Under an overcast sky on the 4th of July, I rode to the Hauptbanhof in Köln (Cologne) and caught a Regional Express to Düsseldorf. Before checking in, I rode to the river, where I wanted to see the modern architecture on the waterfront.
Düsseldorf, a major industrial center, was practically levelled during World War II. Consequently, it has re-tooled itself as a center for modern architecture and design. The Neuer Zollhof is a set of three buildings designed by an American, Frank Gehry, as part of the redevelopment of the port area. Across from the slip are the Hyatt Regency and more whimsical designs.
The Hotel Antares was simple and comfortable, providing the rest I wanted, and a place to lay out my trip to the coast. The next morning, I was on the train to Rheinberg, anxious to get riding again. By skipping Duisburg, I caught back up to the dates that I had given my Couchsurfing and Warm Showers hosts along the way. I also skipped the industrial complex where the Ruhr River meets the Rhine.
From Rheinberg, I rode Highway 57 (the radweg next to it, actually) to the old village of Xanten. Jan DeBaere and his three active children welcomed me. Jan has built a small paradise of childhood memories in their backyard: treehouse, trampoline, inflatable pool. The twins and the older sister had friends over and the air shimmered with the delighted squeals of play and sharing.
The next day, I set out downstream again. For days now, I had not really needed my maps or software, the paths being so well marked. I had planned to cross the Rhein at Emmerlich and ride to Arnhem from the German side of the river, but when I saw the industrial sprawl on the other side of the bridge, I decided to stay on the left bank. At Milligen aan de Rijn, I left Germany and had lunch in the Netherlands. Almost immediately, I saw my first historic windmill, across the fields from a modern windfarm. Later I would learn that the Dutch railway system has almost no carbon footprint: all its electricity comes from wind power.
A big shout out to Hanny and Robert of Kekerdom for taking me in on same-day notice, when I failed to connect with my intended host in Kleve on the German side. Hanny’s daughter is an artist and a traveller, and she was on her way out when I arrived, which freed up her room for me. They have five dogs, two horses and a u-pick berry farm, and everyone has a day job. Robert works for KLM, so the family also travels a lot. What a busy, fascinating and invigorating group of people. They are fixing up their centuries-old home in the village of Kekerdom. Over supper, they convinced me to spend some time in Nijmegen, which is on the way to Arnhem.
Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands. The Batavians occupied this area, where the famed Tenth Legion, the Gemina, established an outpost at the edge of the Roman Empire. It sits on a cliff, the end moraine of the Ice Age glacier that used to cover Europe. Here the Romans faced off the Franks on the other side of the river. The X Legion was stationed there until 104 AD, when it was transferred to Vienna. As the Roman Empire shrank, the Franks moved in, and became the Merovingians. Charlemagne had his headquarters in Nijmegen, From there, the Merovingians moved south. I guess in a way, France was the first Dutch colony, though no Frenchman would admit that today.
The museum held a delightful collection of art by local artists. It also contained a wealth of interactive exhibits, making it ideal for the half-dozen school visits going on while I was there. A picture window wall gave me a view of the river from the cliff where the Romans must have watched.
After lunch in the square outside the museum, I crossed the Waal, the largest of the three rivers into which the Rijn (Rhine) breaks up at Milligen. This gave me my last full picture of the Rhine. The bikeway took me to Elden, a suburb of Arnhem, where I would stay for three nights.
Arnhem and its surroundings are above water level, perhaps destined to be oceanfront property in the next century. That means that not everything was flat, but I did not venture into the hilly territory northwest of town. After I settled in, my host, Monique, rode with me to the big Decathlon store in Rijnhal, between Elden and Arnhem. I left my bike to have a new chain (correct size) put on, the drive train cleaned and checked, and the cables and gears checked. Tim, the senior “wrench” at Decathlon gave me a loaner for the weekend, which I had trouble riding. It had coaster brakes, which took some getting used to, after more than 60 years of freewheeling derailleurs.
