Sunday, July 23, 2017
Yesterday, I made a plan to leave bright and early to bike the 31 km to Oudewater. The biking certainly happened, not so much the bright and early. But that’s okay, I had a nice evening the night before making new friends in Utrecht. I’m not often a ‘go with the flow’ kind of person, but if there’s one thing travel enforces, it’s to go with the flow, man.
I left at 10:00 this morning on a borrowed bike—one that I was super awkward on a couple of weeks ago, and now, now I am a pro. I’m a pro who is mighty pleased with herself, too. Previously too timid to make a five-minute bike trip, I’m now relatively comfortable cycling for half the day with a SIM card that doesn’t work too well (meaning, no access to Google maps).
I’m still a little taken aback by how flat the landscape is, though I did come across a couple steady inclines and actually had to change to an easier gear! It was a special moment. Such flat lands though make for some strong winds and today there were some winds – winds I felt like I was heading into the whole day, might I add.
The day called for rain, but it has been my experience thus far that you can’t pay too much attention to the forecast. And besides, if it does rain, which it most certainly did (buckets of it), it’ll let up… which it also did. I managed to stay partially dry, but that is mostly due in part to my lunch break I conveniently took when the worst of it happened. #luckisonmyside
Once I made it to Nieuwegein, it started to rain. Lucky for me that leg of the journey had me go through a park under bridges (no rain!) and lots of large and leafy trees (no rain!).
Oudewater is a cute little town that has over 250 protected houses (often referred to as ‘monuments’). I’ve learned to recognize the small plaques to the side of the doors making the distinction.
My favourite is this next street shot.
It clearly shows the tilt of the buildings—typical of a lot of Dutch structures. Stairwells were often made too narrow, sometimes winding, to bring furniture up to the top levels of the home. The buildings lean forward to allow furniture to be brought up outside of the building without hitting the front of the structure’s walls or windows. I don’t see them in this picture, but the gables would have been adorned with a hook—the hook used to pull up said large and bulky objects.
I was fighting to beat a horde of Dutch tourists and quickly made haste to the Heksenwaag (witches’ scales). The sole reason I wanted to go to Oudewater was to see this building, to look at it and feel its history and imagine what the weigh scales meant to a lot of people: proof of their innocence.
Back in the day when thousands of people, mostly women, were accused of being a witch, there was a practice to weigh a person, offering them a chance to prove their innocence and avoid being hog-tied and thrown into a river to see if they sank (not a witch!) or floated (a witch!), tortured in awful ways, or worse yet, straight up burned at the stake… alive.
If that woman’s body weight ‘was in proportion to their build’ they were deemed not a witch and received an official document stating the same as proof. It was thought that a witch had no soul and therefore would weigh far less than they looked. How else do witches fly on broomsticks?
Seriously, this was the belief: if you’re too heavy, you can’t fly a broomstick.
Anyone accused of witchcraft, and who could afford the trek, made their way to Oudewater to avoid being burned at the stake. Sadly, in many cities, such trials were often rigged resulting in the high chance that anyone (and there were thousands of victims—close to a million women from all over Europe) accused of witchcraft ended up being executed (burnt, drowned, or tortured to death).
A person would take off their clothes while being watched (to ensure they weren’t hiding any added artificial weight underneath their linen shift) and in front of a bunch of town council types, step onto the scales.
The weighing house became famous in the 16th century as it was believed that the scales housed here were the most accurate, the people honest, and therefore not wrongfully lessening the weight of an individual. As such, no one was ever proved to be a witch here, and like my trusty guidebook tells me, Oudewater is held up as a symbol of the honesty of the locals (they refused to take bribes to rig the weights). Additionally, and perhaps more interestingly, such honesty can be seen as the first stirrings of ‘people power’ and a turn against the church, because the church was behind the horrific witch-hunts.
The Heksenwaag museum is modest, there are a couple educational short films in the loft and some old-timey artefacts illustrating the history of witchcraft. Once downstairs, you’re invited to hop on the scales and see if your weight matches your frame. I’m pleased to tell you, in case you were wondering, I am not a witch.
I’m also pleased to tell you, my certificaet van weginghe (weight certificate) tells me I’m a lot lighter than I actually am. There’s nothing wrong with the scales, however, an old Dutch pound is 10 per cent heavier than today’s unit. Damn.
After a slow bite to eat waiting out the bulk of the rain, and complaining to my server that the brand of SIM card I recently purchased is crap, I made my way to Tourist Information to seek out my route to Woerden. Woerden is 10 km away and more importantly, houses a train station that has direct trains to Houten Castellum.
I took a very narrow country road to Linschoten and then directly up to the station. Got a chance to speak to some very attractive men about whether or not I can bring my bike on to the train (I already knew that I could… ), et voila. Home.
It really was an easy ride home, just a little tricky with the periodic rain in my eyes and the incessant doubt of whether I was heading in the right direction (because again, I had only some names and a ‘mental’ map to go by).
Clearly, it all worked out!
Overall, I have no regrets and am glad I sucked it up and got a little uncomfortable to make the journey to see some old building.
* A little play on spelling here.