Tot Ziens

It always seems to happen this way at the end of a chapter, things feel really rushed.  Even though I didn’t get to do much this week with my bike in the shop.  After I don’t know how many miles it was finally time to get things looked at, it turns out that almost everything that has to do with pushing the bike forward needed to be replaced.  I hope this is the only time in the next 4 months that this has to happen.

I guess it has to be said that watching Holland lose the world cup was pretty sobering.  After a very tense game losing in the last minute was pretty devastating, plans to go out and celebrate were quickly scrapped and the promise of seeing grown men cry was fulfilled.  I have to admit it was fun being in a country whose competing for the world cup,  I don’t think it can compare to any sporting event in America, and then on top of that spending it with friends in old and new dutch pubs made it way better.

How do I thank everyone that helped me out in Europe, the list is long and I’m very grateful to each one of them.  Europe turned out a lot better than I anticipated though probably not as long as I thought it would have been.  I’m quite excited to start the ride across America.  I have to confess that my trip through Europe was technically done the easy way with all the river runs I did so America will prove to be a lot more challenging.

I also have to admit there is a certain nervousness about going back to the states, I get it every time I’m headed to a new continent though I didn’t really expect it this time around since I’m sorta headed back home.  I’m sure the feeling will wear off once I get back on the cycle.  For a guy who tries to avoid big cities heading to The Big City is a little out of character but it’s for a good reason.

Hup! Holland Hup!

Current Location: Amsterdam, Holland

It seems I’ve chosen the epicenter of sporting at the moment.  With Holland going to the championships of the world cup and the Tour de France starting in Rotterdam this year.  I managed to get down to the southern part of Holland to catch the peloton fly by.  It was 3 hours of waiting for 10 seconds of sheer madness, totally worth it.  There was a massive amount of people along the whole 200+ km course, and the little town I was in was no exception, I guess any excuse to get out and drink is taken when available.  I must admit that my respect for the tour has grown immensely since I’ve done some of the distances these guys do, just not at the speed they do it at.  I’m not sure how it is possible for them to keep up the cadence they do day after day, to me it seems super-human.  It’s easy to wax poetic on how difficult the race can be as many authors already have and in my mind there is no competition in the world that comes close to the difficulty of the tour, how these guys push themselves to the razors edge of perfection day after day baffles me.

And then along comes the world cup, something I also have to admit not paying much attention to.  Comes with being American I guess.  It’s hard to not get caught up in it over here, wildly evident after crossing the border from Germany into Holland whole towns are festooned in orange banners, almost like Queens day all over again.  I’ve been able to catch the last 2 games, I usually don’t even know what day it is but it’s easy to figure out when the games are.  Just go through a town completely empty and you wonder where everyone is until you get to the pub, park the bike and enter the fray.  Watching the game last night in Amsterdam was pretty crazy and I can imagine things will only get better on Sunday.

I must admit being without a definite direction makes for a little more difficult cycling.  But I’ve managed to keep on the bike every day since leaving Copenhagen.  Choosing to fly out of Holland means my training for going across America I probably could have chosen a more appropriate country like Germany or anywhere else really.  Not many hills here so I’ll have to see how I do with hills in a few weeks.

Can’t Complain

Current Location:Winschoten, Holland

I’ll never complain about the wind again.  If I should I ask that you put five across the face, I’ll probably stare off into the distance and remember what cycling Denmark was like.  Let me do my best to explain why.

Up until this point I’ve winged about a little wind pushing me backwards.  I realize now that this was just a cooling breeze and nothing more.  I’ve now felt wind that would  make your hair curl, laddie.  In one particular section that day I could almost make out Loki rubbing his hands together and grinning maniacally as I turned a corner and a blast of wind almost took me to the ground. The wind started in the night when I heard it trying to take the tent off of the ground, I put in my earplugs and figured it would be over by morning.  It wasn’t.  The wind was blowing NE and I was heading SW, straight into the maw of the beast it seemed.  I really have never felt anything like this, it tore at every fiber of my being relentlessly.  It might let up for a second only to redouble its efforts to stop me, and accomplishing just that several times.  Up until now I’ve never had to walk the bike on flat ground, that too has changed.

I’ve now learned like surfers must respect the water, above all else I think cyclists must respect the wind.  I endured that day for the greater part of 10 hours against the wind clocking in only 90-100km for the day.  Not an inch was given that I didn’t have to fight for.  And that is why I’ll never complain about the wind again.

