Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016
Edam, Marken, Tourists and Symmetry
By Ren Withnell
We can stay at this campsite for one more night - but - we must move our tent to another pitch. No problem, I pay and we start to move our gear just as the heavens open. A crazy mad shower while all our gear is out of the tent and in the open is just what we don't need. I rush with the next load only to find our gear is covered in a blue tarpaulin, that's brilliant! Sharon tells me a campervan resident has seen our plight and has covered our gear for us. Campers eh, they look after each other.
Our rescuer hides in shame because he helped 2 scruffy bikers. Cheers dude!
Typically by the time we've finished moving our gear the shower is starting to pass. I fold up the tarp as neatly as I can and return it to the owner with many many thanks. He's here with his wife and a handful of friends, all in campervans, all Dutch and all very relaxed and chatty. All the ladies used to go to school together and they go camping when they can with their respective partners and campervans. It's a lot easier now most of their offspring are old enough to be left at home with a supply of beans on toast, Sharon and I agree.
We've deliberately chosen a site close to Edam so we can walk there. It feels good to not be wearing big boots, heavy pants and bulky jackets as we start our walk, however we have our light-weight waterproofs with us as the skies look threatening. Sharon points out that despite the dark skies and stiff breeze it's not actually cold. To hear this is a shock and a glowing endorsement from the lady who is ALWAYS cold. I don't think it's particularly warm, maybe she's getting tougher or perhaps she's having a hot flush.
Regular readers will be aware that my expectations are often wrong, completely wrong. Edam is the exception that proves the rule, it is everything I expect to see in a small Dutch town. Canals of course, some narrow houses although space is not at a premium unlike Amsterdam, plenty of small shops and a few cafes with chairs outside in the square. Not only is Edam in line with my expectations it is also in tune with my hopes. I feel comfortable walking around as we ponder the boats in the canal, marvel at the big cheeses in the shops and contemplate the architecture.
Block paving is for pedestrian areas in the UK so it's weird seeing cars and motorcycles.
In keeping with Dutch neatness the older houses are perfectly pointed and painted although when we look closely some lean at awkward angles into and away from each other. Subsidence or ancient building inaccuracies? We don't know, thankfully none of them look in danger of collapse. Most of the roads are block paved and weed free, admittedly with some undulations (subsidence?). Looking into the windows of houses old and new Sharon notices a degree of symmetry in the ornaments or flowers on the windowsills, a balance or even a perfect match from the left to the right side. Are the Dutch incredibly ordered people or does this cross into moderate neurosis?
There's a curious church that seems to have been for-shortened. I'm not one for flowers and gardens but even a philistine like I can see the effort and care that go into many of the gardens. I'm fascinated by the engineering in the bridges and the how the church bells chime a full tune not just a few clunks. There's a classic Toyota in mint condition and floating static caravans (house boats). The rain stays off save for the occasional very light shower making for an easy, calm and simple afternoon's stroll. I like Edam.Classic Corolla. This one is in concourse condition, admirable.
Everyone says we must go to Marken, an island not so far away. Island? I can see a road to Marken so it'll either be another dyke or a bridge. We must go though, because everyone says so. We gear up and hop onto the bikes and take the easy 12 mile route. As we ride in to the village I'm looking around for somewhere to park and I'm trying to adapt to the Dutch ways. We delicately filter through narrow block paved lanes and up short steep embankments then behind smart little gardens. Every single fibre in my being is convinced this is footpath, this is pedestrian only but no-one stops us, no-one curses or even shakes their head. We park on the harbour wall, nothing, absolutely no reaction from the people around us at all.
I really really can't help but feel like we shouldn't be parked here at Marken Harbour.
Marken is quite different in character to all the other places we've been. Apart from a handful of more recent properties around the edge most of the buildings are timber or at least half timber. The houses are small cottages and the rest of the buildings which once would have been old stores are now restaurants. The harbour wall is bustling with people of all countries being serviced by a couple of food vans. What soon becomes apparent is Marken was once an ordinary fishing village that somehow got trapped in time. It is now a tourist destination with all that goes with it. This includes high prices, pay toilets, groups of 30-40 people being herded by young tour guides bearing placards and tired out parents succumbing to the demands of their screaming snot gobblers. We are tourists too, we're part of the problem not part of the solution.
Marken is worth preserving there's no doubt about that.
On the ride back I decide Edam caters for the tourist but has not become entirely dependant upon them. Marken's entire raison d'etre is to be that quaint little must see attraction. It's a tough call, Marken is an example of how The Netherlands used to be many years ago and I'm glad it is preserved for people like myself to see. Of course ideally Sharon and I could wander around all alone but there are millions of people who are just as curious about "how things used to be" which means Marken is busy. I need to learn to share.
It's time to lock the bikes up and take advantage of the superb facilities before we retire to bed.
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?
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Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016