Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Welcome to The Netherlands

Our first morning in the country known for bicycle culture was drizzly, and a touring couple who we had seen over the past few days (in Munster and on the Ems route) was camped next to us. They are Dutch, heading home. They gave Joshua a look at their amazing bike route map book, and told him how to get to Amsterdam the most direct way: follow the street by the campground (LF40 signs) as it goes north and west, then take the LF4, to just south of Amsterdam. They said we must stay in their country at least a week, so we get some nice weather. By the time we'd packed up, Joshua had patched his punctured tire side-wall with a $5 bill, and we were ready to head out, the weather had turned gorgeous. Sunny with puffy white clouds, and the perfect temperature for riding - whatever that is...

We quickly rolled into Groenlo, not sure which street we'd rolled in on or which direction to go, and certain that we were now really stranded language-wise. The photo above showed us something we could understand, though, and since we knew we needed to head west, we did just that. As long as the road was heading north-west, we followed it. Eventually we triangulated our position, and decided to roll into a town where the LF4 would cross, and take that west. We saw old ladies on bicycles, and couples riding side by side, not staying in the bike lane at all. We also saw parents with their children on the bikes in front of them - nobody wearing a helmet. In Holland, if a car and a bike have an accident, it is automatically the car drivers fault. Since cyclists don't want to get hit, they all manage to share the road. Patience is definitely a Dutch strength.

And we managed to get where we thought we were going. We even found a bookstore and bought that rad book the Dutch couple had. We found the LF4, and took it in the right direction (heading east it's the LF4a, heading west it's the LF4b). It wasn't long before we were in some kind of national forest, where the only roads were for cyclists and horses. Sometimes it looked like this, and we saw horses pulling carriages.

Sometimes it was like this - take that LA horse people who hate cyclists! In The Netherlands, everyone gets along! Cyclists to the left, horses to the right. And just be nice to each other.

Joshua and I have seen a lot of horse shit. Especially in NW Germany, Munsterland as it is called, which is a lot like the Netherlands just across the border - lots of horses, flat, lots of bicycle infrastructure, lots of bicycles. We saw horse shit in Switzerland, too. But we never caught up to the horse. So Joshua would see a giant pile of horse crap, cycle through it, and ask 'where's that horse?' Well... here he captured yet another pile.

Et voila! As they say in Germany, pferde.

Those are big horses. Clydesdale types. Don't scare easily. And those photos are deceiving. Joshua isn't that close. If he were right next to them, his head would be only as high as their horse rear-ends. But one dares not get any closer than this, because their legs are long, too.

I have been resisting the temptation to take a photo of every pony I see. In this, I return to my girl-ish past. I can't help it. Whenever we pass one, I get a goofy, back of the throat, helium voice and meow out 'pooooonnniiiieeeessss!!' So I finally took a picture, of a bunch of ponies all together. There's even a baby pony on the left! And they look like horses from far away...

But that's what the eastern Netherlands looks like. Green green green. Lovely bike paths, conscientious drivers where we were on roads with cars, horses, ponies, surprises at every turn. We flew along these paths and through fields, each surprise better than the last. For example, we had to go uphill (a little) after taking a lane along a highway, to get up to this embankment between fields. Just before I took the following picture, we rode by a horse that raced us along the fence, and won.

Not long after, we were absolutely flying down a similar road that took a turn - we were using our big rings at this point, charging across the landscape - and there were fast signs for a ferry, to slow down, and then there was a giant river, and a boat, just closing the gate to pull away - a couple on bicycle and already on the boat signalled the captain, who saw us, too, and they pulled back so we could ride right onto the ferry. That, my friends, was the last ferry of the day. We took pictures of ourselves, each other, and everything around us.

Phew! I think it was after 5pm at this point. Usually we would have a campsite planned out, and we kind of did, but we felt that we would find someplace to sleep and at least it wasn't raining. There are a lot of campsites in Holland. We also wanted to get as far as we could, since we'd lost any extra time we'd planned into our route. I thought we'd stop in front of this sign to assess the closest campsites. Camera bewaking!

In the end we veered from the LF4 a little, and took some more major roads (that happen to have separate bike paths along them anyway) to get to our campsite. It wasn't much, but the people were very nice and we got a spot. And the Dutch speak very nice English.

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