Beers and bikes and borders

Lloydminster is not the bordertopia I once thought. Many years ago I worked at a radio station on the Alberta side, and would finish my show prep with enough time to walk to Saskatchewan for a beer, then zip back to be on air. I loved that about Lloyd. Crossing a major jurisdictional divide without leaving the city, twice in the same hour — it seemed like magic!

The bike path border between Belgium and Holland

This morning, less than an hour after checking out of the most northerly Best Western in Belgium, I must have crossed international lines a dozen times. Inside Holland’s border (proper) there’s an area that centuries ago was divvied-up in a series of land swaps, treaties and sales between Dutch Dukes and Belgian Lords. As a result, Baarle-Nassau (Holland) is infected with bits of Baarle-Hertog (Belgium), even though most of the latter municipality is several kilometers away, inside Belgium’s border (proper). It’s a cluster of organized silliness, but it sure makes for a more interesting ride to be diving in and out of countries every 500 meters.

I didn’t stay for photos because I was intent on making up the distance I felt I should have covered Monday, and the the Bels Lijn out of Turnhout was very accommodating.  Getting to Tilburg, some 33 km away, was easier than Lionel Ritchie on a Sabbath foreday.

The paths here actually are nicer than the routes Belgium so impressed me with. There are some brilliantly manicured and coiffed fietspaths that go nowhere but straight for miles. Cycling flat out through a North Brabant downpour is a glorious way to start a day.

Despite the well-kept trails I managed to log my second flat this afternoon, near the town of Boxtel. 20 minutes of backtracking on foot to find an open WiFi signal, then 20 more to locate a repair shop that deals with tubes for touring bikes and I was ready for a beer.

That was a mistake.

Firstly, it was Heineken, and even telling myself that everything tastes better in its native environment only masks so much. The only other beer available was Maes, a Belgian Pils, also owned by the third largest brewer in the world.

The saddest bier fridge in Holland

But the brand of brew wasn’t the real problem. Neither was the incredibly smoky barroom (yup, still happens here). Nor was the shit playlist that ranged from Brandon Flowers’ kinder-lyrics to Dutch waltzes.

The really big mistake was that I counted on Nederlandse Spoorwegen.  The national rail service, again, decided my bike was more obstacle than necessity, and sent me off not one, but two trains, connecting me through Utrecht, rather than proceeding directly to Nijmegen. The rules here state that bikes are only permitted on trains outside rush hour (it’s comical, what the Dutch consider “rush” hour), and had I not stopped for that one green bottle, I would have boarded ahead of peak commuter traffic and made Arnhem too early to get my room. Either way, thanks to NS, I was assigned a nice spot in a deluge, supporting my bike until after 6:00 p.m.

By the time I finally got to Arnhem, the rain was coming down harder than an abandoned meth fiend. It took me about ten very uncomfortably wet minutes to find an open WiFi signal (updating Google Maps to local bike routes), but fortunately only about five to ride to my temporary abode. 

The best part: I’m staying on a Gaudi-inspired houseboat on the Rhine (Gaudi-aan-de-Rijn). My room has floor-to-ceiling glass doors on two sides and a domed window above me that probably measures eight feet in diameter. Moeder Natuur is putting on a stellar performance right now, and from this side of the glass I’m applauding.

Outside my window

I’ve got Duvel in a glass and Dumas on my tablet, so I’ll be saying “welterusten” shortly.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll be visiting a Canadian War Memorial / burial site not far from here.

Tot morgen!


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