Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Antwerp → Bergen op Zoom

76 cyclists so far today
Though I'd originally planned to take the train from Antwerp back to Amsterdam, I changed my plan and decided to cycle up to Bergen op Zoom, the Dutch town near the border, then catch an NS train from there.
(Original date of this entry: Aug 23, 2017)

I had told my hosts Etienne and Madinneke that I'd take the train and so requested an early breakfast. But as I stepped outside there was a cool breeze blowing and I decided to hit the fietspad. I would take the LF-2 north, reverse of the trip I made from Bergen-op-Zoom a few years earlier. I remembered that trek to be complicated, as I kept losing the trail. But I didn't have good maps then. Today I missed a few turns due to missing signage but managed to correct myself promptly each time, and now I'm on the LF-2 through the forest. Cyclists out in droves today.

Outskirts of Antwerp
The route was straightforward enough leaving town. I made a stop at De Haize for bread, cheese, juice, directed there by a kindly workman on a bike. Many orthodox Jews pedaling hard and determined. Down at the Schelde, I turned right and headed north out of town through industrial zones and residential outskirts, over a significant canal. When I reached Ekeren, I lost the LF-2, so headed for kp 77, just outside Brasschat. I stopped into a bike shop and asked the bearded mechanic to replace my handgrips. He didn't have them in stock but fastened the right one by simply turning a screw. Then I asked him about the LF-2. He had no idea what that was. "Well, I thought, this being a bike shop..."

"We don't know everything," he said, and helpfully went to look it up on his computer. The Stedenroute—337 km from Amsterdam to Brussels. That's ok, I said, and went to pump up my tires with their compressed-air pump.

Antwerp to Bergen Op Zoom via LF-2
At kp 77, I made for kp 76, on the way to Kapellen. It seemed to be the same direction as the LF-2 but I wasn't sure. When I reached the train station, of Hoevenen I think, I lost the knooppunt trail and ventured pointlessly into this unattractive, now overheated, town. Consulting my Belgian knooppunt atlas, I saw that the route skirted the railroad track on the east side, and found it there. I then proceeded alongside the railroad track for about 4km. I remembered that bit from my ride down three years previous. Voila, I was back on the LF-2. This took me through Kapellen and up to Kalmthout. A left turn and I reached the gateway to the great heath reserve. I am now near Putte where Esther Plutzer is buried under a refurbished tombstone, thanks to my efforts—just in time to show my aunt, Esther's sister, before she died.


It's very warm but here in the Kalmthout forest rather nice under the trees. Clouded over a bit and the breeze is like a caress. The spot, a picnic table not far from the Kalmthout town entrance, is encircled by conifers with pine cones strewn upon a bed of needles. I'm pleased with the drink I just concocted—a bit of Bourdeaux wine with cold Spa Rood that I picked up at the Frituur Heide near the station of the same name—not Kalmthout but 'Heide,' where there's also a tony restaurant whose terrace is crowded with pumped-up racers.

Kalmthout Heide
I visted the Kalmthoudse Heide visitor center, which contained a fine museum devoted to bees and beekeeping. The nice middle-aged woman at the counter, Lida, gave me a little tour in English, first pointing out the demonstration by the resident beekeepers clad in protective suits. One of them showed me a honeycomb drawer no filled with honey. One room contained active hives which could be viewed. Lida pointed out the queen; she had a little yellow disc implanted in her forehead with the number 38. All of the bees skittering around the hive were hatched from eggs laid by that one bee. Bees can live as long as five years if they manage to survive the weather, though the fertility of a queen deteriorates after two. After the males perform their functions of reproduction, pollen gathering and care of the queen, they are shunned and left for dead. This doesn't take long, like six weeks in the summer. Over the winter the hive community diminishes around 80 percent, from 50,000 to 10,000.

On my way out I asked Lida why bee colonies are disappearing in the US—"and in Europe," she added. Aside from the chemicals widely used for monoculture, there is a parasite—she deferred to the resident beekeeper to shed light on this—the Varroa destructor, "a mite that attacks [certain] honeybees and can only reproduce in a honeybee colony. ... A significant mite infestation will lead to the death of a bee colony. It may be a contributing factor to colony collapse disorder."

Kalmthoutse Heide
From Kalmthout, the return ride was predictable, as I'd done it once before and I was surprised to find how well I recalled it—down to the marsh-side spot where I'd sat on a bench (today occupied by a silent couple). The tour of the heath, though pleasant to ride through, did not impress me so much this time around—a lot of it is a wasteland, albeit fringed by purple sprays. Then, continuing up the LF-2, a long stretch of flat fields, after which the warmth was pushed aside by cool winds that cleared the leaves off the trees in an autumnal effect. Crossed the border (marked by a bomb-like post), then a roadside trail through the Wouwse Plantage, then a 5km stretch west—which I recalled as a splendiferous interlude but now just appeared as rustic farmsteads and forest—into Bergen op Zoom.


Unlike the last time I rode to Bergen op Zoom, in a disoriented frenzy, this time it was pretty straightforward, and the Intercity Direct to Amsterdam arrived about six minutes after I did. I'll be back in my town by 10:30 pm. This worked out well. I've had about enough, yet the fact that I started and ended in Holland gives the trip a certain symmetry. Essentially I cycled an arc: Middelburg-Ghent-Antwerp-Bergen op Zoom. Taken together with the previous ride, Zandvoort → Rockanje (with a frenzied last dash to Schiedam), it adds up to summer '17's grand tour.

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