Monday, August 23, 2010

Plateauroute: Day 2

Outside Gulpen, Monday morning
I've just set out from Gulpen after a nice big breakfast prepared by the zaftig Tina, who runs the J Ploum household. The Ploums are relative newcomers to the vrienden scene. Joseph told me they had all this room upstairs going unoccupied and a friend had told Tina that all the cyclists and hikers that stayed over at her place were nice, friendly people.

So far I have not had to climb much heading west out of Gulpen. It would be difficult to imagine a more tranquil spot than the one I've chosen to write this, at the bottom end of a meadow along a pebbly lane underneath spreading elms. A mist lingers over the scene and a cool breeze carries the fragrance of cow dung. The fietspad to Maastricht stretches out before me.

Here's a tip, fietsers. Sometimes you may miss guiding numbers, especially zipping down a hill where some image may arrest your attention such as a monk holding up a menu or an old woman in a salmon housecoat walking a pair of collies up the road. As I approach her to ask for directions ("Is this the way to Reijmerstok?"), I see how attractive she is though fading, with her granny glasses and tresses of gray hair.

The edge of Reijmerstok
So I missed the turnoff for point 83 sailing into Euverem and climbed a steep hill to a highway. No guide markers in sight. And that's the lesson: If you see no numbers for a while, and especially if there's nothing posted at a key turnoff or intersection, you'll know you've strayed from the route and you'll need to turn around until you find the number you missed. When I reached the highway (to Maastricht), I turned around, went back down to Euverem. Another sign, labeled Plateauroute, pointed to a road to Reijmerstok but had no number marker. The point then is to not follow the "Route" signs - even when the route described in the fiets guide has the same name! - but to follow the numbers. I asked the salmon-robed woman (in her 60s probably) if she knew the way to point 83. She didn't but pointed out that I was on the main road to Reijmerstok and Terlinden rather than the fietspad. So I knew I had to turn around, back past the woman who had by then continued on her way with the collies, back past the monk in front of the restaurant, to the next marker, which pointed straight back toward 83, the way I'd just returned from. I turned around, then found the missing marker pointing left to a path through the woods - and then another pointing the same way. Those numbers are an ingenious feature but require thoughtful placement and maintenance. Someone is really on the ball here though you never see them at it. I go up the country road, once again passing the woman of the flowing gray tresses. "Dit is het!" I tell her and she nods: "Ja! This is also the way to Reijmerstok." I move slowly but determinedly uphill, then find this bench and plant my ass there for a spell. And here she comes again and I nod in her direction. After sitting here for a while, I realize the path is a fairly popular thoroughfare, used by touring geezers and racers alike. I've got the whole day still ahead.
Gulpener hops

From there it was a tough climb and again I had to get off and walk, though older people, many female, kept at it until they'd reached the plateau and only then took a break for a healthy, potassium-rich banana. From the plateau you can see some green hills receding in the distance. It would be an average vista for Mexico but here it's considered spectacular. The tabletop is heavily farmed, with orchards, fields of wheat and peas, hops strung up on racks by Gulpener, the beer maker. I pass farm buildings where hay is pleasingly fermenting - what did they used to call it at Potomac Vegetable Farm? - silage.

Just as the sun pops through the cloud cover I reach the plateau and find myself at the east side of Reijmerstok. Just a big tree ("the 'balls' look somewhat like a sweetgum, but the bark and leaves don't," writes Myra) at the head of a lane leading into the village and this bench.

At 12 noon in Banholt, the church bells peal as big, fluffy while clouds hover behind the spire. This is Catholic territory.
Lord of infrastructure, Banholt
From Banholt, I roll down into the hamlet of Bruisterbosch. I am overjoyed to be doing this ride - no other way to describe it. The town, however, is mundane, a string of dark brown brick modern structures mimicking the old but not quite getting it. I fly down a hill north of the hamlet and hear the machine-like hum of a dozen cyclists flying down behind me. (This is potentially dangerous, though less so for them since they're all wearing helmets.) They they charge up the next hill heading for point no 70 (Margraten). This crossing is no 71. Fortunately I stop to check my map and realize I am not heading for Margraten but for Honthem and Cadier en Keer, no 66. This is a far more appealing, almost level, country road with an occasional car. My bench is raised on a bank of the road so I can sit looking at a meadow rising opposite me, with a group of cows basking near the top just before some woods. Blackberries dangle from the branches at my right. The sun is shining now. Estoy contento aquí.

Ceramique neighborhood, Maastricht
Coming back into Maastricht was quite simple, after sailing back down from the plateau. I just followed the "Centrum" signs and before long I was rolling through Céramique, a neighborhood that looks as if it were erected last week. I stopped at the Bonnefanten Museum, the one recommended to me by Meneer Ploum, flashed my museum card to get in at no charge. In the cafe I had a fabulous pea soup with turkey chunks and two glasses of Brand beer (the other brewer in Gulpen). Then I wandered through the exhibitions of mostly modern art. One Polish artist named Pawel Althamer included a series of videos on expanding consciousness, or conveying the expanded state of consciousness reached by ingesting peyote, psilocybin mushrooms and hashish, among other experiences. Unfortunately I was not moved by them.

Maastricht, view from the Hoeg Brogk
I feel beyond content sitting here on the east bank of the Maas, looking over its broad expanse as cyclists glide past behind me on their merry way along the river. I adore the city of Maastricht and see no reason to leave though I am planning to go back to Amsterdam tomorrow. Now I'm just kind of biding my time before heading over to my vriend in the neighborhood of Heer. With a slight breeze, views of bridges north and south over the river, I need not move anywhere till I'm ready to head over there.

1 comment:

  1. Danny - this is wonderful. It brings back memories of bike riding in the Netherlands in 1973. I think that I mostly rode on highways. and other bicyclists kept yelling at me and pointing to the bike paths, but honestly, I couldn't figure out (immediately) how to navigate the bike paths.