Homeward Bound!

12/8/17. Train ticket pricing meant that it made sense to break or our journey from Koblenz to the Hook of Holland close to the German/Dutch border (German railways have an excellent value “deal” for two people travelling together that applies across Germany but not on international services). So on Tuesday, after cycling into Koblenz, we caught the train as far as Emmerich – on the Rhine and 7 km ride from the border.

There we found another excellent campsite which was really just a field on what appeared to be a working farm but with very good sanitation facilities. Again there were no registration formalities so that is another €12 that will, we suspect, escape the German tax system!

The next morning we rode the short distance to Zevenaar station. Crossing the border was, of course, low key (marked by a restaurant of all things) but we both felt a change in “atmosphere”. Maybe it was the windmill, maybe it was the even better cycling infrastructure, maybe it was that it appeared more populated and built up. Probably it was a continuation of all of these things.

Just on the cycling infrastructure – it was a fairly narrow road, just wide enough to allow two lanes of traffic. In Britain we would paint a dotted white line down the middle to keep vehicles travelling in opposite directions apart. That is NOT what they do in Holland! They have two lanes of different coloured tarmac 1½ metres wide on each side for bikes and a single wide lane down the middle for motorised traffic. If two cars going in opposite directions happen to meet then, provided there are no bikes nearby, the cars can encroach into the cycle lanes to pass without slowing too much. The entitlement of bikes to use their lanes is reinforced by very short stretches of bollards between the cycle lanes and the vehicle lane every few hundred metres.

How sensible is that? Please can we have it in the UK?

From Zevenaar two changes of train took us to Rotterdam Central where we alighted and rode the 30 km to Hook of Holland alongside the last stretch of the Rhine. There we checked into the campsite at which we stayed last year when riding along the North Sea coast to Dieppe.

We booked the ferry to Harwich several weeks ago while we were in Finland so that we could meet up with our son and daughter-in-law when they are in the UK (summer holidays from Bahrain). As a result, we had two days to “spare” in Hook of Holland. On Thursday Stephen took the opportunity to ride to the Intertek office nearby to meet with Cornell which was good fun.  Christine spent the day in The Hague which was not a huge success as it took longer to get there than expected and it was not full of canals and pretty buildings.

Friday was much better for sight seeing as we both went to Delft which was both closer and prettier. A trip is heartily recommended!

Saturday morning passed slowly waiting for the tent to dry after the overnight rain and then for boarding on the ferry to start just after midday.

Crossing the Rhine Delta

1-5/9/16. Leaving Katwijk it was a short day (only 33 km) through the dunes, around The Hague to The Hook of Holland. The last part was familiar to Stephen as he has ridden that way several times when waiting for the ferry after visiting Intertek’s operation in Rotterdam.

We found a small campsite that was very reasonable (€14) a couple of km from the town and harbour. After doing the laundry in a facility attached to the supermarket across the road for a less reasonable €5 (or €6 if you use their powder) we walked into town. The signs to “Engeland” (that’s how it is spelt in Dutch) made us feel quite homesick and it was tempting to just jump on the next ferry to Harwich! (We found out later when talking to a cyclist who had arrived a couple of days early for his boat that the sailing that evening was fully booked and he was not sure he would find a space before his scheduled trip).

To cross the first of many arms of the Rhine we had to cycle about 15 km inland which was rather depressing as it felt as though we were going in completely the wrong direction. Crossing by ferry (only €2.10 each, including bike), we managed to get ourselves a little lost in a housing estate when the knooppunkt (a system of numbered points used for guiding along cycle routes) dried up temporarily.

We spent the night just outside Ouddorp on a site that was clearly very much a sideline for a farm. This is something we had not seen before, perhaps because we had been sticking to the coast where commercial sites prevail and appears to be called “minicamping”. The €10 fee disappeared into a pile of notes in the farmer’s overall pocket (never to be seen by the Dutch taxman, we suspect!).

Saturday saw the wind blowing strongly from the south west – and guess which direction we were headed! It was tough going at times, particularly when crossing the three bridges on our route to Middelburg. We had left the dunes behind us and the countryside was similar to that in Friesland – pastural – but more densely populated, and, of course, pan flat!

Middelburg was a busy, pretty place that clearly attracts a lot of visitors and was a convenient place to have excellent ice creams in the town square. The campsite, another minicamping affair, was just outside town and, although 50% more expensive than the previoys one, had excellent facilities up to Aussie or Kiwi standards including a gas hob, microwave, cutlery, plates, and a large sitting room. Also showers and excellent wifi were included in the price. Again, excellent value!

