Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lingepad 4: de Neust-Buren

Our hotel, De Prins, in Buren
(See more photos from April 3-6 at

April 6, 2007 --

As Thérèse pointed out: two thirds of a fine walk bookending a tedious one. That was two consecutive stretches: a high road between two sloten, parallel ditch-sized canals, between two cow-pastures. The road was paved in caked dried mud, the wheel-tracks rutted by tractor tires, and the whole of it scarred by hooves: you have to watch continually lest you lose footing and turn an ankle. And when we came off that stretch we were on a paved country road with no sidewalk, footpad, or bicycle path; and though traffic was sparse, when it came it came absurdly fast.

Otherwise, though, a fine day. The breakfast at de Neust was delicious: fresh farm eggs, perfectly soft-boiled; three country cheeses including our favorite nagelkaas (aged Gouda flavored with cloves); fresh-squeezed orange juice; good coffee; bread fresh out of a home bread-machine; four jams (strawberry, quince, plum, redcurrant) made by our hostess's Frisian mam.

And a long conversation about farming, about the restoration of these buildings, about Slow Food, about immigration and globalism. And then we shouldered our backpacks and set forth, first through the neighboring village of Tricht, where we bought buns and cheese (an excellent cheese store), then along country roads, through pastures, along the edge of a wood. We met one couple sitting on the side of the path, the wife inspecting one foot, their restless Alsatian frisking back and forth, anxious to resume the trail.

We passed the big Haag, a fine 18th-century farmstead with an enormous barn and neat pastures for goats and milk-cows; and then the small Haag, an older barn turned into an antiques shop filled with old farm tables, armoires, lamps, silver and crockery. Good thing we're walking! And then another trail through another pasture; and then the middle stretch; and finally, on the outskirts of Buren, some really beautiful country: fens and marshes, with tall golden dry grasses standing on the shorelines, and willows, and hundreds of little green frogs, and swans, and lush green pastures, and a dense forest hiding a big pond filled with clear dark water.

Buren was the seat of Prince William of Orange, but the 14th-century fortified castle was dismantled through the course of the 19th century, stone by stone -- ransacked, apparently, for building material for the new peaceful era following the Napoleonic Wars. Of that castle only the footprint remains, turned into a nature-preserve with fine old chestnut trees and invisibly singing birds and the occasional pedestrian.

The rectangular town itself, is moated but now unfortified, and consists of one short main street along one end for the pannekoekenhuis, church, town hall (now a museum) and hotel; and a number of other streets for the houses. There are very few shops: commercial activity is in the outlying new town built up outside the moat. We walked around the town in the long twilight, admiring gardens, goats and geese alongside the moat, and the one great mill; and had pannekoeken for dinner, and then a coffee and applecake, and so to bed.

I post this little dispatch several days after writing it: we've been without internet connections until tonight, Wednesday, April 11. The inexpensive country hotels and B&Bs we patronize don't offer us telephones -- probably because they assume everyone carries cell phones these days. We do, of course; but ours doesn't offer a computer connection.

We're now holed up in a pretty nice hotel in Nijmegen, though, with internet access of sorts, so over the next three days I'll catch up -- I hope. Unless there are more interesting things to do!

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