Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016
The Lost Experience
By Ren Withnell
Today we ride! I'm trying to sound enthusiastic as the rain batters our tent and we have to do battle once more with The Netherlands' perplexing roads. We are heading to the Nigor shop in Utrecht 20 something miles away and I have forced the route into my brain. As I sit here on the bike ready to go I can barely recall the name "Utrecht" let alone the route I am to take. We're going to get lost aren't we.
Yep. Before I even reach the motorway I've taken a wrong turn into the suburbs once more. I prepare to park at the roadside and have a nervous breakdown then I manage a U-Turn and get us both back on track. Motorways, sweet motorways! Motorways don't have roundabouts with variable rights of way. Motorways don't have maniacal cyclists. Motorways do have direction signs that you can follow. I try to avoid motorways back home as they are boring, here they bring relief.
Beyond all expectations, beyond any reasonable chance and far far beyond my abilities we arrive at the Nigor shop without once getting lost any more. It is a miracle and I perhaps should buy a lottery ticket.
The Nigor Experience
The Nigor shop or should I say "The Nigor Experience" as it is called is an ordinary looking building amongst many other ordinary looking buildings on a trading estate in another one of The Netherlands' "must see" towns. As ever my expectations are wrong, I expected an experience as per the marketing. I hoped for staff on hand who will espouse the benefits of owning these expensive tents, walls filled with spares and optional extras, demonstrations on how to put the tents up, videos on how well they stand up in a wind tunnel and perhaps dancing girls dressed in flysheets being hosed down to emphasise the waterproof qualities of the materials.
Instead we are dripping on the shiny floor of a sparsely furnished ex office area with several tents pitched up on plastic grass, a handful of brochures and the occasional information poster on the walls. There's no one to greet us, no offer of a warming brew and certainly no dancing girls. In one corner sits a lonely woman operating a sewing machine amidst a vast swathe of tent-like materials. She has the face of a surly matron in need of sleep and the demeanour to match.
The teepee tent is not at all what I hoped for. All the other tents are equally expensive, super light and very nice I'm sure. Sharon makes another one of her pin sharp observations. Yes they are probably brilliant tents - but - what if it gets sliced by a vindictive chav, stolen off the bike or I accidentally burn it while cooking? The present tent would cost in excess of £100 to replace, that's bad enough, but these, these would cost well over £500 to replace and that's a LOT of money. There's a lot to be said for cheap tents in a world where idiots like myself make mistakes and other people are just malicious.
We finally speak to a pleasant young lady whom accidentally wanders down from "upstairs". We establish they do not stock spare tent poles for my Vango tent so there seems little point in remaining. There is one plus point during our visit here, the toilets are nice and clean.
It was too damn wet to get the camera out...credit therefore goes to Google Maps for the image.
Much like Amsterdam and The Hague, Utrecht probably has a lovely centre with delightful architecture and fascinating features. Much like Amsterdam and The Hague the surrounding outskirts of Utrecht are just like any other European city. Much like The Hague as the rain is falling and the roads are confusing we do not even consider going into the town centre. We get out of here as best we can.
There follows a perplexion of motorways and villages as I try to navigate. I don't want to just use the motorways, I want to see the country in all it's various guises. However finding my way around is proving impossible. The rain plays havoc with the screen on the tablet and the GPS on the tablet refuses to give a fix unless I wait for 5 minutes. Right now I'd kill for a compass and a paper map and to hell with technology. I'd kill for someone to just point me the way out of this industrial estate, it seems the only way out is one way. We fill up with fuel, I get us lost. We stop at a shop and buy a snack, I get us lost.
It is very hard to appreciate your surroundings as the rain comes down and you're looking for signs. I must try. Here out of town there are roads that would look lovely in sunshine. Big houses with large manicured gardens come and go between large fields growing with crops. All around are tress, either lining the roads or in clumps at the ends of the fields. I try as hard as my imagination will let me to visualise them in sunshine but then another junction with cycle lanes, pedestrian crossings and uncertain access requires my full attention.
My focus must fully return to the road, we are finally entering Ermelo and Harderwijk. These are smaller towns making progress less daunting and yet the cyclists must at all costs be avoided. HOT DANG! That van just pulled out of a side road right in front of me! I calm myself, I wonder, I did read somewhere the Dutch have or had something similar to the French, "Priorite a Droite". Google that if you're unsure what it means. To the UK driver it is a terrifying notion.
