Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016
Hades - I Mean Amsterdam
By Ren Withnell
Into The Melee
Despite the luxurious comfort of a soft mattress in the cabin I'm awake before the wake up call. Leaving Sharon fast asleep I take a wander around the ship as The Netherlands comes into sight. The Hook Of Holland is really part of the massive Rotterdam port and the views are best described as "industrial". Tall cranes stretch skywards between pipelines, tanks, vast buildings and chimneys. I awaken sleeping beauty not with a kiss but a quick prod before retreating. This is perhaps the most dangerous thing any man can do, waking a woman. Vicious creatures they are before the application of coffee and food and make-up.
We depart the ferry and I repeat my mantra "ride on the right ride on the right ride on the right......." Oh golly, I wonder how Sharon's going to cope with riding on the wrong side of the road? Be careful of the roundabout Sharon, remember to look left. This will be my - let me see - Spain, Honfleur, my 10 day tour, our 3 week French trip - yes my 5th time of riding on the silly side. It takes a moment but it is becoming just that little bit easier. The lack of traffic here is a welcome introduction.
This rain is not welcome. I find a car park and stop so we can apply our waterproofs. I am lost already after a mere 2 miles. I thought it would be so easy, I thought I'd just follow the coast a little up to Haarlem then follow the signs into Amsterdam, our first destination. Navigation is to be done by my offline maps app, "Maps.Me". Getting the tablet out in the rain is risky and the screen is hopping around like a demented Russian dancer due to the raindrops confusing the touch sensitive screen. Dammit.
Where's my sun? Sharon promised me endless sunshine and warm days. Fail.
I find a sign for "Den Haag", The Hague. I know that's in the right direction so I try to follow the signs. The traffic has increased many fold and I feel like I'm inside the eye of a whirlwind. Strange signs, unfamiliar crossings, far too many lanes, cyclists just seem to appear from nowhere and the whole road system now seems to be a seething mass of chaos. Next I find myself in an urban setting among rows of modern smart terraced houses and apartments. This is definitely not the main road and I am lost again.
Yeah, yeah, I don't think this is the main road to The Hague is it.
After a bewildering mix of direction signs, randomly prioritised roundabouts, housing estates, main roads, rain, cars and trucks I believe I am heading into The Hague. In a brief respite at some traffic lights I look around. The Hague is listed as one of The Netherlands' must see cities yet as far as I can see I could be in the outskirts of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds or Bristol. I'm sure there's a little square deep within the centre of the old town that has some character but I sure as HELL am not trying to ride in there and find it. I spot a motorway sign for Amsterdam. Screw this, I hit the motorway, I feel a little safer on the motorway as there's no cyclists to dodge.
Relief And Tea
In search of something more picturesque and positive I pull off the motorway when the surroundings change from city to rural. I find myself in the much more relaxing and visually improved environs of a town called Oude Wetering. This is much more in tune with myself. Single and two storey houses with neat gardens, the occasional local shop and even a little sunshine trying to warm the day. I take a deep long breath and calm myself.
The "Cafe De Haven" is beside a canal. Outside is a block paving lane and the houses on the opposite side of the canal also have a block paved lane. At home in the UK block paving is used on private driveways and pedestrian areas in town centres. Can...are...do you think it will be OK to ride the bikes here or will we get into trouble? It looks very much like this is private land and pedestrian access only. A mature Dutch lady speaks a sprightly "Hallo" as I sit astride the bike wondering what to do.
"Can I ride over the little bridge and park by the cafe?"
"Yesh, yesh dat is OK, you leave your motos on there it is good." Her English is far better than my Dutch. With a tight manoeuvre over the small bridge we park on what every bone in my body tells me is a private footpath. The patrons outside the cafe don't even bat an eyelid.
Road or footpath? This is much more like I hoped The Netherlands would be like.
This is so so much better. We sip hot tea with no milk outside as the sun struggles through the heavy clouds. We talk of the chaos in the city and I am feeling rather concerned about navigating Amsterdam which I figure will be even worse. So far in under 3 hours we've been lost, befuddled and soaked and now we're sipping milkless tea. Actually, much to both our amazement the tea is perfectly palatable without milk. I try to sear the map into my brain by staring at the tablet. Back to the motorway, follow the signs for, then right at the and look for...
The Amsterdamian Donkey Goat Of Hell
My idea of hell on earth is a children's nursery filled with snot gobblers. I am presently realising there is in fact another hell, riding a motorcycle through the suburbs of Amsterdam. Dutch drivers show no mercy whatsoever for the lost tourist riding slowly and looking for a sign - any sign. Dutch pedestrians also have little concern for the flummoxed. The worst offender though is the Dutch cyclist who believes they are a god and you are a mere louse, they come in numbers so thick you can barely tell them apart. To ensure the anarchy is complete throw in some helmetless scooter riders with no sense of fear. Just in case you manage to cope the town planners mix cycle lanes with roundabouts, muddle up any notion of a "right of way", forget to put direction signs up and scatter random speed bumps like a child's lego pieces.
Betwixt this tumult I am trying to navigate and ensure Sharon doesn't loose me. If we are separated we will never ever see one another again of that there is no doubt. I feel as though I am wading through treacle while trying to fight Medusa with my eyes shut and trying to cook a Beef Wellington.
At one point while stationary at the traffic lights I spot a misplaced patch of worn out grass and a creature upon it. I'm not sure if it's a heavy set goat or a small donkey. How odd. I'm looking for the "Piet Heintunnel", inevitably I'm lost on some industrial estate. I refer to the tablet and calculate my next move. How odd! There's another misplaced patch of worn out grass and a similar half goat half donkey animal. Hmmmmmm. I'm lost again aren't I. The third time we pass the donkey-goat even Sharon has time to laugh. I'm beginning to suspect the donkey goat is the Devil and he is torturing me.
