A Travellerspoint blog

Netherlands

Across the water - so I must be half-way there

sunny 22 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

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.

Waiting for the ferry

Waiting for the ferry


Arriving in Holland

Arriving in Holland


Hoek Port

Hoek Port

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.

First Dutch Cycle Lane

First Dutch Cycle Lane

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.

Coastal path

Coastal path

This is hilly

This is hilly

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.

Start of the cross-Netherlands cycle route

Start of the cross-Netherlands cycle route

Junction - bikes have priority

Junction - bikes have priority

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?!

Street either from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings

Street either from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings

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.

Somewhere important - palace or parliament

Somewhere important - palace or parliament


Gateway to somewhere important

Gateway to somewhere important

In the Escher Museum

In the Escher Museum


Imitating Escher (its the rounded glass making me look fat, honest)

Imitating Escher (its the rounded glass making me look fat, honest)


A try-it-yourself room

A try-it-yourself room

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. <---

Posted by bhambidge 13:14 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

Say Cheese

semi-overcast 18 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

I set off early on Sunday morning. I was due in Gouda, 30 km hence, at 10am to meet a friend who was going to cycle with me for a while. I'd checked the map and seen a route that took me right along the motorway. I didn't feel keen on this for obvious reasons, but as I had to get my skates on, I went with it. I needn't have worried. With noise barriers offering some aural protection and a large grass verge on either side of the path, this was a very quick and pleasant path. I had intended to head in across a park to Zoetermeer to get away from the main road, but there didn't seem any point; this route was fine.

Even the motorways have cycle paths

Even the motorways have cycle paths

I got to Gouda ahead of time, and explored the pretty town before Dorota arrived from Brussels. It has a traditional European town square with a fairy-tale town hall in the centre, decked with traditional red and white shutters. The square is of course bordered with street cafes, where we lazed for brunch before setting off again. As in many other Dutch cities, wide streets are split by canals with little hump-backed bridges joining the two sides. However, what other towns lack are big replica (or real?) Gouda cheeses hanging across the streets like Christmas lights. Tasty if not tasteful.

Gouda market square

Gouda market square


Gouda

Gouda

We mapped out a route to Utrecht, heading directly east through some small villages. We then proceeded to go in completely the wrong direction, starting north alongside the Reeuwvijk lake. By the look of the map, this route was to take us alongside another main road, but we never saw it. While we started off on a segregated road-side path, we soon found ourselves following the bank of a wide canal. Many of the properties along here made a feature of the water, with part of the canal (or some other large water feature) making up a part of their garden. Many were small-holdings with a couple of sheep, chickens or goats. All were in pristine condition, both house and garden. The Dutch are very house-proud, and when you live in surroundings like these it's not hard to see why.

Along the canals with Dorota

Along the canals with Dorota


Dorota by the canal

Dorota by the canal


Typical Dutch house

Typical Dutch house


pet goats

pet goats

We stopped for a late lunch in Woerden. As soon as we parked up the bikes, the heavens opened. We sat outside (the tables were covered by one large umbrella, but had to shift the tables and chairs somewhat to avoid the rain splashing in. A hearty soup helped keep up the liquid intake, and we stayed a while to wait for the clouds to move on. Just as they seemed about to, the downpour intensified again, so there was nothing for us to do but sit back and order a plate of home-made apple cake and cream.

Eventually we could leave, and meandered our way out of the town to re-join the canal. This took us all the way in to Utrecht - an incredibly attractive and lively town with well-oreserved historic buildings, canals, as well as the hustle and bustle I like in a city. Between this, the cycle paths and the countryside I've seen, I'm starting to think this is somewhere I could live. Of all the places I've been, I don't often say that.

At last - a windmill

At last - a windmill


What's going on here

What's going on here


Cat guards secret party

Cat guards secret party


Made it to Utrecht

Made it to Utrecht


Canal in Utrecht

Canal in Utrecht

After seeing off Dorota at the train station, who was to head back to Gouda where her car was waiting, I went in search of my accommodation. This was my first experience of Couch Surfing, and I must admit to being a little apprehensive. Couchsurfing.org is a website putting travellers in touch with one another - people who have a sofa, matress or spare bed with those on the road looking for somewhere to stay. You upload a profile about yourself, get in touch and ask nicely, and hope for some positive replies. There are some checks to help keep you safe, but a lot of it is down to instinct as to whether you want to stay with or host a particular person. I'll write more about this in a separate post sometime soon.

Tonight my hosts were Marco and Judith, who lived a pebbles pelt from the town centre. I rang Marco when I was outside, so he could come down and let me in, then had to heave my bike up a flight of stairs. From the first moment, Marco treated me like an old friend, and we sat chatting about my journey, technology (he'd make a good iPad salesman!) and their gorgous cats (who they're teaching tricks to), and browsed his impressive photography portfolio - he's just set up in business (no job too far away! book him at ....). Judith rustled up some felafel and pizza before we headed off to the cinema with their friends Ton and Victor. I was somewhat surprised by the interval in the movie - that got dropped about 30 years ago in the UK, but is still common over here. Still, the film warranted another beer half way through. My first 'couch' to surf consisted of a comfortable mattress on the floor in the living room. One of the cats stayed in the bedroom, the other with me - they have to be separated. With the cathedral so close, and the hourly chimes happening throughout the night, I put in some earplugs and settled down to a good night's sleep. Before I did, I texted Dorota to tell her that I hadn't been murdered with an axe - she was poised and waiting to rescue me from the clutches of these dangerous strangers!

