Thursday, March 19, 2015

Amsterdam - Antwerp III

Breakfast in Gorinchem, a place that no one's heard of, yet it is an attractive historic and utterly typical Dutch town. From my bedroom on the second floor I could see hundreds of children heading to school on their bikes in large convoys--an unimaginable sight almost anywhere else. The town is on the Merwede River. My accommodation is by the highway, northwest of the old center. My hosts are Alyona and Yanni, the women who are members of a sort of group house or group apartment building, which consists of 11 dwellings, some with families, others with single people. They have a meal together once a week. Alyona explained: "Many people are lonely, they don't even know their neighbors." That is true.

(original date of this entry: Sept 17, 2014)
Group house in Gorinchem
The breakfast was insubstantial though (a slice of ham, a piece of cheese, bread and appelstroop--that blackish jam), so I did a little shopping in the center. I found hummus, fresh rolls and yogurt at the Hema, then picked up a couple of avocados in the street market. Then proceeded to the ferry landing where I found a drinking water fountain. A woman commented on this--she thought it was great. A blonde woman in her 50s, traveling solo by bike. She went down to the dock where the ferry to Werkendam was waiting, I to the landing for Woudrichem, which is where I'd pick up the LF-9. Moments later, the blonde woman got off her ferry and rode down the metal dock toward me. She was riding a 24-speed Stevens bicycle ("made in Germany"). On the boat we chatted. Turns out she was also heading to Breda and onward to Belgium. She is totally into cycling and appreciates the knooppunt network, and she's a member of Vrienden op de Fiets. A good riding partner, I thought. Her name is Anita. As the boat proceeded east to Woudrichen, she commented on my bike, not really a touring bike like hers, and like Tonny in Utrecht, asserted that I really must get a better bike since I could ride so much easier. In fact, I like my Batavus Best Breaks just fine, except for its recent tendency to periodically emit squeaking noises from the chain--feels like something is loose in there. But yes, I could certainly use an upgrade. Wandering around Holland it's like shopping in a vast bike mart and down here I've seen all the latest models: the Batavus Mango, Mercuto and Intermezzo, the ever-attractive Gazelle Oranje and Oranje Plus--and many other perfect touring models.

Anita looked like an aging movie star--how many Anita Ekbergs and Miou-Mious' disciples are roaming Euro terrain--with sunglasses and coiffed blonde, too blonde, hair. I'd thought we might ride together but arriving in Woudrichem, she told me she'd be on her way, which was other than my way, as I was taking the LF-9. Tot later. 

Gorinchem-Breda via LF-9
From Woudrichem I took the LF-9 down a nice country road and then Anita was by my side. We were riding above the Merwede and it looked grand. She pointed out that she'd bought a bag to put on an attached front rack and it looked rather pimped up, which served as evidence she was not one of those slick cyclists. But obviously she found my setup laughable (one-speed Batavus).

"We are lucky," she said, referring to the weather I guess but perhaps to the fortunate circumstances of our living a day like this one here and now. Think of the dreariness that the masses of humanity face daily. To have all this ... and now to have Anita by my side. But then she split, crying out, "This is really riding" and tore on ahead. So I had thought she was enjoying riding beside me at a leisurely pace but she was just being nice.

It was very warm and sunny. I took the sun by a lagoon beside the fietspad to kp 56, Almkerk. The highway over on the other side of the water a soothing distant drone. I would like to get to Breda early. It's about 30km, not far so if I avoid loitering ...

Ferry cross the Bergsche

After passing a series of farm centers, the air stinking of synthesized manure, I reached another big river, the Bergsche, which like the Lek and Merwede was plied by big cargo ships. It seems the whole southern part of the country is a lattice of shipping lanes. I stopped and descended to the river, sat under a big tree and had my lunch of hummus-avocado rolls and nuts.

Slapende Dijk: gorgeous bucolic ride through patches of wood, cornfields, swamp. The trail between 29->28 is packed dirt. Summery warm and windy. Orchards, apples, pears.

On the eastern edge of Breda I witnessed the launching of several hot-air balloons. The scene had a calming effect on me.

In Breda my Vrienden op de Fiets are, atypically, a young couple, Lieke & Luuk. They have a modern comfortable flat on the south end of town, not far from the Mastbos forest. Lieke is the cyclist of the pair; she likes to cover long distances on her state-of-the-art Merida racing bike. Interestingly, Luuk is not interested in cycling but would rather drive, which is why he loves America, despite the fact that he complained of being stuck in traffic yesterday on his way to Alkmaar. Driving is like a religion whose tenets you must adhere to despite adversity. Continued ...

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