Category Archives: Holland

Two wheels good

We plan do a public presentation in Peterborough in mid to late September.  If you are not already signed up to automatically receive new blog entries and you would like to know the date and time of the presentation, then click on the dark green FOLLOW rectangle at the bottom left corner of the green panel on the left side.  You will be sent the info via blog entry in September.

————————————————————

Thirty-eight days and 1700+km of cycle touring in Germany, Switzerland, Holland,  and Denmark left us a little bit fitter and a lot more fired up about the possibilities of creative urban planning. We were impressed and inspired by the ubiquitous and well-planned bicycle infrastructure. I’ve been to Copenhagen many times and know that it has a unique and thriving bicycle culture, but this time, seeing it from the saddle of a bicycle was really eye-opening. Sometimes it was a little overwhelming to be on a downtown cycle path with so many other cyclists – I felt like a new driver who needs to be super vigilant about the surrounding traffic. Since there are often 2 lanes in each direction on the bike paths and many users, one has to be aware of oncoming cyclists, when and where to pass, making sure to follow traffic signals, and maintaining the flow of traffic (don’t just stop to look at a map or road sign because someone may rear-end you!) That said, our overall impression of cycling in all of these countries was that we felt SAFE. Why? Because the infrastructure was in place, often in the form of bicycle paths that are physically separated from the driving lanes and clearly paved in a different colour. When we needed to share the road, drivers were very considerate, leaving us ample room when passing. Probably because they are cyclists themselves and know how it feels to be the more vulnerable road user.

Here are Kaia and Cam in southern Germany, feeling safe as they cycle on a path separated by a grass buffer from the highway.
Here are Kaia and Cam in southern Germany, feeling safe as they cycle on a path separated by a grass buffer from the highway.
Rural cycle routes in Holland are well signed with maps at many intersections.
Rural cycle routes in Holland are well signed with maps at many intersections.

 

All over Holland, bike lanes are paved with red tar to make them obvious. In this particular place, the lane was separated from traffic by bike and car parking spaces.
All over Holland, bike lanes are paved with red tar to make them obvious. In this particular place, the lane was separated from traffic by bike and car parking spaces.

 

The red lanes extend through intersections, making it clear to motorists where bicycles will be.
The red lanes extend through intersections, making it clear to motorists where bicycles will be.

 

We even saw a bike lane paving crew and saw how the red colour is mixed right into the pavement – no chance of surface paint wearing off!
We even saw a bike lane paving crew and noticed how the red colour is mixed right into the pavement – no chance of surface paint wearing off!

 

Separate traffic lights for bicycles will often count down, showing how much longer until a green light.
Separate traffic lights for bicycles will often count down, showing how much longer until a green light.

 

Most trains have cars designated for bicycles. Here we are travelling comfortably from X to Y.
Most trains have cars designated for bicycles. Here we are travelling comfortably from Opheusden to Utrecht.

 

The transportation plan in Freiburg includes a car-share program, whereby members can book a suitable vehicle for the days or hours they need it.  They calculate that it is a cheaper option for people who drive fewer than 10 000 km per year.
The transportation plan in Freiburg includes a car-share program, whereby members can book a suitable vehicle for the days or hours they need it. They calculate that it is a cheaper option for people who drive fewer than 10 000 km per year.

 

Freiburg has some car-reduced neighbourhoods like this one, Vauban.  Most streets are parking-free which means that cars can only stop for loading and unloading.  Neighbourhood garages are in 3 locations and provide enough space for all the residents cars.
Freiburg has some car-reduced neighbourhoods like this one, Vauban. Most streets are parking-free which means that cars can only stop for loading and unloading. Neighbourhood garages are in 3 locations and provide enough space for all the residents cars. Those who do not own a car must pay for a “virtual parking space” which is now a green space but could be turned into more parking if the need arises.

With so much emphasis on bicycles, there is of course a need for good and convenient bike parking facilities.

 

Outdoor covered bicycle parking
Outdoor covered bicycle parking

 

This one, at a school in Vauban, even has a green roof!
This one, at a school in Vauban, even has a green roof!
Our guide in Freiburg is showing us the indoor, secure bike parking at the central train station.
Our guide in Freiburg showed us the indoor, secure bike parking at the central station.

