Cruising Through The Netherlands
Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
1Trip End Aug 20, 2011
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But two years later, here we were, descending the sloping hills of Limburg, the southernmost province of Holland, pedaling down the never-ending bike lanes. Bike paths that winded around farmland, swirled along canals, crossed rivers in ferries, occasionally led us up against powerful walls of gushing wind, but eventually led us through some of the most pristine landscapes of the Nethelands.
But first we had to fit all our clothes, food, tents, sleeping bags, pots, plates, sleeping mats, etc. onto the back of our bikes. And with the immense help of Hanith's mom and Harry, we packed all our stuff onto the rear bike racks. We weighed more than a ton, but we were off.
The first day was a breeze. We were electrified by the fact that something we had talked about for so long -- biking days on end and sleeping in the countryside -- was actually happening. Our jittery feet gently pushed against the pedals as we coasted northward.
We had the advantage the first day of starting at a high elevation. The southern province is perhaps the most hilly in this largely low and flat country. It was a beautiful clear day and the sun was out. The weather was some 27 degrees- we couldn't ask for better.
It was striking that towns in the southern province have a more flamboyant, showy style than those in the spartan, Calvinistic north of Holland. We biked through some fancy, beverly-hills-like towns like the one displayed in the picture below.
Perhaps the gap in the outward flashiness between the north and south is rooted in history. The Rhine river, which begins as a small stream in the Swiss Alps and cuts through four European countries before slicing Holland in two as it makes its way to the North Sea, in the 16th century became a natural demarcation between catholics and protestants. After a protestant wave of iconoclasm prompted Philip II of Spain to send troops to crush the rebellion, protestants escaped to the north of the Rhine. The catholics, many having sided with the Spanish at the time, stayed put in the south. The demographic division is felt in subtle ways today. One way you can clearly identify the southern countryside is by noting how it's dotted with little wayside chapels (small structures often in a square or large sidewalk bearing huge crosses)-- something not found in the north.
We biked past open pastures and apple and pear orchards, snacked in parks, crossed numerous bridges,
As the nights progressed, we got increasingly systematic about setting up our tents. We each knew what we had to do to make the process smooth. David hammered the hinges into the grass, Hanith laid out the sleeping bags, David blew up the mattresses, Hanith strecthed out the tent and so on. There were things that David obviously was no good for. Such as rolling up the sleeping bags. For the sake of efficiency he was banned from folding anything.
Interestingly, in Holland it is taboo to camp out in the middle of the woods as is normal practice in Israel, so the country is filled with resort-type camping grounds, where families literally pack their homes into caravans on wheels and camp out for days/weeks (sometimes months as the holidays here can be very generous). So on our first night we had to stay in a camping site, with our tiny little tent flanked by yacths and fancy caravans.
After we were all setup, we biked to Thorn, an old touristic town known for its white washed brick houses in the centre. We grabbed a beer to celebrate the beginning of our journey.
At night we got blasted with some heavy showers so we cooked some rice and ate some tuna under the shelter of our tent.
The next day we biked north along the Maas river. We ate our midday lunch on a dyke near the river. The Maas' banks are swarmed with beautiful castles built by dukes and bishops centuries ago.
We eventually took a nice ferry to Lottum, a small town known as the rose village, and just as the church bells struck 6 p.m. and the grocery shop was closing down, we made it in time to buy some Heineken and veggies for the night.
That night we cooked some vegetables in peanut butter sauce and watched a movie in our tent!
Things couldn't have be going more smoothly. We had biked a good chunk of our trip, kilometer-wise-- about 130 km in the first two days. The weather had been perfect during the day and had allowed us to make quite a bit of ground.
We hit the road, our ponchos used as rain guards wrapped around our stuff. During the third day, the weather and our stamina began to give way just a bit. We had to take a bit too many breaks and we called it a day after just about 50 kilometers as we sat and ate ice cream in a nice little town and listened to an African music drum jam.
That night, though, we got lucky to find an extremely beautiful mini camp site overlooking farmland and a stream in a small town called Ottersum. As we ate spaghetti and salad, a courteous cow greeted us by defecating right in front of us. As we zipped our tent shut, the skies gushed forth another downpour.
