Friday, April 13, 2007

Lingepad 7: Echteld-Pottum

Apple trees near Ochten
April 9--

Louche hotel, very louche. The director had expressly told us breakfast was from seven to nine, and we expected Tom and Judith to arrive early to join us on the walk. But we waited until nine o'clock for anyone to show up at the hotel. We weren't the only ones to wait: another quite disgusted couple wandered the halls as futile as we.

When finally the breakfastroom was opened it was cold, dim, and badly furnished with prepackaged food. And this was one of the most expensive hotels of the trip (outside of Amsterdam): but they did, at least, give us a break by charging only 25 Euros for Giovanna's room -- whose curtains did not fully close, and whose patio door never could be opened.

Oh well. Tom and Judith are so cheerful and enthusiastic we soon left the Wapen van Balvaren and its shortcomings behind, heading back toward the broad Waal. I must say much of the walk this day and yesterday was short of the best: we walk on a fairly narrow asphalt dike road with no shoulders, the banks dropping steep from the road on both sides. On our right, beyond fields or harbors or those curious round ponds called wielen (for their shape, the word meaning "wheels"), is the Waal, heavy with barge traffic; on the left, farmland in orchards or, increasingly, pastures, punctuated by the occasional house or farmstead or greenhouse-complex.

Fortunately, perhaps because this is a holiday -- Tweede Paas, second Easter Day, the Dutch favoring double holidays -- there is little traffic on the road. A few holiday motorcycles; an occasional car; very rarely a bus; fairly often a bicycle. It used to be passing cyclists would greet you, but these days they're often on the phone, or listening to an iPod. I greet them anyway, and they never fail to answer cheerfully.

In eight kilometers or so we came to Ochten, a small town right on the Waal. Here we found a fair-sized restaurant overlooking the river, where we all had a sea-salad: sardine, salmon, and tuna; with a slice of paté thrown in, along with all those obligatory vegetables: cucumber, tomato, lettuce, potato; and bread of course; and a glass of white wine -- it sounds like a jumble, described like this, but it all goes together so nicely.

And afterwards, tea and apple-tart in a curious garden-teashop we discovered on the main street. The garden was a long, narrow rectangle, subdivided into specialized areas: butterfly-garden, pond, succulents, herbs, and so on, nicely domestic, nothing really fancy. At the end, a place to sit under a sort of gazebo. As we sat there, Mevrouw approached to welcome us and invite us to her shop, where we had tea and home-made appletart. Fine appletart, and really exceptional First Flush Darjeeling, so good we bought a few bags to take with us.

And then we said goodbye to Tom and Judith, who took the bus back to their car in Echteld, and walked on another couple of kilometers -- in the wrong direction -- to tonight's lodgings, a couple of bedrooms upstairs in a farmhouse in Pottum, midway between IJzendoorn and Ochten and a kilometer north of the Waal.

The house stood a long way up Groenestraat: an apple orchard on our right as we walked, a new subdivision of houses on the left -- but an interestingly developed subdivision: the houses set fairly close together, but only one house deep along the street, leaving farmland behind. Apparently a farmer sold only a strip of land along the road, to accommodate the relentlessly growing population hereabouts.

Mevrouw Quint runs a very pleasant B&B. We rang the doorbell, and she called to us from the back door: this is a farmhouse, after all. We walked in through the kitchen, saying Goude avond to a second elderly woman apparently visiting her, and were shown the staircase, tight and steep with a handrail on one side, a post standing at the turn to grab for balance; and our rooms upstairs -- big rooms, comfortable, odd only in that our two beds stood the width of the room apart.

Mevr. Quint quickly saw and snatched up a pair of shoes I hadn't noticed, opened a closet, and stowed them. There's a German here too, she said, but he's in Germany; he'll be back late tonight. We realized quickly that there was a third bedroom upstairs; I don't know why his shoes were in here; probably because it's a larger room than his.

We were tired. We quickly finished the tea she provided, and a piece of gemberkoek left from breakfast, and an orange or so; and watched bats flitting about over the driveway this side the apple-orchard; and then we turned in. A curious thing: when I put my ear to the pillow I could suddenly hear very clearly the two elderly ladies' voices in the parlor below us. Another: the knots in the pine ceiling looked like eyes, or the wings of bats. And then, I guess, I fell asleep.

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