Sunday, August 22, 2010

Maasvalleiroute - Day 2

De Borggraaf castle, Lottum
The trail from Lottum to Broekhuizen
Beautiful morning, bad start. After taking my breakfast at the Van der Brandt residence - toast, cheese, ham, hard-boiled eggs, two cups of coffee, yogurt and orange juice - I lit out. First I went looking for the Borggraaf castle mentioned in my fiets guide. I found it, I think, a low, thick-walled brick structure surrounded by a moat. Then I went looking for point 90, but this time I somehow missed the turnoff and kept going toward Horst. I realized something wasn't right so I turned around and went back into town. But the sign for 90 pointed in the same direction. Maybe I hadn't gone far enough? Turned around again, went further this time. I knew I had not seen a John Deere outlet or crossed railroad tracks yesterday. This was frustrating. I rode back, perhaps 2km, found a map and realized I should have turned (right coming from town) on the Hombergerweg, then I was back at the dung-scented turnoff, back on the dirt road to the Schuitwater. This time I turned right, toward point 56. Before long, I was riding along a brick surface trail through the woods. Yay! I've just reached a picnic table by a big cornfield, where the Haasendonkerweg meets the Rodevennenweg. People coming toward me with their dogs, shouting at them. Maybe they are the ones who've parked their Porsche mini-van here. I hope they'll drive it away. Many people are out riding, mostly old folks.

Waiting for the ferry across the Maas
That trail took me to the Maas River, and a ferry (€0.60, 6:30am - 10pm) took a dozen or so cyclists and a couple of cars across to the east side, Arcen. Came to a recreation zone where lots of families are camping, fishing, playing mini-golf, etc. I stopped by the side of the Surfstek, some kind of lake, and read Dickens.

I don't know why I chose the next spot to stop, a roadside inn called De Arcense Herberg. The road is fairly busy with newish Porsches, Volkswagens and Audis passing at regular intervals. The "cafe latte" I ordered turned out to be some revolting instant mix. I guess I just liked that it looked popular, occupied by middle-aged couples taking a break in their road trip or bike ride. Bikes out here are always hand-brake operated Batavus or Giants or Gazelles, the sort that run €799. One cannot deny that they run splendidly, like two-wheeled Audis. (Amazing there's no market for them in America.)

Germany has bike paths, too
Somehow I took another wrong turn looking for point 94 and by the time I could find a map to consult, I discovered I was in Germany. The path ran alongside a country road shaded by squat trees. It actually felt a bit less controlled than Holland, and it seemed that the bike signage was not so assiduous. But I was glad I'd made this wrong turn so I could get a glimpse of Germany.

I haven't been so impressed with this stretch of the tour -- too much traffic and mucho turismo. I somehow stumbled into a major tourist attraction, on the order of Keukenhof, the Kasteeltuinen Arcen, the gardens of Arcen Castle. They look pretty impressive on the posted map, but this is brochure Holland, and at €17 a head (not only don't they take my Museumkaart, they don't even recognize it), I chose to skip that experience.

The greenhouses of Lomm, where they probably cultivate roses
Things improved significantly south of the castle where the trail diverged from the road and threaded through remote farmlands with many greenhouses. Then I reached Lomm, across the way from Lottum, and I was looking at the mock fort and church spire from another perspective. Now I've reached the third ferry crossing, at Grubbenvorst/Velden, and I realize I screwed up the route. Instead of heading for point 84, I should have gone for 95 way back at Arcen, thus hugging the German border. But maybe I can head up that way after checking in at Velden.

I found my vriend, Kusters, on Solingerhof in Velden, but nobody home, so I took the 8.5km path back up to point 94, which is at a rotunda just east of Arcen castle. It was lovely, mostly a thin packed dirt trail bordered by woods and farm fields. Rather than backtracking to return to Velden, I decided to take a parallel path in Germany. But the moment I crossed the border, I lost all track of my bearings and ended up riding many many kilometers to the town of Straelen, then on a misguided quest for Venlo (the occasional Dutch bike signage raised false hopes), finally staggering back to point 95 and now Velden, round 7:30 pm. I've been cycling almost non-stop for eight hours.

Later, after checking in at the J Kusters residence on Solingerhof, east of Velden's center, I feel a bit better though my legs still ache. Velden is slightly more urban than Lottum. It is not an attractive town. The one eatery recommended to me by Mevrouw Kusters - the Maasduinen, a brasserie - had stopped serving food. A little ways from there, across an empty plaza, was a rowdy pub adjacent to a sort of fast food joint where kids were picking up their greasy snacks from styrofoam containers. The only other choices were a fancy Chinese restaurant and another Asian-run snack bar. I settled for the latter. Inside, a girl was sitting alone watching "The Shawshank Redemption" on TV. I was just in time for the scene where the inmates beat the shit out of Tim Robbins so they can rape him. I ordered something that consisted of reconstituted meat swimming in a gooey sweet sauce - it might have been duck - with a pile of French fries and a gob of mayonnaise, plus a bit of cole slaw on a bed of iceberg lettuce. It was fairly revolting but I was hungry enough that I put it away in short order. The snack bar had a terrace on the main drag. At the next table, a young blond fellow and his older companion dinnered on those fried snacks that look like corn dogs. A group of youngsters rode up on bikes and went inside. Velden felt like a dead place where old couples dwelled in identical suburban homes and what young people remained congregated in crummy joints along the main drag. If it felt so lifeless in summer, I could not help but imagine how dismal it would feel in November.

The Kusters, my hosts, were the sort of elderly couple I referred to above. They spend the evening in front of the TV like zombies. Mevrouw Kusters took me up to the room, which might have been a son or daughter's who's long since left the nest. She showed me the toilet for some reason and the new gas heater. I conversed with her in fractured Dutch. That the Vrienden op de Fiets network lets you stay in middle-class homes makes it an instructive experience you might not otherwise have. It's shown me that the Dutch - not Amsterdammers but the Dutch who live in Holland's villages - are extremely conservative and dull, and that the older ones can hardly speak English.

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