Sunday, October 16, 2011
Going Dutch! (Groningen, Netherlands)
My association with the city of Groningen apparently went back quite a few years. One of my arch enemies was from Groningen (only I didn’t know it until recently…that too courtesy good ol’ Wikipedia)….now if you are thinking that I was some medieval Spanish king with a more than passing interest in capturing Groningen, I was actually talking about Mr. Daniel Bernoulli….one of those multitalented creatures that were quite a plenty in renaissance affected Europe. Never quite understood his crazy principles of aerodynamics and fluid motion. Unfortunately my high school physics teacher Mr RK did understand, and was apparently enamored of the guy and he also understood that I didn’t understand much about Bernoulli ji and his musings, so as expected things weren’t quite ‘uplifting’ when he got down to business to discuss how an aero plane takes off in-spite of its heavy butt. I of course tried to convince him that we should not be bothered about explaining things that are already known…we should be looking to the future etc etc. Mr RK apparently was not the ‘great vision’ kind of guy…so he just gave me very unflattering marks. Period. That was the first time Mr Bernoulli pissed me off…not the last though. Apparently this guy’s fantastically unbelievable super duper principle had some crazy implication in the blood flow in the human body. Obviously I couldn’t care less with my great vision of sticking to the future etc. Dr S my examiner in my medical school physiology viva however turned out to be another great fan of Bernoulli ji. So it was déjà vu with Dr S with her psychotic eyes replacing Mr RK with his invisible eye ( because of the -15 lenses he wore…..fitting in with my theory of him not having great vision).The rest of the event was pretty mundane and predictable….I think the marks were also pretty much on same low scale. We parted on good terms after though; I even asked Dr S if she had a brother who was teaching in high school….which she apparently didn’t.
Well the whole flash-back about my depressingly glorious past was basically because I was in Groningen for a couple of weeks as part of a training thing in the medical school of the University of Groningen, and while looking up Wikipedia before I left, I was struck with the revelation that sweet ol’ Bernoulli ji was one of the many famous sons of the Groningen soil. It kind of a put a bad taste in my mouth and an odd sense of foreboding.
I could not have been more wrong though! Groningen was a wonderful place with a capital W. By the way the pronunciation of Groningen according to Wikipedia is 'ɣroːnɪŋə(n)’….which I’m sure literally seems Greek to you (and me), but the simple idea is that the ‘G’ is pronounced something like an odd mixture of k, h and c when you have a bad cold. The advantage is that if you have something struck in your throat just say ‘Groningen’ and voila! Throat clear!
The moment our vehicle pulled into Groningen (Its around 2 hours from Schiphol airport, Netherlands), the first thing that struck me was the bicycles and the second thing that struck me was the bicycles and the third thing that struck me was….well you get the idea. Groningen is considered the ‘cycling capital’ of the world and it shows. Everybody irrespective of age, sex, caste, creed and species is on a bike. No I didn’t get the species thing wrong……you’ll pretty frequently find canines and felines cosily sitting on wicker baskets while the owner cycles away to glory. Like I often mention I’m really not impressed by the concept of exercise…..but got to hand it to these guys…the cycling probably partly explains the totally pollution free air that you get around there. You save on petrol, you burn calories, and you don’t have to worry about parking….and no oil change every 5000 km! You also don’t have ego clashes of the ‘Mera gaadi tumhare gaadi se chotta kaisa’ type…except for very few almost all the cycles seem to be of a standard issue type.
We were put up at the NH Groningen, one of the famous NH chain. It was a really pleasant place with great facilties and friendly staff. The highlight was a basket of fresh green apples which were always there for you in the lobby…retrospectively I wonder though if it was symbolic…we were a pretty large group of doctors…maybe they thought a bunch of apples a day would keep these doctors away…talk about wishful thinking!!
The not so pleasant thing at times was the weather…it was typically what Obelix (of the Asterix comics fame) would have nonchalantly remarked as “This Dutch weather is crazy!”.Luckily most of the days were pleasant, except when it was raining…which was like always though…and it also seemed that the rain clouds over here are a bit like a lady in a clothes store, finding it really hard to make up their mind on the big ‘to pour or not to pour’ question…so you have these irritating little drizzles in irritating little spurts which can make you more than a little irritated. This was especially an issue in the night which was the only time we had to ourselves as the mornings and afternoon were busy with the training sessions.
