The Netherlands


The original version of this piece first appeared in the Albany Advertiser 28/8/2014
My Netherlands is a country of memories and comfort.
When I first arrived in 1977, the airport police threw me in jail because I had no on-ward ticket, no money and no visible means of support. This caused much consternation for the family of my wife-to-be, as the banks were closed and they couldn’t raise the bail money.
Her grandfather, Aage, a wise and frugal old chap, managed to find the required sum under his mattress.
Aage lived near the centre of the village and displayed all the cleverness you would expect from an old fashioned Dutchman. Every bit of available space was utilized for growing vegetables, storing vegetables, and the old house was remarkable in its confined spaciousness.
This trip the police only smiled at me and offered assistance when I looked lost and confused.
And this trip I spent most of my time in the ancient and wonderful city of Utrecht and given there is a push for Albany to be a university city there is much to learn from an historical place full of bikes, pedestrians, cafes, and open spaces.
Utrecht is built for easy movement of pedestrians and cyclists. It was a wonderful sight, walking home at 1am after the Dutch loss to Argentina in the World Cup, to the sound of bicycles clattering along over cobble stones, riders speeding home with downcast eyes and no lights. Some carried passengers perched on handlebars or rear luggage racks.
Like Albany this city has fine old historical homes and in front of many you could find a plaque and a box with eyeglasses to see photographs of how the buildings changed over the generations.
And in front of others were tiled renditions of famous artworks.
Back in Albany I have had visions of works from the fine Noongar Carrolup Collection and perhaps past Albany Art Prize winners displayed in tile form on public walls to add to visitor knowledge of the cultural depth of the region.
While in Utrecht I stayed within the old city and this made getting about simple and easy, although, like in that other ancient city I stayed in, Italy’s Lucca, I did need a day or two to learn the twists and turns.
The stairs from the first to the third floors also took a degree of concentration and after three days I was able to walk their perpendicularity without tumbling either up or down.
Like Barcelona, Utrecht also has its legendary architect, Gerrit Reitvelt, a man like Gaudi well before his time and after a brief visit to one of his homes you could be forgiven for thinking we still haven’t caught up.
Sponsored by Creative Albany. jon@doust.com.au
View from The Dom Tower
Street bookseller in Utrecht
Under the Dom Tower are the remains of a Roman fort.
Above: a skeleton, probably a Roman.
Below: ammunition.

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