Monday, May 25, 2015

For the birds

After our day in the big city yesterday, we felt the need to get back on the bikes today, so we decided to head out to the Waterland region north of Amsterdam. First, we had to get over the canal opposite Amsterdam Central Station, which we did by taking a very frequent, and frequented, ferrry which offers a very impressive view of the train station from the back. 

Then we followed the coastline through a bunch of fishing villages, each more picturesque than the last. Good weather has been a theme on this trip (touch wood); the winds were light today, and the temperature cool but comfortable. It made for some lovely photo ops. 

Cycling along the dikes, we encountered quite a few birders, and it was easy to see why. If we had been birding in earnest, it would have been a great day, I'm sure. As it was, we saw a number of lovely birds, such as Red-crested Pochards and Tufted Ducks (both lifers... not that we keep a list anymore), and what we think were Black-tailed Godwits. We also saw Northern Lapwings (which we've seen throughout the trip), oystercatchers, scaups, Great Crested Grebes, various geese, terns, some very tame herons, not to mention coots, moorhens, swans, numerous gull species, pheasants and other unidentified game birds. This evening, back in town, we even saw some Ring-necked Parakeets. 

We eventually made our way to Marken which is connected to the mainland by a long causeway. A deightful little fishing village that we could have spent more time in; alas, the ferry was about to leave, so we hopped on it and sailed over to the much more touristy (and less interesting, IMO) town of Volendam. The  ferry was cute and the 20-minute trip was a welcome break. And if you can believe it, the Love Boat theme was playing over the speakers. 

Much of this trip was along dikes, and whether you're riding along the top of them or below them, you really get a sense of how much of Holland is below sea level. You  probably can't reallly tell from this picture, but the water on the left (the sea) is at least 2 metres higher than the water on the right. 

All in all, a really lovey day. The whole trip was 60 km, which, without paniers weighing us down and no real wind to fight, seemed like a fairly easy ride. Tomorrow is another city day, and the Rijksmuseum. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunny Amsterdam

Is there a medical term for a sore butt from cycling? Whatever it is, it kept me up last night. So despite being ensconced in a friend's lovely appartment in Amsterdam, I didn't sleep that well last night. On the other hand, I didn't have an alarm waking me up either, so there's that. But a lazy morning was definitely in order. We finally got out of the appartment just south of 1 pm to a gorgeous sunny Amsterdam day. I'm going to go ahead and assume that this not-a-cloud-in-the-sky weather is typical. Because I'm optimistic like that. 

We hopped on a tram and bought a 1-day transit pass that turned out to be a great deal, since the trams in Amsterdam, even on a Sunday, seem to run very frequently. We spent a few hours exploring the city: the Royal Palace and Nieuwe Kerk (which nevertheless dates from the 15th century), the Begijnhof, the flower market and a few other places. The nice weather apparently lured every single person in Amsterdam into the streets, because it felt like mid-summer as far as tourist crowds go. All the brasserie terraces were chock full. A little overwhelming after the past week of small, quiet South Holland towns. 

Google then led us to a nice craft beer bar that served only Dutch craft beers. The Proeflokaal Arendsnest is impressive but expensive. E8.50 for two 25cl glasses of standard draft is pretty steep, even for craft beer. 

Still, it was nice to sit by the Herengract and watch all the boats go by. 

Then it was on to the train station to find out about getting the train to Bruges next week. The Belgian train operators may go on strike next Wednesday (which the Dutch woman at the ticket counter seemed to find both funny and exasperating), so we may delay our departure to Thursday. 

Even after over a week in Holland, the bicycle culture here continues to amaze me. It's truly a model that North America should follow. To see this huge bicycle parking lot at the train station is mind blowing. 

Then in was home to do a few groceries, cook supper and do some more relaxing. Tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, we plan to cycle the Waterland area northeast of Amsterdam. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Late bloomers

Today was another long day (62 km), but at least we get a good rest now. And we lucked out with the weather again. We started out from Leiden a little later than we had hoped, because we slept in after a late night at the wonderful concert last evening. Turned out to be good "planning" on our part, since the showers basicaly stopped just as we got on the bikes. I had been expecting a wet day, but it turned out to be quite nice weather. 

Today's route took us north, past Lisse and the Keukenhof gardens, the area of Holland famous for its tulip fields. Alas, we are a week too late to see the fields at the height of their beauty, but on the other hand, I now have a clear understanding of where the term "late bloomer" comes from. 

Yes, I know these aren't tulips. You get the idea. There were still a few fields that had some lovelyl flowers though, so it wasn't a total loss. Also, did I mention we were cycling in Holland? Yeah. So not so bad, really. 

The winds today, though light (about 20 km/hour) were from the NNE, so we had them against us more or less all day, which makes Sonia's effort that much more impressive. The last 60+ km day we had, the winds were at our back the whole time. Today, I did my best to act as a wind break as much as possible, but it was still a pretty tough ride for both of us. We  rolled into Haarlem at about  2:30, tired, hungry and knowing we still had a solid 17 or 18 km left to go. Happily, I had heard that there's a good brewpub in Haarlem (Jopenkerk, run by the Jopen brewery), where we were able to refuel and try some very nice beer. Then it was back on the bikes and due east toward Amsterdam on the LF 20, where a friend's appartment was waiting for us. We'll stay here for at least 3 nights, I think, so the daily rides are behind us for a bit. I'll miss being on the bike every morning, but I think a break will do us both some good. Time to see what Amsterdam and environs has to offer. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Leiden Choir Books

Just another spectacular day. Ho hum. Today was Delft to Leiden, via Den Hague and the dunes. Kilometre-wise, it was a pretty easy day: only 37, and we had the wind at our backs for a lot of it. On the other hand, the dunes on the west coast of Holland must be the hilliest part of the country, so we actually had to do some climbing. 

