Ken Lambeets – also known by his pen name 'Belg aan de Waal' – recently moved from Brussels to Nijmegen to strengthen the Vox editorial team. He will write about his experiences over the next few weeks. Part 8: Holiday blues.
Drinking coffee at the bar à tabac, shopping in huge supermarkets, strolling through idyllic villages with an old castle ruin on every hill, and seven different kinds of cheeses on your plate every day: no better way to recharge your batteries than two weeks spent driving through La Douce France. But it does make it that much harder to come home.
This was the first time since I moved to the Netherlands that I was away from Nijmegen for so long. On our first days abroad, we still kept up with news from our hometown by watching Het Gevoel van de Vierdaagse online, but a week later the city seemed a thousand kilometres further away. There’s nothing for it: Nijmegen and I have to get acquainted all over again.
As I walk home from Central Station, I have to blink a few times. During the Four Days Marches, our street had metamorphosed into a permanent podium with a terrace, a friterie and an ongoing parade of party-goers, but now the streets are all but deserted. Tourists? None in sight. De Kaaij under the Waalbrug? Broken up. The nights spent watching football at the café with Dutchmen suddenly turning into fanatical Belgian supporters: gone, maybe never to return.
The next day, the university seems equally lifeless. The bicycle racks are not even half full; the Cultuurcafé is closed for the holidays. With the exception of the former Thomas van Aquinostraat and the construction work on the empty Refter, the Campus is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
After dinner I go for a walk through town. From the balcony in the Valkhofpark I stare for a while at the water – the Waal always brings consolation. I’ve never seen the boats in such low water. If this continues, it will be the end of inland navigation. And there aren’t even any Rhine cruise ships berthing to make one dream. I’m starting to feel pretty down.
Defeated I walk into an ice cream parlour. I’ve only just finished ordering when I see a notice on the counter announcing you can only pay by card, and of course I only have a €5 note in my pocket. I tell the lady to keep her ice cream and leave the parlour feeling disappointed.
‘Sir, Sir,’ someone calls out behind me. I don’t feel like a chat with a beggar, but the man doesn’t give up. As I turn around I recognise him – he was next in line at the ice cream parlour. ‘I’ll pay for your ice cream,’ he says. That’s an offer I can’t refuse. ‘I think my girlfriend doesn’t approve of this,’ he adds. ‘So don’t mind her.’
Once I get my ice cream, I offer the Good Samaritan my €5 note, but he doesn’t want it. I thank him for his kindness. His girlfriend does indeed look somewhat pained. To avoid causing more marital disagreement, I walk away in the opposite direction. On a bench in the Valkhofpark I slowly work my way through the vanilla scoop. It tastes great. I can feel my post-holidays blues recede, in only for a little while.