444.The Man in Blue – Amersfoort 24 September & conclusion

This is the last of the illustrated articles on my September visit to the Netherlands. I used my time well and managed to do all I wanted to do. My last excursion from Den Haag was to Amersfoort where I visited a friend of very long-standing, Yvo Meihuizen and his wife Petie van Santen.

I went by single-decker intercity from Den Haag CS via Utrecht to Amersfoort. The service pattern is typical for services from the west of the Netherlands to the east and north-east. The train serves both Leeuwarden and Groningen in the north and in Utrecht the train from Den Haag is joined with a train from Rotterdam. Amersfoort offers a cross-platform connection to the east of the country.

In Zwolle the train is split, one part goes to Groningen, one part to Leeuwarden. This system of joining and splitting trains and cross-platform connections is wonderful as long as trains run more or less on time. My train was a little delayed, but I still had time in Amersfoort to take a few pictures of the bus stand outside the railway station. Bus 4 took me to very near my friends’ house.

I met with Yvo and his cats, we had a good chat and went for a walk in the neighbourhood. We talked about our shared interest in public transport, town planning and conservation of historical buildings.

When his wife came home we talked even more and then walked to a local restaurant. I had a nice vegetarian meal and enjoyed the informal atmosphere of the place. After the meal I walked back to the station along a small river and via an old city gate (Koppelpoort) and past the old station building.

At the station I had a look at a local train operated by the Connexxion bus company and went back to Den Haag in a delayed intercity train. I had a pleasant talk with an intelligent young man. On arrival in Den Haag it was raining hard and I had to run for cover. Once I was under cover I walked to the high-level stop of tram 6 without getting wet.

These excursions to the Netherlands are important to me. It is not just about seeing old friends and family members, although I do value those contacts. But I am a Netherlander and even if I never go back to live there, I have been formed by the culture and the history of that country and it is good to keep in touch.

Going to Zeeland where my father’s family comes from felt very good. Travelling and walking about in Amsterdam was great, Amsterdam still feels very good, even without bars and ‘coffee shops’. Being in Belgium Limburg reminds me of my youth in Dutch Limburg but it is not the same.

I am a Sikh, my fatherland is God’s wide world, but it does you no good to deny your background. A Sikh, a world citizen and a Netherlander is how I see myself. Being part of the one human race is very important to me.

443.The Man in Blue ~ Den Haag – Amsterdam 22 September

In last week’s column I arrived in Den Haag (The Hague). Here I always stay at the house of my friend Jatinder Singh, who tells me that his house is my house. He lives in an area where all streets are named after South African locations or politicians from the times of the Boer Wars. These wars were between white settlers of Dutch background (Boers) and the English.

This neighbourhood is one of the most diverse areas of Den Haag. It has a Ravidas Temple and a Gurdwara and there are of course Churches, Mosques and Mandirs. Most of the Hindus are from Surinam (former Dutch Guyana). Some of the Panjabis in the Netherlands married Surinam Hindu girls with Dutch passports.

I visited both the Gurdwara and the Ravidas Temple. I only took a few ‘snaps’ of the Singh Sabha Gurdwara, and quite a few of the Ravidas Temple and of some of the positive things that were going on there.

On the 22nd of September I went to Amsterdam where I visited the Guru Nanak Gurdwara near Sloterdijk station and the newly opened Maan Sarover Gurdwara on the Baarsjesweg in Oud West. In between I visited Marieke, my ex-colleague from my days at the Eurolines Company.

Last year I had a meal with her and her little daughter, this time we only spent half an hour together. I also met ex colleagues Paul and Dick. It was nice to meet people who knew me before I became a Sikh and with whom I am still friends.

I had langar at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara. It is not on a central location but has good public transport connections and plenty of parking. It is not very busy during the week but there is always some sangat.

The Maan Sarovar Gurdwara is in a lively area just west of the city centre. I walked through the Kinkerstraat on my way to the Gurdwara and it was a pleasure to see this busy shopping street with many ethnic minority shops.

