Saturday 1 August – the last day

We started our day with a traditional English breakfast at the Oakland Hotel – insipid eggs, bacon and baked beans. Still, we were glad for the protein.

The last day of our tour was an 81 km ride to Gretel’s house in Orpington.

We worked our way across to the Hanningfield Reservoir, then to Ramsdon Heath, Little Burstead, then along minor roads to the outskirts of Stanford le Hope. Here we turned and made our way to West Tilbury and then Tilbury where we caught a ferry across the Thames. Our research was that it is not possible to cross the Thames on a bridge with a bicycle.

thamesferry

The ferry goes from Tilbury to Gravesend. A British couple were also on the ferry with their bicycles – they had just been on a day outing. They offered to guide us onto a “country road” – so we rode with them for a bit to Stonewood. In contrast to the routes Kris had carefully chosen, they seemed quite happy to travel along the bigger roads. We began to wonder if this isn’t safer/better – as you are at least more visible without the obscuring hedges of the country roads.

cycling

From Stonewood we made our way cross country to Hextable, Swanlea and then Orpington – where we were greeted by Elsbeth (Kris’s mother).  

journeyend       withElsbeth

Friday 31 July – getting to grips with the English roads

Today we did 85km from Harwich to Woodham Ferrers. The contrast between the Dutch cycle roads and the lack of cycling infrastructure in England is stark. Cycling in England is similar to New Zealand, though there is more traffic. There is often no shoulder or space for cyclists on the roads. We tried to find quiet country roads, but even these have a lot of traffic. The countryside is different to the rest of Europe, in that there are hedges alongside all the roads, so you cannot see fields. A few of the fields we saw were wheat.

typicalroad

We started with a short ride along the beach from Harwich, it looked like there was a cycle path but this soon disappeared.

nocycling

We went through Little Oakley and Great Oakley – and had some nice country roads for a while before we worked our way to Colchester. There was an unpleasant busy highway just before Colchester.

After Colchester we were on busy roads for a while. Finally we were able to take a short cut out through country roads to work our down to Fingringhoe. Then we followed a route between lakes and inlets to Peldon, then Little Wigborough and Great Wigborough, to Maldon. Here we paused and had salad and ice cream from the supermarket for lunch. It looks like a nice town with some pubs and houses along the river front.

church      harbour

Then we rode past Purleigh and worked our way along small roads to Woodham Ferrers and the Oakland Hotel, where we had a booking for the night.

Purleigh church is typical of churches in the area

Purleigh

The accommodation at the Oakland hotel was a little old fashioned but seemed fine.

Oakland

The hotel has a bar downstairs, the party centre of the town by all appearances. We had some British Ale before retiring for the night. We had just climbed into bed at about 10pm, when the live entertainment started downstairs – “songs of the eighties”. This was so loud that a teaspoon left in a saucer began to rattle with the vibrations and I got out of bed to move it. Kris considered going down in his underpants to complain, but in the end we just put in earplugs and dozed fitfully until it ended in the early hours.

Thursday 30 – Hook van Holland to Harwich

Today we took the Stena line ferry from Hook van Holland to Harwich in England.

Our day started with the 20km ride to Hook van Holland, along cycle paths the whole way. The Hook van Holland is a small town and we had about an hour there before we had to check in to the ferry. We bought some food for the trip and had a coffee at a local pub. The pub was recommended by the receptionist at the Student Hotel in the Hague, so we had a friendly chat with the barmaid there.

The ferry is large, and similar to the NZ Interislander ferries inside. It was also full, probably because of the issues with trucks getting through the channel tunnel at Calais. There were lots of cars and also a few other bicycles.

The ferry ride was very long. We sat in the harbour for a couple of hours after getting on board and the trip itself was about six hours. There was not much to see once we were out of the harbour. We were lucky to get a seat next to a porthole, with a power plug for the laptops. The internet worked while we were in port, but not reliably once we were out at sea. We had a chat with a couple of young German girls, also on bicycles, who were going to volunteer on organic farms in Ireland. They were just out of school and keen to improve their English by spending a few months in Britain.

ferry1

 ferry2 ferry3

It took ages to get through customs on the other side, it seems that they don’t get New Zealand passports through there very often. We felt sorry for the camper-van in the queue behind us.

Our accommodation was in the Captain Fryatt Guesthouse in Harwich, which is above a pub. We had some British ale in the pub in the evening and a chat with some of the locals and a truck driver who had also been on the ferry.

Wednesday 29 July – The Hague

The ride from Amsterdam to The Hague was around 60 km and fairly straight forward. We had good bicycle paths (2 lane and separate from the traffic) all the way.

