Day 12, 16 Sep, Delft to Renesse, meeting an ‘old’ friend

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.

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Why there’s no need to hurry when cycling in Holland

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The town of Maasluis, where I would take a ferry across to Brielle

 

Maassluis

 

I finally found the cycle route sign I was looking for — the LF1A, the North Sea Cycle Route, a 6,000km route that covered the coasts of about 6 countries that faced the North Sea

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.

Albert Willemsen, my new-found friend

Albert rides on very decent equipment — complete with Tubus front and rear racks

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.

 

The town of Brielle

 

At Cafe Dixi Anno where we stopped for coffee

 

Next to a canal… basking in the warmth of the sun

 

Being served coffee and cakes

Coffee and cake. Mine had a huge dollop of cream. Albert said he couldn’t handle it so gave it a miss

 

Listening intently as Albert recounted the exciting epochs of his life

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.

 

Continuing on, we rode past a massive dyke connecting 2 islands

 

The sluice gates of the dyke that controlled the flow of water to and from the sea.

 

At we passed a junction, he asked me if I would like to detour to a ‘romantic path through the dunes’. But of course … how could I pass up on anything that’s off-the-beaten track?

The bike path changed to mostly gravel along the sand dunes

 

and, of course, unrideable sand

 

Then we came upon cyclists stopping by the road picking berries. ‘Raspberries’ said Albert when I asked about it. ‘Would you like to try some?’ Fresh raspberries off the branch? This was just too good to be true. I stopped and started picking off some ripe raspberries, pricking myself in the process.

 

They’re not exactly sweet, just fresh and tart-tasting, but flavoursome. They’re ripe when they turn black. Most people who picked them made jam out of it.

 

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.

But first, we needed to wet our throats. Nothing less than Belgian beer would do. Liquid ambrosia…

 

Cheers to life!

 

One pot of fresh mussels each

 

accompanied by a bread basket and a beautiful salad

 

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

 

Well, I was certainly blessed today. As Albert and I parted ways, I rode on alone, with a brisk tailwind at my back as I turned east towards the next junction.

 

A brisk, tailwind assisted, effortless ride… 34kph!

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.

The stop for the day — Rennese, more a village than a town

 

An ‘authentic’ campsite. Aren’t they all?

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.

Postscript:
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.

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Distance today:: 80km
Distance to date:: 621km

Playback today’s ride at Garmin Connect

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Day 10, 14 Sep, Amsterdam to Delft, a captivating ride.

Amsterdam is a city that’s worth exploring for a few days, but I didn’t have a few days. By the looks of it, I could only enjoy the city for a day and I’d have to get a move on if I was to keep my schedule. I’d realized that the itinerary I had so cleverly planned was actually more feasible if done over at least 5 weeks… or better still, 2months.

The sun was shining bright and early, but the wind was gusty and cold

To Delft it was then. I was looking forward to it, too, as I would be staying with Martha’s friend from my hometown – Bee Suan, and her German husband Sebastian. Martha had so kindly arranged this special stop for me and it meant a nice break from camping as well.

The day before, I had asked and, according to the guy in the campsite’s bikeshop as an indication, Den Haag (or The Hague in English, which was very near to Delft) was only was about 50km or so from Amsterdam.

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Camp Zeeburg’s bike rental shop

50kms or so sounded like a ride in the park, especially with the weather forecast to be sunny (the weather forecasts here are very accurate). This morning, after packing up, I realised my rear tyre needed a little more air but I had already packed the pump and it was too inconvenient to dig through the pannier, so I headed for the bikeshop again.

It was another guy who was manning the counter and as I asked to borrow the pump, I told him about my plan for the day and asked him what the best route was to get to Delft.

He was a nice friendly guy (all the Dutch people I met seem to be friendly) and suggested I follow the scenic Amstel river route for part of the way. He even showed me the best way out of the city. well, it was … for about 3kms anyway.

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Errr… now what?

As is typical of Dutch fietstraats, or cycling paths, they were all numbered and all you had to do was simply follow the direction to the number coming up next on your planned route…. if you had a cycling map, that is. I didn’t have any, as I just couldn’t find a shop which sold one.

But soon, an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked if I needed help (tip: if you acted forlorn and lost long enough, somebody will eventually come and help you).

