to her in the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin.
It is not the first time Siep is staying at the Platluus, so this first evening we feel it is safe to allow the good cat to go out. She once again demonstrates to be of the undertaking sort and starts exploring the surroundings right away.
The next morning Siep shows to feel quite at home at the Platluus . She is seen sitting contentedly on her elbows.
Some things keep amazing me. Take for instance this toothbrush:
Purchased specially so that the blessings of electrical toothbrushing can also be enjoyed during holidays. Handy, isn't it?
A first brushing, however, fully depletes the batteries. Fortunately, the family have brought new ones. But hardly have they been put in when the motor loses its grip on the brush, after which the device does little more than producing a pathetic sort of gritting noise.
One wonders why the Chinese make toothbrushes that last no more than half a minute. In that way being the fastest growing economy in the world is not as clever as it sounds, is it?
Dutch television recently stopped broadcasting via the ether, which was bad news for the Platluus, where until recently television was received through an antenna. But now the Platluus is in the league of houses that are provided with ...
... yes indeed, madam, a satellite disc. With a host of free channels, amongst which dozens of regional German ones. Unfortunately, quite a few interesting channels are not decoded by the tuner.
Well, you can't miss what you never had, you might think. And that's exactly what the folks at CanalDigitaal know all too well. While zapping channels it's being rubbed in thoroughly that you've never paid for all those interesting programs: you see their names, but the screen is spitefully left blank.
Programmers will be able to assure you that it's no problem to program a decoder in such a way that channels that have not been paid for are skipped. But in that case you might never want to buy any of the more expensive bundles offered by CanalDigitaal.
As if a baker is only prepared to sell you a tin of biscuits after he has first held all kinds of expensive cakes under your nose! But what else can you expect from a firm with such a ridiculous hybrid name as CanalDigitaal?
The daughters want to play in the garden, but the grass is in the way. In the barn they find an electric mower.
The machine produces a heavy drone. Memories come back of La Roche in the hills of Ardennes, where the family had rented a cottage from someone they called Monsieur Merguèz -- probably because it rhymed so nicely with the gentleman's white Mercedèz.
Initially the weather had been rather drizzly. But after a few days it finally became sunnier and the family could quietly sit down in the garden. Well, quietly?
Suddenly, as if by agreement, mowers appeared in every garden. But these were not your average Dutch mower, but specimens that produced the noise of a sawmill in full swing, or at least a Messerschmitt fighter plane.
But to be honest, we are not talking about Dutch town allotments, but gardens the size of complete football fields. So far about the quiet enjoyed by the Overtoom family ...
Wind force 5 may not be enough for a weather alarm, but it's far from ideal for a nice little session on the beach. The family decides to look around in Ghent, where the renowned Gentse Feesten have already been going on for half a week.
They have a quiet ride, the most striking feature of which are a few dozen places which according to Tom's information are brothels and for which as Violet points out, the word whorehouses is also rather common, after which Lea comes up with the expression houses-of-ill-repute.
They approach the feesten via a square where hundreds of people are drinking beer in a kind of hall while listening to an occasionally rather racist kind of stand-up comedy. The greater part, however, seems to elude the Dutch family presented as it is in a fat Belgian dialect.
After a quarter of an hour, the company -- as usual -- splits up into two age groups. They decide to meet again near McDonald's at five o' clock.
Tom and his sweetheart shoot each other's pictures as Mireille and Patrick (although the names Tom and Lea are much more common in Belgium). In front of second-hand bookshop De Slegte they come across a few fishy-looking monsters, which make whistling noises and spray water on unsuspecting passers-by.
When the family meet again in the afternoon, they decide to have dinner at Eeklo, where restaurants are expected to be quieter than in the turmoil of the Gentse Feesten. So they return to the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin, which is expertly started by Lea and driven to Eeklo.
RJBT (Red Japanese Biscuit Tin)
At the restaurant, Liset takes snapshots of the rest of the family -- which is why you don't see her in the picture, sir. But we do see her sister and the waiter, while the former [sic] is wearing a moustache.
