An E-biking adventure in the paradise of cycling Netherlands and Belgium.
Day 1: Thu 22 Jun 2023 | Amsterdam
Today was taking in the sights near our hotel in West Amsterdam….. we walked to the oldest part of the area Sloterdijk, a farm village.. This beautiful triangle of houses & church, are an oasis of flowers, thatched roofs and charming scenes. Mary, an old friend from New Zealand came to join us and enjoy the day. It was so interesting talking with a resident about life in the Netherlands and discuss contrast between European lifestyle and kiwi lifestyle.
Gardens around the oldest buildings in the village. In amongst those flowering roses are tombstones.
Statue of the farmers that once lived in the old village of Sloterdijk..
We were fascinated by the strips of land or vacant areas which are left to self-seed. These glorious Poppies were in one of these wild gardens. (The current thinking in the Netherlands around these gardens, are that are better for the insects and instead of a mown area so you have a thriving eco-culture.)
Walking beside the dedicated cycle paths through a green area.
A Canal by Westernpaark, the destination of our walk. Lots of renovated and re-purposed buildings, cafes, shops and recreational space.
Let’s go by cargo bike!!!
Day 2: Fri 23 Jun 2023 | Amsterdam to Leiden
Gathering up all our things we caught the fast train to the outskirts of Leiden, the meandering country bus to Oud Poelgeest (Old Castle).
Waiting for the #50 bus. Look at that sunny weather!
A bicycle rack, like so many by the train station. I wonder if bike theft is a national sport?
We found our hotel (right by the castle) and managed to store our large bags so we could catch the bus into Leiden Centraal near to the Old Town. What a visual treat and we crossed the moat and into this old city.
That windmill you can see across the moat was the original mill owned by Rembrandt’s family.
One of the many gates into Old Town. We found our way to site of Rembrandt’s family and wandered through streets filled with beautiful views in every direction.
Finding out way to Young Rembrandt’s Studio we took a rest out of the sun and watched an entertaining video about his young life from the point of view of his first art teacher. Then on to explore more of Old Town until we found the fort (55 steps) up and highest place for miles.
A beer in the shade was definitely deserved after all that climbing.
Back to our hotel for our first briefing and introduction to our bikes.
Our accommodation – very nice, we think it was the carriage house for the castle, hence the horses on the facade.
Our Reise & Muller bikes, equipped with 2 batteries, bell, wing mirror, back bags and comfortable seats.
Day 3: Sat 24 Jun 2023 | Leiden to Burgh-Haamstede
What a day! Usually on any trip there is one major thing that goes wrong and we call that the ‘Turkish Knot’ – (when a Persian carpet is being hand-made a deliberate error is made because only God can be perfect) – today was a very knotty day…. however at the end of the day we were all laughing about it.
So what happened… at the first traffic light 3 of us got struck at the light change and missed the first turn to the right…. a very urgent call came to me after a few kilometers down the road wanting to me “Where were we?” My answer, “By the large windmill.” Well really how many large windmills are there in the Netherlands – the answer lots.
Moving on – we rode through some lovely countryside to De Haag, only to discover there were major road diversions due to Memorial Day. Did I mention our bike guide, Ursula Peters was German and here we were in middle of the Netherlands remembering the end of the war.
We stopped in De Hagg (The Hague) to look at our very impressive buildings.
It took us 3.5 hours to ride 27 kilometers so we were running late for our appointment at the Royal Delft Factory. We’ll skip all the things which happened to cause the delay.
So after a brief refreshment stop in the Delft town square, we rode/walked on through a hectic market day to Royal Delft. Here we saw van again so 2 of us left their bikes to catch trains and buses to our accommodation (under the weather so didn’t want to spread their germs), 4 of us stayed to look at the Delft treasure and the remainder decided as beautiful as Delft ware is we need to push on for the 90kms to go.
Arriving at the river delta (10 minutes crossing ) we discovered the ferry company was kaput, and no ferry. There was a bus which could take 2 bikes (and those slots were already taken) so we needed to wait an unknown amount of time for the next bus and bike van. It was beautiful day so we eat ice-cream (only flavour available, vanilla) – thanks Tours Direct and told yarns.
Meanwhile the other half of the group was struck on their way to the hotel because there was a massive concert in Zeeland and many road closures.
