Monday, April 30, 2012

Netherlands - Water, Rain and Arnhem

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays. Click here for the Introduction.

45 Miles, Wednesday, August 17

We left on a wonderful tailwind, making our way along the narrow dikes between man made lakes. Brick houses with thatched roofs or red tile stand on the peninsulas, often water-bound on three sides. Each domicile has a bridge over a small canal to the road. Boats are moored beside each driveway. Andy said, “Your dad would go nuts. He wouldn’t know whether to go to work in the morning or go fishing.” I smiled. How true. My father is constantly in my thoughts when we’re pedaling beside water.

By mid-afternoon we cycled through downtown Utrecht. A storm hit and we holed up beneath the awning of a bicycle store, inspecting their wares. It’s interesting to see what bicycle equipment is sold in other countries. In Nederland there are so many types of racks and packs - likely because of the number of cyclists. Repair work tends to be cheaper too. In Den Haag my back wheel was re-trued and a spoke replaced, all for only $10 USD.

Typical morning drying out routine - if we can.

Andy and I dodged showers for the rest of the day, eventually settling into a nice campground in a forest. Tall poplars, oak, and locusts thrash in the gail while we make couscous beneath a sink shelter. When our friends claim they’re jealous of our trip, its days like this that I’d trade to be in the comfort of home.

55 Miles, Thursday, August 18

Under partial showers we head off. There are more forests in eastern Holland – it’s a pleasure to be back among the woods. 

Photo credit: Panaramio
As we tool along the fietspad (bike path) we often hear a put-put noise. Too soft a purr for a moped, it takes me a few moments to recognize the sound. By then a bicycle passes, but not by pedal power. A small engine is attached to the rear wheel. I can’t help but chuckle. Motor-assisted bikes!

Motorcycles are often allowed on the paths. By the time we hear them creep beside us they’re cruising by. Andy and I are surprised and end up wavering – a move that is both unnerving and dangerous.

Frostberg Bridge, Arnhem. Photo credit: globenotes

By noon we reach Arnhem – a city famous for the movie “A Bridge Too Far.” This September the city celebrates 50 years since the British army defeated the Germans. As we passed over the wide river on the edge of the city we thought we spied old army bunkers built into the banks. The bunkers have since been crowded by a bike path, fast traffic, and weeds. A dredging machine spouted sand into a container on the river bank while a sleek tourist boat docked on the waterfront. The old and the new coexist on this ancient city on the Rhine.

By mid-afternoon my energy lagged. I shifted into an easier gear. Andy mentioned the incline. Used to the flat Dutch countryside, the hills had snuck up on us.
Photo credit: I am Expat
At the crest of a rise, we followed the path through dense forest. Ferns sprang up in the undergrowth, their pungent fragrance reminding me of Oregon’s forest. After a couple miles we arrived in blessed sun-filled open farmland. Unlike the lower wetlands, farmers in this region irrigate crops.

Tonight we’re camping in WFT, a large campground of mainly permanent sites surrounding a small lake. The sky is powder blue, promising a crisp night. Andy studies the German section of our language book. We should be at the border tomorrow.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Northeast Branch Trail and Anacostia River

We camp in Greenbelt Park, only fifteen miles from downtown D.C. I leave for an evening cruise out the back road, blocked to motorists. The foliage is lush and damp. I chase a woodchuck for ten seconds down the asphalt, it's brown body galumping ahead of me before veering into the forest.

Northeast Branch Trail. For three miles, this gem travels past several parks before fusing into the Anacostia River Trail. Families were out strolling and exercising on the trailside equipment. I ring my bell at two tykes riding bikes with training wheels. The girl returns with a tentative ding of her own.

Along the Anacostia Waterway. Folks on the riverbank. Poles tipped in the water. It's leisure time. I recall rapids when I was here years ago, but the river level is currently low.

A smiling mom...taking photos, enjoying the evening air. Riding the man-made embankment. Wondering if it's easy to bike into the D.C. Mall area to see the sights. Tired of taking the Metro. But not feasible this vacation as I'm the only one with a bike. Dreaming of cycling the C&O Canal...

