Friday, October 25, 2013

Groningen / Schiermonnikoog - Day 1

New paths, Groningen
The beautiful town of Groningen, tucked away in Holland's northeast, quite close to Germany. The plan is to head for the island of Schiermonnikoog, easternmost of the Frysian isles, which form a crescent-shaped barrier to the North Sea. We rented identical Gazelle Orange bikes at the train station (€8.50 per day). Then we crossed the ring canal and headed north, got fried fish at the Vismarkt, made an espresso stop at Black & Bloom, run by a coffee maven who "really knows his stuff" according to my cycling companion Brian Jones. We were sitting outside sipping our espressos, me observing the cheerful passersby on foot, bike and scooter, Brian on the phone to London. Another gorgeous summer's day.

(original date of this entry: August 10, 2013)
Gazelle for hire (Brian Jones photo)
We rode north, reached the Noorderpark, which girdles the northwest edge of the town center, and headed west, through the park, toward point 95. They were setting up stages and seating for an upcoming festival, which we will miss. Brian Jones (no, not that one) is an old pal of mine going back to my days in Mexico City (1995-6) where we worked at The News, an English-language daily for expats. Though he hails from Philadelphia, Brian's lived in London for many years and become a UK citizen. This is the second time he's visited me in Holland. It was his idea to visit the island of Schiermonnikoog (Sh-khier-MO-ney-koge). His excellent photos illustrate the chronicle of this tour.

Leaving Groningen via the LF-14b. 
The transition out of town was gentle, sun warming the humid air, a line of apartment complexes following the stream. We followed the LF-14b north along a strand of river called the Rijtdiep to the polder zone northwest of Groningen. The polder lands -- flat, marshy tracts reclaimed from the sea and hemmed in by dikes -- are rather monotonous to ride through though perhaps more interesting than farm fields. Windmills, sheep. The path is a narrow concrete strip, and you get hazardously close to oncoming touring cyclists with a wide load. It clouded over and started sprinkling by the time we crossed the Rijtdiep at Electra, drawbridge halting our progress. Before long we arrived at our destination for the evening, the village of Houwerzijl.

Groningen - Houwerzijl via LF-14

We had a vegetarian dinner with our hosts, Dick and Flora. They sell second-hand books out of the ground floor shop of their dwelling, which has an unusual design, the upper level of brick, the lower of stuccoed concrete with stylized moldings between the two. Dick also runs a retro print shop. Using an old-fashioned press he prints books of poems, cards and other instant relics. Flora, a beanpole of a woman with a ready smile, teaches people to make paper roses. The two had met in Groningen where they studied, then decided to move out to the sticks -- Houwerzijl is about 30 km northwest of Groningen. They say they like it. They're not alone: apparently there are other culturally minded urbanites dwelling there. Continued ...

Dick & Flora's place, Houwerzijl (Brian Jones photos)

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