Goedereede to Middelburg
Goedereede to Middelburg (in Red)
At 6:00am I was awakened by the crash of thunder and the drumming of rain on the slates outside my window. What an awful start to what I was anticipating as my most difficult day of biking on the trip! Today I had to cross two long bridge spans, one of which looked on the map to be very daunting.
After breakfast, however, the rain abated considerably. Bidding a fond goodbye, I apologized in my mind for having ever thought of this friendly hotel as a dog. I couldn’t get out of town, however, without being led by the nose to a bakery down the one little street of the town. Those smells were divine! I loved the bakeries in the little towns.
The bakery in Goedereede
I would have thought it impossible to be lost leaving this tiny town, but I managed to achieve the impossible. I made several abortive forays past industrial sites before landing on a road leading to the southwest, which at least was the correct direction. Gradually the rain stopped completely and there were the first signs of sunshine – something that I hadn’t yet seen while biking on this trip. The wind, however, was still very strong, and directly in my face. I had the constantly recurring thought that if I had used better foresight in planning, I would have been taking this journey in exactly the opposite direction. I would often see people on bikes sail past me in the opposite direction, with their feet barely working the pedals at all.
There was now a long narrow land strip, quite like a long bridge, connecting this region with the next lower peninsula. This looked awful, and it was.
The narrow land strip
The only thing that made this section bearable was avoiding the marked bike path shown above in favor of a smaller path to the left, which was in the lee of the wind. Every now and then there would be a “swoosh” and a biker would zoom by me in the opposite direction going about a hundred miles an hour. Well, I exaggerate, but that’s how it seemed. Was anyone going my direction, I wondered?
Finally reaching the other side of this strip, I encountered a campsite, where I turned in to search for a coffee break. I had earned one. Sure enough, there was a little snack shop.
The campsite snack shop
There was a friendly young man behind the counter. It didn’t look like a place for coffee, and I studied the various little foods behind the counter. Nothing looked familiar. He tried to sell me various things, and decided that the best for me would be the Dutch version of a hot dog. He claimed that this was delicious. It was a sausage roll with mayonnaise, onion, and curry. I wasn’t sure about this, but I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I agreed. He warmed it up, and anxiously watched me eat it. Actually, it was pretty good, but even if it hadn’t been, I would have had to pretend that it was. In chatting some more I discovered that he was a computer science major from Eindhoven. I said that I had visited the Philips Labs there several times, hinting that I knew what I was doing. However, he seemed most incurious about who I was or why I was in this deserted place with a bicycle. Was everyone in this country studying computer science, I wondered?
Back on the bike again, I ride towards the southern shore of this land, and my dreaded appointment with the Delta bridge span. The sun is now shining brightly, and for the first time I don my sunglasses. After a while the bike path turns into a dirt path that is shielded from the wind. Except for being careful about rocks and pools of water, this is very pleasant biking.
The dirt path
Reaching the southern shore, I see the dreaded bridge far to my right. The bike path goes along the shore leading to the bridge, with sheep grazing on the landward side. I stop and “baa” at the sheep. They answer me, understanding this conversation. Apparently, “baa” means the same thing in Dutch as in English.
There are some other bikers picnicking on the grass at the edge of the water. If not for the wind and the looming bridge, this would be an idyllic site. I see a refreshment stand along the path, with a number of bikes parked outside, and I stop for a coke, enjoying the cold drink at an outside table. There is a cupola next door, something akin to a small astronomical observatory, in which there is a large wind vane. I watch the vane oscillate around a direction that I know is a bad one. On the wall is a chart showing the wind velocity each day during the month. I see from the chart that the wind has been consistently strong for a number of days, but that it has actually been somewhat worse earlier in the month. How could that be?
It seems to take forever to get to the bridge, as every time I think I’m there, the path turns inland and around, and momentarily the bridge disappears from view. Finally, though, I am there on the ramp up to the bridge. This is the famed Delta project that has been a national endeavor for perhaps 25 years in an effort to control the flooding in the country. In Holland I am always conscious of the importance of water and water control. My Michelin guide rates this as a 3-star tourist attraction – one that is “worth a journey” to see. However, the Michelin guide undoubtedly thinks that you will drive a car there. I don’t imagine anyone who writes this guide has actually tried to bike across this 3-star attraction. They might take it out of the book.
This project consists of about a 7-mile span, with several artificial islands connected by bridge/dams that house giant barriers that can be raised or lowered to control flooding. I took this picture alongside one of the stanchions containing such a barrier.
The Delta span
Incidentally, you can see that this is a separate road along the dam, just for bikes. You can also observe the windmills, pumping away. By their orientation it is apparent that the wind is from the upper right in this picture – partly in my face, and partly across from right to left. As I would bike past one of these stanchions, the wind would suddenly be blocked, and I would almost fall over because I would have been leaning so strongly into the wind. Then biking past the stanchion, the wind would abruptly hit me again, and almost throw me over in the other direction. I know that I sound obsessed by this wind thing, but – well, you just had to be there!
The bridge seemed endless. I loved the stanchions for the momentary wind blockages, but there were long portions without stanchions when the pedaling would be awesomely hard. While I was taking the picture here, two older men on bikes came along. Their bikes were loaded with camping equipment, and they stopped to talk. They were Germans from Hamburg on a biking vacation. One of them spoke broken English, while the other seemed only to speak German. I thought again of how difficult it must have been to camp out in this cold, rainy weather.
At midspan there was a large exposition site – the Delta Expo. Unfortunately, here the bike path routed me down, under, and across to reach this center, and didn’t really give me a choice of not stopping there. Anyway, I went inside the expo and had a cappuccino and one of those apple thingamabobs. There was a movie about the building of the Delta, and you could tour one of the barriers, but this would have been expensive and time-consuming, and I had far yet to go.
I had a moment of confusion here, as there was a sign saying “bike path” and another sign right next to it, saying “no bikes”. These things happen. But again I got routed around a circle to regain the bridge and begin again the routine of wind, no-wind, lots of wind, pedal, pedal. It’s one of those times when you don’t even look ahead to see where you’re going; you just keep pushing your legs and you become some kind of bike-robot-zombie.
Well, all good things come to an end, and eventually so did the bridge. In my dreams I’m still there. As I see the far shore approaching I consider getting down and kissing the land, but I am too tired.
After the Delta bridge the biking gets easy for the last ten miles to Middelburg. The sun is out, and the wind seems muted. There is a pleasant bike path, and the scenery is relaxing, such as this windmill.
The path to Middelburg
Biking into Middelburg I follow the signs to “Centrum”, which is a nice European designation that we lack in America. Imagine coming into Los Angeles and seeing signs to “Centrum”!
Anyway, here is the centrum of Middelburg, where there is an old and famous state house on the main square.
You can see the remains of the market from earlier in the day. It is now dinnertime, after a long, long day’s biking. My hotel, the Grand Hotel du Commerce, is located on the edge of town across from the train station.
At the hotel I ask for a recommendation of a good restaurant. I feel awkward doing this, since the hotel’s own restaurant is right there in front of me. But the clerk recommends an expensive French seafood restaurant on the main square. I wonder how he could guess that I could afford it. Sometimes coming into hotels on my bike, looking sweaty, and unpacking my dirty panniers, I feel as if I might be turned away.
I walk the five blocks to the restaurant – forget biking! -- where I order a sole menieure that is exquisite. This is probably the best meal of the trip. Walking back to the hotel the sky darkens and it begins to rain. So much for the sunshine!
Proceed to next day's biking, Middelburg to Bruges
Back to Holland overview