War and Remembrance

Even I’m offended by the smell of my clothes.  I’ve been hand washing them when I can, but ten days into a European adventure that requires everything to fit on my bike has meant plenty of items are getting re-worn before they can get clean.

Other than the initial whiff of myself and the fact that I left a sock in Gelderland, today has been fantastic.

This morning I paused for roughly ten minutes to read some plaques at the site of the old bridge in Arnhem, that was bombed useless by Allied troops in WWII, after failing to gain it from the Germans.

Operation Market Garden, in 1944, was the biggest military operation on Dutch territory, and though seen as a defeat for the British, it did lay the groundwork for the Canadian liberation of the area in 1945.

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Remnant of Operation Market Garden

After crossing the bridge that was built where the original had stood, it was a quick trip down through 2000-year-old Nijmegen, and on to Groesbeek.

Our National War Memorial is remote, and honestly a bit disappointing from a visitor’s perspective (not much to explain its significance), but for the 2,338 Canadians that rest there, the peace it provides is well deserved.

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At the gates
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The graves are tended by Dutch school children
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My own small token of remembrance

From there it was nothing but smooth sailing the rest of the way, and I docked in ‘s-Hertogenbosch around 3:00.

“Den Bosch” is a beautiful city, dating back to the 12th century. Gorgeous old churches sound their bells for minutes at a time, filling Market Square with music.  This city of 150,000 feels both modern and classic, but has the strangest coat of arms.

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Coat of Arms

I enjoyed La Chouffe and Brugse Zot (Brugge’s Fool) at ‘t Bonte Palet, a pub like ‘t Moortgat in Arnhem, which looks like it was decorated by hoarders. 

Candelabra, old skis, an accordion, a marine lamp, a bugle, a small alligator and a hundred other odd items hang from the ceiling. 

A taxidermied bird, photographs of varied vintages, playbills, chalkboard tablets and a lone, English-language sign (“We don’t serve women here / You have to bring your own”) line the crowded, dark wood walls. 

The air is thin with smoke and thick with the conversation of locals discussing a recent New York Times article about the death of the world’s oldest typewriter repairman.

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Brugse Zot

Beer in this part of the world is almost always poured straight into the bottom of the glass, not on an angle. The tap closes when the head breaches the rim, and the foam that rests above is cut away with a knife (to remove the larger bubbles). Most of the glass is then lovingly bathed in a sink of running water to make it presentable for its intended’s waiting hand.

Down the street, at Tapperij de Hertog, I had a Passchendaele Pilsner, which features little soldiers marching across the glass.  I guess today was meant to be about Remembrance.

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I’ll enjoy my first pour tomorrow in a place of peace, at Abdij Koningshoeven. The Netherlands’ only Trappist brewery is just under 25 km from here.

My wheels are resting right now in a free (free!), government-supported, underground parking garage, built to encourage locals to bring their bikes into the core, without fear of theft or vandalism. The lockup is staffed and well lit, so I’m feeling pretty good about leaving Columbo there for the night.

Bless the Dutch. I may have taken a dislike to the staff of their passenger rail service, but everyone else has been great. People here are very helpful towards this wide-eyed Canadian. They share their stories and want to know mine. And these very attractive folk have helped me to finally understand why H&M produces so many “slim” styles of pants. They look so much better in this healthy part of the globe.

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