Happy Birthday to Mike!
Mike likes to check the weather, especially when we’re traveling. As the week wore on, he became the “go to” guy for the weather report when the group was asking what to expect. Marcel (our guide) was also checking the weather, but he always deferred to Mike with a smile. The weather for Mike’s birthday was predicted to be nice -and it was! We enjoyed it all the more for having dealt with rain and gloom for the previous few days.
Since we hadn’t done the town tour the night before, Marcel made sure to take an interesting route as we rode through town so we could get a glimpse of the town as we said goodbye. Since we’d done our own walk the evening before, I have shared those pictures yesterday and we were seeing the same thing this morning.
If you look at the map above, you can see that Zierikzee is located on an island. (The one more or less in the middle of the picture) Our ride today followed the shore toward the left of the picture until we reached the area where there is what looks like a bridge down to the next island. We’ll get to that part of the story later!
So, as I said, our route was mainly on a bike path along the shore. It was quite pretty and very rural. We mostly had the path to ourselves.
As I’ve mentioned a few thousand times already, our group kept a steady, but very slow pace, so we were often overtaken and passed by other riders/groups. Not all of them looked like they were on their way to the starting line of the Tour de France either! You’d be riding along and either hear a “bling-bling” (bell -all the bikes have them) or someone from the back of the group would yell, “BIKE!”…so we’d know one was overtaking us. On this day, an elderly man passed us and a few moments later Marcel was stopping -just as we came up onto the dike- to point out the Oosterscheldekering off in the distance and talk about how they’d raised the dike along this stretch by several feet.
As we grouped around for the little talk -I noticed we had an addition to the group. The man who’d been in the process of passing us, stopped too and was giving Marcel some “local knowledge”. He was speaking to Marcel in Dutch -so we didn’t know everything he was saying.
Marcel related that one of the things the man spoke about was that during WWII some Americans had been captured very near the spot we were standing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like that ended well. Before long we were continuing our ride and he was off with a wave and a smile.
There was a bit of a scenery change as we entered an area that was part of a national park called Oosterschelde. I’m not sure exactly how big the park is -but I think it includes the Oosterscheldekering (we’re getting there!) too. Our path turned to dirt for awhile.
We popped back out on the shore path before long and not far ahead of us we could see a lone tower.
We wheeled in for a closer look! We were traveling through the Zeeland region of the Netherlands. This tower is the only thing that remains of a town that was once here. It was the church tower. There are something like 100 towns across Zeeland that have been submerged by water. An artsy sort of effort was made at Plompe Toren to showcase it half on land and half in (figurative) water, with the dike running through the middle.
Of course we were going to climb it -at least some of us! (Mike declined)
As we entered the base, there was an interesting display telling the story of what happened to the village. This piece was hanging above our heads and moved in a circle. You followed the story, in pictures, as it spun. There was a soundtrack too -with a narration (in Dutch) and some dramatic music.
The basic story goes something like this (as I understood it)… The drowned village was once a fishing village. One day a fisherman went out to sea and caught a mermaid in his nets. He brought the mermaid back to the village, but I don’t know what her fate was after that. Poseidon, God of the Sea, became very angry about the mermaid’s capture and vowed that he would send water, storms, lightning, hail…basically everything and the kitchen sink to punish and destroy the village for their transgression. After the storm, the church tower was all that remained.
After learning that it’s a bad idea to anger Poseidon, it was off to the top.
The views were well worth the climb!
The night before, when Mike and I walked around Zierikzee, we were looking for a store so we could maybe buy something to share with the group as a treat in honor of Mike’s birthday. We were trying to keep our birthdays low key and hadn’t said anything yet. We walked with Craig and Norelle, from Australia (super fun and nice) and all I said was that I was looking to buy a treat. I thought that was quite vague. So much for that! Norelle immediately asked, “Are you having an anniversary or a birthday?” Cat – out of the bag.
While enjoying the view at the top, Craig said to me – “You know…this looks like a birthday cake, and you know what you have to do when there’s birthday cake.” (My version of the conversation)… So, he got all of us to sing Happy Birthday to Mike down below. It was a fun moment and Mike really enjoyed the surprise.
