10th April and so I was already a bit past my vaguely considered return date but I just didn’t feel like going home. I had my debit cards, some cash and my passport. I had just about enough clothes to keep me going for a couple more days (this will prove to be critical later on) but it was all just becoming a little bit strange and I could see another one of my lunacies looming large on the horizon. I just wanted to keep moving and I was going to move this day. I am sure there are those amongst my admittedly limited numbers of readers that will understand.
After yet another tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs, a couple of delightful spinach and feta pastries and some very good bread it was time to move. I must say they do know how to make bread in these parts. It was so good that this breakfast oddity was in danger of becoming a habit.
I decided to walk into town as it was not that far and I am travelling extremely light. I was spared the temptation of the both excellent Sierkan and Asplaag bars as they were both shut but I knew it wasn’t going to last long. I did manage to walk past one or two more but I am with Oscar Wilde on this one when he asserted that, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”. Spot on, Oscar.
When the temptation got just too much I happened to be walking past the Cafe Bar Roj so I stopped walking past and walked in instead.
It was a purely random choice and it looked clean and tidy enough from the outside as it was to prove to be on the inside. It is just a typical no frills bar that is so typical of the region and as is also typical the only woman to be seen was behind the bar serving.
There where there were about three or four middle-aged blokes drinking at one end of the bar and having a jolly time of it by the look of things. I nodded a greeting and was instantly part of the company, it really did turn out to be rather sociable. I knew I was not too far from the station so I was not going to go too far wrong if I sat tight with them for a while which is exactly what I did. Even when they all drifted off, presumably for lunch, I stayed on for a couple more and a chat to the charming Turkish barmaid and even a bit of travel writing on the side.
There is a large room at the rear of the premises which I believe serves as a function room complete with small stage and some music stands and I also had a peek at the kitchen which was immaculate as, indeed, were the “facilities” when I had occasion to use them.
If you are a beer afficionado this may not be too much to your liking as it is bottle only as they have no draught which is not uncommon in these parts. I opted for a Heineken which was nice and cold at least although it is no way my favourite beer out there.
I am always a little concerned when I visit a premises that feels the need to display houserules and when I saw the “houseregels” here, which I attempted to translate, I think they were no drugs and no weapons and the word “politie” (police) featured a bit. Admittedly I was there at lunchtime and maybe it does get a bit lively at night but I had a wonderful time although I feel it only fair to warn the reader. I know I would certainly go back.
Eventually I said goodbye and took off for the station but by a deliberately circuitous route as I wanted to get some street scenes of the city having not managed to see a heck of a whole pile of it previously. I have attached some of them here.
I made the station in good order to catch my train to Rotterdam where I had booked a hostel for two nights. I had actually wanted three but all the budget accommodation in the city was pretty much booked up. It was Easter school holidays and there were school groups everywhere.
The train trip was short and comfortable and then the short walk to the hostel Ani and Haakien where I checked in quickly, allocated a bunk where I dumped my kit and enquired of the friendly lady on reception where there was a nearby decent bar. She smilingly gave me a map with several suggestions on it and added a few of her own. I picked the Holy Smoke purely because it was closest and the young lady said is was good. Yes, I can be a lazy brute at times! I shall tell you all about the hostel in a future instalment.
The reader may think that an establishment in the Netherlands called Holy Smoke would be concerned with marijuana given that country’s very liberal attitude towards the plant cannabis sativa but nothing could be further from the truth. I shall reveal all now and tell you about this brilliant bar.
I am a great believer that there is no substitute for local knowledge and this was the case here as the young lady certainly had not given me a bum steer. In a city not devoid of good bars (I know because I tried a few) this really is a standout.
Choosing a draught beer from a very extensive selection I got to chatting with the young man and young woman serving. They had plenty of time to chat as the place was nearly empty which surprised me. It is quite large inside but even allowing for that it still looked empty. After a couple of “pints” (half-litres actually) I asked the barmaid what the name was all about and she told me a while later but for the benefit of those who may not know about the Netherlands a word of explanation.
Cannabis is legal there and people smoke it openly in public. We were standing outside having a (nicotine) smoke which I think is perverse. You cannot smoke a cigarette in a bar or restaurant or whatever because of the smoking ban but you can smoke cannabis. I remember a joke from a few years ago that in 99% of the world the police bust you for having cannabis in your nicotine but only in Holland do they bust you for having nicotine in your cannabis!
It was while we were standing there that she explained the name to me. She indicated a device that looked like a kettle type barbecue and told me it was a smoker and that the whole menu was based around smoked food all of which they prepare on the premises. They will smoke anything here including vegetables which I would like to try sometime. I deeply regret that I never had the opportunity to dine here and it is definitely pencilled in for my next visit. We went back inside then for more chat and more beer for me.
I do love beers from the Low Countries and the variety is staggering as is the beer menu here. When I told her about my preferences she immediately suggested a Mannenliefde (translates as Manlove) Saison which was unusual to say the least but absolutely divine. I have drunk a lot of beer in my life but never one that includes lemongrass and Szechuan pepper! I have also drunk a piccalilli beer in this establishment and yes, you read that correctly, picalilli as in the pickled accompaniment to cold meats etc. and no, I had never heard of it either but that is a story for another time.
I should note here that she reeled off all the details about it without reference to a crib sheet, as indeed did other colleagues on subsequent visits, about every brew on offer which indicated to me a genuine affection for the product they sell and pride in doing it well. I was very impressed.
I did not want a late night and so a couple more did me although I could have happily sat there until 0200 when they close. I could sit here and praise Holy Smoke all day but I shall refrain. Just a couple of things before I sign off. If you are not a beer drinker they have an equally huge selection of other drinks on offer and I suggest you have a look at the Jenever (Dutch gin) offering.
On a technical and important note Holy Smoke appears to be fully accessible.
Home then for yet another decent night’s sleep in a comfy bunk even if the climb up to the top deck was a bit precarious in the dark!
More of my new city in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.