Day 13, 17 Sep, Renesse to Brugge, Belgium.

The weather was still very agreeable today, and although there were some clouds, there was a clear hint of a sunny day ahead. Usually, when the sun had risen higher in the sky, it would chase away the clouds, warming up the day.

After a quick breakfast, I packed up and went straight to the reception to pay the bill. Only thing was, this part of the world was pretty laid back and the manager had not arrived yet. Another man was there though; he didn’t speak English so he gestured for me to wait by putting up five fingers to indicate 5 minutes so I just hung around.

I was impatient to get on the road. Today I would be crossing into Belgium, and I’d hope to make Brugge (say bru-ger), or Bruges (say broojzh) depending on which country you came from, before sunset. I wasn’t quite sure of the distance but estimated it to be around 100km or so. It was going to be a pretty long day.

A woman arrived by bicycle a little later and I paid the 9 Euros for sleeping in an empty field and taking a dump in their toilet. I wondered if I should have just stealth-camped and save the money. It really wouldn’t have been much different.

I headed for Burghamsted, the next village less than 10km away. I found the supermarket and proceeded to stock up on food. When you’re on the road, it’s better to always have some food ready … just in case. I got the fresh milk that I just absolutely must have in the morning, and some bread. Water, on the other hand is never a problem – you can drink it straight from the tap. Saved me quite a bit of money.

Rural landscape of Burghamstead, horses and all.

 

Continuing after Burghamsted, the path would wind through smooth paths, a dyke or 2, and sometimes gravelled dunes that were higher than the houses nearby

 

O yea…boom! Actually, slagboom means ‘barrier’

 

Idyllic, serene leaf-strewn paths

Following the LF1 A  faithfully would sometimes take you through very colourful settings, in this case, a small town with cobbled streets

 

and busy sidewalk cafes in full swing

 

Passing through the town of Middleburg …

 

where Churchill is so revered, they named a street after him.

 

Interesting characters on the bike path. This one’s not an invalid, just an old pirate who gets around easier on her electric buggy.

Canals inevitably means boats, which take priority when they had to ‘cross’ the road. Here, the middle span of this bridge is lifted to allow the tugboat pulling a massive crane of some sort to pass.

 

 

My next destination was Visslingen, a port just outside the town of Middleburg to take the ferry across to Breskens. It was a pedestrian-and-cyclist-only ferry and costs 3.5 Euro for the 30-minute crossing.

In the hold below, bikes are simply tied to railings with the ropes supplied

 

Typical bikes that the Dutch ride

20 kms from Breskens, I reached the town of Sluis.

 

From Sluis, the plan was to ride along the canal all the way to Brugge, my destination of the day.

I patted myself on the back for being quite clever to have plotted my route through this town because all I had to do to get to Brugge from here was to simply follow the canal. Easy peasy…

In Europe, whenever there’s a canal, one can be sure to find a cycle path next to it and although I didn’t have any reference to this canal, I simply deduced as such from the Michelin map of northern Belgium (and a bit of France) that I had bought in Delft.

As Sluis, a rather popular tourist town, I stopped at a tourist information booth to confirm my plans and after that, I headed straight for the canal which passed through the town itself. One hour later, including a break for food at one of the many benches along the canal, I arrived at the UNESCO certified heritage city of Brugge, just 20km away.

10 minutes into the ride along the canal, I was already in Belgium, but as EU countries go, there really isn’t a border. Things just subtly change as you go along – the houses, the language (not that I could understand any of it), the number plates, the directional signs ….

Brugge is just another 20km away

 

The inspiring tree-lined canal bike path

 

and the occasional windmill

 

Finally, after 111km, I arrived at the town of Brugge

 

I headed straight for the campsite, the only one within city limits, and was pleasantly surprised by it. It wasn’t big, but it was fringed by tall, dense forest which apparently contained recreational cycling and jogging paths. Lovely, I thought and proceeded to pitch up my tent in what I though was a site for tents. The office had closed by now and as is usual of campsites, you just pitched your tent (or your mobile home) in an empty plot and register yourself the next day.

 

 

I had clocked 111km today, the longest distance in a single day since I began my tour. The wind had been quite cold and I was feeling a little knackered. I made a quick trip to the supermarket nearby, came back and cooked a simple dinner of rice with tomato, an egg, some simple seasoning, with some bread and cheese, and I had myself a little feast.

Tomorrow, I will check out ‘the best preserved medieval town in Belgium … or was it Europe? Anyway, sleep came real easy. It was cold that night, too…at least 6-7 degrees. Maybe it was because of the forest next door. Brrrr…. Good thing I had Aljoscha’s sleeping bag that Eva made me exchange for the one I had originally brought. Thanks Eva 🙂 It kept me warm and toasty inside.

