|De Borggraaf castle, Lottum|
|The trail from Lottum to Broekhuizen|
|Waiting for the ferry across the Maas|
I don't know why I chose the next spot to stop, a roadside inn called De Arcense Herberg. The road is fairly busy with newish Porsches, Volkswagens and Audis passing at regular intervals. The "cafe latte" I ordered turned out to be some revolting instant mix. I guess I just liked that it looked popular, occupied by middle-aged couples taking a break in their road trip or bike ride. Bikes out here are always hand-brake operated Batavus or Giants or Gazelles, the sort that run €799. One cannot deny that they run splendidly, like two-wheeled Audis. (Amazing there's no market for them in America.)
|Germany has bike paths, too|
I haven't been so impressed with this stretch of the tour -- too much traffic and mucho turismo. I somehow stumbled into a major tourist attraction, on the order of Keukenhof, the Kasteeltuinen Arcen, the gardens of Arcen Castle. They look pretty impressive on the posted map, but this is brochure Holland, and at €17 a head (not only don't they take my Museumkaart, they don't even recognize it), I chose to skip that experience.
|The greenhouses of Lomm, where they probably cultivate roses|
I found my vriend, Kusters, on Solingerhof in Velden, but nobody home, so I took the 8.5km path back up to point 94, which is at a rotunda just east of Arcen castle. It was lovely, mostly a thin packed dirt trail bordered by woods and farm fields. Rather than backtracking to return to Velden, I decided to take a parallel path in Germany. But the moment I crossed the border, I lost all track of my bearings and ended up riding many many kilometers to the town of Straelen, then on a misguided quest for Venlo (the occasional Dutch bike signage raised false hopes), finally staggering back to point 95 and now Velden, round 7:30 pm. I've been cycling almost non-stop for eight hours.
Later, after checking in at the J Kusters residence on Solingerhof, east of Velden's center, I feel a bit better though my legs still ache. Velden is slightly more urban than Lottum. It is not an attractive town. The one eatery recommended to me by Mevrouw Kusters - the Maasduinen, a brasserie - had stopped serving food. A little ways from there, across an empty plaza, was a rowdy pub adjacent to a sort of fast food joint where kids were picking up their greasy snacks from styrofoam containers. The only other choices were a fancy Chinese restaurant and another Asian-run snack bar. I settled for the latter. Inside, a girl was sitting alone watching "The Shawshank Redemption" on TV. I was just in time for the scene where the inmates beat the shit out of Tim Robbins so they can rape him. I ordered something that consisted of reconstituted meat swimming in a gooey sweet sauce - it might have been duck - with a pile of French fries and a gob of mayonnaise, plus a bit of cole slaw on a bed of iceberg lettuce. It was fairly revolting but I was hungry enough that I put it away in short order. The snack bar had a terrace on the main drag. At the next table, a young blond fellow and his older companion dinnered on those fried snacks that look like corn dogs. A group of youngsters rode up on bikes and went inside. Velden felt like a dead place where old couples dwelled in identical suburban homes and what young people remained congregated in crummy joints along the main drag. If it felt so lifeless in summer, I could not help but imagine how dismal it would feel in November.
The Kusters, my hosts, were the sort of elderly couple I referred to above. They spend the evening in front of the TV like zombies. Mevrouw Kusters took me up to the room, which might have been a son or daughter's who's long since left the nest. She showed me the toilet for some reason and the new gas heater. I conversed with her in fractured Dutch. That the Vrienden op de Fiets network lets you stay in middle-class homes makes it an instructive experience you might not otherwise have. It's shown me that the Dutch - not Amsterdammers but the Dutch who live in Holland's villages - are extremely conservative and dull, and that the older ones can hardly speak English.