The Kampeerwereld Hendriks Experience
As we leave Harderwijk I spot a large sign with a tent on it and "Kampeerwereld Hendriks". Kampeerwereld...that sounds a little like camper world. I don't know who Hendriks is though but I wonder if he has tent poles for a Vango? I turn around using the next roundabout and soon we pull in to Kampeerwereld Hendriks. This store is as big as any supermarket which makes it huge in terms of camping shops. If anywhere will have a spare pole for my tent then this place will.
Inside is camping heaven. 3...yes Three floors! Tents on display, aisles filled with lightweight and foldable pots, pans, tables, chairs and stoves and bags and and and oh you get the idea. This is everything and more than I hoped for at The Nigor Experience except there's no dancing girls. After we've stood in awe for a moment I track down a young blonde chap who of course speaks perfect English and is filled with youthful enthusiasm. Fabulous.
He is certain he doesn't have any poles for my Vango Equinox 350. I explain that I just need a spare, or spares. He looks genuinely disappointed, they might have some for other models? "Let me see". Spare poles come in one long length and you cut them to size, as such I have a small plumber's pipe cutter in my tool kit. He brings out a full set of poles for another Vango, I go and get mine. These poles are longer than my poles, his face drops. "No, no! They're perfect! I can cut them to length." He grasps the idea...but now the dreaded question "how much?"
A pack of 5 in the UK costs me around the £25 to £30 mark. For the full set of 9 poles he wryly suggests "€15" (about £12). Wow. Kampeerwereld Hendriks has really come up trumps for us and after paying the pretty lady on the counter we're back out in the rain. Thanks Kampeerwereld Hendriks.
There's more shop space out back too. Mahusive!
If I can just head out north from Harderwijk then I can cross some kind of big river thingy into Harderhaven, hang a left and Zeewolde will have 3 campsites to choose from. Any guesses what happens next? Lost...
The Netherlands is not all windmills, canals and flowers you know.
The campsite by the marina has a barrier that is closed and remains closed even if I press the button. Next! This campsite also has a barrier and a reception that is firmly closed. There is a bar with but one staff member and no customers. The staff member summons forth a young, tall and wild looking man, presumably the grounds keeper, Sharon's eyes seem drawn to him. We can camp, for this I am thankful as it seems Zeewolde is closed.
There is a shop, but it is closed. There is a pool, but it is closed. There is a laundry, but it is closed. This is quite obviously a big site with chalets, caravans, campers, playgrounds and all kinds of facilities, but it is also very much out of season and basically shut. There is little to do but make camp, make something to eat (thank goodness for my wooden food box) and go to sleep. There's no wifi either so online entertainment is out. At least the rain has stopped for a while.
It ain't much, but it's our home for the night.
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?
Tom McQ said :-
Just DO IT!! If anyone had good cause to invest in a SatNav, it's YOU! You can buy one second hand if you want to save a few pennies. Some of them come with LIFETIME map updates for the UK and Western Europe.
They will also (at the push of a button) show you the closest fuel stations, hotels (ooops, I mean camping sites), hospitals, etc, etc. They'll even track your servicing and maintenence!
29/07/2016 07:40:05 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Yeah but what am I gonna complain about then huh?
29/07/2016 08:25:42 UTC
Sharon said :-
Yes Ren buy a Sat Nav it is a wonderful idea. Just think if I could err borrow it you might not have to lead all the time :-)
29/07/2016 08:39:30 UTC
Tom McQ said :-
"Ren - The Ed said :- Yeah but what am I gonna complain about then huh?"
OMG, there'll be allsorts you can complain about. I can think of two biggies straight away - 1) It'll choose routes that you won't agree with, 2) Sharon will have it all the time.
29/07/2016 12:03:59 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Yes I'll be arguing with the sat nav all the time - "Stop telling me where to go you digital plonker!" "Shut up I know where I'm going."
Followed by "Sharon,can I have MY sat nav please?" "But I need it for X,Y and Z." "My sat nav? My arse."
