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Tour to Amsterdam

Five wheels to Amsterdam

In July 2012 my husband Mark and I indulged ourselves with three whole weeks off work to tour the Netherlands. I rode my ICE Sprint and Mark rode his Thorn Sherpa bike. Our tour was circular; starting from home in Kent, England, taking a ferry to France then cycling clockwise through France, Belgium and the Netherlands before returning via an inland route for a 775 mile round trip.

We hit the road very early at 5.40am. The weather was overcast, windy and warm. After an uneventful ferry crossing to France we cycled along the coast through Dunkerque to our first campsite in Malo Les Bains. Our first day on the road had gone well. I was pleased to have cycled 61 miles which is the most I have ever cycled on my trike. It had been a nice comfortable ride, and it was a relief to be free from saddle, shoulder, and neck pain which I suffer from if I ride an upright bike for a long period. 

On the second day we crossed the border into Belgium, following the coastal road until we reached the Dutch border on day three. Although the border was unmarked we knew we were in the Netherlands because the cycle paths were suddenly marked with the numbers of the Knooppuntroutes – the Dutch system of cycle routes.

We continued along the coast path taking ferries to cross the many estuaries and rivers that flow into the North Sea. Another first was traversing the Delta Project crossings. These are a series of defences built after the floods of 1953 which destroyed 47,000 homes and caused the tragic loss of 1836 lives. It was strange to cycle along these causeways with the sea on both sides of us. We then reached the Maeslantkering barrier; 22m high surge doors designed to protect Rotterdam and the surrounding area from the sea during high tides and storms.

By the sixth day on the road we were feeling a bit tired. We decided to slow the pace and have a rest day in Delft. We strolled through the open-air market, sampling the cheeses, sweets and ‘drop’ (liquorice). We bought kibbeling for lunch (deep fried cod parings dusted with paprika and served with mayonnaise) and strawberries for dessert. Later we explored the new church with its beautiful new and old stained glass windows, organ with 3000 pipes and William of Orange’s tomb. The views from the top of the tower were stunning and my legs turned to jelly when I looked at the market 108 metres below.

Over the next few days we continued along the coast, with a few mini-adventures and chance meetings along the way, until we reached Amsterdam. We had booked three nights through Air bnb, an organisation where house owners rent rooms to guests. Our accommodation was a self-contained room in the owner’s courtyard. It was well equipped, comfortable and reasonably priced.

While in Amsterdam we visited a diamond-cutting factory, took an excellent bus tour, visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank museum, which was very moving and I had tears in my eyes several times for what they went through and their fate. We took an excellent boat trip and admired the beautiful 17th centuary buildings with their many styles of gables.

From Amsterdam we headed inland for the return leg of our journey. We passed through Gouda to the Belgian border, which was marked with a chocolate shop and a frites stall. We stopped in Ghent, which is a very charming city, then headed on to Tyne Cot military cemetery, the largest British war cemetery in the world and the resting place of 11,954 soldiers of the British Commonwealth. When we walked in and saw the thousands and thousands of rows of white headstones we were totally overwhelmed. I could not comprehend the conditions these soldiers lived and fought and I was glad to be able to pay my respects to the people who we owe so much “Lest we forget”.

We left Tyne Cot in a thoughtful, sombre mood and cycled to Ypres. That evening we went to the Menin Gate to watch ‘The Last Post’, which has been played there every evening since 1928 in honour of the 250,000 soldiers of the then British Empire and Allied forces who died in the Ypres Salient battlefields during the First World War. The buglers played the Reveille, and then the British National Anthem. I had tears in my eyes, as did many people.

After those very moving experiences, we reflected on our three-week tour. We will remember the rain; the beaches and the beautiful countryside with crop-filled fields, dykes, and windmills; the Flemish architecture; Van Gogh paintings; and the feelings evoked at The Anne Frank House, Tyne Cot and The Last Post. We will also remember the many friendly and helpful cycle tourists we met along the way, the families, the couples and solo riders.

We made the return ferry crossing to England from Calais, and then cycled the remaining 42 miles home. When we got indoors I made tea and we collapsed on the sofa. Later that evening we started making plans for our next tour…

Julie Lovegrove

A day-by-day report of Julie’s tour can be read here