Sunday, November 4, 2018

Zeeland ➤ Vlaanderen pt 1

Vlissingen, Zeeland

On my way to Middelburg for a fietstocht to Belgium.

kp 85 -> 93 -> 92 -> 90
Now near a place called Ritthem, a short distance east of Vlissingen. The  trail runs along the northern bank of the Westerschelde (the mouth of the Schelde river from Antwerp), and all the way big container ships and freighters ply the waters. Factories and chemical refineries define the far shore, but this side is a nature reserve with some fine beaches, such as this spot with patches of sand beneath trees fronted by swamp with views of the ships. It is 7km to Middelburg via the LF-13.

(original date of this entry: Aug 13, 2017)
kp 90 -> 91 -> 57
This is a rural route, alternating between corridors of trees and wide-open sun-drenched fields. Perfect weather, nice and sunny with a delightful cool breeze. Arriving in Middelburg I cross the ring canal and proceed up to the Groenmarkt. The town was very quiet this Sunday evening and the streets absurdly quaint and neat, the solid old houses zealously renovated. My memories of Middelburg are hazy. From the main square I proceed east and take a left on Molstraat. Two blocks up is my vriend op de fiets and it's a winner. Enormous old house with many solid, old-fashioned rooms and a huge garden, which my room overlooks. Hosts Tjeerd (Frisian name) and Dominique are rather reserved but nice enough. Tjeerd is a tall beanpole of a man, around 60. Dinner at Burger Bistro on the Damplein. My one burger per year was outstanding, a perfectly broiled half-pounder.

Delta Project
(Aug 14)
"Somplace sandy?" she asked. Yes, the magnificent beach at Neeltje Jans. And it is at its finest today. Hot day, little wind, a bit hazy with big clouds on the horizon but mostly sunny. Warm enough to seek refreshment in the gently moving sea, the water still and cold like a great pool. The beach is a vast swath of powdery white sand marked on either end by giant pinwheels. It feels secluded and remote —as it should taking some effort to get to. The strand is on a stretch of the Delta Project works between Walcheren/Noord Beveland and Schouwen. To get here I rode from Middelburg to Veere —a mostly rural route through farm fields (to kp 62), unlike last time when I took a parallel route along a canal slightly south (to kp 63). I could see the disproportionately huge cathedral of Veere from quite a distance. Veere was crammed with tourists and headed straight to the ferry —reached by going through an arched passageway in a house.

The boat crosses to Kamperland in about half an hour (€3.50). From the landing I rode alongside Schotsman, a sort of wetlands/nature reserve/campgroun with a long row of RVs parked by the water. I stopped at the little supermarket for nuts and juice, then continued up the road to kp 2 through woods —frequent trailheads into the swamp zone— went under the N57 (kp 2 -> 3), coming up (toward kp 4) at a significant beach, De Banjaard (which I recall passing in the other direction at dusk on my way to Middelburg and home; then it had a melancholy end-of-summer vibe), then up to the Oosterscheldekering, lined with pumping stations which crews were busy maintaining, the bridge to Neeltje Jans. This stretch plied by many cyclists who get their own road beside the cars.

Last time I arrived here in the late afternoon and it clouded over. This time I've got the whole day (spending the night in nearby Middelburg), and it is now clouding over, though the sun breaks through randomly —like this moment. Many bodies on the beach today but it doesn't seem crowded. There's plenty of room at Neeltje Jans.

(Aug 15)
By some miracle my notebook has remained dry through this very wet morning. Probably because it was underneath my rain pants and hood, neither of which I donned through this morning's thunderstorms. The weatherman has been calling it right.
Rainy approach to Vlissingen
After a pleasant conversational breakfast with two young women from London —Sarah and Olivia, the former bookish, the latter a buxom mulata —the morning turned into a bit of an ordeal, as I mistakenly took the LF-13 toward Ritthem, rather than the obvious direct shot to Vlissingen, then watched as lightning struck around a field, fearing for my life, and it started pouring down as I reached Ritthem. No cafe in sight in that dorpje, so I took cover in a doorway of a small suburban dwelling and watched the rain fall. When it let up a little I proceeded with the pocket umbrella I'd just purchased in Middelburg.

