Netherlands

Sorry for the small number of pictures. I’m having technology problems.

Time is a strange thing when you are cycle touring. So much happens in one day that often we get to the evening and find ourselves surprised that something happened only that same morning. Take the other day, for instance, we set off from our Warm shower hosts thatched house nestled amongst fields of barley and hay at around 9am.

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Warmshower hosts Marijanne and Jan's home

The cycling was easy going and we were following the knooppunt cycle system. Here, instead of cycle routes, the Dutch number all the cycle path intersections with numbers. This means you can make up your own route by cycling from number to number, or knooppunt to knooppunt.

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Knooppunt map

Maps showing the knooppunt are displayed at various points along the route. We took a photo of the map and also wrote down the string of numbers we were following.

Today we decided to ride across the National Park Dwingelderveld, an area of heathland and lochans conserved for its wildlife and habitat interest. By elevenses it was full on drizzle and we took shelter under some trees to eat our syrup waffles. 10 mins later, Jerry discovered he had a puncture in his rear tyre. This we repaired having found a shelter by a car park

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Jerry repairing his puncture

Then we found that none of our pumps would pump the tyre up again. My new one, purchased in Kent, got so far and then as much air as we pumped in just came out again and we couldn’t make Jerry’s one fit! Aargh…. What to do? We were stuck out in the forest with a completely flat back tyre.

The car park belonged to the National Astronomy Centre and being resourceful people, I used Google translate to look up some key sentences then we approached a man getting out his car. “Kan je me helpen? Mijn fietspomp is gebroken. Heb je een fietspomp?” Fantastic, he understood and said “Ja”! Then he continued talking in Dutch and I was completely lost! Luckily for us, he also spoke beautiful English and asked us to follow him to reception. A bike pump was then located. Sadly, it did not fit being for a Dutch valve not a Schrader. But then a few other employees, on their way out to lunch, got involved and invited us round to the back entrance, found a car foot pump and, feeling sorry for us in the bad weather gave us hot chocolate and coffee. How wonderful strangers can be! We also learnt much about the astrological centre and its discoveries of hydrogen in outer space.

Back on our way again, we cycled north across the flat arable landscape towards Groningen, the most northerly city in the Netherlands. The drizzle continued and we took shelter under a hedge for lunch. We eventually arrived at the city campsite at 7pm, having been hooted at and told that cycling wasn’t allowed on that road and shouted at for not giving way to the right at a junction. All helpful things in their own way!

We’ve been doing a lot more camping in the Netherlands. The joys have been waking in the early dawn to hear Nightjars churring in the woods. Soon after the woodcock wake up and join in. They sound very much like frogs croaking as they fly through the woods. We sat outside the tent one evening and watched a family of nuthatch dancing up and down the trunk and branches of a tree looking for insects in the bark. Jerry spotted a black woodpecker whilst going for his morning constitutional and most mornings we have been greeted by cuckoos. The downsides have been mosquitos and ticks. Both as nasty as each other and so far their bites have been itching for a week! Jerry has been a real star on a couple of nights, when the mosquitos have been particularly bad, cooking dinner while I hide in the tent. I come up in huge white welts from the bites, Jerry is lucky enough to get only a red mark.

Eindhoven, our first Dutch city, has been a mythical place for me since my childhood, when my dad would fly off there for work meetings. Looking for the Philips lab, an elderly gentleman asked us if we needed any help. It turned out he used to work there as a translator and had sent letters to Mullards in the UK where my dad worked. He told us how to find the places we were looking for and how to find the Philips Museum.

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Outside the Philips museum

The latter was highly interesting. Philips started making lightbulbs with filaments made from cotton fibres in the 1890s at a small factory in Eindhoven. They were heavily involved in the development of radio and television, telling a money strapped post war Dutch government that if they weren’t able to develop TV they would go bust. They went onto develop portable x ray machines, radio cassette players, CD discs and MRI scanners. There was plenty of opportunity for us to recognise products from our childhood.

You can’t cycle in the Netherlands for long without coming across reminders of WW2: monuments to massacred Dutch, bullet holes in buildings, sculptures to commemorate the allies advance, and echoes of the harsh and murderous treatment of Jews and others. This was particularly poignant as we travelled towards Nijmegen and Arnhem. Nijmegen was the first Dutch city invaded by the Germans being only 6km from the border. It has a strategic bridge across the Waal (or Rhine). In 1944, the allies wanted to secure this bridge before the Germans could blow it up, at the same time as capturing the bridge across the Nederijn, a little further to the north. They succeeded in doing both but made no more progress north. The people here had to wait until the end of the war to be liberated.

Groningen is a university city in the north of the Netherlands where some of the old buildings survived the wars and have been surrounded by modern architecture. We spent a very pleasant afternoon wandering around its streets with a walking guide to the city. We discovered several groups of almshouses nestled around garden courtyards. Very picturesque. They were set up in late mediaeval times as hospitals to care for the poor, sick and for travellers. The main church tour has a 64 bell carillon that plays a tune every quarter hour. This carillon playing turns out to be a major obsession in this part of the world. Canals surround the city and are full of house boats and Dutch sailing scheeps. We found a broker selling boats from barges at €59,000 up to square riggers at poa and €600,000. There were some tempting, lovely wooden masted vessels.

So tomorrow we are off to Germany. Travelling through countries for such a short length of time and then moving on to the next one is hard going. We are just starting to getting to grips with the language, rules of the road, shopping and food, the relative cost of things when we have to start all over again. Both Belgium and the Netherlands have been great for cyclists though the Dutch cities are rather mad with cyclists flying in all directions. We have learned just to keep going and wend our through pedestrians, traffic and other cyclists. The Dutch don’t wear waterproofs, they just wait under a tree until the shower passes. Bicycle maintenance is a low priority for many, with squeaking bikes and rusty chains a common sound and sight. They cycle in high heels, carry boxes and tow wheelie suitcases along side as well as giving lifts to passengers or several kids They almost all speak English (and several other languages and have been friendly and helpful. The countryside, away from the cities and farmland, is stunning heathland and lush woodland – very different to the more familiar Holland of canals, windmills and fancy gabled townhouses.

And yes, we have seen someone wearing clogs!

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2 responses to “Netherlands

  1. Am loving the stories and history lessons from your trip. I am also learning alot about birds from you too – avocet, nuthatch, nightjars. It did take me a while to realise you were actually talking about birds! It shouldn’t surprise me though, I remember our cycling trips when you tried in vain to educate me and point out various birds as I was gasping up a steep hill.

    Like

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