After 2 ‘luxurious’ nights sleeping in a nice soft bed, it was time to hit the road again. But first, I had to get another map, this time I thought the Michelin driving map for north Belgium would be useful. The day before, Bee Suan had taken me to a ANWB travel shop to look for a cycling map that I could use to get me across the Belgian border at least.
I finally got one that covered the whole of Netherlands. It wasn’t detailed but it did show all the numbers of the cycling routes, or rather numbered points that a cyclist simply plans ahead and follows them accordingly. My plan today was also to ride a little bit of the 6,000km North Sea Cycle Route along the northern coast of Netherlands.
And so more number-hunting today. It took me a little while to get out of Delft but once I did, it was quite simple, and I finally followed the numbers and made it to Massluis to take the short ferry ride across to Rozenburg.
By now, I was quite used to friendly people coming up to talk to me, but today, it would turn out to be a very interesting acquaintance indeed, and it started when I was on the ferry.
83 year-old Dutchman Albert Willemsen was a kindred spirit. He had actually just decided that very morning that he was going to do a 2-day ride from his home to Middleburg and from there, take a train home. He lived not too far from Delft and was coincidentally going in the same direction as me.
It was only a 10-minute crossing and we only managed the usual pleasantries, but as we were disembarking, Albert came up to me and said he would like ride with me a bit and that perhaps later we could have coffee and cakes at Brielle, the next town on our list. I happily agreed to some company. It would turn to be more than just a pleasant break from solo riding.
At Brielle, he made sure to tell me that I was his guest as we sat al fresco at a table outside a café next to a canal. So far, everything seemed to be going perfectly — the sun was shining gloriously, the wind was behind our backs and here I was having coffee with an interesting Dutchman.
Albert’s story unfolded as we enjoyed the cappuccinos and cakes. Mine had a big dollop of fresh cream. He had fought in the Indonesian war of independence in 1946 in Java and was stationed there for 2 years. On my part, I could only marvel at the fact that at 83, he was still so feisty in his outlook on life. I mean, even a 1-day ride like this would beyond most 80 year-olds I know.
Neither his children nor his wife shared his passion for recreational cycling. How sad for a European, I thought. I guessed he just wanted some company to liven up his otherwise simple existence. Amazingly, we never stopped chatting throughout the ride.
There are a lot of things one can learn from old people, and one of them is never to take life for granted. He was this sagely old man who, by our standards, was way over the hill … some would simply be biding their time until death released them from this world.
But Albert clearly loved life and was not letting any of it go to waste, and he lived life as each day came.
‘I look into the mirror and I see a very old man’ he remarked.
Well, all I can only say is that at 83, I too, would still want to be touring and, when meeting up with ‘young’ adventurers like me, be ready to dish out some sagely advice about life.
As we ambled along, enjoying the wind behind our backs, we came upon a sign that said ‘mossels’, or mussels in English.
‘Fresh ones’ Albert explained. Apparently this part of Netherlands was famous for its mussels and even the Belgians come from across the border to enjoy them.
As we reached Oudorp, Albert’s destination for the day, he asked if I would like to have some mussels for lunch. ‘Mussels and beer,’ Albert said with a twinkle in his eye ‘were made for each other’.
He also hastened to add that ‘You’re my guest today, ok?’ And that was that.
Today was definitely one of the best days of the trip so far.
We rolled into a café that had a sign for fresh mussels and Albert proceeded to order lunch – 1 pot of mussels each, fries, salad, a bread basket and a tasty Belgian beer each. The mussels came in a small pot cooked with some onions. It was simple and it was absolutely the best mussels I had ever tasted.
After lunch, it was time to part ways; Albert to his B&B for the night and I, to whatever town I came to at sunset. Albert insisted on showing me the way out of town and when we came to the junction, I was actually sad at seeing him go.
‘Good luck, and God bless you’ he said as he turned his bicycle around and slowly headed back to Oudorp.
As he rode off into the distance, I remembered a little banner in Bee Suan’s house that proclaimed an Irish Blessing:
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand
At around 6.30pm, as the sun began to dip into the horizon, I decided to stop at the next decent-looking campsite (and there were plenty along this route). By this time, all campsite offices were closed but the general rule is, if you arrive late, you simply find a proper space to pitch your tent for the night and the next morning, you just go to the office to register and pay.
And so, at the tiny village of Renesse, I simply rode into a campsite and pitched up my tent in a big empty field (I was the only tent there, the rest were all mobile homes). It was a very quiet campsite and I saw very few people about. Definitely no marijuana-induced parties here. After a simple dinner, I hunkered down for the night while the wind was still blowing strongly.
The tent was flapping lightly all night long … it was a very cold wind.
Tomorrow, I cross the border into Belgium, and the medieval city of Brugge in Belgium.
Albert, if you’re reading this, please write to me through the comment page here. The email address you gave was not correct…that’s why you never heard from me after we parted ways.
Distance today:: 80km
Distance to date:: 621km