Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rondje Betuwe - Day 3

Outside Den Bosch

Today it's beautiful again as I sit in the little living room of the bunk house here at Het Dijkje. The plan is to head south to Buren, then get on the LF12, hugging the river Waal down to Den Bosch. So I'm only doing a day and a half of the three-day loop through Betuwe.

Joop brought me breakfast on a tray: orange drink, coffee, one hard-boiled egg, one tomato, a chunk of cheese, jams, sprinkles, four slices of wheat bread. I chatted with a young man from Nottingham, the only other resident in the bunk house. He works in a car body shop in Culemborg. An agency places him in different parts of Holland, wherever there's a need for labor: Rotterdam, Breda, Arnhem, Apeldoorn. Holland is very different from England, he observed. He was impressed to see, for example, that a bunch of school kids from here would ride their bikes to Culemborg, a 40-minute journey. They'd never do that in England. And their cycling infrastructure is deficient.

Ronde Betuwe Day 3
It really is due to a series of coincidences that I am out riding today. One, that my rear tire blew out a short distance from Het Dijkje which not only let me use their tools and helped me do the repair but knew where the bike shop was and loaned me a bike and map to find it. And even though I arrived 15 minutes after closing time they stayed open (probably because Joop told them I was coming). If they had closed at the usual time I would've had to wait till Monday for a new tube. When I returned, Joop loaned me an unusual tool, which pried the frame from the wheel so I could remove and replace the tube. Without that tool I could not have done the job, though I've never seen that sort of tool before. And to top it all off, Joop & Dia belonged to Vrienden op de Fiets. Had any of these circumstances not been present, I'd be stuck in Eck en Wiel with the bikers.

I'm riding west from the Maurik recreation area. This continues to be a gorgeous section: pasturelands, descending to the river, austere church spires marking villages. Very peaceful except for the periodic zooming of motorbikes, their helmeted drivers wrapped in black leather like some kind of insects.

At point 37, I meet the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal, leave the river, jog along the canal, then head inland to Buren. It's hot, with little wind. I ride through farmlands, along a straight monotonous road flanked by large expanses of grass. At point 70, I turn onto Ravenswaaijesteeg toward Buren. Nice shady lanes, gentle breeze, bliss.

Buren gardens

Buren is quaint to a fault and the cafés are full of yuppies this Pinkster Sunday. One has a terrace right on the brick-walled canal; down by the bank some African children shout at a duck. Some other kids are swinging on a rope and jumping into the canal. The canal extends along what appears to be a castle wall, with cannons. Here it is lined with community gardens where tiny white-maned ponies graze. This is just across from the the Museum Buren en Oranj.

Wadenoijen culture. 
Must keep moving here, got a lot of ground to cover today. Just crossed the A15 and I'm now in the suburbs of Tiel. Found a suitably down-market café for an ijsje and maybe a coffee, nice roadside table at Café Bar De Tol, draped with football banners. This is Wadenoijen. 

Cyclists line up for ferry cross the Waal at Varik.
At Varik (pt 70), there's a tiny ferry crosses the Waal. (Apr-June runs weekends only, July-Sept 9 daily. €1.50 fietsers.) A long line of cyclists must wait for several crossings.

After crossing the Waal, I rode south on the Waaldyck, pretty but very hot today. Then I crossed the Kanaal van St Andres and entered Rossum, where I found a lovely terrace café, Bistro In Petto, looking at the river, bike path right in front, a finish line, a red arch now being deflated. Feeling exhausted riding in the hot sun all day. I am finally approaching 's-Hertogenbosch after 6 and now it's starting to cloud over.

From Rossum, I rode southwest on the LF12, then cut east through Alem, on an island between the Maas and Waal. Reaching the Maas, I took another ferry, this one more of a floating bridge, to the east bank and am now heading south into the city of 's-Hertogenbosch, aka Den Bosch, though it still feels quite rural out in Gewande. I'm in front of a stagnant lagoon and it's quite still.

