2005: In Dutch

By the spring of 2005 we thought ourselves quite the European travelers. There was one inexplicable hole, though, on the map of our wanderings: somehow we'd never been to the Netherlands.

That was easily enough remedied; we were going to London as usual for the annual multiple-family-birthday visit, and we'd already arranged to fly home out of Brussels, having had it with the American Airlines people at Heathrow. A swing through the Netherlands would be no trouble and might be fun.

One thing we decided on immediately, though: forget Amsterdam. Everything we'd heard about it turned us off; not just the dopers and the thieves, but the whole scene sounded tourist-trappy as hell. Besides, after a couple of weeks in London we weren't keen on any more big cities. We wanted something more restful. A look at the map, and a study of a few websites, indicated that the northeastern part of the country had possibilities.

So after we got off the plane from London at Schiphol airport on Sunday afternoon, we ignored the trains and buses and taxis heading into Amsterdam, and instead took a local train that skirted the southeastern edge of the Amsterdam urban sprawl and swung out across the countryside just south of the IJsselmeer. By then it was getting on in the day and we needed a place to spend the night. We got off at a town we'd never heard of before, because it looked as good as anywhere. It was called Amersfoort.

Which turned out to be a joy and a delight. Not that this was apparent at first - when we got off the train, we found ourselves in a built-up modern area with no appeal whatever, but a mile or so up the road, in the older town inside the main canal ring, we found pretty and peaceful neighborhoods with fascinating medieval walls and shaded canals and narrow, wonderfully clean streets where not much was moving other than the occasional bicycle.

That was how quiet it was: occasional bicycles rather than troops and squadrons and divisions of them. But we hadn't yet been in the Netherlands long enough to realize the significance of that.

It was a cold and windy day, and we assumed that was part of the reason the streets were so empty. At least one resident clearly had decided to spend the day indoors.

When we worked our way to the center of the old town, we discovered the main reason things were so quiet. Some sort of celebration was going on; we never found out the occasion but it was V-E Day and that was probably the reason. Nobody pays much attention to V-E Day in the US, but I've noticed the day is celebrated much more enthusiastically in countries that have been occupied by the Germans.

Anyway the main square was like a carnival midway, with tents and tables and places to buy food and drink. The entertainment featured, of all things, an authentic and not half bad Dixieland band.

There we also found a hotel. Correction: we found the hotel - as far as we were able to learn, it was the only one in town. The only one in the downtown area, anyway, though apparently there were some out on the highway. Apparently not much of anybody goes to Amersfoort just to visit. That's too bad, because there's plenty to see there; we wished for more time to see it.

Like the fifteenth-century city walls, with their remarkable "water gates."

It was odd, though, and rather neat when you considered it: Amersfoort obviously was a busy and prosperous city with a lot going on, but all that was in the outer town. Inside the ring of roads and canals that encircled the older part of town, it was like a different world.

We found a place to eat, after a certain amount of searching, and introduced ourselves to the joys of Dutch food. Ahhhhh.

In the morning we hiked back down to the station, not without feelings of regret, and caught the train for our next destination.