Day 4: Train to Haarlem and start of bike tour - Haarlem to Leiden
We were sad to leave the Sir A’dam behind, but onward. Caught the train to Haarlem which took about 20 minutes, then waited for Peter Voss, the owner of Tulip Cycles, to meet us at the station.
A lovely guy, Peter introduced to our bikes - nice, comfortable commuter 8 speed bicycles. Our trip for the next 5 days was guided by GPS. As soon as he mentioned that there were 6 buttons and the arrow was non- directional, I entrusted the GPS to Adam:) It was actually quite straightforward in the end - we essentially followed the pink line! Peter would take our luggage from town to town so we could just enjoy the cycling.
The Netherlands is connected with 22,000km of dedicated bike lanes. It’s absolutely incredible. we left Haarlem and worked our way west towards the coast. Gradually the landscape changed from pretty towns and canals to sand dunes and beaches, as we turned southwest to head along the coast. It looked a lot like PEI. After a couple of hours we stopped along at a small beach town called Noordjwick, and had a really tasty lunch while enjoying people-watching and the breeze off the ocean.
Satiated, we got back on our bikes and continued along the coast, ultimately turning inland to head to Leiden. Wish there was a way to adequately describe the peaceful beauty of cycling into this beautiful town. Canals, flowers, architecture, all frozen in time. We made our way to our accommodations at The Baroness - a cute small boutique hotel with only a few rooms. We showered, changed, and headed out towards the centre of town for dinner.
Throughout the town, painted on the exteriors of old buildings, are 101 poems in different languages. This was just one example (pic) that made us think about the political and social climate in the USA now.
We found a small restaurant called Noroc in a beautiful little alley off of the main canal. They were closing soon after we arrived but the owners warmly welcomed us and we had a great time talking to them while we ate. The husband was excited to hear we were from Vancouver, as he had been trying to convince his wife to travel to Vancouver Island for a “wild” wilderness adventure. After dinner we wandered around the main canal area which was bustling with waterside cafes, bars and restaurants. There was even a Hudson’s Bay in Leiden!. Went to climb a castle tower to get amazing views of the city. Ultimately we stopped at a canal-side cafe for cappuccinos accompanied by mini ice-cream cones as the sun set over the city, and then headed back to the hotel for the night. Completely charmed by this town!
Day 5 - Bike from Leiden to the Hague and Delft
Unfortunately not a great sleep. The heat wave was coming and the air-conditioning unit was not great. Had breakfast downstairs in the hotel, packed our bags to be ready for pick up, and headed back on our bikes towards the coast, to pick up the path we had been on the day prior. More beautiful oceanside beaches and dunes. Stopped to get some drone footage deeper into the pathway.
Beautiful temperature in the shade, getting hot in the sun. Arrived at The Hague after a couple of hours, quite hungry and thirsty. We parked our bikes around the main square and found a nice restaurant to have a drink and some lunch. Once we were re-nourished we spent some time walking around. The Hague is a bustling beautiful city, 60% of the people here are in civil service. Makes one want to go back to school and learn foreign languages to be able to work in this environment. We pondered - one day, might we get to see Trump tried here, in the International Criminal Court?
After wondering the town centre for a while we got back on our bikes to head to Delft. We hit some bike lane construction along the way which meant we needed to essentially ‘portage’ our bikes and ride some canal-side single track for a little bit, but easily found our way into town. Once again a beautiful, peaceful ride into a REALLY QUIET town.
We checked into “Royal Bridges Hotel”…. long stairway up for our tired legs:)
And.. no AC to be found. Starting to worry a little about that as the heat is definitely rising. We were now becoming seasoned travelers through towns in Holland - go outside, look up, find the Church tower and head in that direction to find the central square and food.
It was soooo quiet in Delft. We couldn't figure out why this beautiful little town wasn't overrun with tourists - though we weren’t complaining!! Sat down at a restaurant in the square and had a functional dinner with very nice company from a gentleman from Turkey who was motorcycling through Europe. Wandered around the square after dinner, stopped in a cheese shop for some tasting:) Then headed back to the hotel for the night.
Day 6: Delft to Gouda
Adam: “I don’t think that the term “Royal” means the same thing as in North America”. Terrible sleep as there was no AC and it was getting hot - so had to open the windows leading to bugs and noise. Suspect that lack of AC not usually an issue here but we were definitely in the middle of a significant heat wave.
Had breakfast in the lobby - unfortunately the coffee machine broke before our 2nd cup so we walked down the street to a funky cafe to load up.
Delft is famous for a couple of reasons: One is Delft pottery which looks like this:
It is made and hand-painted here. The second is that it is where Vermeer is from. We were still a little “museumed out” from our last day in Amsterdam so we decided to forego the Delft Factory tour and go to the Vermeer Exhibit. Vermeer is one of Adam’s favourite artists!
