Stuck in a Castle

June 20, 2018 – Well, Limburg, The Netherlands

The sleek Dutch train chugged down the tracks, out of the madness of Amsterdam and into open fields. I kept my face up against the plexiglass window, my suitcase and carry on tucked in against the seat next to me. These trains were cleaner and more spacious than the Metro North and Amtrak ones I was used to back home. At each stop, passengers pressed a button to open the door, and then some would board and others would deboard. The sheer amount of people using the train felt unreal to my American mind. 

If they weren’t riding the public transportation, they were pedaling bikes along the flat landscape. It’s not that they didn’t have cars, they just didn’t need to use them. We passed grassy fields, tiny cottages, and even some windmills. 

Three hours later (The Netherlands no longer felt as small as it looked on the map), I dragged my suitcase down the narrow village road towards the castle where I would spend the next month living. My school restored this fourteenth century castle so it could act as a living and learning space for students studying abroad. I had a room in a tower that I shared with two other girls who I met upon moving in.

We settled into a routine of eating meals provided by a local caterer, writing, attending class, and planning elaborate European travel. I’d have the chance to escape to Amsterdam, Brussels, Prague, and Venice, but the majority of my time would be in the small village of Well.

We’d been advised to bring most of the essentials with us, because they didn’t exactly have a Walmart nearby. Instead of a grocery store, they had a grocery truck that drove in once a week to sell fresh produce and treats to the villagers. There was one bar, and because about ninety American students come during a semester, the business thrived despite the small population. 

The view from my bedroom window. My current view is of a brick building.

For the month, I rented a bike, and it took only about twenty minutes to bike out of the village. I could bike to Germany if I wanted to. So when I wasn’t doing classwork, I often took a ride on the bike. I was six hours ahead of everyone I knew back home, and my cell plan only let me make calls for emergencies, so I felt the miles between my loved ones and myself. 

If I didn’t buy something when the grocery truck came (being on a budget, I walked away with limited groceries each time), then I’d have no choice but to eat the food provided to us. There wasn’t another place to get food. 

The bike rides were fun, and the Protestant people had a policy of leaving their curtains open, to show that behind closed doors, they acted with piety. The few roads were narrow, but there were rarely cars, and the cars that came were accustomed to bikers. So. I’d ride past houses on my bike and peer into the living rooms of the Dutch. They really had nothing to hide. Kind of boring.

Quarantined in Boston, I’m feeling the way I felt in that village. I can only shop for food once a week (except now I’m terrified of coming in contact with a virus), and the extent of where I go is limited to where my own two feet can take me. I’m not in a tower in a castle, and there are no future trips to plan. In The Netherlands, my class schedule kept me in a routine. Now, I complete classwork at any point in any day. It’s a less exciting isolation, but I’m thankful that I have memories to look back on and a future to hope for. 

The village did have a bakery, and lover of sweets that I am, I went and got a slice of apple pie one day. It was sweet and fresh, a welcome divergence from the stroopwafels I’d been bingeing. Right now I’m trying to bake for myself, so that I can relax and enjoy a treat. So far I’ve made chocolate chip cookies and chocolate muffins with bananas. I’m planning to make a confetti cake and sugar cookies soon. We also inexplicably have a cake mold shaped like an Easter bunny, so I just might make a festive cake. Any recommendations for what else I can bake?

“Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.”

Raymond Carver, “A Small Good Thing.”

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