Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jeux Sans Frontières

One of my recent favourite hobbies has become crossing borders.
Living in Europe, I am lucky enough to have the possibility of doing it with no passport and without bribing the customs officers or digging a tunnel under barbed wire.
Saint Schengen may you be blessed.

Listen, I am not only crossing borders.
I am crossing borders by bike.
Pretty stupid to say, but quite interesting to do.

At the moment my best feat is going from France to Spain through the hostile Pyrenees.
Second comes a bike trip from Vienna to Bratislava in which I managed to get lost losing sight of that narrow stream called Danube. On that glorious August day I firstly reached the Hungarian border by mistake and then spent forty minutes convincing the zealous Slovakian policemen that I did not want to import any drug in Bratislava.

It took one year to fill the third step of the podium, but now I have another crossing experience to tell to unimpressed women in gallant conversations.

Ladies and Gentleman, I went from Holland to Germany.
Ja. Ja. (caught the difference?)

Well, honestly I just wanted to cross the river Waal by bike on the huge car bridge which overtops Nijmegen. But, you know, I have this tendency on complicating things.
Anyway, when it became clear that I was actually passing under the bridge I decided to go with the flow of cyclists ahead me. It turned out to be a good choice.

The Nijmegen countryside is in fact relaxing enough and the weather was perfect to enjoy a pleasant jaunt with no destination and a train return ticket to Utrecht safe in my pocket.
Cycling on the river bank I soon began to hum pastoral melodies solaced by the signs which informed me I was on the Ooij Fietsroute. Where (or what) is Ooij? I had no idea, but all those people on their familiar Batavus and Gazelle bikes pointing on my same direction were reassuring enough.

Now picture the following performers, please.

Straw hatted Dutches selling homemade honey along the way.
Mustard coloured horses pasturing on the sandy riverside.
Herons hidden by canes in ponds and marshes.
Human beings hiking, bathing, picnicking, viciously licking homemade honey from their fingers.
Passing barges carrying coal from a point A to a point B.

Done it? Thank you very much. That's easier for me.
Let's go further.

Next stop that town. Millingen aan de Rijn. A nice place built under the river bank. No more than a church, a couple of pubs, a butcher shop, a chemist, a kindergarten.
Hey, wait a moment! Aan de Rijn? Rijn, Rhine, Rhein, Reno. Whatever you call it.

What happened to my Waal?
Dazed and confused I opted for a rescue mission resolving to make a u-turn at the end of Millingen, the kidnapper of rivers.

But exactly when the town ends Germany begins.
And in a very low profile, I should say.
No flags. No billboards. No checkpoints of course.
I appreciate it. It's simple. It's practical. It's definitely European.
Just a street sign informs the neighboring Dutches on the speed limits of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

Before and after Millingen on a plane trees coasted road everything is identical. Except for a couple of interesting details.
a) as soon as Germany comes the fields are cultivated (corn, I guess)
b) there are cyclist friendly public fountains in the towns (at least in the first one I met, Kleve).

I am not going to judge Dutches, but I cannot resist to blame them for being tight relating to point b). I do not understand why with all the water they have in these Lowlands there are no public fountains as far as I can remember. (actually a deep throat told me there is a fountain in Amsterdam's Rembrandtplein, but I need to check this information).

Anyway, to cut a long story short. I went to Kleve. I drank German public water while eating Albert Hejn's bought stroopwafels. And then I came back to Nijmegen completely satisfied with my crossing borders hobby.

Once again, it is not my ambition to criticize Dutches, but why do they not have a single street sign informing that you are entering in the Netherlands? Does it cost too much?
Nevermind. Neverland.


Anonymous said...

I had fun reading this article. :) Do you really cross all these borders on a bike? I'm starting a blog too. But I haven't written anything proper yet. http://rosacanina-blog.blogspot.com/


Anonymous said...

Oh well, the blog is called Cinnamon, http://cinnamon-blog.blogspot.com/

Now I've made my mind up about the name.