A Dutch Lutheran minister and his wife were riding their tandem in the dark, and were stopped by a policeman for not having lights. “Not to worry said the minister, the Lord is with me”. The policeman said “Since when was the Lord a woman?”.
Ever heard of the ‘Dutch reach‘? If not, you’re probably not a learner driver, nor a cyclist. For the safety of cyclists on the road, new drivers in the UK are being taught to open their doors using the opposite hand, to force them to look behind for overtaking cyclists. Of course, they don’t call it the ‘Dutch reach’ in Holland…..it’s just what we do, said one Dutchman. And Dutch people never ever use fear of traffic to prevent them from riding a bike, which is the most common reason given by British people who might otherwise be persuaded to leave their cars at home and do all manner of everyday errands on a bike. We have a lot to learn still. As Dutch drainage engineers did for us in draining the fens, we need to invite a cohort of Dutch urban planners to sort out our transport infrastructure once and for all. They are the world’s best, believe me. Here are a few other moments we savoured on our journey:
In Amsterdam, a pedestrian stepped into the road and was knocked over by a tandem, sustaining bruises and scratches. The tandem captain said: “Phew you were lucky!”. “What d’you mean ‘lucky’?” said the pedestrian. “Well, I normally drive a tram…….”
Let’s not be literal on this one….a ‘Dutch treat’ is yet another expression for paying your own way (are the Dutch really that stingy?)….but a riverside café was a happy chance discovery, and meeting a family group including a 99 year old gentleman was an even happier occurrence.And when I discovered he had a favourite local sweet delicacy called a hazelino, I had to have one….and he kindly posed to ‘model it’ before I dived in to demolish it.Delft is yet another classically pretty town of the Dutch canal variety, every street an open-air museum of imaginative urban planning, rounded off by a fascinating museum telling the story of the assassination of William the Silent, and the 80 year war between the Protestant rebels and the Spanish Catholic incumbents….it divided the Netherlands for centuries, and even today, there is still a demarcation line that separates the country into two halves….but now, happily, without the internecine aggression. A great finale to our Dutch adventure was to be hosted by another delightful couple, Manon (French) and Florian (German),both with widely varying interests in cycling, walking and climbing. We spent the evening refuelling on excellent food and wine, sharing our various experiences of Cuba, and debating the subtleties of urban cycling infrastructure (Florian is completing his PhD thesis on the topic). Unbelievably, when we set off for the ferry port at the Hook the next day, it was actually raining….so we donned our waterproofs for the first, and only, time…..😀
Dutch tandemists were passed by an oncoming car, the driver waving his arm out of the window shouting: “Pigs, pigs……!!”. Deeply offended by the insult, they pressed down hard on the pedals and sped round the corner….and, sure enough, they collided with a herd of pigs!
And no, a ‘Dutch roll’ is not a cheese sandwich made with Gouda cheese, or any other cheese, but a particular form of aircraft wiggle in the air, imitating the roll of a Dutch ship. I often liken our standing start on the tandem to a plane getting ready for take-off. We need a bit of runway to taxi until we can take off and get up to cruising speed. And the ride can often seem like a flight, weaving in and out, avoiding other road-users and street furniture….
So with the excessive heat, we made an early start (8am), and said goodbye to our hosts in Leiden. Erik and Lia were not only fellow cycling enthusiasts, but also fellow tandem riders, with several multi-week rides under the belt. Their exploits have included Cuba, around the British Isles and the length of Spain. But much more curious and fascinating was Erik’s fascination with the journeys of a French fictional child character in a book by Hector Malot entitled Sans Famille who did a Phileas Fogg-style of journey across Europe totalling some 6000km, and Erik is endeavouring to complete the same journey by bike. Extraordinary and totally unique….
Our ride to Gouda was straightforward, missing the searing heat of the afternoon, and we settled to enjoy the twice-hourly carillon chimes from the city hall,
sitting in air-conditioned comfort for lunch, and meandering along the inevitable canal with its spectacular floral decorations. And, of course, the cheeses, the stroopwafel with ice cream, and the history of the clay pipe.
A Dutch tandeming couple had a marriage-threatening argument one day, and the husband stormed off on his solo bike, riding 80km every day to let off steam. After 7 days he said he felt much happier….now that he was 560km away!
We all know that taking Dutch leave is the equivalent of being AWOL, playing truant, bunking off without permission……well, today that was us….yep, I humbly confess that we ‘bunked off’. So, on an independently arranged cycletour, how do you ‘bunk off’?
Well, we took the train……yes I know (yawn), it is cheating….it’s not in the spirit….it’s playing by the wrong set of rules….but who makes the rules? Well, we do of course…..so we make and break them. The reason? Temperatures here in Holland were climbing into the high 30s, (40C+ had been recorded in Eindhoven) when sensible people take special measures to simply survive. So, we let common sense rule…….OK?
Last night’s Warmshowers hosts, Dirk and Veerle, were exceptional. After a picnic supper, we headed out for ice creams, then on to a favourite bathing spot where Veerle could take a dive into a canal and have a swim…..but, she declared, the water was a bit too warm…..
….air conditioned, lots of space even for a tandem, comfortable……we could have stayed on it all day….but instead, when we got to Leiden, we made a beeline for the Museum of Lakenhal, recently refurbished and a cool haven in the heat…..one of the best museums we have ever visited……anywhere. More than adequate compensation for the missed cycle ride.
