Monday, September 28, 2009

Cycling In The Netherlands (3)

This traditional Dutch 'Botter' yacht is the ''Groete Bear'' and the harbour is Volemdam. These boats are virtually the same as the traditional fishing boats of old. They are big and fat (great cargo carrying capacity) shallow draft and flat bottomed ( good for sitting up right on the sand banks of the Waddenzee) and have twin leeboards rather than a central centreboard (saves space in the cabin, less expensive to build and provides for a strong tight hull)

To date I have completed a couple of trips and are now completing a third. The first was to Amstelmeer in the North. The second from Schagen in the North out to the coast and down through Castricum back to Amsterdam. The third trip is the one I am on at the moment, which goes around the inland sea - the Ijsselmeer.

The land is very flat, great for biking but does not have the grandeur or drama of the New Zealand landscape - it relies on what the Dutch have created for its charm, and charming it is - soft mellow coloured red brick houses with high pitched roofs, traditional designs, window baskets of flowers, little picket fences, narrow lanes, cobbly streets and the patina of history that only these old countries have. The quality is one of peace and quiet (for me anyway as I am avoiding the big cities, I simply get lost in them) and a unity of scenery - there are no dramatic differences in styles of houses and scenery, rather differences in quality and complexity. Leafy lanes, easy cycling and a misty sun shining through a Turner painted sky makes for mellow feelings, a sort of roominness of the soul.

On this trip around the inland sea the cycling route takes me between small towns through farmland on small bike tracks or narrow roads beside ditches and canals that every so often open out unexpectedly into much larger expanses of water - the highways and byways of canals, large ponds and lakes. Riding through this landscape I often see a sail, white or mellow red apperently sailing through a field of barley or corn such are the pervasiveness of the waterways. The canals have rushes which bend gently in the soft breeze and there is bird life everywhere, ducks, swans, herons, crows, and on the larger expanses of water Autumn flocks of migrating birds are beginning to gather.

After riding for say 10 or so kilometres you reach another little picturesque town set well back from the inland sea and joined to it by a canal which leads up to a yacht harbour right in the centre of the the town much like my home town Whangarei in New Zealand, but much smaller and more intimate. For me the joy is seeing the traditional Dutch yachts which have evolved from the traditional working vessels of a bygone age. These stout fat rotund little boats (and the not so little ones) are a joy for me to see - they are built in wood and in steel with traditional gaff rigs and soft mellow red tan bark sails - very nice indeed.

There is also an authenticity about these little harbours and villages. Although the little shops cater for the tourist market it is easy to see that their life is centred on servicing the needs of the local population - the comings and goings of the many boats (which hold up the traffic as the bridges are raised to let them through) are part of the heart beat of these small areas - there is nothing here that is a pastiche.

One other element that binds together and gives continuity to the visual impression of this country is the cycling - The Dutch bike everywhere. It is the most amazing thing to behold, the old, the very old, the young the middle aged, children, families together - biking everywhere - all the time - and good bikes, very good sturdy sensible bikes, traditional and strong with sensible handlebars, most with carriers and pannier bags and all ridden with an ease of purpose - all such a wonderful adaptation to a flat landscape. If the Dutch had failed to drain the land I am sure they would all have grown mermaid and mermen tails as a way of adapting.

The camping / tenting is going well, although it is a mixed blessing - the mixed bit is that it is not much fun constantly sleeping on the ground - a bit rough really, but other than that I am coping reasonably well with it. I am glad that I purchased a two person tent (despite the extra weight) as I can get most of the contents of my panniers next to me in the tent at night, which is handy and makes things secure. There seems to be camping grounds everywhere and the cost is reasonable - to date nothing over Ten Euros (NZ $20) per night.

The camping grounds vary in how they provide amenities - some camping grounds have no toilet paper in the toilets, others do, some have free showers, others you have to put a Euro in the timer thingy. In one camping ground I had to buy special tokens to get things to work. All of the camping grounds have a central building which includes toilets, showers and washing up facilities but none have cooking facilities such as kitchens as is often the case in New Zealand - So any cooking that I do, I do on a great little gas cooker that I purchased - it has a little trigger that makes a spark to light the gas and is very efficient. I mainly use the cooker to make a cup of tea and are not cooking a lot at all. As I am not eating all day long and biking a lot I have lost some more weight and my jeans are now pretty loose and I am onto the last hole on my belt - overall the tenting has worked out really well and it would be impossible to do this bike route unless you did the tenting - despite the tentings obvious limitations in terms of comfort - so its all a bit of a trade off.

I have bought food from supermarkets and this is not a problem despite the fact that I can't read Dutch and take a while to find things - fruit, trail mixes, buns, rolls, cheese, museli bars seems to work well with a hot meal from time to time in the little towns along the way.

This is a good time to be biking here because it is the end of the season and not too hot. From what I can gather, a couple of months ago they were getting temperatures of 30 degrees which would have made the biking exhausting. The downside of this time of year is that there are not a lot of other bikers on the trails so I have had little contact with other travellers except for a couple of Swiss riders the other day - having said that, the Kiwi accent seems to amuse many, and when shopping I usually end up in some sort of exchange with someone, and the other day when getting some lunch of fish etc a local asked where I was from, which ended up with a lunchtime conversation with him which was interesting as he had been to New Zealand a number of times working on merchant ships.

