My photos of Antwerp are all taken at night, inside of pubs and restaurants or in a tunnel. There are no photos of our ride from Antwerp to Sint Niklaas and back, except the said tunnel under the river Schelde. The ride was nice, flat and on busy main roads at first and flat and on quiet country roads in the latter part. And of course we got lost.
There were two days of rain so we may be forgiven for enjoying Antwerp’s “other attractions” more than the riding. Needless to say, we liked Antwerp a lot… especially the Belgian beer selection.
Our next stop was Rotterdam, Netherlands and my cycling expectations remained low. Sure, cycling is a national sport in Holland and they all rave about those fast cycle lanes but… I already feel a little bit spoilt with all the roads we have been riding. How could cycling in Holland be exciting without even a little berg… or at least some cobbles?
It didn’t take long to figure out that the Belgian and Dutch word for bike is fietsen and a cyclist is a fietser. A very funny and cute word that cracks me up. Fietspads are bike paths. They are more like bike super-highways. And bikes have right of way on them. So maybe riding along fietspads was not going to be boring at all. I was hoping to get some fast training miles in, not the 20km/h sightseeing stuff we had been doing.
When we were studying the cycling map at one of the info points by the lake, a friendly Dutch gentleman on bike stopped to ask if he could assist. We weren’t lost, at least not yet. Getting lost on bikes has become one of our favourite pastime and finding the motorhome again in large cities like Rotterdam or The Hague are nowadays my biggest worries.
Our new Dutch friend suggested a ride to Gouda. Now that sounded like a marvellous plan and he sat us off in the right direction. On our route we met Tomas, another Dutch gentleman on a beautiful steel-frame Pinarello, who hated Germans (I stuck with “Australian” for the duration of our acquaintance), guided us all the way into Gouda, the epicentre of good Dutch cheese. Alberto was in Kaas Heaven.
After a quick lunch – no Gouda – and on our way out of Gouda, we got lost. The signage on the fietspad was rather confusing. Despite a sophisticated system of following green numbers or hundreds of red signs and hop from point to point to your destination, riding along well signed roads seemed the faster and easier alternative. Yet, riding along roads seems inappropriate when a bike path was there. Our average speed was still hovering around 22km/h despite some good efforts along the straight stretches because we had to stop frequently to find our way back to Rotterdam.
The next day we explored the dikes of The Hague and, again, we found a Dutch cyclist who was only too happy to show us around. He started a conversation about the Canyon bikes on an intersection and then invited us to tag along on his ride. We kinda had a plan to get to Amsterdam that afternoon but – hey – why not go with the flow and take up an invitations as it comes. We didn’t regret it. First we cycled to Hoek van Holland, the largest port of the Netherlands, and from there we set over with a fast ferry to “Futureland” of Maasvlakte.
On this ride we saw two more different river crossings, one that required Alberto to wind us across on a float, landscapes that resembled the moon rather than lush green windmilled Holland that one would expect, a light house that once marked the coastline but was now looking forlorn ten kilometres inland, the house where Arij’s grandfather was born and a 16th century church and the old town and market squares of Delft. There was also coffee and cake and many many fietspads. For once we did not get lost.
The two rides in Holland were great and while we are still in the Netherlands right now and I’m immensely looking forward to one more ride tomorrow, when we will follow some of the best stretches of today’s Amstel Gold race, I’m looking forward to heading back into Germany for some riding in the Eiffel region and Belgium to explore more of the Wallonie and Ardennes regions next week. I could see myself getting bored with riding in Holland fairly quickly.