Monday, 14 April 2014

Groningen Life: Weather, Cycling, and Adventures

The weather is being quite contrary today here in Groningen. There is no other word for it. I woke to the rain pattering on the attic room's roof (and when I say pattering, I actually mean deafeningly pounding...), an hour later the sun was shining; then the wind began to gust. Every time I looked up from my work today the weather was doing something different. When I went into town, I forsook my bicycle in favour of my own two feet, thinking I'd be more likely to stay upright. The wind was gusting like crazy.

In town it was as if a bicycle massacre had taken place. All the free standing bikes had been bowled over by the strong gusts, scattering the pavement with their awkward frames. The ones attached to railings were clinging on for dear life. A road sign had been brought down, rubbish was blowing across the Markt like tumbleweed in old Western films, and small dogs were being gathered up by strong bursts of wind....all right, so maybe not quite, though I did see an empty child stroller whisking past at one point. I was very grateful today that I make it a point never to wear skirts. In this sort of weather it can only spell disaster.

However, I'm not here to talk about the weather. In fact, I really wanted to give an update on my cycling adventures. As you can see, I haven't died or become maimed by other mad cyclists, so hurrah! I'm slowly learning the rules (IF you can call them that).

I've taken particular umbrage at a certain "rule" which says anyone coming from your right as the right of way. It's just silly. Does it mean that if I'm on a main road, do I need to brake for the chap coming in on my right from the side road?? I haven't taken the risk to find out, so have been braking madly every time I see someone coming up on my right. Although, logically, I'd be coming from his left, and therefore he would have to stop for me...?

I decided to be a good citizen and look up the Dutch Cycling rules, as obviously mimicking the locals will get me killed. The official manual has 84 pages, so I tried Googling the rules to get the general gist before having to devote my entire evening to reading up on "How to survive cycling in the Netherlands: Part 1"... One of the tips stated, "Be a Defensive Biker". Which is all well and good...however... Another website had a "helpful" FAQ section about cycling rules, in which one stated,

"Am I allowed to use my mobile phone while cycling?
    Yes, you're allowed to use your mobile phone while you're cycling. Research has shown that you're more likely to have an accident."  (source)
Haaientanden - or shark teeth
Is this just me, or is this a very Dutch answer? I love it! It doesn't use flowery language or suggest a nice alternative. No, it states a fact: Research has shown you're more likely to have an accident. Basically, if you want to be an idiot, we won't stop you, but you will more than likely become acquainted with the intricacies of tarmac. Klopt.

Also, there is a delightful road signal that is much clearer to understand: shark teeth. (Seriously, although no animals were harmed in the making...). Haaientanden show that those at the pointy end need to give way. I like this concept because you can easily see who is meant to do what.

Watertoren West
At the weekend, when the weather wasn't being quite so difficult, I went on an evening cycle to see more of Groningen. It is nice when the roads are quiet and I feel I can look about. On the other side of town by the canal I saw a large, round, tower. It is called the Watertoren West, and is 56 meters high. I looked it up at home and the most interesting thing that was said about it was: the top was damaged during the Liberation in 1945 by Canadian artillery because the Germans didn't want to give up their hold of it.

I also saw the bridge over the canal outside my house being raised for the first time. That was quite exciting (and luckily I wasn't in a rush...). On Saturday two boatloads of German tourists (I'm assuming) came cruising down. The voice over the tannoy was talking about the church in 16 something - probably the Martinikerk. However, I could be wrong as my German is appalling. Anyway, it was a nice opportunity to see how the bridge is raised.

The raising of the bridge over the canal
All in all, a fun weekend. Despite the weather, spring is really in the air. I saw men forgoing the red trousers and wearing shorts on Saturday. As per usual, I nipped down to the Markt to have a look around. It's a great excuse to buy pastries... I've discovered that going first thing really is the way to do it. The pastries get a bit blah after midday...

This coming weekend is Easter, which is quite a big thing here. Stayed tuned for more happenings in Groningen...