So I recently returned from a week or so in The Netherlands. It was a business trip to Venlo, but as I was there for a little while (including a weekend) I got to see a bit more of the place. “Océ – a Canon Company” has its headquarters in Venlo, just over the border from Dusseldorf, the nearest airport. I learnt that Venlo is actually from the dutch “ven” meaning fen or marsh – indicative of the typical dutch geography.
I won’t bore you with the work-related reasons for my trip, but allow me to indulge myself with the more culinary and cultural elements of the visit. I arrived on the Thursday and met up with a colleague who introduced me to an app called “untappd“.
Basically this is like a boozy version of Pokemon Go or geocaching or I-Spy or something. Essentially you log each beer you imbibe and it allows you to discover similar beers you may enjoy, or nearby hostelries selling your favourite tipple. The Netherlands, like nearby Belgium has a long history in beer brewing and it was an easy excuse to try and “bag” as many different tipples as I could. And by tipple I mean “Tripel“.
I was a bit jet-lagged on the Thursday so just had a swift pint in the hotel and a burger with my Romanian colleagues who’d flown in a little earlier.
Friday, I went to work, and got confused by the tea machine. The options were “black” or “with sugar”. Not black/white or with/without sugar you understand… I found my inner calm and went with black.
One of my colleagues is a bit of a fitness addict so we didn’t get any other offers to join us for a brisk walk into town. It’s about 35 minutes each way, but I needed the leg-stretch, and it helped build up an appetite. We settled on Alde Mert and were not disappointed with the victuals. The menu included “game courses” and though these did not include such favourites as “Monopoly” they admitted the pricing was a tad rich by referring to “dear steaks”.
And then came the beer…
We walked a little further to Cafe de Klep (“the valve” or “the tap”) with its beer menu of over 100 offerings.
Westmalle, Karmeliet and Kwak seemed appropriate. Small 300ml litre bottles, but with a ~9-10% punch. That’s like drinking wine in beer quantities. No wonder the Belgians and Dutch are so mellow!
Kwak is always amusing. I first came across it when I travelled to Antwerpen a lot with Agfa. It comes in a glass with a round bottom and is supported in a wooden frame. Some bars insist you trade a shoe for the glass to ensure you don’t leave the establishment with one of their unusual glasses. A quick walk back to the hotel through the sleepy streets of Venlo and a sound night’s sleep ready for the weekend.
After a little debate, we decided we’d spend Saturday sight-seeing and opted for a trip to Arnhem famous for Operation Market Garden, immortalised in Cornelius Ryan’s A Bridge Too Far, turned into a film in the 70s. I had a personal connection as my grandfather had fought there and survived the ordeal. The airborne museum at Hartenstein in Oosterbeek was very well done and had a solemn but informative air.
Next we went to pay our respects at the nearby airborne cemetery. I was surprised to see several Canadian graves and all the ones I found were glider pilots – none over their mid-twenties.
They came from the skies. Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne assault in history.
Somewhat subdued, we headed back into Oosterbeek for lunch. After walking the length and breadth of the little town we settled on The Grand Cafe Schoornoord. As with so many places around here, it had its own links to the battle and had been used as a field hospital. First opened in 1882 it saw 500 wounded British soldiers treated inside during the battle of 1944. It’s now affectionately known as “Airborne pub No. 1”, and seems very proud of the small part it played in events.
Regular readers will know of my affection for Audrey Hepburn, and though the museum did have a temporary exhibition of some of her early life, I actually found this street advert in Oosterbeek to be more powerful. The eyes and cheekbones are unmistakable, even at such a young age. Note the pegasus symbol of the British Airborne Division on the lower/right of the poster.
After the drive back to Venlo and a while to regroup, we headed into Brasserie Alt Arce in Arcen (yes that’s really its name, and you say it like you’d think!). The food was excellent and beer was most naturally drunk.
Sunday was quiet and we headed off to the Hertog Jan brewery to sample their wares at lunchtime. I love the unfussy dutch food in this region and had a lovely “blood pudding” for my lunch. Essentially “Black Pudding” as it would have been in Yorkshire, but lightly fried.
By evening time we were looking for something a little closer and headed for the short walk from the hotel to Taurus. More beer – it was almost becoming habitual, but still easy to try different brews.
By Monday I was on a mission, and even though we ate in the hotel, I managed to add a few more different beers to the tally.
The main event began on Tuesday and I was now swept up in the formal mass dining of the group. This severely limited my options and Tuesday only added one new beer – Jupiler. Another Belgian mainstay.
Wednesday saw us back in the hotel “en masse” and I added one more Trappe to the total before being part of the winning team in the “team building” event.
By Thursday evening everything was done, and a few of us grabbed a taxi down town and ate at the Cafe Central. We finished off at the Klep again and then headed for the train station to grab a taxi back to the hotel. The Klep had some interesting urinals of the type first tried at Schiphol. The psychology goes that if men are given something to aim at, they’re less likely to pee on the floor, and so help keep things a little less smelly and icky.