BrEnter

Day 86: Haarlem to Newcastle-on-Tyne, July 13th

Our Airbnb host, Dorien, provided us with an excellent breakfast including espresso and those chocolate flakes that the Dutch love to put on peanut butter. I thought it was interesting that the Dutch were really into peanut butter, whereas we rarely even saw a single jar of it in other European grocery stores (it’s all about hazelnut spreads).

We talked more to Kate, the girl from New Zealand, and as we packed up we exchanged info. Now we have a place to stay if we want to go to Middle Earth.

It was a short and pleasant ride to the ferry docks in IJmuiden, and we had time to stop for a traditional Dutch lunch: Herring with pickles and onions.

The boarding process was really efficient, and we discovered that our little cabin had an ensuite shower/toilet (which we had not expected).

I felt a little melancholy as we sailed away; it was a feeling that I couldn’t shake for about twenty-four hours.

Distance: 15 km (plus overnight ferry)

$306

Haarlem Shake

Day 85: Amsterdam to Haarlem, July 12th

So, we ended up with an extra day because of the sold out ferry. We spent it riding closer to the ferry docks, and stayed at an Airbnb in Haarlem. It turned out very well, despite setting us back a day.

It was raining when we woke up, and looked to rain until mid-afternoon. Vlad had originally told us we needed to be out by 10, as he had to go out, but he took pity on us and invited us to stay later. We could tell he was really nervous that we would forget to leave the key.

It rained, and rained. We stayed until 2pm. When we left it was still a bit misty, but it quickly cleared up and we ended up with a beautiful ride, much of it on a cycle path through woods.

As we neared our destination, Deb’s bike started to make a noise. We traced the problem to the same bolt that worked loose on my bike many weeks ago. We’re pretty good at unloading/removing the rear wheel/reassembling now, so it didn’t take long to repair.

We rode through Haarlem, pausing only to take a couple of photographs, then found our Airbnb west of the centre. Our host, Dorien, was delightful, and she even gave me a cold beer. Late in the evening her other guest, Kate, arrived and we all chatted in Dorien’s living and dining room. Kate, a New Zealander, was near to finishing several weeks of touring herself, though she was doing it with a backpack and no bicycle.

For a Facebook post about this being the end of Phase 1, I added up all our distances to date:

Running Total: 3882 km

 

Distance: 32 km

$109

Dutch Golden Age

Day 82-84: Amsterdam

Sunday the 9th

Our first day we decided to try walking in to the city. It was a fairly long hike, but it gave us a chance to see things we would’ve missed had we taken the tram. We decided against riding in mostly because we planned to sample some beer.

We toured around the old city, including Dam Square. We’ve both been to Amsterdam before, and there wasn’t anything in particular we ‘had’ to see. The throngs of tourists in that area get tiring quickly, and the dozens upon dozens of shops selling crap are just depressing. Much better to walk some canals and explore quieter neighbourhoods, which is how we spent most of the day.

We also went to Brouwerij Het IJ, which was packed. It’s right next to a windmill and the river IJ, and it serves some fine craft brews. Just don’t expect service with a smile. The bartenders are so busy they’re more like fast food workers. We couldn’t get into the free tour, and we couldn’t get a seat outside, but we did enjoy a couple of small glasses at a table by a window.

After we walked around some more we let the app Untappd guide us to another riverside establishment: the Delirium Café. Here we got a great outside table, a plate of fries, and yes, more beer.

It seems to me a lot of these posts make it sound like all we do is drink beer. This is not quite the case, but it’s easier to let the photos show the things we saw than to describe our meandering walking tours.

$173

Monday the 10th

Our second day in Amsterdam we walked in again, but we took a different route. This time we found ourselves in the beautiful Flevopark. After getting nicely lost wandering the streets, we headed for a beer garden, where we had nachos and watched the students, etc. hanging out. After lunch we explored the Oosterpark and its environs before we took the tram back to IJburg where our host, Vlad, shared a bottle of Georgian (Russia) wine with us.

$174

Tuesday the 11th

Our third day we finally decided to take transit into the city. Around the Rijksmuseum is a nice sculpture garden which is free to explore, and after spending some time there we wandered accidentally into the Vondelpark, which is huge, and very nice.

We finally found what we were looking for: the De Pijp neighbourhood and the Albert Cuyp Market. We loved wandering up and down these pedestrian-only streets.

Our transit tickets were good for the day, so we hopped another tram into the tourist madness, saw the inexplicably long lines for the Heineken Experience and the Amsterdam Dungeon, and walked through the flower market.

We took a free ferry to Amsterdam-Noord and back, then walked back into the warren of old streets, and found an excellent beer bar where we sat by an open window and watched all the fun.

