Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alternatieve Elfstedentocht - Day 5

Café t' Hoekje, Ferwerd
At the Café t' Hoekje, in the town of Ferwerd, actually the starting point for the Day 5 route, though I didn't stay there because all the vrienden were booked for last night. Instead, I stayed in Hallum, about an hour ride from here against a stiff headwind.

Coffee and apple pie with whipped cream, mmm. A quaint "brown café" with a hint of its past grunge in the form of rugs for tablecloths, plank floors (now polished), heavy paisley curtains and oompah music on the radio. A kern (county seat, I guess), Ferwerd is about the size of Hallum, a village of maybe 1000 people yet, like other communities around here, it seems dead.

Pie on a rug
Some things I've noticed. Painted paw prints on the road - a request to slow down in a family dog-loving community? When you come into a town, the road surface changes to brick with paler brick rows on the sides for bikes and pedestrians. Every village has a poster on the edge of town for a big techno blast, probably in Leeuwarden. These are very similar in tone to what you see everywhere in Mexico, showing some tribal connection between global youth, a universal lust for vacuous beats. Yesterday I saw a kid piloting a mini John Deere tractor. I've seen JDs and International Farmall tractors in more than one spot.

Sheep are fat, listless creatures. 

They might be lying by the side of the road but take no notice of your presence, preferring to munch a clump of grass in front of their noses. Their cry has a human quality.

Ferwerd industry
Last night's hostess, Janneke de Kroop, was a bubbly, cantankerous woman in her late 60s I guess. Some people might find her hard to take. I liked her. I asked her this morning after breakfast when she came in if she was an artist. She told me she had taught "aesthetic appreciation" and it really showed.  There wasn't a lot of stuff in the house but each object seemed well-chosen. For example, the towels were primary pinks and greens and rolled up for storage in a cupboard. I was staying in the dormer, up an unvarnished steep narrow staircase. I noticed as I was going up a hemispherical construction. I asked Janneke is it was some kind of tank. She searched for the word to tell me what it was, failing that said, "I'll show you." Turned out to be the curved back of an old cupboard. She had decorated it with flatware and lemon squeezers - the dish kind - with a few grapefruit squeezers for variety. I admired this, it almost seemed like some kind of artistic installation to me.
"11 Cities Route" - Day 5 (ANWB map)

Janneke told me there's a ferry from Holwerd (Holwert) to the isle of Ameland, a less popular destination than Terschilling. The attraction of the isles is that their northward side faces the North Sea, much better for swimming than the muddy Waddenzee, so there were no beaches on Friesland's north coast but polders.*

* A polder is a low-lying tract of land enclosed by embankments known as dikes, that forms an artificial hydrological entity, meaning it has no connection with outside water other than through manually-operated devices. 

Dokkum city limits
Dokkum. A rather arduous trek to get here - already 4:30 - and I'm underwhelmed. The 11th city of the 11-city circuit, which everyone has been telling me is made by ice skaters - freezing temperatures permitting - in a single day.  That's 240 kilometers, which has taken me five very long days by bike. I just don't believe it. 

Dokkum has the requisite brick structures, pleasingly extending along a broad canal with windmill at top end. It occurs to me that I've seen hardly any foreign tourists out here in Friesland this week, even though it's mid-August. 

I was feeling exhausted in Dokkum, where I finished off my cheese from Harlingen sitting canalside. One noticeable aspect of the historic town is that traffic flows through and seems a constant nuisance (as in San Miguel de Allende) a notable exception in Holland. But the ride from Dokkum to Burdaard thoroughly energized me. Pure open countryside lofting down an asphalt thread of a fietspad, on the left a broad river, the Dokumer Ee, yachts occasionally drifting past, on the right an endless row of undulating reeds tinged pink, growing out of a drainage ditch parallel to the river. Pure bliss, that ride. 

And though a sign - Leeuwarden: 25 km - dismayed me momentarily, I'm already well past the 17 mark. I feel that, though the day started rough, with me struggling against the wind through a series of lifeless terps, the conclusion will be smooth as I sail into Leeuwarden.

Blissful  fietspad to Leeuwarden
I was sitting on a bench at another superb spot on the magnificent approach to Leeuwarden - now just 6.5 km away. The place is called Tichelwurk. Still overcast but the wind that was so tiresome up around Ferwerd has attenuated to a pleasant breeze. The brown river moves lazily. Ducks gather round my feet, hoping for the bits of apple I'm chomping on.

"You're rich," Janneke told me this morning, as if stating a self-evident fact. Why? Because I speak so casually about working? Continued ...

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