Through the Looking Glass

We got to Groningen, by getting up and setting off early, while there was a ‘lull’ inthe wind and torrential rain, amazed at getting through all the bridges without waiting.

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The simultaneous red and green lights which means the bridge is preparing to open,is a very welcome sight. We only had to wait for the rail bridge, but even then, we only just got to the Harbour before all the bridges closed for tea.
Groningen is, in my opinion, a cornucopia of smells. That’s good,not bad. We’ve cycled past just-blossoming apple trees, hawthorn, viburnum andsomething else which smelt as if someone had broken a gallon container of 4711.

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Walking into the centre last night, it was a smell-a-minute: normal tobaaco, ‘exotic tobacco aka weed, cigar smoke, 1001 different after-shaves and perfumes, tomato and garlic, fried fish, baked bread and the ever-present smell of water. This can be good: breezy, aerated water, smelling of Himalyan Balsam later in the year, or bad: stagnant, drainy and sometimes enhanced by rotting dead fish or other detritus.
Here are some of the sights from the streets.

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Dutch sense of humour is everywhere; they enliven the environment however they can, even if it’s just be painting their houses in bright colours.

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And here are some of the actual people.

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Although though we feel very at home here and everyone we meet does their best to make us feel welcome and accepted, it’s still most definitely, different from the UK. Just like trying to trim your own fringe by looking in the mirror, many things are back to front. Take pronunciation for instance:
ie in fietsen (bikes)  sounds like e as in (English) Peter
ei as in Reit sounds like i as in (English) pike
So the Reit Diep Haven where we stayed recently sounds like (English) Right Deep

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The name of this  building opposite our mooring is  pronounced like fryer in English, not like friar (although the extremes of posh and not posh in English could say either word as friar or fryer!
They drive on the right, not the left, bicycles almost always have priority, even over pedestrians, you sit down in a bar or cafe and the server comes to you, toilets and showers are often ‘unisex’, shop assistants say ‘alstublieft’, which literally means ‘please’ at the end of a transaction, hence we got it wrong when we paid for some beer with a 10 euro note and said, ‘Alstublieft’, not realising that it means ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘keep the change’ in that circumstance!
But it’s unusual for us to come out of any interaction worse off. King’s Day did mean we ran out of bread (see ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ post), but I have to forgive His Royal Highness Willem-Alexander for that, I suppose. The Dutch love their Royal Family as much as the Brits are renowned to love theirs. But there are differences. All their Kings have been called Willem and the present Willem was a Water Engineer, served in the Dutch Navy and had a go at piloting civilian aircraft, before he took up his Royal duties. Apparently no-one actually recognised who it was when the ‘This is your Captain speaking…’announcement came over the tannoy. And Dutch monarchs ‘retire’ and allow the next in line to take over, whereas in the UK, the last time there was an abdication, it was a crisis.
In fact, this morning, we’ve been treated like VIPs or a tourist attraction. Take your pick. So many people have walked past and asked us the usual ‘Did you sail across the North Sea?’ but also wanted to know what the boat is made of, where we plan to go next, why we’re in Groningen and also – and this made us feel as if we belonged, ‘Where is the Harbour Master’s Office?’ Long may it continue.

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