The dunes are so different from anything we've ridden through thus far and very cool. And they end at the sea. That, friends, is what you call a beach. 

We had lunch with this view and then headed north up the coast before turning inland again toward Leiden. I took some shots while we were riding to give an idea of what the bike paths are like over here. 

Leiden is home to the first university in Holland, founded by William of Orange, and it clearly remains a thriving university town. Lots of bars and young people here. Since it was such a short day on the bike, we arrived in town early and so had time to wander around before the shops closed. We passed by the famous Pieterskerk and noticed that there was a concert there that evening. After inquiring, we learned that it was the first concert in a tour of book 6 of the Leiden choir books, a set of choir books compiled for a group of professional singers employed at the church in the 15th and 16th centuries to sing masses for wealthy deceased people. 

The concert was by Edigius Kwardtet & College, directed by Peter de Goote. The singing was spectacular, and the music, much of it by Claudin de Sermisy took me back to my days playing in l'Ensemble Claude Gervaise over 20 years ago. There's something magical about hearing music performed in such an important historical context like this. It wasn't quite as moving as hearing the Gabrieli Consort performing from the Lerma Manuscript in Lerma, but it was incredibly moving all the same. An unforgettable end to just another spectacular day. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Today's ride was brought to you by windy Holland. Ok, I exaggerate just a little. It wasn't really much windier than yestereday, but today's ride was almost all against it. So our 47 km were quite tiring. 

But let's start at the beginning. This morning was the Gouda cheese market. Last night, the main square was deserted. 

This morning, it looked like this: 

So yeah, your basic European market day, but with lots and lots of cheese. 

We got on the road by 11 and while not as spectaular as yesterday, it was generally nice riding, incuding through some lovely parkland. Other than the wind, the weather was wonderful. 16C and sunny. Since we were no longer on the LF roads, there was quite a lot of stopping to get our bearings, and we missed a few turns, but nothing major. We got to Delft shortly after 4 and, low and behold, another market. 

Delft is actually much nicer than Gouda, in my opinion. It was clearly quite prosperous at one time, since the historic centre has three huge churches within about 500 metres. It also seemed a little livlier. Tommorow we cyce through Den Hague and up through the dunes and then back over the Leiden for the night. That  said, we haven't found anything there yet, so we may end up taking a train into Amsterdam if we come up empty. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rhymes with lauda

All is well in the land of cheese. Slowly, I may be learning not to worry. After a restless night's sleep last night, during which my mantra was "all will be well," I woke up this morning to a message from a B&B I had inquired about through AirBnB last night saying that the place was ours if we wanted it. But just to be sure, I booked tomorrow night's place in Delft, for an extra day of piece of mind.

Today's ride was another spectacular one. We lucked out with the weather. The forecast for the past few days had been for scattered thundershowers today, but this morning, it had miraculously changed to partly sunny. So, glorious riding weather except for a little bit of wind. But this is Holland after all, and our ride took us through the heart of windmill country, Kinderdijk, so no wind would have been sad, since the mills wouldn't have been turning. Actually, only two were: a more modern one and the museum mill. Truly spectacular. (I wish I could post pictures, but I can't seem to access my iphone camera roll from the Blogger post entry window.)

From Kinderdijk, the LF2 took us through some really beautiful farmland. Lots of cows, sheep, goats, roosters, pigs, etc. Also lots of great birds. It's a good thing we didn't bring a field guide with us, or we would never get anywhere. But it is nesting season, so we stopped a few times to enjoy the sight of coots, grebes and swans on nests right beside the bike path. We only had to ride into the teeth of the wind for a few kilometres, and Sonia was happy to ride in my lee for most of that. But even with the wind, it's a pleasure to ride in such beautiful countryside along such gorgeous bike paths. We got to Gouda around 4: just about 50 km even. After a rest, we walked 20 minutes into the old town, wandered around for a while and found a place for dinner. Oude Gouda is very pretty and we enjoyed walking around after dinner too. Our host also explained why we had so much trouble finding a place to stay here this evening. Tomorrow is the weekly kaasmarkt, or cheese market. So we lucked out again, since we'll be able to experience it tomorrow before we head on our way to Delft.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dordrecht (2)

So far, the hardest part of this trip has been trying not to worry about where we'll be staying. The first few nights went well, but it took us quite a few tries to find a B&B in Dordrecht, and Gouda is proving elusive. To be continued...

But today was lovely. Dordrecht is just the sort of "undiscovered" town that most tourists dream about finding. In many ways, it reminds me of a tiny little Venice,  but without the hoards of tourists (or the gondolas). It seemed to us, after just a couple of days here, to be a place mostly filled with locals. But in the spirit of "when in Holland, do as the...  Canadians do: we rented a canoe at the nearby national park and had a lovely paddle. It was a nice change from the urban and agricultural landscapes we've seen thus far.

In the afternoon, we wandered around the historic city centre and had a meal and drinks at a "brasserie" (they don't actually brew at these places). I think we could have easily enjoyed another day here. Now the search for tomorrow night's accomodations continues.

I'm not stressed... really...