Eventually the bike bus turned up and we loaded our bikes, it took an hour, yes an hour later, we arrived on the other side of the river. Back on the bikes and off we went. By now the wind was rising and the sun was lower in the sky.
The bike van the metal tray hydraulically lifts bike and rider up and down.
Around the 70km mark, Ursula our guide asked me if we would like coffee or more riding we choose coffee on the beach. Turning down the beach road we asked some helpful lifeguards for their coffee stop recommendation. They suggested The Shamrock’ run by two UK guys. One of our group heard that as 2 Ks and our cycle guide said that was too far. Thankfully we sorted that one out and just around the corner we found an Irish pub by the sea. What was there to do but have a drink and leave Ursula to find there was no cell coverage so the van driver couldn’t find us.
Oh dear, we finally got our bikes and us aboard but no room for Ursula so we left her to ride the remaining 34 kms. The van did go back for her but got struck in all those road closures. Meanwhile at the hotel we had a wonderful dinner and laughed about the day.
Day 4: Mon 25 Jun 2023 | Burgh-Haamstede to Cadzand
The day started with brilliant blue skies and no wind. We headed out with Noel Gys as the cycle guide and Ursula as the van driver. First though some bike training as Noel encouraged us to ride safely yet well with head up and two fingers on the brakes (each side) at all times.
Riding through charming young forest we stopped to take in a view of the sea. Pale yellow sand, deep blue ocean and no one in sight. Riding on we came to the first section of the Delta Flood Control System – this impressive project manages the ebb and flow of the tides whilst protecting the hinterland from severe weather conditions.
We stopped at Neeltje Jans for a very impacting visit of the Delta Project, the flood control system. Not only did we feel the horror of the 1953 flood we also got to see how they constructed the system of flood barriers across the delta and how clever the Dutch are controlling water.
Another hour’s ride and we found ourselves in Veere, one of the prettiest Dutch villages we had seen so far. Noel had arranged lunch stop for us in a flowering garden with a charming host and lots of opportunities to drink beer. Mindful of the further cycling we needed to do we struck to low or zero alcohol beverages but some of us enjoyed the local delicacy – mussels.
After a nice break we did a circuit of the village to enjoy its charm and then it off into the countryside again for a wonderful ride by farm pastures and relaxed cows. A stop for the ferry (which actually came) and onto to our stop for the night at Cadzand.
A break to shower and change then a gentle stroll on the dune path by the sea to dinner at Lou Lou and finally a view of the setting sun at night fall, around 10.
Day 5: Sun 26 Jun 2023 | Cadzand to Bruges
Woke to a 27km wind flowing from East to West. Today’s biking route took us down the North Sea coast until we turned into land at De Haan. Crossing the border between Netherlands and Belgium was notable as there is nothing to mark the event except the ping on the phone welcoming you to Belguim.
Ursula showing us the streamlined Vanmoof Bike. All was well until she accidently set off the alarm and a rather grumpy owner turned up. It was all double dutch to me but it sounded like “Leave my #$^& bike alone”.
The nicest part of the ride was on country roads (with designated bike lanes) which passed by fields of linseed. On the edge of the field were scarlet poppies.
Before we knew it we were in Bruges and the afternoon was a happy explore of the mediaeval centre.
Dinner was at Vlaminck 14 where the waiter joined us in song and laughter.
Day 6: Tue 27 Jun 2023 | Bruges to Ghent
Noel was back to cycle guide today and we set off in fine weather with no breeze. Most of the ride was along the canal path, country bike lanes or through small villages.
Our first stop was the Schellenmole, and old windmill from the 12th century. It was certainly a photo stop as we took in the grand structure on its small hill and the charming mill house next door. I sent a picture of the mill back to New Zealand to a friend whoc would like to live in a lighthouse (or windmill) and she replied, Ï’ll buy that. Just need to ask the original owners the price.”
Immediately after the windmill we stopped for coffee in Damme. A pretty gothic village who the cafe owner opened up just for us – isn’t that friendly.
On our way to Ghent we stopped where there were many poppies growing to collect a few and take the time to remember so many kiwis who ended their lives on the battlefields of Flanders.
Cycling on we travelled south we used country paths and beautiful lanes with shady trees. When we arrived at our scheduled lunch stop unfortunately the place was closed. Being resourceful kiwis we took advantage of a SPAR supermarket, brought some lunch and found a place by the canal to enjoy our picnic.