 

$197

 

Vlad’s Pad

Day 81: July 8th, Fort Spion (Loosdrecht) to Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We had booked what we thought would be our last four nights in continental Europe weeks ago, so there was no mystery about where we were headed. It was another gentle, and fairly pretty ride of only a couple of hours to get to the east end of Amsterdam and up into what was supposed to be our final stop before the UK. (We have one more night, in Haarlem, because the ferry was sold out on the 12th).

The neighbourhood around Vlad’s Airbnb is very new, and apparently crammed with families with young kids. His wife and his own kid are away for a couple of months, so we’re in the child’s room, which has been thoroughly emptied of her stuff. We have a view of the water and can see sailboats.

There’s not too much in the immediate vicinity, but we did find a grocery store (we have access to a kitchen and fridge, so more options).

It’s a box wine, blog, and planning evening. Tomorrow we do Amsterdam, on a Sunday, which means it will be pretty quiet. We’ve both been here before, but we loved it, and know we’ll find plenty to do for these final days before Phase II of the trip.

Distance: 25 km

$129

No Sleep ’til Breukelen

Day 80: July 7th, Gouda to Fort Spion (Loosdrecht), The Netherlands

Deb found an interesting campsite about halfway between Gouda and Amsterdam, located at an old fort. You had to have a special nature camping membership to tent there, but it also had a small “depot” you could rent without that added cost. We booked this mysterious depot, and Google Mapped our way north.

On the way we rode along a beautiful canal and then ended up riding along the Vecht river, past giant mansions, most built in the 17th century. We also rode through Breukelen, which the Americans decided to spell a little more simply when they named their borough.

When we got to the campsite, we found a nice little farmhouse and some ‘silky’ chickens. We weren’t sure where the fort actually was. Then the proprietor (groundskeeper?) arrived, and took us over a small bridge, across what turned out to be an actual moat.

He showed us the fort, which consists of several buildings on this small ‘island’. Our depot turned out to be a barrel-vaulted brick chamber right in the fort itself. It was formerly a machine shop and it still had a massive hook in the ceiling. Despite the heat of the day, it was cool inside. It very much reminded me of Fort Henry in Kingston, except brick instead of limestone. Both forts are from about the same era.

Fort Spion also has an Officers room, telegraph room, and gunpowder room, etc. which are now all part of an apartment available for rent (it looked great). Another chamber has been converted into a nice lounge for the tenters. When we thought it couldn’t get better, Martijn offered us fresh eggs from his chickens.

Deb and I were so happy with the place we were practically bursting. We showered, explored (meeting the sheep that are the Fort’s only permanent residents), and had a meal on the little patio in front of our super-cool fort Hobbit Hole. There was even a fridge where we were able to chill our grocery store beer.

We read our books and watched as the cycle tourers showed up and went to the tenting area on the other side of the fort. It would be a great place for that too, but we were very happy to have electric elements for cooking, plus plugs for all our gadgets.

Distance: 45 km

$77

Trending on Twitter

Day 79: July 6th, Utrecht to Gouda, The Netherlands

Edward’s Airbnb served an amazing breakfast, including poffertjes, a traditional Dutch treat of small puffed pancakes served with powdered sugar. He had another couple of guests: locals buying a new home in the neighbourhood.

We learned the correct way to pronounce Gouda (it’s more like Hhhow-da, and you have to make that harsh back-of-the-throat ‘H’ sound).

With a final goodbye to him and a last scratch for Chokh dī, we let Google Maps guide us to our next town.

I don’t think you really can have a bad ride in the Netherlands. Again, great paths and super flat. Deb and I now call the climb at overpasses and bridges “Dutch Mountains”. I think I’ve used two different gears the entire time I’ve been in the country.

We had arranged with our Gouda hosts to check in at 11, because we wanted to be able to see the famous Cheese Market, which wraps up at 1. We were met at the door by a woman in a Canada T-shirt, which was a nice touch. Nicole told us she’d never been to Canada (too cold) and helped us with our stuff. Even better, she offered to take us to the market herself.

After growing up in Kenya, Nicole is now married to Erwin, a Dutch pastor and social worker who lived in Africa for many years. She took us to all the big sites and waited patiently while we cheese shopped and took cheese pictures. It really is all about cheese in that town.

Then we sat at a great patio that she recommended, had a drink, people-watched, and talked some more. We were their first Airbnb guests, and we could tell that Nicole was looking forward to meeting people from all over the world. Apparently, she’s a bit of a social media celebrity, and was dealing with some negative flack from jealous people in Africa.

We went back to their home to drop off our cheese and Erwin invited us to join them for barbecue. Deb and I had time to hit a beer cafe that “Untappd” told us about, and to pick up a six-pack and chips to contribute to the meal.

