Before we started the cycle tour, the biggest distance Kaia and I had cycled in a day was 42 kilometres. During the first week of the cycle tour, we passed the 60km mark a few times, and while cycling along the Rhine river, we hit 85km. We felt like we were up for a big goal: 100km. And what better place to do it than in a very flat country with great bicycle paths: Holland!
Our big day started near the city of Dusseldorf (Germany), in a campground with lots and lots of rabbits.
We needed to get to a grocery store, and we actually spent quite a long time at one, because we had breakfast at the little bakery in it. We ended up having a kind of late start. We rode for about 40km to get to the German-Dutch border.
Crossing the border into Holland was just as easy as it was between Germany and Switzerland. All there was to tell us we were entering a new country was a little sign saying “Niederlande”
Our first impressions of Holland were pretty similar to Germany, but we did notice a few changes. Here are some of the things we noticed:
-The bike paths are great. They’re almost always separated from the road by a strip of grass, and they’re easily identified because they’re painted red.
-The Dutch language seems to to be halfway between English and German. Ex: in English “street”, in German “strasse”, so in Dutch “straat”. The letter J is used a lot in Dutch, as well as double vowels.
-Renewable energy isn’t as big as it is in Germany. There aren’t many wind turbines, but there are a lot of old-fashioned “windmills”.
We continued our ride north into Holland.
At first, it didn’t seem like we would make it to 100km, but the further we went, the more determined we got. 60km… 70… 80… Once we hit 90km, we knew we would succeed. We counted down the last few metres. 99.97… 99.98… 99.99… 100 kilometres!!!
Wow! It was the first time for 3 of us to cycle that far in a day. It was a big personal accomplishment! We were tired and it was getting late, so we camped beside a canal right near the place where we hit 100km.
The next day, we continued to ride north. Now, those of you who have known us for 5 years or more will probably know that we spent a year in Namibia in 2009-2010. One of our best friends there was Jelda, a woman from Holland who was working in the same volunteer organisation as us, VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas) in Rundu, a town 2 hours away from the village we lived in, Mpungu. We would often stay at her house when we went to Rundu (Rundu had the closest grocery store to Mpungu, so we had to go pretty often), and we did many safari drives in Etosha national park together.
When she learned we were going to Holland, she invited us to come visit her in Utrecht, a city about 50km south of Amsterdam. We planned to ride in to Utrecht and meet her for dinner that evening, but we ran out of time, so took a short train ride to the central station.
Jelda lives close to downtown, so it was a short ride from the central station to her house. It was so good to see her again! We also met her husband Nick, and later, their 4-month old daughter Lykke, who was sleeping when we arrived. We had a delicious dinner, and talked about our experiences on this trip, and from 5 years ago in Namibia.
Their house is pretty small, so we were planning on staying at a campground that night, but they have a small back courtyard; just enough space for our bikes and tent!
We had breakfast with them the next day, and before we left, Jelda introduced us to some Dutch sweets like licorice, sweet bread, and Kaia’s and my favourite, “stroopwaffels” (these waffle cookies with cinnamon and honey in them). They’re delicious little treats, and were a great replacement during our time away from the land of pretzels, Germany.
We started riding kind of late, and had lunch in a park in Utrecht.
That day, we rode the 50km to Amsterdam, along perfectly flat bike paths, and beside canals (doesn’t get any more Dutch than that!)
Kaia will write a separate blog entry about what we did Amsterdam, so I’ll skip to May 31st, the day we left the city.
The first part of the day was going well, as cycling almost always does in Holland. After a while though, the weather started to get bad, and my parents wanted to have coffee, so we turned in to what we thought was a cafe. It was actually a visitor centre for a conservation area. There was a video about it in English, and we learned a lot. We were in an area of Holland called Flevoland, which is all reclaimed land, meaning it was once under the sea. It turns out, the land we had been riding on for the past couple of hours was all below sea level! It was a very ambitious plan: build dikes around a large section of ocean, then pump the water out until it’s down to land. Now, they’re really making an effort to help plants and animals begin to live in this new environment.
As we continued our ride, the weather worsened.
We hit 100km in the town of Emmeloord, and we were so cold and wet that the idea of camping was out of the question. We stayed at a hotel, a little over our budget, but definitely worth it! Ah, it felt so good to have a warm shower, get dry, and have a creamy hot chocolate at the restaurant in the hotel. We slept excellently that night.
There isn’t too much to say about our ride the next day, but we made it to 104 km (a new record) and camped at a campground just outside of Groningen, in the north of Holland. We were interested in learning about Groningen because it’s the town that has the highest percentage of trips done by bicycle in the world. 59%! While cycling through the town, we really felt like part of the majority, not a minority like we do in Canada. We went to City Hall to meet with some of the transportation planners and learn why Groningen is so bicycle-friendly and how it came to be that way. There will be a later blog entry about cycling infrastructure in European cities, so the details about Groningen will be there.
We rode out of Groningen that day, and headed towards an inlet at the northeastern border of Holland and Germany. The last ferry of the day to cross the inlet of had already left though, and it would take a long time to cycle around it, so we spent the night at a little campground near the ferry.
We took an early ferry across the inlet the next day, back into Germany. Holland is one of our favourite countries on this trip. It is such a lovely country. Its beautiful bike paths, interesting history, and smiling, friendly people made us feel happy too.