written Saturday 10 April 2004
|Stavoren Urk Kampen|
The rancid memory of my birthday mostly suppressed, I ride along the Zuider Zee coastline, through three classic towns.
Today's is a very visual post, plenty of worthwhile pix; but please pardon the download time. I'll hold off on the bike map update until after Monday's ride.
On the train just south of Heerenveen, we speed by the very buildings where my faithful bicycle was born! Bless you, BLESS you, Batavus workers!
Connect in Amersfoort, a long Intercity train to Leeuwarden, then backtrack south to Stavoren--three long hours. I was expecting a typical Dutch railhead station: restaurants inside and around the station, maybe a ANWB store for maps, and a WC. My first clue otherwise was when the Leeuwarden-Stavoren train was one car only. My second clue was when the last other person got out at Hindeloopen station.
The engineer/conductor/security man let me off and shut the door against the cold. I watched him pull away, my face to the north wind. Welcome to Stavoren.
I turn to face south. Nice toys.
I ride along Friesland's south coast. At one point the dijk rises very high, and there is a monument. Rode Klif--yes, Red Cliff. Zuider Zee Sailors of 500 years ago used it as a landmark, actually imagined it to be a volcano. The sign said that most of the cliff was gone now; indeed I didn't see any red dirt. Then I realized that any red dirt was covered over when they completed the dijks. I shrugged and coasted away, down the hill. But in the canal beside the road, the water was crimson.
I can't quite imagine what people out here do for a living. If the Frisians gather this kind of wealth in family farming, it's the Netherlands' best-kept secret.
Nature calls. And stretching my legs before returning to my bike, I remark on how very much like inland Florida the Netherlands can look. This sort of landscape feels very, very much like home to me. Mountains are nice, but for other people. Myself--I can breathe in a place like this.
This ride eastward along Friesland's south coast is choppy, with never a chance to develop a pace. A kilometer of bike path, two kilometers of road into the wind and then out of it, a small village in a valley, then more bike path or farm road. A couple of hours of this, and then I can see the town of Lemmer.
You'll be forgiven if you've never heard of Lemmer--I didn't recognize its name even after mapping today's trip. "Oh, Lemmer--that's a town?" It's OK, I'm not sure most Dutch could place it on a map. But it used to be a happening place, Friesland's southernmost seaport. Now it's full of Germans driving too fast through parking lots. It seems dirty, now, and somehow just a shade dreadful.
It's sad to see other countries aping the worst of the US, like the pictured. The drawbridge raises, the boat floats through, everybody waits patiently and politely in the best Dutch fashion--and then you see the huge ads on the bridge's underside, in your face. One moment you're in a place that makes sense, that works as a whole, and the next moment you're in Blade Runner or something. I really hate this.
Though, OK--I admit their church's steeple is among the very most attractive.
I have inherited my father's inability to resist harassing a flock of birds. Lemmer haven in the background.
Out the south side of Lemmer, I pass out of Friesland and onto the Noordoostpolder, a blocky, manmade peninsula. I squeeze through a gate with all sorts of warnings on it, and onto the dijk path. Aside from the town of Urk, I do not pass another person for the next 35 kilometers, in either direction. Utterly alone. A real contrast to noisy, crowded Lemmer, and a real luxury in the Netherlands.
The bike path is marked on the maps as "Fietsers bij gedogen", the last word sending me rushing to the dictionary. Ah--it means roughly "cyclists are tolerated/suffered". And there are sheep everywhere. I ring my bell over and over to chase away the sheep and the lambs, some no bigger than a small dog. And the pavement is in, well, various conditions. At one point it gets so rough that I give up and have...
...lunch! The blue bottle cap is from my ever-accompanying Spa blauw bottle. In the tray is Elitehaver, which as far as I can tell translates to "elite oats" or "elite chow." Very high energy. And I-- please--don't eat the daisy! (well ok, it's a dandelion.)
I lug the water bottle up the dijk to see what's on the other, lower, inland side. Not much.
Onward. Westward, then southward, around Friese Hoek (Frisian corner) to...
Rotterdamse Hoek. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with Rotterdam. This is one of those places that stand out vividly on a map but when visited are so different than one might expect. It is simply a bit of curvature at the intersection of two dijks. Now, the curve is almost a kilometer long, but that's it. There is a tower for foghorns and what looks like an automated weather station, a bench into which is scratched "Rotterdamse Hoek", and (of course, this is the Netherlands) a small trash bin with arm's reach. That's it, that the whole thing.
Everything on the tower says "Go away."
The picture at the top of this post was taken from the bench at Rotterdamse Hoek.
Due south for more than 10 kilometers. There is a windmill every 125 meters. This is looking back northward. (Yes, the wind is at my back--no accident.)
And there it is. Urk. The Dutch at work refer to Urk as being a "real Dutch town", some even consider it "the most Dutch" town. My curiosity is definitely piqued.
Before the dijks were completed to form the Noordoostpolder, Urk was an island. Centuries of fishermen braved the terrible cold, wet, isolated, and ferociously windy--and even worse of course out on the ships.
Overlooking the sea is this memorial, one of the very most interesting and unexpectedly moving small spaces I've encountered in my life. All along the low border wall are inscribed the names of Urk fishermen who have lost their lives at sea--hundreds--right up to 2003. Urk is not sentimental: they've left space for more names. And in the center, the statue of a woman with wind-blown skirts who has already turned away in despair at her news, but who can't help but take just one last look back at the sea.
And on the hill just behind the seafront, the old church and its oversized cemetery. Laatsterustplaats means just what it looks like: last resting place, with skull and crossbones over it. A place right out of Dante.
Urk's harbor itself is a little less strange, but it looks more like something out of Norway. Which, I guess, tells you something about the weather. This has not been a town for wimps.
But it's later than I'd hoped, and I cycle eastward on the north edge of the Ketelmeer, along the south dijks of the Noordoostpolder. I cross over the bridge into Overijssel province and toward Kampen and the first train station in 90 kilometers. This was been a test: there are other rides I want to make where I have to be long distances from train stations for hours at a time. How to gauge the health of my bike, and of my legs. How much water and food to carry, rain gear, etc. The killer ride will be along the southernmost North Sea, Maassluis to Middelburg, 130 km (well beyond my current ability). But today was a step.
And Kampen greets me with gracious bike paths like his one.
HEREis a panorama of Kampen's riverfront. (I did the best I could in the very dim light.) A genuinely pleasant, nearly Medieval town. It used to be on the Zuider Zee, but now it's blocked off by Flevoland from the Ijsselmeer, and beyond that it's cut off by the Afsluitdijk from the North Sea. As the saying goes: God made the earth; the Dutch made the Netherlands. But not all places and their heritages fared equally well.
Postscript I: On the last train segment, out of Amersfoort, a conductor stared through the door glass into the next car and into his radio whispered something ending in "problempje": little problem. The next thing I know, seven NS employees are wrestling a big passenger to the floor. He had no valid ticket, which is only a minor offense, but for some reason he felt imprortant to take these guys on. It happened right at my feet--I kept my bike between me and the excitement. At Hilversum station, they bodily throw him off, the police take him, the doors close, and the rest of us move on. The efficiency was startling.
Postscript II: Back in Bussum I realized I should have taken the south way home to avoid Cafe Cameleon's Saturday night mayhem, but things were strangely quiet and dark. No one home. Papers plastered to the windows. The very next morning on TV-NH, I catch the last few words of a report on Cafe Cameleon's fate, but I must have missed what really happened. Could be anything. One's imagination runs wild...
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