In earlier holiday series ( click) you may have read how honest Belgians (or Flemish, or inhabitants of Knokke) are. This time, Lea tests this quality of our southern neighbours to its limits.
While fitting on a cardigan at ladies' clothes-shop Mango in Knokke's Lippenslaan, Lea took off her sun glasses. And when she was going to put them on again, the (rather expensive) glasses were gone. After visiting the beach, the rest of the family came along with her to search and again Lea enquired at the cash desk, but ... in vain.
Two days later, Lea tries again, with expectations bordering on zero. And what do you think? Her glasses have been returned.
Tom's admiration for our southern neighbours reaches staggering heights ...
Do you now understand why the family have been going on holiday to these regions for as long as fifteen years?
As you may have read in an earlier weblog (click), the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin was bought about a year ago.
RJBT (Red Japanese Biscuit Tin) & Lea
What wasn't known then is that quite soon whenever there had been a brisk downpour, a puddle of water appeared on the bottom of the vehicle. Consequently, it didn't seem too far-fetched to assume the biscuit tin was leaky.
The vehicle was inspected at two garages, where gutters were blown through and plastic cement applied in various places. But alas, after the first rain shower had fallen, a fresh puddle appeared on the bottom.
Not far from the Platluus there is a Nissan garage, so as a last resort, the family decides to try their luck there.
The reason of our visit is explained to the garage owner and cautious enquiries are made how much time we'll have to do without the vehicle. To our utter astonishment, the garageman immediately knows what the problem is. The bonnet is opened, and closed again less than half an hour later. The problem has been fixed!
And this is after Tom and his sweetheart each telephoned the Nissan dealer in Amsterdam and heard they did not have the faintest idea what the problem could be. To use the words of Dutch football trainer Louis Van Gaal: is the Oostburg Nissan dealer so smart, or are they so stupid in Amsterdam?
Twice the ladies are seen engrossed in a game of Monopoly. The chances of winning seem inversely proportional to the fanaticism displayed by the contestants. One player goes as far as sorting the chance cards in such a way that highly unfavourable cards are awaiting the one who is expected to win.
The desperation of some losers is so visible that one wonders if there may be some truth in the urban legend according to which thousands of people yearly commit suicide in the United States after losing at Monopoly.
An attraction the daughters enjoy visiting when faced with bad weather is Toversluis. It's a kind of large arcade hall at ... yes indeed, madam, at a town called Sluis .
For days the daughters have been trying to persuade their parents to join them to this children's paradise. The parents, however, have never shown to be partial to any arcades.
Finally, the daughters attack Tom's weak spot: one of the prizes in the offering at Toversluis is ... a chess computer.
So this Monday Lea is driving the family to the aforementioned location. The advertized chess computer is the Sphinx Seville. A comparable specimen has for years been part of the Overtom collection. So if it were only for the chess computer, Tom should not have come along.
The daughters play MarioKart, a video racing game with real steering wheels. They see their own faces like princesses on the screen.
They also show their parents how the mini basketball works. The pitch is housed in a kind of cage.
An attraction that is popular with both parents and daughters is the horse race. Each player is seated before a kind of table shuffleboard which contains a mechanism by which the movement of the horses is controlled. The bottom of the shuffleboard is provided with a dozen holes. In a sliding movement, the player throws the ball and if it drops through a hole, his horse runs part of the course, for some holes somewhat further than for others. Violet manages to win one race (against eleven other contestants).
horserace with Lea, Liset and Violet
At last, the four of them have themselves photographed by a machine which is really meant for one or two people. The result is that they look like complete idiots, as Violet aptly words it.
For today dry weather has been predicted. The family decides to visit one of their favourite seaside resorts: Blankenberge.
Lea parks the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin at at Zeebrugge, where the family aboard the coast tram. While leaving the tram they see how ever more of those charming Blankenberge residences are being replaced by unimaginative tourist barracks.
