Final Ride – Wednesday 31 July

Final Ride – Wednesday 31 July

The final ride of our tour was 72 km, from Utrecht to Amsterdam.
We decided to take a scenic route, exploring the wetlands and lakes to the north of Utrecht.

We rode through a very interesting town called Breukeleveen, it is basically a single street between two lakes. Many of the houses sit between a canal on the road side and the lake on the other side. It got even narrower at the next town, called Muyeveld, which is basically a road back to the mainland – some of the houses alongside the road are built on stilts into the lake.

Forest stop – back on the main land

We then made our way to the historic town of Naarden, which is built in the form of a star fort, with a moat around its fortified walls. We circled through the town before continuing on our way.

Moat and walls around Naarden

The weather was changing rapidly and it started to rain heavily just as we reached the Muiderslot castle, a 13th century moated castle near the coast. We were stuck under an archway with a bunch of other tourists during the first big downpour at around midday. After having a quick look at the castle, we made it into the town before the next downpour saw us sheltering under a covered pavement next to an ATM.

Muiderslot castle

When the rain abated a little, we got onto the most direct route to Amsterdam, a good bike path alongside the highway. Heavy rain started again at about 1pm, and we sat in a bus shelter for around an hour until 2pm. It felt as though the weather was conspiring against us ending our tour!

Sheltering from the rain in a bus stop

It was still raining, but less heavily, when we finally set out again. We continued to dodge showers all the way into and through Amsterdam. We entered from the east and skirted around the center city to our accommodation in the west. It took longer than we anticipated and we were pretty wet and tired when we arrived at the hotel. We found a local pub later on, with another excellent Belgium Tripel beer – Paix Dieu – as a reward. This may have been the best one yet.

Paix Dieu Belgium Tripel – in special a-symmetrical glass
Utrecht – Tuesday 30 July

Utrecht – Tuesday 30 July

Our planned ride today was short, just 40 km, from Amersfoort to Utrecht. We had a lazy late morning start, and it was already getting hot by the time we were on our bikes. Our route went through Soesterberg, along some lovely green shady routes. We rode through a leafy suburb with many huge mansions just before we arrived in Utrecht – the area feels very prosperous.

Bike route alongside main road into Utrecht

I continue to be impressed by the cycling infrastructure in Netherlands, including in Utrecht. As we entered the city we crossed under a traffic interchange – with a three way bicycle underpass.

Bicycle underpass on our way into Utrecht

The Utrecht old city is beautiful, The Cathedral square and canals through the city are highlights. The canals are reminiscent of Amsterdam, with lots of narrow gabled houses. However they differ in having boat houses, sometimes with outdoor seating areas or even whole restaurants, right on the canal (below street level). It was a gorgeous afternoon, with lots of people around, some in canoes, in leisure cruisers on the canal, or at the restaurants.

The cycle infrastructure is very well used – as can be seen in the picture below – a steady flow of bikes, and not a car in sight. All the cycle paths are easily distinguished, as they are red asphalt (low friction and easy to ride on!)

Canal and windmill on outskirts of Utrecht

We especially went to see the new Dafne Schipperbrug that we had seen on the internet. This cycle only bridge was built for commuters, to shorten the route across the river. The cycle way onto the bridge circles up around a school playground and over its roof – very cool. It was so hot that the children were not out on the open basketball court, but playing under the shaded area under the cycle way.

Our hotel was once again a bit out of the inner city. This time we had an “apartment”, including a kitchen, so we bought a lasagna that we could heat in the oven and some salad. They expected us to store our bicycles outside the hotel again – we took a chance as our trip was almost at an end. We went for a walk around in the evening – to a nearby pub alongside a canal. There were a lot of people out and about socialising and enjoying the warm evening.

Utrecht canal at dusk – with picnickers
Last nightcap – Belgium beer – Affligem Tripel 9%
Amersfoort – Monday 29 July

Amersfoort – Monday 29 July

We had an easy 64 km ride today – along beautiful Dutch cycle paths to Amersfoort, and another ten around the town, making it 74 km in all.
We started by crossing the Waal river on a large bridge with an excellent cycle path, just alongside our hotel.

After this we rode along the dike and river for a bit until Oosterhoud. There were lots of morning commuters on bicycles – all traveling quite fast.

