Between April 16th and May 8th Odette and Jerry rode the tandem from Amsterdam to Bruges (and back) and then explored Amsterdam for a week
Holland is flat. Flatter than Berlin. After our trip to Mallorca, Odette admitted that touring on individual bikes wasn’t realistic. She went looking for someplace flat for our next trip. Holland it was. She booked flights on Delta (first class on the way over!) and then set out to arrange a tour that fit our dates.
She talked to several bike places about self-guided trips to the Netherlands and wasn’t able to find anything in the pre-packaged offerings that would work for us without a train ride or two. I expressed a preference for a loop starting and ending in Amsterdam, and specifically suggested a loop to Brussels and back. I figured we could do each way in a week without any long days. Holland Bike Tours, one of the more prominent companies, was able to accommodate that although they didn’t think we should go all the way into Brussels. We agreed and even though we didn’t get tour material until just before our flight (and the turn-by-turn wasn’t in RWGPS format) we didn’t stress about it.
The weather in the Netherlands was about like Seattle this spring – cool and probably rainy. I decided not to take rain pants and to wear sandals instead of schlepping my boots over. I took a ton of heavy socks and a couple of wool base layers. Odette went full arctic gear. I took a bunch of extra inner tubes (thinking about Mallorca) and a tool to take the centerlock rotor off (thinking about Strausburg.) Expecting to be riding in the rain, I brought the bottle of chain lube I’d bought years ago in Spain and never opened. We’d been riding the Ibis all winter because it had fenders, so the red tandem wasn’t due to be serviced before we went. I changed the chain and we rode it a couple of times to verify that everything still worked. Odette admitted that taking her new roller bag would preclude her from hauling one of the bike cases around – so she bought a new travel backpack. I bought a new frame pump since we’d destroyed our smaller one in Strausburg. I got a top-of-the-line Slica but didn’t realize that the wedge shaped head wouldn’t clear the couplers so that the XL pump wouldn’t fit any of the available locations on the frame. I remeasured and bought a medium which proved to be just slightly too small. Instead of going to third times a charm I mounted the clip from the smaller pump I was replacing and called it good.
The week before we left my sister emailed us to say that she and my niece were going to be in town while we were gone and could they stay at our place. That meant leaving keys with the neighbors and cleaning the place up before the guests arrived. Odette got the lock replaced on the front door and left a long note explaining how to feed the squirrels.
We took a Lyft to the airport late on a Sunday afternoon. Checking in was smooth. The flight was smooth – I slept a lot!. Our bags came off early in Amsterdam and customs was easy. Cab to the hotel was easier than it would have been in Seattle. The Fashion Hotel was conveniently located but kind of a bizarre place with mannequins all over the lobby semi-dressed in mylar. We assembled the bike and met with the guy from HBT before eating in the hotel. No surprises on the bike – other than difficulty getting the tires pumped full enough. Odette mounted all of the bottle cages and the pump bracket and secured the drag brake cable with zipties which saved me a bunch of time. The Sigma GPS unit HBT provided fit the Garmin bracket already mounted on the stoker handlebars. Hotel food wasn’t anything special and they only had Heineken to drink.
On the first day we rode out of Amsterdam to Leiden with a stop at the Keukenhof flower gardens. Routefinding wasn’t too bad. Odette said the Sigma was better than Garmin or RWGPS. The ride was easy and mainly on bike trail. We spent a lot of time riding along canals and most of the rest was on small farm roads. I was impressed by the amount of bike infrastructure in rural areas. The stop for the flowers was at about half way. There were big fields of tulips before we got to the gardens but they weren’t on a scale dramatically bigger than the Skagit delta. The gardens were crowded and touristy, (Bouchart Gardens is more impressive.) Navigating Leiden, dinner at the Reubens Restaurant and our stay at the Golden Tulip Hotel were all pleasant but not particularly memorable.
Second day we continued on to Delft. The ride was mainly in agricultural / forest land with an early segment along the coast. It was a short ride that got us to Delft by noon. The hotel was willing to store our bike and bags (luggage hadn’t been delivered yet) while we walked to the china factory. We killed most of an afternoon looking at blue on white china designs. Koophandel hotel was fine; Spijshuis de Dis for dinner was great (It was my birthday and they had a nice stout!)
Third day we rode to Hellevoetslus. This involved more farm roads and a ferry crossing followed by dunes and beach stuff. The ferry was exciting in that there were no instructions on the automated ticket machine and no way to verify that the machine went with the dock that was a couple hundred yards away. In the process of getting out to where the boat would collect us we lost the GPS and were lucky enough that the finder figured out that we were looking for it. We went through Brielle, a star-shaped fortified town, but we didn’t stop to investigate. This was a short day which was good because our shifting was starting to deteriorate. We checked into the Hotel Boutique de Oude Veste which was very modern and in a really cool building . I looked at the bike and realized that the right-hand shifter cable was fraying where it bent under the bottom bracket. We headed for a bike store hoping that they would replace the cable and adjust the indexing but they only guy in the shop said that he “wasn’t familiar with that system” and couldn’t promise to get to it that day. We bought a cable and I did the honors and although it wasn’t perfect it shifted better than before I started which I guess qualifies as a success. We visited the firefighters museum which was kind of “root with eyes” quality but very endearing. We walked among the WWII bunkers and batteries and then had a really excellent meal at the Steakhouse De Buren (in our hotel.) Pretty close to an American style steakhouse but with better vegetables and good wine.
On the fourth day we rode to Zierikzee which involved a lot of trails on dikes and a couple of long bridge crossings. We had some problems with the GPS but work-arounds weren’t really a problem. We went to a small museum about the port where the docents were really happy to see us and to show off their diesel motors. We checked out the market and had dinner in the hotel. Hotel Mondragon is clearly the fanciest hotel in town and was a very nice modern room in an old building cobbled together on several levels. The restaurant was very good.
The fifth day took us on to Middelburg. The route was almost all next to the water and included a long passage over a sea barrier. We were in an old (but nice) hotel called “Loskade” across the canal from the train station. We admired the bike parking. The medieval city walls were still in place and the old part of town was full of interesting buildings. We went to a chocolate museum that reminded me of of Speidel’s tour of Seattle. We had dinner at Het Packhuys, which was really interesting.
Day six involved another ferry and a long ride next to a canal after we got into Belgium. Bruges (Brugge in dutch) was a bigger town than anything since Leiden and more of a tourist attraction than anything we’d visited so far. The old part of town was full of beautiful old buildings and imposing churches and municipal buildings that, for the most part, have been turned into museums. Streets were mainly cobblestone and were busy but getting to our hotel (BlaBla) wasn’t a navigational problem. (We did, however, almost get smushed by a bus on a narrow one-way street but the only damage was a deformed handlebar bag that bugged me for the rest of the trip.) It was a very small hotel and we had to take the tandem through the lobby to park it in the courtyard but the room was modern and nice. We explored the old part of town and visited an art museum. We spent two nights in Bruges and had dinner at Reliva one night and at Rose Red Cafe the other. Reliva was a foodie place with five courses and a wine pairing. Rose Red was informal with an incredible beer selection. We got caught in a deluge getting back to the hotel from Rose Red.
Day seven was a layover day with a short loop ride out to the coast. Unfortunately the main street we were routed on out of town was torn up and the GPS couldn’t let us ride a parallel street but kept routing us in circles. After overcoming that obstacle we rode through an industrial / port neighborhood out to a beach. The return was more agricultural with a long ride along a canal and a much less anxiety-provoking entry into the city than we’d experienced the day before. We visited a museum in the old city building which eschewed dutch masters for an excellent presentation of the history of the city and the region.
On the eighth day we rode to Goes. The route started out by reversing our way into Bruges the day before – a trail next to a wide canal as far as the Belgium / Netherlands border. Then it was farm roads back to the ferry we’d taken on the way out. Then another ferry (a really small one) and more farm roads. Our impression of the town of Goes was colored by our experience with the hotel Slot Oostende. We arrived at about 1:30 to find the door locked and a sign saying that they would reopen at 3:00. Then a van showed up and deposited our luggage on the pavement. When the receptionist finally opened the door she couldn’t understand why we were upset (“I posted a sign!”) and claimed to have called HBT and been told they had no way to get in touch with us. The rooms were in a separate building from the front desk and restaurant. The only place they offered to park the tandem was directly in the path of the pallets of production materials for the brewery. I complained and after some more non-comprehension we were allowed to park the bike in the unused restaurant. The room was actually quite nice. Dinner at Katoen went a long ways toward making up for the hotel. It was a shame that we couldn’t leave our stuff and explore the town because it seems to be more diverse than what we’d been visiting and we could see a lot of tall spires.
Day nine took us to Roosendaal Another long stretch beside the water including a segment on a very muddy hiking trail that we decided to bypass. The hotel Tongerelo was old and comfortable and they had us park in the municipal bike parking a block up the street. We visited the Tongerlohuys museum with its small-town enthusiasm. Dinner at SinJoor neatly matched the atmosphere of the hotel.
