Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Rondje Groene Hart - Day 2

Breakfast at the Vuijks'

In the morning we had our breakfast in the piggy salon; a bewildering array of pig figurines and art covered every available space. It was an elaborate spread: boiled egg in a cup, cold cuts and cheese, bread, jam, coffee, with the addition of a fruit salad comprised entirely of fruit from Niesje Vuijk's garden.

Ferry cross the Linge

We continued west along the Linge till we reached Spijk, where a muscular man of about 35 conveyed us across the waterway on a raft by pulling a cable (cost: €1 each). Nice little cafe on the other side run by the raftsman and his woman.

Approaching Gorinchem

At Arkel we took the highway down to pt 39, then jogged over to a canal lined with houseboats, which we followed down into Gorinchem.

Gorinchem's street market
Gorinchem was a pleasant little town and the plazas were taken over by market stalls. We had coffee on the main square, then shopped in the market for our picnic lunch: goat cheese, olives, a few tomatoes (provided free by the bearded young vendor). Meanwhile Alice purchased a sheepskin seat cover from a bicycle accessories stand in front of the old church.

Rondje Groene Hart - Day 2

Gorinchem sits on the Merwede River and a big ferry carries passengers and their bikes to two points on the south bank: Sleeuwijk and Woudrichem. Each of the three ferry ports is in a different province: Gorinchem in Zuid-Holland, Sleeuwijk in Noord-Brabant and Woudrichem in Gelderland. We went to the last one. On the way across, Alice and I discussed the possibility of setting up fiets tours of the sort we were doing, though there are inherent perils in such a plan. What do you do if the weather's lousy or someone has an accident?

Chatting up the locals at Woudrichem
From the dock at Woudrichem we could see the walls of an old castle. We rode on west along the banks of the Merwede. At Sleeuwijk we could see the tower of Gorinchem's old church across the river. It was another lovely day, even warmer than the previous one, and I looked forward to touring Biesbosch national park, a wetlands zone between Gorinchem and Dordrecht. We had lunch at a platform above fields of potatoes. Off to the east, the distant drone of the A27.

Entry to Biesbosch Nat'l Park
It appeared that the LF-12 had been re-routed, unfortunately. Whereas on the map in my old Korte fietsvakanties guide ("short cycle vacations") it cut right through the swampy terrain to the south, we were now being routed through vast farm fields, perhaps the first section of the fietstocht that might be called "boring." Also, the wind had picked up and it was tough going, and Alice was tiring. She realized that 50 km a day was too much for her to pedal--30 was more her speed. We stopped at a little copse with a picnic table, quite a pleasant secluded spot, and Alice collapsed on the bench. Some brown horses lounged by a creek.

Taking the bell home
At point 12, we got a tiny ferry across the Steurgat River, operated by a kindly middle-aged man with a leathery face. It was around 5 pm, and though the sign reported that the ferry ran till 6, it seemed the boatman was not expecting anyone else that day (the trails were deserted), and he removed the gold bell (for summoning him from the opposite bank) from its post and made to cross back. He told us that he and others in the community volunteered to run the boat. Then he gave us instructions for continuing to Dordrecht, which seemed to confirm that the LF-12 had been repositioned for the time being. At pt 10 we were routed along the main highway skirting the Merwede, with a fairly constant stream of auto traffic. Disappointing, but in the final section, between pt 4 and 2 the landscape changed, from road and endless farm fields to wetlands with lots of swans and herons feeding from swamps and lakes, just the sort of tableau I'd expected to be riding through all day. Oh well.

Dordrecht ferry
Yet another ferry, this one a large car carrier, took us back across the Merwede, and now we were on the east edge of Dordrecht. Typically there was not a trace of sprawl in the surroundings, just more farm fields. I had a plan to reach our vrienden op de fiets in the Indische Buurt (where all the streets are named after former Dutch colonies in the east and west Indies; Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Den Haag also have an Indische Buurt, and according to Alice they're usually rough neighborhoods). But by this time Alice was in panic mode and approached anyone available to demand directions. We crossed a busy road and descended into a zone of apartment blocks. We finally pulled up in the quiet zone of Sumatraplein and there beside it was Sumatrastraat, our destination, with a row of identical brick homes. We'd made it.

We were greeted by our host, Arie Besseling, a serious man of around 65 with a bald head fringed by white hair. He took our bikes to the back, then led us up a narrow flight of stairs to a lounge where he interrogated us about what we wanted for breakfast the next morning. We were both exhausted and found his interview rather ridiculous, mostly because of the serious, officious way he made the inquiries. We had to fill out a form indicating which kinds of bread we wanted, whether we wanted our eggs hard or soft-boiled, cheese and/or ham, and so on.

Our room was a small cozy dormer with a pair of single beds at right angles. Apparently all six beds were occupied that evening, the others by hikers and cyclists, all women, visiting Dordrecht for some kind of summit. We met a couple of them, carefree, fit women about our age. I tried to get Alice to go look for dinner with me in central Dordrecht--"about a 10-minute walk"--but after showering all she wanted to do was collapse in bed. So I went out alone.

There was one crummy looking Egyptian showarma joint around the corner and I headed downtown. Nearby was a large beautiful park, the Merwestein. Then I walked down quiet tree-lined streets to the center of town (more like 20 minutes). On the main square were the usual assortment of eetcafes and Turkish joints. I chose one of the latter with a few tables facing the square (chairs chained to the table) and had a quite decent felafel sandwich with baked eggplant. Continued ... 

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