Monday, August 30, 2010

Alternatieve Elfstedentocht - Day 6

Leeuwarden: truly delightful town. Quite unexpected combination of style, gritty back alleys, cafe-lined canals, historic houses and urban renewal. By night the canal tunnels are illuminated purple. I'm sitting by the Waag, the old weighing house, with a broad cobble-stoned plaza in front. I'm finding it difficult to tear myself away. Maybe one more coffee.

Nieuwestad, Leeuwarden
Not surprisingly, it's a bit more diverse than the rest of Friesland. I've seen North Africans and blacks on the streets. No one seems to work on a Monday except for those in the clothing shops. Here in the Nieuwestad, middle aged women and their daughters gawk at the windows of V&D, Vodaphone, H&M, Pearle Opticians and Hema, while a continuous flow of cyclists ride happily along the broad paths that flank the canal: a young man in jeans jacket and jeans, a pair of black youths, a teenage girl in jeans and tank top does a 180, a shaved headed man in his 60s rides with his grandson in the back seat behind the saddle. No cars. My macchiato arrives with a pair of small almond cookies and a glass of water. Sporadic sunshine. Perfect people-watching locale. Can't tear myself away.

De Weaze: a walk on the seedy side
I arrived in town around 9:30 last night after taking the park route into town: 66 to 65 goes through dense woods. I find the Groeneweg, make a smooth transition onto the Hoeksterpad, then spot a nice-looking felafel place and figure I'd better grab a bite to eat as it is likely there won't be anything open around my vrienden. Behind the counter are a sexy young woman in tight long t-shirt wrapped with a wide belt and a young Algerian man with a British accent who is very polite to me and wants to know where I'm from.

Once again, it occurs to me that there are no tourists here mid-August. No wonder all the people are so nice to me!

The felafel is very good, expertly fried balls and lots of salad stuffings, from marinated carrots to coleslaw to couscous. Healthy food for a change. I sit outside and chomp my sandwich as local kids hang at the next table. A young blonde woman with bookish glasses seems to know the Algerian youth behind the counter. When he asks me how I liked the felafal, she says, "If he made it, it's b-a-a-d." She seems to enjoy giving him a hard time. When I left, I intended to slip away but the kids insisted on saying goodbye.

Urban Friesland
I had a bit of a hard time finding my vrienden but somehow found my way to the Cambuursterpad, then the Bleekhof, the modern apt complex backing on the Oostersingel, where my hosts Gre and Henk Procee, resided. They were of course very nice to me though it must have annoyed them that I was arriving so late (after 10:30).

The Procees - Henk and Gre - gave me what must've been their grownup son's former room. He is now owner of a tony bakery/café on the Nieuwestad, where I later consumed a bland tartar on a bun with some wilted lettuce. It was a comfortable enough single bed though no match for Janneke's fluffy but firm queen.

The genius of Henk Procee
The table was set when I made it downstairs at precisely 8:30 am, the agreed-upon time for breakfast. There is an astounding similarity to all the Dutch breakfasts I've had at the vrienden's houses, as if the exact items are specified in the Vrienden Op de Fiets manual. One hard-boiled egg in an egg cup, shell still on. (Don't know what the point of the cup is.) One tray of bread, including four slices of rustic-style white or wheat (Gre baked her own) and two of a sweeter bread with raisins. A dish of butter, a jar of peanut butter, homemade preserves. A tray of cold meats such as bacon or turkey roll, some cheeses, either sliced or u-slice with cheese cutter. Optional: a tomato, some kind of fresh fruit (strawberries in Laaxum), a cloying juice drink, yogurt. Hasn't varied yet. Oh yes, and a thermos of coffee and a bowl of creamer packs. Gre's coffee was good. Henk sat me down, Gre was otherwise occupied. Henk told me he was a painter and showed me his work in the form of two books of postcard reproductions.

Deos "coffee shop"
Now in a koffie shop, Deos, around the corner from the felafel place, Mouni, which is on Peperstraat. Like everywhere else in Friesland, it's friendly, and the young man behind the counter gave me an exhaustive description of all the kinds of weed on display. He pointed out that there are "outside" and "inside" varieties, the latter tending to be stronger because, I suppose, they are more concentrated. Some North African guys are shooting pool at the other end of this upper level where I sit at a long solid table with chess and backgammon boards imprinted on the top. One thing about coffee shops is they generally have excellent sound systems. This one too.

Retreated into what I think is called the Prinsentuin, an elegantly landscaped park with hills, a fountain clearing a hole in the stagnant greenery that forms a thin crust upon the pond. There's a tony cafe at the top overlooking the pond, behind a big willow. Strangely the place is occupied mostly by ghetto youth (I can tell by their baseball caps and sneakers). Anyhow, it's my last moment of peace in Friesland and I'm enjoying it to the fullest.

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