Sunday, May 29, 2016

Guidebook research V: the 'highlands' of Groningen

The hogeland of Groningen today. The train station, Groningen Noord, is a stone's throw from Vriend op de Fiets Jenne Oosting's flat. This corridor is served by Arriva trains (rather than the national NS line), and the machines are different: they suck in your chip card rather than asking the user to scan. When I reached the top of the ramp, the train to Delfzijl was standing on the platform, and I figured I'd miss it but ran toward it anyway. The conductor stuck his hand out the window and asked me if I was getting on. I nodded. "Scanner?" I asked, holding up my card. He gestured toward the rear of the train. "Quickly!" I scanned my card and got on.

(original date of this entry: June 9, 2015)

The landscape of Groningen province appears to be a great nothingness. Endless flat fields of crops punctuated by the occasional ditch or pony. But enough people do live up here to have a regular train line. I'm bound for Uithuizen...

Smartphone culture
... except the train wasn't. Casually checking the map, I realized this was a branch line heading for Delfzijl, east, rather than north to Warfum. I realized this as the train was pulling into Loppersum, a place that had been circled on my Groningen province map by Rens, the woman at the VVV (tourist office) as a zone of high seismic activity probably due to intense fracking for natural gas. The train going in the opposite direction was standing on the other side of the platform. But I wanted to confirm I was on the wrong train and asked an elderly man who was getting off. He didn't know. Then I asked a couple of boys sitting near the door. Yes, they nodded, it's another train to Warfum. But by this time I could no longer open the door and had to continue to Appingedam, one stop before the end of the line ... where I now await the train back to Groningen. 

Hogeland, Groningen province

It wasn't too difficult to rectify my error and head for Uithuizen (outhouses?). Quick ride from the station to Menkemaborg after chatting with the VVV woman about wadlopen (mudflat walking) and had a look at the old manor house with its carved oak matelpieces, gold damask bedspreads and men's shell collection.

Menkemaborg gardens
The buoyant 70ish caretaker told me that despite our proximity to Germany, the waterway (Eems) presents a formidable cultural barrier. You'd have to drive an hour south to cross. There may be a seasonal passenger ferry from Delfzijl. There is talk of building a road connection, which would reduce travel time from Groningen to northern Germany and Denmark. 

Kosher butcher, Warfum
Had a decent lunch of asparagus soup and a croquette with salad (under €10!) at the old schathoes, the "estate farm where produce was delivered by tenant farmers," then took a stroll through the gardens, meticulously reconstructed and replanted with herbs and flowers from the original plans. There was a maze, a la The Shining, and a sundial device that tells time by projecting a shadow on spherical bushes like numbers on a clock.

I took the train two towns west to Warfum, mainly to see the 'open-air museum,' a historical recreation of an old Groningen village, with gardens between little houses. Most interesting to me was the Kosher butcher shop of villager Abe Markus, with an original set of knives.

I cycled north. My destination: Noordpolderzijl, "smallest harbor in Holland." It was used by the fishers of Usquert, a few kilometers south, until the 1980s when land reclamation cut them off from the sea and the boats were moved to other harbors (Lauwersoog, Eemshaven). The day of my visit they were using it as a backdrop for a film.

This really is the back of beyond. It's worth the trip for the Wadtart (actually made by a baker in Warfum), with a rum-infused cream over and fruit at the bottom, at the Zielhoes, which used to be the sluice gate watchman's house. Now I get the rugs on the tables: they have a damping effect, which seems to make the place cozier. Views of endless farm fields through the wraparound windows, and as Jenne pointed out, the clouds are huge. It is a delightful haven amid the nothingness. Jenne mentioned that Noordpolderzijl was mythically visited by Bob Dylan for some reason back in the '70s, but I neglected to inquire.

't Zielhoes, Noordpolderzijl


Johannes Rocier, remember thy name. Thanks to his help, a journey that would've been a drag turned into pure joy. Somewhere south of Garnwerd my rear wheel started making an awful noise. Johannes came to my rescue with the proper wrench so I could soar into Groningen soundlessly.  Continued ...

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