Our Netherlands journey continues
28.04.2019 - 30.04.2019 12 °C
Haarlem to Alkmaar
On Sunday morning we had an early start as we needed to catch the 8.30am train to Haarlem to meet our bike tour operator and pick up bikes for part 2 of our Netherlands adventure. This will be the real adventure, as we have decanted our basic necessities for the week into panniers, leaving our remaining luggage with Holland Bike Tours in Haarlem before setting off for 7 days of independent cycling.
We caught our train ok but almost couldn't get off at Haarlem as a very officious ticket inspector, who arrived in the carriage moments before the train came into Haarlem, hauled us over the coals for not printing out our e-tickets in accordance with the fine print terms and conditions. I insisted we were getting off, so he alighted with us and held up the train for 5 minutes giving us a lecture on the platform. Not a good start to the day!
However, our nice tour operator Emiel from Holland Bike Tours was there to meet us at the station. He took us to his bike shop and spent an hour getting us prepared for the ride, including making sure our bikes were set up correctly and running through the pre-programmed GPS, maps and other equipment he provided.
We eventually commenced our 70km ride to Alkmaar in drizzling rain at about 1030. We had only gone about 1km before Keith and the GPS had a disagreement about which way to go. After several false starts we got the hang of reading the GPS and we were on our way. The outskirts of Haarlem was just as interesting and scenic as the inner old town. Lovely houses set in beautiful tree lined streets and gardens. After Haarlem we rode for about 15km through green parkland forests and small towns before catching a ferry across a river to the coast behind this sand dunes.
Leaving Haarlem through beautiful forested bike path
This large group of ducks just waddled across the road to the lake as cars waited for them to pass.
We then rode another 15k along excellent bike paths through the dunes about 500m from the sea. About 10k south of Alkmaar the sand dunes were replaced with ideal soil for tulips and other flowers so as we rode we would pass through these explosions of colour.
Galloway cattle beside the track in the dunes
Lunch stop during stop in rain
A couple of the beautiful tulip fields we passed along the Tulip Route
Lush countryside - what lucky cows
Our original plan was to go past Alkmaar by about 10k to the start of the bike path known as LF 7 Riverbank Route.. which we will follow for 385km south to Maastricht, near the Belgian border.
However, near Alkmaar the weather started to turn for the worse so we cut the corner straight to our B&B near the centre of Alkmaar arriving at 1630 and just beating the rain. 53km km cycled today.Our host Willem was there to meet us and show us to our very well appointed suite in his rear garden. A quick change and we set out to explore the very historic town of Alkmaar before dinner at a restaurant recommended by our host.
Alkmaar is known worldwide a the cheese city for its Friday cheese market, but for us, visiting on a Sunday, it not only represented yet another lovely Dutch town of character with its canals and a lovely old town centre, but it also was where we enjoyed our first taste of Dutch B&B hospitality.
This beatutiful building is the Weighing House. It dates back to 1390 when it originally had a religious purpose but later as the cheese industry grew it became the place wher cheese was weighed.
Alkmaar to Landsmeer
After constant rain overnight we woke to a cloudy but fine day. Our host provided an excellent breakfast with enough leftovers for lunch which was really helpful, particularly as many food outlets close on Monday. Our tour guide notes indicated the ride from Alkmaar to Landsmeer, just north of Amsterdam, would be 51km and total up downs would be 20m ie very flat. Also the wind was forecast to be light north easterly which would be mainly behind us. A good day for riding.
The bike paths as usual were excellent and well marked with the LF7a signs which is the north/south bike path. The track took us through lovely forests, very lush green fields and often followed a lakeside, river or canal. It seemed that wherever you look in Holland there is water and lush green fields or forests.