Very soon after this stop – in fact at the next bridge – Ursula was waiting with the van and those who wanted to finished their riding for the day and have a transfer to the hotel. Meanwhile the rest of us cycled the last 10kms into Ghent and to the hotel. A wonderful ride with great company.
Day 7: Wed 28 Jun 2023 | Ghent (Rest Day)
What a treat being able to sleep in and bounce down to breakfast when it suited. The only official item on today’s agenda was 10am walking tour with a local guide – thank you Tours Direct.
The weather was cloudy which was perfect for walking around the beautiful old city area of Ghent. Stephan, our guide was very informative and had lots of local stories about the people who built the city, made money here and seem to have fights with everyone from kings to each other.
After our two hour walk, most of the group took a boat ride on the canal.
Noel kindly offered those who wanted the opportunity to visit the Allied Cemetery where kiwis are buried a trip in the van in the afternoon.
Day 8. Thu 29 Jun 2023 | Ghent to Antwerp
It was a no time at all that we were out of Ghent and on our way north towards Antwerp. Once again we were cycling by the canals and could enjoy the water views and the shade of the shelter belt.
At our lunch stop, Dendermonde, there was the flexibility to choose to stop riding and take the van to the hotel. Unfortunately, there were several accidents on the motorway, so Noel and his passengers had a slow trip into Antwerp.
Meanwhile the cyclists had a steady ride into Antwerp and took an hour off to look around the Grote Markt, or centre of the old town. There were many tasty delights to try; gelato and pancakes.
Day 9. Fri 30 Jun 2023 | Antwerp to Zwijndrecht
Today Noel was once again our cycle guide and we decided to split the group so some could ride the entire day and some could join the ride at Rosendale, our lunch place.
The day was perfect for riding as it was warm, cloudy and low wind. Noel took us in a circuit around Antwerp so we could by-pass the crazy traffic and road works. Once we were out of the city it was a wonderful ride through new forest and parks, villages and farm land.
Riding into Rosendale we were greeted warmly by the forward party and enjoyed lunch in the old town centre, There was time to walk around and find some hidden gems.
Back on the bikes we once again cycled out into the countryside, farm lanes and country roads.
Afternoon tea was a themed cafe by the canal and an opportunity to watch the huge container barges moving up and down.
Finally, we arrived in Zwijndrecht for a welcome rest, shower and restorative beverage.
Day 10. Sat 1 Jul 2023 | Zwijndrecht (Rest Day)
We have been so lucky with the weather; warm sunny days with some cloud cover and most days a gentle breeze, today we woke to heavy cloud and 90% chance of rain. Our hotel is situated by the river and near a nature reserve so we could see the wind bending the reeds and the wet weather coming – thank goodness it was a rest day.
After a lovely lay-in, a delicious breakfast it was off for a few laps in the heated pool. A picnic was promised and we all wondered whether a meal under a damp tree was happening or even a feast in the bike shed… it turned out Noel & Ursula provided a spread in a meeting room.
After lunch some brave souls came with me for a nature ramble as we followed paths through the nature reserve. We did our best to identify the plants known to us: blackberry, wild rhubarb, stinging nettle, rape, clover and so on – to us they mostly were weeds but then we remembered this is their home environment so no longer weeds but habitat for birds, insects and animals.
The day ended with a few going into nearby Dordrecht and others just enjoying down time.
Day 11. Sat 2 Jul 2023 | Zwijndrecht to Gouda
Would you believe it, the weather was back to sunny with cloud cover and no rain. This was our last ride, so we all donned the cycling gear and headed out after breakfast. The highlight of the ride was Kinderdijk, where 17 windmills line a canal. They were originally built to pump water and now remain as photo opportunities.
A short coffee break where many managed to shop for souvenirs.
A quick ferry ride and then on to Gouda on the bike tracks on top of the dijks. At the train station we handed back our wonderful steeds and thanked Ursula for all her hard work.
There was time for a walk into the old town square of Gouda and it’s many medieval buildings, cafes and cheese shops.
When we were ready, we bounced back to the train station and caught a fast train to Amsterdam and to our hotel. We arrived as our bags arrived, so it was time for a shower and rest before our farewell dinner.
THANK YOU team for a marvelous time – go us!