Our route took us past the Schipol airport, then followed the Aalsmeerderdijk, passed the Westeinderplas lake, to Leiden and then Den Haag. We had a bit of headwind and it threatened to rain, but happily we stayed dry.

At one stage we were travelling along a canal that went over a four land highway!

The whole route is fairly built up, but there were still patches of farmland alongside the canals with grazing cows. Also a few windmills.

ride

ride2

We got into Den Haag early and rode around a bit looking at the town, and also looking for a map of South East England (which we eventually found).

Hague5

Hague1 Hague2 palace Hague4

Our accommodation is in “The Student Hotel The Hague” and is very modern and clean, with good shared lounge spaces. Also a cafe and bar, with a special on hamburgers. Best of all there are washing machines!

In the evening we had another ride around to look at the palaces, and an early night.

Monday and Tuesday 27/28 July – rest days in Amsterdam

Esther left in the rain on Monday morning, Kris accompanied her to the station.

We had bad weather for our two rest days in Amsterdam, with showers coming and going. We treated ourselves to a four star hotel (special price) for two nights and enjoyed sleeping in while it rained outside. When we went out, we inevitably got wet.

I searched for and bought a new camera, similar to my last one (a Canon Ixus).

However we did get to explore a bit of the city, which is huge and bustling with tourists. There are canals everywhere and many of the distinctive Amsterdam canal houses. We spent an evening walking around the red light district and enjoying beer in a couple of nearby bars. The district is much larger than we expected and has the oldest buildings. There are lots of ladies sitting in windows in their underwear, sex shops and “coffee” shops. Also people sitting smoking dope alongside the canals.

Amsterdam1      Amsterdam2        Amsterdam01        Amsterdam02

There are bicycles everywhere.

Amsterdam03

This warning is in most of the shop windows, issued by Tourist Information Amsterdam.

warning

Sunday 26 July – to Amsterdam

We awoke to a calm morning with bright sun and clear skies. Clouds began to build up in the skies again in the middle of the day with threatening winds and a bit of rain in afternoon, which we mostly missed.

Here are some photos of the Shagen castle hotel, where we stayed – behind the main hotel. There has been a castle on the site since 1394, but it fell into ruin and was torn down in 1820, apart from two towers. The current castle was built in 2001, incorporating the original towers to preserve them.

castlehotel1      castlehotel2

Esther decided to ride with us to Amsterdam and to find a train back to Bern from there. Our route took us from Shagen to Zijdewind, Meerhugowaard, Stompetoren, Grootschermer, De Rijp, Oost Graf Dijk, where we struggled to find a way around the canal, we ended up in Zaandam where we took a free ferry to Amsterdam city.

AmsterdamFerry

By the end of the day we clocked up 74 km. There were cycle paths all the way into the city.

This ride was more urban, with more houses and people. There were also lots of cabbage fields – green, red and blue. Lots of little moats running through the fields everywhere. Some of the small towns are very beautiful, with the well kept houses and canals we are coming to expect in Holland.

windmill

bloemkragt boats

We saw lots of storm damage as we rode along, broken branches and trees snapped in two.

stormdamage2

This storm damage is in Amsterdam.

stormdamage1   amsterdamstormdamage

Saturday 25 July – Afsluitdijk and Storm

Today we crossed the Afsluitdijk – an incredible 32km long dike that dams off the Zuiderzee, a salt water inlet of the North Sea, turning it into the fresh water lake called the IJsselmeer.

selfie

Satellite image of the Afsluitdijk

Satellite_image_of_Afsluitdijk,_Netherlands_(5.19E_53.02N)

It was a challenge because we had a steady headwind. In the end it was not so bad, the cycle path was very good and we just needed to keep going.

afsluitdyke4      afsluitdyke      afsluitdyke2       afsluitdyke3

There is a monument in the middle of the dike to the engineer who designed it.

monument


Many know him from the statue at the Monument on the Afsluitdijk: Cornelis Lely. Cornelis Lely (Amsterdam, 23 September 1854 – The Hague, 22 January 1929) was a Dutch engineer, hydraulic engineer, minister, governor and politician. He is the father of the Zuiderzee project. In 1891 the young engineer designed the first feasible plans for the Afsluitdijk. In 1913, when he was Minster of Public Works, he ensured that the project was placed on the cabinet’s agenda. Lely died in 1929 at the age of 74. He never saw the completion of the Afsluitdijk.

