What an awesome vacation! Helen had to convince me to cycle in the Netherlands. I balked at the idea simply because I thought the country was too flat – and hence, uninteresting.
I was wrong. Our trip to the Netherlands to “cycle the country” turned out to be the best vacation I have had in recent memory. Everything we did, every step we took turned out well.
Bicycles: We had initially planned on bringing our bikes over with us. Things then changed to renting bikes. In the end, we followed the advice of Marc over at Amsterdamize.com and purchased 2 authentic Dutch fiets (bikes). An Opafiets for me and an Omafiets for Helen. Yes the money we spent was more then we would have paid to rent a bike there, or transport our own over with us. But, we are coming back to Canada with 2 very unique and extremely well-built bicycles that will last well beyond our years. These bikes are tanks. The quality shows up everywhere. I’ll do an in-depth review of both bikes later on in the Fall. Thanks again to Marc for hooking us with Henry and the boys over at WorkCycles in Amsterdam.
Our Bikes: Up close and personal. We had 2 “Sit up & beg” bikes that are manufactured (to very high quality standards) in Holland. They have 7 gears with all of the mechanics contained in the rear hub (more in my review). My point? Seven speeds are plenty. In the North American world of obsessive gearing, you simply do not need that many gears. Okay, Holland is flat. True. But we hit some wicked headwinds. More then I have ever encountered at home. No worries. We got where we wanted to go.
Routes: With over 11,000 kilometers of bike routes in the Netherlands, you cannot go wrong. Don’t like a certain route? Turn right or left and you are back in business. The network of bike paths puts every other cycling location we have visited to complete shame. From construction, to accessibility, to signage….. Nothing beats Holland. The country is a cyclists dream no matter where you go.
Slow Cycling: Marc is all over this stuff. “Sit up and beg!”. “Smell the roses.” Well, we did. And we liked it! In my posts, I talked about distances covered only to highlight the fact that our bikes served us well despite only having a “measly” 7 speeds (newer models have 8!). We savored every moment of our Dutch slow cycling adventure.
People: Every single person we met was friendly and would bend over backwards to help us out with directions or advice. I can’t even count how many times someone would actually take us to a starting point or offer some “insider advice” on a route. The Dutch are proud of their country and it shows.
Cars, Pedestrians & Bikes: Simply put, bikes & cyclists rule in the Netherlands. It took us days to get used to the fact that cars would cede the right of way to Helen or I even when the signs said otherwise. We’ll have to take care when we get back to the (harsh) realities of cycling in Canada. Pedestrians walk on bike paths rarely. And when they do, they are keenly aware that they are “trespassing”. It seems as if they were always listening and as you approached from behind, they would scoot off of the path (fietspad) without you even having to ring your bell.
Helmets & Such: Marc told me that we would not need helmets. I took a risk and left ours behind. It was all good. Cycling is so safe in the Netherlands that we never once felt the need to wear one. I say this as someone who wears his religiously whilst cycling in Canada.
Money: Many hotels & restaurants in Holland do not accept charge cards (especially when you get away from the larger centers). You need cash. My debit card never worked anywhere (despite being told it would by the folks at TD Canada Trust). Be prepared to live with this if you travel in the Netherlands. Most banks cap how much money you can take out a day.
Trains: What a superb system. We decided to train it on 3 occasions simply because of time constraints or an unattractive route. You can buy your tickets right on the platform of every train station. The kiosks work in English. You will, however, need cash (coins). The fallback is the ticket counter which costs slightly more. And in smaller locales they are not always open. Like a person, you also need to buy a ticket for your bike. It costs 6 Euros (per bike) for a ticket that lasts a day (good deal!). Each train has clearly marked spots for your fiets. Just load them up and grab a seat. Helen & I did so thrice. Each time there was some happy Netherlander asking us if we needed some help hoisting our bikes up into, or down off of the train (we had 2 panniers each).
Security: We never once felt at personal risk. The Netherlands is quite safe. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about bike security. Bike theft is rampant in Holland. It is easy to see why. They are everywhere and sometimes easy targets for theft. I have found the best bike locks anywhere while in Holland. It was comical to see a 150 Euro lock protecting a 50 Euro bike. Helen and I bought 2 pretty sturdy locks while in Holland. The local advice was to paint your bike white or gold if you wanted to prevent your bike from being stolen – LOL.
Regrets: Only one really. We only budgeted 2 weeks to cycle in the Netherlands. One could spend months there….. We’ll be back next year.
Highlight: Oh dear. What do I say now? For pure cycling… well everywhere in Holland. Overall though…. Amsterdam. It is an awesome and charming city that will eat up your time like you cannot believe.
If you are planning on cycling in the Netherlands (Holland) and want some free advice, don’t be shy. Drop us a line.