Westelijk Noord-Brabant

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written Friday 11 June 2004

Westelijk Noord-Brabant

I had to get almost nasty about it, but my fietsreparatiebedrijf (bicycle repair shop) finally decided to fix the problem. The transmission just needed oil. Three things to say about this:

  1. I'm sorry to say this, but this experience was utterly typical of services in the Netherlands. While services in the US typically vary from company to company, in the Netherlands they seem to vary more from person to person, often in the same company. What got the bike fixed was: I found someone (gasp!) who actually wanted to (amazing!) to...fix the problem (oh my!). In shops here, at my job, in fact everywhere except the trains and better restaurants, they give just enough to get you to go away. No matter that you will have to come back later for the full answer or all the bike parts. If you go away now, they consider that they have done their job.
  2. The bike has a transmission. Like an automobile. It works spectacularly well. It is sealed against the environment. It also requires a technician to lubricate it. This time the technician did what I asked, and the noise went away. Imagine that.
  3. The third point requires a picture of the bike's drive train...

This is ten minutes after I started today's ride, from Bergen Op Zoom station. The chain is clean and oiled (I did that myself). Everything is connected, with standard parts--or is it? Look closely.

Yes, the bike shop repairman lost the little screw that holds together the bike-chain cover. So just 500 meters south of the station, the whole came apart while I was crossing a busy highway. Did he bother to find the screw on his shop floor, or to look for another one? Did he even tell me so I could find one? No--he just sent me off with a smile and a booby-trapped bike. So, by the side of the highway I found a soft twig of the correct diameter, and I simply twisted it into the threaded hole. Actually, it worked perfectly, and for the whole day.

Western North Brabant. It's noon, and I'm just getting started. Today's bike maps: small map HERE to fit on your screen, large map HERE (700KB) for detail.

Headed southeast to gain the Belgian border, I pass Woensdrecht military air station and quickly snap this picture between patrol cars.

And you can see that the weather is already turning wet.

A half hour later, it really threatens to storm, and I head to Essen train station, just over the border in Belgium. Stations are a great place to wait out storms--plenty of cover, no one bothers you, and usually there are drinks, a WC, a place to lock your bike, and sometimes food. Plus, you can just catch a train home, if things turn really ugly. Today, there was even another reason to go here: I wanted to scope out the station as an alternate end-point for the upcoming Monster Ride--Vlissingen/Breskens to Bergen Op Zoom. 155 km with no stations between. But Essen station is not inviting, they don't have a ticket automat for Dutch trains, and the ticket office closes too early to be of any use as an evening alternate boarding place.

The rain lasts an hour, as usual, and when I judge that the last wave of rain and wind has passed, I launch. The streets are wet, but at least I'm moving, first eastward along the curiously named "Over d'AA" then south down Helstraat, a sometimes dark, overgrown country road...

...with a few lovely surprises along the way.

Soon I approach the village of Achtmaal. Eight meals. I suppress the unkind notion that the Catholic mothers in this part of the world have to fix eight meals at a time. [23 June: OK, it actually means "eight times", not eight meals, as per Comments, below.]

Yes, this picture is for real. Tractor pulling on the fourth of July in progressive, urbane Achtmaal. I did not make this up. Oh, to be there: Photo Opp of the Decade. Too bad I'll be shaking off jet lag in Chicago.

And the weather continued to improve, and the wind strengthened from the west (yaay!), and I rode north then east then south then east again, tracing the Dutch-Belgian border and its characteristic razorback look. Farms, lots of farms. Most crops are just beginning to sprout, a very busy time for farmers, and today they're all out working to protect their livelihoods.

I had heard of this--killing a few pest birds and hanging them up as a warning to other birds--but here is the Flanders Catholics' special refinement: hanging them on crosses. "Vengeance is mine sayeth"...OK, OK, I get the freaking message, already. (just off Zigraeck, south of Ulicoten)

Soon I had reached a nice town named Baarle-Nassau (if you're Dutch) or Baarle-Hertog (if you're Belgian). OK, I should explain this.......but I can't. What this looks like is an island of officially Belgium territory within the Netherlands. Or maybe it's a joint-ownership town. The town's enter-exit signs had both names and both national flags, so that was no help. Shops, not wanting to alienate customers of either persuasion, were most often named Baarle, no suffix. I'm not sure what's going on here. Or why they have a Stationsstraat when there's no station within 20 km.) Strange.

Then it was time to head north to Tilburg and its station, but first a long, leisurely ride through some truly magnificent forests. It was impossible to be in a hurry here. The camera had trouble with the forest's deep darkness, but here's the idea:



I found Tilburg and the station. At the apartment I put the bike away and lugged my stuff up the stairs. I lay down and slept and dreamed all night of dark green forests.

posted by eric at 23.16 CET


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Readers' Comments

'Achtmaal' doesn't mean 'eight meals' but rather 'eight times'. 'Eight meals' would be 'acht maaltijden'.

Posted by: on June 23, 2004 08:18 PM

Oops. I guess the strong suggestive association overrode my Dutch-language skills.

Correction noted in the post's text.

Dank u wel!

Posted by: eric on June 23, 2004 10:23 PM

Dead birds. Hm... I remember that from bikerides to school when I was younger. I had to pass some farms along the way and I can easily recollect that odd sweet smell of decay from dead crows on a stick.

Posted by: Lars on June 29, 2004 01:03 AM
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