On our tenth day we took a very short ride to Willemstad and spent most of the day walking the town. Willemstad is a star-shaped fortified city with an interesting history and a lot of old buildings. We explored the harbor and visited Mauritshuis – a polished multi-media museum on the lower floors and a village repository in the attic. We walked nearly the entire fortification. Our room at the Hotel Mauritz was very good and their restaurant was also very good.
Day eleven was Kings Day. We rode on dikes and farm roads and through a big nature preserve. We walked around town to find an ATM and marveled at the crowds in the street. We ate at Bistro Twee 33 which may have been the best meal on the trip. The hotel (Steegoversloot) had a bakery on the ground floor and was next to the old part of town but far enough out so that the noisy crowds weren’t an issue.
On day twelve we rode to Gouda with a threat of rain motivating us to ride fast. Another ferry, lots of dike trails, waterfowl and sheep. Halfway through the ride is a famous collection of 19 windmills (which is, in fact, pretty impressive.) We stayed in the Best Western which wasn’t close to anything. When we got there the restaurant was closed (although occupied by a big bike tour group) and the front desk staff was not particularly helpful. We walked around admiring the canals and the old buildings in the center. We found the cheese museum but it turned out to be a shopping experience instead of an exhibition. We ate at Koeien en Kaas – a steakhouse on the main square. I was disappointed but it did match the Best Western for atmosphere.
The final, thirteenth, day on the HBT route returned us to Amsterdam. The start was fantastic, winding along canals through wetlands and bird sanctuaries. At Bodegraven the GPS decided to send us up the on-ramp to the N-11 and after that insisted on routing us in circles back to the highway. Odette resorted to Google Maps and five miles later everything was working again. The entry to Amsterdam was easier than we anticipated with a long stretch along the Amstel River followed by some big parks. We checked in to the Fashion Hotel again and, after a thrash with the door to the parking garage, claimed the clean shirts we had stashed in our bike cases. We ate at the hotel again that evening.
The next week was devoted to sightseeing in Amsterdam. After three days of walking and museums Will and Ian joined us and we got a couple of bike rides – a repeat of our first day’s ride to Keukenhof as an OAB and a ride to the beach at Zandvoort. We ate at very good restaurants, both before and after Will showed up. The things I remember are:
- Annapurna Kitchen (Indian & Nepali – too much food)
- Ron Gastrobar (good steak but insanely overpriced)
- Het Gent ann de Schinkel (extensive beer list close to hotel)
- Blauw (multi course foodie place – Indonesian rice tables)
- Adam (multi course foodie place in storefront by tram)
- de Kas (multi course foodie place in greenhouse with parrots)
- Mediamatic ETEN (multi course foodie place with no bar staff – so we drank eau de vie)
After Will and Ian left for Berlin I disassembled the bike and packed stuff up. We ate in the hotel again, this time aggravated that they lost our reservation. The cab to the airport wanted a “special” fare (which was likely a ripoff.) Check in was easy, business class this time. The flight was smooth. Customs in Seattle wasn’t as bad as I remembered, although they still have people inexplicably promoted to the front of the line. A very small cabbie in a very old prius got us home just fine.
Here is the HBT tour book:
Here are the Strava maps:
5/6 – Zandvoort 36 miles on the tandem with Odette and with Will & Ian
5/4 – Keukenhof 42 miles on the tandem with Odette and with Will & Ian
4/29 – Gouda – Amsterdam 40 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/28 – Dordrecht – Gouda 30 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/27 – Willemstad – Dordrecht 31 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/26 – Roosendaal – Willemstad 18 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/25 – Goes – Roosendaal 40 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/24 – Brugge – Goes 46 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/23 – Brugge Loop 30 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/22 – Middelburg – Brugge 32 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/21 – Zierikzee – Middelburg 31 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/20 – Hellevoetsluis- Zierikzee 32 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/19 – Delft ~ Hellevoetsluis 25 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/18 – Leiden – Delft 28 miles on the tandem with Odette
4/17 –Amsterdam – Leiden 34 miles on the tandem with Odette
- 495 miles with only 3,480 ft. of elevation! in 15 days of riding
- It’s a lot easier to ride when you can follow somebody else and don’t have to navigate
- Bike infrastructure in Amsterdam is a good as its reputed to be
- The number of bikes parked on the street and at train stations, etc. defies belief
- People on the streets ride without special costumes, helmets or footgear
- For an American, The Netherlands is the least “foreign” feeling country in the EU – on the level of Canada or Britain in that regard
- Without segments on the train, travel with the bike cases isn’t bad
- Baggage Claim elevators at SeaTac actually make life better
- The North Sea coast is pretty spectacular
(all photo credits to Odette)