It was the first big day of cycling for our trip and 10 days and 4 countries into the trip we all finally started sleeping in, well at least until 7.30am!
Before a longish day of riding it was a good idea to have a decent breakfast, and the selection at the Westcord Art Hotel didn’t disappoint. As is traditional for the Dutch, there was an excellent selection of chocolate products and the kids were excited to have chocolate sprinkles on bread, a Dutch favourite! The hotel also had one of the best ranges of breads and pastries we’d had outside of France and an amazing fruit bread that also contained chocolate. Luckily there was also a pretty good hot selection and a fabulous range of Dutch cheeses.
Even though it was early in the tulip season there was enough to whet our appetite for our riding with fresh tulips on our table and a massive selection of tulip vases at reception (that were seemingly replaced every day).
Our bags had to be down at reception for transfer to our next hotel by 9am, so this meant we couldn’t linger stuffing our faces with cheese and chocolate, at breakfast, for too long, . We were apparently the first group out touring for the season…….. not surprising since we’d actually arranged to start our tour a day before the season officially started, so that it fitted in with our travel schedule. The bulb season runs for around 2 months but most people ride within a pretty narrow window of only a few weeks during April in order to see the best of the flower fields.
Our route for the day was departing from Amsterdam and riding through the region of South Kennemerland to check out Cruquius, a steam-driven pumping station. Then we were to head South towards our first fields of bulbs and North towards the city of Haarlem, where we were staying overnight. Haarlem is under 25km from Amsterdam but we were going the long (and scenic way). Our route map indicated it was a 41.5km route for the day, but this turned out to be very inaccurate!
It was down to the underground parking to collect our bikes and get our panniers set up for the day. As we came to learn, the first morning of bike tour there is always a bit of a delay as we got panniers sorted out and GPS units mounted and everything in the right spot. Having at least ridden over 13km on the bikes the previous afternoon we were confident our bikes were set up correctly. The kids helmets hadn’t arrived which wasn’t ideal, but since the Dutch generally do not wear helmets, unless racing or riding at high-speed, they thought we were strange for even being concerned about it.
We were doing the 5 day ‘Tulip Tour’ through Dutch Bike Tours. The tour does not include a GPS as standard but we had hired one for the tour, which was definitely a good move. The paper maps with route directions were fairly comprehensive but the GPS was easier to follow while riding. Anto was in charge of the route GPS and I was using his usual Garmin GPS just to track our route, speed ,and elevation. We both had copies of the paper maps, which came in handy at times.
All set up for our first day of riding, we were on our way just after 9:30am. Our GPS route was already indicating several more kilometres than the paper maps before we’d even left the hotel, which was curious (but as we learnt seemed to happen every day).
The route did not take us back through the city but straight out the back way and was mostly on bike paths, which are pretty much bike highways in the Netherlands. The hundreds of routes around the country are numbered and signposted very clearly. The only tricky bit is that there are so many of them, and so many intersections that you need to pay attention so you don’t miss turns! Our route for the day had us using 25 different route numbers, with a lot of turns and intersections.
We pretty quickly got used to keeping our eyes out for the white signs with the green route markers, and the signs alerting us to an upcoming route intersection or ‘knooppunt approaching’.
We were pretty good at staying on the right hand side of the paths and cycleways ,and aside from being a little confused at some of the intersections as everything feels backwards, it was pretty easy riding.
As we were leaving Amsterdam we rode through some large parks which were already full of flowering cherry blossoms, Spring was definitely in the air.
We were heading in the direction of the airport, which kept the kids amused with their ability to watch a plane going overhead every 30 seconds for quite some time!
As we headed out of Amsterdam and into the surrounding region we were riding along lots of canals, full of very fat geese and the occasional swan. It was interesting seeing the houses in the outskirts of Amsterdam, it was very different to the housing within the city. There was definitely more space and everyone had a yard that backed onto water.
Before we’d even left Amsterdam proper it was starting to spit with rain. As rain had been forecast we had wet-weather gear with us in the panniers. Before long it was getting quite heavy and the rain gear was on the kids. At 11 degrees, and windy, it wasn’t all that pleasant…….. and Anto and I were wishing we’d packed our warmer riding gloves for the day!
Our planned stop for the morning was at the Cruquius museum and pumping station, but due to the difference between the paper route map and the GPS map, it was quite a few more kilometres riding than we had anticipated when planning our day, the night before. We think that the daily route total was not including the kilometres to get out of the city/town, which may have accounted for some of the difference.
Most of the morning was spent riding past canals, grasslands and fields of animals and was srather scenic, even if everything was grey and damp. We’d all managed to get quite cold and damp before putting our coats on so we were hanging out to stop somewhere we could warm up.
