A cycling trip to Holland: the land of the bicycle
3 – Deventer to Rotterdam
From Nijmegen station we cycled to a park and phoned our next B&B to ask if we could leave our panniers there while we spent the day in the town. Tom said fine and my Garmin led us over the bridge to his place on the north bank of the River Waal. Then we cycled back over. I'm fond of this bridge. My father helped defend it in 1944 as part of the Allied Advance into Germany. Read more on page 8 of his war diary, also page 9. Another fine photo of the bridge.
The National Bicycle Museum is interesting enough, with lots of old bicycles with wooden wheels, and an even older one invented by Leonardo da Vinci (surprise surprise). Unfortunately for Nijmegen the town was flattened during WW2, as was Arnhem a little to the north. The town that was used in 'A Bridge Too Far' was actually Deventer, as it still had some old buildings left standing. There are very few nice ones in Nijmegen. Tom's B&B on the other hand was superb (photo) and he was a most charming host. He was especially proud of the Dutch breakfast he served us, which in fact was pretty much the same idea as a Danish or German breakfast. Very nice. In the evening there we'd dined 'at home' on Albert Heijn ready-to-eat salads and read our books.
We travelled to Dordrecht on the train – day eight. This is one of several towns that claims to be the oldest in Holland (1220). As in Deventer we were staying in a B&B selected from our Vrienden op de Fiets book 2010 and which never cost more than 18.5 Euros per person. So it was up in the attic again (photo) but this house had kitchen and living/dining on the middle floor – and other guests.
Friedel, whom we'd stayed with in Den Haag on our first night, had recommended the Waterbus from Dordrecht to Rotterdam, so we cycled along to the jetty to suss it out for the next day. There's no train from Dordrecht to Europoort so the Waterbus would save us several miles. Waiting at the jetty for the rain to stop were a couple of British cycle tourists distinguishable by their Dawes/Thorn bikes and Carradice bags. We had a quick chat. They were about to set off to their hotel, which they were looking forward to because it had a swimming pool. As we looked around the town's various canals we wondered which posh establishment was theirs. We ate some fine burgers at Macdonald's.
Dordrecht is another of those pretty Dutch towns on the water and it was by water that we left the following morning. On the way to the Waterbus I noticed my Garmin showed our altitude as minus 35 feet (photo). Our last day in Holland was bright and sunny and we arrived in Rotterdam ready for a pleasant few miles cycling west up the river to the Maassluis crossing and then to Europoort.
The Garmin began to lead us north through Rotterdam, towards the freeway I guessed, so I reset it to pretend it was a bicycle instead of a delivery van and we retraced our path slightly until we were back en route to Maassluis. Urban cycle paths in Holland are often block-paved and the wheel vibration was uncomfortable for Sandra with her injured chest and shoulders. There wasn't much we could do about this, except press on and hope for tarmac. In the event, the riverside path was mostly nice and smooth, and after apple pie and coffee at Maassluis we were soon on the boat.
Cycling in Holland: a few thoughts
In Nijmegen I took this photo of bicycles at the station. This is actually a multi-storey bike park. There's another level below (photo) with the bicycles stacked two-high. Note some of the bikes in the second photo: one has a metal seat over the front wheel and another has a child seat behind the handlebars.
On websites like Amsterdamize and Copenhagenize one reads that mass cycling can be achieved anywhere, including the UK, if only there is enlightenment and a public and political will to make it happen. This is complete nonsense. Dutch-style mass cycling and the infrastructure that goes with it will never happen in the UK. There is one simple reason: Holland is flat, the UK is not. Nothing can be done about it.
Look at the classic Dutch bicycle. It tells you everything. They are ridden in a vertical position that is effortless only on flat terrain, they are more or less maintenance free with enclosed chains and hub brakes and gears (when they actually have gears), and they lend themselves to carrying luggage or even other people. And they haven't changed for a very long time. The 100 year old Dutch bicycles in the National Bicycle Museum in Nijmegen are much the same as they are today.
The physical separation of bicycles from motor vehicles in the streets and the countryside of Holland is not the result of a modern movement to make us healthy and save the planet but is the consequence of natural evolution over a hundred years or more, in which it is perfectly natural to choose to ride a bike instead of driving a car; elderly grannies cycling in coats and makeup with their shopping in the basket, well-dressed husbands with their wives on the pannier rack, mothers cycling with one child on the handlebars and the other on a small bicycle at her side, students cycling in the rain beneath a big umbrella, cyclists towing trailers loaded with boxes, pretty girls cycling in groups, chatting nonchalantly as they whizz along.
There might be the occasional British city where some of this can be replicated – Cambridge for example – but Granny is never going to mess with derailleur gears or pant uphill. Mass cycling works only where it's flat; flat across the whole nation so that national standards and utility cycling evolve as the unquestioned norm. We're just playing at it in the UK, even Boris.
Our one regret on our cycle tour of Holland (apart from Sandra's crash) is planning too much cycling and too little time to enjoy its lovely towns. We thank Chris and Mrs Bailey for storing our car at their home near Hull, Friedel and Andrew Grant for their hospitality at Den Haag, the mechanics at Leo Smit bike shop in Medemblik, or Mendenbike as we now call it, and Coby Dijkstra and her husband for their kind assistance when we struggled to reach them in Oppenhuizen.