Monday, March 26, 2012

Netherlands - Cycling Culture and Elephants

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50 miles, Thursday, August 11

After the previous long day we relaxed this morning, setting off later than usual. We putter along back roads, still sailing with the wind. The terrain is truly flat. We cruise the river bottomland west of Antwerp through Puers and St. Gillis-Waas before approaching the Dutch border. All morning a menagerie of cyclists pedal toward us, all ages and sizes, going about life on two wheels. It seems like we’ve come home—at least in our hearts—and are not the anomaly­ for a change.

By midafternoon we pass from De Klinge, Belgium into Clinge, Netherlands. This unique town straddles two countries. Bank hours vary by region, and we find we must rush to Hulst to withdraw Dutch guilder. As with many of our transactions it’s a simple withdrawal, using a VISA card. But as providence would have it, we came to a halt when three elephants crossed the road ahead of us. What? Elephants? We laughed and laughed. Each animal ambled along, strung together like a Barrel of Monkeys, trunks hooked around tails. Their ringleader directed them to a line on the right, eventually to a tent where a circus performed. And as these opportunities only come once in a lifetime, I had Andy snap a photo of me with the elephant train.

Typical Dutch bike. Photo credit: Infrastructuration
We learn there are two bicycles to each person in Holland/Netherland, in Dutch Nederland. In small towns cyclists do not lock their bikes, a sight that is unusual for an American. But Dutch bikes are more utilitarian. Most are black single speeds. Bike paths are separate from roads; red signs and arrows, for the most part, are understandable because of graphic symbols. I was amazed at the numerous patterns of stone and brick that comprise the bikeways – all without mortar. Occasionally loose bricks sound like wooden chimes under wheel. It is a serenade only for cyclists. Andy and I admit to enjoying the paved pathways more. It’s easier on the fanny after long hours in the saddle.

From De Vodel campground in Hengstdijk. Photo credit: Panaramio
In Hengstdijk we pulled into a huge campground on the edge of a pretty lake. For 10.5 guilder (1.8 guilder to 1 USD) we are treated to a prime tenting spot near water. Most of the grounds house permanent trailers. There is a restaurant, bar, a pen of rabbits, and a caged area for guinea pigs and birds. I thought it odd to have animals until we understood that six weeks of vacation is standard. Children must love romping with the pets. Andy and I strolled the campground then peeked in on the bunnies before settling down for the evening.

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