30/07/2010 - 31/07/2010 22 °C
An early start took me down to Harwich Port, about 4 miles away, by 7.30, where the handful of cyclists queued up with the cars waiting to board. No preferential treatment for us - we had to wait until all the cars and lorries were on board before we could follow them in. Having assumed I'd done my last hill for several hundred kilometres, I was confronted with a steep climb to the upper car deck. Then it was time to settle back for the 7 hour crossing. Comfortable and uneventful, I busied myself with catching up with the diary, watching a film in the on-board cinema and trying in vain to get their promised free wireless internet to work.
We arrived slightly late into Hoek van Holland, fast-tracked through passport control (by simply whizzing past the line of cars and queue-jumping), and then I was off! I felt so excited... I'd made it to the other side! It seemed like my journey was half-way done, though a glimpse at the map laid rest to that. Still, the sun was shining, the world was flat (contrary to popular modern belief) and the cycle paths were AMAZING. Any cyclists dream. Almost every road has a dedicated cycle path, properly wide enough and usually separated physically. I headed over to the coastal path, expecting it to be very windy, but it was perfectly sheltered behind an embankment, and was bordered by greenery (and occasional sand) on both sides.
There were all sorts out on their bikes. Most sporting the traditional Dutch style of bike often described as 'sit up and beg bikes' - the handlbars are high and turn inwards so they're close by and you sit up straight. The crossbar is bent low so it'seasy to step into, and the chain is protected. This style suits all sorts for general purpose and commuting rides - tall and short, fat and thin, old and young; heavily pregnant ladies think nothing of getting on their bikes - if they can walk, they can cycle. Then there are attachments for carrying all sorts of accessories. Those that aren't taking their dog for a walk along side them may have poouch sitting in a basket up front. Kids sit on a seat behind, or wrapped round the handlebars at the front - or even both. Or sometimes the whole front of the bike is re-engineered: it looks like an ordinary bike as far forward as the handlebars, but the front wheel is replaced by two smaller wheels holding a large box. This is handy for transporting shopping, but more usually a couple of kids are perched in there. This gives them a better view, and let's the parent keep an eye on them.
On that first ride to The Hague, I must have seen a thousand cyclists. I counted just 3 bike helmets. The only people wearing helmets were the 'extreme sport' types, dressed in all the lycra, and racing along as fast as they possibly could. Even for them, I suspect it was more a fashion accessory than a piece of safety equipment. If anyone else were to bother with a helmet, they'd likely get puzzled looks. I've not brought a helmet with me - my only protection is a sturdy baseball cap that I put on if its sunny. I'll write in another post sometime about the Bike Helmet Debate and why its not necessarily as beneficial as is usually claimed.
After the village of Monster, I turned inland to The Hague I was back alongside roads, as well as criss-crossing a few parks. Larger roads have a lane for everything; one for the trams, one or two for cars, then another for parking. Then a segregated cycle lane (and sometimes a separate cycle parking lane). Then closest to the shops is the pavement for pedestrians. Junctions have a myriad of lights for each type of road user. If in doubt, cars give way to bikes, so you can get through even town centres at quite a pace. One thing to get used to is low-powered scooters are also allowed to use most cycle paths, but they seem to share the space quite well and are rarely intimidating.
I stayed in The Hague (or a district just outside) for 2 nights, and spent much of the time catching up with an old schoolfriend, Jeff. Nineteen years has passed since we left (and last saw each other) but you wouldn't know it. I stayed in a small family-run hotel down the road. It was locked when I arrived, and had to decipher Krypton Factor-like puzzles to gain access. Strangely, when you're in all the room keys are left hanging in the hallway, and you're expected to leave it there when you go out. As this area is unmanned, it begs the question about why bother having locks on the room doors at all?!
Saturday was an easy day, hanging out and Jeff's and going for a wander round town (ended up cycling 30km on the day off!) including a visit to the excellent Escher Museum and a Panorama gallery by ome famous artist called Meerkat or something. I did also try to spot some famous international criminals, but no luck unfortunately.
While Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, The Hague is the poitical capital, hosting parliament, the royal family and international embassies. So I can almost contrive to say that this is a capitals tour of the four countries I'm touring. Not that the Netherlands has a government at the moment - they've spent the last couple of months trying to thrash out a coalition deal after the election. None of the panic we had in the UK where we were without leadership for a whole 5 days! I gather the issue is that Geert Wilders' party (he who wasn't allowed into Britain under terrorism legislation) won 22 seats and is trying to wrestle their way into a governing coalition.
---> Don't forget you can follow detailed maps of all my journeys be clicking here or following the link at www.hambidge.com (Wait a few seconds for it to work out which are my routes, then click on the day from the list on the left. You'll then see all sorts of stats, plus a zoomable map. <---