Leaving Alkmaar beside a lovely canal and a beautiful forested track
Along the way
Along the way
Lunch stop by river watching cargo boats and tugs
The only major tourist attraction on the way south was the row of working mills at Zaanse Shans which we had visited this during our stay in Amsterdam. It was still enjoyable to see the giant colourful sails (they had acquired some orange sails since we last saw them, no doubt their nod to King’s Day) turning gracefully in the wind as we approached from the opposite direction this time.
I couldn't resist snapping pictures of the animals along the way so here are a few. One shot I missed was a farmer leading a small flock of sheep and lambs along the road - he was holding a pail which I presumed held feed to keep them following.
We see a lot of ducks and birds along the way enjoying the wetlands.
The final run into Landsmeer was through lovely wetlands only 3km out of Amsterdam.
We arrived at Collette's B&B at about 4.30 after 53km of cycling. Our host was a young Finnish guy married to a Thai lady and they had recently come from Vietnam where he was studying at a college run by RMIT. As it happened his parents were visiting from Finland and his sister from Portugal was passing through. All part of the passing parade of nationalities you encounter when travelling which adds so much to the experience.
Landsmeer to Utrecht
With a 67k day ahead we decided we had better make an early start particularly as we had to go through the middle,of Amsterdam.
Our lovely host Vili arrived right on time at 8 o'clock with our breakfast accompanied by his visiting father who was carrying a tray as well. After a great breakfast with enough leftovers of bread, cheese and ham to make sandwiches for lunch, we hit the road at 9. Our fears of riding through Amsterdam were unfounded.
The bike track into Amsterdam Central first meandered through lovely wetlands then joined a well marked and easy to follow bike path right into the middle of town where we caught a free ferry to the back of the train station. From there we followed the LF7a markers through the busy city till the Amstel river hung a left and then we were on our way out of town on a quiet road beside parkland and leafy neighbourhoods - about 10k in 45 minutes.
The rest of the ride to Utrecht was just as easy along a very picturesque path that always had water on our left or our right. With light winds and a very flat bike path we were able to comfortably sit on 20k per hour. At elevenses as we stood on a corner checking which way to go, we met a very kind gentleman who suggested a bakery on the canal for coffee and apple tart. What a wonderful suggestion it was! While there we watched a canal employee manually wind the adjacent bridge up and down to allow a boat to go through. Most bridges can be electronically activated when boats want to pass through but in some villages the old traditions have been maintained.
About 20k from Utrecht our route took us along a most beautiful leafy area beside a canal with lovely villages and km after km of magnificent chateau like houses built in the Dutch form of architecture. It was a very pleasant run into Utrecht.
We made very good time (for us), to arrive in Utrecht at 3.30 but it then took us 30minutes to find our B&B. The bike path took us right through the middle of the old town which was very busy with tourists and locals despite the temperature being about 10 degrees. We found our street ok but then it disappeared at the same time as the canal disappeared under the city square. Eventually we found that the canal and our street popped up about 100m further on. From there it was easy to find our home for the night next to the canal. Vincent our host was waiting for us and showed us to our room which was, of course, in the loft with three flights of spiralling, very steep, staircases (as the Dutch do!). But it was a very nice, spacious and comfortable room with views over the canal.
A quick change and we went out to explore the historic old town centre. Vincent had recommended several places to eat which we couldn't find, but we stumbled across a very warm and cosy French restaurant near our digs which served very traditional French food and wines at good prices. After French onion soup Keith had a delicious beef bourguignon. Then back to our loft to plan tomorrow's ride.
Utrecht is the Netherland’s 4th largest city and centuries old university town. Once it’s religious heart, it boasts the country’s tallest church tower, the Dom, which dominates the medieval core of the city. It is ringed by a loop of attractive tree lined canals lined with cafes and terraces, providing much atmosphere. After our very enjoyable ride to get there, we enjoyed our short stay in equal measure. A very nice small city.
Operating the punt on the way
Lunch stop by a canal
Then there were the beautiful houses lining it
Not sure what this large building was but very impressive
The Dom from viewed from a canal. Shame about the scaffolding!