The friendly Zeelanders—A Spanish heritage—Deceptive Dutch towns—The Abbey Hotel—The Abbey of St. Nicholas—Middelburg’s art—Sentimental songs—The great Tacius—The siege of Middelburg—A round-faced city—When disfigurement is beauty—Green paint—Long John—Music in the night—Foolish Betsy—The Stadhuis—An Admiral and stuffed birds—The law of the paving-stones—Veere—The prey of the sea—A mammoth church—Maximilian’s cup.
With Middelburg I have associated, for charm, Hoorn; but Middelburg stands first. It is serener, happier, more human; while the nature of the Zeelander is to the stranger so much more ingratiating than that of the North Hollander. The Zeelander—and particularly the Walcheren islander—has the eccentricity to view the stranger as a natural object rather than a phenomenon. Flushing being avowedly cosmopolitan does not count, but at Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland, you may, although the only foreigner there, walk about in the oddest clothes and receive no embarrassing attentions.
It is not that the good people of Walcheren are quicker to see where their worldly advantage lies. They are not schemers or financiers. The reason resides in a native politeness, a heritage, some have conjectured, from their Spanish forefathers. One sees hints of Spanish blood also in the exceptional flexibility and good carriage of the Walcheren women. Whatever the cause of Zeeland’s friendliness, there it is; and in Middelburg the foreigner wanders at ease, almost as comfortable and self-possessed as if he were in France.
And it is the pleasantest town to wander in, and an astonishingly large one. A surprising expansiveness, when one begins to explore them, is an idiosyncrasy of Dutch towns. From the railway, seeing a church spire and a few roofs, one had expected only a village; and behold street runs into street until one’s legs ache. This is peculiarly the case with Gorinchem, which is almost invisible from the line; and it is the case with Middelburg, and Hoorn, and many other towns that I do not recall at this moment.
My advice to travellers in Walcheren is to stay at Middelburg rather than at Flushing (they are very nigh each other) and to stay, moreover, at the Hotel of the Abbey. It is not the best hotel in Holland as regards appointment and cuisine; but it is certainly one of the pleasantest in character, and I found none other in so fascinating a situation. For it occupies one side of the quiet square enclosed by the walls of the Abbey of St. Nicholas (or Abdij, as the Dutch oddly call it), and you look from your windows through a grove of trees to the delicate spires and long low facade of this ancient House of God, which is now given over to the Governor of Zeeland, to the library of the Province, and to the Provincial Council, who meet in fifteenth century chambers and transact their business on nouveau art furniture.