 

At train stations, work places and educational institutions, there are lots of bikes.
Everywhere we went — train stations, work places and educational institutions — there were lots of bikes!

 

Even McDonald’s has a substantial bike rack (and it’s being used!)  No, we did not eat there. We were trying to poach some wifi.
Even McDonald’s has a substantial bike rack (and it’s being used!) No, we did not eat there. We were trying to poach some wifi.

 

In Amsterdam, there is such a need for bike parking spaces that they turned these two barges into floating parking lots!
In Amsterdam, there is such a need for bike parking spaces that they turned these two barges into floating parking lots!

Many families in both Denmark and Holland own “cargo bikes” (50,000 in Copenhagen alone!) and about a quarter report that it is a direct replacement for a car. We saw many children being transported in the cargo area as well as dogs, groceries, and boyfriends!

20150609_095007
The cargo bikes in this photo are uncharacteristically empty! But you can see how different modes of transportation share the road.

 

Cargo bikes require special consideration in terms of parking (they are often seen parked outside grocery stores).
Cargo bikes require special consideration in terms of parking (they are often seen parked outside grocery stores). Cam asked why they do not use bike trailers (like ours) instead of the heavier cargo bike, and it was explained that they liked to be able to talk with their passenger as they ride, be it kid, pet or husband.

 

OK, this Dutch cargo bike was just too cute!
OK, this Dutch cargo bike was just too cute!

 

We got to test drive the latest model of cargo bike by "Bullitt"
Cam and Kaia test driving the latest model of cargo bike by “Bullitt”

Cam made sure we visited the planning departments in Groningen and Copenhagen to learn about their cycling strategies. Let’s just say they are light years ahead of anyone else in our part of the world.

Groningen is a city of about 225 000 in the north of Holland. It has a little more than twice the population of our city, Peterborough, but is similar in that both are university towns with vibrant art scenes. Groningen has a younger population than Peterborough and a long, strong history of cycling. A full 60% of journeys there are done by bicycle! (In our hometown, it’s only about 4%). This makes Goningen the unnoficial cycling capital of the world in terms of highest modal share of trips on cycle.  The literature we picked up at the planning department revealed that the reasons for promoting cycling have little to do with the environment and mostly to do with health, quality of life, and the economy. Their stated goals are to:

  • Create good conditions for the growth of the city
  • Keep the city accessible (not clogged with traffic)
  • Improve the health of inhabitants
  • Ensure a viable and economically vital city
  • Ensure a safe city

Of course, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through the use of bicycles and public transportation contribute to improved health of the citizens (and the planet). Nowhere does anyone suggest eliminating cars from the mix, just increasing the modal share of cycling, walking, public transportation, and carpooling. In that way, people who need to drive can continue to do so without requiring major new road constructions (because many people will choose the cheaper, healthier, more sustainable, and, in Groningen, more convenient options).

This student intern in the Copenhagen planning department was happy to share with us the maps and literature about the ambitious bicycle strategy that they believe will make them the world’s best bicycle city (and carbon neutral!) by 2025. The priorities are: sense of security, speed, comfort, and city life.
This student intern in the Copenhagen planning department was happy to share with us the maps and literature about the ambitious bicycle strategy that they believe will make them the world’s best bicycle city (and carbon neutral!) by 2025. The priorities are: sense of security, speed, comfort, and city life.

The following photos were taken in central Copenhagen at 4:30pm on a weekday.  How many cars can you count?

20150609_095018
20150609_095857

In the Copenhagen cycling strategy, they share the results of a socio-economic analysis of different forms of transportation.  I don’t know exactly how they calculated this, but they say that riding a bicycle downtown during rush hour results in a net profit for society of 0.49 Euro, whereas taking a car results in a net loss of 0.89 Euro.   I assume it is based on the reduced wear and tear on the roads by bikes, reduced congestion,  as well as the significant health benefits of active transportation.  Conversely, obesity and its associated societal costs are notably higher among those who drive a car.  Based on that, what city or municipality can afford NOT to promote cycling?

