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Around the world in print - Part 5: The culinary byways of the Benelux region

shutterstock_282874625_BELGIUMThis week, our correspondent is on hand to guide you through the dykes and polders of press passing in the Benelux countries, focusing largely on Holland and Belgium. Hopefully his handy advice will help keep some air in your tyres as you pedal through the highways and byways of print production with our closest continental cousins.

How to Get There

Whilst flying is an excellent option if you are travelling to anywhere near Amsterdam, and the Eurostar works well for Brussels, the most flexible, cost effective and convenient means of transport to get to anywhere else is undoubtedly the automobile.

Benjamin Franklin asserted in 1789 that the only two certainties in life were ‘Death and Taxes’. Had the web offset or rotogravure press been invented at the time he could have added ‘You will be delayed on a press pass.’  Faster than you can say ‘Ontploffing, wordt de pers gebroken’ (‘Blast the press is broken’), you can lose five hours as some unspecified widget, nut or screw comes loose either in the press or in the operators head. Neither of which is good news.

The above mentioned Dutch phrase would cause consternation and despair for those wedded to catching a specific plane or train but to our jolly driver he can settle down to a good book and a couple of ‘Pannenkoeken’ (Sweet or savoury pancakes) and a cup of something that looks and smells like coffee but in fact tastes like a miners used sock after a double day shift.

However our motorist, whilst obviously eschewing the coffee, is still relaxed and not frantically trying to change flights. An important point, especially if you have foolishly travelled with Ryanair, as it will cost you more than a two bedroom flat in Islington complete with a live in, eager to please, Latvian maid.

As vast tracts of Belgium and Holland are within a couple of hours of the Channel Tunnel you can get from London to a large number of suppliers on the continent quicker than you can get to Leeds, Liverpool or Scarborough. Cushty. 

However it’s not without it’s own challenges, despite having eight possible lanes at HM Customs disposal to check passports, they’ll only open one just to make the queue long enough to ensure you are genuinely concerned that you will miss your crossing. When you do eventually turn up to their glorified Nissan Hut in an open top two seater sports car to have your papers checked, the only question the then trainee Jeremy Paxman’s huddled around drinking tea can come up with is, ‘Are you travelling alone?’ Genius.

Cuisine

Whilst it would come as a shock to no one that the Italians, French, Spanish and even in some areas the Brits are light years ahead of the rest Europe on the catering front, it came as a real shock to me as to how grim the food and drink options were in both Belgium and Holland.

Holland seems obsessed with a range of deep fried croquettes that all taste the same and were all the rage in Bernie Inns across the North of England in the middle to end of the last millennium. These only come with chips and a glass of Riesling from a little vineyard in Turkmenistan. 

Moving on to Belgium, whilst the beer is pretty good, any nation that has ‘Moule et Frites’, delicious as it can be, as its national dish, cannot be that great in the pots and pans department. Toast would have been more challenging.

Without doubt my worst night away press passing (Aside from a night in Poland when I had to listen to hits by ABBA and Sheena Easton at full volume on a continuous loop) was when I stayed at the optimistically named ‘Carpe Diem’ hotel in Belgium.

 I had been ‘lucky enough to have the last table’ as they shut at 8pm. They served omelette, salad and gravy (!) for my evening repast alongside some ropey red that could double as screen cleaner for the car. To make matters worse the only television in the hotel was showing a film, ‘Disaster at the Mall’ starring ex Starsky and Hutch actor and caterwauling songster David Soul in his ‘desperate for cash phase’. This was made partially less unpleasant by the fact that it was dubbed into Walloon and had English subtitles.

My fellow hotel guests/inmates in the lounge were two Dutch truckers and a leading light in the Bruges Hells Angels who puffed away on a Moroccan version of a Malboro light. Sometimes I wish I had worked harder at school.

Printing Culture

Just as Belgium and Holland score poorly in the culinary stakes, they score very highly in the printing stakes. I have yet to deal with a Dutch printer who is anything less than helpful and keen to do the best job possible.

The countries boast a significant number of modern presses covering a wide range of cut offs. Due to the popularity of small magazines/flyers in the European market a lot of these presses boast interesting in line finishing equipment not always found in the UK and for that reason alone are worth considering.

Belgium, whilst generally good does suffer from having several French speaking factories and these are generally to be avoided if you wish to retain your sanity and good humour. The Dutch speaking ones are, by and large, excellent.  

Final Thoughts

Printing in Holland and Belgium is highly recommended as a means of getting used to placing work abroad. They are user friendly and produce some interesting formats at a reasonable price. They are easy to get to and the transport costs back are not prohibitive. So if Poland scares you and Germany is too expensive then say ‘hallo’ to Holland or ‘Bondjou’ to Belgium

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