But they are happy to see the Velodrome is still there. The daughters opt for a bike which is propelled by pedalling on two footboards.
A few 'works of art' have appeared on the promenade:
In the past, ice cream used to be sold by a man carrying a box of 'friscos'. In an earlier weblog ( click) it was already suggested that European rules might make this custom into a thing of the past. This prediction appears to have come true, but it doesn't make the ice cream taste any worse.
frisco from beach trolley
As they're driving home contentedly, a hot-air balloon is seen behind the trees in the distance.
Lea has agreed with her twin sister that the family would visit Antwerp today.
Shortly after eleven, Lea starts the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin. Tom used to think that -- unlike Holland -- Belgian construction works are thoughtful about the needs of pedestrians. This may be the case in Ghent and/or Knokke, but in Antwerp at least two notices are spotted that rudely order pedestrians to buzz off.
At Sint Paulusstraat, the façade appears to be under refurbishment. The scaffolding is of the civilized sort that pedestrians can walk under.
façade St. Paulusstraat
The Antwerp family welcomes them at restaurant A La Ville, where Laurent and his staff prepare a delicious meal and the wine is flowing lavishly.
At about half past three, all the family go to Antwerp's inner-city, where the ladies in particular purchase the necessary (or better: unnecessary) garments.
By six o'clock, they return in groups to St Paulusstraat for a cosy get-together, in which a couple of decorative cats are involved as well.
Later that day, the Amsterdam family will return to Zeeuws Vlaanderen while around them the lights of day are being extinguished gradually.
After breakfast, the daughters decide to cycle to Oostburg. They pump up the tyres of a red-coloured bicycle that was found in the barn of De Platluus .
Some five minutes after their departure, they are seen to return on foot pushing the bicycle. The rear tyre was not just flat but punctured as well.
The next plan involves hiring bikes. When Tom points out he doesn't really care for this option, a few other plans are taken into consideration. Finally, it is decided to go to Bruges.
While they're on their way, they are happy the cycling plan was cancelled: there is a brisk wind which -- especially without any Tour-de-France doping -- might have caused quite a few problems.
In Bruges the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin is parked near a city gate. On foot -- and at times not completely serious -- they continue their way.
not completely serious ladies
They see a parked vehicle whose numberplate might suggest it's been manufactured under rabbinical supervision.
As usual, the company splits up into groups: two daughters and a comparable number of parents. Within ten minutes, Lea takes her spouse to a tearoom where the pastry conforms her highest standards.
Such is the pastry!
And the hygiene is not bad either:
text at WC saying washing hands is compulsory
After a pleasant afternoon, the two groups meet again at Grote Markt, where the daughters show their purchases and are photographed with their mom.
The afternoon at Bruges is concluded with a tasty and not too expensive (after all, aren't we Dutch?) dinner at Vietnamese restaurant Saigon in Ezelstraat. (literally: Donkey Street).
Initially, Liset and Violet were to return tomorrow since their sister was expected today. The latter, however, communicated that the weather forecast was so gloomy that she didn't feel like travelling all the way to Zeeuws Vlaanderen only to stay indoors all day.
So today by one o'clock Lea drives her daughters in the Biscuit Tin to Breskens, where the weather is indeed somewhat windy, but on the whole rather sunny. While the ladies are saying goodbye, the eyes are seen glistening, a sure sign that they love one another.
ferry on its way to Flushing
After the parents have waved goodbye to their daughters, they decide to visit a place at Oostburg above which the legend Internetcafé was spotted a few days ago.
The advertized Internet appears to be no more than a kind of arcade game computer. They see a man and a woman busy inserting coins and fingering the keys. "Another one of those Internet illiterates", Tom sighs.
But when he sits down half an hour later, the machine shows no willingness whatsoever to take him to the Internet. It doesn't even have a standard browser on board. When the contraption signals the first half euro has been used up, nothing useful has been achieved yet. It looks as if the device is designed to extract as much money from the user as possible. After the loss of his first coin, Tom decides to call it a day and to nominate this establishment for the top three of worst Internet-cafés (click here for another one).