Every new development in these cities we visited (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Groningen and Copenhagen) takes into consideration the needs of citizens to get around quickly, safely, and comfortably. Transit and cycling infrastructure are key.  There were some really amazing details in their planning that blew us away:

  • Groningen has traffic signals that can detect rain. If it is raining, they give priority to cyclists by giving more/longer green lights to bicycles.
  • They are also planning to build heated bicycle paths, using the heat from wastewater sewers. This will help keep bike lanes free from snow and ice.
  • Freiburg, Germany, has “bicycle streets” where bikes have priority. Cars still drive and park on these streets, but the speed limit is 30 km/h.
  • Recognizing that cycling is a very social activity and that many people prefer to cycle side by side, the goal in Copenhagen is to make all bike paths wide enough to accommodate 3 bicycle lanes in each direction!
  • One of their maintenance goals is to have bike lanes smooth enough that one can ride along with a cup of coffee on the handlebars, and not spill!
  • Copenhagen is planning to embed LED lights in the asphalt to indicate which forms of transportation have access to the lanes. The lights can change to accommodate the differing flow of traffic. For example, there can be more lanes of traffic and wider bike lanes going into town in the morning, but fewer in the afternoon, when the space is needed for traffic going in the other direction.

The level of cooperation and creative problem solving is phenomenal.   All I can say is, “Wow!”

We are feeling motivated now to help BE THE CHANGE in Peterborough.  Last weekend, there was an event called “Peterborough Pulse” and on Saturday morning from 9 until 1, they closed a 3km portion of our downtown streets to car traffic.  Imagine that!  For four hours, people strolled and biked along the car-less streets, and many community organisations set up booths with information or activities.  Kaia volunteered to set one up to share photos and information from our trip and ask participants what they would like to see in Peterborough with respect to active transportation.  Our whole family got involved!  Kaia (and I) baked about 200 bicycle-shaped cookies which were given out in exchange for the ideas.  We had icing and candies so kids could decorate them.  Cam chose some of our best photos of cycling infrastructure, printed them, and made a binder.  Jake was there on the day to help set up, elicit responses, and help kids decorate cookies.  It was a great event and, we hope, a first step towards a more pedestrian and cycle friendly downtown.

Here is our booth.  It was called "Sweet Ideas -- a cookie for your thoughts"
Here is our booth. It was called “Sweet Ideas — a cookie for your thoughts”
People wrote their ideas on coloured paper which we put together like a quilt.
People wrote their ideas on coloured paper which we put together like a quilt.
The kids enjoyed decorating and eating the bicycle cookies.
The kids enjoyed decorating and eating the bicycle cookies.
Here is a prize-winner!  Decorated by Francesca, who was also helping out at the booth.
Here is a prize-winner! Decorated by Francesca, who was also helping out at the booth.
The quilt is now finished and will be presented to our city council.  Many respondents expressed the desire for more bike paths separated from traffic.  Many also suggested working towards a carless downtown core.
The quilt is now finished and will be presented to our city council. Many respondents expressed the desire for more bike paths separated from traffic. Many also suggested working towards a carless downtown core.

Recall that back in September, one of our first stops was Portland, Oregon, a city that has become the most bicycle-friendly one in North America.  Cam wrote a blog about our 2-wheeled experiences there called Pedaling in Portland.  We certainly have many lessons to learn from them — not least of all, PATIENCE.

In her book about the process, former Portland Bicycle Program Coordinator, Mia Birk wrote,  “Behavioural change takes time. It has taken close to a generation to teach people to place their bottles, cans, paper and plastic in recycling bins. It will take a generation or more to integrate bicycling and walking into daily life, but only if we get rolling.” (Joyride, p.144)

So… here’s to getting rolling!

Kaia will be rolling on her newly painted and decorated bike.  She was inspired by some we saw in Holland and decided to paint, add a front basket, and decorate hers with plastic flowers.
Kaia will be rolling on her newly painted and decorated bike. She was inspired by some we saw in Holland and decided to paint, add a front basket, and decorate hers with plastic flowers.