The next day we made it to a new province called Gelderland. Our idea was to bike about 30 kilometers quickly in the morning and spend a few afternoon hours in Nijgmegen, Holland's oldest city, at 2000 years of age! We toured the city a bit, bought some extra gas baloons after running out the previous night, and planned our route to a camping ground near Ede, from where we would bike the next day to Utrecht.
But as soon as we left Nijmegen, the sky grew darker and a maddening piddling ensued.
Still we soldiered on for another 3 hours, with Hanith at the helm, and made it across the ferry to the very green Arnhem area, where we found a sweet camping spot.
As we delighted in a tasty vegetarian dinner, little did we know that we would be later going for a swim. And we made the mistake of setting up our tent at the bottom of the hill rather than on top, becoming more susceptible to be flooded by the downpour.
That night it rained cats and dogs. It poured and poured and poured and poured. And we, all the while, were praying that the tent, which had been bought by Hanith's father Eli back in the 1980's and fixed about 4 times, wouldn't just give up on us. We woke up at 10AM and it was still pouring. It rained non-stop from the night till about 1 pm the next day. We stayed in our tent, where we ate breakfast and watched a German movie, The Welle. From inside our tent, the outside world looked uninviting.
As soon as the rain stopped we rushed out to pack our stuff but just as we began to make our way out it began to pour and the chain was giving us some technical trouble. We rushed to the public bathrooms and fixed the bikes.
So one could only imagine how elated we were after a brief pause in the storm allowed us to head over to Ede, where we would meet Laura, Hanith's cousin. In Ede we took a train to one of our favorite places, Utrecht. Because the weather was so bad and all our stuff was wet, we probably made the wise decision that day to take the 30 minutes train ride. Utrecht is happening, having the advantage of mirroring Amsterdam's high energy without the drawback of being a large sprawled-out city brimming with millions of tourists.
We took a two day stop in Utrecht, where we took the time to dry up, regain our forces, hang out with Laura, eat some nice cauliflower, brie cheese and quinoa meals, and tour the city. Laura showed us a good time in Utrecht and suddenly, a bed and warm shower which didn't require a 0.50 euro coin to dispense water for 5 minutes, seemed like a tremendous luxury.
After 2 restful days in Utrecht we were of on our bikes once again to Amsterdam, where we'd meet Hanith's brother Joni and his girlfriend Andromeda. But first we had to bike and it was a beautiful ride along the Loosdrechtse Plassen lake with the old boat houses and scattered manors and their perfectly pruned gardens.
But the ride was fairly smooth and around 6pm, thirsty, wet, and hungry we were greeted by beers, an abundance of appetizers and warmth in Amsterdam
We had planned to stay in Amsterdam for just 2 or 3 days but kept postponing our departure and eventually stayed there for a week in Andromeda's funky apartment. We watched a French movie at Pluc da Nacht, a summer film festival, went out to a funk show in Paradiso, and of course frequented the many cafes at the wonderful grachten (canals) in this city.
Following a scenic bike ride to Haarlem, another major city in Holland, we saw perhaps one of the most magnificent churches, the grote kerk.
And we cooked many Shakshukas for breakfast.
And then it was goodbye Amsterdam:
The following day we did a short bike ride to Purmerend, a relatively new city north of Amsterdam. Not far away, we visited Zans Schans, a city that in its peak was one of the industrial capitals of Europe but eventually lost its factories to England with the invention of steam power. Now, it attracts throngs of Japanese tourists who snap hundreds of pictures of its sightly saw mills.
The next day was going to be a long one. We needed to bike about 45km to Enkhuizen and catch the boat ferry to Stavoren in Friesland at 1230 pm and then ride to Hanith's grandparents' cabin near the lake. But we had very strong northern backwind and we made it with plenty of time to kill.
Once we got to Rijs, we relaxed, cooked a nice vegetable soup, a fish and spinach meal. The next day would be the final 70km leg to our cross country trip.
The last day we felt on top of the world as we biked past the last few towns. We had some raw Hering and deep fried kibbeling fish at Sneek, a quaint Friesian town known to be a popular stop for boat travellers. The night we finished our journey Hanith's mom cooked us a typical and delightful dutch meal with Mashed potatoes topped with gravy, brocoli and melted cheese and some Kipfillet. All in all, as Hanith says, the trip was appeltje eitje (a small apple and a small egg), the Dutch expression for just saying ``Peanuts''.