A bridge too short: spanning the Maas.
I used the navigational tools available to find my vrienden op de fiets. Arriving at point 96, north of the city, I went south through the somnolent community of Empel. I realized I would be going along the edge of Rosmalen, where Andre Hendriks told me he lived. (Andre is one half of The D'Ukes, a ukulele  duo).

Gewande, north of Den Bosch
Coming into Rosmalen I found a large map posted. But it appeared that Andre actually lived within the ring of Den Bosch. (Later I found out that his neighborhood has actually been incorporated in to Den Bosch but he proudly maintains that he lives in Rosmalen.) I decided to head for my vrienden op de fiets first. On the map I could see that the Empelsweg went straight south to the Grafsebaan, which I could take straight into the city. But before long I ran into a big construction site. (My hosts later explained to me that they were digging a new canal to the Maas River here.) I jogged left into a suburban neighborhood and kept going till I could find a place to turn right and parallel the Empelsweg.  I turned on Stationstraat, crossed the railroad tracks and took Molenweg south. Here I found a gas station where I purchased a map of Den Bosch. The rest was easy: right on Grotsebaan through the sterile community of Hintham, left on Pater van den Elsenstraat, and there was Maassingel, a street of attached brick houses. I rang the bell and a stocky fellow in shorts, around 60, wearing glasses, greeted me in Dutch. This was Wim. Mieke was inside watching TV. Wim offered me a beer and we sat in the living room and chatted.

Wim and Mieke are serious cyclists. They've ridden across China, Vietnam, Japan, and all over Europe. In a few weeks they're going to ride to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. And they don't have a car, even though in almost all other respects they are a typical Dutch family. Kids grown up, left the nest, garden in the back with Japanese koi pond where they like to sit and read. Wim showed me my room on the top floor, which was cozy enough. I had a shower. The bathroom had Mondrian pattern wallpaper. Wim is some kind of research scientist, Mieke works for an organization that assists unemployed people.

I came downstairs around 10. Wim accompanied me downtown on his bike. There was a big festival going on in Den Bosch, called Jazz in Duke Town. This is a sly reference to the town's name, which translates as "the duke's forest." I parked the bike in an underground bike garage, similar to what I'd seen in Tilburg. It's a typically brilliant solution to crowd control at festivals. A free service--they affix a paper ticket to your bike and give you a stub, which they check when you pick up the bike, so you don't even need to lock up. To get as many cars into a garage you'd probably need a 10-story building.

Mieke and Wim Verberne at home
I wasn't sure why Den Bosch had a jazz festival but it seemed like a long tradition. Stages were set up on various squares. The clubs and streets were jammed with people. But most of the music I heard had nothing to do with jazz and didn't interest me in the least, not that I expected it to. I got a cone of French fries and a Heineken and stood at a table with a rather eccentric fellow of around 50 named Mario, wearing wacky steel spectacles, a tam and wisp of a beard. I asked him if any big names were playing the festival. He didn't know, didn't care. "When I go to festivals of this sort, I never check the program. Often the lesser-known artists are just as good!" He said he liked me because, even though I was alone, I didn't seem lonely. But Mario had to leave. The last bus home to his village departed at 11:30.

I wandered around a bit more amidst the happy-go-lucky Dutch crowd. A group appeared on one of the bigger stages playing a sort of dirge with violin and melodica. It seemed to have Eastern European influences. I'm not opposed to going "outside the box" but what were these guys doing at a jazz festival?

There wasn't much in the way of street food. A nice young guy prepared me a smoothie of strawberry, mint and honey. As always on these journeys I found it difficult to maintain a nutritious diet and I figured this would be a healthy alternative. But this smoothie tasted vile: way too sweet and watery.

I went back down to the garage and got my bike, then rode back to the Wim & Mieke Verbernes' home on Maassingel. It was after 1 but they were still up, watching TV, and they felt rather chatty. Nice people, the Verbernes, and I enjoyed hearing their stories about cycling in Japan and Ecuador.

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