Monday, September 6, 2010

Rondom het Grootslag Route

Arrival in Enkhuizen
I was planning to embark on a three-day journey through Brabant province today. But the forecast calls for heavy rain and strong winds tomorrow and rain through the weekend. My general policy has been to ignore the weather forecast when planning these trips since the weather in Holland is so changeable; it might always rain and it might always be sunny. But it seemed so unequivocally bad this time I decided to make an exception.

Instead I chose a klassiek fietsrondje that is not too far from Amsterdam, the Rondom het Grootslag route. It starts off from the harbor of Enkhuizen, on the east end of a peninsula that juts into the IJsselmeer, across from Friesland. I'm getting a late start - sitting in Centraal Station waiting for the 1:38 to Enkhuizen. But it's a mere 37 km, which now seems manageable after last week's journey to Friesland, where I did five days straight of 50 km rides.

Rondom het Grootslag-route (ANWB map)
I should have caught the 1:08 train but for a misunderstanding with the conductor. The train was waiting on the track and I was looking for a car with the "bicycle OK" symbol on its side. I found one and a black conductor asked me a question in Dutch. I assumed he was asking me if I wanted to put my bike on the train. (Assuming is a strategy I use often since many of the questions people put to you are predictable, though obviously there are inherent risks in this strategy.) Immediately after I nodded, the doors closed and the train pulled away, the conductor wearing a slight grin.

It didn't matter. The next train departed in half an hour. I seem to be one of the only persons on it.

Herring, the national fish
The train has just passed through Hoorn Kersenboogerd, thus leaving the zone on my map (ANWB Fietskaart 12). The landscape is much as it is elsewhere: long straight canals, flat fields, pale brick attached houses, a vast cornfield, warehouses, church spires rising against a backdrop of big fluffy clouds. It's taken about an hour to get to Enkhuizen.

The first thing I noticed is that Enkhuizen is a terminal for ferries to Friesland. They go three times a day to Stavoren, I was told by a young woman at the VVV (tourist office).

I had a herring and headed out of town. Had some difficulty getting started. The fietspad goes west by Enkhuizen's marina, then continues to Broekerhaven, "since the 15th century the harbor for Bovenkarspel." But it appeared that the path to point 27 was closed, so I had to figure out an alternate way up to Bovenkarspel. This was quite boring, just a path along the main road into town, trucks and tractors, suburbia. I guess I went through the center of old Bovenkarspel but it was unremarkable. Now finally I enter the Streekbos, a recreation park reclaimed from old polder lands. I stop at a picnic table, chomp on a smoked mackerel sandwich, and a little dog trots up to me, his snout trembling, until the owner, a 60ish woman on a bicycle, comes to get him, commenting on the event in unintelligible Dutch. I nod and smile.

Outside Zwaagdijk-Oost; note the entry bridges
No place to sit down so I'm just leaning on a railing of a bridge over a canal. The canals - really just ditches - in the Grotepolderland seem older, more part of the landscape than elsewhere, black water and broad banks overgrown with ferns and grasses.

But this has been one of the less captivating - and at times more hazardous - fiets tours by ANWB. It's very busy up here. Every inch is cultivated or developed and the traffic is horrible. I keep waiting for the route to leave the road but, though the roads are narrow and old, they're still very much in use.

I am now taking the western edge of the route, from point 91 to 56. Then it appears I will turn back east along the northern coast.

Seniors hit the fietspad
There are a fair number of recreational or aerobic cyclists out on the paths, most of them seniors as usual. I can wax lyrical about Holland the way lefties go on about Cuba. What is just as impressive about the bike culture as the miraculous transport alternative it offers is that it's a nonpareil public health - physical and mental - program. I keep thinking that if my mother (who came from this part of the world) had just been in the habit of cycling regularly she would've lived longer and more happily in her later years.

Finally emerged from traffic hell, to some extent, up here along the Westfriese Omringdijk, which skirts the northern coast. It's a continuous panorama, with some nice views of the IJsselmeer, marinas to the left and town to the right. "Around 1320 the whole of West Friesland was protected behind a 126 km long surrounding dike. The golden age began with the opening up of the marsh area within the dike." 

The IJsselmeer, by the way, is the largest lake in Western Europe. 

It now seems that 37 km is no big thing. I feel perfectly relaxed about making it back to Enkhuizen, which means that any time I've got the urge, I can pull out one of these tours and make it in an afternoon. 

Panoramic ride along the Westfriese Omringdijk
After the path bends west, there is a forbidding barrier with red circle, but people seem to be walking along it anyway, so I continue. Clouds of gnats swarm along the way, rising up from the sheep pastures on the inland slope, and I must perform continuous swatting in front of my face, windshield wiper fashion. Meanwhile the swallows are in a feeding frenzy, swooping in chaos before me. The trail is then covered with rusted steel plates after a sign that reads: AFSTAPPEN (Brom)fietsers. Which means I suppose that I should dismount, but I fail to see the danger and keep going over the plates. True, I have not seen any other cyclists along this stretch of the water, which has a gentle swell, old mooring poles or the remains of a dock, ducks floating on the surface. A strip of land with windmills off to the northwest. 

The fietspad continued along the top of the dike for many kilometers, always looking over the sea on the left and houses and road (here practically unused) on the right. The racing cyclists generally take the road; atop the dike I spotted maybe eight or nine riders the entire way. It is such a pleasure following that thread along the coast that it definitely redeems the noisy, hazardous first part. Now I'm coming into Enkhuizen and found a seat on the boulder embankment next to a little sand beach. 

IJsselmeer at dusk
Yet again, I feel very still and tranquil here, as if I've meditated. Just the lapping of the water against the rocks, some distant voices from down the shore, cooing doves. The horizon is pink orange, temperature perfectly pleasant. 

Had a superb dinner of bouillabaisse and a couple of Gulpeners at a gezellig (cozy) restaurant, called De Boei, on Enkhuizen's main canal. The waiter brought a big shallow bowl of the freshest cuts of fish and a couple of mussels, which tasted slightly sweet and had a sensual texture. Then he ladled a soulful fish broth over these morsels from a tureen. Muy sabroso.

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