We are spending the night in the town of Valkenburg, in the very southern tip of the Netherlands, in a part of the country that is squished between Belgium and Germany. We just passed the 500 km mark on our odometer! We have spent the last ten days in the Netherlands, and what an adventure it has been so far! Already there are too many stories to tell but we look forward to sharing a few of them with you. Upon embarking on this entry, we realize it would be best for both us and you all back home if we update more frequently, so we will try to do so!
We arrived in Amsterdam on the 23rd of September. After rebuilding our bicycles at the airport we followed one of the city’s many lovely cycle paths into the centre (or centrum, in Dutch). On this short cycle we were overjoyed with Amsterdam’s cycle culture! Although we had heard about how bicycle-friendly this place was, we were awestruck. The bike lanes were as busy as highways… everyone cycles here: mothers with their toddlers, weathered grandfathers, mailmen, and business people. We feel incredibly safe cycling here, as cars literally stop in their tracks for bikes to pass. And after spending over a week in different parts of the Netherlands, we can safely say that this love of bicycles is a trend that extends throughout the country. For the two of us, this is paradise.
We were lucky enough to spend two nights in Amsterdam with the extremely hospitable Neils and Celine. Neils and Alec went on an Outdoor Club trip to the Rockies in 2007 and it was wonderful to reconnect. Neils and Celine were excellent hosts! Besides providing delicious meals, they also gave us wonderful local knowledge on Amsterdam and because of this we really enjoyed our time in the city. Considering Amsterdam is known primarily for being a place of sin and sensation, we were surprised at how much more there was to the city. Some highlights for us were the many canals (which we toured by boat), the Albert Cuyp market (hundreds of vendors and thousands of customers) and Vondelpark (a large and very well used inner city park). Neils and Celine also took us on a bike tour of their version of the city, showing us some of Amsterdam’s hidden gems (and introducing us to the scrumptious Straubwaffel desert!) Our first full day in a European city was finished off with baguette, brie and beer beside one of the many canals…. certainly a sign of good things to come!
From Amsterdam we cycled to Utrecht, where we enjoyed the hospitality of Devin, a fellow Artsci. It was wonderful to see him in his Dutch home and introduced us to some of his classmates and the Utrecht nightlife. Devin was able to provide interesting insight to the Dutch culture from a Canadian perspective. One of the more fun Dutch things he introduced us to was the term lekker, which the Dutch use excessively: to describe something delicious, good looking, enjoyable, etc… We have now also decided to use the term excessively.
From Utrecht we headed south, following the extensive bike networks that run through the Netherlands and enjoying the pastoral countryside. Considering that the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (16 million people in a space as big as Nova Scotia), we were pleasantly surprised at how rural it is. Lots of thatched rooves, old churches, and fields of farm animals. However, we also appreciate how close towns are so that we are never very far away from groceries (except on a Sunday, when everything is closed).
One of our favourite stories so far is from our first rainy day (day 5?). We stopped in the quaint town of Gornichem for lunch and refuge from the elements. We certainly looked tired and bedraggled, and feeling uninspired about cycling further. But as fate would have it, we met Karl and Hinna who started chatting with us and offered us their home for the night. We enjoyed home cooked meals, a warm place to sleep, lots of pleasant conversation and helpful touring information. Their generosity was magnificent, and will not soon be forgotten!
Indeed, Karl and Hinna were great Dutch ambassadors for us. In general, we really like the Dutch. They seem a modest yet proud group of people. Everyone has been very helpful so far; in Roermond we were led around the city by locals on two separate occasions! After traveling 500 km in this country we honestly have not seen a poorly kept property. The Dutch also all seem very fit and are quite attractive! We’ve decided the bicycles have a lot to do with this.
So yes, to sum it all up, we love the Netherlands!!! As a note, we dipped into Belgium today as we traveled from Roermond to Maastricht. We were thoroughly unimpressed.
And for those interested, our diet thus far is cheap, yet wonderfully gluttonous and often hilarious. Today, for example, we have consumed 12 slices of bread. Each. We have been enjoying browsing the Dutch grocery stores, but have so far been sticking to the carb combos: bread and nutella for breakfast, bread and cheese for lunch, and bread and soup for dinner… with the occasional apple or sausage on the side. Lekker! Tomorrow, we’re branching out to pasta with (gasp) vegetables. Wish us luck. We have gone out for dinner twice… last night we dined in the village of Thorn, where all the houses lining the cobblestone streets are painted white. We had cheese and ham / cheese and onions pancakes. Nom nom.
We are now leaving the flat country and are entering the hills, leaving behind the Maas River we have been following and heading towards the Rhine River.
Tomorrow, we go to Germany!
Until next time dear friends,
Alec & Caitlin