Time to go down and hit the trail again.
Back on the bikes, we rode for awhile until we came to a town where we’d be taking a rest stop. It was a pretty little town -sort of reminded me of resort towns in Michigan. There was a nice art shop there with some fused glass, which I enjoyed checking out.
To the side of the little square we were stopped at, we found Haamstede Castle. The original structure was built in the 12th century. Whatever was there burned down in 1525, except one area of it. The castle was rebuilt in the 1600s.
Mike and I walked around a bit.
As we went around a corner, we realized we could see the castle from a different perspective:
Wonder of wonders! We turned around to head back to the group before they took off without us…(I’m not joking…it could have easily happened!) and noticed a candy store. We went to see if we could find a treat to help celebrate Mike’s birthday later that night at dinner. The lady behind the counter was so sweet and working hard to talk to us in English. She was so friendly that I told myself I simply couldn’t leave the store without buying something. To my amusement, we found little boxes of chocolates shaped like shells…mussels to be exact. We bought one box for each table – and I said…”These are the only mussels Ardi and I are going to eat on this trip. Ardi and I were the only two people of the group who wouldn’t have anything to do with seafood. I had no idea what I was actually buying – fingers were crossed that they were good chocolates!
Because we were delayed in the chocolate shop, Mike and I were the last to jump on our bikes after stowing the candy haul and getting our panniers closed up. I looked for the other yellow ducklings and saw them ahead…so I started digging in to catch up. We’d gone quite aways when I heard a shout from behind me. It was Marcel… what? I thought he was up ahead! Turns out that when the group got going, some of them hadn’t already seen the castle and so they literally pedaled about 1 block and pulled into the little parking area off the street. The group I was following had continued down the road for some unknown reason. When Marcel finally got us all turned around and reassembled, we actually left town in the complete opposite direction. I never did find out how the group got so mixed up and ended up going the wrong way without Marcel in the lead.
Getting out of town was a bit busy and so I didn’t have the camera out. Before long we were closing in on the Oosterscheldekering and the North Sea. We came to a dunes area that reminded me quite a bit of our Michigan dunes.
I think Marcel took us on a bit of a detour here just so we could see some scenery and the different fauna in the area. It was pretty.
After the forest interlude, we got back onto the waterside bike trail and were finally approaching the crossing of the Oosterscheldekering. Then ROADBLOCK! All the traffic was held up for about 20-30 minutes while some sort of construction was going on. We weren’t allowed to simply go around this truck in the grass. We were asked to wait. There were quite a few people besides us waiting too.
Finally, we could see that things were happening and the blockade was being dismantled, so we all got on our bikes and got ready to go.
There was still a bit of a hold-up and then suddenly we were clear and beginning our crossing.
If you recall the map I posted at the start of today’s story, I said we crossed what looked like a bridge. What is is, in fact, is a series of dams and barriers that closes off the North Sea from the water between the two islands. It is slightly more than 5 miles across in two sections with a man-made island in the middle. It took more than 10 years to build.
As you can see by the picture, we essentially had our own bike road for the crossing. Motorized traffic was off to the left.
Marcel called a brief stop just as we finished going over. This was the view.
I was standing there still half on the bike, waiting for the “go” signal when I looked down by my feet and saw these snails…tons of them…clinging to the grass.
I’ve taught myself to occasionally look back the way I’ve come – and when I remember to do it I often get a new perspective on where I’ve been. This picture is looking back.
Our next official rest stop was at the beach. The beach was quite nice…again, reminded me of Michigan. They had a couple of cute restaurants and so we sat down for a Pepsi and enjoyed the break.
Even though I try to avoid overly talking about the others in the group – after the beach stop, we had the most dramatic tip-over of the trip and it was such a part of the day’s events I have to describe it.