29/07/2016 02:01:59 UTC
Doug said :-
I've found "lifetime" map updates means the lifetime of the product, as I've now got two TomToms I can't get updates for. Switched to using my phone and the Waze app for directions, or Here Maps (used to be Nokia Maps) for when I just want an offline map with a blue dot showing me where I am. Both are free, but it's a shame that smartphones are crap in daylight.
30/07/2016 10:11:55 UTC
Henrik said :-
Same here, I bought a Mio GPS for the car, becourse they promised LIFETIME map-updates, then when I came home and unboxed, the manual did sayd that the lifetime update was the PRODUCT lifetime, and they didn't expect the product to last more than 4 years, screwed two times, planned Obsolescence taken one step further,...
Guess I will get rid of both auto-navigators, and my outdoor/mc navigator !!
My Garmin Dakota failed me twice, got new ones on the warrenty, with a smile,(nothing get fixed now-adays you know), but the problem remains, even worse:
The problem is that I don't trust Garmin's build-quality anylonger, a GPS need to be reliable, I need to be able to trust it on a trip, and both in relaxed and stressed situations, but how could I trust them still now ???
Some more problems with Garmin:
1. They are not cheap
2. They are are not handy
3. They are not able to charge on the fly over USB
4. They are draining their battery very quick
5. They are not having a decent screen-resolution by todays standard
6. They are not having a decent sized screen by todays standard
7. They are having screen that can be refecting and hard to read in day-time
8. Garmins topo-maps are rediculess expensive and not always better than OSM
For the future I am looking at big android-phones, and small tablets,..
And ways to make it fit the bike, water-proof, and maybe wireless charge as
it sits in the holder, secured from being stolen as well obviously,..
30/07/2016 06:17:02 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I was all ready to go out and spend £250 on a shiny new sat nav then Doug and Henrik, you've put me right off! I'll stick with my tablet for a while and see if I can get it to "sat nav" with one of the apps you mention.
31/07/2016 07:38:50 UTC
Doug said :-
One app I actually parted with cash for is "Scout" (used to be called Skobbler). You get one free country to download (with free map updates) I used it quite successfully when in France and the USA :-
Only really switched to using Waze recently as it has better speed limit notification - I've somehow managed to get nicked for speeding 3 times in the last 8 months, so it's handy having a constant nag in my ear at the moment :-)
A lot of people don't like paying for apps, but in comparison with the standalone sat-nav, if you have a decent phone it's a no brainer, IMHO.
31/07/2016 09:52:09 UTC
Henrik said :-
As for the quality of the GPS receiver I have good experience with both Samsung S5 Neo, and the cheap Huawei Y6, both 5",.. I have used OsmAnd+
When I say good reciving I mean working like a charm on a long distance
3-4 hours drive from Sweden to Denmark several times, with no fall-outs
Seems they are even better to catch the sattelites than my Garmin ,..
I am a novice so far when it comes to app's ,.. but TomTom got a app that I have heard good about, so would like to test that one also
My filosofy on long-term is android only, and having a spare one also on trips, the weight is still far-far less than the old clumsy hardware
I pay gladly for the app's, its not robbery like Garmin, but fair priced,..
The challenge is to develop a water-proff mount system, with lock, and wireless inductive charge,..
So far I am just using a simple thing like on the link
31/07/2016 07:13:06 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
When you consider a Sat Nav starts for the most basic non-waterproof models at about £80 I could get a decent phone for that price that will run the apps. Like you say Henrik the key will be making some kind of waterproof mount along with charging.
I wonder if anyone makes a case, I guess Ebay will let me know. Best go and have a look see!
01/08/2016 08:45:32 UTC
Phil said :-
If you're after a decent GPS app with free offline navigation, have a look at Here Maps.
07/09/2016 12:30:50 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Phil. I've downloaded that and I'm having a play with it. If anyone can tell me though...
I have a cheap tablet that works just fine and dandy for (almost) all my needs. However it can take an AGE to get a GPS fix. We're talking 10 minutes or more at times even when I'm out in the open countryside. Once a fix is gained it will hold the fix and allow navigation.
I'm considering buying a used Android mobile phone to use JUST for GPS and Sat Nav. Anyone had any experience? Any recommendations?
08/09/2016 09:40:52 UTC
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Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016