Out Of The Frying Pan
Blissfully and mercifully I find the campsite, Camping Zeeburg. The reception and the feel of the place is very much aimed at the younger folks. It emulates a kind of surf shack hippy hang out with a relaxed laid back style. However the young staff behind the counter are mad busy with customers. We are told to make our way to the blue field, there we will find plenty of space to set up.
The Satanic donkey goat must have transformed into a young campsite receptionist and lead us astray once more.
Oh for goodness sake, damn and blast, what the hell! The blue field is filled to the brim. I ride thrice around the small field and I can only see one empty patch of dusty gritty grassless space amidst the tune pumping pot smoking tents filled with annoyingly healthy looking youths. We consider asking for our €22 back and trying somewhere else. Then we remember the hell out there that also awaits us. We are stuck between a rock and a very hard place. We stay.
Loads of room...apparently. I'd hate to see it when it's busy.
Apart from the seriously dangerous overcrowding the campsite is, it pains me to say, very good. A large team of staff clean and preen, the small shop is basically functional and the facilities are in good order. If it weren't for the overcrowding this would be a good site. Later we learn there is a festival just across a large canal that celebrates marijuana becoming quasi-legal here and most of the revellers should be gone tomorrow. Thank goodness for that.
Once we have re-adjusted our expectations and talked to a group of friendly and polite German lads it no longer seems quite so bad. I have earplugs and Sharon's half deaf anyhow so at some time after midnight sleep is achieved. I still worry if one of these pot-heads nods off and sets his tent on fire the whole field will be ablaze within minutes. I hope my tent is as fire-retardant as the label claims it to be. I hope we don't find out.
Prologue - The Netherlands 2016
Why are we going Dutch? What's that peculiar box on Ren's bike? Why are we taking our 125cc motorcycles? Is there even a plan? Find out more...
The first day of our trip is not the start we would hope for. Yet with some luck and the desire to improve his mindset Ren manages to keep a calm and positive outlook.
Crashing Out To The Netherlands
This is Sharon's take on the first day of The Netherland's trip. Oh the best laid plans of mice and women.
No News Is Good News
It's an ordinary day of ordinary travelling for our dynamic duo. Sometimes a lack of excitement can be a good thing doncha know.
Sharon covers the second day of the trip to The Netherlands. She moves from discomfort and bruises through nervous and fear to luxury and comfort. All in one day!
Hades - I Mean Amsterdam
Ah The Netherlands, fields of flowers, windmills, tranquil canals and leisurely cyclists. Or is this what the tourist office would have you believe?
Crying In The Rain And Laughing Gonkeys
Sharon's first time motorcycling on foreign tarmac is a baptism of fire. What on earth is a laughing gonkey anyhow?
We Are Tourist
So what is Ren's take on the popular city of Amsterdam? Will he survive the bicycles? Is he a wild traveller or just a tourist?
The Lost Experience
Once again Ren's expectations get the better of him. Once again Ren gets completely lost. Once again the rain is coming down. Is there any hope at all? Actually it's not all bad.
Smiles In The Rain
The friendly Dutch folk mean that a rain filled day can still be a worthwhile day.
Bicycling De Hoge Veluwe
Will today be a tortuous day stuck in the tent waiting for the rain to stop? For the sake of Ren's mental health let's hope there's some good weather.
Urk? Is That The Sun?
A break in the weather brings a positive feel to the day along with pleasant places, friendly faces and new acquaintances.
A Big Dyke With Edam
What is the Afsluitdijk for? Why would you name a town after a cheese? All these questions will not be answered by reading this.
Edam, Marken, Tourists and Symmetry
Ren and Sharon visit a town named after a cheese. Why would you name a town after a cheese? Weird folks these Dutch.
Sunshine, philosophy and an alternative kind of campsite.
Drowning In Zierikzee
Philosophy, friendly people, terrible rain and salvation all in one day! Not bad really for pair of wastrels on 125s.
We're chilling out and exploring Zeeland 2-up on a 125. Is this the Dutch Riviera?
A Short Hop To Oostkapelle
How do you get lost in 15 miles on a route you already know? How do you upset a German camper? How do you do all this and remain content in yourself? It's called getting old.
Dodgy Dutch Drivers
Their last full day in The Netherlands sums up the whole Dutch experience. "The nicest bad drivers you'll ever meet".
It's time to leave The Netherlands and return to good 'ole Blighty. There's some shocking news that might change things for the future though.
So, What About The Netherlands?
After 2 weeks of riding around The Netherlands on 125s what does Ren think of the country now?
Ian Soady said :-
I can count on your musings to bring a smile to my face Ren. Many thanks for bringing some light into what is otherwise a somewhat depressing week.
I think the hell you were encountering is what they call "shared road space" which are a new way of either increasing or reducing collisions. Nobody seems quite sure which although the logic has something going for it.
1/7/2016 3:24:58 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I'm aware of "shared road space" notions Ian. I believe in some towns the idea is the "road" is for everyone, cyclists, walkers, cars, buses and even motorcycles. Due to the incomprehensible situation everyone is forced to slow down. The thing is with Amsterdam there ARE rules and places and give ways for all users. However they change for each junction, each roundabout, each traffic light and each regular stretch of road. As such you cannot form a pattern of thinking.
I suppose this has the same effect as the no road markings at all scenario.
I have also been informed that simply put - any, ANY collision between a motorised vehicle and a cyclist will be the motorist's fault unless he/she can prove beyond doubt that it was not. That's a scary thought and certainly concentrates the mind when cyclist are about.
I hope your week improves.
1/7/2016 6:36:29 PM UTC
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Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016