Saturday, November 9, 2013

Travelblog 8 - More to Holland: Tiel and Flipje

Apparently, there is a saying in Holland: “Never be caught dead in Tiel.” The implication, as far as I understand it, is that Tiel is a very dull place. Therefore, it was amusing and interesting that Erik, who told me the saying, and Annemieke wanted to take us there one afternoon. Mostly, I think, it was to experience the bus ride through the back country around their home in Culemborg. Secondly, I think they really wanted us to see Tiel – but I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the statue. And yet, and yet – I like Tiel. We packed up the dog, Daan, a long-haired dachshund. In Holland, dogs are welcome almost everywhere, even inside many stores and restaurants, and certainly on rapid transit. The bus ride over was fun and casual, along the dike and then through small towns and villages. Tiel is about half an hour away from Culemborg in the Riverland. We crossed no major rivers to get there, but left on the southern bank of one, the Lek, and finished on the northern bank of another, the all important Waal. Tiel is one of several major cities along the Waal River. The Waal is the main tributary that leads from Rotterdam up to the Rhine and its gateways to Europe. As such, the Waal is one of the most heavily trafficked rivers in the world. Tiel is quaint. No other word gives the city justice. Apart from the sprawl common to the outlying areas of most Dutch towns, there is much charm and there are many shopping opportunities in the centrum. Like so many Dutch and European towns, Tiel was all but destroyed during World War Two, to be rebuilt carefully with an eye to its past and a mind to its future. The area around Tiel is surrounded by orchards, and Tiel was the home of the jam company de Betuwe until 1993. A cartoon character called Flipje graced the company’s advertising since the 1930’s. A statue of the raspberry-based humanoid Flipje is one of the modest highlights of Tiel’s central district. As with most centers in Holland, forget your car and visit on foot. Tiel’s main street runs parallel to the Waal until it reaches a distinct V. One branch of the V leads away from the shops and into a more open area where street venders ply their trade, then past them toward the old city gate and wall. Pass through the open gate and you find the river beyond, with a large parking area for water sport enthusiasts between the wall and the Waal, so to speak. Large transport barges head up the river and down, covered with pods. You can tell if the pods are full or empty by how low the barge rides in the water. Going back through the gate, you enter a large square with a playful fountain that sprays according to a modest computer program. This part of the square is dominated by restaurants and their requisite sidewalk seating. On our visit, no one was busy yet. We made our way down a side street lined with more shops, including a fair trade store whose owner, as it turns out, has family in Mesa, Arizona. It IS a small world. Later, we had a cup of coffee on the second floor of the local Hema department store. The window overlooked the V from the first juncture. Prominent in the plaza below stood Flipje, smiling from every inch of his four foot stature. Daan sat at our feet while I snapped a couple of pictures. As we were leaving the waitress came over to Annemieke to explain to her that the dog was actually not permitted in the eating area of Hema, for future reference. I was impressed by the consideration to wait until we were done rather than stop us altogether. Of course, it could have been economics. The best part of Tiel, though, was the very new adventure it offered Diane and me. On two occasions, in two separate stores along the first street, we saw women’s clothes on sale on outside racks. Both times, we found something we liked for Di. Both times, we went for it and bought outfits at a price that would make any Dutchman or Scotsman proud. But the best thing was that we bought them without Di trying them on first, with total confidence that they would fit. And they did! It added to the depth of our experience to know that Di could find something beautiful to wear right off the rack. So, maybe you should never be caught dead in Tiel, but if you are at least you can be well dressed when you go.

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