Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lingepad 9: Hemmen-Osterhout

En route to Oosterhout
other photos:
Leerdam-Buren Photos
Buren-Ochten Photos
April 11--

A nice conversation with our hosts this morning. They took this place a couple of years ago; they only make the rooms available from time to time, since they do a lot of traveling themselves. A son is working in Spain, where he's building a house; they go there often, more than once by bicycle. They used to travel often in Asia, especially Indonesia and Southeast Asia, but it's too dangerous now. Mevr. Janssen is fluent in Indonesian; they like it there; but it's too dangerous.

Hemmen is a nice little place to live. There's not much to it, but the next town, Zetten, has just about anything you need, and it's not far -- we walked there last night for dinner, in fact, at a pizzeria: ok until a collection of yobs and goths came in, boisterous and in-your-face and endlessly smoking; but by that time we were about finished with our pizza anyhow.

We walked back through Zetten this morning, and then after a kilometer or two hit the first deviation from our Lingepad guidbook as it was published nearly ten years ago, a sizable detour adding at least a mile to the day's walk, a detour occasioned by the new railroad line we've been crisscrossing. It is apparently a high-speed line, with state-of-the-art signals and extra turnouts and sound walls along the entire length of the line, from the Europort in the west, near Rotterdam, all the way to the German border and, for all I know, on beyond there even.

Yesterday, as we crossed it on an overpass, Hans explained that it was very controversial: it will carry nothing but freight, hundreds and hundreds of containers of imports from China; it was extremely expensive to build; no one wanted it in their neighborhood, with its waste and its noise and pollution and energy demands. It came in far over budget, of course, and long past its due date. And it's not in operation yet, because of hundreds of lawsuits and objections, all of which have to be debated and analyzed and mediated and, probably, finally, tried. And it's all there just to move freight into Germany.

I wondered if the Hanseatic League had to put up with this sort of thing, five hundred years ago. Typical Shere Question, Hans undoubtedly thought.

This morning Mr. Janssen returned to the New Railroad theme, and his report was remarkably similar to Hans's. But as far as we are concerned the chief impact is a two-kilometer deviation in today's walk, taking us at first past a number of houses under construction -- eight or ten of them, huge, in the traditional Dutch style with two storeys and a capacious hip roof and room for a garden of topiaries out front and a pasture of Shetland ponies or goats or geese out back.

I'd read about the detour on the Lingepad website, and between the description and the map it wasn't too hard to figure out, so we didn't lose a lot of time. We soon rejoined the published itinerary, passing an honors-pay stand of little potted plants (with a sign offering also a couple of free hens, one small, one big, ask within); and a small apple orchard one tree of which had recently been blown over but was nonetheless in full bloom; and a fine white old-fashioned windmill, the kind with a tall gable-roofed twostorey house balanced on a stubby cone-shaped base, with a long outrigger by which to shove it around to face the wind, and a staircase leading up the outrigger, and four enormous arms, their sails furled for the moment but obviously ready for work.

And then, in the distance, the steeple of the Oosterhout church, another Romanesque-looking brick one; but first more outskirts, with long low barn-houses whose doors and shutters are painted mauve or blue or dark dark green with those marvelous hard, glossy Dutch enamels; and lanes across pastures, or within woods; and then, just when we can't bear waiting any longer for lunch, we come upon a completely unexpected thing: a very fine restaurant up on the dike, next to one of those European camping-grounds meant for crowds of tiny camper-trailers.

I will write separately one of these days about our restaurant experiences on this trip: it'll be a little specialized, I suppose, of interest only to fines bouches and foodies. Suffice it for the moment that De Altena is the best restaurant of this walk so far, and I don't imagine it will get much better. (I don't count Amsterdam's Marius in this, of course: first, it's not on the walk; second, Marius is always hors de question, outside any comparison.)

We sat, the three of us, on a terrace overlooking the Waal, the river we've been flirting with these last three days. (I refer to it occasionally in these dispatches as the Maas, but that is in error: it's the Waal, always the Waal.) We were waited on by two young women, one new to the job but enthusiastic and skillful, the other clearly associated with the place for quite a long time.

There was no choice of courses, simply a house lunch-menu -- though when I mentioned that I couldn't eat seafood with legs, namely crab, lobster, shrimp and the like, that seemed to pose no problem. And then we had a truly wonderful succession of courses: salmon tartare and a cup of asparagus soup; bread and butter and a curiosity: really good olive oil somehow gelled into a butterlike consitency for spreading; soft, creamy, delicate cod on a bed of mushrooms; duck breast on a grilled potato slice with a couple of spears of green asparagus; panna cotta with raspberry coulis, chocolate sorbet with cracking-sugared hazelnuts, and a traditional Dutch cookie made elegant with chocolate and marzipan. Oh: and a fine white wine from Languedoc, and a red from Puglia, and delicious coffee.

All this left us with little to do but walk another kilometer or two into town -- Oosterhout -- and fall into a bus that magically appeared at the very moment to take us to tonight's hotel, the Atlanta, in Nijmegen. And next time I'll tell you something about that hotel.

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