Miniature carnival ride at Markiezenhof palace, Bergen op Zoom.
Train to Bergen op Zoom. It is practically empty. How can they make any money on it? Pulling into Rosendaal. The day is gorgeous.
This is the beginning of my research for a guidebook on the Netherlands. I've got my bike along, though I won't be riding all the time. I'll use the bike to a) get to places that trains don't go, and b) to try out promising fietstochts (cycle tours) in the vicinity of towns.
(original date of this entry: May 15, 2015)
The cycling aspect makes this guidebook project different from previous ones. Instead of driving or catching buses I'm cycling, which is a natural extension of my usual activities. And instead of staying at hotels, I'm using Vrienden op de Fiets, who I'm hoping can provide some useful info.
There is always the initial what the f**k am I doing now? when I start a project like this. Bergen op Zoom has plenty of attractions -- an interesting place -- but how do you squeeze it in and how much research needs to be done? To what extent can I simply enjoy the place?
The editor asked me if there was anything worth mentioning about West (Noord) Brabant. Well, the Kalmthoutse Heide is certainly a highlight, though much of it is in Belgium--but that's what makes it special, that it straddles a border.
I found the Antwerpseweg and headed south out of town. For some reason BoZ has sparse knooppunten signage, but I seemed to be heading in the right direction. I finally reached a highway/railroad track overpass where knooppunten directed me to kp 39 and 31. I chose the former, then followed signs to Woensdrecht, dull suburban community with some WWII history. Continued east to the adjoining community of Hoogerheide, follwing the 'fietsnetwerk' signs (why not just post the numbers?). This led to the busy Putseweg (N289), which I followed down to Putte.
|Restored gravestone of Esther Plutzer|
We walked over to the children's section of the cemetery and there it was: Ester Plutzer's stone, now gleaming white amidst the drab gray stones, with the girl's name clearly inscribed.
(Esther, as I explained in an entry of summer 2014, was my mother's older sister who died of at age 9 of polio in Antwerp. My mother, Dorothy, was too young to have known her. She was buried in this cemetery across the border in the Netherlands because, like other Jews from Antwerp, they wanted 'a final resting place' for her, which the Belgians could not guarantee.
I took many photos, changing angles as instructed by Friedman. He told me that when he found it, it was almost impossible to discern any lettering. He spent many hours cleaning the stone until the letters appeared. Only then did he know if it was the right tomb he was working on. The inscription appeared on a marble plate attached to the front of the stone, which he said was made of 'blauwsteen.'
|Jacob Birnbaum, Titanic victim.|
I thanked Oizer Friedman, gave him some money. He seemed satisfied. Then he went to get his car to drive into the cemetery--he had work to do. I got my bike and after briefly discussing the deterioration of religion in America and the savagery of the Nazis, we said goodbye. "Have a nice future," said Friedman.
|Bergen op Zoom to Putte and return via Kalmthoutse Heide|
Using city-maps-to-go on my ipad I located Janni Landa's place near the hospital. My vriend op de fiets was out, so I continued into town via Rooseveltlaan. The old center of BoZ is a zealously preserved version of one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands. The cobbled streets are narrow and lined with restored houses of merchants and aristocrats. I reached the Grote Markt where the terraces were crowded at 7 pm. Had a beer at a cafe called the Locomotive, then inspected the restaurant options. It came down to the Grand Café Hotel Bourgondier, clearly the most popular option where people were chomping on Flintstones-sized ribs, or on the opposite side the Teerkamer, which had been recommended to me by the woman at the VVV (tourist office). It was inside a grand old building but felt temporary. I chose the latter. I had the famous white asparagus, prepared as is the custom with slabs of ham. I found it greasy and unappetizing.
|Flea market at Kijk in de Pot park, Bergen op Zoom|