Both on this walk and earlier when I walked along the river Amstel there was no sense that the people of Amsterdam were infected by the fear of ‘the other’ as preached by Dutch MP Geert Wilders. His party scored too many votes during this year’s election and now gives outside support to the new right wing government.

In the Maan Sarovar Gurdwara I was recognised by one of the sevadars. I listened to the Rehrás and made myself useful during sukhasan. My friend Gursev Singh and his wife arrived and we had langar. Then I hurried away to catch my train back to Den Haag from the Lelylaan station. I missed my train and had to wait for a later slower train, and had to wait again at Schiphol as my next train was delayed.

Waiting with me was a Scandinavian Singh with whom I had a nice conversation, which goes to show that this missing of trains and delays was for a good purpose.

442.The Man in Blue ~ Rotterdam – Den Haag

Travelling by public transport from Vlissingen to Rotterdam is usually by train, and similarly when travelling from Rotterdam to Den Haag the train is the norm. But I liked my trip by bus and coach going from island to island via dikes, bridges and tunnel and I liked my trip by RandstadRail from Rotterdam to Den Haag.

The Randstad is the densely populated area between Rotterdam, Den Haag, Amsterdam and Utrecht. The RandstadRail project connects a suburban railway line to the east of Den Haag with the Den Haag tram system, using tram-trains, and connects a suburban railway line from Den Haag to Rotterdam with the Rotterdam Metro system.

The tram-trains in the Den Haag area are running and passengers travel from the suburbs into central Den Haag without changing. In Rotterdam the RandstadRail metros leave from the Central Station through a new tunnel to connect with the suburban line to Den Haag CS. Eventually the RandstadRail metros will leave from metro station Slinge and run to Den Haag via Zuidplein and Rotterdam CS.

The two services share the same tracks in the Den Haag area between Leidseveen and Den Haag NOI, which is also served by Netherlands’ Railways (NS). See the diagram on one of the pictures that illustrate this article.

After arriving by coach at Zuidplein I took the metro to Central Station where I took some pictures and got a RandstadRail metro to Den Haag. The trip was very pleasant, we ran on schedule and the train had seats that were sufficiently comfortable for the relatively short journey (about 30 minutes).

From Zuidplein to Rotterdam Centraal the metro runs about 8 times an hour, from there to Den Haag 4 times an hour. In the Netherlands there are usually good connections and easy transfers between trains, metro, tram and bus or coach.

The bus, coach and metros to Den Haag were punctual, but when later in the week I went from Den Haag to Amsterdam, Amersfoort and Antwerpen all my trains were running behind schedule.

From Den Haag Central Station I took tram 6 from the high tram and RandstadRail tram-train platform to Hobbemaplein, near the house of my friend Jatinder Singh.

UK trains are not designed for long legged gents like me, in Belgium and the Netherlands even ordinary IC or semi-direct trains offer more legroom than long distance Virgin or East Coast trains.

In the Netherlands ProRail looks after tracks and stations and NS after the train operation. This has increased the number of closures of sections of the track exponentially. Some of the rural lines are now operated by the same companies that run the buses in those regions and this seems to be quite successful.

441.The Man in Blue – Vlissingen ~ Goes ~ Zierikzee ~ Rotterdam

No stories about family members this time, just a description of my wonderful journey ! Cousin Marie drove me the short distancefrom her house to Vlissingen – Oost Souburg station in her car. We went early as I wanted to buy an OV Chipkaart from the ticket machine at the station. The OV-Chipkaart is like a national version of the London Oystercard, valid on all Dutch public transport systems.

At Vlissingen station I took an intercity double-decker train to Goes, which only took about 20 minutes. In Goes I changed to Connexxions bus 132 to Zierikzee via the Zeelandbrug. There was a little wait but the bus left on time. Dutch buses are more comfortable than UK ones and Dutch roads have fewer potholes.

Goes is on the former Island of Zuid Beveland, connected to Walcheren to the west and the province of Noord Brabant to the east. To go to Zierikzee on Schouwen-en-Duiveland we first crossed to Noord Beveland via the short Zandkreek dike and from Noord Beveland to Zierikzee via the five kilometre long Zeeland bridge. The bad news was that due to fog I could not enjoy the view of the Oosterschelde.

