Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Alternatieve Elfstedentocht - Day 1

The landscape west of Leeuwarden
From the train, truth be told, all of Holland looks pretty similar - at least what I've seen so far. Flat fields, cows, insignificant attached pale brick houses, lakes and marinas, little old churches with black spires, rows of identical elders lining canals, the scent of cow dung. It's only when I'm out on the bike that I can appreciate the rustic beauty of the place.

I am now in Friesland. Typically, it only takes about two hours to get here from Amsterdam. I checked the NS website and found the easiest way to get to Leeuwarden, capital of the province and starting point of my bike journey, was to go to Utrecht and connect with a northbound train. "That isn't logical," said Max Huwae, after suggesting I leave from Duivendrecht, which is two stops from Bijlmer Arena.

"11 Cities Route" - Day 1 (ANWB map)
Arriving in Leeuwarden I was suddenly interacting with several people, first at the WC -- actually three steel chambers which do not accept coins. You have to phone a number from your mobile and get charged for it. Seems like a Japanese-type innovation. I didn't realize this at first and stood in line holding my coins. But I saw no place to put them, just a sign saying something about an 0900 cel phone number. Fortunately, a young guy held the door open for me as he emerged from the chamber.

"I can't use coins, can I?" I asked.

"Don't worry, I have paid for you," he responded, apparently not understanding my question. After I came out, he was still there and gave his frank opinion of the cel phone/toilet system: "It sucks," he said, grinning.

Outside the station I was hit up for change by a fairly comfortable looking middle-aged man on a bike. I showed him my change purse and he asked for 2 euros which for some reason I gave him. Then another fellow asked me for a light for his self-rolled cigarette. 

I had some difficulty getting out of Leeuwarden. As in other towns, I found the signage rather weak here and I rode around for a while trying to find a sign pointing me west out of town to knooppunt 77. Wandering a suburban subdivision, I got directions from a nice old fellow on a bike who asked me what I was doing. "Touring Friesland," I told him. "Cycling is the way to go!" he responded.

The way to Boksum: over a bridge and through the fields
I head out of town alongside a broad canal. The weather is great though a bit windy. When the big clouds part, it warms up considerably. Outside Deinum, I cross the railroad tracks and the fietspad reduces to a trickle, going right through fields and farmsteads, over little wooden bridges crossing stagnant drainage ditches. I overtake an elderly couple in golf carts, a common mode of transport among seniors in suburban Holland. Then I pass through a series of sparsely populated farming hamlets: Jellum, Bears, Weidum, Mantgum, Reduzum. It's only 12km to Sneek, my destination, but my ass is aching.

Geeske, who helped me fix a flat tire in Dearsum
I had a flat riding into Dearsum. I could not have picked a better spot for a blowout: outside the Gebrouders Terpstra farm machinery vendor and repair shop. A young woman who worked there spotted me and sort of adopted me until the repair was done. The woman, named Geeske, ushered me into the shop and picked out a wrench for me to remove my front wheel (which she later deemed unnecessary), then brought me a pail of water so I could search for the puncture.

Evening. I'm ensconced in a great house on the east side of Sneek (near the Sneekermeer). I'm about to go out to find some food and experience a bit of Sneek Week activity. (The week-long festival revolves around a series of sailing races on the many lakes of southern Friesland.) I wandered amidst the partying throngs and this thought occurred to me: I once thought, while I was in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, that no one could play cheesier music than the Mexicans. But the fact is that what I witnessed on several stages in Sneek was somehow even more banal: that oompah thumping disco so popular among Euro trash. These Dutch groups are content to do the hokey pokey and the decked-out crowds just love it.

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