Without their daughters, a Sunday on the Platluus is very quiet. The view in front of the house is little more than natural and agricultural land, both emanating heaps of tranquillity.
And on the back there is the luxurious flower garden. Siep seems to be enjoying the countryside as well.
But don't think there is nothing at all to be seen. What, for instance, about a very picturesque horse-drawn cart, something that's very rarely seen at the Overtoom. And also days go by in Amsterdam when no parade of oldtimers can be seen.
And at night Siep demonstrates that as far as she is concerned Tom and Lea have made a very good choice of holiday destination.
The Overtoom couple has so often been to Bruges, Ghent and Knokke that another visit to any of these cities could be called excessive. They decide to cross the Westerschelde and to take the train to Middelburg. They will discover several amazing things ...
It starts on the boat where a doggie is spotted whose mistress seems to think the creature is trotting too slowly. To the Amsterdam couple's utter amazement, the lady is seen to pick the doggie up by a handle.
doggie in a hand-luggage finish
At Flushing they pass restaurant Het Station, where an original spelling has been found for the Spanish snacks a.k.a. tapas :
When visiting a shop that deals in home decorations Lea finds out curtain fittings can very well be used as a neck decoration:
Tom finds an opportunity to indulge his small-device passion. He acquires a digital balance, which teaches him that a euro weighs 7,5 grammes (but 2 euro not twice that number).
And on the train they discover that even Zeeland suffers from the kind of morons who think they can contradict their brainlessness by demonstrating in literally all places that they still possess a rudimentary faculty to write.
And when they come home, they see that hot-air balloons may be exceptional at the Overtoom. But in these regions it is hardly a problem to discharge thousands of litres of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere just for the fun of it (a fact that seems unfamiliar to many a motorist as well).
Officially, De Platluus is situated in Sint Kruis. The weather is pleasant this last Wednesday of their stay, and Tom and his sweetheart decide to cover the four kilometres that separate them from the actual village on foot.
They take a plastic bag with them -- just in case they find blackberries along the way.
Their walk leads them through very pretty pieces of nature. A piece of packaging carelessly thrown away demonstrates not everybody is aware of this.
The land lies below sea level and is protected by strong dikes. But nothing is perfect in this world; there are rodents around which exhibit great enthusiasm in undermining these artificial defences. But the people in Zeeland are an inventive bunch and haff zeir vays to do something about this problem, as becomes clear from this text spotted by the Amsterdam couple:
muskrat pest control
In various places the water level is controlled with ingenious equipment, such as this one (in the front, not my sweetheart, sir):
After some four kilometres they reach their destination, Sint Kruis, where a refreshment is taken at café Bij Greetje. They are served by Greetje herself, who -- to their great relief -- tells them that ticks are much less common in these regions than in the adjacent province of Brabant.
They do indeed find blackberries, at least a kilo. Even stinging-nettles are not shunned.
When Tom and his beloved one return to the Platluus, the blackberries are boiled with pectin sugar. Their walk has netted them over four jars of pudding sauce -- or by some optimists called jam.
It takes some effort, but the result is worth it, sir!
The late Kiki de la Bouvé was once heard to proclaim that each of the Belgian seaside resorts attracts people from a specific city. For instance, Knokke would specially appeal to the inhabitants of Brussels. The Overtoom couple wonders which city is associated with Ostend (or Oostende, as the Belgians call it), the city to which Lea today drives the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin.
The car is parked in Heilig Hartstraat (literally: Holy Heart Street ), a stone's throw from the apartment where the family spent their holiday two years ago (click).
They walk along the Nieuwpoortse Steenweg in the general direction of the beach, and pass a house which already looked ramshackle two years ago. They assume the owner is waiting for a buyer who is willing to convert the house into a block of concrete as shapeless as the adjacent premises.
