West! (But slowly!)

by , under expeditions, life

We’d run out of vervain. And there’s no decent vervain to be got closer than Haarlem, which is on the other side of the country. I wouldn’t have gone right now if I hadn’t had exactly the right amount of money for a supermarket special-offer day ticket for the train left over from my birthday money– as it was, I had to buy the ticket from Secunda because the special offer from the supermarket only ran until Sunday, and I tried to buy it on Tuesday. (This meant a cheap day ticket for me, and a profit of forty cents for Secunda who only wanted to use it in lieu of a single to Amsterdam to a meet-and-greet with John Green.)

I felt fit enough to go and needed to spend a day with myself and nobody else, so I went. Just before I actually did go I saw on a news site that there was a signal malfunction near Amsterdam so all the train traffic in that area was out. It’s possible to go to Haarlem via Utrecht and Leiden and never even come closer to Amsterdam than Haarlem actually is (17 kilometers as the crow flies) so I planned that, leaving for Utrecht on the first train after my day ticket started being valid, the 9:03. Which went not only to Utrecht, but to Gouda and The Hague as well. Perhaps I should have been prudent and either got off at Utrecht and waited 28 minutes for a train to Leiden, or gone on to The Hague and had a guaranteed train to Haarlem every 15 minutes, but I thought Gouda was on the way to Leiden so I went on, especially as I was just on a roll writing my game writeup.

Well. No direct train to Leiden from Gouda (except morning and evening rush-hour) but I could get about halfway there. And once I was halfway there,it turned out that the signal malfunction had caused delays in that place as well. But the weather was splendid, and I had a book (Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers) so there was nothing to complain about.

Going to Haarlem from Leiden had the advantage of taking me through the Bulb Region. Not a lot of bulbs in flower yet except daffodils and more daffodils (which I love with a a fierce love, so it was completely okay) though I did see one field of what could, by the colour, only have been grape hyacinths, and one field of early RED!! tulips. Apparently, the bulb-field workers throw imperfect bulbs out of the field because there were clumps of daffodils at canal-sides everywhere, like weeds. As weeds, really.

In the fauna department: sheep, though only one very small lamb; the usual assortment of birds; a largish hare running away from the train; a cock pheasant wagging his tail in a field; a field containing a black llama, a grey llama, two white llamas and four brown llamas looking for all the world like ordinary livestock; and a group of drab-brown animals too large for hares and the wrong shape for deer, which I realised might have been kangaroos, but not until they were out of sight so I couldn’t check. Also, something black-and-white in a ditch that could have been a piece of plastic, but also a dead cow or calf. The train went past before I could see it properly and I kept wondering.

I was in Haarlem at a quarter past twelve– excellent! Only three-quarters of an hour later than I would have been if I’d left by the 9:14 without the signal outage, so a total delay of about an hour. Coming out of the station I met three women who said “it’s always nice weather in Haarlem!” and it was, though I could tell them that in the years I lived there there had been lots of rain, even on our wedding day. (Well, our civil-wedding day; the day of our church wedding was the day the summer of 1993 fell on.)

Walking to De Kale Jonker (translated a bit lamely as “poor gentleman” in the only dictionary I can find that has it, I prefer to call the tall friendly tea-shop owner the Shabby Nobleman) took all I’d got, so I flopped down on what is probably the chair that I flopped down on eighteen years ago with a very hungry baby. I bought two ounces of Silver Cloud (which I know as Silvery Cloud as that’s what the Shabby Nobleman consistently calls it), two ounces of Springside Darjeeling, and half a pound of vervain, two huge bags full. When I tried several ways to fit them in my Berlin Bag of Holding and eventually put them both upright, sticking out of the top, he remarked that it looked as if I was transporting weed (Dutch pipe-weed, that is), so I said “well, if the narcs come after me their doggy may sniff it”. It did smell delicious, even through the plastic. Then I treated myself to ice-cream. Every time I go to Bartoli they have something I haven’t tasted before. Pecan-butterscotch is yummy (but I knew that), rose-raspberry is BLEEPING AMAZING. The ice cream was the only thing I bought all day apart from the tea, because I’d provided myself with an adequate lunch box: a cheese sandwich, a hummus sandwich (but forgot the harissa, gah), two rolls with apple/nut/caramel filling (successful experiment, must write up the recipe) and rather a lot of carrot sticks.

On the way back to the station I started feeling my feet. Not my back, not my legs, but the result of walking longer than I’ve been used to lately, wearing heavy knee-socks in warm weather, with a slight limp. I sat on a bench on the last bridge before the station and ate some more lunch, people-watching, then limped the last two hundred meters.

I could have taken a train to Amsterdam –some were running again– but I’d become so curious about the black-and-white thing in the ditch that I decided to go back the same way. I didn’t manage to get a seat on the right side of the train, though, because it was short and very full of mostly a school trip. I didn’t feel like going from Leiden to Utrecht –I don’t like either station or the train between them much, and there’s almost half an hour’s wait on each side with that route– so I went on to The Hague where I caught the intercity with free wifi. Except that my wifi card has never worked properly (I use a cable at home, probably need a different driver but I’ve been too lazy until now to install it, if I travelled more I might have the incentive) and it couldn’t find the signal. Good thing really, because I wrote more of the game writeup without distraction, right up to the point that my battery went into the red and I closed the laptop hurriedly to avoid it crashing, which it tends to do when I let it run down completely.

Just before Utrecht there was an announcement that we were “approaching Utrecht with a delay of about 6 minutes, on account of a delay”. And once in the station there was another announcement, in a different voice: the delay was now about 15 minutes, and there was a technical problem with the train as well, and the announcer didn’t know when it would leave but there was a train to Groningen across the platform that people could take and change at Amersfoort. By that time my feet hurt so badly that I didn’t feel like going across the platform here, and again at the next station , so I tried to wait it out. A couple of minutes later the voice was back, saying she didn’t know whether the train would leave, so she strongly recommended taking the other train. She did promise there would be a direct connection at Amersfoort.

Ah well. It turned out excellent in the end: the train at Amersfoort was a German one, with electricity! There was a seat just behind one with a socket where someone sat who wasn’t using it, so I asked him to plug in my plug and wrote happily. (This man had a phone call from his young daughter to tell him that the cat had died, apparently not unexpectedly but all the same sadly.)

At Deventer, I had one scene to go, almost two hours before the time I’d set myself to get home at the latest. I stayed on the train until Hengelo, just over half an hour, and took the next train back, also a German one. The laptop didn’t really need the electricity now, the battery was back at 72%, but I plugged it in anyway Because I Could. And finished the writeup by the next station.

Really successful expedition. I can understand that people were grumbling, especially if they missed their planes, their exams or their job interviews, but I like roundabout routes and had nothing to grumble about– well, except my feet. This morning I discovered that the left heel had developed an impressive blister and had to get a plaster from the swimming-pool first-aid box, and one for the not-yet-blistered right heel as well on general principles.


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