Sunday, March 5th 2016 – S’Hertogenbosch, Zaltbommel
After another excellent (but egg-avoiding) breakfast, we headed out again, discovering the local market was in full swing. A stop to buy bread was essential although I was impressed that we managed to avoid caving in to our taste-buds and didn’t buy vast amounts of cheese to go with it. A second shopping stop led us back to the Noordbrabants Museum to pick up a copy of the catalogue from the Bosch exhibition, having failed to do it the day before because we ended up not going through the museum shop on the way out. Some sort of mistake on the part of the organisers is all I can think.
Anyway the sun was out, making for a scarily cold day, but at least it made everything look lovely. We headed for the cathedral. St. John’s is a gorgeous Gothic confection, all soaring towers and mad gargoyles, and as soon as it opened we had plans to go in. Meanwhile we grabbed a coffee in one of the cafes facing the building, and looked in awe as a slim, small woman tackled one of the terrifying Bossche bols, basically a giant choux pastry ball, coated in chocolate and stuffed with cream. It’s basically a profterole scaled up to something the size of a grapefruit! We just settled for hot chocolate with half a tonne of whipped cream.
The cathedral was now emptying out of people who seemed to have been there for a service of some sort, possibly a wedding but it was hard to tell. Anyway, once inside it quickly becomes obvious that this is a place of soaring vaulting, with a lot of intriguing detail.
When we came back out we wandered round trying to get a good photo of the building, but there are so many trees, and for that matter so many buildings that it was difficult to achieve with the lens I’d brought on the trip with me. Frustrating but there would be other views later in the day (though none as impressive as the one from the water meadows outside the town where I went running in the evening – it seems from there to float above the town like some sort of grand ship).
We nipped into the box office for the Wondrous Climb with intent to make that the main feature of the afternoon and were amused to be harassed by someone dressed up as one of the gargoyles. It was just as well we did. There were very few slots left even though it was now getting cold and rainy, so we booked up for the 14:30 ascent and then went to lunch. The Cafe Cinq was very purple inside but did a very good lunch (having had krokettes the day before it had to be satay and friets).
We headed round the back of the cathedral to the St. John’s Museum first as we were a little too early for the climb. This museum contains much about the building of the cathedral, and the subsequent restorations that have been carried out. It now contains all the medieval sculptures that can’t be retained as part of the cathedral, along with other pieces that mean it now has the largest collection of medieval sculpture in the Netherlands.
Some are very badly damaged but at least they are now safe. The acid rain that damaged the sculptures that are now in here also meant that the exterior of the cathedral required extensive restoration, some of it also meant to repair damage done by earlier attempts at restoration. It was first restored between 1859 and 1946, then again between 1961 and 1985. The latest effort began in 1998 and was completed in 2010, and cost upward of €48,000,000. It was obviously not geared up for regular visitors from outside the Netherlands as there was very little in the way of labelling in anything but Dutch. We managed but it was brain-straining for me as I tend to end up veering between English and German when I have to do that, and Lynne doesn’t speak German…
The Wondrous Climb was far better in some respects, though we all had to go up with a guide, and we managed to get possibly the only remaining Dutchman who only spoke Dutch. There was at least a list of the statues written in English. Again, it would have been nice to have all the information everyone else was getting. It was quite sweet in a way because almost everyone we met in the town seemed completely surprised that people were coming from all over the place to see the Bosch exhibition and would then want to see what else the town had to offer.
It’s fair to say that the climb was not for the faint-hearted or anyone who wasn’t especially fit (though there was a disabled persons’ lift which went part of the way). The cathedral has been enclosed in a structure of metal walkways around the rooftops, with wonderful views of the buttresses and the gargoyles that decorate them. Most of them are very mossy, especially on the north facing side.
Presumably the next stage of restoration may involve cleaning some of this off. The views are pretty stunning from up there, and the chance to get close to the wonderful array of grotesque animals and strange people was just brilliant. Lynne stayed well away from the edges while I leaned out to get better angles on the gargoyles. Definitely the sculptors seem to have been on the same stuff as Bosch, whatever that might have been.
Eventually we made our way back down the building to Lynne’s obvious relief. Given that she’s not at all keen on heights I was impressed she’d gone up there at all. She professed herself satisfied by the experience, and said it was worth it for the sculptures. So all I need to get her to go up tall buildings is a collection of medieval statuary!
We missed getting a photo of one of the big attractions, a modern piece commissioned for the cathedral, of the angel with a mobile phone, by Ton Mooy, so instead I picked up a postcard. Whatever other people think, and some are clearly not happy about it, I think it’s rather wonderful both as a piece of art and as a sculpture in tune with the times.
After that, with the sun now shining again, we decided we should follow the Garden of Earthly Delights scupture trail, where the fantastical figures from the Garden of Earthly Delights were scattered around the town at various historic sites. Some of the sculptures we’d already found but this trail took us round the town including the old fortifications down on the river, as well as some quiet little courtyards where one of the local cats seemed completely non-plussed by this strange addition to its territory.
Tonight we were heading for the town of Zaltbommel, a pleasant little town with a long but not very eventful history, about 25 minutes away by car (less by train but the station is on the edge of the town and we needed to be in the centre) to eat at de Eetgelegenheid where I ate regularly back in 2005. It’s a small restaurant in a narrow Dutch building down near the remnants of the city walls, close to the Waaterpoort.
We started as ever with a glass of something fizzy, in this instance a kir royale, and some Indonesian-style prawn crackers with a satay dip.
We moved on to a sole terrine with lots of lovely little shrimps. It was tasty, not too heavy and beautifully fishy!Next up was the fish of the weekend (or so it seemed), cod with various vegetable purees including pumpkin. A lovely thing, the fish still just firm and again ready to break into flakes when prodded with a fork.The main course was duck, one of my favourite meats of all time. This was as it should be, pink with crisp fat and skin and a small helping of green beans along with some cauliflower puree.
How Roberto achieves all that from his tiny little kitchen has always been a mystery to me, as has Nancy’s ability to keep several rooms full of hungry people happy while he does his stuff in what is little more than a galley.
And never stood a chance!