Tom is treated to coffee with apple pie by his sweetheart in a square named Petit Paris, where names like Lautrec and Paname are supposed to suggest links with the French capital.
A baker at the Alfons Pieterslaan also suggests some link with France, but comes up with a completely novel way to spell the French word baguette.
They cross the shopping streets where thousands of seaside vistors seem to be looking for something they can't find, and in the rebound are gazing at shop-windows -- where, admittedly, remarkable things can sometimes be seen. Such as this multi-multifunctional Swiss pocket knife:
Finally they reach the promenade (in Belgium called zeedijk), where the best part of two hours are spent on so-called dijkzetels (dike seats, no madam, no chairs for lesbians) and where Tom has himself photographed by his sweetheart ... while he's gazing at other women (oops, isn't this getting somewhat sexist?).
In the evening they dine at Het Potje on the Nieuwpoortse Steenweg, where the prices are -- admittedly -- reasonable. But the salad could have done with a little dressing. And the entrecôte may be king-sized, but this positive quality is greatly marred by an excess of tough sinews.
One last fine day
The day before their departure is one of the finest of the whole holiday: sunny with pleasant temperatures.
In the afternoon, Lea drives the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin to Elisabetlaan at Knokke-Heist, where she and her spouse alight and start on a walk along the marine promenade.
Soon they see the kind of festivity that is mainly organized to promote some commercial interest. Oil company Q8 appears to have its greasy hand in this. They witness another instance of the contempt sometimes displayed towards non-motorized users of the road. The footpath and half of the cycling path are blocked by a cosy co-operation between a lorry and the aforementioned festivity. Whereas the marine promenade normally has a width of about ten metres, pedestrians and cyclists are now squeezed into a three-foot wide passage.
They are somewhat puzzled by two kennels which seem to suggest dogs can be housed in them -- or should they conclude that these kennels are prohibited for dogs? In that case one may wonder what the real purpose of these kennels may be.
They drink coffee at De Melrose, where a notice on the toilet makes the couple wonder whether it will persuade any people to start mopping the toilet floor.
'Please leave the toilet as you'd like to find it'
Some photos hanging on the wall make them inquire whether these represent the surroundings of the café. The waiter gets engrossed into nostalgic reflections and relates how wonderful the area used to look in the past. When the couple leaves the café, they do indeed see that a few good-looking parts of Heist are left, but it's getting less and less.
Destruction is getting its claws into everything around; more and more old houses fall victim to real estate developers and other greedy parties.
But not all is woe and sorrow. By the end of their walk they pass a sculpture made by an artist with a sense of the beauty of the female form.
Yesterday's meal at Ostend was so disappointing that they try again tonight, this time at Aardenburg. They enter restaurant Lekens, where the steaks cost a bit more than yesterday's entrecôte at Ostend, but are infinitely more tender. In the menu they discover another original spelling, this time for a drink that's normally spelled kir:
And after dinner, Tom and his sweetheart have themselves photographed before the restaurant.
It seems to grow into a kind of tradition to behold hot-air balloons at sunset. This evening proves no exception.
Return trip / Animal life
The return-trip is rather uneventful.
Cat Siep rides with us in the Red Japanese Biscuit Tin, whose standard equipment unfortunately does not include a cat box. Well, madam, things could be worse: fortunately we were not far from a parking lot where Lea could pick up the little turds with pieces of tissue paper and throw them into a dumpster. That is one advantage of warm weather. Then animals tend to produce drier faeces -- or didn't you know, sir?
But for the rest of the journey, Siep behaved very well. She even caught a mouse.
mouse caught by Siep
Does this picture frighten you, madam? In that case the next picture may be even more shocking. It represents two spiders of the family of the pholcidae, a number of which keep the users of the Platluus toilet company.
But these are not the only fauna found at The Platluus, as is clear from the last four pictures in this series:
Which terminates this weblog about the family's summer holiday of 2007.