Heart Of Holland
( Originally Published 1913 )
A CALL FOR ALL TO GO MOTORING AND AN ENTRY INTO THE NETHERLANDS.
DO you know that you and I may enjoy our sightseeing abroad just as much and in just the same way as though we were millionaires? The crux of the matter has long been due to a change in the "art" of travel. Time was when a trip abroad meant to visit the great spas and capitals of Europe, the Rhine, Italy, Switzerland, the Riviera, and perhaps certain specially quaint and interesting towns. These places we could see as well as the moneyed man. We may have been obliged to patronize cheap hotels, or even pensions; we may have felt con-strained to take slow steamers and Cook's tours : but go we could and did. Now, things are changed; to have the real éclat of a trip abroad one must leave the beaten track—must go where steamers cannot land and railroads do not penetrate. Traveling with "Cookies" and "trippers" is not true "good form" ; it is now essential to See the odd, the unique, the out of the way corners where hoi polloi do not jostle one's elbows and trample on one's toes. How to accomplish this, is the problem.
For the rich man it is easily solved; he takes his touring-car abroad and the chauffeur does the rest; he can even follow the beaten track at chosen intervals and include old-time sights free from the jarring accompaniment of shuffling feet and obtrusive lunch baskets.
For us the solution of the problem is even simpler : proceed by rail to the large city or wide-awake town lying nearest your center of interest and there hire a touring-car; if by nature of the country a boat is desirable, you should certainly be able to hire a steam launch or a motorboat to suit the exigencies of the case. Hire your touring-car. Rates are not excessive—at least, not now—and they should grow more reasonable. A motorcar will enable you to see two or three towns in one day, as well as stretches of hitherto unexplored and inaccessible country. When you consider the two or three days' railway fares and hotel bills otherwise incurred to cover the same ground, and add to them the saving a motor makes in baggage transfer, fees, and carriage hire—to say nothing of the strain of trying to make impossible railway schedules fit desirable routes—you will find that you are spending little or nothing more for a very substantial increase in benfiets.
The result is most gratifying: it opens entirely new fields of interest, new points of view, adds much pleasure and profit heretofore unknown, and eliminates not a little of the usual drudgery; you no longer envy people who write books of their adventures, for you experience the story instead of reading it and could, yourself, write whole reams of curious and delightful incidents; towns and vast stretches of countryside you were wont to rush through by train, at fifty miles an hour, lie open for inspection and appreciation, and you at last see and learn to know foreign countries and foreign peoples as they really are.
The lingering doubt whether a hired automobile really affords the ultimate pleasure of motor-touring will be dispelled by this book which is written, in part, from the owner's point of view and mentions his numerous troubles. In many ways one may find greater pleasure abroad riding in a hired car; private cars must move between centers of interest, consequently their occupants are often obliged to take long, irk-some journeys over bad roads, through uninteresting regions and dirty manufacturing towns—journeys much more advantageously accomplished by rail.
Sitting in a hired car you have no responsibility; care free, you have only to enjoy the present to the utmost. There is no arduous task laying out routes and choosing good roads ; the local chauffeur knows them. There is no time lost threading the mazes of cities or asking your way in the country; no fretting about speed laws or rules of the road You are serenely oblivious of such trifles as that your license number in England must be white on black instead of being black on white as in Germany, or that the five-toned horn you may blow so merrily in Holland or in Prussia might cause your arrest in Saxony ; bursting tires and overheated machinery cannot ruffle your serenity, nor can stupid pet dogs and foolhardy drivers fill you with gloomy forebodings of damage suits. The whole appendix tells of motor owners' troubles.
Yet no one should be timid about motoring. To forestall any exaggerated notion of danger, let me say that I have ridden close to ten thousand miles in motorcars, have never been in an accident, and have never had occasion to fear one. If you insist on having a good driver and make him go at moderate speed you are safer than in any carriage.
The advantages of the foregoing suggestions will appear from time to time in the following simple chronicle of a tour in Holland.
It is afternoon. Already the sky seems flooded with a bright yellow glow characteristic of the long northern twilight. Behind and around us lies a lonely expanse of waters; before us, a breakwater, a long low stretch of land fading into the horizon, a few sheds and the tall pillar of a lighthouse,—the Hook of Holland. A great hush has fallen ; the churning screws that carried us so resistlessly across the Atlantic have ceased their labor; we are drifting with the tide. A perceptible line shows where the brown water of the Maas pushes out against the green water of the sea. We gather at the forward rail of the upper deck to contemplate the scene.
"Oh, look at the windmills—the windmills !" exclaims Mater, with a break of excitement in her voice.
"Windmills!" we echo in chorus, as we shift our gaze to their dark sails silhouetted against the sky.
A struggling thought tugs at the cords of our memory; it persists and at last grows into a picture—the picture of a big white flag with windmill-sails and kegs and beavers on it. In a flash our thoughts leap back to that hurly-burly city three thousand miles away which we designate with proud affection "little old New York." Thus, unwittingly, Holland extends the hand of welcome; the entente cordiale is established and we look forward, with a feeling that promises eager appreciation, to the scenes that await us.
"Why, it's like coming home," cries Mater, "you know my ancestors came from Holland,"—and she starts an animated discussion in which the name New Amsterdam occurs freely.