A Dutch couple on a tandem were climbing the L’Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 hairpin bends, and the stoker said “Blimey, that was really hard going…..such a steep climb”. “Just as well I kept the brake on”, said the captain “otherwise we would have gone backwards”
After a very hot, sticky night, I climbed up to the top deck of the boat to greet the sun, to enjoy the cool of the dawn, to discuss political shenanigans with an anti-BoJo Scot who had slept on the deck with his teenage son,
and to admire the view from our breakfast lounge.
For €18pp B&B, this was a rare deal indeed, and one to be savoured….
Browsing the forecast ahead of us, we had every reason to shy away from mounting the tandem, but it was only 24km to Amsterdam which, in normal conditions, is a mere pootle in the park, but when it’s in the mid-30s, it can be a trial by ordeal.
But why Double Dutch? Our English metaphor for gobbledegook…..well, to back up my Garmin routing, we switched on Mrs Google in my back pocket while we rode, and Jenny had to repeat everything I couldn’t hear clearly because of traffic noise, so that I knew where to go…..well, you can imagine the fun we had with the pronunciation of street and place names! The common factor was that most ended in ‘straat’….it was the bit that preceded ‘straat’ that caused the fun. Try this one, for example: Scheepstimmermanstraat…..see what I mean?
Anyway, we limped into Amsterdam, defeated by the heat and humidity, and had to forego a visit to the Resistance Museum because, ironically, our resistance had been defeated by the circumstances. What energy we had left was expended on a café terrace while waiting to meet our hosts for the evening…..(to be resumed…)….
A Dutch couple riding a tandem stop by the roadside, and the stoker gets off and lets the back tyre down. “What are you doing that for?” asks the captain. “Oh, I just need to lower my saddle a bit. It was too high”.
Whoever said Holland was flat has never cycled the length of the dunes running from Den Haag to Zandvoort, a distance of some 80km. Flat they are not….any route that runs through dunes is going to be seriously undulating, but the compensation was the almost desert-like wilderness, and the thrill of mixing with a cycling nation out to play.
This route is a favourite with sports cyclists, chasing their Strava points. But the excessive heat began to exact it’s toll, as we headed towards the hottest day ever recorded in Holland’s history….in 48 hours time, we would be ‘basking’ in 38C+ degrees….which for us on the tandem could be health threatening…..decisions had to be made. Our options would either be to make a very early start to Leiden and beat the hottest part of the day, or throw in the towel and take a train….watch this space. But when we limped into Haarlem seeking refuge from the heat, we found some respite in our accommodation for the night on a canal boat….not luxurious, of course, because cabins can only ever be classed as ‘cosy’, but the thrill was in having a picnic supper on the cool deck, as the sun was setting, watching party groups cruising the canals, and being entertained by the adventurous few diving in for a swim, hoping to impress their buddies. Haarlem is quieter than Amsterdam, more laid back, but equally as pretty. The secret to visiting the capital is to stay in Haarlem, only 15 minutes away by train, which is cheaper and more relaxing. Our overnight on the boat, including a very generous breakfast, was only €18 each.
If you look up idioms using the word ‘Dutch’, you will find a plethora of widely dissimilar expressions. So, when you ‘go Dutch’, why is it that you pay for our own food and drinks? And what about ‘Dutch courage’ (a stiff drink before you leap) or speaking ‘double Dutch’ or having a ‘Dutch uncle’? As you’ll find when you read my coming entries, each day’s ride had a ready-made theme.
Anyway, after an overnight ferry crossing to the Hook, when sleep was cruelly interrupted by a 5.30 announcement that breakfast was being served, we wobbled off the ferry ramp suffering from sleep deprivation, and desperate for a second ‘intravenous injection’ of caffeine….which we found in a beach café called ‘Moments’ some 10km along the North Sea route. Well actually, Jenny had the coffee, but I was sorely tempted by an iced beer….believe me, iced beer before 10am can be a tonic….if you get my meaning.
“Oh, you’ll want to take two diversions along the dunes…..perfect cycling routes”, said a kindly passerby, taking a spin with his wife. So we got up onto the head of the dunes (and yes, the track over the dunes is very ‘lumpy’, believe me) and discovered a strong south-westerly breezing up our backsides…. couldn’t believe it….this only happened in dreams.
Destination Den Haag, better known as The Hague, architecturally one of the least interesting cities in Holland, but historically of huge significance. But it has its beauty spots: all around the Binnenhof and the café-strewn streets,
the Peace Palace and its gardens, the stunning floral displays along the leafy avenues….oh yes, there’s money in these parts. And it is flaunted…. But then, everyone rides a bike…..so who could fault them?
Before we said goodbye to Eric and Harma, our Warmshowers hosts for the night, we enjoyed an extraordinary breakfast of wheat-free banana pancakes and strawberries….one of the many reasons we chose to ‘go Dutch’ on this trip…….
Take the tandem abroad? Avoid airports and packing the tandem? Find somewhere that is hill-free? Why not Holland?
Rolling off the ferry from Harwich into the Hook of Holland gave us a perfect start for exploring some of the most beautiful parts of the country. But if you think Holland is completely flat, think again. Some of its most ‘rugged’ nature lies along the Dunes running from the Hague to Zandvoort……some 80km of rolling, desert-like landscape. And because it ‘rolls’, sports cyclists and would-be Steven Kruijswijks like to pump up the speed, attacking the climbs in search of their Strava points.
But before the thumbnail sketches of each day’s experience, here is an overview of the route: