Cycling in the Netherlands August 2009, a really great, away from it all holiday.

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August 2009 Helen and Steve take a cycling trip around the North Holland area of the Netherlands.  (map here click on the map to enlarge it) Here is an outline of our journey which covered just under 300 miles...

Day 1 Saturday  Final pack and checking of all the luggage in the cycle panniers (about 12 kg each) then we left Norwich by train on time at 19:00h. Storing the bikes was easy in the luggage/guards van, however at Manningtree we had to take the bikes down the subway stairs and up the other side, a little bit of railway madness on the main connecting station for Harwich for most travellers.

Transfer onto the boat at Harwich however was easy and problem free, and the overnight cabin comfortable enough.

Day 2 Sunday In the morning when we left the boat at the Hoek van Holland we discovered that waiting in line with cars wasn’t necessary and managed to slip to the front fairly easily.  Then Steve got his first (and our only) flat tyre just a mile out of the Hoek!

We couldn’t take the planned route as a rail crossing was locked so we took a bit of a detour on our way to Delft where we also got a little lost and arrived a bit later than planned at about 11:00h. The satnav eventually found our destination, however it did ignore possible shorter routes as it always assumed one way roads applied to both cars and bikes which of course is rarely the case in the Netherlands.

The B&B was by the main canal in Delft about 4 minutes bike ride from the centre. All day there was a Jazz festival in and around the streets of Delft and we watched some excellent orchestras, groups and solo musicians, my personal favourite was Professor Deaf and his eardrums.

We choose the Guilden ABC restaurant in Delft to eat in and were very disappointed at the quality (low) and the cost (high). However this was really the only duff restaurant on our whole trip.

Day 3 Monday We cycled to Den Hague along the canal and visited the Mauritshuis Art gallery where the audioguide was excellent.  We took a few breaks but spent a lot of the day in the gallery so afterwards we just walked around the city centre before having a meal and returning to Delft.

Day 4 Tuesday We packed up and then had a coffee sitting on the canal side watching the hundreds of cyclists going to work in a very eerie warm white mist which suddenly cleared just before we set off for Leiden where we arrived shortly after a picnic lunch. 

We visited the Archaeology Museum where they have a complete Egyptian temple that was donated for the Dutch help with the Abul Simbul dam project.  Later we cycled to Hoogamade for our first ‘Vrienden op de Fiets’ (Friends of the Cyclists) stay. To our delight, as we didn’t know it beforehand, it was in a Windmill with very nice owners, the husband used to be a Millwright before he retired and bought the mill.

Day 5 Wednesday Up early to take pictures of the cows who looked into the windows from the field outside.  We packed, left our hosts and cycled back to Leiden to visit the Boerhaave Medical and Scientific Museum which was very interesting. 

We found leaving the bags on the bike (without cameras/money/docs) no problem as they disappear among so many other bikes, and in any case they only contained clothes. Generally the areas the museums are located in tended not to be the kind of places that many thieves frequent.

After a picnic lunch we cycled on to Katwijk then across a very hot dessert-like arid dune landscape on the hottest day of our trip (30o+ C). There was no shade for miles and the heat would have been unbearable but for the slight sea breeze which kept it feeling a little cooler. We travelled up to Noordwijk and finally Noordwijkerhout where our ‘Vrienden op de Fiets’ (VoF) hosts lived on a farm nearby a busy main road. Again a friendly welcome and excellent room. After unpacking we cycled into the village for an excellent evening meal in the village square.

Day 6 Thursday We had the standard Dutch/VoF breakfast of bread, rolls, ham, cheese, eggs, chocolate sprinkles, jam and tea or coffee, before setting out for Haarlem. We had a break for some tea and a walk round the city centre before arriving at our VoF hosts just a huge thunderstorm broke.  The VoF hosts here were excellent and we had a nice top floor apartment. We made a meal indoors then as the rain passed, decided to go out to the Jazz festival which was on its fourth night. Jazz with burlesque artistes was a novel but entertaining twist (sorry only had my phone camera to hand!).

