By in Travel

Four Countries and Four Languages in Four Days

On Thursday morning at half-past-very-drunken-sparrow o'clock, Mr C, me and his friend C set out for a long weekend in Gouda, Holland, there to meet with many European friends, enjoy good food, good company and good alcohol. And 30-year-old computers. LOTS of 30-year-old-computers. A Christmas Coding Convention, what could be better?

We were at the Eurotunnel terminal around 7am, in France by just before 9am. There is a restaurant in Cite Europe, Coquelles, which caters for early arrivals, and there we had a 'full English' breakfast, French style.

After finishing our breakfast and acquiring alcohol, sandwiches and water from the supermarket across the way, we hit the road.

By lunchtime we were in Belgium. By late afternoon we were rolling through Holland.

We arrived in one piece at the hotel, settled in and decided on pizza from the local (10 minute walk) pizzeria and some of the wine we had bought in France rather than the formality of the hotel restaurant.

On Friday we ate at the hotel for breakfast, then wandered out to find the location where we were meeting with our friends for the weekend. This turned out to be a school which was a peaceful 20-30 minute walk down the canal from the hotel. Cats, dogs, ducks and swans were all to be seen and greeted. We headed back to the hotel to collect the car with all the vintage computer gear in it, then drove back to the school to drop everything off. Friends were beginning to arrive by then, and the old school's classrooms began to hum with noise. Supper was part of the deal, so we enjoyed the first of several Moroccan meals.

Mr C and C took the car back to the hotel before walking back to the school, where they had left me writing peacefully, then we spent a few hours catching up with everyone before hitting a pub on the way back to the hotel.

Saturday morning we slept in, as we were quite tired. Wandering back to the school mid-morning, we found the same mix of English, Dutch, French and German being spoken. Lunch was a mix of rolls, buttermilk and fruit, which was utterly delicious. One of our friends hosted a concert mid-afternoon, then in the evening, after supper, we had several hours of music and graphics competitions, judged by a jury and with prizes awarded later, some time after midnight.

On Sunday morning we slept in even further, arriving during the lunchtime serving. That was fine though, as they catered to feed far more than the 200 people who attended the coding convention and there was plenty food left.

From late afternoon, we slowly packed up and then headed to the cafeteria for one final delicious supper. Still the same basic meal of meatballs, pasta, rice, vegetables and salad, but the caterers gave us delicious fruit (pineapple, melon, grapes, oranges) and ice cream for dessert.

Between us, a bunch of multi-lingual types speaking English, Dutch, German and French all helped the organisers tidy up, before they ran us back to our hotel. There we sat around for a few more hours with one of our new German friends before deciding that bed was a good idea.

On Monday, after another hotel buffet breakfast, we went shopping in the tipping rain and a howling gale, purchasing freshly made Gouda 'boerenkaas' (farmer's cheese) and a few souvenirs before embarking on the return journey across Holland, Belgium, France and England to arrive home just after 11pm.

We slept very well in the hotel, thanks to the ingenious idea of a twin room being two single mattresses on a queen-sized base and being provided with some very comfortable pillows too.

We liked Gouda very much and are already laying plans to return some time in the next few months for another long break. It's around 3-4 hours' drive from Calais, and only 45 minutes from Schipol airport, but is a delightfully rural and laid back place.

Image Credit » by wiegerwaardenburg

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MegL wrote on December 22, 2015, 8:24 AM

Oh, wow, I am SOOOOO jealous. I enjoyed my trip on the Eurostar to France a couple of years ago and would love to go again. Belgium is great too. I was in Zeebrugge. My main memory of Belgium is the smell of chocolate - EVERYWHERE! Why 30-year old computers? Or did you mean 30-year old programmers? That was before Windows 3.1?

wolfgirl569 wrote on December 22, 2015, 9:24 AM

Sounds like a wonderful mini vacation.