‘Ok, first you go straight until you come to a canal. Then you turn right until a traffic light and then you go across to the other side and you follow that road until you come to some new buildings, then you turn right because there are roadworks there and you have to go that direction anyway…etc etc…’

Ok, bye-bye, thank you very much and off I went. Naturally, by the time I reached the first turn after the canal, I was lost again. It never crossed their Dutch minds that a Malaysian from some tropical country which had no cycle paths would be able to remember their ‘easy’ directions.

And so it went on like this throughout the day. It was like a treasure hunt.

 

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Automatic train crossing

 

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Wonder who’s the invalid?

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Dutch cycle paths are some of the best in the world

 

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Bike parking at a train station. Count them..

 

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Local policemen doing their bit for lost world travellers

 

When I finally got out of the messy roads leading out of the city, I suddenly found myself on the Ouderkerk on the Amstel route. As amazing as the fact that I actually found it, the change in scenery was what made me gasp with surprise. It was beautiful, and it made getting lost so worth it.

As I wound my way along the Amstel, it became one of those moments that only a cycle tourer can explain — the sheer delight at the spectacle that kept unfolding with every pedal stroke; always surprising, taking your breath away every now and then and, as a bonus, clear blue skies and the wind behind your back — this was what we lived for as a cyclo-tourist.

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The Ouderkerk on the Amstel route, very scenic and very popular with recreational cyclists

 

 

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Along the way… what Dutch cheese and milk do before they become cheese and milk

 

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The route was so nice, I just had to stop and drink it all in …along with a cup of coffee al fresco

 

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Soon, the Amstel and I had to part ways and I was back to treasure hunting. But, I wasn’t worried at all. You see, instead of a cycling map which I couldn’t find, I had gotten myself a driving map. This gave me an idea of where I was at all times, and in the Netherlands, civilization is never more than 20 minutes away.

So, all I had to do was adopt a different strategy – when asking for help, tell them my final destination, then whip out my roadmap and ask them which was the next nearest town I should head for … and so on and so on.

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2 friendly ladies who helped me with directions

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This particular spot was so captivating that I just had to stop and soak it all in. I had my lunch break here as well, but sitting still meant being exposed to the cold wind so after a while I hit the road with the wind behind me once again.

 

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You couldn’t ask for better, or safer, roads to cycle on in Netherlands. The red sections are strictly for bicycles. Cars passing by would always be civil and careful. Such is the culture in Netherlands.

 

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Whenever you see the sign ‘Te Koop’, it meant ‘for sale’, In this case, fruits and vegetables from an unmanned roadside stall. This particular unmanned one, like many in Europe, operated on an honesty principle.

 

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You can even park a big boat in your backyard

 

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At one junction, I asked for directions from a helpful Volvo showroom salesperson. He even let park inside when I asked to use the toilet..even offered me a drink. So nice

 

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Idyllic scenery like this continue to roll by

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A fully-working windmill and home to some farmer

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That’s ‘Ha zers wow der dop’. Very near to Delft now.

It worked like a dream. Trouble was, I was now only halfway through and the trip-meter had only clocked about 50kms. Oh well… onwards to Delft. I had confidently told Bee Suan that I should arrive by lunchtime but now if I was lucky, it’d be dinnertime instead.

I was right. Rolling into Delft, I located her waypoint on my Garmin (that was all I had) and rode towards her home. I had gotten her GPS coordinates by pinpointing her address on Googlemap and then, by clicking on ‘get directions’ it would display part of the results in coordinates. I would then copy those coordinates and created a waypoint in Mapsource, then upload it to the GPS unit. Pretty neat, Googlemap is, and very, very accurate.

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Arriving at the town square of Delft. The town’s church is just behind me.

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And so at around 6.30pm, I rolled into a very narrow street called Smitsteeg…

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found the number of Bee Suan’s home and rang the doorbell…

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My gracious host for the night — Bee Suan and Sebastian welcoming me to their warm and cosy home

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The hunt was over for today and I was looking forward to a dinner of Hungarian Goulash that Bee Suan had told me she was preparing for dinner. Paired with a bottle of excellent Spanish red and the company of my gracious hosts, what better way than this to end a day of hard riding?

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Authentic Hungarian Goulash, cooked with authentic Hungarian ingredients.

 

 

Tomorrow: Exploring Delft

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Distance today:: 89km

Distance to date:: 541km

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