Day 7 Friday After another good breakfast we had a long chat to our host about life, the universe, the environment and everything, before cycling to Amsterdam via Halfweg which as it’s name suggests is halfway between Haarlem and Amsterdam.  As we arrived in Amsterdam mid morning we thought we would see if our VoF host was in so we could dump the bags. Luckily she was, however the accommodation was in a rather gloomy subterranean room.

Nevertheless we were well placed next to the Vondlepark and we would only be staying a couple of nights. The breakfast was minimalistic too but it was obvious she was doing it for the money rather than altruistic cycling reasons, in order to keep a house that was too run down to take full paying B&B guests.

Having dropped off the luggage we cycled into the centre of Amsterdam and learned what cycle congestion feels like from on the saddle. All the local cyclists know where they are going and don’t have time for sightseeing tourists who are coping with the bizarre cycle traffic levels, cycling on the wrong side of the road and trams. Getting around on a bike instead of watching enviously as a bystander was great fun though if at sometimes a little exhilarating as you cross three junctions and a pair of tram lanes at the same time.

Knowing the centre fairly well we walked around for a bit, visited some familiar places and through the somewhat freshened up red light district, then headed for a dance performance in the Vondlepark before returning very late and very tired.

Day 8 Saturday After breakfast we headed for the Het Schip (Amsterdam School of Architecture) project which was only a few minutes out of the centre on a bike but harder to reach on foot so not visited before.  The visit and very good guided tour was a worthwhile and fascinating study into art, architecture, social housing and sociology in the 1920s.

Afterwards we cycled around the canal rings and near the splendid Westerkerk came across an outside broadcast of a popular Dutch TV show which had completely blocked the canal with onlookers in boats and on the canal side.

The evening saw us enjoying more free street music at a concert and party put on by the Four Seasons a rather posh restaurant at the end of the street, before again returning to the Vondlepark for an evening walk and performance in Dutch by various comedians.  It is pretty weird when you just don’t get any of the jokes and everyone around you is laughing fit to wet themselves. And so to bed.

Day 9 Sunday A glorious morning to cycle along the coast of the Ijmeer to Muiden where the Muidenslot castle looks like medieval castles ought to, although it has been extensively rebuilt and renovated. Here we stopped for a picnic before travelling on to the Fortress town of Naarden completely surrounded by star shaped walls and moat. 

In the old streets of Naarden we found a busy market selling everything you could think of.  We had an excellent meal at the De Turfloods restaurant, before continuing on along the waterside to Huizen, where we again stayed in pleasant VoF accommodation with a single lady who also had another couple from New Zealand staying. We sat and talked in the cool of her garden until it grew too dark to see.

Day 10 Monday Breakfast outside today with the couple from New Zealand who knew about the company Oliver works for because the guy worked in the North Sea oil industry. Small World.  Our journey to Hilversum was somewhat complicated by a number of signs either missing or hidden but we eventually arrived about 11:00h.  Hilversum is an odd place, totally modern, post 1945 and lacking any culture.

Amongst the top ten cultural sites listed in their ‘Culture in the heart of Hilversum’ leaflet are the Town Hall, a market square that is empty 6 days a week and doubles as a car park, a rock, yes honestly a rock the size of a small car is one of the major cultural sites along with a statue of a boy with a goat, a tobacco kiosk that is now closed, a graveyard with no interesting graves whatsoever and a painted star on a post.  Nevertheless we visited virtually all the sites in ‘Culture in the heart of Hilversum’ as there is nothing else to do.

Actually we did find a huge and interesting kitchen shop where we got a bargain parmesan grater in their sale (We know how to enjoy ourselves). Plus of course being in the town that appeared on every radio dial until the 1980s was trip down memory lane. Our hosts, an appeal court Judge and his wife were very pleasant though and I was much taken with the urinal in the upstairs hall outside our room.

Day 11 Tuesday For once our hosts had to leave the house early, so it was an quick breakfast and away. Then it rained, a lot, all the way to Utrecht.  It started out as just drizzle as we crossed the heath outside Hilversum and waited until we were on a long five mile stretch of road along the top of a dyke by Maartens Dijk without any cover at all before really pelting down.  Luckily all the clothes in our panniers stayed dry even if we did get drenched. Singing songs (including We’re Cycling in the Rain!) and laughing a lot (if a little hysterically at times) helped to make the journey less unpleasant.