Vlissingen to Terneuzen
When I reached the outskirts of Vlissingen, the rain came down hard again and I took cover in a tunnel. Then followed the Breskens ferry directional signs, all the while getting soaked. I found the ferry, by the train station, busy with families and a few racers, got my ticket (€4.80) and relaxed on the lower deck.

East of Breskens
Here at kp 24 is a fabulous lookout over an old pier, complete with birdwatching binos on a stand.
The route between Breskens and Terneuzen is a tour of the Westerschelde. It is a superb nature reserve/bird sanctuary with views as well of freighters and barges and chemical refineries along the opposite bank. From kp 37 I can see the chemical refineries of Terneuzen, a Dow Chemical redoubt. I've been following the southern shore of the Westerschelde. I've just passed kp 28 (which can be followed along or above shore) and now heading for kp 14.

Banks of the Westerschelde
The path outside Breskens skirts sand flats populated by gulls and plovers. On the dike side is pure bog where I spotted colonies of Canadian grey geese. Eventually the sand flats turn to bog as well, then it breaks up into green islets, where spoonbills and Eurasian oystercatcher (scholeksters) probe the sands for prey, and gray gulls stand sentry in large groups. Some ponds appear amid the bogs. The whole way is sensational and makes up for the morning's discomfort.

Finally, on the way to kp 11, the path leaves the shore and enters a picturesque landscape, just before the chemical factories. This is Braakman (perhaps somehow related to Presa Brockman near El Oro, Estado de México), Noord reserve. And the sun comes out, and it's hot!

Braakman reserve
After the wonderful ride through Braakman, I arrived at the edge of Terneuzen, just as a drawbridge lifted to let ships pass into the Terneuzen-Gent canal. This took quite a while and I went further down the canal to enter the town via the next sluice gate, still down. This took me into "old" Terneuzen with a "seamen's café" and some unappealing restaurants. I rode down the main drag, Axelsestraat. Terneuzen seemed featureless, suburban. The house of my vriend op de fiets, Desiree Elzinga, seemed slightly more dissheveled than the surrounding brick boxes, which was encouraging, and a hippie van, "Creative Workshops," was parked in the small garage. This was the headquarters of Inspiratie Veranda, some kinda new-age potential developers. Desiree was a heavyset woman in a shapeless frock. She gave me the impression from the first that she wanted nothing to do with me, not even realizing that I'd come as a vriend op de fiets. Apparently the house is rented to tourists through Air B&B as well, for which she obviously gets more cash.

I got the "Flower Room" (giant blow-up of daisies in back of bed), which had a nice little roof terrace, but Desiree told me not to hang out as it had no barrier and, "after you've had a beer, who knows?" Some stoned-out guest had probably fallen off it at some point. I put my wet sneakers, socks and map out there to dry in the afternoon sun and went looking for supper. I made it to the Lidl at around 7:55 pm, five minutes before closing, and got a prepared "Asian salad" with lots of shrimp, an avocado and a small bottle of wine. This made a dcent, relatively healthy dinner. Up in the kitchen a German couple was hanging out with their dog. They were cordial but they seemed to stiffen up in my presence. Their English was weak, and I realized once again that the Dutch were better educated than their neighbors. They had been touring around by car. "Breskens is nice, isn't it?" the giggly guy said. I told him I hadn't seen much of it, but that I enjoyed the stretch of coast east. The guy seemed surprised that I'd been traveling around by bike, and he was not aware of Vrienden op de Fiets. Clearly we were not on the same page, travel-wise. Their room was next to the kitchen. With the sun glaring it looked hot in there for two people and a dog. I dumped the salad on a plate, cut up an avocado for a garnish, added the included sesame seeds and sweet dressing, spread some hummus on a roll and took it downstairs. Elziga had vaguely spoken of having your meal wherever you like but the downstairs door and entrance to garden were marked, "Privé." So, the illusion of hospitality. I took my meal and wine to the front garden with a beatup wicker sofa and table under a tree. Immediately I sat down, the big scraggly orange cat comes over to inspect my meal but settles for a perch beside me so he can just keep an eye on things.  Continued...

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