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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:

Trip preparations

Off early tomorrow morning for a nearly 2 week trip to Europe. As always before I travel, my mind is pretty much consumed by preparations. You'd think after the amount of travelling I have done (53 countries, over a million air miles), I'd be more confident about being organized. But no, my 3am wonderings are usually mentally listing the things I've not packed, the bookings I should have made, the research I could have done.

I apply somewhat the same advice about leaving the house wearing clean underwear since you never know when you might be in an accident and,bring shame on the family name if your Jockeys are not pristine to leaving on an extended absence. I like leaving a clean house, because you just never know if it might be your next of kin who winds up next opening the front door. And no one wants to be remembered as a slob. So I...

  • Have everything thing picked up
  • Floors and surfaces clean
  • All laundry done
  • All dishes washed and put away
  • Clean bedding on the beds and towels in the bathroom
  • Empty garbage and recycling containers
  • Any food that can spoil gone
  • Bird feeders filled
  • Garage swept
  • Evidence of any criminal activities well-hidden (just kidding, Mom)

I would like to think my children can have a realtor show the place the day following the report of my demise.

Packing rarely takes too long. Unless I am speaking and need business clothes or engaging in an activity that requires special gear (hiking poles, bike helmet, snorkel and fins), I always go with just a small backpack and a rollybag*. I recently purchased a combo - a bag with both wheels and backpack straps that has a small backpack that can be attached to it. It survived one trip.

This trip was a challenging pack since I needed to bring my bike helmet and enough clothes to last nearly two weeks since I did not see a good day to do a load of wash during the bike ride. It's a tight pack! I keep watching YouTube programs that promise miraculous packing advice and find myself annoyed at spent time with badly shot videos that only state the obvious. The only hint I have which does not merit its own video is to bring an old washcloth and a Baggie with you since most European hotels don't supply them. 

I have never been a victim of a crime while traveling - knock wood. I owe that, I believe, to never getting drunk and always being back in my lodging before 10pm. I am however bringing a fake wallet ($2 at Goodwill) on this trip. The theory is that if you get mugged, you give the thief the fake wallet with just a little money it while you have your real wallet safely hidden somewhere else on your person. My fake wallet, for authenticity purposes, also contains my public library card and a couple gift cards with very small balances. The thief's disappointment will be palpable. 

And remember Evan Esar's famous words, "A vacation is like love – 
anticipated with pleasure, 
experienced with discomfort, 
and remembered with nostalgia." So true, so true. Now to remember to leave my little Swiss Army knife at home...

 * Johnson's 3 rules of travel

  • Only take what you can carry in one load
  • Always bring a book to read
  • Never eat what you can't translate 



BFTP: Lessons learned from bicycling 

This post was originally written June 25, 2006.  I've shared and updated it a few times, but I needed to review it because Wednesday I am leaving for an 8-day boat and bike trip in the Netherlands. Oh, the joys of retirement - may they never grow old. Pictures, I'm sure, in a couple weeks. The computer is staying home.

Your author just a few short years ago...

Some Lessons Learned from Bicycling:

Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia. H.G. Wells

  1. Balance is a good thing.
  2. It's usually uphill and against the wind. (Murphy's Law of Bicycling)
  3. Most big hills that look impossible are usually a series of small hills that are possible.
  4. I've never met a hill I couldn't walk up.
  5. It's better to shift to a lower gear than to stop altogether.
  6. Sometimes it's nice to be able to have equipment to blame things on.
  7. You really can't make your own weather.
  8. Coasting feels good, but you don't get much exercise doing it.
  9. A beer at the end of a long day of riding tastes better than a beer when just sitting around (or at breakfast, I'm guessing).
  10. Don't drink at lunch time and expect to enjoy the afternoon.
  11. Bike helmets are a sure sign that natural selection is still a force of nature.
  12. The few minutes putting air in your tires at the beginning of the day is time well spent.
  13. There will always be riders who are faster than you and riders who are slower than you.
  14. Watching old(er) people zip by you should be encouraging, not discouraging.
  15. Too often we quit because our spirit fails, not our legs or lungs.
  16. Spouses (or entire families) who dress alike should not expect the rest of us to consider them normal.
  17. Too much padding between you and a bike seat is impossible.
  18. The happiest people are the ones who consider life a ride, not a race.
  19. The more expensive the bike and clothing, the higher the expectations others have of your performance.
  20. The 500 calories burnt exercising do not compensate for the 2000 calories from beer drunk celebrating your accomplishment.
  21. Everyone can look buxom on a bicycle - even guys.
  22. You always feel the headwind, but never the tailwind. But it's there.
  23. Most forms of travel involve some degree of discomfort. But keep moving anyway.
  24. Cows always have the right of way.
  25. You eventually dry out even after the biggest downpour.
  26. Don't text and bike.
  27. Always be on the look out for idiots. (See number 26.)
  28. Be grateful for the ability to create sore muscles.
  29. New places look better from a bicycle seat than from the window of a tour bus.
  30. The office will do just fine without you while you are on your bike.
  31. Keep your car keys in a zippered pocket.

And your observations, fellow bicyclists?