The description I found online of Bergen was “an artist village” with interesting architecture, amazing sand dunes and a long beach. After a week in Bergen with a lots of cycling, I found such a description could never do justice. You have to see it with your own eyes and feel it on your own skin.
We hired our bikes from a local fietsen shop. Unlike in Amsterdam, no official identification form and credit card authorization were needed. That’s how it works in a village. That’s how it should always work – said my country boy.
The first direction of choice was Bergen aan Zee. As little as my Dutch vocabulary was, I could almost taste the salt in my attempt to pronounce “Bergen aan Zee”. Waiting for us was a long beach with soft fine sand – the kind that stays in your shoes for weeks upon your coming back to concreted roads of the city. The sea was not so warm though. It’s North Sea, not the Pacific – I had to remind myself. Still I ran cross the beach to dip my feet into the biting cold water. My impulsion was to get my feet salty: a must-do on a trip to the beach.
Leaving the sea behind, we pedalled up hills to see sand being stranded into massive dunes. The view was impressive. More were the sea defending efforts. On top of a dune a highland cattle stood in solitude, merely noticed us passing on our bikes.
Heading back to town we found hidden behind fences of green leaves and colorful flowers houses of beautiful structures and unique designs. Many of them have thatches, as a warning sign of a frosty winter in North Holland. Grey dense layers of dried plants give modern house a look of warmth and comfort. A resemblance to those houses would be yuppies who wear slim fit chinos and top-button-off shirt with a straw conical hat. The combination is uncommon but the presentation is pleasant to eyes.
My favorite rides were actually ones across stretches of fields. I was too late for the flowers that must have filled those fields with spring colors. It was however about time for the smell and sensation of summer when the wind blew through open fields. I just loved the early summer wind. Feeling my hair tangled up in the wind, I was very free.
I went back to Newcastle for a quick visit, 17 months after I left. The last morning was freshly still in my memory. Dragging a heavy suitcase of all my most valuables, I pulled myself through one rain water puddle after another. November rain was bitterly cold and rather grim.
Back in the Toon, the rain was waiting for me, as if it had never left town. Rushing around puddles, I hurried to catch glimpses of the past and take in fractions of the present.
A new Jamie’s restaurant just opened at Monument – the heart of town. It was the news in Geordie land. One suggested trying it the next time I’m in town. I hope it is still there then. I saw so many places being closed during my three years there, including the very one I worked at. In Hanoi, food stores come and go all the time, quietly and suddenly. They don’t cause a big fuss when they are opened. Neither do they leave such a depressed feeling behind their closed door. Everything is on the move in Hanoi. Newcastle is not like that at all. It’s a small town where every small change matters. When the sun comes out, it would be scandalous to spend time anywhere else but beer gardens.
I do love Newcastle, for better or for worse. I enjoyed very much a quick coffee or a few pints to catch up with friends. Their sweet souls and embracing arms remind me of who I am and who I want to be. I am no longer a part of Newcastle life but I wish they will forever be a part of my life.
We were on the road again, driving along a winding path of Windermere.
It was the end of December, but the valley bellow was covered partly with autumn colours. The relic reddish yellow stood out under the sparkling light from low winter sun.
“Have nature forgotten its cycle or am I lost in an in-between world?”
Here and there in the vast valley, some idle sheep were chewing away the cold wind. I wondered how their Christmas was like. Quite different to mine I guessed.
My feet tapped on the car floor when he started to play Led Zappelin. On one side, high mountain range stood as ancient as always. On the other, one after another quaint hotels welcomed mountain climbers and country trekkers. My feet kept tapping to the music. He held a big smile.
The romance of a place like Windermere could well be hiding beneath those mountain tops or floating on the tranquil lake. It depends on what you came looking for. My little romance was kept in a small black box when he asked me to marry him. I grinned at the winter sun setting its sparkle on my ring finger. It was beautiful.
And again, we are on the road.
My holiday in England started with fish and chips bought from a local shop of Lancashire. I was longed for the taste of gravy since I left England last November. Fish and chips is not a sophisticated gastronomy art. It is more like comfort food for winter. God knows that it’s wintry weather almost all year round on this island.
Holiday treat continued with free chocolate handed out in Manchester’s Arndale Mall. Christmas is coming real soon. Either that the whole year away from England made me forget that there was always a queue; or that I was so excited about free Maltersers that I cut through the queue without noticing it.
Manchester was rainy as always. But the city was nicely lit up and cramped with Christmas stalls. All pretty things you can think of are in display. Whether you are ticking off your Christmas shopping list or you are a fan of warm drinks and sweetness, you will find what you want there. I indulged myself with some hot roast pork in apple sauce. I felt good.
It is a strange sensation to be back in England. In a random mobile phone shop in Manchester, I talked with a guy who lived two streets down from my street in Fenham of Newcastle. He was nice. The total stranger who reminded me that it was home once.