Through Belgium and Holland to Germany
( Originally Published 1903 )
WITH my knapsack again on my back, and my sturdy staff in my hand, I set off in the early morning in the direction of Antwerp. I was sorry to leave the gay little Belgian capital, where I had enjoyed such pleasant times, and I promised myself that I would return there on my next visit to Europe, whenever that might be.
I planned to go to Antwerp first, to see the attractions of Belgium's chief commercial city, and then I determined to see something of Holland. It wasn't a long journey, and the road was quite as good as that which I traversed from Ostend to Brussels. I was now quite accustomed to pedestrianism, and I walked contentedly from early morning till noon, and from noon till night. I seldom stopped for long in any of the little villages, unless I found one which was more picturesque than the others. As a rule, they were all very much alike, and as I wanted to reach Antwerp, I pushed on as rapidly as I could.
I found the Belgian peasantry which I met along the road rather more pleasant than those with whom I came in contact during my first days in the country. They were usually of German stock, with many of the excellent characteristics of their ancestors in the Fatherland. They invariably treated me with great hospitality. It was seldom that I was obliged to pay for a glass of milk, and very often they even refused payment at farmhouses for meals which I had eaten. And when they did charge me anything, it was always a small sum.
When I reached Antwerp, however, I was obliged to spend more than I had saved in the country districts. I found it impossible to get a lodging and sufficient food in the city for less than forty cents per day, but in spite of that I remained in the city for three days. It was easy to see that Antwerp is the commercial capital of Belgium. I found it a most interesting town, with its narrow, ancient streets, where you see the Flemish peasants with their antique headgear, and everywhere around you the great, old-fashioned mansions, lofty-gabled and quaint-looking. I learned that here was the birthplace of several of the greatest painters of the Low Countries, notably Van Dyck, the two Teniers, and others, and all about one seemed to breathe an atmosphere of art. But the cathedral, of course, was the great place of attraction for me, as it is for all visitors.
Its spire, four hundred and four feet high, was the finest I had seen in Europe, and its sculptured tracery was so exquisite that I wasn't surprised that Charles V. had said that it deserved to be kept in a glass case, while Napoleon compared it with Mechlin lace. The people of Antwerp are very proud of the magnificent pictures which adorn the interior of this church. " The Descent from the Cross," by Rubens, is one of the noblest efforts of art in existence, and there are fourteen choice paintings beside, called the " Scenes of the Passion " illustrative of the scene of the Crucifixion. Another great picture by Rubens, " The Assumption," was said to have been painted in sixteen days, at the rate of a hundred florins a day, that being his fixed price for work. There are a great many other valuable pictures, perhaps three hundred in all, and more than any other church in the world can exhibit. I thought it strange that the greatest pictures of Rubens should be kept covered from the public view, and that the authorities of the cathedral should charge a fee for seeing them. It would seem that since they were placed in a church, they ought to be left uncovered, to accomplish whatever good was within their power.
A City of Beggars
Antwerp was full of beggars, who were continually pestering the tourists for money. They didn't bother me, because my appearance warned them that it would be no use, but it was sometimes very funny to see them after the guide-book tourists. The sight of the red guide-book was always the signal for attack, and they seldom desisted until the tourists had given them something.
I found that it cost money to see most everything there was worth seeing in Antwerp, and when I left the city it made me heartsick to see my account book. The money with which I had started from London was diminishing a great deal more rapidly than I had expected it would, and I saw that if this rate of expense was kept up, it would be quite impossible for me to continue my tour of the Continent. I would have to return to England as quickly as I could, and earn some more money. There were several items of expense in Antwerp which I might have escaped. I had visited a great many museums and public places where an admission fee was charged, and these fees had amounted to what appeared to me a considerable sum. Still, I could hardly have been satisfied to have left the place without seeing what there was of interest. I couldn't be sure that I would ever pass that way again, and it was my duty to make the best possible use of the opportunity.
I left Antwerp for Holland determined to live more cheaply than I had done in Belgium, and I hoped also, that I would have a chance to earn some money before I proceeded into Germany. I looked forward to my visit with considerable enthusiasm. I had long considered Holland one of the most interesting countries I knew of, and now it was delightful that I was to see it for myself. The country was not disappointing in any way. As I approached Amsterdam the land was all flat and marshy. In every direction I could see the picturesque windmills, and I regaled my eyes on old-fashioned Dutch farmhouses and the numerous canals, with their boats. When I reached Amsterdam itself, I decided that it must be one of the most interesting cities on the globe. It is built on wooden piles. All through the city you cross the canals, bordering which are many of the principal streets, with long rows of shade-trees and clean, paved roadways on either side; the canals intersecting the city streets being so numerous as to form ninety islands, with two hundred and ninety bridges crossing them in different directions. Amsterdam has now a population of about four hundred thousand, and is a very wealthy place. I thought its style of architecture very singular. It impressed me as being decidedly picturesque, but while I was there I heard other tourists call it angular and stiff, and totally without taste. I thought the curiously carved gables, fronting upon the streets, were admirable in their way.