Yvonne

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A dam good city

“Amsterdam is one of those iconic cities” said my dad as we rode into the city one afternoon after a very windy 50 km ride from Utrecht. Amsterdam first caught my interest when I read the book and watched the movie of The Fault in our Stars by John Green, which partly takes place there. And I can say that our visit to Amsterdam was at least as magical and beautiful as John Green portrayed it.

We are very lucky to have a friend in Amsterdam, who lives about 10 minutes by bike from the city centre. We met Saskia when we lived in Namibia. She was also there through VSO (Volunteer Services Oversees), and was living in the nearest city, Rundu. We stayed with Jelda, (also a VSO in Rundu) in Utrecht, and then with Saskia in Amsterdam. Lucky us!
Saskia was out when we arrived, but she texted us and suggested a very close Indonesian takeout spot for dinner. We had fun practising our (very limited) Indonesian that we had learned there, with the restaurant owner from Surabaya, Java. We brought the food back to Saskia’s place to eat it. It was delicious! Soon after, Saskia walked in. It was great to see her again!
She lives on the bottom floor of a 4 or 5 storey building close to downtown. Since she is on the bottom floor, she has a big backyard, where we could easily fit our tent (a bit easier than fitting our tent in Jelda’s backyard!) We caught up with Saskia about what we had done since we had last seen each other.

In the morning, Saskia said goodbye to us, because she was going to Belgium for the weekend, and invited us to stay in her apartment longer if we wanted. But before she left, she recommended to us the Rijksmuseum, an art gallery downtown with hundreds of paintings from very famous Dutch painters, like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. To get there, we rode though Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s central park. It was lovely. So many people out for exercise, or just chatting at a picnic bench. Also, there were the people like us, riding our bikes from A to B, and enjoying Vondelpark, at the same time.

image
One of the many ponds of Vondelpark. A message to Peterborough city council: beautiful parks bring people together, make people healthier and happier. Roads do just the opposite. Peterborough is lucky to already have that greenspace. We would be foolish not to preserve it.

When we came out of Vondelpark at the other end, we were in central Amsterdam. We weren’t exactly the “only bikes there”. Amsterdam is known for its bicycles. And no wonder! When we ride our bikes back home in Peterborough, we are almost always the only bikes on the bike lane, when there is a bike lane. So, we don’t have to be so alert. Amsterdam is a very different story… now we are the majority of traffic, not some strange outcast. Now we have traffic rules. Whoa. We will leave that for a separate blog entry. But, I just want to emphasise how many bikes there were. Mind blowing!

Finally, we arrived at the Rijksmuseum (say Rikes museum).

image

The art gallery is located across the street from a canal, as most of Amsterdam is.
I was blown away at the Realism painting style of the Dutch. I can’t really remember details or names (except Rembrandt and Van Gogh), but I can remember some stories associated with the art.

image
Van Gogh's self portait. He would experiment many painting techiniques in his many self portaits, and in this one he used a large brush, so you can see the individual strokes.
image
Here I am looking at Jan Willem Pieneman's Waterloo. He brought together many stories from the battle of Waterloo, and combined them into this painting. This is one of the biggest paintings in the world: 5.5 m by 8.2 m!
image
Classic Netherlands. A canal, a wind mill, and blue sky. Notice how all the lines converge into one place.
image
These children interrupting their sister's piano practice are not painted in the Dutch Realism style, but the Italian, more "perfect" style. This artist specialised in drawing children, and I think he did a great job at bringing them to life, and showing their playfulness.
image
This is an interesting piece. The young people are painted in Italian "perfect" style, while the older people are done in the Dutch Realism. This Dutch artist had lived in Rome, and then combined those styles. I find that very interesting, as it's probably one of the first traces of "arts fusion"!
image
And finally, Rembrandt's "Nightwatch", the crown jewel of Rijksmuseum. This one is almost as big as Waterloo, but what makes it so special is little things, for example the shadow of one man's hand on another man's chest. But Nightwatch is no secret -- We were some of the 100 people looking at it in that moment!