Perhaps you will land at the Hook of Holland, or perhaps you will sail up the broad bosom of the Maas (Meuse) and land at Rotterdam; or, you may not arrive on a Dutch steamer, or on any steamer at all: but I shall have to pick up the thread of my discourse somewhere, so let us thread the needle, as it were, at Rotterdam.
In the face of one of Hood's poems, Rotterdam is a disappointment; but his lines were written long ago. Time changes all things and one could hardly expect it to stand still for the benefit of Rotterdam, however staid and slow the Dutch may be. It is true some of Hood's interesting "wat'ry vistas" still remain, as well as,
"Tall houses, with quaint gables,
but the "masts of spicy vessels, from distant Surinam," are no longer in evidence. Gone are the wonderful high-pooped East Indiamen of yore; gone as well, their sailors, those picturesque ruffians with horse-pistol, cutlass and dirk, red sash, bandanna and fez, hookah and terrible outlandish oaths—and all the other stage properties appertaining to the seamen of days long past.
They still drink the strong Schiedam schnapps, in Holland, and the burning curaçoa, but for some reason these no longer excite the old-time deviltry.
The renowned Boompjes along the Maas (so called from the little trees with which it was embellished at completion) is not specially interesting. In fact, South Street in New York, as it was some twenty years ago—with its ship-chandlers' shops and other odd maritime institutions, and the figureheads of the great clipper ships forming a picturesque gallery along the shore—presented a far quainter scene. The Boy-mans' Museum has an uninviting Renaissance front. and its collections are far short of those at The Hague and Amsterdam.
You may find some diversion in the venerable Groote Kerk (the church of St. Lawrence)—in its old monuments, its fine brass screen and great organ. Scoffy (the scoffer of our party) relates that it was here he first saw gravestones in the pavement of a church. He tells with amusement of side-stepping reverently so as not to walk upon them, a touch of sentiment bravely overcome before his journey was ended.
As soon as you get out of the Groote Kerk you are sure to be disillusioned somehow. Perhaps the huge railroad bridge overshadowing the town does it; perhaps the birthplace of Erasmus, so obviously a reconstructed building. We all owe this gentleman, whose statue adorns the Groote Markt, a long-standing grudge. His famous bon mot (that "the inhabitants of Amsterdam live in the tops of trees, like rooks," just because their houses were built on piles) seems ridiculously far-fetched, especially when you consider that the top of a pile is really the bottom of the tree. Still, in his day, the use of piles may have seemed a wonderful thing that permitted poetic liberties; nor would I be too critical, for all readers of "The Cloister and the Hearth" feel a friendly interest in Eras-mus.
With plenty of time and patience one may derive some pleasure in viewing Rotterdam. But do not venture out too early in the morning : a veritable tempest of cleaning goes on during the early hours, and you will escape a foot-bath only to have doormats shaken in your face; and then wipe the dust out of your eyes just in time to discover mop handles or broom handles executing vicious gyrations in proximity to your waistcoat.
Good-by to Rotterdam. We are on the train, the express—so-called--for Amsterdam; the whole compartment is ours, except the seats occupied by two young men, fellow passengers from the steamer. Pater is pleased to have found room for us in one compartment, though it be first-class whereas our tickets are second-class. Naturally we expect to pay the difference in fare, but this is hard to explain to the conductor as our knowledge of Dutch is very limited. Pater tries him with German,
"Wir wollen nachbezahlen."
"Oh—ah! nachbetalen!" exclaims the conductor. That's the word ! The German did the trick. Pater's eyes assume a glint of triumph and a smile of unutterable satisfaction wreathes his lips.
Alas, the triumph was short-lived ; "nachbetalen" did indeed explain the situation and testify to our honor-able intentions, but it provoked a storm of Dutch that left us bewildered and helpless.
"He says, if you give him the money he will get you the extra tickets before the train starts," calmly remarked one of the young men; our steamer friends were Dutch and we had not even suspected it!
Soon we were speeding through the flat reaches of Holland, with their unvarying but pleasing repetition of fields, ditches, woods, windmills, and beautiful tree-lined roads. One of the Young Ladies exclaimed, "Why, there are no houses !" But there were, after all; only they were low and, together with the farm buildings, always hidden in a clump of trees. Some-times the barn seemed a continuation of the house; sometimes the homestead formed one side of a barn-yard which the outbuildings inclosed on the other sides; often a flower garden or a kitchen garden was included in the complex which was invariably surrounded by trees—a necessary shelter from summer's heat and the fierce winds of winter. But no fences could be seen ; gates there were a-plenty, but nothing other than ditches separated the fields. I suppose the staid and honorable Dutch cows and horses would disdain to step over the gleaming thread of water that marks the boundaries of their own proper pasturage.
The train stopped at several towns—immaculate little places raising their quaint gables proudly, in lasting denial of the assertion that picturesqueness and dirt are inseparable companions. Door knobs and knockers actually winked and blinked at us in satisfied consciousness of their absolute integrity, while the cobbles in the street bore a look of having enjoyed daily scrubbings for several centuries antedating the discovery of Sapolio.
At one stopping place a rattle on the cobblestones was occasioned by an approaching dog wagon (filled with shining copper milk cans of various odd shapes) which traveled slowly past our train window. Next, a clatter not unlike the rattle of musketry demanded attention; our imaginations were not sufficiently active even to surmise what might be coming, yet it proved nothing more startling than a pretty young woman in wooden shoes hurrying to intercept the postman.
Ten o'clock had struck before we heard the guard's welcome cry of "Om—sterrr—domm !"