When I have completed this Isjlemeer trip I am going to get a suitable map and head down to the Zeeland area which is close to the Belgium border and take a look around there - there are lots of harbours and lakes and interesting places to explore, or I might head north again and take a ferry out to Texel which is one of a string of close offshore islands in the Waddenzee (northern sea) - I haven't decided yet - probably do both - what I won't be doing is heading for big cities as I have a tendency to get lost - the cycling tracks with their numbers are a secure way to travel (having said that I have still taken the wrong turning a couple of times and ended up riding an extra 20 kilometres on an original 60km ride.

So, generally speaking everything is going well and I am continuing to enjoy myself - it is certainly a good way to travel if you want to soak up things slowly. Its so very different than whizzing along within the bubble or cocoon of a car - when you cycle you embrace the landscape, you linger, you don't just get the sights, you taste, you feel - you get the sound and the smell of things as well.


Dan Gurney said...

God, I think if I were in heaven it would be in a land where sailing and cycling were what everyone else was interested in, too. Here in America, my interests in these two pursuits tend to separate me from the mainstream culture which seems more interested in American football and baseball, and anything military. Your posts about this vacation come close to stirring feelings of envy, but actually I just feel so happy for you. Keep having a great time, and keep on posting!

Delwyn said...

Hi Alden

I loved reading of your adventure and I must say it appears to be doing you a world of good...all that fresh air and pedaling , you look 20 years younger...

Are you concerned you bike may disappear overnight...

The bike photo reminded me of Japan...another biking nation...NZ used to be more like that when we grew up didn't it. I biked 3m to school every day, aways into a head wind...dang

Are you finding it lonesome or is having the solitude doing the soul good?

Thanks for the great diary...I expect more...

May you have no headwinds
down hill sails
smooth ground to sleep on
(are there any snakes?)
and nourishment for the soul...

Happy days

VenDr said...

Delwyn is right. You're looking very young. And slim. And fit. You should give up teaching more often

Kathryn said...

It all sounds fantastic! And you sound happy, contented. You will be really fit & slim. (maybe I should buy a bike? my son did suggest it, he's just been on a cycling weekend in the SW of Perth.)
We used to do lots of cycling when we were young, in Christchurch.
Your descriptions are great. Keep them coming, its lovely to read.

Alden Smith said...

Dan, I understand about this ball game thing. I sometimes have similiar feelings about the mainstream culture and the dominance of rugby football. I guess all cultures have a sport which tends to dominate.
I don't like rugby much at all, but I do like sailing which is very much a Kiwi thing to do. I think this is similiar to the USA where sailing has a big following, a significant history, and has made such a huge contribution to the art of sailing.

Alden Smith said...

Delwyn,twenty years younger? that would make me 38 - no such luck, but thankyou for your kind comment. I may not look 38 but I certainly Feel 38. I feel alive and connected here in The Netherlands - I recommend the experience to anyone.

I am concerned about the safety of my bike and take the security aspect seriously. First all Dutch bikes have a built in lock that locks the back wheel. I also bought with me a strong combination lock which is long enough to go through the frame and wheels and lock the bike to something. Also I made up several wire strops - one small strop I have used to wire and padlock my panniers semipermantly to the bike carrier - another strop is heavier and longer and is used to lock the bike to a tree or lamp post. It is important to do this as bikes do get stolen - in their thousands.

I remember the Christchurch cycling very well - and I think of all the cities in New Zealand (because of its flat nature) it is the one where the development of bike paths next to roads and cycling paths in general should be developed.

No,I am not in the least bit lonely at all - I am a pretty autonomous person in many ways and although I am reasonably extroverted and socially orientated
I am also adaptable and are able to cope with periods by myself (I do this sometimes on my yacht ie go away by myself sometimes) - besides, if I get lonely I could always chance my arm and chat up one of these very nice blonde, very cute Dutch bicycle girls - perhaps I might be able to persuade one of them to take me home as a sort of mascot and give me some TLC.

Snakes? I think Europe does have snakes, but my tent has a couple of doors - the inner one is a fly screen door, so I always sleep with this closed.

.... and yes, this is all deep nourishment for the soul.... life changing even.

Alden Smith said...

Kelvin, thank you for your comments. Looking young, slim and fit is one thing - Feeling alive in every sense of the word is another, and I certainly feel alive in a way I haven't felt for decades - I guess this is a sort of Camino for me.

Alden Smith said...

Kathryn - we all share a real cycling history don't we! from those
Christchurch days - well as you can see from my Blog, the Dutch really do it Par Excellance.
Maybe you should get a bike! Perth is fairly flat I think? - but does it have a system of bike paths?
This seems to me to be the key - Even in all the big cities, especially Amsterdam, there are bikes everywhere. None of these pathways hold up the transport requirements at all because they have big motorway systems from which bicycles are banned.
I have lost a bit of weight and toned up a bit - the cycling does the toning up, but the loss of weight is from not eating as much, I am pretty much on the move most of the time and don't have time to sit around reading and wearing out the carpet between the lounge and the refrigerator.

Alden Smith said...

Kelvin, I like your very witty comment about giving up teaching more often - I have thought carefully about this and have decided to give it up every day from now on - it will be "....on your bike mate" to anyone suggesting otherwise.