Tomorrow: Exploring Brugge

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Distance today:: 111km
Distance to date:: 732km

Playback today’s ride on 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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Day 8, 12 Sep, from Deutchland to Netherlands, Pt 2

I had no choice but to sit on the staircase for the ride to Emmerich since my bike was in a very inconvenient position, latched onto a railing that led down the steps of the exit. A little later, a seat nearest to the stairs on the upper level was vacant and I quickly took it, while still able to keep an eye on my bike.

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Just before Emmerich, as I was preparing to get off, a young German girl of about 20 or so who was standing next to me sensed that it was going to be quite a task getting my whole loaded bike down, asked me very sweetly, ‘Do you need help getting your bike down?’

I guess angels do exist after all 🙂

After helping me, she walked off quickly before I could take a shot of her.

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Emmerich was just a small dot on the landscape. The station was rather scrappy looking and had seen better days. The town was quiet with little activity. As I headed out of town, it began to lightly drizzle. With my jacket on, I headed out towards the Rhine, and the little hamlet of Millingen an de Rjin, which is Dutch for Millingen on the Rhine. From there I would soon be in the Netherlands. I loved crossing borders.

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Outside the train station

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What I’m always on the lookout for

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Sculptures like this one facing the Rhine is common throughout Europe

 

 

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Houses began to take on a decidedly different look … in this case, Dutch.

 

Just before I reached Millingen, I realized the signs were reading a little differently. Then it dawned upon me that I had already crossed the border into Holland without even knowing it. By then, I was fairly famished and food was on top of my mind.

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Main street, Millingen en de Rjin or, Millingen on the Rhine

 

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I spotted a cutesy-looking café and decided to make it my lunch-stop. It was some kind of fast food joint run by a friendly ‘couple’

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‘Husband’ and wife, not twins

 

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They were the only one working the cafe

 

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They did serve a mean sandwich though

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An interesting subject at the cafe

 

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Interesting toilet of the cafe

 

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After lunch it was time to continue my journey towards Amsterdam. But first, we have to cross the river by ferry..

 

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Waiting for the ferry

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This is a passenger/bicycle ferry only, no cars

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The Millingen ferry crossing, which was just a stone’s throw away, took less than 5 minutes. The Dutch, I realized later, were friendlier than the Germans and even on the ferry, folks on bicycles were already talking to me, asking me where I was from and appreciated the fact that I had come all this way to see their country (inevitably, they would also ask if I was Indonesian, as the country was once colonized by the Dutch).

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Nice comfy seats made from fleece for the more matured cyclists. Check out the handlebars … they like it as high as possible

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Once on the other side, there were I had to determine my direction of travel towards Arnhem, about 45kms away.

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Can be quite bewildering. The signs in green are for specific routes, usually very scenic. The ones in red are for getting to the next village or town only.

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The ride to Arnhem looks vry promising

 

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I met many cyclists along the way. All were friendly. This was Dutch lady #1 of the countless Dutch ladies on bicycles from whom I would ask for help.

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This lady didn’t just give me directions, she ask me to follow her until the next town where she would show me the next easy route to take.

 

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The outskirts of Arnhem. I wish I had time to explore this lovely town but I had underestimated the distance. It turned out that Amsterdam was about 134 km away, so I decided that in the interest of time, I would take the train to Amsterdam instead.

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The modern, busy side of Arnhem

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At the train station

 

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Good thing most Dutch speak some English, as did this helpful ticket lady

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Bike -designated carriages are clearly marked

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Fellow cyclists on board, all of them heading to Amsterdam. This couple was riding a custom-built tandem built by a well-known woman bike maker in Amsterdam.

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Ample space on board

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Exactly 1 hour and 4 minutes later, I found myself in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. I couldn’t wait to explore the city but first, I had to sort out the digs for the night — Camp Zeeburg, in the district of Zeeburg, about 20 minutes from central Amsterdam.

After registering and paying the 8.50 Euros (plus an 80ct token for a hot shower), I headed out to the tent area, following directions from the camp map.

It was a very big campsite and I was about to get the shock of my life.

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It was a sea of green, blue, yellow, red and other assorted colours. It was also very noisy. My heart sank. All this time, I had been camping in relative luxury – big open spaces, few tents, quiet atmosphere — but this was different. I had stumbled on Woodstock. There were young kids shouting and singing, and the worst of all – the smell of marijuana was thick in the air (grass is legal in Amsterdam).

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I finally picked a ‘quieter’ spot by the edge of the water, and where there were fewer tents. The only saving grace was the splendid view from my tent’s entrance – reeds bending in the breeze, ducks and swans and geese swimming and noisily skimming the water as they landed in a big group, and at night,  the amber lights of the bridge would cast a warm glow across the water.

It didn’t feel too bad after all, except that I couldn’t quite take the smell of marijuana constantly wafting through the air. Even the tent behind me was going at it, sitting at the tent entrance doing their thing, blowing through a jar with water gurgling and smoke coming out of it. Looks like happy days are here in Amsterdam.

Next: Exploring the city of Amsterdam.

Distance today: 45km
Distance to date:

 

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