Vlissingen: Big town, small city.
“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg
Vlissingen is a quaint seaside city in the Netherlands, packed with century-old stories about how it came to be.
It is a part of the world I had never thought of visiting or even thought about at all. So honestly, I had no expectations, which was a good thing, because this tiny place came packed with surprises.
The journey started early in the morning. It was cold, windy and gray as we drove from Germany through Belgium to the other side of Netherlands. By noon, we had reached Vlissingen. The weather was better now with blue skies and sunshine on our faces as we drove into the city.
Although it has been a called a “city” by the sea, the small town, with its 44,000 people as of 2015, surely could not pass for a city. Not only was it small in population but also in size. Nevertheless, Vlissingen was a welcoming host. Our house was just a few meters from the Boulevard de Ruyter.
Vlissingen was made a seaside resort in the late 1800’s. But as is common in European history, the war ruined some of its landmarks such as the Grand Hotel Britannia that opened in 1886. Some sources say the Germans occupied this hotel and made it their headquarters during the war.
The beach was clean. There was hardly any seaweed or trash. I attempted to get my feet wet. I should say at this point that except for one brave man, no one else got into the water. Not even the dogs leading their owners, because it was freaking cold.
The air at Vlissingen was also crisp, and when the sun shone on you, it was dangerously hot — but equally dangerous were the gusts of wind that would blow intermittently across your face. Those were cold!
After walking almost 2 km, we went back to the house to prepare and meet the rest of the town. Again, the walk from the house to the heart of the city was about 7 minutes including traffic light stops.
When you hear “beach club”, one often imagines sun and sand and the sound of waves smashing against the beach or gently teasing the shoreline. This beach bar had no sand and no sound of water. In fact, the large booths in the restaurant invited you into another space; you could have been anywhere else in the world — anywhere where there is a night life.
The Spyke Club had a great music selection. The DJ set was a mix of old school, hip-hop and he even played Azonto. It was not hard to tell we were the only two Africans in the establishment. And the others spoke Dutch. To be honest, the DJ playing Azonto was one of the best moment of the night. I didn’t see it coming. It vaguely reminded me of Amsterdam because of the kind of people in the club. Most seemed young, hip and happy. And, does every club have a lone old man nursing a drink and moving from one spot to the other? At 2am, we finally went home. We walked through parts of the town that we hadn’t visited that day.
Sunday morning came with a surprise. I had no idea there would be an Easter Market. It was so refreshing to see business taking place on a SUNDAY!!!
In Germany, very few businesses are open on Sundays. Some ice-cream parlors and restaurants and farmers’ shops are open. But if you need a new SD card or painkillers from a pharmacy, try not to need those.
The market itself was loud and busy. Bodies were rubbing against each other. Prams were shuffling along, leading the parents. The merchandise on sale reminded me of home. The dresses, the vendors calling out their wares at the top of their voices, the screaming price tags, the street food (known as ‘cripo mwitu’ at home). There was a pattern in that chaos. It was soothing.
Although we only spent two days in Vlissingen, it was enough to get the rhythm of the town. The people were considerably friendly. This made it an easy trip considering that none of us spoke Dutch. People were willing to speak all the English they knew, to be able to serve us.
We went to the Stadscafé De Dighter for dinner. It is a restaurant close to the beach, that has exquisite food and excellent service. According to Susan, the lady who served us, it is also the birth house of the famous Dutch poet Jacob Bellamy, born in 1757. For a birthday dinner, his writings on the wall were a great accompaniment.
As our short stay came to an end, we made sure to stop by the seaside to have a last take of the view and watch the sunset before heading for the journey back.