Oh yeah. I think I once took this bridge. It leads to a park on the other side. I bypass it this time to see what's on the alternate route.

Not used to the bumps, curves, and short uphills. I come upon a couple standing in the path, wavering in the middle. The camera in my right hand. Unable to brake effectively. Or ring my bell. Oh baby. I lost control and caught my front tire on the edge. It always surreal when I go down—how embarrassing. Left hand whacks the pavement. Bike crashes. Loud noise. Somehow I give with impact and still maintain a grip on the camera, holding it in the air like a hockey goalie after a crowd roaring save. Profuse apologies to the teenagers. Sorry to scare. Not stopping. They help me up. Profound thanks. They retrieve batteries that've fallen from my pocket. A quick body check. Tiny knee scrape. Thank goodness for leather palmed gloves. All is okay and I go on my way. Phew!

The return trip was uneventful. Really.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On to Washington D.C.

I visited one of my favorite sites: the American History Museum. Kermit the Frog, Dorothy's ruby slippers,and the famed Woolworth lunch counter are among our national treasures that were on display. I especially enjoyed the Transportation Movement exhibit which included a Chicago commuter rail car. Sit in the seats and watch a video of 1950's passengers getting on and off, and the conversation that ensues. Also of note: a hunk of Route 66 lined the walkway underfoot. There were lots of trains and classic cars (you'd have to ask my husband the models.)

But the predecessor of all the transportation movement, as we all know, was the bicycle.

Pardon the fuzzy photo.
There were two 1899 safety bicycles. The women's style was quite beautiful, full of shiny chrome. Of particular interest to me was how far we've come with the design and comfort of bikes, yet today women are taking to the step through frame again, especially for everyday life.

The men's drop bars are more narrow than conventional ones.

A 1950's Schwinn.

I did a double-take on this helmet—the only one on display. It's a 1977 Bell. I used this exact style in my teens. Anyone else recall this one?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hello Baltimore!

On a family vacation this week, we first stopped at Hershey, PA after a long day of driving. Then the following day was extremely wet, but we continued to Baltimore. It was too early to check in to the hostel. We braved the steady rain to eat lunch, then dashed into a nearby Barnes & Noble.

Stores in a renovated power plant.
You may ask why we travel all this way, only to step inside a store we could've enjoyed in our hometown? But therein lies the solution to a cramped car and squabbling siblings: familiarity. For an adult it's kind of like stopping at Dunkin Donuts for coffee while en route anywhere. What we didn't expect, was the bookstore's unique interior.

Just inside there is this view down a long corridor. The four circular shafts look like smoke stacks.

Indeed, they are! The outsides are covered in metal.

And elevators run up between them. My eldest son was captivated by the inner workings of the elevator, the gears and whatnot on display behind glass. Of course, there are the normal book shelves off to the side. It turns out that this store and many others reside in a renovated power plant on Baltimore's inner harbor. When we return home, I'm tempted to show these photos to Burlington's city officials as there is an abandoned electric department building on the shoreline.

Later we hunkered down in the hostel, watching the rain pelt the sidewalk. My husband and I have enjoyed hostel living and thought it would be an interesting experience for our boys. They enjoyed the free WIFI, a huge flat screen TV, and comfortable couches. I scored a free travel guide from the bookshelf that will help with planning the late summer adventure.

By now you're  probably wondering where cycling comes into all this...just wait.

Monday morning dawned with clouds (I get up early) and the promise of only showers for the day. On foot, we head down Charles Street.

We gawk like typical tourists. I like this FedEx store in a Bavarian style building squeezed among the towering stone and brick structures. The boys delighted in the steam escaping from manholes, even from one traffic light pole! It makes you wonder about Baltimore's underworld. In general, downtown reminds me of Boston with it's harbor and mix of historical and new buildings.

A quick visit to the visitor's center provided bike maps and this photo op. This type of bike rack is all over the city in various bright colors. Of course my attention was drawn to all the commuter cyclists, but the primary reason we went to Baltimore was to explore the science center and various other waterfront attractions.