Canal scene – swan family

We started following the train track at Valburg – for about 20 km. Some parts of this route were proper Dutch standard bicycle path, but there were a couple of sections that were just along the road and not as comfortable when cars came past (the first bit of poor cycle infrastructure for days). We left the train track and crossed the Nederryn river on a ferry, just after Opheusden.

Ferry across Nederryn river

The routes became more scenic after this. There was an interesting marshy nature area just after the ferry.
We hadn’t had breakfast, so we stopped at a bakery in the small town of Achterberg. We had to wait quite a while for the pastries to heat in the oven (they don’t seem to use microwaves here), and watched a steady stream of people coming to buy bread and cakes. A few had young children with them and each child was handed a small “stroopwaffel” at the end of the transaction. We sat and ate our pastries on a bench at the front of the bakery. Our route then took us through Venendaal, where we paused to look at the “De Nieuwe Molen” windmill, which dates from 1911. It still works and grinds grain once a week on Saturdays.

De Nieuwe Molen

We rode through Scherpenzeel – a lovely little town, I was just sorry we didn’t pause to take any photos. From there we found a good route on the Vallekanaal all the way into Amersfoort.

Vallekanaal bike route

Amersfoort was delightful – the inner city has been preserved since the middle ages. It is surrounded by canals and walls. We explored and ate a snack at a cafe in the square next to the “Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren” – a very tall gothic church tower that dominates many city vistas.

We stayed at a Mercure hotel, a bit outside of the old city but still quite central. Of course the city has expanded greatly beyond the old city walls and is quite modern. There were a number of big supermarkets all around the hotel, so finding good food was no problem. We were disappointed that the hotel didn’t have a good place to store our bikes overnight. We had to put them in a undercover public bike storage area next to a supermarket. We have found this in a number of places in the Netherlands – the Dutch seem to expect tourists to just leave their bikes outside (no wonder bike theft is so common here).

Amersfoort-Soest Canal near our hotel

Car free city Nijmegen – Sunday 28 July

Car free city Nijmegen – Sunday 28 July

Today’s journey was 66 km from Sint Michielsgestel to Nijmegen. It was overcast and cooler again the whole day.

We crossed the Zuid Willemsvaart canal early on. It was very quiet, but there were some passing Sunday Lycra clad cyclist on road bikes. They were very friendly and offered to take our photo on the bike bridge which connects to bike paths along both sides of the canal. Another example of amazing cycling infrastructure in this part of the world.

We hadn’t had breakfast at the hotel, so we stopped at Berlicum to buy a pastry at the Jumbo supermarket. We spoke with a Greek guy who was also sitting eating outside. He pointed out that we could get a complimentary coffee from the supermarket, which we did. He once worked in Carterton (in the Wairarapa) and is now looking for a job in Holland.

Today I decided to take some photos of the gardens that have been fascinating me over the last few days. I cannot get over the Dutch obsession with geometric garden design – all precision clipped hedges and trees. These photos are representative – the first one was taken in Den Dungen and the rest in Nuland (both are suburban towns we passed through).

We rode through the town of Oss. It has very pleasant pedestrian only streets in the central shopping area – this seems to be common practice in many Dutch towns.

Oss town center

Our route took us through Bergham, Ravenstein, and we crossed the Maas river just before Wijchem.

Cycle highway through the countryside
Cycleway on bridge crossing the Maas river

I was keen to visit Nijmegen as it won a cycling city award, and has also closed off its city centre to cars. It did not disappoint – the entire route into the city center was on separated cycle paths.

Sculpture made of bricks
Separated cycle roads (red asphalt) and signage – 5 km to the center

We spent some time around the city center. It is indeed car free. There were a lot of people around, walking and shopping, on bikes and outdoor cafes. It felt very communal and safe – with small children playing freely with a ball in the central square. We had some more coffee and snacks at another Jumbo supermarket – this one had an outdoor seating area. The center is surprisingly hilly – with a challenging hill (for bikes) just behind the church.

Our hotel was a little outside the city center next to the Waal river. There is a lot of development happening next to the river, and the hotel was just on the border of a light industrial zone, in a converted office building. However it was comfortable and had a nice backpacker hipster vibe about it (and our room had air conditioning too!).