On Sunday we went our separate ways as usual – Christine walked into town for a church service while Stephen had his constitutional bike ride (a ride of two halves, Brian – easy first half with the wind followed by a real slogfest to get back “home”). The afternoon was given over to pratting about on the internet, catching up on things that have slipped since we returned to Europe.

In the morning, Stephen took us by the “scenic” route (i.e. we went 13 km rather than the 8 km it should have taken us!) to the ferry in Vlissingen. This ferry was an impressive operation – a bike deck but no space for cars and cyclists outnumbering pedestrians by about 5 to 1.

The last 20 km in The Netherlands were similar to the previous 750 – not particularly remarkable but extremely pleasant – and, to repeat ourselves, dead flat. As we approached the border there was a diversion in the cycle path for building works with a map explaining that it would take an extra 8 minutes and involve the expenditure of an extra 59 calories!

We would have crossed the border without knowing it if it wasn’t for a road sign with a .be website address. Entering Blankerberge, the coastline became much more “developed” with a large promenade and a clear orientation towards holidaymakers. We also saw the De Lijn trams which run all the way to De Panne (close to the French border) more than 70 km away. When looking at the map we have found it surprising how short the Belgian coast is in comparison to the Dutch. We expect to be in France tomorrow evening!

Meeting Maaike & Jawing With Josie

30&31/8/16. And spelling her name correctly this time! (Apologies, Maaike, for omitting one of the “a”s last time.)

The campsite in IJmuiden was a little gem. We had ridden out of the town towards the sea through an industrial area thinking “This doesn’t look very promising or inspiring”. Suddenly the factories and warehouses came to an end and the dunes started – and there was the campsite. The map of the site had various bits of information, one of which was to keep food and shoes tucked away because of the foxes.

In the middle of the night Stephen woke to a rustling in the “vestibule” of the tent and, looking out, saw a head disappearing through the half unzipped door and a trail of items leading through it. He gathered everything back in but could only find one of Christine’s sandals. It turned up the next morning, 30 feet away in the middle of the grass. Obviously Mr Fox decided it wasn’t as tasty as he first thought!

What did not turn up was a packet of 6 small cartons of orange juice all wrapped in cellophane. We find it difficult to believe that a fox would be attracted to this but they were definitely by the door to the tent the previous evening and by morning they were nowhere to be found. Bizarre!

With Amsterdam so close (less than 25 km) we decided to take another rest day and to do the touristy thing for a change. The bus stop was dead convenient being within 10 metres of the gate to the campsite in IJmuiden. The only problem was that the bus whizzed past as we walked out the gate – the timetable in the campsite was an old one and the times had been brought forward by 3 minutes! Grrrrr!! Still, it wasn’t a major issue as they went every half hour.

We hadn’t been to Amsterdam for about 15 years but it was as lovely as ever. We enjoyed just mooching around looking at the old buildings and canals – and, of course, all the different sorts of bike.

A couple of days earlier we had received an email from Maaike – the young lady from Oxfordshire who we had met in Germany about a week ago. She was staying with her aunt in Haarlem (her mother is Dutch) and suggesting we meet for coffee and lunch. With Haarlem only about 15 km away this was too good an opportunity to miss so we had a leisurely start to Wednesday before a pleasant but somewhat circuitous ride to the house.

Maaike had been roped into helping with the decorating (singing for her supper!) and I think she welcomed the break. We had a most enjoyable time with her and her aunt (whose name is the unpronounceable and unspellable Dutch equivalent of Mathilda!) talking about her plans for the next part of her trip (to France & Spain), her aunt and uncle’s motorbike holidays in Scotland and, inevitably, Brexit.

All too soon we thought we ought to let Maaike return to her painting and we set off again.  Despite the uppy/downy nature of the route through the dunes, it was even busier than other rural bike paths in Holland, probably because it passed through several seaside towns that are clearly popular resorts.

We found a nice campsite at Katwijk and, after we were set up, a lady turned up with her three children on a collection of tandems, bikes and trailers. We were impressed with her “bravery” in undertaking such an enterprise. All of a sudden Christine recognised her! It was Josie Dew who has written several books, which we have read, about her cycling exploits (before children) in various parts of the world. Not only did these books partly inspire this jaunt that we are on, but she also has a Roberts bike like us!

We had a lovely chat with her and her children, Molly, Daisy and Jack (ages 3 to 10) about their 6 week camping holiday in Holland. Not surprisingly they are not covering the heroic distances that Josie wrote about in her books – just a gentle 5 to 10 miles a day so the kids can also enjoy the sea and sand as well. Interestingly, Molly, the oldest, is not a chip off the old block – she doesn’t really like cycling, preferring walking and swimming. Daisy does like it but apparently also enjoys sunbathing on the back of the tandem while Mum does the pedalling! Jack was racing around the campsite on his balance bike (which is strapped to his buggy when they are cycling).

