When I can't decide where to go, I may head for a town that takes no longer than an hour to get to by train from Amsterdam -- Utrecht, Haarlem, Den Haag, Alkmaar, Den Bosch, Hilversum, etc. From there I just strike off in whatever direction seems most interesting and ride for as long as I feel like it. Since every town in the Netherlands is surrounded by pretty countryside laced with bicycle paths, all connected by well-signed fietspad routes, this strategy is entirely viable. If I don't feel like paying the €6 fee to put my bike on the train I can just rent an OV-Fiets at the station of each town.(original date of this entry: Oct 8, 2016)
So on this pleasantly warm fall day, I was going to head for Almere but noticed that track work would cause delays so went to Haarlem instead. It took less than half an hour by train with a changeover at Centraal Station. I got an OV-Fiets (bald rear tire, pedal slightly twisted), and headed for the first knooppunt I saw, 23. This led me up a broad waterway flanked by a busy road to kp 9. Much of the way I was behind a woman going slow on a clunky bicycle with disheveled panniers, but I didn't feel like passing her. At kp 9 the trail leaves the road to enter a kind of park, still following the river Spaarne. Plenty of people out, walking dogs, cycling. I'm stopped at a little dock where a family has just moored their boat to take a walk up this trail. I've got a modest agenda—heading for the Spaarnwoude upt to the North Sea Canal and back.
|Haarlem to Spaarnwoude (and back)|
Just past kp 38 I go over a bridge, but there's a gap at the start, which gives me a sharp bump and the seat comes loose. Uh-oh, this can ruin my excursion, unless I want to ride standing the whole way. I am riding along a canal lined with houseboats, many with converted trailers behind them with little chimneys. The homestead community is on the edge of Velserbroek. Soon I come to a man working in his yard. Heb je een sleutel? I ask, pointing to the loose seat. He goes into the house and pulls out a pair of wrenches that are just the right size and proceeds to tighten my seat. Dank je, and I'm off.
Reading stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, I come across this passage in 'The Lecture,' in which the narrator is riding a train to Montreal where he'll read 'an optimistic report on the future of the Yiddish language.' The train breaks down and the heater stops working, and it's very cold.
I see people using the weather as a pretext for striking up acquaintance. Women begin to talk among themselves and there is sudden intimacy. The men have also formed a group. Everyone picks up bits of information. But nobody pays any attention to me. I sit alone, a victim of my own isolation, shyness and alienation from the world. I begin to read a book, and this provokes hostility, for reading a book at such a time seems like a challenge and an insult to the other passengers. I exclude myself from Society, and all the faces say to me silently: You don't need us and we don't need you. Never mind, you will still have to turn to us, but we won't have to turn to you.
Sitting on the terrace of a playground/visitor center with a cozy cafe, 'Onder de Plantanen,' having an ice cream, scribbling, that line resonates: You don't need us and we don't need you.
Toward kp 95 the scene becomes more rural though the highway drone is loud enough. I'm coming close to the point where I entered the park a few weeks ago from IJmuiden. I've passed an old sluice station for the polder and a little natural pool. The sun shines warmly above a dramatic cloudscape. A robust looking middle-aged blonde woman pedals by solo. My bench is beside recently cut fields where cows chomp the grass. All is well.
And then I got a flat.
The flat occurred right after a golf course (kp 93). It was a 4km walk back to Haarlem, rolling the bike by my side. But I didn't mind. The rain stopped and the sun painted the landscape. It had gotten quite warm and I was witness to a continuous catalogue of splendiferous rural scenes, mostly flat fields and bogs cut through by rivers and canals. Ducks, coots, jays. Toward kp 38 it was a replay of my ride in slow motion. I was enjoying just walking, something I rarely do.
Then a cloud passed over and it started pouring. Fortunately, I'd packed a small umbrella. Took refuge under a tree.
On the way back I passed the same houseboat where the laid back middle-aged man had loaned me his wrench. I inspected the collection of books on display in a case by the path—take one, leave one when you return—and I got a bio of Frida & Diego in Dutch. Just then Mark, the laid-back dude, and his mate Mirjam, turned up. Mark asked me how the bike held up and I told him it had a flat. Ja, het is een rot fiets, I exclaimed. Mirjam wore a stern expression that seemed familiar to me. I asked them what the community is called, referring to the string of houseboats with trailers in their yards, and got a blank look in return. You will still have to turn to us, but we won't have to turn to you. Finally I coaxed out of them that it is the Zijkanaal, as the various canals branching off the North Sea Canal are called.
I walked for a long time and finally reached the city limits. Though forlorn and deserted, the Spaarn had a certain majesty with warehouses glowing along the far bank and the occasional fietser rolling past.
Finally reached the station close to 7 pm. There was a crowd in the bike shop. The typically dishevelled shop employee barely glanced at me when I told him the bike had a lekke band. He simply motioned that I put it with the other repair bikes (including a couple of OV-Fiets). I didn't even manage to tell him the trouble with the seat. Fortunately the train to Amsterdam was waiting on the platform.