I really need to get a better handle on the whole time change thing. It always catches me out and it doesn’t matter if I’m in a plane, on a bike or in a car. It happened to me in New Brunswick when I failed to account for two hours of time change on that particular leg and I did it again when I went to Spain for my cousin Lucy’s wedding, and eight hour flight, a six hour time change followed by a five hour motorcycle ride through a country where I don’t speak the language on an unfamiliar bike. It only sounds mental because it is.
I knew I’d be leaving in the late afternoon of the second of March and after a brief layover in Dublin, I’d be arriving at Schipol International Airport in Amsterdam the morning of the 3rd. I mean, you can conceptualize it but doing it is something very different. I also have a real problem sleeping on aircraft. Mostly because I’m 6’2″ and somewhere in the layout of commercial aircraft, they decided the perfect human was at least a size smaller than I am. I’d arranged to rent a car and I was going to drive to Bergen and while my initial plan was to get to my hotel and rack out till the following morning, I was informed in no uncertain terms that I would not be getting my room before 3pm. My flight was arriving at 9am. Even with the time it takes to get through customs and if I drove like a tourist. I’d still have many hours to kill.
The flight was pretty uneventful and the inflight meal was actually edible. At Dublin, those of us who were going on to the Continent were whisked through customs to our departure gate. I grabbed a double Cappuccino to fuel me up for the next bit. I was wearing my G-Shock which has a handy world time function where you just punch in a city code and it advances the watch to the right time zone. After an hour on the ground, we were loaded into out connecting flight and off to Amsterdam we went. As luck would have it, I had my whole row of seats to myself.
Schipol International Airport is probably the biggest airport I’ve ever been in. I thought O’Hare was big but it literally feels like you’re walking for miles in Schipol. It combines a rail hub and a bus loop and for want of a better description a massive shopping mall. So after a two mile hike to Passport Control to get my entry stamp it was a short jog over to baggage. Okay, it was another half mile walk but on the plus side, my luggage was waiting.
One thing Schipol doesn’t lack is decent signage, so finding the car rental desk was no issue. Funny thing, everybody always talks about need the international driving permit but I’ve yet to have to produce it and when you offer to, you tend to get weird looks or a shake of the head. I’ll keep getting them when I need to travel overseas because you know the minute I decide it’s bullshit will be the when I’ll need to produce one.
After another one mile walk from the rental desk to pick up my car I was sitting inside some kind of Kia three cylinder box with wheels and while there was a no smoking sticker firmly affixed to the dash, the car reeked of stale smoke and irritated my throat almost instantly. Had I been more awake, I’d have made them switch cars for me. Still, I was mobile for the most part in a car that was vastly underpowered compared to my JCW Mini. You really had to stomp on the gas to get the Kia moving. The on board GPS was in Dutch, so no luck there. I used Google maps on my iPhone to at least get me on my way towards Bergen and the first sign of a rest stop with a fast food joint, I pulled off the highway. It was a Burger King and it was about to teach me two things. First off, you want to use the washroom, it’s going to cost you fifty cents and secondly, they don’t / won’t substitute fries for onion rings in The Netherlands. Oh and a third thing, you buy your rings by number, not size of container. So a few minutes later I sat down with my Whopper combo, medium fries and nine onion rings. At least my bladder was now empty.
I messed around with the GPS until I got it switched over to English. It took a bit longer to get it programmed for the Bergen General Cemetery, where my Grandfather’s grave was. I’d decided that seeing as I was going to be in Bergen and sleep wasn’t going to be an option for many more hours, I should visit his grave first, the head to Bergen aan Zee to the rough location of where his body was recovered. After that I’d try my luck at the Hotel.
Driving through The Netherlands is much the same as driving anywhere in North America, except people actually stay to the right except to pass. It reminded me a lot of the Fraser Valley just without the mountains. It’s very flat farmland with the odd ancient windmill and the much more common modern windmills dotting the landscape. Industrial buildings for the most part look industrial but with more modern edges than get here if that makes any sense. The drive to Bergen and the Cemetary took me just over an hour.
The Cemetery sits at the end of a long narrow drive behind a sort of housing complex. It’s close to a local airport as the drone of small aircraft were fairly constant overhead. The War Graves Section sits sort of off to one side in the back center of the graveyard per se. and there are a number of memorials dotted around the military graves proper. The site is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. My Grandfather’s Grave was located in Plot 2. Row C. Grave 13.
I sank the rocks from Trap Cove I’d brought with me into the ground at the center of his headstone.
My Grandfather’s squadron 214 was part of a massive offensive on the Ruhr Valley that had started back in May of 1943. Bomber Command’s plan was to reduce the industrial capability of Germany by targeting their most industrial area. None of the targets selected were a walk over and while Bomber Command was very canny about the number of routes taken getting the various bomber streams onto their targets, they only allotted three main return routes for the bombers homeward legs. The Sterling Bomber was also limited because of its poor design in its maximum achievable altitude. So while other aircraft could claw for altitude, the Sterlings were stuck down amongst the flack and the bulk of the German night fighter units. According to the German records, my Grandfather’s aircraft was shot down by a Ju88 off the coast of Noordwijk aan Zee at an altitude of 2600m or roughly 8,500ft above sea level. The pilot’s body was recovered at Noordwijk where he in interred and my Grandfather’s body was found almost 70km up the coast at Bergen aan Zee.
In one corner of the cemetery is the marker to the Jewish members of the community who were exterminated by the Nazis.
Overall I spent about an hour at the cemetery paying my respects. It’s a nice space and is well tended.
I wanted to see the area his body was recovered or at the very least, the geographical area. Local records regarding any of the recovered dead in the war graves section were apparently lost around the end of the war. Leaving the cemetery and heading towards Bergen aan Zee I was about to get a better idea of the standard layout of the smaller towns of the Netherlands. It’s hard to discern what’s a road and what’s a lane and you’ve always got to be aware of bicycles and scooters all of which are ridden at a fair rate of speed sans helmet. You do not have the right of way if you’re on foot or in a car.
After winding my way through the very narrow streets of Bergen, I finally got myself on the road down towards the coast and Bergen aan Zee. I will say the weather was pretty unsettled. Sort of that blustery sun with clouds condition that’s not sure if it was going to rain or not. Uncommitted to the point that it feels like near harassment.
I parked in front of the closed Bergen aan Zee Aquarium and walked down the causeway past shuttered restaurants and coffee shops towards the beach. It was pretty apparent that I was on the edge of the North Sea. The wind coming off the waves towards shore was more than a little bitter.