Looking along a long straight road amidst lush green farmland

Home Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016

Urk? Is That The Sun?

By Ren Withnell

Behold! Pray tell what is that big bright yellow thing in the sky? I have heard rumours of its existence and stories of how it can cause roads to become "dry" and allow motorcycle tyres to "grip". I have even been told that I can remove my waterproof clothing without fear of a soggy crotch but these are just myths, surely. Quick! Awaken my dear and marvel at the warmth that is falling from the sky. While the sun might be out the ground and the tent are still damp from last night's storm.

I would like to see the "Afsluitdijk", the massive 20 mile long dyke that creates the "IJsselmeer" lake, should that not be reservoir? In keeping with this holiday's philosophy of not doing a gazillion miles every day it seems prudent to stop just short of the dyke and spend the night there. Remember the list of places to visit the caravan couple gave me? Upon this list is a place called "Urk" and it's en-route to the eastern end of the damn and lies on the eastern coast of the IJsselmeer. IJsselmeer is, as far as I can tell, pronounced "issal-meer" or "izalmeer" but don't blame me if the Dutch look at you strangely when you say it like that.

A map showing the large dyke or dam that creates the IJsselmeerCircled is the Afsluitdijk dyke. It's a hell of a thing. Image courtesy Openstreetmap.org

We take the motorway northbound. I'm starting to give up on the idea of not using the motorways and as we roll along at a steady 80kph I consider why. Navigation has proved difficult on this trip. That's probably not The Netherland's fault - that will be due to my substandard tablet and my substandard skills. The Netherlands does have a very extensive motorway network especially for a small country. Why? Is it because it is densely populated? Is it because of Rotterdam's port being the gateway for goods into Europe? Is it because motorways keep motorists and cyclists safely apart? I don't know but navigation along the motorways is a lot easier.

I like Urk right from the start. Of course the glorious warm sunshine makes everywhere look better and as I ride into the town I feel at home. It is small enough to not have that city hustle bustle hassle and trouble yet large enough to feel like we are actually somewhere. The ordinary houses are perfectly manicured both inside and out, the shops and cafes are smart and the harbour is crisp. We park the bikes by the harbour, purchase some croissants and pepperoni to eat then sit on a bench in the harbour sun.

Blue skies, yachts and sailing boats, dutch houses and a smart clean harbour in UrkOoooh I say, Urk is rather splendid. 

Sharon has made the same observation a few times already - everywhere is like an American TV or movie set. What does she mean by this? When you watch Sex in the City or Marvel's Agents of Shield for example things are always clean and in good order. Houses are painted and smart, streets are swept, lampposts are straight, rooms are tidy and ornaments are neatly aligned on windowsills. There's no broken curb stones, no swirling piles of rubbish, no cars parked up with a missing wheel, no peeling and torn posters on the street furniture, not unless the storyline requires these things. It's the same here and throughout the country. From the fresh deep paint on our bench, across the block paving with no weeds, over the road to the modern flats with tidy balconies and into the fields with healthy crops it all seems too good. I'm not suggesting it is perfect but this is definitely a country that is cared for. 

Urk looks smart, clean and well maintained much like the rest of The Netherlands
The Dutch do look after their country and all within it.
A large flat field filled with a net green cropEven the crops in the fields are smart, straight and orderly.

We sit a while on the bench soaking in the sun and admiring the expensive yachts in the harbour. As we return to the bikes a tall handsome chap stops on his bicycle and says "You're English?" Paul is from the UK and has been captaining a vessel erecting a forest of wind turbines in the IJsselmeer. He loves his job, he loves The Netherlands and even though I suspect he's a tad older than I he's filled with joie-de vivre. He's a little saddened that is contract is over and he must return home but he's certain a new set of challenges and adventures will come his way soon. 

Paul informs us The IJsselmeer was once a massive salt water river mouth, since the dyke was built it has over time become fresh water. Imagine building a dyke from Swansea to Ilfracombe and you get the idea of the scale and the changes. This harbour was once a sea harbour, now it is a lake (or reservoir) harbour. I've heard the Dutch are the ultimate sea and land engineers and Paul's commentary and admiration for them really brings it all to life. 

We follow the coast as best I can manage, up through Lemmer then on through Makkum to Camping Sotterum. This is a small campsite with basic facilities and not much of them either. Despite this lack of refinement we lack nothing important and with the sun beating down we are happy to pitch the tent and make camp. As we do another healthy looking chap approaches and this time we meet David, also from England. 

Sharon sits on the grass surrounded by the camping gear, smiling in the sun
You can tell the sun's out as Sharon's barely dressed and smiling.

David is a lucky bugger, there's no other way to put it. He's a retired fireman who this last month or 2 has been travelling around Europe in his Mazda Bongo campervan. He uses the van for the big miles and to sleep in then uses his bicycle to look around an area properly. All this time his good lady wife is still working away back in the UK, occasionally joining him for a few days here and there when the stars align correctly. Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, the list goes on and on. He's on his way back home now slowly but surely but fear not, there's many many more trips planned.

I make a brew for us all, Sharon and I listen intently as he tells us about the places he's been and the things he's seen. Today is a day for positive vibrations and David is filled with them. His wife loves her job, they're both happy with his travelling arrangements, he looks as fit as a fiddle due to the cycling and his trip has been thoroughly worthwhile. Is it the sun? Is it just luck? I feel uplifted by our journey and the people we've met today. 

Looking across the IJsselmeer to the Afsluitdijke in the sunThe Afsluitdijk is the thin line of green you can see at the far end of the lake. 

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...
Disaster 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.
Helter Skelter 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.
Curious Distelloo 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.
Exploring Zeeland 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".
Going Home-ish 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?

Reader's Comments

Pocketpete said :-

Wasnt izal a strange kind of toilet shiny toilet paper. Maybe you have to be off to remember such things.

21/07/2016 07:11:13 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I am old enough to remember Izal toilet paper, it was used in schools to actively discourage students from going to the toilet for a poop. A few sheets of Izal across the backside did nothing to remove the excrement but certainly brought tears to the eyes. By the time I was at school the cane had all but been banned so I believe Izal was used as a form of indiscriminate punishment.
21/07/2016 11:50:56 UTC

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