Sunday, June 21, 2009

To Heusden and back

While Nita was watching Sabine doing ballet, Bill, Caron and myself headed out to Heusden which is a fortified village; one of 13 in Holland. Heusden is besides the Maas river and the fortifications take the form of several alternating rings of canal and earthen walls set in the same pattern as that of the castle in Cape Town. On the way there we took several detours due to roadworks, it seems that the cold weather in winter really plays havoc with the road system here and they need to effect repairs every summer depending on how severe the previous winter was. Last winter was very cold so there are road works going on all over the place.

Arriving at Heusden we happened to get really lucky and hit it on the one weekend that, every 18 months, the whole town dresses up and puts on a medieval pageant. Bill was totally taken by surprise, he's been here at least 20 times with various visitors and never seen it so it turned out to be a bit of a novelty for Bill as well.

The town had it's militia doing exercises which, if this had been real life, would have meant that the town was doomed. It was more like organised rabble rather than an actual militia. We also had the canon being fired as well as volleys of musket fire. I have to admit that it was quite difficult to remember to click the shutter while being attacked by the pressure wave generated by the gun. I wonder if they actually hit whatever they were aiming for, there's probably some rabbit out there thinking that using a canon just isn't fair!

On our way to the harbour we walked past the foot of one of the the windmills and had to go around the front where the blades were moving. It was perfectly safe but it really didn't look that safe and it wasn't so easy to nonchalantly walk though the dodgy bit, that is to say we all bent double and gapped it as quickly as we could. It took a bit of time for Caron to join us on the other side.

The medieval harbour was tiny but it had what would have been fishing boats moored in it as well as some larger freight carriers. We had some lunch at the restaurant looking over the harbour and in spite of our agreement, Bill tried several times to pay the bill but fortunately Caron was wide awake and neatly intercepted it. It wasn't that much as lunches go but it seemed to break the ice a bit and Bill was far more willing to let us pay for little things afterwards.

While we were busy with lunch there was a mock trial conducted and the two villains thrown into the water which can only be described as freezing. It may be summer here but the water is still very cold.

From lunch we wandered around looking at all the townspeople who had been commandeered into acting as urchins or women of easy virtue or blacksmiths or some other occupation that would have been relevant.

There were even a couple of ensembles, Bills impression was that there were more children in Heusden that could play the violin (sort of) than in the whole of Eindhoven. Methinks that he was joking!

Walking past a herring merchant Bill and I couldn't resist some more haring eaten in the traditional way. The fishmonger was preparing the fish right in front of us and it literally takes him about 30 seconds to gut, behead, skin and debone the fish ready for eating; it was quite amazing to watch.
I really enjoyed getting to know Bill because, strange as it may seem, this is the first time that I have ever actually spent any real time with him. The similarities between him and me are quite remarkable, even our handwriting looks vaguely similar; I feel a bit like a quieter more reserved version of him in a lot of ways.

We went home and changed to go out to a favourite restaurant of Bill and Nita's which just happens to have a Michelin star, I'm not 100% sure exactly what that means but it seems to be a big thing and the restaurant was certainly a cut above anything I've ever been to and I've been to some pretty good restaurants. The meal consisted of seven or eight courses but each course isn't more than a snack so by the end of the evening one hasn't got the "Oh No! I've overeaten again" feeling, just pleasantly full. Not all the courses were fantastic but some of them were just amazing; if the wok last night and this one are representative of the average quality of restaurants, South African restaurants are in the dark ages. I suspect that these are probably above average though, even for here. The topics of discussion ranged from business to politics to culture, religion and technology and even periodically touched on family life and I loved it. I think that of everything that I miss, this is what I missed most during our 3 months away; the interaction with people and discussion of ideas. It's like we have been living in a little cocoon for 3 months and I've suddenly been let out to the real world again. Pumpkin hour came and went which, for us, is a bit of novelty these days and we finally went to sleep at about 00:30 or 01:00. I don't know what the final bill was but I am sure it was VERY expensive, think several hundreds of euros; needless to say I didn't fight Bill on this one and just graciously accepted his generosity!

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