If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

dscn4089.jpg(I never saw the 1979 movie, but the title stuck with me.) On Wednesday, the 12th of July, Marianne and her husband Hans had invited me to dinner. I spent the morning waiting for the rain to stop. After lunch in my room, I rode to the Mauritshuis palace, officially the “Royal Picture Gallery”. I planned to visit it, the Escher Museum and take pictures of the Binnenhof (Parliament) and maybe another museum. The plans fell apart quickly.

DSCN4085The Mauritshuis sits in the canals of Den Haag, with its entrance below water level. Only the Dutch could build a palace in the water, with the ground floor underwater and not have leaks and mold everywhere. DSCN4086Built by the Governor of Surinam, this remarkable building became a museum in 1821, and has since been the official repository of Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 17th-Century, the Golden Age of Dutch painting. With its grand staircases and rooms that were clearly apartments once, I could imagine the domestic design of its original plan. DSCN4095One room even reminded me of the Reggia of Caserta with its facing fireplaces, friezes, and gold leaf. All building of an age, I guess.

DSCN4088.JPGOf the 800 paintings in the collection, only two were by women, Clara Peeters and Judith Leyster. Of course, that is two more than I have ever seen in any other museum collection of that period. Naturally, the collection includes Vermeer’s famous tronie, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, as well as dozens of pictures that appear in art history textbooks around the world.

DSCN4099I was standing in front of a scene of the Garden of Eden, which Brueghels and Rembrandt painted together, when I first looked at my watch. I was going to be late for dinner! What museum: I sent a message to Marianne and quickly made my way out of the Mauritshuis. I would have to see Escher and the others another day.

DSCN4171The next day, I devoted to shopping and logistics, because I knew that the museums would be open on the weekend. In the same building 700 m from my AirBnB, I found Bever, the Dutch equivalent of a flagship REI or MEC store. They had the entire line of Ortlieb and Vaude panniers. The new 70-litre Ortliebs were not waterproof (a surprise, considering Ortlieb’s reputation is based on waterproof panniers), so I settled for the Vaude rear panniers. Not only were they made in Germany, they held 8 litres more than the competition. I was getting top quality and more storage than I had. The terrible Thule panniers will go back to MEC.

DSCN4103Downstairs, I walked into the Hans Struijk Fietsen, a bicycle store the size of car dealership. There I met Kayborn, who patiently worked through all my questions, and dug out things that I had admired or wondered about for years: lights, USB chargers, dynamo systems, kickstands, wheels, racks and locks. I bought a new chain, a set of front panniers that matched the Vaude panniers that I had bought upstairs, and had an Abus low-rider rack installed. Before I left Den Haag, I would have a new cassette installed also. The wrench, Ruben, was such a perfectionist that he also adjusted derailleurs, cleaned my bike, and checked and tuned all brake and gear cables.

DSCN4107Saturday, I rode to the Escher Museum, but found that it did not accept my Museumkaart.

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Instead, I went to see the Binnenhof, then rode past the Peace Palace and the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is the modern successor to Courtroom 600 in Nürnberg.

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I carried on to the North Sea at Wassenaar, which my stepmother, Jan, had recommended. I had lunch on the beach. I am glad that I rode the 40-km circuit to that charming seaside resort. Wassenaar is the kind of town I could settle down in.

DSCN4130Sunday, I set aside for a day-trip to the Rijksmeum, the official Royal Museum of the Netherlands. With the train station only 700 m from my apartment and the museum an easy streetcar ride from Den Haag Centraal, it was like a local visit. Before going into the Rijksmseum, I met with my friend and colleague, Carol Stennes, in the museum café.

DSCN4135The Rijksmuseum houses all the great paintings that are not at the Mauritshuis. Recently renovated, the museum features a Gallery of Honour, which runs the length of the second floor. DSCN4147On the sides are the greatest paintings of the Golden Age, and the whole Gallery leads to the Night Watch by Rembrandt, which dominates a room of other large Militia group portraits. I enjoyed the stained glass windows of the great Dutch artists, and some of the curiosities elsewhere. The Rijksmuseum has over 1,000,000 pieces in its holdings, so what is on display has to change regularly, to allow them to rotate through it all.

DSCN4132Monday, the 17th, it was time to say goodbye to Den Haag and hit the road again. The sun shone brightly all day, and a tailwind sped me south, over the smooth bike paths and among the throngs of holiday pedestrians in the coastal towns. I pulled into a campground at Renesse, which charged EUR 31 for a tent by myself. If I had not checked and learned that the worst accommodations in town cost more than EUR 100, I might have been upset.

 

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To its credit, the campground had a fully stocked Spar supermarket with a camping section. I found something I have always wanted: an adaptor cable that goes from the unique campground receptacle to a standard European 220V receptacle. I also picked up supper, breakfast and lunch.

Tuesday the 18th of July, I set out under darkening skies and a stiff headwind. DSCN4160For the first time in months, I was able to leave without breakfast, which I had during my first break. Now that having breakfast included in the room rate is the exception rather than the rule, I should be able to do a fasting ride before breakfast more often.

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Middelburg, on the last spit of land in the Rhine Delta, was a pleasant place, with much downtown construction, but I was able to have lunch by the canal, on the steps outside a Domino’s Pizza.

DSCN4162On the coast, each town along the way was packed with summer people, clogging the bike paths and streets, and weaving around in four-person pedal vehicles. It took my utmost concentration not to run over the children with motorized karts and toddlers weaving in front of me. Between cities, however, I enjoyed long stretches of open space, often riding on a dike or dam. DSCN4158There was construction on the dual carriageway N-57, which led to an island and then back to the mainland: in typical Dutch fashion, one carriageway carried both directions of motor traffic, whilst the other carriageway was for pedestrians and bicycles. This was for the entire length of the highway to and from Neeltje Jans, although only a small part of the roadway was affected by the work. In other countries, the job site would have been crammed into as small a space as possible, and the motor traffic would have been detoured with as short a lane shift was possible. Of course, no provision for bicycles or pedestrians.

I crossed into Belgium in the late afternoon, and found my way to the border town of Knokke-Heist. A very reasonably priced (EUR 12) campground was hiding behind a French fries joint. Nestled between the river, the massive container port of Bruges, and a highway, I expected it to be noisy, but I was assigned to a pleasant row of tents sheltered by a high hedge, and completely quiet at night. After a shower and with the laundry hanging, I set out my supper at a picnic table, and shared an evening of interesting conversation with a French cycle-tourist named Daniel.

After almost three months since leaving Italy, it felt good to be in a country where I could read the signs and understand the language.

Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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