Tuesday 7 February 2012

A Few Days In Holland

A quick trip to Holland to give a couple of talks on the Pacific Northwest Trail last weekend just happened to coincide with the coldest, snowiest weather of the winter, both in Britain and in The Netherlands. I’d been invited to give the talks at the annual Royal Dutch Mountaineering and Climbing Club (NKBV) Mountain Sports Day (Bergsportsdag) in Utrecht. The event itself was fine with several hundred people attending my talks and asking plenty of questions afterwards, which is always enjoyable. The travelling was not so good however. Hearing of icy roads and possible snow for central Scotland on the Saturday morning I abandoned my plans of a pre-dawn start and hastily booked a hotel close to Edinburgh airport and caught the train Friday evening, arriving at the hotel after midnight. The next day there was no snow or ice but at the airport I discovered the flight was an hour late due to adverse weather in Holland. I read the paper and stared out at the sunshine. What a day for the hills! The flight to Schipol is only a touch over an hour long so why do they serve a drink and a snack? I’ve been wondering that for years on short flights. Safely in Holland the travel difficulties began. Dutch railways were in chaos due to the cold and snow with trains cancelled, rerouted and delayed, apparently due to frozen points. The direct train to Utrecht takes 50 minutes. Usually. Last Saturday it required linking three trains with long waits between them and the journey took 31/2 hours, much of it spent either standing on freezing platforms or crammed into overcrowded carriages. On Amsterdam station there were regular announcements in four languages advising passengers not to travel to Belgium, France or Germany.

Finally in Utrecht I settled into a bland, corporate but adequate hotel. I always find such places a little unreal, a little detached from real life, a little soft and fuzzy and unfocused with no centre, heart or soul. Too much time in one and I imagine you could melt into nothingness. The only spark of individuality, though I guess these are found in many Dutch hotels, was the no smoking notice, which gave as much attention to marijuana as tobacco. I liked the artistic touch of having the marijuana leaves curve over the red prohibition bar.

Feeling confined and deflated by some 36 hours in hotels and transportation I decided to walk to the conference centre where the Bergsportsdag was being held. The hotel receptionist looked it up on Google for me – it would take forty minutes. The temperature was -9°C. I set off wearing hat, gloves and insulated jacket, crunching through the snow and feeling a little more in touch with the world. The route followed main roads, almost empty early on this frozen Sunday morning, giving them an eerie, deserted feel. The verges were soft with snow and the walking wasn’t actually that easy. Soon enough, though, the conference centre appeared, Bergsportdag marked by NKBV pennants, a rather lonely looking inflatable Mammut mammoth and a portable climbing wall. I never did see anyone using this last structure. Inside the world suddenly came alive with stalls, climbing walls, events, cafes and a mass of people – some 2,800 attended in total. My talks were held in an interesting long lecture hall with four active screens, a setup I hadn’t seen before. I liked it as it meant no one was far away at the back looking at tiny, distant images.

The journey home was uneventful with no delays or interesting weather. It was odd arriving in Edinburgh and feeling too hot as it was some 10° warmer than Amsterdam. By the time I was back in Aviemore the temperature was below freezing again and at home it was only +6°C inside. Lighting the solid fuel stove brought me back to reality. No more trains and planes and hotels for a while now. The next trip will be to the hills.


  1. "A quick trip to Holland" caught my eye. I do miss the closeness of countries in your part of the world. Living in CA is strange... it could easily take two days (by vehicle) to get from S to N in my state alone. Being so distant isn't good for us, I do believe. Too much space keeps us separated from the other parts of the world. Yet, I crave that visual space, horizons and hazy sunsets. Living with contradictions...

  2. 500 miles as the crow flies from my home to Amsterdam. 900 miles driving distance. The Scottish Highlands are one of the remoter parts of Europe.

    Of course roads are mostly very busy here so driving can be slow. In the Western USA you can drive hundreds of miles on straight roads and see hardly any cars.

    I love the space and vast distances in the USA, one reason I keep visiting. We do have those in parts of Europe - the Scottish Highlands, Norway and Sweden - but you can't walk thousands of miles in one direction and stay mostly in wild country.

  3. Thanks for coming over Chris. Much appreciated.


  4. Chris, despite all the trouble and time you had to spend to come here, thanks for coming over. I much enjoyed your presentation. It was a relief to listen to your story and to see your beautiful photos of your trip between all the fashion and commerce elsewhere at the fair.

  5. Thanks Rolf and Joery. I did enjoy my day at the Bergsportsdag and meeting you both.