Blogging the tour, II: Deutsch and Dutch

After ending yesterday a little plaintively, this is a quick and dirty summary of what we have been up to over the last few days. Today has been thoroughly excellent and enjoyable, and almost everything seems to have gone right, to his praise.

My last informational post was on Monday on the ferry. I am now very short on time, but have a moment to hammer out some notes before I forget what happened when while drinking and chatting in the bar.

After the ferry, we sweltered on to the hostel ROOM, had a pizza in a lovely Italian restaurant, and drank into the evening.

On Monday, we went off to Delft in the morning. It is a thoroughly charming town, unlike our hostel’s location in Rotterdam in every day, which is a monstrous grey place of concrete, building-site-sand, and skyscrapers. Delft on the other hand has charming clean streets, old buildings, and nice shops. As the home of Delft blue ceramics, every shop has little Dutch knick-knacks in tacky white and blue along with some reasonable items. The churches were the main attraction, including the Oude Kerk (old) and Neuwe Kerk (new). The buildings are absolutely wonderful places for churches to meet, and in between our visits to these attractions we wandered around the shopping streets arranged around the central square.

I had a very fun time faffing around with trying to learn Dutch, which is disappointingly different from German. I have a big delight in munging together disgusting sentences in my insistence to communicate in some strange mix of foreign languages. Germish is slightly more normal than the Frenchified Latin I tried last in Spain, but still was consistently tough on the natives, especially given that I began my quest for the week of surveying the state of the Dutch church. I asked everywhere about the Dordrecht synod and what the preaching is like here, but had little luck on Monday. The closest in got in bookshops was a shelf of hits on Buddhism and translations of Karen Armstrong. I did successfully cement my image as the perfect colonial though when I managed to get hold of an FT. Some members of the choir bought clothing too, including William’s awesome hat. Photos of all this will follow later with the full report.

The concert in the afternoon was in the cavernous Oude Kerk, and we managed fairly well. There was a small audience, which set a trend for the week, but we sang fairly well even though very tired from the long rehearsal in the afternoon. Before we even got the concert though, we had a minor saga trying to get food. We went to a funny little pub-like place, told them we had to leave in an hour and a half’s time for the concert, got a Dutch nod, but then were still not served in time. So, most of the choir went hungry that day. Our singing was still sufficient though, with some glitches and things really needing to sorted. Early days.

On Tuesday, we stayed in Rotterdam trying to make a day sightseeing out of a dump. One group in the choir managed well, and reported that the museum of canaries and deformities was worth the day (natural history museum, I gather), and the other group predictably went church-hunting. The Laurens Kerk was by the far the best: another vast, tastefully plain place. There are only three things in Dutch church buildings: a massive space for the church to sit, a huge place for the word to be preached, and a big organ for the praise of God. ‘Score’. We also wandered through a rather busy marked, and searched for the beach which repeated efforts could not locate. Of the distressing trends emerging, apart from my vast confidence and atrocious grammar in communication, is the continental level of sex in adverts, insufficient clothing, and generally pervasively (pardon the pun).

The concert was in St Mary’s Anglican and Episcopal. The people there were absolutely charming, and gave us a good supper. We gave a decent performance in the much smaller location, with some sloppy starts. There was more drinking afterwards. (Pardon my brevity; I am running out of time to jot notes.)

On Wednesday, we scooted off to The Hague today. We drifted off a bit in the morning, after sorting out a lurch with the payment for the hostel which turned out to be just their broken card reader needing to be tried a second time. When we got there (all traveling done by the excellent trains), we wandered in another lovely town. The Grote Kerk was big. It was huge. Then bigger still. Our performance was blistering too. Before we got to that though, we had a long day trailing around the city. By this pont in the tour, most of us are quietly (or not) making noises to express footsoreness, as we remember from last year how surprisingly much padding cheap tourism is. Some of the things we saw were the better shops (including many man shops, which meant we could all take part in the window shopping for once, commenting on fountain pens and so on rather than the usual run of shoe shops). Near the Neuwe Kerk, the first exciting thing we nearly saw was Queen Beatrix attending the commemoration of last year’s plane crash, which we noticed while napping and pondering the concentration of people and police. Another thing we almost appreciated was a flock of reporters outside the parliament building grabbing boring-looking in men suits as they wandering in and out escorted by guards; apparently some elections are going on at the moment. The Bundeshof parliament building itself though was a major attraction because without paying for the tour we could pore for half an hour over two exquisite illuminations in the entrance hall, one particularly fine three by fifteen metre piece on parchment, a vast modern historical chart of the lineage and history of the Netherlands, and the other a slightly smaller one covering another wall with the achievements and tree of Queen Beatrix. The other group had a fun time too, and reported the most exciting incident to be watching a squad of policemen on BMX bikes stopping the traffic and frantically pedalling their way across a square in formation, which must have been pretty funny, and an encounter with an interpretive dancer (I have have had a couple of interesting descriptions of the conversation). We both managed to just miss the Escher museum, though luckily it does not look to have been so good after all.

We grabbed a Chinese meal together before the concert (rather good), and then sang in the vast, vast church. Somehow, the combination of good sleep, rested voices, and music we were starting to be more familiar with paid off, and we did I think the best concert the Peterhouse choir has ever sung. Somehow, almost everything was perfect, with no noticeable problems for the audience and hardly anything to complain about for us either. It just worked, and was immensely satisfying. The number of people there was tiny again, but I think we can get over that. (I will make more notes here in the report.)

Tomorrow, on Thursday, we will be up and out for Amsterdam.