One of our ladies was trying to get rolling and needed to put her foot down for balance -but when she put her foot down, she missed the path and stepped down to the side of it. That was unexpected and caused her to fall to that side. Normally this wouldn’t have been that big a deal except the path was sort of up on a dike and the side of the dike was a quite steep (thoroughly disguised with grass, plants and shrubs -and so when she began to tip, she basically kept going… right over the edge of a very steep hill…head first. I was right there when it happened, so the first thing I did was pick up her bike, which had landed on the back of her legs. Then I noticed that she’d half-way disappeared into a bunch of bushes. Then I noticed that those bushes where thorny. OUCH! Mike was there next and grabbed her hand, which she was reaching behind her for help…but that wasn’t working because the side of the hill was so steep. By then everyone was there to help, so Mike and another man pulled her out by each grabbing one of her feet and pulling her up backwards like some sort of demented tug of war. When she finally emerged from the bushes and was back on safe ground, her face and arms were entirely and quite impressively covered with blood. Thankfully it was superficial and once the wet wipes came out – she didn’t look like an extra in a horror movie anymore. She definitely had a guardian angel with her because other than about 1 million thorn punctures/scratches, she had no other injuries. She said later that as painful as it was to land in those bushes, they were what kept her from falling even further. I have to give her all the credit. She remained calm through the whole ordeal and she got back on her bike with grace and finished the day. I’m sure she was very happy to know we were almost done by then. Later that evening, she told Mike that she only wanted to divert the attention away from his crash. I told her that I watch the Tour de France every year and I’ve seen some crazy crashes -and that hers was my second favorite ever. She probably thought I was weird.
We had one more relaxing rest stop at a town that used to be a fishing village until the Oosterscheldekering closed off their access to the North Sea. They are reinventing themselves more as a tourist town.
The main street was interesting because the street was split by a wide green area. There were lots of little shops and outdoor restaurants along the way.
Not long after that stop, we arrived in Middleburg and our barge was waiting for us.
I actually took a picture of our “salad” tonight for Mike’s birthday dinner. It was an avocado topped with teeny shrimp in a sauce. Even though I don’t like fish/seafood, I will occasionally eat one or two shrimp -so these were just the right size for me. It was definitely something I’ve never seen anywhere else, but it was not bad!
I’d asked the chef a couple of days ago if he could make something special for Mike if I didn’t find something myself to bring to the dinner. He checked with me when we got to the boat today and I told him I’d bought the chocolates -but if he didn’t mind, I’d like him to do something to celebrate Mike’s birthday. When it was dessert time, this is what Mike got. He also got a second round of the Happy Birthday .
Before the deserts came out, I walked to each table and left a box of “mussel” chocolates, explaining it was a treat for Mike’s birthday. Luckily – even though we had no clue what we were buying – they were quite yummy. I only wish there’d been more in each box!
After dinner, we had a meeting on the “sun deck” and then Marcel led a walk around town.
Middleburg is the capital of the province of Zeeland. The beginnings of the city have been traced back to the early 9th century.
Quite a bit of this city was destroyed during WWII. When they rebuilt, they worked to preserve the pre-WWII look of the town. There are 17th and 18th century merchant houses and storehouses along the canals.
We walked through this doorway and entered a courtyard which was part of Middleburg Abbey
The Abbey was started in the early 1100’s by some monks from an abbey in Antwerp. The complex was quite large. There were fires in the late 1400’s and mid-1500’s. What remains is in the style from the late 1500’s – late Medieval Gothic.
In 1574, the Abbey’s fate was sealed when the city was surrendered by the Spanish to William of Orange during the 80 year war. It had been promised that the Abbey would be left alone -but promises are made to be broken, I guess.
We were walking along a narrow street and I noticed the window was open and the cat was lounging around on the windowsill !
We found a little square with a gazebo -and under it several different quotes were installed, each one done in a different style:
Walking along, I noticed this restaurant sign – close, but not quite our name!
And so ends a very busy day! Many thanks to the rest of our group and our chef Hans for making Mike’s birthday memorable. The Happy Birthday wishes, the singing and a Happy Birthday beer from Craig when we returned to the barge all contributed to a very nice day.