A Chance to Earn Some Money
As soon as I reached Amsterdam, I called upon an English gentleman to whom one of my London friends had given me a letter of introduction. He had a wide acquaintance among his countrymen in the city, and when I told him that I would like very much to get work of some kind, he sent me at once to a large exporting house. They wanted to know there if I could use a typewriter, and as I had learned to do so in Chicago, they gave me work at once. I had to write letters and circulars which were to be sent to England and America, and I was paid enough for what I did so that I was able to save quite a sum of money before I left the city. It was a godsend at the time, for it enabled me to continue my tour without returning to London, and it was a satisfaction to be able to carry out my original plans.
I enjoyed every day of my stay in the city. When I could secure the leisure from my work I visited the various places of interest, and I spent my evenings in walking about the principal thoroughfares. One thing which surprised me was the condition of the buildings occupied by the millionaire bankers of Amster-dam. They were invariably plain and modest, if not actually shabby, and one would never have imagined that transactions amounting to millions of dollars were annually accomplished amid such surroundings. Two of them that I visited were in the back rooms of the basements of the proprietors' residences. I couldn't imagine one of our American bankers doing business in such a place.
My route from Amsterdam to the Hague, when I continued my journey, led through Haarlem, which is the home of many beautiful plants which we have in our American gardens. The horticultural exports of the town amount annually to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I was told that one dealer alone had exported in one year three hundred thousand crocuses, one hundred thousand hyacinths, and one hundred thousand ranunculuses, besides other flowers.
Ten miles from the Hague is Leyden, a place which interested me greatly on account of its connection with the Pilgrim Fathers. It will be remembered that the English Separatists, as they were then called, were driven out of England and went to Amsterdam and Leyden in 1611, and established a church at the latter place, under the care of John Robinson, its first minister.
A Delightful Time in Holland
At the Hague, one of the prettiest and most pleasant cities in Holland, and indeed in Europe, I had a delightful time. No more tidy city could be found in a
journey round the world. As I went about the city in the early morning, I noticed that in front of almost every house of prominence there was the clean, tidy, blonde housegirl, with her white apron and white ruffled cap and wooden shoes, scrubbing the pavement. The streets seemed as clean, almost, as the insides of the houses. All the servant girls in Holland seem to dress in the same attractive fashion. I found the market full of them, wearing on their heads only these ruffled white caps, with no sign of a bonnet to be seen on one of them. The Dutch peasant or village girls, when I encountered them upon the road, always had a cheerful " Good-day " for me, and I soon learned to say " Goeden dag " in reply. They were always friendly, so it was little wonder I carried with me a warm feeling for the Dutch peasantry.
All the quaint and beautiful towns which I saw in Holland had in their centres large and beautiful parks, which everybody, rich and poor alike, could easily reach. At the Hague, when I arose in the morning, I looked out upon a herd of about twenty deer feeding quietly in Williams' Park, a pleasure-ground adorned with villas, monuments and statues. A certain Dutch author has written, " The Hague has a tree, a flower, and a bird for each of its sixty thousand inhabitants." In the capital city, as in the other towns of Holland and Flanders, there appeared to be scarcely any sidewalks at all. The streets were narrow, and horses, vehicles and pedestrians filled up the roadway, and the hack-drivers were continually cracking their whips as a warning for foot-passengers to get out of the way. The houses were all about four or five stories in height, and looked, as I passed along the streets, as if they were about to topple over and fall upon me, they were so out of the perpendicular.
A Piece of Extravagance
When I went from Holland into Germany, I walked a part of the distance, and then, as the country became commonplace and rather uninteresting, I decided to take a train for the remainder of the distance to Cologne. I thought myself justified in this bit of extravagance on account of my economies in Holland, and because I had accumulated some extra money by my work in Amsterdam. But I didn't find traveling by rail so pleasant as I expected it would be, after my long period of pedestrianism. When I arrived at the village where I planned to take the train, I couldn't find anyone who spoke English, and I couldn't decipher the time-tables which were posted on the bulletin, so all I could do was to wait until the train came along. I had to wait for a long time, and when a train finally appeared, bound in the direction I wished to go, I jumped aboard a third-class carriage. When the guard appeared I told him I wanted to go to Cologne, and he quieted my fears by nodding his head that I was in the right carriage.
