Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rondje Gelders Rivierengebied - Day 1

I was at another Mezrab event last night, chatting with some kids, an Aussie/English woman named Leni and her Dutch boyfriend. Leni asked me what I do for a living and my first answer was, I ride my bike around. "I like taking trips around the Netherlands," I said.

Her boyfriend's response was typical: "There is nothing to see in the Netherlands." Typical of an Amsterdammer, that is, the smug perception that there is nothing worth experiencing beyond one's own city. I vaguely protested but what's the point in arguing.

Instead I am back out there, this time going to Nijmegen, "oldest city in the Netherlands," to embark on a three-day tour of southern Gelderland, the zone that spreads around the Waal river.

Oh no! Someone on this train is playing the intro to "Stairway to Heaven" on his guitar! There ought to be a law against that.

Nijmegen on a good day.

I don't know much about Nijmegen other than that it contains traces of Roman settlement and that Feike de Jong is originally from there--he now lives in Mexico City. Frederique Hijink, the English teacher I met in Deventer, told me that she lived there "for a few years" and recommended touring the river valley to the northeast of the city. Today's section of the route goes that way. Freddy says there are some forest owls there.

Warm, sunny weather is predicted for the weekend. Gelderland is significantly warmer than Noord-Holland (Amsterdam).

Nijmegen was the easiest city yet to get out of, perhaps because the route in my new guidebook -- Korte fietsvacanties Deel 2 -- thoughtfully includes initial directions from the train station ("cross the street, turn left and follow the signs to Lent"). Gorgeous Saturday: the cafes along the River Waal are full down to the grand arched bridge. Continuing east, I pass the fiets museum (more on this later), then head out of town east along the Waal.

The cyclists are out in droves this Saturday (casual touring and racing), as are walkers, drivers and motorcyclists. The last of these are easily the most annoying. The road toward pt 49 is probably an ex-dike, winding above the river, which turns swampy with lily pads, ducks and wooded islands. Big freight barges ply this section of the river. To the right are bucolic pastures, studded with purple, yellow and white wildflowers. This zone, east of the city, is
known as the Ooijpolder.

Rondje Gelders Rivierengebied - Day 1

I've stopped at a little riverside reserve for lunch. There is a lovely beach here, with a swath of fine sand. You can sit on the sand and watch the barges go by. Really beautiful--I could easily spend the whole afternoon out here, but have a ways to go till Groesbeek.

Riverside picnic by the Waal. 
Further up, I stop at a signboard explaining how after World War II, public works projects made it possible for the Waal and IJssel rivers to be flooded as a military line of defense against the threat of invasion from the Eastern Bloc. There, as it happened, I had an encounter with some kind of nazi lout, though I had no defense. I had moved my bike into the narrow space between his black Benz and the sign (cars take up so much space), and he started shouting at me, in Dutch.

What, you don't have enough space? I retorted, fearing violence. He actually pulled off my earphones to make his point. "I have as much right to be here as you do," I complained. His skinny trophy babe scowled and looked non-committal. No doubt she is used to such scenes.

"Taking off my headphones, what the fuck is that about?!" I muttered. I don't think he understood me -- the rare Dutch non-English speaker -- but he might've heard the word, "fuck." I think my protest surprised him. I was worried that in order to save face in front of his girl he might slug me, but he gloomily got into his car and left.

Views of Ooijpolder, east of Nijmegen.

From the signboard, the trail leads down to a quite spectacular beach on the far side of a lagoon that's separated from the river by a sand barrier. Called the Bisonbaai, it's a clothing-optional beach, occupied mostly by middle-aged people and oldsters. I took a swim in the cold water, then lay on the sand for a while. But it was getting late and I had to move on. 

Bisonbaai beach: Your stairway lies on the whispering wind.
I'm now at the place where the Rijn, aka Rhine, branches (pt 72) off as the Waal.  The Waal, according to our friend Wikipedia, "is the main distributary branch of river Rhine flowing to the central Netherlands for about 80 km (50 miles) before joining the Meuse (Maas in Dutch) near Woudrichem. It is a major river which serves as the main waterway connecting the Rotterdam harbor and Germany." 

Gelderse Poort reserve

It's late so I have to haul ass to make it to Groesbeek by sundown. But this has so far proved one of the best routes yet. Follow the Waal with the ships, horse pastures along the banks, then head for pt 71 through the Gelderse Poort ("where the Rhine enters the Netherlands"), a protected zone of beautiful lush woods interspersed with lagoons, everything in bloom, fluffy seedlings lazily dropping through the golden air like snowflakes. Finally, at Millingen aan de Rijn, right at the German border, the route deviates from the river, going south through big farm fields and little towns like Leuth and Zeeland. This route corresponds to the Ooij Route, which I guess refers to another waterway. But how do you pronounce it?

Welcome to Groesbeek, land of scary mascots.
At point 64 I leave the road and go straight through farm fields; some crop has gone to yellow seed. Came into Beek, a modern development with bike paths being installed in the landscape, then climbed like hell to point 60, using many unaccustomed muscles. Haven't climbed that hard since Limburg.

Arrived in Groesbeek a bit after 9, and after a wrong turn took me out of town, I found the Pannenstraat and, just past the Zuidmolen windmill (which I can see from the window of this cafe as I write), the Vlasrootweg, where my vriend op de fiets, Mevrouw Janssen, resides. Thanks to google maps it was easy.

Google Maps is fantastic. With Google Maps, a good printer, a Vrienden op de Fiets directory and an NS Rail discount pass, you can do anything.

Mevrouw Janssen is an extremely nice, cordial woman. I got my own cozy room. Had a quick shower and walked back to the windmill rotunda. The "nice" restaurant, the Verrassing (Surprise!), the one Mevrouw Janssen recommended, had stopped serving food, so I opted for the greasy spoon, with diverse schotels, candied fruit and cigarettes. I just had an artificial banana milkshake, and the vaguely bemused proprietor just brought me a plastic dish of mayonnaise. Dutch comfort food. But I'm happy to be in this casual cafe on a pleasant Saturday evening.


  1. And she's cliiiii-ming the stair ... way ... to .... heh ... ven. (Strum strum.)

  2. Once you've cycled everything of the Netherlands, come over to Belgium. Use this bicycle route planner and tear out the Belgian pages of the dense 'Vrienden op de Fiets' directory. CU, Wim

  3. My family and I biked in Nijmegen once....wonderful, although very cold in January!