We Are Still Alive!

23-29/8/16. Sorry for the lack of updates in the last week. The “reason” is that there doesn’t seem to have been much to report back on.

We have been making our way down the Dutch coast and are now west of Amsterdam, near Haarlem. It has been thoroughly pleasant but unremarkable – which is not intended to damn with faint praise. We have been enjoying the cycling, the countryside and the people very much.

We found the cycle paths in Germany wonderful but the Dutch ones are on a whole new level! They are more like “cycling roads” – generally having priority where they meet the real roads, wide (often allowing 2 way traffic), well signposted and they are everywhere. It is no wonder that they are so well used. There are bikes of all shapes and sizes – ridden by people of all shapes and sizes! And hardly a helmet in sight, apart from the lycra clad wannabe racers. Even Christine has “gone Dutch” as it were (Stephen stopped wearing his as soon as we left Aus and NZ (where they are required by law).

The first part of the route was in Friesland, the coastal area of which is a national park – part of the Wadden Sea World Heritage site. Generally we were riding at the base of the dyke on the land side but periodically we would climb up the slope to look at the saltmarsh and mudflats. At one point there was a hide which looked over a favourite beach of the seal population. There were more than 50 basking in the sun when we were there.

There was one point when wave after wave of ducks and geese flew over us heading south. It felt as though we were under an avian motorway and we were worried about getting splattered!

The area was relatively sparsely populated (by Dutch standards at least) with the occasional small village or town and of course the landscape was pan flat.  There were, however, a lot of campsites around so it was straightfoward to find somewhere to stay when we had had enough cycling for the day – apart from the third and final day in Friesland, that is. The weather had been glorious all day – in fact TOO gloroius for Christine who started to wilt in the sun and heat as the afternoon wore on. We passed a campsite but she decided that she would prefer to head to the next one marked on the map, about 10 km further on, so that we were closer to the long dam across the IJselmeer which we were going to cross the next day.

However, when we turned up in the small town where the site was shown we could find neither hide nor hair of it. The only possible place was a “bungalow park” but we were told in no uncertain terms that camping was not allowed. We were faced with two alternatives – go 6 km sort of back the way we had come but inland or head on to Harlingen, another 15-20 km. As the temperature had dropped a little, Christine felt she could manage the latter and we were pleased that we did so as we found a very nice campsite, which was clearly very popular.

On Friday, we headed south for about 10 km before turning onto the dam. We had been viewing this with some trepidation as it was 30 km heading right into the prevailing wind with absolutely no shelter.  However, our luck was in as we actually had a gentle tail/cross wind from a north/north easterly direction! The trip on the dam was actually fairly boring as it was a dead straight route beside a motorway with the view on one side blocked by the dyke – but it is an impressive engineering feat.

At the end of the dam we turned northwards towards Den Helder which meant that we were heading pretty much into the teeth of the wind. It made for hard going but was, no doubt, divine retribution for the easy time we had had earlier in the day.

As we had been making good progress we decided to have an “extra” rest day on Saturday (as well as Sunday) there. It was also an opportunity for Christine to catch up on her walking which had been “neglected” in the last couple of weeks by the absence of hills for her to push up! To do this we caught the ferry to the island of Texel – along with two million other cyclists! And it appeared as though any motorists on the ferry immediately hired bikes as soon as they landed!  We have never seen so many cyclists in a day. If we had a pound – or even a penny – for everyone on a bike that we saw that day we would be extremely well off!

Sunday was spent at church or on the statutory bike ride (depending on your inclination) followed by an afternoon of laundry and leisure. In the evening we went to dinner with Patricia, a lady from Cambridge who married a Dutchman and has lived in Den Helder for 30+ years, with whom Christine got chatting at church. We had a lovely meal of homemade soup and bread – and a highlight for Stephen, at least, was the homemade pickled onions!

Monday saw us back on the road – or rather cycle path – again heading south. This involved (gasp!) some climbing (in a very low key sense!) through the dunes which are, apparently, the highest in Holland. There was one point where we were looking down on the absolutely pan flat fields, many of which were covered in water (we are unsure why) – it looked just like paddy fields in Japan apart from the style of the buildings.

Christine had woken with a sore throat and the cold developed “nicely” throughout the day so that by mid afternoon she was feeling distinctly under the weather but determined to make it a decent day’s trip – especially as we were enjoying the tailwind. Amazingly, this was the first illness that either of us of had in about a year of cycling (other than the broken arm, of course!). No doubt that will put the mockers on our health from here on.