Monday, April 16, 2012

Netherlands - Heaven on Wheels

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Monday, August 15

After Monique and Hugo set off for work Andy and I went to do errands: mail home the first journal, camera film, odds and ends that we picked up for mementos – mainly brochures, tickets, etc. I bought a lightweight pair of sandals to use at campsites, an alternative to the stiff and enclosed bike shoes that were my primary footwear. But we walked and mostly peeked in windows.  Businesses keep strange hours, some even shut down for lunchtime. Most are closed all day on Sunday and a sign on one shop stipulated that it couldn’t be open for more than 55 hours per week, citing government regulations. When I later explained to Monique that 24 hour shopping is quite common in America she said they have to buy groceries on Saturday because food stores close at 6:30 during the week.

It’s refreshing to be able to communicate in English with shopkeepers. Monique and Hugo speak a little German and French also. While the Dutch speak their own language amongst themselves - as we overheard between our friends - each student learns a second or even third language in school. Hugo and Monique said their university textbooks were in German and English.

Photo credit: Travel Pod
I am astounded at the number of bicyclists. The typical bike is a 3-speed. Women ride a women’s style frame, and often in a dress or skirt. Every bicycle has a very sturdy rack. It is quite common to see a second person propped on the rear. White or wicker baskets attach to the handlebars, carrying everything from groceries to little dogs. Almost all have rear saddle bags in shades of green, tan, blue or in some wild plaid or flowery pattern. Bicycles are king! Hugo says that most people own two – one for town, the other for the long ride. Along with generated lights, the bikes also have an additional “shield” attached to each side of the rear fender. Monique says it protects everyone who wears long coats.

Bikes in Den Haag (The Hague). Photo credit: Expat Explorer
And and I made homemade pizza for dinner. I loved making a mess in the kitchen, and of course I cleaned up too. Preparing a meal was the least I could do to repay our wonderful friends. We washed down the veggie pizza with a Dekonnig Dutch Ale. 

Photo credit; Agami
30 miles, Tuesday, August 16

By the time we finished up shopping we left Den Haag at 2 p.m. Following the bicycle signs, we headed east. We spent the afternoon following water, cycling along canals and lakes. Fruit trees are ever present and highly organized in short, but neat rows. Space is a premium in this tiny country of 15 million inhabitants, yet with similar land area as Vermont. Long greenhouses cover fields in between other crops.

Photo credit: ilovebreda

Apples are grown in Holland on short trees – head high. Unlike orchards in our native state, I imagine the fruit is much easier to harvest without climbing ladders. The Dutch like their apple pastries. Besides the torte with whipped cream that we gobbled in Amsterdam, there are apple tarts (turnovers), and appelstroop, a thick concentrated syrup spread that we’ve been using since Monique introduced us to it. It has a wonderfully rich and concentrated flavor, not at all like apple butter, and especially good on pancakes. In general, we are enjoying the bounty of less expensive food compared with France, and camping is a more reasonable $6-$8.

We end the day near Gouda (pr. Gowda). Surrounded by water, the campground is on a series of raised earthen “docks”. When kids run by our tent on our particular finger of land, the ground shakes like waves beneath an air mattress.

Beside us is an encampment of 10-12 year old boys, all with bikes. The last one pulled in at 8 o’clock and unstrapped his gear from his rack and removed his backpack. His parents cycled in to make sure he got set up then took off. I wondered if it was their first bike overnighter. Oh, to be a Dutch fly beside their tent… There are apparently so many bicycle tourers that there are specific stores that cater to bicycle vacations. And buses will cart people and their bikes all over the Netherlands, as well as France.


  1. Sounds like bicycle heaven! I can remember the excitement in Western Australia when Thursday night shopping came in (the shops were suddenly allowed to stay open past 5.00pm to an amazing 9.00pm one night a week) :-)

  2. I did a bicycle tour of the Netherlands last summer on my folding bike - wish I could be there now! Bike camping sounds so great.

    1. I loved that country for cycling. It gives me a warm fuzzy just to think about how kids utilize bikes for going to school, on bike tours, and general freedom. They are our future parents and thus will carry on the tradition.

      We still keep in touch with Hugo and Monique. They have boys of their own.


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