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Picturesque Gelderland Is a Real Dutch Treat

February 14, 1988|AL GOLDFARB | Goldfarb is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

ARNHEM, Netherlands — So you've done the sightseeing number in Amsterdam, and maybe the Hague. You've gone the route on glass-roofed boat rides along the maze of canals. You've visited Holland's major cathedrals, monuments and national art galleries. You've seen windmills, cheese farms and tulip fields. What's left?

Acting on a tip from the Netherlands Tourist Office, we took a trip to the province of Gelderland to see another aspect of the country.

Not only did we escape wall-to-wall tourists and traffic snarls, we found Gelderland--largest of the 11 Dutch provinces--to be an area of natural beauty.

Although American travelers seldom include this part of the Netherlands on their itinerary, Gelderland has long been a popular holiday resort for the Dutch, plus tourists from neighboring West Germany, France, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries.

Roman Legacy

Gelderland's lure for tourists can be traced back about 2,000 years, when the Romans invaded Holland. They remained for four centuries. You can still find remains of Roman fortresses and camps along the Rhine River in the picturesque forests, woods and moorlands.

My wife and I started our visit in Arnhem, Gelderland's capital city of 128,000. Arnhem, only 65 miles south of Amsterdam, is along the Rhine and is easily accessible by bus, car or train. Highways are excellent and the Dutch rail system is very efficient.

Called the "park city," Arnhem is a town with broad green avenues, gushing fountains and splendid parks along the river. Huge trees and a rainbow collection of flowers line the parkways. The town was shaped in the early 1800s by a number of wealthy Dutch citizens who came here to escape the big cities to the north.

During World War II, the center of town was razed by some of the heaviest bombings and fiercest fighting of the war. What was left of the ancient buildings and monuments was meticulously restored and now fits in with the city's modern architecture.

'Bridge Too Far'

History buffs will recall that the Arnhem bridge across the Rhine was the scene of an ill-fated Allied airborne attack against an entrenched German army. After the war, the battle was the subject of a best-selling novel and motion picture, "A Bridge Too Far."

For many years the city has been a pilgrimage for veterans of World War II. There's a museum of war memorabilia in town, as well as in nearby Nijmegen.

From the downtown area, we drove about three miles to the Netherlands Open Air Museum, which offers a bird's-eye view of Holland as it used to be.

The 100-acre park, founded in 1912, features farmhouses, mills, traditional costumes, thatched cottages, colorful flowers, rural architecture from every province and offers demonstrations of ancient customs and medieval crafts.

Old farmsteads, complete with furniture and utensils, are scattered throughout the lush, green, well-manicured park that attracts about 500,000 visitors a year.

During our stroll through the museum we passed a clog maker's (wooden shoemaker) workshop, blacksmith shop, toll collector's house and a variety of working windmills used for irrigation, grinding corn, sawing wood and making paper.

Man and Beast Live as One

We were bemused by one 18th-Century farmhouse that was typical of the eastern region of Gelderland. Known in Dutch as los hoes, this dairy farm is characterized by the absence of a dividing wall between the farmhouse and the barn.

As legend has it, man and beast lived together in one large communal area. One explanation for this type of design was that the smoke rising from the open fire was an excellent means of drying and preserving the harvest stored in the loft.

In 1982, the Open Air Museum ran into financial trouble. The government announced it was going to close the popular museum, not realizing a furor would arise throughout the country.

"It's hard to believe, but 100,000 people came here one Sunday to protest," said a spokeswoman from the Gelderland tourist office. "Instead of shutting it (the museum) down, the government took steps to cut the cost of operation and kept it open."

Now there's a proposal before the legislature for a private group to assume operation of the park and raise funds to get it out of the red.

The museum is open daily, except Monday, from April to November. Admission is $3.50 for adults, $2 for children.

Wilderness Oasis

Our next stop in Arnhem was the Hogue Veluwe National Park, 13,000 acres of forest and wildlife, with miles of trails for walking and hiking. As Holland's largest open-space area, the Veluwe is a welcome wilderness oasis in this densely populated country.

While driving through this tree-lined preserve, we saw red deer grazing placidly in the distance. There were also wild sheep, roes and wild boar.

The park is popular for walking or cycling through woods, over hills and across wide stretches of moorland. The Veluwe is one of the busiest resorts in the country for campers, outdoorsmen and cyclists.

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