Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brabantse Land-route, Day 3

Modern consumers in Goirle
Nice little town, Goirle, the southern bit of Tilburg, which is a prosperous industrial town but unlike Breda has no pedigree. Goirle has a very modern shopping zone in the center with cafes on a plaza. Spent the night at the home of Christine and Victor, she a sort of middle-aged earth mother, he an eco-architect of Indonesian origin. They have two adorable sons. The older one, Gulliver, just greeted me from his bicycle as I sit here on the plaza after chomping a very fresh herring. Last night I slept in an old camper/RV at the rear of their long yard, which is strewn with a tree house, brick ring swimming pool, trampoline and other family recreational options. Nice to have hosts I could actually converse with.

Brabantse Land-route, day 3 (ANWB map)
Getting a late start here. At this point the day could go either way: many low clouds but the sun bursts through occasionally.

I follow my Google map, ANWB map and posted map of Goirle to locate point 35 on the west edge of town. Found it, then headed for 77, which starts as a cobblestone road, then jogs over to a parallel packed-dirt trail through the woods, across from a big cow pasture, partially sunlit. Victor told me this is a good trail. Good place for breakfast (at 12:30) as I've only had the herring. There is the odor of manure/chemicals in the air but I won't let it bother me.

'Shrooms a poppin'
I still feel rather woozy this morning - that unpleasant sensation of the world spinning around as you stand up - possibly as a result of the incredibly lavish meal I had last night at a restaurant called De Eetkamer in Goirle, which Christine had recommended during a little tour she gave me of the eateries in the center. I sprang for the three-course menu, which with two glasses of chardonnay came to 32 euros, more than six times what my dinner cost the previous evening in Dongen-Vaart. But that was vile; this was outstanding. A starter on the house of goose liver paté; a big salad loaded with precious greens, generous slabs of house-smoked salmon and a basil-based dressing; a big plate of schoulder - cubed steak in a rich thyme sauce with another bowl of salad greens and french fries; then a kick-ass dessert of citrus mousse topped by a scoop of yogurt ice cream. Despite the fabulous wealth suggested by this and many similar restaurants in Holland, the place had a casual feel and was quite busy.
Possibly Armilleria Mellea

Christine Mathon met me at the gate, a tall, hearty, big-boned woman with an intense gaze. We immediately fell into conversation. She is very talkative and has a British accent from her time spent in England. They were about to have dinner and she went back to the house while I settled into the camper and slipped into my sandals. In a few minutes, Christine came knocking at the door again with the members of her family, who had come over to welcome me: the small, brown-egg-headed Victor and their two sons, each of whom shook my hand politely.

The 'shroom has landed
I am now out in the cornfields of Brabant, vast still fields under a cloud-filled sky. At this point the trail is a wide brick-surfaced lane. I missed the one point to drop over into Belgium (to 51) and I missed the ancient burial mounds Victor described, but I got kind of a late start and I have a lot of ground to cover to reach Breda.

Each number quest is a bit of an adventure, a bit of a treasure hunt. Point 67  - northwest of Alphen -  appears alongside a highway, the Glizerweg (to Glize) and I'm thinking, how long will I be on this highway (though I'm safe on my little side road). Then a sign points to 68 on the left, fortunately at a break in the traffic, and I slip across the road to a rustic bench where I write this. It is also a road but a much less used one. A phosphorescent training racer just darted into it. This heads straight west flanked by stately rows of trees, then opens a bit as one side becomes a cornfield. Then, scattered houses, a pen for chickens. Soon a sign announces, "You are approaching point 68." A road-width tractor rolls toward me, I divert into the sandy track at the side and come out at a little intersection (Altenaweg & Alphenesebaan): knooppunt 68. My road (Altenaweg) jogs to the right by a nondescript pale brick house surrounded by bright green hedges. That's the way to the next point, 61.

Now, west of Chaam, the fietspad enters the Strijbeeks Heide, a kind of wilderness area with trails through the woods, purple heather on sand flats. It's very still and peaceful. I can hear a dove cooing, a bird warbling, things falling off trees. The path is just a sandy track.

I was looking at the introductory material posted in the parking lot. A middle-aged woman has been chatting on her cell phone, then directs her comments at me. I tell her I can't understand, and she tells me to forget it. "No, please, I really want to know."

"Well, it's just that I lost my iPhone," the large-framed 40ish woman explained. She was out walking her dog. "And a man called my sister and said he had it ..."

"And you thought it might be me?" I asked.

"Do you have it?"

"No." I giggled. "But you thought it might be."

"Right ... Are you American?' I nodded. "An American, traveling alone by my little town?" she asked incredulously.

"Amazing, isn't it?"  Then, not knowing what else to say, I added, "I've been enjoying it."

"Well, you go on enjoying it," she concluded.

Gooseberries on the vine
Out of the woods and into the heather, the bushes alongside the trail weighed down with gooseberries. The approach to Breda (to point 36) is bathed in a sunset glow, following a bending river with overhanging vegetation. Some anglers sit on the banks, probing the soapy waters. The last section of the route was pure joy, the fietspad threading through pastures of tall grass, cows grazing, mist enveloping the scene, black spires of Breda rising up to a red sky. I was following two women, not going too fast so I could appreciate the scene.

Sunset approach to Breda

I arrive at a bridge over the canal at point 83, which I cleverly noted on my Google map of the evening's destination. When I turned up Ginnekenweg, I realized there was some kind of party going on, the Zomerfest. Last blast of the summer I suppose. Mostly blonde, tall people gathered in throngs around alcohol dispensers, beats thumping like oompah music for the smart set. (What is it about rhythmic pounding that so appeals?)

Cell phones ready: summerfest in Breda
I found it harder to continue as the crowds thickened. I somehow managed to get through one major cluster, in front of a stage where a band performed a funky "Summertime." But unable to go further I ducked into a church atrium where a small gifts market was going on. I looked for an outlet at the rear but, not finding one, I parked my Gazelle on a convenient bicycle rack, extracted my bags and went looking for Ginnekenweg 266. Further up the street, the crowds thinned and I soon found the mansion-sized structure. A pretty blonde woman of around 35 was out front chatting with a man. That was Astrid. It was 9 pm.

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