Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lingepad 6: Wamen to Echteld

Laantje naar Parijs, Echteld
Leerdam-Buren Photos
Buren-Ochten Photos

Easter Sunday, April 8 --

Our ferry didn't make its first trip until one in the afternoon, so we whiled away the morning, Easter morning, with -- what else -- a little walk, say three or four kilometers, from our hotel down to the town of Wamel, stopping to inspect the empty church and its churchyard, then walking the dike road and through pastures back to the hotel.

We'd been warned that Wamel was nothing much. And, indeed, it was nothing much. Nothing much more than a conventional Dutch small residential town, with three or four businesses (bakery, grocery, electrician, something else), all closed; and of course the Dutch Reformed Church, brick like all the houses, austere, pretty.

A young couple was tending a small grave as we entered the churchyard -- a pathetic sight; one doesn't like to think of childhood deaths. They puttered about the flowers at the headstone, and then stood there silently side by side, arms around one another's shoulders; and then next time I looked they were gone. At another part of the graveyard was another child's grave, a fresh one, with toys, plastic decorations in gay colors, stuffed animals.

Looking for a footpath down by the Maas we walked down a country road toward what seemed to be an abandoned brick factory, only to find it was being used apparently as an artist's studio and residence. Squatter? No idea. No footpath, either, so we retraced our steps to the dike road. Conversation with an old lady on a bike. Step aside to allow a tractor-drawn tourist bus pass; only one passenger, young, Dutch, reading a magazine.

We took the ferry back to Tiel and stopped in a cafe for lunch -- a modest lunch for the girls, but a lovely uitsmijter for me: a slice of bread, a little butter, a slice or two of ham, a slice or two of good young Dutch cheese, three fried eggs, sunny side up. Pickle relish, of course, on the side; and cucumber, and lettuce, and tomato -- with a short beer, a perfect lunch.

We left Therese and Grace at the railroad station and continued on the road to Echteld, which required leaving the designated Lingepad, since the town is off route by half a kilometer. Impatient, I misjudged the map and led our party through a pasture, a small herd of curious horses following us. We came up to an impassable ditch and turned back. The horses had lost interest in us halfway to the ditch: they must have known we weren't leading them to freedom.

On, then, to the louchest hotel yet, Het Wapen van Balvaren. "Wapen" means "coat of arms," and names like that are common among provincial hotels in this country. Balvaren is, I suppose, a local place-name: thus Het Wapen van Balvaren; Balvaren Arms.

The joint was closed when we got there. Nothing in town but a few houses, a bus stop, a church, a castle, and the closed hotel. None of the doors gave. Giovanna, however, bless her heart, noticed an envelope with "Fam. Shere" written on it, sitting almost invisibly on a desk in a corner. She tried the door: unlocked. Inside the envelope, a key.

We'd asked for a room with three beds, but our room had only two. We checked other rooms: all had unmade beds. I found a sign somewhere suggesting that in emergency the deskclerk could be reached at a cell-phone number, but when I tried there was no answer. We sat and stewed, and finally my phone rang: the hotel manager was on the line, was there something wrong?

I asked for three beds, I tell him, There are only two. It says two in the computer, he says. Did you talk to me, or to the girl? To the girl. Oh, well, he says. I'll find another bed.

In fifteen minutes, looking a little sweaty, he proudly showed us a room with two beds, one freshly made, the other stripped. Anything else? Yes, I said, it would be nice to have some tea. Oh, well, we're closed; there's a bus to Tiel, you can get anything you want in Tiel, it's only ten minutes by bus.

Niets te eten, niets te dranken. It won't hurt us, especially after the regulation huge Dutch breakfast, and a three-egg uitsmijter. But it is annoying. We take a little stroll around the castle, past the Laantje naar Parijs which by no means leads to Paris, and so to bed.

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