I did find Denmark to be shockingly expensive, a fact I bemoaned to mom and dad when they were here.  It was one of my main reasons to get out of the country quickly.   Also the fact that they haven’t switched over to the Euro is fairly irritating.   Other than that the coastal route was really interesting.  I think it was a rough existence for those that choose to live on that side of the country.

Riding back through Germany was nice again, after the headwinds in Denmark I managed to snag a few days of tailwinds which propelled me through Germany quite briskly, a nice change.  I followed the North Sea Cycle Route for a great portion of the ride, it’s nice to not have to look at the map and just focus on the cycling.

Back in Holland again means easy cycling, I have pretty much settled on heading back to the US by mid July and start the ride across.  I think I’ve accomplished most everything I wanted to here and the US will be challenge enough.  I think the only thing now is to stay focused on riding, it’s just a problem figuring out where I want to go, maybe I go back to Belgium for a wee while.

Old Stompin Grounds

Current Location:Mechelen, Belgium

Ask any travelling western European what they miss most about home and I’m willing to put money that the answer would be bread* (this goes especially for Germans. (Family and friends are understood to be a given.)) I now understand why they say this, until now most breads I’ve had have been fairly tame and since being in Dutch homes and eating different breads in Belgium I’ve learned what bread can be, and American bread is lacking.  I only found muslibrood a week before leaving Holland and am puzzled being back in Belgium that they don’t have it here, it’s subtle things like this that change when going across borders.  Something that was available 5 kilometers in one direction isn’t available here.  Suffice to say that in the 3 weeks in Holland I got quite used to a variety of Dutch eats and am a little disappointed I can’t get them in Belgium. 

A big thanks goes to Miranda and her brother Sean for putting me up during Queens birthday in Amsterdam.  It’s really quite amazing to see an entire country shut down for a day and party so hard.  Amsterdam canals were packed with revelers all donning orange.  The streets are no exception to the crowding and drinking which we participated in whole-heartedly.  Also going on is people setting up shop outside their doorsteps, so the country basically turns into the worlds largest flea market.  I commented during the festivities how nice it is to see everyone in it to have a good time, not one time did we see any fighting or unruliness going on.  I was quite impressed with the whole thing and had a great time with everyone we hung out with that day. 

Miranda and I then carried on to Longadijke for her going away BBQ party, I was quite excited to get to have a bbq as it had been since New Zealand since I had been to one, and it sure beats cheese and bread. 

From there I meant to carry on north to the islands that string along north of Holland but found out that my next appointment later that week was further south than I had planned so re-arranged my itinerary to head in that direction.  I did manage to skirt through Flevoland which is where I was in Holland 15 years ago for the World Boyscout Jamboree.  Not much of the event remains today except for a statue that I vaguely remember and the roads that went between camp sites (we were phoenix camp, I think.)  I approached a lot of people trying to figure out where the place was, most were really helpful once I managed to explain what I was looking for while others probably weren’t born when the thing happened.  The roads still being there gives the place somewhat of an eerie feel but I found Flevoland very apt for the camp as it has the most wide open spaces I found in all of Holland. 

Another thanks goes to my moms friends Linda and Ad who live in Breda for putting me up for the weekend and showing me around.  They took me to Kinderdijke which is known for it’s many windmills.  In my limited knowledge of what windmills were used for I’ve usually associated them with grinding flour while the Dutch use them for controlling water levels (which is why they have so many of them.)  The Dutch being masters of controlling water (all of Flevoland is reclaimed land from the sea.) Riding over some bridges in Zeeland there looked to be gates that could close and keep out the ocean, I thought that quite silly because who do they think they are trying to control the ocean.  Only to find out, to my astonishment, that is exactly what they do.

I was sorta sad to leave Holland cycle paths, everything is so easy there that it is something of a shock to go back to navigating by symbols on poles.  I’m not exactly sure what Germany has in terms of cycle paths but I’ll soon find out.

*except for Alastair who would probably complain about the failing state of mustard or cheese in that particular country.

In the Land of the Cloggies

Current Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I don’t need a book to tell me that The Netherlands are probably the most densely populated country in Europe.  It’s entirely evident upon crossing the border when you constantly see people on bike paths, walking their dog, shopping or just loafing around in a park.  I never feel truly alone here even what seems to be the middle of nowhere I’ll encouner another cyclist.  This does make it more difficult to free camp, but not impossible.