There are plenty of canals here too…as in the rest of Netherlands and they make quite a pretty picture. On one of the canals near the medical school there’s a quaint little restaurant in a boat called the ‘Pancake’ ship.
The center of the city is the Martini square with the Martini tower which is probably the most famous landmark in Groningen. Next to it is the major shopping streets and the Grote market. The story goes that this area (too) was apparently pretty badly knocked up by the crazy Nazis during WWII. Groningen is very close to the German border and this was one of the last pockets of German resistance around this area to prevent the allies entering Germany. The Nazis didn’t hold on…but apparently managed to make a mess of the city, especially effectively blowing up a lot of the bridges over the canals…the famed German engineering in reverse!
Shopping can be a pretty expensive affair in Groningen ( in spite of not being with my wife!), however while you are here you should get some souvenirs from the tourist office next to Martini tower (typical ones being small windmills and miniature brightly colored wooden shoes) and also recommended are the typically Dutch ‘Stroopwafel’ (syrup waffles) for those with a sweet tooth. Groningen like the rest of Netherlands is quite into flowers too…you have an interesting flower market near the main square , with a wonderful collection of fresh flowers. There are some great shopping malls like V and D, Hema and C and A…especially good for sweaters and shawls I thought. I was looking for some original made in Holland Phillips products…but it seems even that has been outsourced to our friendly Chinese neighbours!
Being a typical university town there are plenty of small eating joints all around the city and the Indians and Chinese are also amply represented (which is quite natural considering that their biggest contribution to the modern world is human beings) .There are also all the typical junk food outlets in plenty – including McDonalds, KFC and so on. Our group tried out a couple of ‘Indian’ restaurants both of which are de facto run by Bangladeshis and this was pretty evident when the ‘lamb biriyani’ was announced as ‘lomb’ biriyani and the ‘Murgh’ biriyani became ‘Morgh’ biriyani:) , the food was OK, a bit on the expensive side though. There are a slew of Turkish ‘doner’ kebab shops too (a ‘doner’ is basically like a mutated burger heavily stuffed with meat and salads).We had typical European food for dinner on a couple of days….a bit low on the spices these Dutch …if you’re Indian it might help to keep a small sachet of ‘garam masala’ in your pocket which you can drop over the food on the sly! The desserts were fantastic though. There are plenty of small cafés around ….and then there are the ‘coffee shops’ which apparently are not for coffee really but other hot stuff (which we will not discuss further as this blog has or at least claims to have a ‘U’ rating)
On a Saturday we were taken to a place called ‘Bourtange’, which is an interesting ‘star’ shaped fortress near the German border. Apparently like rest of the world and especially us Indians, the Dutch too were not very much into the ‘love thy neighbour’ thing and vice versa ….so at times they were fighting the Spanish , sometimes the Germans and sometimes the British ….they would have fought more, but then there were only so many neighbours around. ‘Bourtange’ was something which helped the Dutch maintain control over Groningen. It also houses a cute lil village and an interesting wind-mill inside with a couple of restaurants and souvenir shops. We were also given a guided tour by a guy dressed in one of the mercenary outfits of yore. Worth a ‘dekho’ as one of our polished bollywood movie reviewers would say.
The other great thing about the Dutch is their appreciation for art.You’ll find sculptures and art galleries in every nook and corner. The University hospital itself is laced with some great creative work….of course with my limited knowledge of fine art I could not appreciate the more abstract of them (but then I was never really into art appreciation….I’m the kind who would always think that Phantom comics is better art than Dali’s surrealism…but that is just poor mentally challenged me!).Incidentally there are a couple of good museums around,including an interesting comic-strip museum.
And last but not the least ( that’s one cliché I’ve not used for a long time!), the highlight of the trip was the group at the University of Groningen who were responsible for our training….and it was an absolute pleasure academically (and socially).I really thank all those involved –including but not limited to – Prof Borleffs , Prof Cohen, Prof Molenaar, Prof Tio, Jan, Remko, Hana, Harry, Hanke,Elaine……….and of course the problem-solver, logistics expert and ‘jack of all trades’ rolled into one –Renzo!
N:If you feel like you using any of my pics please do go ahead, but would really appreciate it if you use it with permission.Thanks!