Rijks museum was very well done. The explanations beside the paintings were very interesting. But the best thing about Rijksmuseum was that there are sheets of paper for almost every piece of art, with a print of that specific painting on it. The print has circles around all the interesting parts of that painting, with explanations on the side. So you could take a sheet, study the painting and find the coolest parts of it. Then, you put the sheet back where you found it. Also, you can download the “Rijksmuseum app”, and listen to even more interpretation.
But we weren’t finished: we still hadn’t checked out the boat exhibit.

image
These model boats were once used to teach the military about sailing!
image
Do you know the difference between the ship types Barque, Barkantine, Brig and Brigantine? Neither do I!
image
I learned that some of the models took longer to build than the ships themselves!

Wow… I was surprised to learn that there were so many amazing artists in such a small country. I would recommend Rijksmuseum to anybody who wants to learn interesting things about history, art, or just the Netherlands in general. Everything was really well explained, with just the right amount of detail.

Right behind Rijksmuseum, there is another one of Amsterdam’s landmarks: the I amsterdam letters.

image
It's made for people to climb on. I'm on the "t", and Jake is on the "e".

By then it was raining, so some street musicians were performing in the tunnel under Rijksmuseum.

image

One thing you may know about Amsterdam is that the city has many canals. In fact, all of the Netherlands is full of canals. Amsterdam has many rings of them, with smaller canals connecting the rings.

image
Here's a map of the inner city. The middle ring is called the Dutch equivalent of "rich man's road", because that was the fanciest place. Then on each ring going outwards the buildings would get less and less nice.

The best ways to see Amsterdam are by bike and by boat. Since it was raining, we chose a boat tour.

image

image
Inside the covered boat.
image
The city was named when they built a dam on the Amstel river, so they called it Amsteldam at first, and later it was changed to Amsterdam.

image

image
You can't really tell here, but the houses in Amsterdam are built with a slight slant towards the front. Every building had a pulley system to bring big things to the top apartment. If the buildings weren't slanted, the objects would bang into the balconies of the lower apartments. Most of the buildings still have the pulley system, though they may not use it anymore.
image
Look at the bikes locked to the bridge! Apparently, there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam.

Have you read the book of The Diary of Anne Frank? Actually, I haven’t yet. But she and her Jewish family lived in Amsterdam, in the secret annex of her father’s business during the holocaust. You can visit the Anne Frank house, if you are patient enough to wait in line! But we saw posters about an Anne Frank play, and people had told us that it was very worthwhile and if you see it, you don’t feel like you have to see the Anne Frank house. So, we booked seats for the evening performance. While we were riding there, it started POURING rain! But we were late and had to keep going. At one point, my mom had a very bad fall that still hurts to this day. Finally, google maps said “you have arrived at your destination”. We were in a construction site. We thought that google had sent us to the wrong place altogether, and we had paid a bunch of money for theatre tickets. But, luckily, we looked a bit more in that neighbourhood and found it! The play was about to start, so the people hustled us to some seats near the back right on time.
Since this is a touristy kind of play, there is a VERY slick translation system. The actors are speaking Dutch, but if you want another language, you get a stand that holds an iPad and earphones. You choose between about 8 languages, and audio and/or subtitles, and there you go. Someone behind the scenes is on a screen clicking whenever a line is said, so you hear the lines real time, even if timing varies between actors of the same role. I loved how even in the English translation, you hear the lines spoken in a Dutch accent. Listening to the translation hardly even detracted a bit from the overall experience.
Anne was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929, but she, her parents and older sister Margot moved to Amsterdam in 1933. In 1942, for Anne’s 13th birthday, she received a diary. But unfortunately, shortly after, her family was forced to go into hiding in the secret annex of her father’s business. A woman named Miep delivered them food and supplies. Soon, 4 other Jews joined them in hiding and they were 8 in the tiny apartment. In her diary, Anne describes the challenges of living in cramped quarters. Since she was so bored, she starts flirting with the other family’s son, Peter. But she gets very tired of him, and he starts really liking her! At one point, she is forced to share her room with a very strange adult man! They would often fight over the table in the room — she wanted to write in her diary, and he wanted to study. The way she dealt with these problems was writing in her diary, because it was her only loyal friend to whom she could tell all her troubles.
Horribly, they were found by some Nazis and were brought to a concentration camp. The Nazis threw her diary on the floor. She and her sister Margot were together until the very end, and they died, probably of typhoid in early 1945. Anne was 15.
The only family member to survive was her father, Otto Frank. The family’s loyal friend Miep found Anne’s diary in the secret annex, and it was first published in 1947.
I really enjoyed that play. It showed the story of the Holocaust from a 14 year old girl’s perspective, which made it easier to understand and relate to for me. The translation system was so slick as well, which made this play really excellent. I highly recommend it. I’m now very interested in reading the book.
By the way, the production has only been on for one year, and it’s just getting started. The theatre it takes place in was built for this play. A few days after we went to it, my grandma emailed us and said that she went to see the Anne Frank play in Stratford, Ontario!
The ride home was a bit sketchy in the dark, but luckily we all made it home safely.