The exhibit doesn’t have any originals. Instead they have very high quality reproductions and a great audio guide with lots of information on his tremendous use of colour and lighting. Because they aren’t originals, you can get up very close to see the fine details of his work.When you look at his paintings, he frequently has his subject lit by sunlight coming through a window to the right of the scene. There was also an incredible short film about how one of his paintings had been restored. Unbelievable combination of art and science needed to do so.
We got back on our bikes around 12:30 and headed out of town towards Gouda. The landscape was much different than the past couple of days: We started out along a beautiful tree lined shaded path The path then headed through vast pastoral, agricultural fields.
We came upon the De Rotte, which is a large canal that runs through Rotterdam. There were windmills along each side of the water, and along the edge there were docks to moor the small boats out for the day, or to have a snack or swim. Really wished we had our bathing suits with as we were pretty sweaty by now… but none-the-less stopped for hydration and a banana on one of the docks. Adam did some cool time lapse photography while we sat taking in the serenity of this place.
Back on our bikes after about 30 minutes to finish our ride. Deb definitely bonked, so the rest of the ride was a little slower than usual:( We followed the GPS and the path led us to the water where we had a ferry crossing! That was a surprise, but really smooth.
Rode into Gouda to the Best Western which was REALLY nice! AIR CONDITIONING!! Showered and rested for a bit and then headed out for dinner. Found a restaurant in TripAdvisor called Buiten Even + Drinken. Lovely shaded courtyard with great food. We ate A LOT. We had CHEESE and ICE CREAM because we are in the home of GOUDA!! AND WE ARE CYCLING A LOT!!! Wandered the streets which were also really quiet (where IS everyone?) then back to the hotel to crash.
Day 7 - 8: Gouda to Schoonhoven to Utrecht
Got an earlier start today as the temperature was rising. After our experience yesterday with insufficient calories while on the road, we made sure to grab some sandwiches from a local cafe after breakfast, then headed out of town.
Cycled through more beautiful, bucolic landscape and arrived at Kinderdijk which is a UNESCO heritage site known for 19 18th century windmills, a pumping station and dikes that help control flooding. Many, many photo opportunities.
We stopped along the path at a small dock, put our feet in the water (AHHHH) and had a picnic watching the ducks and small boats float by, with the windmills in the background. When you see pictures of Holland on-line, this is likely where many of them are taken.
After a nice break and some more water, we got back on our bikes for the last 10Km to Schoonhoven. Unfortunately had to do most of this across an unpaved path through farmland which was a little rough. Also pretty dry and dusty… we were really spoiled by the paved paths so far this trip. I was also getting the increasing feeling that we REALLY NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THE SUN! It was about 32 degrees and no shade in sight. Had another surprise ferry crossing and made our way into town. Schoonhaven is a very small and quaint town known for making silver. Only one hotel in town called the Belvedere. A small place with a nice restaurant, with a large patio along the water. Showered and grabbed a snack and then wandered the town. Our skin colour had definitely deepened several shades since the morning.
Had a nice dinner on the patio while the sun set, then packed it in for the night. No air conditioning and poor sleep as we were dealing with the mosquitos due to the opened windows. It would have been impossible to keep them closed without suffocating.
After breakfast we set out on our last day of cycling to Utrecht. This stretch was mostly through small, quiet picturesque towns, which afforded a small amount of shade. Other than a short chocolate bar break we cycled pretty much for 3 hours straight. The final part of our route led us through the town centre which was bustling with tourists and locals. Utrecht was much larger than the past few towns, with large chain stores in addition to local businesses. By the time we arrived we were pretty hot, tired and truthfully cranky and not strong in the decision-making department. We found the train station where we were to meet Peter in a few hours, locked up the bikes and walked back into the main area of town for some food, water and rest.
There is a castle tower in the city that reportedly has fantastic views. Around 400 stairs up. We considered over lunch but… nope. Not going to happen now - too hot and tired. Debbie had a giant merengue from a cool bakery where we sat in the shade and people-watched. Then we moved literally across the street (too tired to move further) to a cafe where Adam had some ice cream.
We wandered around the town window-shopping, until it was time to meet Peter back at the train station. We exchanged our bikes for our luggage, had a nice chat and thanked him for an AMAZING 5 days.
225km of cycling through a beautiful country. Outside of the need for AC in some of the hotels (which from what we understand isn’t usually needed) we couldn’t imagine a better way to enjoy discovering a new country. I was worried that Adam might not like Brugge (our next stop) as much as I had hyped it over the years, as the places we had seen were so truly beautiful. Got on the train and headed in that direction to find out!