Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Netherlands - Emmen and the fictitious bicycle tour?

Well, here I am. I have arrived in a small town in Emmen, which is about a two hour drive from the airport in Amsterdam. So far I have wandered about the town, passed by numerous cyclists, with the town clock pleasantly chiming on the hour. I've also been to the dierenpark - or zoo.

There were lots of school groups about, and what I found interesting was that one group of young boys, who must have been all of twelve years old, were smoking! With so much anti smoking campaigning that happens in Australia I was really surprised by this. The Dutch really love their cigarettes! Everyone smokes everywhere. I just read in Lonely Planet of a museum that celebrates the history of smoking in Holland that I can view at Groningen, a small university town nearby.

I have been trying to organise a bicycle tour of Emmen, which can be done by the history society through the library or Bibliotheek. They are only open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Yesterday, I was in the library busily typing emails when the Librarian who I had enquired about the bicycle tours came up to see me. Downstairs was a couple who were expecting to meet up with a tour group at 1.30pm. I looked at the computer clock and it said 1.28pm. Thinking this would be a good chance to try and join the cycle tour I quickly packed up and went downstairs. After a short discussion with this couple, we hastened to the railway station, as they thought that perhaps they had mistaken the meeting place for the library rather than the station. Once we reached the station, we could see, to no avail. that there was no tour group.

There is a bicycle rental shop at the station, and not even they had seen any bicycle tour. We had tried calling the contact number at the library and we again tried with my mobile phone, but there was no answer.

As we waited in front of the bike rental shop at the station, and after much protracted discussion (the husband did not speak any english but the wife's english was quite good) it began to rain. This put a very decisive stop to any thought of touring the countryside by bike!

They asked me where I was staying. My hotel was about a 10/15 minute walk away from the station. The wife spoke to her husband in Dutch, she then turned to me and said that they would drive me home. Since it was still drizzling I gratefully accepted. The husband then rode off on his bicycle.
The wife and I continued to chat and after a few minutes I asked her if they had parked their car at the library. No, she said. Her husband had ridden home to their nearby flat to get the car!! I was astonished, and this seemed like far too much trouble, which I then proceeded to tell her. She brushed my protestations aside and insisted that it was no trouble. This left me feeling as though it would be rude to protest anymore after their kind offer, so I stood there, instead, awkward with the knowledge that the poor husband had ridden home to collect the car. A sudden thought occurred to me. Would she be able to fit her bicycle in the car? The answer to this was no. So again, I stood there, wondering how on earth I had got myself into this situation, when the car arrived. The wife turned to me smiling, as she jumped back on her bicycle, and the husband, who didn't speak a word of English, was pleasantly holding the passenger door open for me. The wife waved as she cycled away, and I was left with no alternative but to get into the car. I thanked the husband profusely as I crawled inside.

However, by this stage I was feeling really ill at ease. I kept on thinking that I didn't know these people. The wife was really lovely, but she had ridden away, I would really have preferred it if she had also been in the car. How would I converse with this guy in English? Thankfully it was a very short trip!

During the drive all these horrible unbidden thoughts kept encroaching upon my mind. What if he tried something? I sat there, willing each traffic light to be green. To his credit, he tried to make conversation, but the only thing I understood was whether I had been to the Dierenpark (zoo)? Which I had.

Well, it all ended well, but I do know that things could just as easily have turned sour. Something gathered from reading the newspaper everyday! Here is an instance of the kindness of strangers. Something that is not always usual, but when it does occur, you only think bad thoughts and look for a hidden agenda. It was a funny episode, and even now looking back I have a small feeling of distaste, and a voice in my head saying that I shouldn't have put myself in that position. But I also feel guilty thinking that, because really it was all done with the best of intentions.

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