The journey wasn't a pleasant one at all. The third-class carriage had only hard benches on which to sit, and it was so small that one could hardly stand up in it without bumping his head. It was occupied by a peasant woman with three children, and by a portly German who snored throughout the trip, so I wasn't solitary. The country through which the train passed was flat and uninteresting, and in spite of the discomfort of the train, I was glad that I hadn't tried to walk through such a commonplace region. The peasants I saw at the stations looked just as uninteresting as the district in which they lived, and I was glad that I didn't have to ask them for food and lodging.
In a short time the train arrived at the German frontier, and the train was stopped while the customs' officers examined the luggage of the passengers. It didn't require much time for them to go through my knapsack, and they smiled when they saw how little I had. I found during my entire trip that one avoids a great deal of anxiety and discomfort if he hasn't trunks to be examined at the frontiers.
We all changed from the Belgian to a German train, and I was glad to get out of the carriage in which I had been riding. The German carriages were far superior, and in a short time I was enjoying a pleasant ride through a beautiful country to Cologne, where we arrived shortly before dark.
When I left the train in the beautiful Bahnhof, I felt more alone than at any time since leaving London. The flow of German all about me, the strange appearance of everything in the station and in the street, caused me to feel that I was indeed in a far-off country, away from home and friends. I fought the feeling as best I could, and stepped out into the busy streets, hardly knowing where I intended to go. I had taken only a few steps, however, when I looked up and saw before me the beautiful Cologne Cathedral. I was impressed at once with its wonderful architecture, and I determined that before I sought a place to sleep I would see something of the interior of the church.
I took a seat near an aisle when I entered, for there was a service in progress at the altar, and I examined by degrees the magnificence of the interior. As I gazed down the aisle, with its massive pillars for four hundred feet, it seemed to me that I looked into a perfect forest of columns. Art critics say that the Cologne Cathedral is one of the most beautifully proportioned in existence, and as I sat there in the evening light it seemed to me that no building could be more perfect.
When I found myself again outdoors I hurried down a side street near the cathedral, bent on finding a cheap lodging. The street looked as if it might belong to a cheap neighborhood, so I knocked at the door of one of the cleanest-looking houses and asked for a bed. I wonder now that the woman ever under-stood my signs at all, for I had even less knowledge of German than I had of French. When she found that I couldn't understand her German words she brought a pencil and a piece of paper, and wrote down the words. Then I looked them up in my dictionary, and in this roundabout fashion we arrived at an understanding. When I entered the room I unpacked my knapsack, for I expected to remain in Cologne for two or three days at least, and I wanted to be as comfort-able as possible.
The next day after my arrival was rainy, and I remained indoors most of the time. On such days as this I devoted myself to my correspondence. I pre-pared my articles for the newspapers in New York and Chicago, and sent home an account of what I had been doing since my last letter. It sometimes made me homesick to write to mother, but I took comfort in the thought of how they would all enjoy my letters. They wrote that they were following me all the way, and that they thought of me every hour of the day, so it was my duty to keep them informed of everything good which happened to me. I kept the unpleasant occurrences to myself.
Difficulties of the Language
While in Cologne I was preparing my own meals, and whenever I tried to purchase anything at a shop, I had all sorts of difficulties with the language. I had tried to learn some German, and had committed a few words to memory, but I never seemed to be able to pronounce them in a way to make myself under-stood. Usually I depended upon signs, in which I had become proficient, but there were times when they failed me, also. One morning, for instance, I was passing a shop, when I saw in the window some stuff which looked like the white vanilla taffy which is peddled in the streets of New York. I hadn't eaten any sweets since leaving England, and as I was hungry for some, I entered the shop to make the purchase. I pointed to the stuff in the window, handing the woman a few pfennig in payment, and she gave me a few pieces in a paper bag. I went out very happy, eating a piece, but I had no sooner swallowed some of it than my feelings were changed. The stuff was terribly hitter, though it had a kind of a sweet taste, too, and at first I thought it might be the German kind of taffy. I went to a fountain to wash the taste away, but it remained with me for sometime, and I decided to keep the rest of the supposed-to-be taffy until I met some English-speaking German, so that I could learn its true character.
In a few days I met such a person, and when I displayed my purchase, he could hardly speak for laughing. " Why," said he, " if you had eaten much of that you might have died. It isn't candy at all, but a kind of disinfectant, war-ranted to kill all bugs and germs." I joined in the laugh, and wrapped up the disinfectant, to keep as a souvenir. After that I was exceedingly careful about what I bought to eat, for I learned by this experience that appearances are often deceptive.