Waal river – on the way to our hotel
Cool and Hazy – Saturday 27 July

Cool and Hazy – Saturday 27 July

Today the heat wave broke, with temperatures more than 10 degrees cooler than previous days (in the high 20’s). It was overcast the whole day, but not a normal overcast – the air was hazy, like a smog in China. The sun never truly broke through the cloud.

We only did 50 km today, ending up at St Michielsgestel. We first took a fairly direct route to ‘s-Hertogenbosch,

Windmill early in the ride. Note the typical immaculate homes and box hedges.

We saw a “fietsstraat” for the first time along the way. This is a bike street where bicycles have right of way over cars. The sign notes that “cars are guests” in the street. The street is in an suburban neighborhood and part of the main bike route passing through the area.

‘s-Hertogenbosch has a very beautiful historic center, with old houses built over canals and picturesque pedestrian only streets. It was also very busy, probably due to being a Saturday.

We bought some melons at the market (2 for E1.50) and ate them in the Jeroen-Boshtuin garden – an oasis of peace in the busy town. It has some little “intruders” hung in the trees for the children to find. There were a couple of families with young children playing on the playground – including a father who had brought two little girls in a “Bakfiets”.

Jeroen-Boshtuin garden – whimsical “intruder” in the tree

We had some coffee and a light meal (soup/omlette) at a cafe before setting off again to Sint Michielsgestel.

The final bit of our ride was scenic – along a canal and then through country areas, crossing further small canals.
I continue to marvel at the way the gardens are designed and maintained – with many box hedges and trees cut into round or square shapes. One small garden just had box hedges cut in maze like shapes in front of the house. Another popular design is to have the box hedges in a square, with some flowers, such as lavender or roses, planted in the middle.

We were in the lap of luxury in the evening, in a spa hotel and conference center on a big estate next to a river. We have a large air conditioned room with a view out of the lawn and the river beyond.

De Ruwenberg Hotel and Conference Centre
View from the hotel room
Hotel hopping – Friday 26 July

Hotel hopping – Friday 26 July

The heat wave continued today, we woke up early and left at 7 am, to travel in the cooler temperatures. In all, we did 50 km to Tilburg, and then another 5 km around the town and to our hotel. It was hot and muggy in the morning, worse than the previous day. There was also a bit of a warm head wind at times, making it feel as though the weather was changing.

The route was easy again on brilliant cycling infrastructure. For example every intersection has a dedicated bicycle traffic light and lane for bicycles to travel through.

Red asphalt bike lanes crossing intersection. Pedestrian crossing is on the right.

We went past a few farms, and through some towns and villages – Rucphen, Sprundel, Lies, Breda, Dorst and Rijen. We rode past some absolutely beautiful homes and gardens on the road into Tilburg – some with perfect lawns and box hedge displays. Some of these people must spend all their time manicuring their gardens. Everything was very quiet – it feels as though everyone is staying indoors waiting for the heat wave to end.

We got to Tilburg before 11 am – too early to go to the hotel. We rode through the centre, which had a fun fair set up for the evening in the centre, making it very messy. There was also a lot of broken glass. We stopped at a supermarket to buy and eat some ice cream, then sat for a while in a cool spot in the city park.

Trying to stay cool in Tilburg city park

The heat was really unpleasant at this stage, so we headed to our hotel. On the way there, we had a quick look at the Piushaven harbour (on a canal), which we thought was the most scenic part of the town. There was a man swimming in the harbour, a couple of kids in a dinghy and a handful of people sitting on benches.

Piushaven harbour

We did a supermarket shop at Jumbo, just a few hundred meters from the hotel – buying salad, bread, cheese, meatballs and beer (Weissebier and IPA – our hotel room has a minibar fridge). The hotel allowed us to check in early just after 1 pm and we spent the rest of the day in air conditioned comfort. This room is even better than yesterday (they are both Bastion hotels), with a bigger room and bathroom. We have a corner room with windows on two sides and great views onto the streets.

Street view from hotel window. Note the separated bike paths – standard infrastructure here
Netherlands Heat Wave – Thursday 25 July

Netherlands Heat Wave – Thursday 25 July

The heat wave is even worse today with record highs continuing.
We planned and executed a short morning ride perfectly, then spent the afternoon in an air conditioned hotel. It was around 45 km to Roosendaal, and we did another 5 km around the town and to the hotel after our arrival.

