I pushed the bike towards the rail station, on the outskirts of Hamburg. A rather scruffily dressed old man was pedaling towards us. “Wer sein Rad liebt, der schiebt ” -“He who pushes their bike, loves their bike”. The Dutch love their bikes and probably have many such heart warming sayings. They certainly have a lot of bikes.
You are not in Holland very long before you are considering just how effortlessly chic people are there. The clothes they wear for cycling have given rise to a number of web sites just devoted to their stylish female cyclist. They are everywhere, helped in no small way by the flat terrain. Try doing that on a commute from any one part of Edinburgh to any other part of Edinburgh and see what state you arrive in.
They do show off their design and stylish living spaces as well. They may be just exhibitionist, but they do appear to love to let you see the logos on their ‘white goods’ and ‘home cinemas’. There are of course few if any curtains to stop you catching a glimpse of the show of interior style. It really is hard not to stop and gawk. Being in her eighties Esther’s granny is more than a little short sighted. On a recent visit she tried to go into a number of private homes, mistaking them for shops. There really is little difference.
Did I say anything about the Dutch as a whole being amongst the best looking, most widely travelled, intelligent and resourceful people? It is a vast sweeping generalisation without doubt, but we do like them a lot.
As I have said. We had been experiencing, from early October’s “hottest October day ever”. A run of warm and settled weather that now, in late November, could just not last. It was going to come to the end, that was for sure and we were taking a big gamble setting off to do a 400 mile tour. One weather that we had not given even the first thought to was freezing fog. Which is what we got.
We rode in land and away from the ferry terminal at IJmuiden. Firstly on a few paths that we knew, but soon into exciting new areas away from the coast. The amazing bike infrastructure means that most of this first day was done on surfaced bike lanes that run adjacent to the roads. It did feel wonderful to be back on the bike and the fog was actually doing a good job of making the ride photogenic.
We stopped for food, at what in the uk would be an ‘Artisan Bakery’. Which of course in mainland Europe, is just a run of the mill shop and quite possibly just part of a chain of local shops. Why oh why oh why can we not do this? We stood by a source of heat inside the shop and ate and then drank coffee.
It was just above freezing. While we ate we had cooled down and it was straight into the panniers for more clothing options. We pulled on down vests, rain legs, over booties and merino hats. None of this stuff had seen use on the bike in one go before. It was bloody cold and it risked becoming miserable. We were just North of Zaandam waiting for a raised bridge to close. Not a single one of the happy Dutch commuters around us were even wearing gloves as they rode. Come on, a simple black Merino glove is not that lacking in style! I saw less than half a dozen cyclists wearing gloves on the whole of the trip. What I did see a lot of was one hand stuffed deep in pocket and one hand on bar. I never saw the changeover occur, but I guess that they do. There are better ways of doing this.
We were now heading North West towards Purmerend on beautiful, tree lined narrow roads. We had a spin around the town and then found somewhere to sit, eat and get warm. A bit of ham, three eggs and a bit of cheese could be served up in many ways I suspect. What you can be sure of is that it would not be done with such style back home.
Back on the bikes, we were trying to do some quite tricky ‘in the head calculations’. So, we have lost an hour through time difference, travelled South and then East by 300 and then 500 or more miles. It is overcast with no sign of the sun. So what time will it get too dark to ride? I have no idea how you work this out but we knew that back where we had just been, in Scotland, you would not want to ride much after 3.15pm.
I really wanted to get over the dyke towards Lelystad, but that looked impossible and we had better not start and fail. Up ahead the town of Hoorn offered possibilities. In the USA we would have got the computer out, logged on back at the lunch stop and typed in ‘camping Hoorn N.L. Europe is a very long way behind the ubiquity of such free web access for no other reason than petty national boundaries and service providers licking it just the way it is. We will need to get used to this and there is no easy answer.
Then we got lucky. Out of the fog a sign for camping came into sight. As the campground came along, beyond all possible logic on a freezing late November day, it was open. Now quite often I say in this blog that you can do too much reasearch and that it is best just to go and do it, “something will come up”, and you will save a lot of computer time. This is the sort of stuff that I mean.
The very stylish, good looking early middle aged lady gave us the choice, “Camping or a cheap chalet with heating?”. Well you would be mad to take the former given any sort of choice. Which is just what the Eastern European migrant workers in the field next door were doing on a long term basis and hats off to them. We took the “Hut”.
The facilities at the site were amazing and we were surprised by the rather large number of guests. A casual look at the bottle recycling station and it was slightly darker thoughts. Here were quite a number of people who had dropped off and out of society a little.
It was still quite light well after 4.00pm, which came as a surprise – you get so pessimistic about such things in Scotland. Then it got much colder and the fog really closed in. Thousands of geese could be heard through the thin walls of our little home. The migration South had been put on hold in with the good weather and they hung around the beet fields, feeding for a little longer.
We walked into town for something to eat and just as importantly,to pass the dark winter night. Hoorn has an old town, but of course it was on the other side and quite difficult to locate. We almost turned back as we walked around a grim block of car showrooms and light engineering units for the third time. I am glad we kept going as we ended the evening in a bar with amazing beer served from a system of hand pulls and pipes that coiled first up and then down, before then going back up and over the bar. A guy played a game that appeared to be Pool, but without any pockets at the corners.
I asked for our usual, “can I have a pint of the darkest and a pint of your second darkest most local beer please”. This combination of shade and travelling distance always gets the best result, but in a second language has a number of difficult concepts. We just ended up pointing at labels that we liked the design of. Which is of course how at least 50% of wine is purchased anyway.
A very cold walk back ‘home’ and we were in ‘bed’ well before 10pm. It had been a good day. Here we were, just a short ferry ride from Newcastle and what we were doing could be a weekend bike trip. What a good idea.
Next morning we rode into town to have a closer look at Hoorn Old Town. We were glad that we did as it is beautiful. Here sheltered from storms out in the North Sea, the Dutch trading economy had taken off well over 200 years ago. It was just stunning. We rode around with little attention to direction, just taking it all in.
Finally, when we realized that we had pedaled ourselves into a corner, we set off towards Enkuizen and an appointment with what may be a very dull 30k ride across a dyke bridge to Lelystad. With viability down to a hundred meters the crossing had a strange charm. Still waters occasionally turned to choppy waves from boats heard but not seen.
On the bright side. This could have been hell into a mighty headwind so this counts as good fortune indeed. The readout from the GPS was spot on. A straight line for a road with blue on both sides for quite some distance. In a strange way, this had some of the feeling of The Great Northern Plains of North Dakota that we had biked through just a few months ago. I was getting bored here as well. I zoomed the GPS screen out until it showed the land on the far side. It was a comfort of sorts to see it but it was 28k away.