The choir are back at home and having waved them goodbye from Venray, we closed our own bags and headed northwards, to Groningen. We’d heard good things about the city from our friend Ilja who was born here and we liked the idea of exploring another part of the Netherlands for a couple of days before we too head home.
My Hero had done his homework and earmarked a museum and art gallery en route for us to take a break, but checking the location yesterday morning, we discovered that it’s closed on Monday. So we just hit the road and pootled along till we got here.
Our hotel here is beautiful. Set in the corner of a quiet square right in the city centre, we have the best of both worlds. This morning, we set out across the square, ready to discover what Groningen had in store.
We loved the row of houses along the side.
Once out in the main square though, things were a little more lively - though I hadn’t noticed how dull it was this morning until I looked at my photographs. We were keen to visit the tourist office, to get a map and to gather any hints about places we mustn’t miss.
There’s a definite spirit here: it’s a university town so there are many youngsters and it seems well geared towards tourists too. The city centre is pedestrianised, which makes it a good place to wander - but be careful of the bikes though!
We had all day, so took our time looking around, in particular noting this lovely lamplighters sign above a shop doorway just a few steps from the tourist office.
Looking more closely at the shop itself, perhaps I’ll take look inside. Encouraged by my Hero (!) I did…and I can hear my Danish friend Marianne chuckling at this point.
Here were all kinds of creative ideas; tools, materials, ingredients for some craft project or other, all reasonably priced and attractively presented. I think I have been in one of these Sostrene Grene stores before, possibly in Stockholm, but perhaps it’s as well there isn’t one anywhere near me at home, for it could get expensive. (I’ve just discovered there are four UK stores, so perhaps my resistance is about to be tested?)
We moved on into the marketplace, where bicycles, road works, delivery vans - the lot - were in between us and the relative safety of the market itself.
The Stroopwaffel man was busy making…well, you know what.
There was an incredible selection of potatoes!
and a great selection of vegetables too.
It was the flower stalls which stole the show though
even though my favourite bunches were not of flowers at all.
We wandered in and out of shops along the marketplace including this one, which had a bit of an Anthropologie vibe to it.
I don’t think the name quite translates, though, do you?
As the Calliope man set up shop on the street corner, we carried on towards the small street of independent shops, pointed out to us by the young woman in the tourist office as the best route to the Groningen Museum.
It was a pleasant walk down there, poking our noses in a shop here and there.
Some shops were pretty aromatic, too!
Arriving at the dual carriageway “ring road” we knew we were nearly there.
We understood the Groninger Museum to be pretty distinctive… It’s built on three small islands in the canal, directly across from the railway station which our tourist office friend had offered as another “must see”.
We saw the station (ahead of us) before we got the chance to take in the full view of the museum. In fact, we gave the museum the side-eye as we walked right past it, thinking we’d go over to the furthest point first, take a look around there before returning over here.
So it was another few minutes before we had chance to turn around and take in the pale pink, yellow and pastel green glory of the museum. Hmmm!
For now, we decided to stick with the station and leave the museum for the time being. Just look at the treasure we have here!
The detail was fantastic - we loved it! I wonder what it’s like inside?
Magnificent! How glad we were that we’d taken the excellent advice to come here.
The central hall was really lovely, with different designs for each side of the square.
My favourite was the rather elaborate sign for the waiting rooms and ladies’ salon.
The corridor beneath that beautiful sign was no less elaborate, even though now, it leads to Starbucks coffee shop.
We planned to turn around and return to the museum, but whilst here, I thought I’d take the opportunity to find a loo…and whilst I did, my Hero read the guide book. It seemed that, rather than a museum telling the story of the city here, the pastel coloured buildings opposite were more of an art gallery and not what we thought at all. Perhaps we’d like to rethink our plans?
So we retraced our steps, back past the museum and over the ring road to the street with the small shops. This time, however, our willpower didn’t withstand the temptations of the Frietwinkel shop and we were lured inside.
Such a clever concept. Potatoes were chipped and fried twice or possibly three times in individual portions and served in cones with a small receptacle for mayonnaise or ketchup. They were delicious and for a midday snack, they were perfect!
When we came back into the street, we noticed a remarkable change in the cycles parked opposite. They were all neatly arranged- far more so than we’ve seen elsewhere and there are a lot of bicycles in this city.
And then we spotted the three bike stewards, carefully placing the cycles carefully and neatly by the side of the street. I had to ask one of them the question that has been in our minds since we were in Amsterdam, “what about abandoned bikes?” The answer was swift and well answered. There’s a separate team who tour the city at night and label likely abandoned bikes. If these bikes are still unmoved a week or more later, then they are taken away. Simple!
We had decided that, instead of visiting the Groninger Museum, we would spend the afternoon at the Shipping Museum, in a couple of historic houses a little way further around the canal. The sun had come out by now and it was looking lovely.
A conversation with the lady on the entrance desk changed character as soon as she recognised our nationality. “Please vote again” she said, “I love to visit London”. We reassured her that, whatever the outcome, she would still be very welcome in our country. Is this what people really think?
The scene was set by means of a film which transported us back to Groningen in 1470. We sailed into the city on a cog.
One of the first exhibits in the museum was one of these little boats. The word “cog” or “coggy boat” was a familiar one to me from my childhood, for in Hull, the boat-shaped piece of bread cut from a round cake was known as a “coggy end” and was a particular treat for those of us whose Mummies made bread at home.
As we made our way through this rather interesting museum we were to find a few resonances. Groningen is a Hanseatic port, as is Hull and in one of the first displays we were to find a reference.
A rather ancient map of the Hanseatic league was somewhat strangely proportioned given our modern day knowledge and it took us some time to find it, but sure enough, there it was…
Such small but significant features found, we made our way around the rest of the museum, going up steep stairs into the top of the building and then - of course - finding we needed to make our way down the steepest of spiral staircases, clinging to a sturdy rope for fear of falling.
There were fascinating reconstructions of workshops, models of ships and of specialised processes; making ropes, weaving sails and carving wood. There were collections of navigation equipment and other related bits and pieces and down on the ground floor there was a collection of engines.
I won’t say the engines are my favourite but it’s always fun to see another local connection - this time, Listers of Dursley, Gloucestershire.
By now, we were flagging. It was time to return to our comfy hotel and put our feet up! We made our way through the market place and past the tidy lines of cycles.
Passing this curious window display caused me to stop and look more closely…it’s a yarn shop!
I smiled when I arrived back some ten or fifteen minutes later and turned over the card that was with the yarn I bought. I had never intended to buy milk, but yes, I did buy some sock yarn! It’s not Dutch. I tried to find a local yarn with sufficient character to endear itself to my Hero but failed. Instead, we have Irish yarn with significant orange content!
It’s been a grand day. Groningen, we love you!