Zierikzee has a proper bus station, but it also has a station used mostly just by people wanting to change to other bus and coach services. That station is called Sas, and there I got off to change to Interliner coach 395 to Rotterdam Zuidplein.

This is an express service stopping once only, but otherwise runs non-stop to Rotterdam Zuidplein. From Schouwen-en-Duiveland we went to the island of Goeree-Overflakkee (province of Zuid Holland) over the Grevelingen dike. Halfway there is a junction from where the Philips dike takes you to Noord Brabant.

We went non-stop past Oude Tonge bus station and then crossed the Haringvliet via the Hellegats dike and the Haringvliet bridge. Before going on to the bridge there again is a junction in the middle of what used to be a wide estuary subject to ebb and flood, which connects to Noord Brabant.

On the other side of the Haringvliet we were on the last island (Voorne Putte) of this trip, which we left through the Heinenoord tunnel, to the north of which you are very near to Rotterdam’s Zuidplein, a major interchange between the Rotterdam Metro and local and long distance buses.

The trip was very smooth and comfortable. We left Goes at 11.33 and arrived a couple of minutes early at Zierikzee from where the Interliner coach left on time (12.00) to arrive a bit early (12.450 at Rotterdam Zuidplein. Why the coach did not stop at the Oude Tonge bus station on Goeree-Overflakkee, which is next to the motorway, I cannot understand. The company must like running empty vehicles.

From Zuidplein I continued by Metro line D to Rotterdam Central Station and from there by RandstadRail metro E to Den Haag Centraal and finally by Tram 6 to the Hobbemaplein, near to where Jatinder Singh lives. To be continued.

440.The Man in Blue – Vlissingen – Domburg – Middelburg

Before travelling to Vlissingen I had agreed with my cousin Marie that we would go for walks on the sandy beaches on the west side of Walcheren, the island on which Vlissingen is situated. The beaches and dunes are a great asset for walkers, horse riders and ‘beach bums’. They also protect the island against flooding.

I arrived in Vlissingen on the Saturday at about 1 pm and as the weather forecast for Sunday and Monday was not good we decided to have a quick lunch and then make for the nearest beach.

South of Walcheren the Westerschelde, the estuary of the river Schelde, joins the North Sea. The shipping lane used by vessels going to and from the Belgian port of Antwerp runs here near the beach. Across the Westerschelde you can see Zeeuws Vlaanderen, the part of Zeeland that is on the Flemish mainland.

We walked and talked. We walked along the beach, enjoyed the sunshine and the views across the Westerschelde. We talked, and talked and then talked even more. Due to my 14 years outside the Netherlands we had a lot to catch up on.

The three days with cousin Marie showed how important a family member can be.  Marie and I can talk so easily because we know each other’s background, we understand each other because we have known each other virtually from birth.

On the Sunday the weather was not as bad as predicted. It was windy (it often is in Zeeland) and cloudy but it did not rain. Together with Marie’s eldest daughter we went to Domburg, the oldest resort on the Walcheren coast, where various venues hosted a jazz festival.

It was good to meet Karen, who I had seen a couple of years ago but did not really get a chance to talk to. She fits in the musical tradition of her side of the family. I enjoyed listening to Karen playing violin and her mother accompanying her on the piano. In Domburg we listened to jazz, had chips, went for another walk on the beach and then left Karen at the restaurant where she works.

On the Monday morning I walked along the Westerschelde to Vlissingen station. It was very windy ! On the way I met a young black man who wanted to know who and what I was. We came to the conclusion that we both try the serve the One.

The bus driver who took me back to Vlissingen also asked me questions about my traditional outfit, and we had a nice conversation. During my three days on Walcheren nobody called me Osama Bin Laden and nobody gave me hostile looks.

In the afternoon I took the bus to Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. I walked through the old city on to where we were having dinner. I met Marie’s husband and her younger daughter and after the meal I went with Marie to attend a session of the small orchestra that she and Karen are part of (To be continued).