It was a glorious day. Perfect for exploring the unknown countryside. Pointing the car to roads you don’t know, and following signs to small rural villages you never heard off. Narrow country lanes meander between the green meadows, lined with trees and hedges. A sign pointed our attention to a ‘tea garden’, that was part of a farm and providing the owners some extra revenue. Patio seats and tables were scattered around the large garden. The setting could almost be Arcadia. Beautiful scenery, the quietness of the countryside, trees providing shade for the visitors on that warm day. The coffee was good.
When looking around, absorbing the moment, I suddenly saw something very odd. A few meters from where I was seated, a middle aged couple was having a drink too. It was the kind of couple that goes out on a sunny day in their Renault Scenic, with two tour bicycles on a rack mounted on the tow hook of their car. That the couple was taking a break from their bike tour was not odd by itself, but what I could not understand was that the lady was reading a book. There on that beautiful day, in that wonderful location, she could not enjoy from what she saw around her, nor was she engaged in a conversation with her husband. She preferred to read a book and close herself off from the world around her. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing against reading a book, and Oprah will back me up here, but there is a time and place for everything. And this was not it. I’ve seen this before. And it is probably a female thing. Sitting down on their vacation to have a drink, and instead of looking at the new and fascinating world around them on a spot they are not likely to visit again soon, they open their bag and get a book out. Last year, waiting in canal boat to set off for a tour through Amsterdam’s waterways with a British visitor, I noticed that on the bench next to me a lady was not looking around at the buzz, no, she was reading. I somehow can understand this if you are travelling alone. But the lady in the countryside tea garden was not alone. She was with her husband. And they had nothing to talk about.
The 'Buitenlust' inn terrace, where our lunch break was somewhat disturbed by the loud and trivial conversation of two middle aged couples sitting ariound a table next to ours.
By itself this is not something worth remembering, if it was not for the fact that later that same day, on a terrace in the quaint little village of Amerongen, we were confronted with yet another typical habit for certain middle aged couples. Once again, couples doing a bike tour, in this case through the Utrecht Hill Range, admittedly one of the most beautiful parts of the country and very inviting to be explored while pedalling. But when two couples meet, or go out together, it is for some reason necessary for them to pump up the volume of their conversation, annoying the other people sitting down there. And take my word for it, those couples seem to have only one subject to talk about for all to hear. It is always about their vacations. We all should listen to their stories about their weekend trips, and their experiences in far away places and their future travel plans. When you listen to these stories - and you have to, because you can’t close yourself off from it – it becomes clear that those trips are always done with the company of other couples. I suddenly understood. I’m happy for those men and women who, through the years, do know how to live their lives together to the fullest and who are even after all those years, still inspired by each other’s company. But these terrace bike tour couples lost that ability somewhere along the road. Most of their married life centred around their children, enjoying their company, bringing them to sport events, keeping an eye on their homework, comforting, feeding, clothing them, being interested in their education, raising them to responsible adults, and sharing that with friends and family. But then suddenly, the kids are gone. Don’t come along anymore. Out on their own feet. And then there is nothing left. Only a partner, but they lost the art of mutual communication. They don’t know how to spend time together. They need other couples to spend vacations and fill the void there is in their own company. And they need other couples to talk about their trips and wonderful experiences to scare away The Big Boredom. I pity them. It is probably a typical Dutch phenomenon. Or is it universal?