It was not too unpleasant when we left at around 8 am – and the temperatures were under 30 while we were riding. They peaked up to 38 (or more?) in the afternoon. We rode through the Antwerp industrial area on our exit, passing over a few canals. We passed up on the opportunity to take a longer, more interesting route along the river and canals to the north. We chose the most direct route from to Roosendaal – a lot of it alongside the F14 bicycle highway.

The biggest town we passed by was Essen (the main destination for the F14). Most of our trip was on bike paths, quite a few of them in the shade. Every now and then the paths veered off onto suburban streets. The houses are incredibly neat and well kept. Box hedges are very popular in the gardens.

We crossed the border to Netherlands, about 6 km from our destination.

I didn’t stop to take many photos in the heat.
This is our entry to the Netherlands, on a bike path

An elderly man on a bike led us to the town after we asked him for directions.

We arrived at around 11 am, and spent some time eating ice lollies from the supermarket, having a quick look at the centre of town, and then doing a supermarket shop for our dinner. The hotel allowed us to check in early at around 1 pm – it has amazing air conditioning so we just hung out in our hotel eating and drinking. I went out for a few minutes after 3 pm – the heat was unbearable.

Belgium Heat Wave – Wednesday 24 July

Belgium Heat Wave – Wednesday 24 July

Both Netherlands and Belgium have recorded their highest temperatures on record today. According the Accuweather the high in Antwerp was 37 today. It is incredibly hot.
We took the most direct route to Antwerp – making it in just on 56 km. Our route was along the F4 Gent-Antwerpen bicycle highway. This seems fairly new, and directs you on the fastest routes between the two cities. A lot of it is alongside a railway line, so not particularly interesting. However the alternative river route was over 90 km, just not feasible in the heat.

As it was, we arrived in Antwerp before 1 pm. We enjoyed finding our way across the Schede river, to the center city using a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel. A huge lift takes you 31 km down to the tunnel. The best thing about it was that it was so COOL riding through the tunnel – really refreshing.

After having a quick look around the old city (too hot to linger), we went back through the tunnel and rode a little way along the river (the path was almost unbearably hot with no shade) to another lift and tunnel and crossed again! The Youth Hostel allowed us to check in early, due to the heat and we didn’t venture far again. The Youth Hostel was not air conditioned and at one stage we went and sat in the basement dining hall to try and escape the heat. At least they had beer.

Ghent City Festival – Tuesday 23 July

Ghent City Festival – Tuesday 23 July

We only rode around 55 km to Ghent today and our final odometer reading, after making our way to the hotel, was 59 km. The route was easy and scenic, along the Ghent-Brugge canal almost all the way.

The first 10 km, to Beernem, was the same stretch of canal we rode along on our way to Bruges – just a little quieter on a Monday morning. There were still a number of Lycra clad cyclists out training and one or two pleasure boats on the canal.

Riding alongside the Ghent-Brugge canal

The last stretch of around 8 km into Ghent was off the canal again – some of it on a dedicated bike lane alongside a motorway. It was a relatively easy to ride into the city centre – with great cycling infrastructure everywhere.

Back alongside the canal on entering Ghent

When we got to the center, we were surprised to find the city in the midst of a city festival. It was also the start of a heat wave. There were signs up in the street warning people to drink enough water, and a stall providing free water.

We spent the whole afternoon in the “Mardi Gras” tent area, drinking beer and socialising – with some friendly engineering and medical students (Ghent is a university town), then a group of older ladies and a middle aged couple who all live locally, a British couple – both school teachers and traumatised by Brexit, and an American couple (who left quickly after Trump was mentioned). The music was also very good.

Monday 22 July – sightseeing in Brugge – on foot!

Monday 22 July – sightseeing in Brugge – on foot!

No cycling today – we left the bikes at the hotel and wondered around the city on foot. The whole place is very photogenic, so here is a selection of the scenes that caught my eye.

Free books
St Paul on a wall
Donkey door knob
City Hall
Detail on City Hall
City hall statues
Statue outside Basilica of the Holy Blood
Church of Our Lady Tower in background
Rozenhoedkaai canal
Passageway behind City Hall
Lunchtime – more Brugse Zot – small place just off the market square
Provinciaal Hof (Provence Court) on Market Square
Lions outside Provinciaal Hof on Market Square
Side street with Belfry in background
Belfry in the square – dusk