After many hours we eventually walked back to the hostel. Then I scrambled to get my bike ready. By now I badly needed some time to myself. Armed with a bike map of Gwynn's Falls Trail I set out, but first had to navigate a couple miles of city streets. As with any city there are the unpleasant areas. In a light shower I covered a poor section with burned out and boarded up buildings. One painted sign read something to the effect of  "Help us. No more killing." I kept moving.

I eventually intersected the trail. And rode on a gorgeous paved portion along a river. The sound of water drowned the city noise.

Ah, finally a smile.

I was struck by how green the foliage is along the corridor. Buds adorn Vermont trees while here in Baltimore all the trees are leafed out. I spied and smelled fragrant locusts.

Wonderful historical signs highlighted the entire route. In the early 1900s the Olmstead brothers suggested that Baltimore preserve river land. Frank Law Olmstead planned Central Park in NYC and Mount Royal in Montreal—both of which I'm familiar with—so the name was a delightful find.

Cool trail markers.

Part of the trail is smooth dirt. I plugged through a couple wet areas, to be expected after yesterday's deluge.

I turned around after about four miles and headed back, but continuing on past where I first entered the trail.

There was a series of bridges, a bit slippery, but I took my time. The odd thing about following a creek in this section was there was debris hung up in the trees. Signage indicated flood hazards. I presume this area has flash floods, raising the river level.

Oddly, for two hours, I was the only cyclist.

I followed the signs toward downtown as it would bring me closer to the hostel. I didn't want to repeat the ride through the rough neighborhood. So, I went by Camden Yards, the gaslight plant, under an interstate, through tiny parks, by beautiful brick row houses. The true testament to a bike path's usability is whether someone new to the area can navigate by signs. The Gwynn's Falls Trail is pure delight.

I rode the last mile straight up Light Street. Glad I brought the bike.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Quirky Bikes

Each of my bikes has quirky characteristics. Over the years I've learned to adapt. I remind myself that bicycles are tools for transportation and treat them accordingly. Each steed is unique, though only the owner could put up with the individual eccentricities.

My Trek Antelope is the most dinged beauty, mainly because of it's history (see Around the World.) It's funky feature is the off-kilter position of its low rider rack. The loop was once perfectly centered over the tire, but yours truly hit a parked car in Florence. Sure, I could probably straighten the kink, but why bother? It functions just fine, though it is a constant reminder of my ghastly blunder.

Why would one intentionally stretch the seat post opening on a bike frame? I can't take credit for this one. The Ross was virtually free and I couldn't resist adding a step-through bike to my corral. I can't use the quick release in the traditional manner: the seat post slips. A mechanic informed me of it's enlarged opening. My solution? Remove most of the grease and reef the lever as much as possible. And do not loan the bike to anyone who must fiddle with the seat height.

And then there is my classic Miyata touring bike. The front fender clearance is so minuscule that the plastic is worn thin. I cannot raise it one more millimeter. It's been like this for years, even when going across the country. Gravel hitchhikes on the tire and scratches its way on the underside of the fender before it clears and rockets forward. When I ride, if the scraping noise is bothersome, I reach forward and gently lift the plastic. It's just enough to tweak its shape and quiet my ride. At least for a while.

While not exactly a quirk, this bike has a scar that bothers me. The seat stays and arc that holds the brake cable are pockmarked right down to the metal—courtesy of my brother who borrowed this bike for a jaunt around Portland in the 80s. Not a regular cyclist, he let the cable, and most tellingly the padlock, repeatedly whack the frame. I've never forgiven him. Just kidding (almost.)

What unique features characterize your bike?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Making Time

I've passed this cemetery for years. It's only 3 miles from home, but I never visited until the other day. I like old graveyards. Markers tend to display poetry, biblical sayings, beautiful borders and scroll work, and the most interesting names from a bygone era. So, while on a ride with my Italian friend I mentioned my misgivings as we, once again, passed the cemetery. She recommended we stop. So we did. And am I ever glad.