---> 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.

Posted by bhambidge 02:17 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

From Dutch to Deutsch

semi-overcast 18 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

It's Monday morning, and Marco & Judith are off to work early. They leave me to stay as long as I like, but I've got another 80km planned today, so I'm out of the door by 9.30. I meander out of the town - partly to see a little more of it, and partly because I'm not quite sure where I'm going; despite having a GPS cycle computer, it can be difficult to follow in towns with lots of roads, especially if you've detoured from the planned path.

Once I get out onto the open road, I find a local farmer selling fresh fruit froma hot-dog van, so I stop for a breakfast of freshly-picked raspberries and pears.

Each day, the first few miles are hard-going as my aching joints resist getting back on the bike and the sore backside protests with a pang of pain as it remembers what was endured the previous day, but I soon get back into the swing of it. I'm varying the comfort levels by way of a removeable gel seat cover, though I'm trying not to use it too much as it's not helpful in the long run. But generally I relish the fresh air and the road ahead, and only feel slightly daunted by the distance that lays ahead that day. I try not to think about the distance that still lays ahead on this trip, nor the mountain range that lurks half-way across Germany. No, I'll stick with the nether lands of The Netherlands. So far, touch wood (and Woerden downpour excepted) the weather has been ideal on this trip. Never windy, never more than the briefest refreshing spot of rain, frequent sunshine but never too bright, and a perfect temperature. Long may that continue!

Even the forests have separate cycle tracks

Even the forests have separate cycle tracks


Another windmill

Another windmill


Caption competition

Caption competition

With cycle paths on all classes of roads exceeding anything in the UK it doesn't really matter which route I take, but for the most part I keep to quiet country lanes where the only traffic tends to be the odd tractor ad occasional goat. I keep a fairly careful eye on both signposts and my GPS unit though. While I'm generally following the Dutch national route LF4a, occasionally the signs don't match my map, or they disappear, and I have to make the occasional decision. The route also usually goes out of its way to avoid even the smallest town, and from time to time it's nice to pop back to civilisation for a snack and a rest. One such place is Rhenen, mid-way between Utrecht and Arnhem where I stopped for lunch. Intending to order something reasonably healthy, I ended up with a 'Misty-burger and fries', the burger containing two slabs of meat, bacon, cheese and a fried egg, and the chips served with mayonnaise and curry sauce. Oh well, I'm burning off the calories I suppose, but I'm not going to lose any weight like that!

Just as I was about to leave Rhenen, the town lived up to its name as the heavens opened again - nice for it to be timed while I'm already sheltered. So I sat it out for an hour before it seemed safe to get on my way. I then followed the main roads most of the way to Arnhem, experiencing the first gentle undulation in Holland after a flat few days. One road even had an 8% gradient sign, which must have been specially commissioned.

This sign had to be  specially made

This sign had to be specially made

In Arnhem I surfed another couch, this time with Norma. She's recently moved into her own place and has a spare room. She cooked me a delicious dinner, sat out on her balcony a while chatting, then headed out for a stroll around the town, finishing with a couple of drinks in her favourite bar and a walk back along the river. Again, it would have seemed surprising to bystanders that we'd only met that evening, and I nearly took up her offer to stay another night, and give myself a day exploring Arnhem. But after a well-deserved lie-in, I checked the weather forecast: a day of sunshine, then a full day of rain was on the cards. I didn't fancy cycling in that rain so decided belately to get ahead of myself, packed up my things and headed off.

A museum for everything in Arnhem

A museum for everything in Arnhem

It was indeed a pleasant day to cycle, though the first several kiometres were fairly gruesome up a sizeable hill into a National Park. Down the other side was much more enjoyable of course - and would have been more so if I had a working back brake! Again I meandered along country lanes, through farms, and in forests. At one point I got a little confused as I had to cross a small river and couldn't see the bridge marked on the map. I saw some people on a small ferry, but it took a little time to twig. So this was my third ferry crossing of the trip - easily the shortest.

Third ferry of the trip to cross 20 metres

Third ferry of the trip to cross 20 metres


Canal lock at Borculo

Canal lock at Borculo

I was finding my stamina growing, taking longer distances between breaks and feeling less exhausted. After an apple-pie-stop in the picturesque town of Borculo, I reached the Dutch-German border at Zwillbrock at about 6.30. I had made it the entire way across a country! Now if only the next one could be so easy! I still had about 16km to go that evening as I was due in a Bed & Breakfast in Vreden. I texted the owner to give an ETA of an hour, and she replied with certainty that I'd be there in 20 minutes. I'm not sure how she rides a bike, but there's no way I was averaging 45 km/h on the flat!

Willkommen in Deutschland

Willkommen in Deutschland


Zwillbrock border village

Zwillbrock border village


From now on I'm roughly following these R1 signs

From now on I'm roughly following these R1 signs

As I approached Vreden, I could see on my bike computer that I was going to have done about 98km that day - a record. But because I like that kind of thing, I wanted it to tick over to the magic 100km, so I weaved around the town for a while before heading to the accommodation. I took my bike round to the back gate, wheeled it through, and found myself confronted with the gaping jaws of a 30-foot (10 metre) crocodile.

Posted by bhambidge 00:11 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

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