On October 19, 2010 I moved from the US to The Netherlands. This is a love story many years in the making.

Wierd Dutch Town-Names Tour #1

Hello, my friends. I’ve missed you, and owe you a brief explanation for why this blog went dark with no notice. Last year starting in May my life got very complicated, what with personal illness and family drama of various flavors. I put all my energy into my family and had none left for creative endeavors like blogging (or anything else either). Things seem to be settling down now – I can’t bring my father back, but my Mom appears to be alright now, and my own health is improving steadily, so I can breathe out and start making things again. So here’s the blog again, now with new Spring Crocus masthead.

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I’ve been hearing complaints from various corners of the world about the fact that I need to start the blog again. So, with no further ado I present to you the wonderfully named Dutch town of Urk.

Yes, Urk. Ever since the first time I saw the name on a road sign I’ve been giggling helplessly at it, and demanding that we move there so I can have an Urk postal address. My love is a cruel man and refuses to indulge my desires, but did happily embrace the idea of a road trip to investigate what sort of a place a town named Urk could possibly be, so today we packed up the hond and drove down there. On our way there, we passed another town whose name I like:

(I was going to make a leek thing for dinner, btw, and I thought Id share: get a few leeks, and cut off the green parts. Blanche them until half cooked, drain well, and then wrap in nice slices of some good salty ham, and arrange snugly in a Pyrex pan. Cover with beschamel, a generous layer of grated Parmesan, and pop into the oven until nice and brown and delicious.Serve with salad and a rich dessert. Something chocolate.)

Anyway, back to the road trip. We arrived at Urk and made our way to the old town center while I read some facts from the wiki article about it. It seems that Urk began its life as “Urch”, lo these many years ago. Noone speculates, but I imagine the name was the Lord Du Jour’s name, which stuck and envolved slightly as the town changed hands a half dozen times over the centuries. It was an island until 1939 when a dike was built that connected it to the mainland. As such the local dialect remained static up until today, and it is apparently one of the odder ones in the Netherlands, which boasts no small amounts of oddity in general and in dialect in particular. Among other influences, young women would go work in Amsterdam for Jewish families, then return home to Urk with some Yiddish, which was duly incorporated…

So. Urk!

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Urk, and I was really surprised to discover that it looks like a wealthy little town, with a certain amount of modern growth around the old former-island-city-center, and the center itself being extremely well and carefully preserved. It turns out that the rising price of fish and increasing tourism are benefiting this formerly isolated fishing community greatly. Witness this car:

With gas prices at NINE DOLLARS A GALLON I cannot imagine how this person can afford this vehicle.

Prosperity notwithstanding, some shop owners seem to have opted for low-tech security systems:

This little dog took his job very seriously indeed, and barked his fool head off at us until we were out of sight. Once we turned the corner, silence fell briefly, and then he spotted the next boarder to repel. Daisy was not impressed. Amused, we walked on past this cute little tea house.

It turns out that Urk is smack in the middle of the Dutch Bible Belt. Yeah, you read that right. I bet you didn’t even know the Dutch HAD a Bible Belt! It is a deeply religious and very conservative place, boasting no less than 3 Dutch Reformed flavor of modern churches within easy sight of each other – this is not something you see in NL, generally. Old cathedrals in the town center, yes. Churches that are clearly in regular use? Not so much. I sort of despair for them since they put all this religious fervor into backing Wilders, a frothing lunatic that is the Dutch equivalent of Berlusconi – a national embarrassment.

Aside from the churches, our first clue was a religious bookshop, with a very graphic and entirely disgusting anti-abortion poster on the door. Good thing I hadn’t eaten recently, as it made my gorge rise. And of course, it was an American image they’d chosen to use for their propaganda. At this point I came up with the idea of carrying post-it notes around with me, so that I could leave my opinion without defacing public property. I’d have left two or three stuck to that door saying “yuck”. Another one would have gone on the door of an Italian ice cream place called “Gelatos”. No, no, no. Ur Doin’ It Rong. The plural of Gelato is Gelati! Ah, well, lacking post-its I just ranted at Carel as we walked, much to his amusement.

Another clue about the religiosity of this place came with one of the weirdest Jesus Fish I’ve ever seen.

The moss encrusted chair and clog was disturbing. It looked like it had just been dredged up from the sea bottom – perhaps this was deliberate, and I don’t know what the desired effect was, but I found it creepy. We stopped at the museum to get a look at a map to see where we should go.

And off we wandered, heading for the harbor, which was an interesting mix of antique fishing boats (under sail), modern pleasure craft, and Serious Fishing Boats, fully modernized with powerful engines, winches, and Raytheon scanners aboard.

Some of the boats were wonderfully named.

SNEEK RELAX!

NYAH!!!

We also met a very …dignified Ship’s Cat, who was clearly taking the name of his craft upon himself.

Infantile amusement over, we went in search of the lighthouse, which has been operating in one form or another for about 500 years.We’d spotted it from the harbor.

Along the way, I found a few lovely shots. Look at this door!! The grain, the texture, the reflection in the glass…

A lovely old house, that can’t possibly look more Dutch, and was nice in that it was white rather than the ubiquitous dark brick which no matter how prettily arranged and accessorized, looks a bit depressing to this Mediterranean girl.

As, perhaps, I illustrate here with this photo of a hairdresser’s shop:

After a bit of wandering we found the lighthouse.

Below it was a beach, where I walked around a bit, crushing the skeletons of millions and millions of lives under my boots.

I saw the Loch Ness Monster! Poor Nessie, she’s a long way from home. I wonder if anyone will help her.

Carel took two beautiful shots of an old ship

By now we were tired, hungry and cold. So, we found the car, still being guarded by the Angry Shop Dog, piled in, and spent about 15 mins getting turned around inside Urk trying to find a way out. But, we prevailed, and as we crossed the border I asked Carel to stop and do his best Vanna White impression.

Goodbye, Urk! Time to go home for a nap and some spareribs, followed by Big Bang Theory and Top Gear, cos that is how we roll around here.

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3 responses

  1. Mike

    You were much missed at MAAWG, it was good to see Carel though. Hopefully you will be in Berlin. I have a similar photo of my son, now a senior manager in UPC doing the same sort of pose at Pissos in France, but to the disgust of passing snotty British motorists, covering up the final OS to produce the little hamlet of Piss 😦

    March 4, 2012 at 9:04 pm

  2. Tiago

    yay 🙂 or Urk! rather 🙂 Thank you for connecting me a little more to my Dutch bloodline Today!

    March 4, 2012 at 9:34 pm

  3. Linda Lou

    Loved this little story. Ive always wondered about some crazy-named towns near me, but rarely have I gone to investigate. Thanks for sharing.

    March 6, 2012 at 11:45 am

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