Behind the white metal fence is a mixture of marble and granite stones, dating to the early 1800s. There was Lucinda, Orphelia, and Elhanan Spear among many others in the same family. At least 15 of the markers were of the Spears, the street's namesake.

It was an epiphany, really. How many cyclists have never stopped to inspect this little gem? My friend hadn't. I spied a few "Barstows" also sprinkled through the little graveyard, another nearby street name.

Of course, folks died way too young a hundred years ago. This one choked me up.

Later, we came upon this spirited anemone, peeking above the detritus. Oh, happy Spring!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The FedEx Drop

Sometimes I carry a FedEx package home with me when I leave work. It saves the $5.00 pickup fee, keeps the truck from going 5 miles out of it's way, and the vehicle from screaming up the dirt road. There is a drop box on my route. It's a simple stop. Unstrap the package, open the metal door, pop it in, and bang, the hollow thumping sound means the delivery is on its way.

As with the way things work out sometimes, I also hauled a dozen eggs. My employers are budding farmers. They have the cutest chicken shed. Yes, the building is more cottage than slap-together wood structure. But that's beside the point. So everyday there's an abundance of eggs for only two inhabitants, so I've become the sole buyer of their eggs. Not bad for $3.00 a dozen.

So as I carried both items I realized that I'm not only a commuter, but capable as a delivery vehicle also, especially with two bungee cords always at the ready. It gave me great satisfaction to pull up to the FedEx box 10 minutes before truck pickup. But seeing that I must unfasten the egg carton too, I had to laugh. What would it take for a scattered-brained person (not me, of course) to mistake the egg carton for the package? Oh, the poor unsuspecting driver who unlocks the box...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Quiet

It's 8:30 a.m. at the coffee shop. I just waved away one son at his school—no kisses for a 10-year-old. Even if it's a drop-dead gorgeous morning I like to start off here, with solitude, the computer, and a tasty cup of mocha. I sit at a counter, keeping a watchful eye on my locked bike. It's also an opportunity to gawk at passersby. I peck away, blogging, researching information for this summer's European outing, organizing and ordering photographs of our kids (my own brand of annual school photo). I while away a couple hours then ride for a bit, doing errands or a loop that'll end at home. I am fortunate to do this twice a week. It's a sweet start to the day.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Netherlands - Heaven on Wheels

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays. Click here for the Introduction.

Monday, August 15

After Monique and Hugo set off for work Andy and I went to do errands: mail home the first journal, camera film, odds and ends that we picked up for mementos – mainly brochures, tickets, etc. I bought a lightweight pair of sandals to use at campsites, an alternative to the stiff and enclosed bike shoes that were my primary footwear. But we walked and mostly peeked in windows.  Businesses keep strange hours, some even shut down for lunchtime. Most are closed all day on Sunday and a sign on one shop stipulated that it couldn’t be open for more than 55 hours per week, citing government regulations. When I later explained to Monique that 24 hour shopping is quite common in America she said they have to buy groceries on Saturday because food stores close at 6:30 during the week.

It’s refreshing to be able to communicate in English with shopkeepers. Monique and Hugo speak a little German and French also. While the Dutch speak their own language amongst themselves - as we overheard between our friends - each student learns a second or even third language in school. Hugo and Monique said their university textbooks were in German and English.

Photo credit: Travel Pod
I am astounded at the number of bicyclists. The typical bike is a 3-speed. Women ride a women’s style frame, and often in a dress or skirt. Every bicycle has a very sturdy rack. It is quite common to see a second person propped on the rear. White or wicker baskets attach to the handlebars, carrying everything from groceries to little dogs. Almost all have rear saddle bags in shades of green, tan, blue or in some wild plaid or flowery pattern. Bicycles are king! Hugo says that most people own two – one for town, the other for the long ride. Along with generated lights, the bikes also have an additional “shield” attached to each side of the rear fender. Monique says it protects everyone who wears long coats.

