Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rondje Groene Hart - Day 1

This three-day jaunt through the "heartland" of South Holland is one I'd planned months earlier. Alice came over here Sunday morning and we took the train from Muiderpoort station, a few blocks from my home, to Woerden, a town just west of Utrecht. We decided not to invest in the bike day pass since the train ride (on the Sprinter) lasted only 35 minutes and the pass cost more than the ticket. So naturally this was one of the few times they checked tickets.

(Original date of this entry: June 4, 2014)
The clueless foreigner, in character
The ticket checker, a nice middle-aged woman, told us we were obliged to pay the fee to take our bikes on the train (€6) and (as we'd rehearsed) we feigned ignorance, me taking the part of the clueless foreigner ("What does she want, honey?"). The woman was nice about it and instead of fining us, inquired about our fietstocht. Alice also chatted with a young man in a wheelchair with trucker babe outlines on the wheels. Turns out he's a kind of handicapped athlete, plays ice hockey in the US.

Rondje Groene Hart - Day 1

In Woerden, we had no trouble getting on the trail, and we were riding along a pretty creek called the Oude Rijn, which is in fact a branch of the Rhine. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm with a cool breeze. We stopped at a gated pasture with a picnic table. A bunch of goats came over to check us out but then wandered off and left us alone. A robotic module silently mowed the lawn opposite. We had our sandwiches and tea. 

De Haar
We came to a castle with a moat around it, De Haar. There were lots of people around, some decked out perhaps for a wedding. Two grand brick towers flanked an arched entryway beneath a panel with coats of arms. A certain Etienne van Zuylen acquired and restored the medieval castle in the 19th century, hiring architect Peter Cuypers to do the job, the same architect who designed Amsterdam Central Station. 

The cherry orchard
Beyond the castle a spring fair was going on with lots of tents. We came to a farm stand amidst a cherry orchard and Alice got a kilo, then stole a few more off some trees bursting with fruit. 

Past Vleuten we found a large park with lots of walking trails bordered by a honeycomb sculpture. This is the Maximapark and the trail goes right through it, though I somehow lost track of the knooppunten here. We sat on a big curved bench and munched our cherries. Then Alice approached a group of young men and women out for a stroll to get directions. We ended up at point 76, then skirted the Leidsche Rijn, whose north side was being repaired. Alice was riding her new Gazelle Chamonix so dismounted and walked the bike over the torn-up pavement. Eventually we found a bridge over the canal and the other side was smoother. 

Tunnel vision
After pt 1, we went underneath the A12 superhighway, though hardly noticed the traffic. Alice pointed out a decorative feature of the tunnel, a section of the ceiling with purple lights. We emerged at the Amsterdam Rhine Canal and followed it south (now the LF-7). This was a side of Utrecht I hadn't seen before and it gave the city a new dimension. The canal was lined by big apartment buildings, then factories and storage tanks, and spanned by an arched suspension bridge. Big barges and tankers plied the broad waterway. A thrilling section of the ride. 

Into Zuid-Holland
The trail branched southwest and followed a narrower canal alongside the community of Nieuwegen. At pt 23->24, we rode through the IJsselbos, a patch of forest adjacent to IJsselstein, and stopped at a lovely brook to eat the rest of our lunch. We came to the Lek River (the border of South Holland) and took a ferry across (€1, bikes and pedestrians), arriving in the town of Vianen. It was warm and some of the cafes were occupied. 

Human-powered transport by the Merwede Canal
South of Vianen, the LF-9 follows the Merwede Canal, a blissful stretch, practically uninhabited, lined by rustling poplars. We proceeded down the tranquil Merwede. I figured we could stop in Meerkerk, at a bend in the canal, for supper, but we somehow went right past the town. When we got to Nieuwland, Alice asked a racing cyclist if it was possible to find a cafe open on a Sunday evening. He suggested we ride a few km east to the town of Leerdam. This we did, taking the main road, though there was little traffic. 

Linge at dusk
Friends of the cyclist: Pim & Niesje
In Leerdam we surveyed the culinary options, chose a Turkish joint and shared a plate of kafta. We sat at the terrace outside. By the time we'd finished it was getting late. It was easy enough to find the Linge River and we took the south bank toward our vrienden op de fiets. The thin dirt trail hugged the river, which looked beautiful in the warm glow of the setting sun. The entire journey had been along lovely trails but somehow this one was the best yet. We continued along the aptly named Zuiderlingedijk (southern dike on the Linge), looking at the old houses to our left, many standing well below the dike. Finally we reached No 113 and descended to the house. We met Pim Vuijk and his wife, Niesje, a large, hale woman with short white hair. Meneer Vuijk had a white beard; he struck me as a retired scientist or mathemetician though I never asked about his profession. They had quite a spread, with a well-tended garden and heated swimming pool. We were shown to our room. We had a nice dormer with a window facing the road, which turned out to be surprisingly busy out here in the country. Continued ...

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