I have to thank Frank and Marieke  for putting me up in Den Haag (The Hague.)  I met them in Chiang Mai while on the mahout training and got along famously with them.  At the time they invited me to stay if I ever made it to The Netherlands, they were more than happy to have me drop by.  We did a cycle tour around the city after I dropped my gear off at their place.  It almost turned into a whole mahout reunion but Gordon and Ezmie couldn’t make it.  The tour was excellent and they introduced me to typical dutch fare and gave me history lessons and some current events that I had been wondering about.  We finished the day with an excellent meal back at home with some equally amazing beer. 

Having skirted around Amsterdam (abbreviated as A’dam) for about a week  I finally took the plunge and made it into the city of a certain repute.

I had been avoiding A’dam for the simple reason that I have an invitation to celebrate Queens Birthday (Dutch Queen) with Miranda who I wwoofed for back in New Zealand and is back visiting family and friends.  From what I understand Queens Birthday is an excuse for everyone to party hard.  The streets turn orange (the national color) and everyone is out to have a good time, I am quite excited.

First impressions of A’dam.  It’s expensive, 50 euro got me 3 nights bed in a hostel that includes breakfast, you can be sure I smuggle out enough fruits, bread and cheese to get me an included lunch and dinner.  A backpackers gotta do what a backpackers gotta do, that is all I’ll say about that.  The second thing is that the reputation that A’dam has is well earned.  Everything you’ve heard about the place is true, it’s sort of a no-holds-barred playground.  As long as what you do doesn’t interfere with anyone else it’s basically all good.  It is interesting to see how everything meshes together though, you may have some mental image of the place (something akin to “Sin City”) but it still somehow maintains a sense of wholesomeness (in the daytime at least) where families still wander around the streets and kindergartens are right around the corner from the red-light district.

It must be the famous Dutch tolerance I’ve heard so much about.

Old Zeeland

Current Location:Alkmaar, Holland

I found it more than a little difficult to get out of Brugges even though I was only there for 2 days.  I could easily have found myself sticking around a few more days enjoying more hot chocolate and breads.  But I figure being on the road is a bit cheaper.  I ran into one girl who was panicking because she couldn’t make her flight to Ireland due to the whole volcano thing and my only advice to her was enjoy it, you’re in friggen Brugges.

Border crossing in Europe is a lot more different than what I’m used to in Asia or even America for that matter.  It’s as if borders barely exist, the only significant change that can immediately be seen is the signage is different and then the language of signs also shifts, sometimes more slowly than the symbols themselves.  Crossing into the Flemish area cycling becomes a lot more prevalent as well with every age group cycling, along with the ”pills” (what I call the speed freaks in their Lycra outfits.)  And now that I’m in Holland pelotons can form up around me as I wait at traffic lights, it’s weird because at that point all I’m thinking is don’t fall over.

I met a group of 6 french kids cycling north so I kinda tagged along with them for a few days making it as far as Rotterdam with them.  It was fun not having to navigate for a few days, mostly because I lacked even a map to navigate with as I planned on picking that up at the visitor information but it was closed the day I crossed over.  I did enjoy having company, even it was for two days.  They spoke pretty good English and we stopped a lot for coffee or beer depending on what time of day it was.  Their pace was a lot slower than what i’m used to but it was good to change, I kinda figure I’m probably doing at least 140k a day (this is based on the fact that I typically cycle for 9 hours a day and my average speed back in NZ was about 12mph putting me around that distance.

Spending some time in the Zeeland region was nice, lots of beaches and camping grounds.  Some towns are centered around the camping which makes me wonder what happens to them in the off season.  They must evaporte into thin air until the following year.  Getting into Rotterdam was a bit hecktic as it is either the biggest or busiest shipping port in the world which meant a lot of lorries moving freight around.  Luckiliy I am in Holland which means cyclists typically get their own lane and when they don’t motorist are well aware of who has the right of way.  I got into Rotterdam to find a map of the country and spent way to much on a map which I’ll probably barely use, but at least I have something to look at while I sip my coffee in the morning. 

I got out of Rotterdam with no particular target in mind and ended up in the outskirts of Lielle.  I figured on waking up the next morning it would be worth visiting the Kuekenhof gardens, kinda like the Disneyland of flowers.  It certainly had that atmosphere with a huge parking lot full of buses disgorging their passengers and ice cream and hot dogs for sale on the grounds.  It certainly is a sight to see all these gardens and a photographers dream really, I probably took over 100 pictures which I’ll let mom sort through when I get home.  I think it ended up being worth the visit.

I’ll post pictures when I get a computer that allows me to work on them, so far the library computers don’t allow it.  It’s gonna be a huge task.