Bikes in Den Haag (The Hague). Photo credit: Expat Explorer
And and I made homemade pizza for dinner. I loved making a mess in the kitchen, and of course I cleaned up too. Preparing a meal was the least I could do to repay our wonderful friends. We washed down the veggie pizza with a Dekonnig Dutch Ale. 

Photo credit; Agami
30 miles, Tuesday, August 16

By the time we finished up shopping we left Den Haag at 2 p.m. Following the bicycle signs, we headed east. We spent the afternoon following water, cycling along canals and lakes. Fruit trees are ever present and highly organized in short, but neat rows. Space is a premium in this tiny country of 15 million inhabitants, yet with similar land area as Vermont. Long greenhouses cover fields in between other crops.

Photo credit: ilovebreda

Apples are grown in Holland on short trees – head high. Unlike orchards in our native state, I imagine the fruit is much easier to harvest without climbing ladders. The Dutch like their apple pastries. Besides the torte with whipped cream that we gobbled in Amsterdam, there are apple tarts (turnovers), and appelstroop, a thick concentrated syrup spread that we’ve been using since Monique introduced us to it. It has a wonderfully rich and concentrated flavor, not at all like apple butter, and especially good on pancakes. In general, we are enjoying the bounty of less expensive food compared with France, and camping is a more reasonable $6-$8.

We end the day near Gouda (pr. Gowda). Surrounded by water, the campground is on a series of raised earthen “docks”. When kids run by our tent on our particular finger of land, the ground shakes like waves beneath an air mattress.

Beside us is an encampment of 10-12 year old boys, all with bikes. The last one pulled in at 8 o’clock and unstrapped his gear from his rack and removed his backpack. His parents cycled in to make sure he got set up then took off. I wondered if it was their first bike overnighter. Oh, to be a Dutch fly beside their tent… There are apparently so many bicycle tourers that there are specific stores that cater to bicycle vacations. And buses will cart people and their bikes all over the Netherlands, as well as France.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Jaunt on Spear Street

I tried to get connected with a friend for ride, but alas it didn't work out. I went on my own. I stopped at this sycamore tree. I'd driven by this white specimen for many years until someone identified it for me. They are not common in this climate.

Further on I took this half mile short cut. It's a pleasant diversion from pavement, made all the more special because of it's historical significance. This is the Ti-Haul Trail.

Photo credit: Harold Mock
A steamer, made in Shelburne in 1906, plied Lake Champlain's waters as a day ship until 1953.

My mother-in-law remembers this grand event.
In 1955 the massive boat was hauled overland 2 miles to where it's docked on land as part of the Shelburne Museum.

A visit to walk the restored steamer's decks, bunk rooms, grand staircase, and a peek at the engine and elegant dining room is a must for all Vermonters. On board, I never tire of watching the black and white footage of the painstaking process of towing this majestic boat. I didn't take in the museum on this trip. I played that reel through my mind as I pedaled it's overland route. I am thankful that the wonder of that ground voyage is now appropriately preserved as the Ti-Haul.

The other end of the Ti-Haul near Shelburne Bay.
I ate a snack at Shelburne Bay. Last year at this time the lake level was record high, closing this road. A tree is still toppled in the water. The white rocks in the foreground were added as buffer and ballast before road reconstruction.

On my way home I pedaled on a new path along Webster Road. It's wide enough for a car! But oddly it ends right before I climb a steep hill and it's an awkward crossing to the right side of the road before shifting into granny gear. I imagine that as a neighborhood connection it works pretty well. But like many routes in the area, linking one bike lane to another leaves unpleasant gaps with often dangerous merges with vehicular traffic. It's a common complaint from bicyclists.

At the top I take a breather to soak up sunshine and photograph the barn. Nothing like newly painted barn-red with white trim on multi-paned windows. I don't believe this is a working farm anymore. It lacks the animal aroma—if you know what I mean. I peek inside the open door but can't spy anything that gives away it's purpose.

Blooming forsythia adds a nice splash. In fact, this wonderful foliage colors much of my ride. I head home, missing my friend, but glad to have made it out anyway.