There was no wind for a while when we came off the dyke (maybe the calm before the storm). We passed through towns of Oosterland, Hippolytushoef and then Anna Paulowna. Here I got a flat tire again. We had just changed it when a local man stopped to warn us about a bad storm coming. We were not overly concerned, as we were not far from our final destination. However we decided to continue to Schagen, about 14km away, where we planned to do our shopping before going to our bed and breakfast.

The weather did begin to change, with a wind coming up mostly behind us and some rain. It wasn’t a problem until the storm hit us with full force around 4km out of Schagen. We were along a canal cycle path with no shelter. It came on very suddenly – so bad that we couldn’t ride on our bicycles and had to get off and push. Unfortunately we had to travel directly into the wind. The rain was driven into our faces, feeling like little pins. It was hard to keep our eyes open due to the water being blown into them, even with glasses on. The only thing we could do was keep walking. None of us have ever experienced weather like this while cycling before.

The road changed direction for the last km into town with the wind behind us. We managed to ride in, or I should say we were blown into town. We didn’t have to pedal at all – the wind pushed us along at quite a rate.

At the first intersection into the town we came upon a woman clinging to a lamp pole and crying. Kris left his bicycle and persuaded her to come to the petrol station shop with us – she wanted to go the other direction. She was unsteady on her feet and really scared of the strong wind so Kris helped her across.

We were all relieved to reach the petrol station shop – which was quite warm and spacious. We were able to buy coffee and instant soup and biscuits and warm up. The staff were very good, not complaining about how we were wetting the floor.

The storm outside showed no sign of letting up and it was clear that we could not travel another 8km to our bed and breakfast. So we steeled ourselves to make our way into Shagen to find accommodation. Luckily it was not far and we found rooms at the second hotel. This is the most we have paid for a room so far, but we had little choice. Our room is in a rebuilt castle.

It was good to get warm and dry again. Everything was wet – water sloshing around in shoes etc. My camera was a casualty of the storm – totally dead. Luckily I could still download the photos from the memory stick.

Later on we learnt that this was the most severe July storm ever recorded in the Netherlands, with winds of up to 121 km/h on the west coast. Trains stopped running in Amsterdam, many trees came down and one person was killed when a tree fell on his car.

That evening we were treated by Esther to a big meal in a Kebab/Steak restaurant and some beers at a local pub. We met a cheese-maker who brought us some of his Gouda cheese to taste.

Friday 24 July – Sailing boats

This morning I tried Dutch breakfast sprinkles, a ubiquitous part of the Dutch breakfast. It makes the bread taste a bit like cake. Kris and Ester were not keen.

breakfast sprinkles

The way they presented our boiled eggs at the Pastorie B&B was very cute.

eggs

Our route today took us from Waaxens through Blija, Marrum, Hallum, Hijum, Vrouwen-parochie, Sint Annaparochie, Berlikum, Ried and Franeken to Harlingen. An easy 64km ride.

countrytown    countryscene

This octagonal church, from 1683, is in Sint Annaparoche. Rembrant was married in the forerunner to the church in 1634.

church       Rembrant

I had two flat tires one after another, we changed the tubes at the side of the road (looks like something inside the tire causing the problem). The second flat was just as we came into Franeken near the end of our journey. We paused here and bought another tube, also a new mouse for Kris’s computer. We had coffee at a central coffee shop, enjoying sitting outside.

coffee      clogs

Franeken

When we got to Harlingen it was very lively, with heaps of people in the main street area. There was a music and drama festival on that day with shows in pubs and cafes. We caught part of one as we were riding past.

show

Harlingen has a harbour, canals and lots of rigged sailing boats – it is a stunning town and we could easily have stayed longer.

Harlingen1     Harlingen2

Harlingen4     Harlingen5

The young man in this dingy sped up when he saw me taking a photo from the bridge!

  Harlingen3

Our accommodation is a bed and breakfast attached to a garden centre. We had little huts to sleep in around a centred covered area with big trees and other plants – very cute.

esther JandK

We had a nice social time in the evening in the Slotjie pub – together with some locals. “Slotjie” is the name of a traditional sailing boat. The local people speak both Dutch and the Frisian, which is a language of its own, not a dialect. Our friends included a man who works on off shore gas rigs and the cleaner of the pub. We are invited to camp in someone’s back yard next time we are in town!

            pub

Thursday 23 July – Friesland country ride

Normally we overtake other cyclists on the road, we are finding that we are overtaken by others in Holland. The cyclists here are very confident and fast through intersections and the cycling infrastructure supports the flow. We are not used to riding with so many other cyclists.

We are also finding the Dutch people are very helpful if you look as though you need directions. Today a lady stopped her car and jumped out to come and help direct us out of Groningen.

