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  • Writer's pictureJH


Ken, Sarah, Deni. Ghost of Gouda.

November 2, 2017

“That was maybe in the top five soups of all time.”

- Deni Gauthier on his fish soup at Gewoon Gouds in Gouda, Netherlands

The Netherlands certainly has its bike game together. They’re everywhere in this country. Regular bikes, electric bikes, scooters. Gas is expensive in this part of the world. Back in Canada we complain when the price gets up to $1.20/L. Over here I’ve seen numbers as high as 1.59 Euros per litre, which I think is something close to a thousand Canadian dollars, so bikes are the economical choice.

Or maybe it’s just a cultural thing. I lived in Japan for a year in the late nineties and it was much the same. You’d go to the local train station and there would be 200 bikes parked out front. In Canada, cyclists always seem to be at war with drivers, but elsewhere it looks like they co-exist peacefully enough.

Anyway, people here have bikes. Old people; young people; blonde ponytailed little Viking girls in their thousands, destined to be flight attendants for KLM. There are more bike lanes than sidewalks, and it can be treacherous to walk in them. Even so, fuzzy on road etiquette and with Sarah clutching the GPS, we marched boldly into the quaint city of Gouda – a town of 72,000 that is, of course, famous for its cheese. It was a 45-minute hike from our hotel to the city centre. I rolled my ankle and Ken tripped on a curb.


But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday we arrived in Amsterdam. Ken, Deni, and I were met at the airport by Sarah and a man named Kees (pronounced “case”) – a tour manager, booker, gear guy and the sort of ally that an indie artist needs on a tour like this. Kees drove us to Gouda (pronounced “Howda”) and beyond, to a rural property where we gathered up the stuff we’ll need to play over the next month: PA, amps, monitors, mic stands, drums, etc. It’s good gear, gig hardened and battle tested. It’s also really heavy. We picked out what we needed and loaded it into the van that will be our home for the next month. The van is cool and has lots of room. As we’re in Europe, it’s also a stick shift, which might make for some interesting driving later.

Cool music fans will note that there was an enormous stand-up bass in a bag in the corner of the equipment room. Legend says it belongs to The Sadies.

Sarah drives our tour van like a boss. She’s behind the wheel for almost every kilometre when she’s on the road. She handles her business. It’s impressive and inspiring. She’s a phenomenal example of building your own dream, managing your own stuff, and being self-sufficient. She also works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. As I write this, at the end of a long day, she is in her room working on bookings and other business details. You know, success is sometimes the result of a happy accident, but as the great Geoff Thompson taught me, you can do a lot to make yourself accident prone.

After picking up the gear, we enjoyed a spectacular European coffee at Kees’s house. No massive, break-your-wrist, dishwater coffees in this part of the world. A short, robust, strong brew does the trick. It’s so civilized around here.

We left Kees’s place and came back to our hotel to have lunch (fries with mayo!) and try to get some sleep. We’re still in calm-before-the-storm mode right now. We start the 25 in 25 run tomorrow when Sarah is the special guest at a songwriting workshop. This afternoon we relaxed a bit. Then we did our Frogger thing on the long, long walk into the heart of Gouda, dodging bikes along the way.

Gouda town hall.

What a beautiful little city. Gouda is an interesting mix of 600-year-old buildings and modern

architecture. The city is criss-crossed with canals and bridges and lights. It’s like a toy city. We walked the brick streets in the downtown area and landed in the town square, where we had a fantastic, fire-lit dinner on the patio at Gewoon Gouds, in the shadow of Gouda’s huge gothic town hall.

How European!

I love old European cities. I’ve spent time in medieval places like Ypres, Belgium and Arras, France. They were both mostly destroyed during the First World War, but were re-built in their original image in the post-war period. I love cobblestone streets and town squares and cathedrals. We don’t really get to see lot of that in Canada. As one of my heroes, Douglas Coupland, said, Vancouver is one of the youngest cities in the world. Canada is a young country. I like charming old European cities like Gouda with its town hall and energy and little shops. And it’s just a city. I bet people from Gouda don’t look around and see anything exotic at all. Amazing what you can get used to.

After dinner we walked the long way back to the hotel, passing field hockey pitches where girls’ teams were working out. Sarah went back to work and now Ken and Deni are talking music, as you might expect. They’re talking about Sigur Rós and Radiohead and Alice Cooper. Believe it or not, professional musicians actually love music.

Okay, staying healthy on the road is important, and staying healthy means getting sleep. Apart from a few hours this afternoon, Ken, Deni, and I have been up for something like 36 hours. Time now to re-set the clock, kick the jet lag, and get ready for the tour to really begin. I’m looking forward to enjoying what is a really comfortable bed (also not a guarantee on the road) while I have one.

Here’s to dreams of Vikings on e-bikes. And Gouda soup.

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