This was our second time cycle touring in the Netherlands, our first was in 2017. This felt different because we were on a longer cycle trip, and we had just come from countries widely considered to be cycling heavens – Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.
We were quickly reminded of why the Netherlands is still the gold standard for cyclists around the world. We needed to run a few errands while in Groningen for two nights, and those errands took us out to big box store land (A big cycling store, of course.). It was a breeze, a joy, to cycle there on wonderful protected cycle tracks. Almost no stop signs and maybe one or two traffic signals. The traffic flow was controlled with yield symbols which allowed for such seamless cycling. It was so fun to note that people on bikes are separated from people driving cars by space in so many situations. Underpasses for bikes. Bridges for bikes. Wide wide lanes where we could ride two abreast and chat and other people on bikes could easily pass us. If you’ve ever tried to cycle to big box store territory in the US you will understand our delight.
But our ferry reservation to the UK from the Hook of Holland (Hoek Van Holland) beckoned. We needed to get on our bikes and enjoy the riding. Quite a bit of riding to make the ferry. We could have taken a train hop, but the riding was so nice. And it’s flat in the Netherlands we said, right?
Flat is nice, and easy in theory. And usually in reality. But with headwinds and crosswinds the flat kilometers start to hurt. 115 kilometers from Groningen to Zwolle, on loaded bikes, was a long day. I realized why I don’t have many photos from Zwolle. Too tired. And it was pretty warm weather so that takes it out of you too. Flat kilometers mean you stay in the same riding position a lot, and don’t get the hill climbing up and coasting down break for your legs. And as Rich’s cycling buddies is SF will attest, he is much happier on hills!
When you get to your destination, you check in to the hotel, shower, and then head back out to get dinner. With a tight time line this was a one night stop, so the walk to and from dinner is your chance to sightsee in town.
Up at 7:00, hotel breakfast, pack up, and back on the bikes! Next stop, Amersfoort, 92 kilometers away. It’s not fair to say we don’t get a chance to sightsee since we are sightseeing all day as we ride. And riding from town to town lets you appreciate what distances felt like pre automobile. You understand how separated places were in the days when walking, horse drawn conveyances, and canal boats ruled the landscape.
Amersfoort was a logical place to stop for a night. It’s unlikely I could have gone much further in a day. It’s also a beautiful place to stop. There is a lot to be said for intensive travel planning, but the surprise of not knowing much about where you’re stopping, and finding it to be so beautiful, is like an unexpected gift. Instead of looking for the city you saw depicted in your research, you have a surprise around every turn.
Up again, breakfast again, on the bikes again. Today would take us through Utrecht and on to The Hague. Only 82 kilometers. In most countries the idea of riding through a major city and out the other side would be daunting. But this is the Netherlands.
Although we only slept one night in The Hague, our ferry didn’t start boarding until 7pm for a 10pm departure. So we had a full day for a museum visit and buying replacement panniers for me, my old ones having failed and no chance of getting them repaired before we left town. I left them at a bike shop who said they would repair and put them to good use and we pulled out of town around 4pm to ride the 28 kilometers to the ferry terminal. A good travel tip for transition days is to stay at a nice hotel, if you can. The staff at the Mövenpick Hotel were super helpful and we left our bikes and bags after checkout, visited the Mauritshuis Museum, and then picked up just the bikes and set out to get a new set of Ortlieb panniers for me. Back to the hotel, unpack and pack panniers, drop off old panniers and head out to the ferry.
Watch for an all ferry post in the future, we have three more bike/ferry trips planned – it’s not only how we avoid flying, but also so much easier with bicycles. And for parents with small children it appears. Load the car with kids and your gear and then have fun on the ship while you cross to the UK.
This concludes our self imposed race across the Netherlands. We’re glad we didn’t miss a single kilometer of this over 300km ride in cycling nirvana.