Monday, September 13, 2010

Brabantse Land-route - Day 2

Perfect late summer morning, great start. Excellent coffee provided by Gre (short for Margaret) Van Doorn in the northeast corner of Kaatsheuvel. Gre is more of a walker than a cyclist. She told me she had walked 500 km from the North Sea, clocking about 40 km per day. She lives alone in a large house with a pretty garden.

Heather on the dunes
It was easy to get going. Using the sun as my compass, I headed south, then east, past the Efteling, a huge amusement park that attracts people from all over the Netherlands, says Gre, though it is "not as sweet" as Disneyland. The fietspad took a woodsy path beside the dormant roller coasters. Then over the highway and into a national park, the Loonse en Drunense Duinen, whose claim to fame is the largest dunes area, of some kind, in Europe. On a clear, windless morning it's a delight to traverse, the path threading through woods of pine and oak, patches of purple heather on sand dunes. I like to move very slowly through the still woods, spying a red squirrel, hearing the intermittent cheeping of some rare bird. There are people too but not many: mostly old folks on bicycles or golf carts though a quartet of blonde girls just passed me. I'm heading east, beyond Tilburg, then looping around to the south.

Brabantse Land-route - Day 2 (ANWB map)

The essentials
Exiting the woods, down along Schoorstraat to Udenhout, I find this brasserie for (more) coffee and apple pie. The other patrons are old women with wigs and a few kids. Good place for idling away a morning. (They have "midget-golf.") Temperatures in the high 60s, a few clouds.

The Dutch bike network is to me one of the great achievements of western civilization. It takes as its tenet that humans must interact with nature, that it is a basic human need, so they incorporate it into the plan. To have a neighborhood without park lands, bike paths and walking trails would be unthinkable. What would be the point?

Outside Oisterwijk, it's a ... tree ball farm?
It is all very shrewdly planned, almost maddeningly so. For every built up area you must have so much wildness, all seamlessly interspersed with paths and meticulously signed. It's such thoroughness in planning that has Netherlanders fleeing to places like Brazil and Indonesia where planning is just an idea.

Lunch break, Oisterwijksche Heide
Down through traffic-plagued Oisterwijk - a real city with a big-ass windmill and tony clothing stores along a main strip - the knooppunten disappear and you've got to follow the "fiets network" signs. Eventually you reach Hondsbergselaan, jog west for a bit. Just before a major road, a sign points to point 84, putting you on Oude Hondsbergselaan, which penetrated the Oisterwijksche Heide, a supremely idyllic forest. I stop for lunch at an excellent dead leaf carpeted clearing with log benches, a sort of crossroads for cyclists. Amazing coarse zomerpate (1.50 per 100 grams) and cole slaw (heavy on mayo) from Keurslager in Udenhout, plus a Trappist ale.

The new equestrians
This is also something of a horse trail - the riders, generally pubescent girls, are invariably as purebred as the horses, with obligatory riding caps and trousers tucked into boots, jockey caps. No woods is complete without a touring pseudo-tram. One just passed surreally occupied by a dozen white-haired seniors.

This has been a day of almost pure pleasure, not least because of the cool temperatures. Out of the Oisterwijk Heide, I am again navigating farmlands, mostly down narrow, empty country roads.

I say "almost" because as usual I got deviated off course at various points. Diessen was tricky. Supposed to head north to point 5 but I saw no indication, so I went past the turnoff, then later figured it out from a map. The road to 5 was downright dangerous: a narrow but heavily used thoroughfare with a fairly constant stream of cars and trucks and the occasional mega-tractor (and I never wear a helmet). They must slow down behind a bicycle but clearly don't want to. Driving seems to bring out the beast in people. Perfectly nice, middle-class folks are possessed by demons once they get behind the wheel and civilization breaks down.

Coming into Goirle, south of Tilburg
The fiets route west to 37 is somewhat better - the woodsy area is certainly nice - but steady traffic.

The old couple Maria and Jan were certainly nice to me. It was as if they wanted to befriend me. I was sitting by the side of the path into Diessen and they asked if they could share the bench. (Well, whatever they said was mostly conjecture since I only got every fifth word.) I magnanimously assented. Then they wanted to know where I was going (Goirle), where I'd come from (Kaatsheuvel, but they didn't understand my pronunciation of it until I mentioned the amusement park), and what kind of accommodation I had (fiets friends). They told me they were caravanning outside Diessen. I appreciated their warm overtures but really didn't know how to respond.

My digs in Goirle
Finally, just outside Goirle, the fietspad leaves the road and becomes a fine, packed-dirt trail, long and straight, with a procession of alders alongside, bordering a cornfield. The corn is high. Unlike last night, I'm a bit early. I told my hostess, Christine Mathon, I would show up at 8, but I'm on the last leg (to point 36) and it's 6:20. I could get a drink in Goirle, which looks like a southern appendage of Tilburg. I could even go into Tilburg.

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