Our Friesland country ride today took us from Groningen to Waaxens – 83km in all. We were cycling against the wind again, especially in the afternoon.

Our ride featured lifting bridges, windmills and canals, beautiful manicured gardens, woolly sheep and of course Frisian cows.

Fresian

windmill

We are loving Friesland – it is has its own unique beauty with the wide flat horizon, bright green and blue shades – and incredible cloud formations in the skies.

friesian landscape

This bridge and canal scene are on the outskirts of Groningen. Note the bike path goes over the lifting bridge alongside the road.

klapbrug     klapbrug2

canal

After finding our way out of Groningen we passed through the small towns of Zuidwolde and Bedum. We heard the carillon bells sounding as we left Bedum.

Then we went on through Onderdendam.

Onderdendam

We were interested in this statue beside the canal at Onderdendam. It is the image of a skipper woman who drags a barge.

Onderdendamstatue    inscription

 We could not read the text on the drawstring as it is an old dialect. I looked it up later and it means “He who loves his wife loves her in sight,” said the skipper, and put her on the line).

We stopped for a coffee at Winsum, which also had an outdoor market and a windmill.

Winsum

Then through Warfhuisen, Vierhuizen, Lauwersoog, Anjum, Moroa (cute village) to Dokkum.

We rode past the Lauwersmeer – a huge inland lake surrounded by marshy nature reserve – between Vierhuizen and Lauwersoog.

Lauwersmeer

We crossed over a dike separating the lake from the sea at Lauwersoog.

Lauwersoog dyke    Lauwersoog

We stopped to do some shopping in Dokkum, the biggest town before our accommodation. Dokkum has a wonderful town centre, with terrace cafes alongside the main canal. It also has the only old windmill that we have seen actually turning.

Dokkum

Our accommodation was only about 10km outside of Dokkum at Waaxens. It is called “Pastorie Waaxens” and is in a renovated “pastorie” – or priests house, next to an old church. There is not much else in Waaxens, but the house and garden are beautiful. We had a picnic in the garden and our host brought us blankets and a candle once it began to get chilly.

pastorie

 

picnic

Wednesday 22 July – Holland

We got up early to make sure that we wouldn’t miss the ferry to Holland at 9.30am. There are only two sailings from Emden to Deifzijl per day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon.

The ferry is a fairly small boat and we were surprised how many people and bicycles they packed onto it. You have to take all the panniers off your bicycle to get it on board across a narrow gang plank. The captain wanted to know why we had so much baggage on our bikes so we told him we are travelling for three months and have already visited 8 countries. Holland will be our ninth.

dollard      dollardbikes

There were a number of very large ships in the dock leaving Emden (one off-loading cars).

bigship

The ferry doesn’t go very fast and never out of sight of the coastline. It takes an hour to get to Deifzijl and you cross the border into Holland somewhere along the way.

ferryjandK

I have never seen so many wind turbines – they are all lined up along the coast, some big and others quite modest. The water on the whole crossing is dark green/ brown looking, with not many waves.

ferryview1     ferryview2

It was exciting being in a new country – Holland is beautiful!

I was totally enchanted by the houses along the canals in Deifzijl and the little towns around it and kept on stopping to take photos. Lots of them have little jettys alongside where people can sit and eat or relax and sometimes there are boats docked alongside the houses.

canalhouse1    canalhouse2      canalhouse3    canalhouse4    canalhouse5    canalhouse6

We took a fairly direct route to Groningen, alongside the Eemskanaal for most of the way. On getting closer to the city we had another long windy stretch alongside a road. The Dutch cycle path next to the road was brilliant, it even has a centre line to separate bicycles going in different directions.

cycleroad

We rode alongside the canal again on entering the city and saw a large barge go through a lock.

barge

On entering Groningen it was interesting to be sharing the road with so many other bicycles, all using the excellent cycle paths throughout the city. You really have to watch where you are going as there are so many other bikes and some of them travel very fast. There are also bicycles parked everywhere.

Groningen has canals running through it and some house boats that seem to be permanent dwellings.

Groningen5

There is a big market place in the centre and we stopped for some fresh fried fish – there were lots of people buying and it was very delicious.

Groningen     Groningen2

Our hostel is called Bud Gett and is very basic but close to the centre. Our ride was very short at 38km, so we had some time in the afternoon to book accommodation for the next few days through the internet and also look around town. We have changed tactics with booking accommodation, as the tourist info offices have not had much to offer over the past few days.

Groningen3     Groningen4       Groningen6      Groningen7Groningen8