It was an amazing evening with fascinating hosts. A rain storm chased us inside, but we continued to talk for hours. Later, we fell asleep listening to the thunder roll over the flat, flat countryside.

Distance: 30 km

$133

Chokh dī

Day 78: July 5th, Amersfoort to Utrecht, The Netherlands

Another short ride through the wonderfully flat and green Dutch countryside. Well, much of the ride was next to a fairly busy road, but we just had to look to our left to see the cows and windmills. And oh, the Dutch have such wonderful cycle paths!

If only they didn’t let scooter riders use them too.

Someone in this house has just graduated

Deb and I really stand out in the Netherlands when we’re riding, and not just because I ride with Kitty Litter pails bungeed to my bike. Absolutely nobody wears a bicycle helmet. Not children, not the elderly, nobody. Well, the guys on sporty, speedy bikes who want to look like tour-de-France riders wear them. It’s very strange because in every other country we’ve visited there was a mix of lidded and un-lidded riders; here, wearing a helmet on a non-racing bike marks you instantly as being a tourist.

It wasn’t a long ride to our Airbnb, but it was on the other side of Utrecht, so we got a bit of a tour on the way through.

We arrived a little early, but our host, Edward, and his adorable dog Chokh dī (“Lucky” in Thai), made us feel right at home. He brought us some lunch, then readied our room.

It was a bit of a hike, but we decided to walk into the city. There we hit the big landmarks before stopping for a beer on a great people watching patio.

On the way back to Edward’s home, we stopped at another microbrewery. They had many, many taps, so we both went for tasting platters.

We ate in Edward’s garden, and he and Chokh dī joined us. He told us about his great Airbnb hosting experiences, about life in the Netherlands, etc.

Distance: 32 km

$109

De Stijl in Town

Day 77: July 4th, Amersfoort, The Netherlands

We were enjoying Amersfoort so much we decided to use up our ‘float day’ before the ferry to the UK and stay another day. But when we asked we were told the hotel was fully booked.

We packed up, and I had even taken the first load down to the bikes, when we were told that a bigger (pricier) room had become available. We debated. It had a private shower…

We stayed, and didn’t regret it. The weather was great, and there was lots we hadn’t seen. Amersfoort is a town where you can just pick a street at random and stroll.

We walked by Piet Mondrian’s house, which is now a museum. As with the Bauhaus, I felt I should see it and get a photo.

Another bonus was the local microbrewery which was closed on Monday was now open. We had a sunny beer at a brew cafe, and had several tasters at the brewery.

Deb still couldn’t find any postcards, but she did find a place to purchase stamps.

The hotel had good WIFI, so Deb was able to phone her Mom to wish her a happy birthday. We were also able to get a lot of planning and Airbnb booking done.

Distance: 0

$192

A Good Day Starts with Bunnies

Day 76: July 3nd, Zeewold to Amersfoort, The Netherlands

A sunny morning with bunnies. And coffee.

We found the lf9 again and crossed the Nijkerkersluis.

In the lovely village of Spakenburg we stopped at a bakery for goodies.

Our hotel for the night turned out to be as central as possible in Amersfoort. To get there we had to dismount and push the bikes along a couple of pedestrian-only streets packed with shoppers. The hotel was over a pub and directly adjacent to the city’s most famous landmark: a giant bell tower.

Amersfoort is beautiful, and yet somehow does not seem ‘touristy’. The only place Debbie saw postcards (and she was on the hunt) was in the tourist info office. There was a definite lack of Netherlands tourist crap for sale (you know the kind of place I mean: selling keychains, shot glasses, and T-shirts with funny sayings on them).

We enjoyed a free pint in the pub (first one is free for guests of the hotel) and had a big lunch there. Then we explored.

Distance: 28 km

$130

Fables of the Green Forest

Day 75: July 2nd, Zwolle to Zeewold, The Netherlands

I woke up to the sound of magpies fighting over a bag of food scraps that we hadn’t hidden well enough. We still didn’t get up early enough to beat the rain. We frantically packed everything away, then took shelter under an overhang and had a makeshift breakfast.

Riding in the rain is much better than standing in the rain. We rode through Zwolle, and the sun eventually came out.

After Zwolle, we were surprised to find that the cycle route included a short ferry trip to Hattem, which turned out to be a very pretty town. Everything was closed because it was Sunday.

Later, we rode along the north shore of Lake Veluwe, until we reached Zeewold where we camped at the excellently named “Green Forest Campground”. We took a trekker’s cabin, which allowed us to charge all our devices. It had bunk beds. Deb took top bunk.

Distance: 60 km

$59