Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lingepad 10: Osterhout-Ubbergen

Nearing Nijmegen
other photos:
Leerdam-Buren Photos
Buren-Ochten Photos
April 12--

We'd checked into the Hotel Atlanta, right on the Grote Markt in Nijmegen, and gratefully unpacked our backpacks, and showered and changed, and were too tired to explore the town, and too well fed after that marvelous lunch at de Altena, so we had a simple meal in the hotel restaurant and turned in early.

And today we set out a little guiltily without packs (except for Lindsey, who was apparently in a Calvinist mood, but had nonetheless lightened her pack a bit) and caught a bus to yesterday's end-point. And we were once again a bit alarmed: like yesterday, of course, the bus took us through densely built-up suburbs, and huge tracts being built, and others just cleared. No Shetland ponies here. This doesn't look like promising walking.

But after getting off the bus, at the Oosterhout church, our path took us through a small, quiet residential neighborhood and then plunged us into the woods. I'm beginning to get familiar with the history of these regions: the land is owned for centuries by a baron or a duke, and little by little his family increases or goes into debt and bits and pieces are sold off, and finally the kasteel or manor house, if indeed it has survived wars and the rise of the republic, with whatever bit of woods and farmlands it's kept to protect it from the rising middle class, is turned over to a foundation (or perhaps a corporation, or indeed sold to a nouveau-riche, if such there are in The Netherlands).

And when a region is slated by whatever governmental planning agency is responsible for such things for further residential development, the old estate is kept under one pretext or another -- a nature reserve, or a park, or simply a Public Good that really shouldn't be destroyed. And the Long Distance Walking Paths, of course, are routed through such places, rather than the tedious tracts of lookalike homes and apartment blocks necessitated by a mobile, if not actually increasing, population.

So we walked through this wood, losing our way at one point because we stopped to photograph the manor house and overlooked a change-of-direction warning, but coming out of the woods at about the right point, only having to scramble up the grassy dike rather than walk up an easier access road, and come back in sight of the Waal.

And then it was an easy walk along the Waal, past a war memorial whose stones were being reset (I'd begin that job at the center of the circle and work out, I said, not at the outside the way you're doing it; That's why we're the ones doing this, the stonesetter answered, and you're the one standing there making a comment); into another quiet neighborhood with its closed cafés, up a few steps, and onto the immense Waalbrug, the first bridge to cross this huge river at this point, not built until the 1930s, promptly destroyed in World War II, and rebuilt by the Germans.

By the time we got across it was lunchtime and we stopped at the nearest restaurant, 't Poortwachterhuis. Easy to choose it: it was closer than the Museum café, our first goal; and a white-jacketed cook was leaning against the wall outside the front door enjoying the sun, and when I asked him how the kitchen was here, Good enough, he said, good enough for your lunch; so in we went, to find a wonderful old-style dining room: burnt orange walls, white-framed windows, lots of old furniture most of it bearing bottles and glasses and decanters and vases, sparkling white linen on the comfortably spaced tables.

There was, again, no menu; just a few suggestions from the waiter, a pleasant, tall, thin, blond young man who slipped easily between Dutch and English. We all had zeetong, sole, simply cooked in butter, served with a lemon and side dishes of the obligatory potatoes and other groentjes: broccoli, green beans, salad. Delicious.

And then on through a posh, interesting neighborhood perched on the bluff that forms the eastern border of Nijmegen, which sits high above the Waal; and down an improbably steep road to Ubbergen (whose name, I bet, originally meant "under the mountains," or something of the sort); and a short wait in a bus-stop shelter whose advertising window was being replaced by a CBS advertising crew, one guy who drove a VW panel truck, another in a Mercedes panel truck, both deft at their work but much slower when it came to talking about it and writing it up and all that when the job was done. (But then, it was too late in the day, past three o'clock, to rush on to another job.)

And before long the bus came and we headed back to Nijmegen to spend an hour or so in the Museum Valkhof, which Lindsey and I know pretty well but which would introduce Giovanna to the long and interesting history of this city.

We showered and changed, and walked down to the Vlaamse Brasserie for dinner -- I'd seen it yesterday, while looking unsuccessfully for a cable to connect my Palm to my laptop. (Yes, I'm carrying both. How did you think I was writing and uploading these things?) It turned out to be brash and noisy, of course, and a great deal of fun, with its open kitchen, its rushing waiters, and its complex menu. I had calf's liver and onions -- I never miss a chance to have it -- and a good salad and a passable house wine. There are other places to eat hereabouts, they told us at lunch yesterday; but today felt like a fast and simple dinner, especially after the slow and simple lunch we'd had. Time enough for gourmandise tomorrow.

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