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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Brabantse Land-route - Day 1

Inner Rotterdam
The weather is supposed to be nice in the next few days, so I decided to go ahead with my plans for a Noord Brabant tour. (I was just reading in the newspaper that this August has been one of the worst in the past century, weather-wise, with an enormous amount of rain.) But today, Labor Day, it's overcast, and people on the train platforms are wearing jackets and sweaters. There is an autumnal feeling about the day. The modern Sprinter - more like a metro car than a train - glides south along Holland's industrial corridor - Haarlem, Leiden, Den Haag - between the factories revealing the usual flat fields full of cows and canals with wooden bridges.


I've placed my bike in the central part of the car where the little seats fold down. The conductor just checked my ticket but did not ask me if I'd paid my bike supplement (which I hadn't).

Now the train pulls into the grim but architecturally interesting central section of Rotterdam. Monolithic black towers, steely Bauhaus office buildings, cranes moving slowly, clanking noises. At this point the train is almost empty. After Zwijndrecht, the train traverses a broad waterway.

Brabantse Land-route - Day 1 (ANWB map)
What I know about Noord Brabant. There is a Zuid (south) Brabant, the bordering region of Belgium, but they just call it Brabant, which somewhat rankles the Noord Brabanters. It is a distinct region with a Belgian character. There is even a bit of Belgium, like an island, in the south: Baerle-Nassau. The principal cities are Breda and Tilburg in the west, Eindhoven in the east. I think it is slightly warmer than Amsterdam: temperatures in the high 60s predicted for the next few days.

Running late as usual. True, it's been an eventful day (earlier, I received a card from the immigration authorities proving my right to reside in the Netherlands till July 2011), but I never seem to get started in earnest till around 3. Fortunately it still stays light till around 8:30.

The journey begins: outside Breda
I arrived in Breda at 2:30 or so, about 1-1/2 hours from Amsterdam. Had an espresso and a cookie from Albert Hein supermarket, then realized I had neglected to bring my pump - must've left it on the living room floor. If there's one accessory I cannot do without, it's a pump. So I went looking for a bike shop. The VVV told me to try Schietecat Tweewielers.  This worked out rather well because not only did they have decent inexpensive pumps (and a fabulous variety of folding bikes, as the 30ish woman there showed me in their catalog), there was also a knooppunt marker (to point 80) on the way. Unlike in some other towns (Leeuwarden), it was easy to get out of Breda. The lovely old center ceded to immigrant suburbs (I spotted a geezer in prayer cap and fluffy white beard, like Mr Natural pedaling instead of polluting), industrial zone, suburbia, and now a tree-lined lane where I pause for refreshments.

The route has me following a canal, then dropping into the Bos Wachterij Dorst de Vijf Eiken (oaks, as Peter the barman and carpenter told me last night). Right off, this turns into a gorgeous stretch, with the big canal on the left, a horse trail on the right, then fields of high corn. There is no wind but a cool dampness beneath the clouds. I then turn into woods, no doubt plantations, of evergreens.

Op de licht geaccidenteerde Vrachelse Heide groeit naaldhout (evergreens) en bevindt zich veel natuurlijke opslag van eikenhakhout (something of oaks) ...

That bit from my ANWB guidebook goes on and on ("old-fashioned prose," sneered Bas, my Dutch conversation teacher).

 LF11B is a long-distance route
A guy just flew past on, not a bike, but a type of high-tech scooter, propelling it by putting his foot on the ground for uphill stretches. I can hear some choral practice from a distance echoing through the woods - pretty raucous, like a prayer meeting or football rally.

I've been riding through the woods for the past couple hours, now and then crossing a highway or traversing a burg (Dorst), and suddenly I come out by a duck pond ringed by sandy beach. No swimmers on this mildly cool day though. No anyone. Pine trees line the banks, though the slope where I sit on a tree trunk has been cleared - recently, it seems, judging by the multitude of trunks, around which raspberries creep. A pair of women let their little dog run around the opposite bank as the sun finally breaks through. 

These must be the sand dunes mentioned in the ANWB guide:

De kliene zandverstuiving De Zandkuil herinnert aan het te intensieve gebruik van de grond.

Let's see: The small sand thing called De Zandkuil is related to the intensive working of the ground (here). 

A good shepherd
The knooppunts (bike route markers) along this route generally correspond to the Vijf  Eiken route -- where there are no numbers, follow the five oaks (though it's really more like 5000). I still managed to get lost emerging from the woods. Outside Dongen the path turned into a horse trail - sandy and difficult, so I jogged over to a parallel strip that looked like a bike path. But it ended abruptly, just where a long-haired old hippie was walking into his driveway. Unable to utter any English, he waved toward Dongen. I crossed a big canal (the Wilhelmina Kanaal) and traversed Dongen's western edge, then continued north along the Hoge Dijk (high dike), a brick cobbled country lane that's a bit rough on your ass (if not medieval). Beyond Oosteind the path goes north, along a packed dirt path through the woods, until point 28, where a stone bridge traverses a dam. A nutty woman with fitness-oriented lean-on handlebars, upon seeing me, lets out a string of commentary. North of 28 was a lovely remote stretch between a still canal and sheep pastures. But I then realized it was off the route and turned around, then headed east toward Kaatsheuvel, my destination for the evening. 

Consumerism is ...
Supper ("dinner" is too lofty a term) at De Vaarterie in a place called Dongen-Vaart (donkey fart?), a burg 6km west of Kaatsheuvel. Figured I should get a bite as it's already 9 pm, and based on what I've seen, everything shuts down by 9:30 in the hinterlands. I had a rather revolting uitsmijter (which the dictionary translates as "bouncer"): cold fried eggs, iceberg lettuce with a dollop of mayo for dressing, Wonder bread. These Dutch have rather primitive palates. 

I had to ride to Kaatsheuvel after dark. Outside Holland, this might have been an ordeal, trying to find a house in an unknown town 6 km away, dodging traffic or getting lost. But the bike path from Dongen-Vaart to Kaathuevel was well lit and other cyclists were using it. In fact, in the mildly cool evening, listening to Grant Green ("One More Chance", a Jackson 5 cover), it was a most pleasurable ride. When I got to the west end of Kaatsheuvel, I found a good map of the town and easily worked out a route to Loonsevaert, where my vriend lived.

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