When we got home, Monique insisted that I borrow her bike. She had another bike she could use. That evening, we rode to a food festival, where the restaurants in Arnhem had erected food stands. It was high-class dining in a festival atmosphere. We enjoyed the music as we ate. Monique knew the drummer, a friend of her daughter.
On Saturday, Monique showed me the Water Museum, the historic center, and the library, from the top of which I photographed the cathedral (I see a lot of scaffolding in my travels) and “Party Animal”, a statue of a pink aardvark with a party hat. We had a drink by the Nederrijn (the second-largest of the delta rivers), then we rode back.
I must give a super-big shout-out to Monique as a host, and as a physical therapist. PT’s in the Netherlands receive more training than their colleagues in the US. She was able to detect misalignments, adjust my stretches and exercises to something more useful, and provide me dietary advice to help rebuild my arthritic hips. After a two-part, one-hour consultation, I was already able to get up easily after sitting for more than 20 minutes. I have more progress to make, but at least I am feeling better every day. It was the best money I have spent since leaving Formia.
Sunday, there was a world music group performing in Ede, about 18 km away. Monique loaded her bike on the car, and we went to see her friend Margery and Margery’s son Matthew. We all rode to the park for the concert, where the feature band was ti-an-guis. Lead singer was Croatian, percussionist Spanish, bassist Greek, lead guitar Spanish and second guitar Mexican. They played a fascinating collection of songs from a half-dozen countries, usually mixing genres in serendipitous ways. After the concert, we rode back to Margery’s for supper.
On Monday, Monique had to go to a job. She freelances at banks and insurance companies – companies big enough to offer her services to their employees as a health benefit. I wish more American companies would offer health maintenance along with sickness insurance. Monique’s son, Jesse, who has been busy preparing for exams, rode the Decathlon loaner back to the store with me, then rode his mother’s bike back after I picked up my bicycle. I also bought a new pair of Shimano bicycle shoes to replace my falling-apart Mavic shoes.
Back at the house, Jesse went to the gym, while I loaded my panniers and let myself out. It was a sunny day, with a steady headwind, which was stronger on the top of the dyke. I marveled at the Dutch idea of a road: a narrow strip in the middle for cars, and a generous bike lane on either side. When two cars meet, one must wait if it is following bicycles, because it has to cross into the bike lane to let the oncoming car come past.
Fortunately, I was not planning to ride far, but when I pulled into Maurik, some 37 km downstream, I was ready to stop. The B&B aan de Limes did not look like much from outside, hidden below the dyke.
But inside it was a pleasant, cozy, and surprisingly luxurious property. I did not expect terry bathrobes and slippers, or a coffee/tea service in the room for the price. I slept like a log. At breakfast the next day, the owner slipped me a roll of sandwich bags, so that I could make a big lunch to take with me.
As I left Mauric, stiff headwinds pushed dark clouds at me from the Atlantic. The rain started just as I found a bridge over the river, under which I hid. It looked like the squalls were going to drive across the open countryside all day. I decided to head for the train station at Utrecht, only 18 km away, and skip Gouda.
The rain limited itself to sprinkling while I made my way to the ferry and into the city. I was even able to stop at a bench along the bike superhighway into Utrecht and eat my lunch. We rode through some showers leaving Utrecht. I got off the train at the Central Station in Den Haag during a pocket in the passing front. My initial shock of being back in a big city abated somewhat as I made my way along the separated bike paths and protected bike lanes. There were enough cars to make me realize that I did not like cities anymore, but I also appreciated the realization that there were far more bicycles than cars, and that each of those bicycles would be a car in a North American city of this size.
It was only 4 km to the Airbnb room that I had reserved. Soon I was unpacked, and riding to the supermarket to stock up for my stay in Den Haag. I was looking forward to the museums, to seeing my friend Marianne, and collecting the accumulated mail.
On Tuesday, 11 July, after 3 ½ months and 3,000 km, I had reached the North Sea and the Atlantic coast of Europe, the midpoint of River Run 2017. A very different ride lay ahead.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,