WordChazer wrote on December 22, 2015, 10:00 AM

In Gouda the smell is of fresh cheese, everywhere... 30 year old computers were indeed before the age of Windows. In the 80s geeks used (and programmed/coded on) hardware like Atari, Commodore 64, Amstrad ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, these were all around before Bill Gates and Windows were the done thing. Games such as Manic Miner, Jet Set Willie, early Super Mario Bros, Sonic, Donkey Kong and Wolfenstein. They wrote games, music and graphics for a memory smaller than the averge flashdrive today and these days have turned the art of this coding into competitions which attract people from across Europe and also occasionall Japan and America for the bigger parties. The people at this gathering were mainly European though - English, French, Germans, Dutch, Belgians, Poles, some from Austria too I think. Most of us spoke English plus at least one other language and I think Mr C knew most of the people there. We even had a few superstars of the era - I was able to meet Rob Hubbard who is one of the main composers of music from those days, while Mr C sent some time catching up with a group called The Lost Boys who were one of the leading coding crews for the Atari machines.

WordChazer wrote on December 22, 2015, 10:09 AM

It was. Most of our trips to Europe are based around coding events or digital arts parties. This was very much old-school coding, hardly any Windows-based entries in the competitions, although there were a few entries which had been videoed or were being shown on emulators instead of the real hardware. That's the problem with 30 year old machines. They don't travel well... We had one of the first laptops to show, an Atari STacy 2 from 1989, which most people had only heard of and never seen. It was on loan from the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge and we ran a real time feed from it so people could blog throughout the weekend. I've yet to read the whole thing, but Mr C is hoping to add it to the e-book he will be publishing soon.

MegL wrote on December 22, 2015, 10:45 AM

I learned about variables on the ZX81 and wrote a program in BBC Basic. I even tutored an 'A' level student in BBC Basic because he hadn't an idea of how to create his coursework program and none of the programmers in the IT section could write in BBC Basic, they all used "proper" coding languages! My kids had an Atari, a Coleco Vision and a ZX Spectrum. I played all of those. I loved Lemmings. There were nights I stood up in the kids rooms until 2am trying to complete Lemmings without getting too many of them killed. I refused to get it on the PC, in case I wanted to play it that badly again. emoticon :grin: I remember waiting 5 minutes for Manic Miner to load from cassette onto the ZX Spectrum and then getting the error message and having to run the tape again and again!

WordChazer wrote on December 22, 2015, 12:10 PM

Those were the days, indeed. The emulators today even have the tape-loading noise on them when you load up a game, although I think the waiting time is less than 5 minutes now. I'm planning on brushing up on my Basic at some point and trying to code a short competition demo on the BBC, simply because not many other people do. Don't hold your breath in anticipation though, you might go blue.

cmoneyspinner wrote on December 22, 2015, 12:56 PM

I'm so jealous! It's incredible that Europeans can travel from country to country, and our transportation system is so lousy we can even get from city to city. Besides the fact that it would be good for the environment (less cars on the road), there is absolutely no reason why a capital city in each state should not and can not have a means of easily and readily connects commuters from Point A to Point B. GRRRRR …!! Anyway … that's not your problem. Never been to Europe. Love to hear people talk about their travel experiences. Stay safe! :)

WordChazer wrote on December 22, 2015, 1:09 PM

Oh, we drove this trip too. With vintage computers on board, we weren't about to fly and trust them to the baggage mishandlers at any one of the heaving airports close by. Any ways we wanted to stock up on wine on the way back, so we needed the car to cart all that back. (I bought almost 50 litres of wine for $250 so that should keep us going awhile.) It's so much cheaper in France as the tax is lower so we pay at least 1/3 less per bottle.

MegL wrote on December 22, 2015, 5:07 PM

Apparently BBC Basic was a very "good" coding language because it had correct coding protocols and allowed calls, etc.It must be 30 years since I did any BBC B programming

markgraham wrote on December 22, 2015, 6:14 PM

Ah to be a world traveler. It sounds like you are learning a lot in the countries. The food sounds delicious.

Paulie wrote on December 23, 2015, 4:46 AM

It looks like you had a very exciting weekend. How is an English breakfast French style different from a regular English breakfast?

WordChazer wrote on December 24, 2015, 11:39 AM

The food was indeed delicious. I'd hardly call a short weekend in Europe 'being a world traveler', mind. But we do enjoy our breaks, whether they're based in France, Germany, thr Netherlands or Belgium.

WordChazer wrote on December 24, 2015, 11:42 AM

French style 'full English' has smoky hot dog sausages, crispy bacon, and beans served in their own pot as well as the traditional fried eggs. The plate also had two bits of toasted French bread but was missing the mushrooms and hash browns we usually have with our version here in the UK. It was still amazing, especially as I had been up since 3.30am and was running on empty by then.