Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lomas de Limburg - Day 3

Breakfast of fietsers
Outside Mechelen we retraced our way over the gravel path, then climbed the 3 km to Gulpen. As we rode into town under cloudy skies I recalled my last visit here almost three years previous. We were zooming down an elevated street, the eastern approach to Gulpen, and I realized I had stayed in one of the modern homes along its length. Back then it was cold and rainy and I slogged through the puddles to have dinner at a cafe. Now it was warm but overcast and by the time we reached the center of town the clouds burst and we decided to take a break.
(original date of this entry: August 28, 2013)

Infamous pink raincoat

We found a trendy little cafe and had coffee, hoping the rain would stop. Alice had taken no rain gear--sunny skies were forecast for the duration of our trip--so went looking for something in the shopping district. She came back with a shocking pink raincoat she'd purchased in a Zeeman store for €2. Then she had a long chat with the girl at the bar who, like Alice, was an artist. She told Alice that she had to get away from Gulpen and its small-minded attitudes. She really wanted to live in Leiden, where she had studied. Out here in the sticks some people, like the VVV man, bristled at Alice's unconventional appearance--an Amsterdammer in our midst!. Others like this young woman in the bar warmed up to her, as if she represented an alternative to their dreary milieu--aha, a messenger from Mokum where people are strange and proud of it. But in general everyone seems to want to open up to Alice. She's such a positive presence.

Forbidden fruit

Finally the rain let up and we headed out. It was precisely the same route back to Maastricht I'd taken on the Plateau Route in 2010 and soon we reached the big meadow where I'd stopped for a break back then and now we did the same thing. This was a gentle, bucolic and mercifully level stretch of the route. The rain had stopped and we were going through fields of hops (Gulpener's own), corn (cobs fat enough to pick) and apples. I admit it: I picked one. It was crisp and tart--and probably laced with pesticides.

Lomas de Limburg - Day 3

At Point 83 I somehow made a wrong turn south and we'd ridden about a kilometer down through pastures full of cows to Bergenhuizen when I, thankfully, realized we had deviated from our route. We had to ride back on a slight uphill grade. We went through the village of Banholt. There Alice spotted a bakery that made vlaai, the signature pastry of Limburg. (I wondered if it was related to shoo-fly pie.) I stayed outside with the bikes but I could see through the window that the place was busy. Two beefy women in jeans went in looking like classic bull dykes. Alice got two pieces of pudding vlaai (berry and other variations available), each a quarter pie wedge. We rode north out of town till we found a bench beside the road and had our vlaai. It was "ambrosial," with a smooth, subtly sweet cinnamony pudding filling a crumbly crust. We had it with tea from a thermos.

The rest of the way was easy and traffic-free till the calm suburb of Cadier en Keer. A little further on we suddenly found ourselves on the edge of Maastricht, which was clearly demarcated from rural lands. At point 5, which marks this border, we turned right (north), expecting to find Bergerstraat, the street that leads west toward the station. When it did not appear, Alice asked a couple of girls out walking their dog for directions which they dispensed in a vague, complicated fashion. We turned around a few times, asked for more directions and eventually rolled up in front of the train station where we stashed our stuff. Then we rode over the Maas and into town until we lost our bearings and I asked a black dude on a moped for Carnivalstraat, which is how I recalled the name of the street with the bike shop. The man thought about it but couldn't come up with anything. Only when I asked a passing pedestrian, a white man in a light blue suit, did I realize I was looking for Calvariestraat and he gave us thorough directions.

At Courtens we returned our Spartas. Alice asked if they rented electric bicycles, which would certainly prove handy on those Limburger hills, but they didn't, nor did the train station bike shop, which demonstrates a market niche if I ever saw one. We then walked back to the center of Maastricht, stopping for a look at the Kruisherenhotel Maastricht, a church-cum-hotel with scarlet upholstered benches lining the apse, a strange effect.

We wandered into town, surveyed the main plaza, known as the Vrijthof. It was a warm afternoon and the cafes were full of people, but somehow none of them seemed appealing. We got fried fish from a stall in the plaza and ate it standing at a high table. We continued through the shopping district, then made our way back toward the station, giving up on the idea of finding that perfect cafe before the ride home. Then, just a block from the station we found a suitable spot on a tree-lined side street that had a Parisian vibe. It was a local joint with the usual crusty but benign barmaid. We had our beers outside on the terrace and savored that carefree summer evening sensation. (By the time we returned to Amsterdam, it was pouring rain and we got drenched riding home.)


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