Friday, July 1, 2016

Guidebook research VIII: Assen & Drentsche Aa National Park

Wonder boy of Assen
Rainy morning in Assen. As Wika Spoelstra, my 70ish vriend op de fiets is off to Sweden tomorrow, she made some calls to set me up with another friend of the cyclist, Anja, about 500m away. Not only did Wika phone my new hostess, she escorted me to Anja's place by bike. She also printed me out a route through Drentsche Aa National Park, east of town, but I think I'll follow the route in the ANWB cycling guide.

Assen, capital of Drenthe province, may be of interest as a typical Dutch town with no pretension to anything, yet which to the outsider seems idyllic ... perfect ... though it is obviously less interesting than Groningen. The Drents Museum, I discovered, has a brand new building for big temp exhibitions, next to the old one which focuses on 'contemporary realism' and applied art. It also features a terrific archaeology exhibit with "the oldest bog body in the Netherlands." Yet another brilliantly laid out museum -- but who goes to Assen? (other than the Dutch I mean) The Grand Café of the museum looks like a good place to sample trad Dutch fare but is ultimately disappointing and overpriced.

Going since at least 1955, the TT, as I described in the guidebook, is a frantic motorcycle circuit and Assen's major event ... erupts into a festive, week-long blur of activity in late June. Not at all sorry to miss it. 

I'll simply follow Vreedeveldsweg out of town, going under the train tracks via a brilliant fiets-tunnel, then follow the LF14, and I'm on my way to Balloo, near the section of the park that's a big patch of heath. This is the 'Brinkdorp route,' which covers 'a great deal of Drentsche Aa national park': woods, heath, brooks, etc. Now it's clearing but still cloudy, the sun breaking through here and there.

Now enjoying boer (farmer) ice cream with raisins and nuts from the street market the Boerderijwinkel in Balloo. As I sit at my picnic table I hear the low conversation of the two women behind me, the chirping of many small birds welcoming the sun, and the occasional tussle between steers in the stable in front of me, eagerly chewing up the hay that is served them. Big lumbering whitish beasts. I will now aim for the heath which ought to be close by...

Heading for the purple zone


75 -> 99 -> 91 -> 76
 The Ballooërveld is truly desolate with some patches of desert sands though it's mostly clumps of scraggly heath. At Gasteren stands the Drentsch-Aa visitor center next to a dark barn. Left turn to kp 99, past the Gasterse dunes. then a wonderful stretch of deep woods -- the Boswachterij Schipborg -- to the village of Schipborg. Turf islands in a brook, horse pastures. Even lusher woods to the east followed by more sandy heath. 91 -> 76 goes back through woods and by hunebed D8.

Assen to Drentsch Aa National Park

Return to Rolde

Now I find myself back behind the church at Rolde, so I'm covering the same ground as yesterday. It's 6km back to Assen. 

I returned late to Assen and had a mediocre dinner of tapas (albondigas de pollo, patatas bravas) at a pseudo tapas bar on the plein, across from where I had pizza the previous evening. By the time I got back to Anya's place it was close to 11, and she was distressed that I had not shown up at the appointed time, 8 pm. My bad ... I should've phoned her. But she wasn't angry, she was more relieved that I was alright. A friendly woman of 78 years, she told me she is a lesbian, left her husband after decades of marriage, two kids, for another woman. She made me a cup of elm blossom tea, then apologized if I found it too weird.

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