Luckily our Utrech VoF host had retired and was in when we tried knocking. This was brilliant as we were able to unpack the bikes and dry off before heading into the City centre.  By now the rain had almost stopped and after lunch cleared completely.  Utrecht is a great city to explore and we had an extremely enjoyable time sightseeing and shopping.

Day 12 Wednesday We had a relaxed morning in Toonkamer an interior design exhibition area before setting off for the Centraal Museum followed by a visit to the Dick Bruna Huis (The creator of Miffy or Nijntje as she is known at home) and the Aboriginal Art museum.  A relaxing meal nicely rounded off a busy but restful day.

Day 13 Thursday  We tried to get to Gouda (Pronounced Howdah by the way).  We managed to miss a turn, ended up on a huge industrial estate and couldn’t escape. We tried the map and satnav but both assumed a road had been built which had only been started, and a dyke and fence blocked us frustratingly only a few hundred metres from where we wanted to be. A very long detour eventually brought us back on course, although the head winds did not make cycling any sort of pleasure this morning. Nevertheless the ride through the polderlands (reclaimed land) was interesting. We stopped in the charming town of Oudwater where witches were weighed (because of the trustworthy town councillors) and 'just in case' had Helen on the scales, it's OK she is definitely not a witch. We eventually arrived in Gouda and we found our VoF hosts were a most charming retired couple.

The wind meant we did not have much time in Gouda and missed the last cheese weighing festival of the year by a couple of hours but the market was still busy with many whole gouda cheeses hanging like bunting over the roads. We had a meal by the very splendid town hall in this prosperous and totally cheese oriented town.

Day 14 Friday  Off early for the journey to Kinderdijk where there are 19 windmills in a World Heritage site. Again the very high headwinds made cycling difficult and we abandoned our planned route which took us along a 2 metre wide track between two dykes as the wind kept trying to knock us into the water. The trip to Kinderdijyk was well worth the effort and the high winds made the mill operations very impressive.  My overall impression was of the huge power these mills harnessed and transferred into pumping out the dykes.  We really were reluctant to leave this amazing place but had to get on to eat before visiting our next host in Ridderkerk just south of Rotterdam.

Day 15 Saturday  After our final VoF stay and breakfast we set out for Rotterdam. Largely due to the wartime devastation Rotterdam has a huge amount of modern architecture to admire or loathe. The wind had not dropped and made progress hard because we were constantly in a lower gear than normal and our legs were spinning the pedals’ more than usual.  We visited the gigantic market that stretches further than the eye can see, then made our way to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

Finally after lunch we headed along the river to the Hoek van Holland. Again the wind was a nuisance and slowed us down a lot but the sun was hot and it was difficult not to enjoy the ride.  We arrived in time to do some last minute shopping before an effortless boarding process and a welcome rest in our cabin.

Day 16 Sunday  Up at 6:30h to disembark, then we knew we were home when we found our planned train home had turned into a bus.  This was after arriving on the platform to find no visible platform numbers and a trip up the escalator with our cycles, and then back again when the train arrived at a different platform than expected/announced.  So we had an hour and a half wait to get a train to connect to the Norwich train, this time with a trip over the bridge stairs at Ipswich.  The UK railways are so ghastly compared to our continental neighbours.  Home finally to Norwich about 10:30h. House intact and children well!

A bit more information...

Approx mileage for the whole trip was just over 290 miles, if your are inspired to try it yourself there are 2 good sites here and here with loads of useful info about cycling in the Netherlands.

We found the ANWB Netherlands 1:75,000 Cycling maps excellent. They are very roughly equivalent to threequarters of an inch to a mile, cover a large area and show (nearly) all the numbers which appear on every signpost and paddestoel which is a great help finding exactly where you are. There are a couple of Dutch bookshops happy to sell and ship them online.

If you can photocopying the maps in colour it makes it very easy to fold them into a map pocket and means you have the originals in reserve if the copy gets blown away or water damaged.

Almost every town and city we visited charged for a town plan but it is often easy to get other leaflets with a map on showing locations/tour routes etc if you are only staying one night.

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 This page updated 11 July 2012