Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« 2 advocacy fallacies | Main | Trip preparations »

Biking in the Netherlands 

Back late Monday afternoon from an 8 day bike ride in the Netherlands. My tour took me outside the cities and into the rural areas and smaller towns - I had only been to Amsterdam previously.

I write these posts quite selfishly, more to help me remember the trip, record it for my own rereading pleasure, than to inform anyone else. There is no sensible narrative. You've been warned.
I barely made it to the ship before it sailed, docked at Pontsteiger, about half hour walk from the Amsterdam Central station. My train from Frankfurt came in later than I had planned. The ship was comfortable, if small, with only 25 passengers and 5 crew members. 9 native English speakers, 2 French speakers, 5 multi-lingual crew members, and the remainder German. Congenial group. 
A visit to the oldest lock in the world was part of our Saturday afternoon trial ride of just 6 miles - making sure the bikes worked and people understood the Dutch signage systems. We stopped at a bar where the owner showed us a "hole in the dike" beer glass. As you drank, a stream of beer came out just below the rim if you didn't put a finger over a hole. This is a country that has formed an alliance with water. I don't think one is ever more than 50 steps from a canal or beach. Literally.
We were well fed while on board the ship. Breakfast was continental and you made a sandwich for lunch with the leftover bread, cheese, and meats. Supper was very nice - starter, entree, and dessert. (5 of 8 meals were fish as entree). I appreciated the European sizing of the plates - not too much, not too little, unlike the gargantuan sized portions in the US. Here, the bigger eaters could ask for seconds... Oh, and honor bar. 
For navigating each day, one had choices. You could stick with Japke, our ride leader. You could follow the printed directions which included numbered route signs on the bike paths. You could download the daily maps into Ride with GPS phone app. (screenshot above) Or you could follow the large printed map provided. I usually stuck with Japke, as did 75% of the rest of the bikers. A few of us started going off on our own later in the week.
This ride was heavily promoted as a chance to see the Netherlands' amazing tulip fields. As it turns out, the area had had an unseasonably warm spring and the tulip fields were all harvested quite early. Still, we saw a few, just not the grandeur promised.
Our first full day of biking was to Keukenhof Gardens. Very pretty place if you could actually see the flowers for the tourists. I swear, everywhere I go anymore, there are 10 times the number of damn tourists than there were 10 or 20 years ago. Perhaps it's ironic that I complain about tourists, being one myself. "Oh, I was standing in the middle of the path taking a selfie and you couldn't get by? Huh."
According to our guide Japke, the Netherlands once had over 10,000 operating windmills. Now there are fewer than 1000 and each is on the national register of historic places. A great share of the country is comprised of polders- dry lake beds created by building dikes and pumping the water out. We were told that should the pumps ever stop, the country would all be underwater in 3 months. I am thinking many people throughout the world will be looking to the Dutch for inspiration as sea levels rise.
Bucolic. That's about the only word that describes the Netherlands (at least north of Amsterdam) once you get outside the big cities. And you don't really have to go that far. Cows, sheep, pasture, canals, and all the water birds you can imagine - swans, egrets, herons, geese, ducks, and more ducks and more geese are everywhere. Given the small land mass and the large amount of agriculture, I was surprised at how many fields were pasture. Crop rotation in the flower beds is a big deal. Maybe when you don't have much of something (land), you tend to take better care of it.
I've always loved living on a lake here in Minnesota, but I can see the appeal of living on a canal in Holland. It looks like lots of people do. The towns are as filled with canals as is the countryside and the houses that face them take advantage of the water.
I rented a 7 speed bike for this trip instead of bringing my own. I only used about 4 of the 7 gears. Yes, the low ones given the headwinds most days. The country is flatter than a pannenkoeken. About half the riders this trip had electric bikes. One woman who was really struggling the first day, wound up renting an electric, and went from being the one everyone waited for to the leader of the pack. I guess we all know what she will be getting for her next birthday! The description of riding an electric is like always having a good tail wind. You still have to pedal, just not so hard. Maybe they'll let me have one when I am in assisted living in a year or two.
Part of our biking took us along the North Sea coast. Lovely in its own barren way. The winds were constant and usually in our faces. Much care is taken by the Dutch to make sure the dunes have plenty of vegetation on them to keep the sand from blowing away. Dunes, of course, protect the land.
I found where the crazy cat lady is buried. Next to a small church in a village on Texel Island. 
While this trip was promoted as a sailing trip as well as bicycling, we only sailed one morning. Not a big disappointment to me, but perhaps to others. Most of the time the ship was in a narrow canal or racing to catch bridge which was open only certain times of the day. Still the one morning of sailing was interesting.
I was charmed by what looked like mobile homes lining the canals of nearly every town. Many had small yards and gardens on the street side, so they must not move around much. It looked like many of the Dutch lived in homes no larger than my 850 square foot townhouse. Good for them.
Great signage on the bike trails. While we did on occasion bike on country lanes and small town streets, we traveled primarily on the country's extensive bike paths - "Fietspads."  Bicyclists shared them with those riding motorscooters as well. "Sharks teeth" (white triangles) indicated who should yield on paths and streets. One felt very safe riding. None of the Dutch I saw, including our guide, wore helmets.
The ships boys statue was near where we docked in Hoorn. I enjoyed the many statues that adorned the cities - many honoring heroes from the days when the Dutch ruled the oceans. To anyone interested in Dutch history I recommend Amsterdam: a history of the world's most liberal city by Russell Shorto. 
Cheese, wooden shoes, bicycles, tulips, windmills - yes, the Dutch take major advantage of these icons in catering to tourists. Edam (like the cheese) is a charming small town well worth the visit.
Passengers and crew of the Leafde fan Fryslan (Love from Fryslan) on this voyage in early May of 2019. Great trip that I am glad I took.

I don't think the world can be understood if only seen through the windows of a tour bus. Maybe it really can't be understood well by tourists at all. But at least for me, biking, hiking, and generally slowing the pace of sightseeing feels more authentic. If you need to do 20 countries in 10 days, relax on a cruise ship that docks only 4 hours out of 24, or simply stay home - go for it. But if you have the slightest inclination, try a biking trip someplace in the world.
This is the link to all the photos I have stored from the bike ride online:

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (3)

I love reading your travel posts and I do the same thing for myself. It is great if I ever return to the same places so I can remind myself of the things I liked and didn't like. We are still on our 24 day cruise but I wrote about our few days in Copenhagen before the cruise. Here is the link in case you are bored or interested:

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPat Hensley

<green with envy>

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Thank, you Pat. I enjoyed your post and am subscribed to your blog in my feed reader.

Enjoy the rest of you trip!


HI Kenn,

Temper your envy with the consideration of my advanced years!


May 16, 2019 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>