Saturday, August 9, 2014

Eindhoven -> Belgian Limburg

More lovely weather so Alice and I are taking another fietstocht, this time dropping into Belgium. The journey started in Eindhoven, a drab city in the southeastern part of the Netherlands best known as the base for Philips Electronics and a hub for cheap flights on Ryan Air. The plan was to venture across the border to the town of Overpelt, then "discover the nature" in its vicinity, as one prescribed route suggests.

(original date of this entry: June 12, 2014)
We took the train from Amstel station to Eindhoven, a journey of about an hour. Eindhoven was less accommodating than other Dutch towns in several respects. First, we had trouble exiting the station as there was no lift for bicycles. Some NS personnel led us to a sort of utility elevator that we took down to the lower level, where a gangly station attendant took us through a series of passageways to exit the station. Then the bike parking/rental outlet in the station had no touring bikes for rent, just heavy one-speed city bikes, which came as a rude surprise, since every other Dutch city of any significance (Apeldoorn, Alkmaar, Groningen) rents them. We went to the nearby tourist information office (VVV), which also rents city bikes and inquired about other bike shops in town. We were directed to a place on the south side of the city core called Pro Bike. They rented only two kinds of bikes: single-speed city bikes and €25 per day e-bikes, and had the further disadvantage of closing early Saturday and all day Sunday. The pudgy bald owner said neither they nor anyone else in Eindhoven rented touring bikes because "it's not a tourist town."

"Funny, I always thought of the Dutch as a breed of traders, always looking for different ways to make a deal," I commented. I suggested he rent me one of the second-hand touring bikes on the floor for sale.

"No, then something goes wrong and--how do you say it--I get fucked in the ass," he said grinning.

"That's one way to put it."

Fortunately Alice struck up a rapport with him so she'd stay occupied while I went back across town to the station. I went up the main pedestrian thoroughfare, the Stratumseind/Rechtestraat, now overhung by orange bunting in anticipation of the World Cup. I went into a "coffeeshop," not for weed but to use the toilet. The place was surprisingly busy for a Thursday morning, the terrace full of young dope fiends. I continued up the thoroughfare, bustling with shoppers at lunchtime. Before going to the station, I stopped at the VVV and told the young woman there that her recommendation was bogus. I suggested that Eindhoven put touring bikes in the station for rent like every other town in the Netherlands, "if you want your town to be good." She nodded and thanked me for the suggestion.

Eindhoven -> Overpelt
I returned to the bike rental outlet at the train station and rented the only bike they had with more than one speed, a "Legend," with three speeds, ok suspension and a cheap seat. As there was nothing else available, it would have to do. I rode back across town to Pro Bike where I found Alice having coffee and happily chatting with the owner.

Chickens cooped up on a sunny day. 
As I was wondering which direction to ride, I looked up to find a marker pointing to knooppunt 89, LF-51, precisely where we were headed. Beautiful warm day and we proceeded through the green expanses of the Anne Frank Plantsoen, the city park that extends to the southwest following the bends of the Dommel River and ceding to a bigger swath of greenery, the Staadswandelpark Looiakkers. The LF-51 formed a green corridor to the south, painlessly tunneling under the A2. At Waalre we had good homemade ice cream which we enjoyed sitting at a terrace in front of the N69.

We had been following the east leg of the "Langs de watermolens in de Kempen" tour. We did notice one old watermill outside Eindhoven. We departed from the route at point 2, south of Valkenswaard, and entered a nature reserve known as De Malpie. This was the prettiest section yet. We stopped in front of a lagoon where a poem was inscribed in a steel book on a platform, which I will attempt to translate here (Dutch readers please revise as necessary):

Marshes of De Malpie

Once there was a narrow sandy path here
Seldom trodden by men
The spooky Malpie was then avoided
As her name was tinged with menace

Like deep mirrors are her silent ponds
Black terns and gulls go over them
There hovers the nightjar under a full moon
In search of butterflies amidst the black pines

The marshes have long been richly nourished 
The sun dew could no longer flourish
Because it was impoverished

We did not leave her wealth alone
The face of the Malpie remains depressed
A festering wound, eventually a poem

Frans Hoppenbouwers

A bomb marks the Belgian border. 
Soon after we arrived in Belgium. It seemed different though we could not put our finger on what the difference was. It felt less rectilinear, as if some bits were allowed to run wild, left underutilized. We saw a post that looked like a spent bomb, chipped blue paint. Did it mark the border? 

We reached the big canal, the Bocholt-Herentals. It seemed like a border of sorts. Went over a narrow bridge of pale green girders. Where to head now? Alice consulted with a pair of gawky cyclists and I wandered over to look at goats penned up in a petting zoo. I'd printed a map of the the zone and knew our destination was near a north-south highway (the N71) and I knew it crossed the canal but I couldn't see it. The cyclists said to keep going west and we'd reach the highway. We found it, went underneath it, came out by tennis courts, rode around until we found our friend at the end of a cul-de-sac, Eikelweg.

A home in Overpelt
Corrie, a Netherlander in Belgium
We met Corrie Hoi, a 60ish woman from Den Bosch, the Netherlands. This was her little farm with cherry trees, a blueberry patch and a chicken coop. We were given the cabin opposite her house. It had a little patio beside it but no bathroom so we used the one in the main house. Alice and I were both quite pleased with this arrangement.

We decided to go into town for dinner. Although we were technically in the town of Overpelt, it appeared we were actually closer to the center  of Neerpelt. We went back under the highway, then took the main road to town. There were a bunch of terrace cafes on Neerpelt's plein, most full of people drinking. Alice asked around and one dude sitting alone with a beer recommended the Brasserie Centrale, two places down. We went there, ordered some nice Belgian beer and dinner, the local fave, stoomvlees. We were brought a couple of massive servings of the stuff, like beef bourguignon, along with a green salad (to be dressed unfortunately with mayonnaise) and "croquettes," what in some parts of America would be called hush puppies. At the end of the plaza a big TV screen was broadcasting World Cup action. It was a fine evening for sitting outside and enjoying the soccer match and I would've lingered if I enjoyed soccer matches. Continued ...

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