image

The next day, we were going to ride into the city and explore a bit more before riding out of town. But we were all so exhausted that we took a rest day, a day when we are not a) riding somewhere or b) intensely exploring a city. We rode into town again just to ride around and enjoy Amsterdam’s fantastic bike paths.

image

image
This is a "pissoir" (right beside the road), if you know what I mean!

image

My dad gets an email news feed every day of ‘”clean tech” news, and the day before there was an article about a solar panel sidewalk in a village outside of Amsterdam.  So he rode 30km out of town to see it.  He said he didn’t mind riding on a day off because he did not have the bike trailer hooked up.

image
The traditional entrance to the Amsterdam harbour has been closed off for land reclamation, so the boat traffic uses this canal to get to/from Amsterdam now. My dad crossed it on a ferry.

He said the ride there was great but the solar road was “underwhelming” to see. It is only six months old and was apparently quite controversial locally because of the cost and people didn’t think that the sidewalk would generate much electricity.  But it actually has generated much more than expected (70m long and 3000kWhr in 6 winter months) so it seems to be a good news story.  It was built by a company that is experimenting with generating electricity from road surfaces.  Maybe we’ll see more of these in the future.

image
The left side is solar panels.
image
The panels are covered by a rough but strong plexiglass so bikes don't slide and the cover doesn't break.
image
This is the company's promo slide. How's your Dutch? The electricity generated is used for street lighting.

The rest of us just rode around downtown. We saw the Anne Frank house, and it had a really long lineup! We spent that night at Saskia’s place again, and rode out of town the next morning.
Amsterdam is such a beautiful place. It is on my bucket list to live in downtown Amsterdam for a year or more. A bicycle can get you anywhere in town, and a train can get you anywhere out of town. Arts and music are everywhere. The downtown makes you feel like you’re in the past. All of this together make Amsterdam a beautiful, magical and unique city! I’ll be back, Amsterdam!
Kaia

Hello, Holland!

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.

image

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.

image
Northern Germany is very windy, so there are a lot of wind turbines.
image
To get a sense of how huge this wind turbine is, compare it to my dad at the bottom of it. The tiny orange dot is the bike trailer.
image
There were also lots of solar panels!
image
We had lunch in the last town in Germany.

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”

image
We took down the German flag...
image
And put up the Dutch. Unfortunately, we lost it a few days later, because it flew off and landed in a canal!

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”.

image

We continued our ride north into Holland.

image
My dad was mad at Kaia for being a "Bad Arcen"
image
We hit a total distance of 1000km that day, meaning we had cycled 1000km starting from Frankfurt.

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!!!

image
Yay!

image

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.

image

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.

image
Here's us with Jelda in Namibia.

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.

image

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.

image

image

image

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!

image

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.

image

That day, we rode the 50km to Amsterdam, along perfectly flat bike paths, and beside canals (doesn’t get any more Dutch than that!)

image

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.

image
All the coloured land has been reclaimed! The biggest red area is Flevoland. I find it hard to believe that they were reclaiming land in the 1700s, but I guess that's what all the windmills were for -- pumping water!
image
The doors of this lock must be really strong, for if they break, all of Flevoland would be flooded!

As we continued our ride, the weather worsened.

image
While riding along a dike, we went by a huge new wind farm.

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.

image
It was cold and rainy outside, but we ate and slept inside a nice, warm, dry little greenhouse!

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.

Jake