All a bit cold and wet we were relieved to finally make it to Cruquius, after 26km of riding. We parked the bikes and stopped for some morning tea at the Cruquius Teehuis. It was lovely and warm inside and there was some coffee for the adults, and hot chocolate for the kids along with a very pretty (and quite tasty) cake.
In much of the Netherlands you can be below sea level. Our GPS often told us how many metres below sea level we were. You also drop below the canal level at times which gives the curious effect of seeing boats cruising past higher than the level you are riding at. In the Teehuis we were watching the boats sail past the window, above the level we were sitting at!
Full of warm food it was a quick wander through the garden and over to the museum. Already Spring bulbs were just randomly popping up in gardens and in grass areas.
Due to the constant issues with water and flooding in the Netherlands, water-management is a huge part of their history. The Cruquius steam pump was built to pump the Haarlem lake dry and claim land that was underwater. The steam engine is thought to be the largest steam engine ever built!
We watched a short movie (in English) about the history of pumping in the Netherlands. You were then able to tour the museum and look at models of windmills, and a variety of pumps and engines. The museum had a suitable amount of things to touch and buttons to push to keep the kids amused.
There were some tour groups going through while we were there ,which was a little annoying as it isn’t a huge museum. They were getting their tours in Dutch and one of the guides was finding us randomly to give us a little commentary in English. As is usual with the kids we were happy to wander around mostly on our own and move through at a slightly quicker pace!
We then got to see them fire up the machine. Seeing it running was certainly impressive. Each cylinder of the pump moved 8,000 litres per stroke and there are 8 cylinders. Once up to pace, the pump runs at 5 strokes per minute (we watched it at 3 per minute) and it ran continuously from 1850 for 3 years non-stop to pump out the lake.
It was amazing seeing something so huge that was built such a long time ago, and was made essentially by hand.
After a longer than hoped stop, we had finally warmed up and mostly dried out. The Teehuis looked inviting for lunch but we decided that with a lot of kilometres still to go for the day it was best to get moving and stop for lunch at another town.
Just out of the town of Cruquius we caught our first glimpses of the bulb fields. There were squeals of excitement when we saw the first one, and we of course had to stop and take photos. It was very early in the season for bulbs so it was a little early for the tulips to be flowering but we started seeing lots of daffodils, jonquils and hyacinths.
The huge stripes of colour appearing before you were quite a sight! It was fun guessing from a distance what bulbs they were and then riding closer and figuring out if we were right.
We wound our way through lots of towns with cute houses that were opposite huge bulb fields. It would be an impressive view out your loungeroom window for a couple of months of the year! Soren randomly napped in his bike for a bit but did manage to see quite a few of the fields.
We were getting rather hungry but didn’t find anywhere with an open cafe, so we kept going. We had a few snack items with us, but hadn’t brought a lot of food since there was meant to be a continuous stream of villages most of the way to Haarlem. Unfortunately we seemed to fail to find where they were hiding their cafes!
Most of the afternoon was spent riding past bulb fields and some pleasant riding through forests. It had stopped raining which also made the riding much more pleasant. We saw plenty of lovely country estate houses I could easily have lived in! The gardens in pretty much every house in every town were beautiful and full of flowering bulbs. All the verges in public areas were covered in daffodils, which essentially grow like weeds!
This was a great plan, except the last few kilometres through Haarlem took forever, due to Saturday afternoon pedestrian and bike chaos. As we rode through the outer suburbs of Haarlem there were lots of really pretty streets and houses but we didn’t stop to take too many photos as were desperate for food.
Once we hit the city area it was amazingly gorgeous, very similar to Amsterdam but without quite the same level of tourists and drunk British people! Like Amsterdam it was hard to ride at any pace as there were people and bikes everywhere. It was now late Saturday afternoon and people were out enjoying cafes and shopping. Like Amsterdam, Haarlem is full of canals surrounded by small cobblestone streets and plenty of restaurants, cafes, shops and markets that spill onto the street.
It was very scenic but we really wanted to get to hotel so we could get off the bikes and get some food. The GPS is very slow to update in cities (especially ones with crowded and narrow streets) so we took a few wrong turns and the last few kilometres took well over half an hour as we circled the same area a few times trying to find the right street! The route marking signs are great until there are 20 different ones in a small area and everything looks the same…
With relief we found our hotel for the night, the Hotel Lion D’Or, which was a cute grey building, and parked our bikes around the back. It was now just after 4pm but luckily our bags were waiting and our room was ready. Our room had an excellent view of a flower market, with insanely cheap flowers!
After getting checked in we had to move our bikes to the nearby bike garage for the night (we had decided we were done with riding for the day and were happy to explore on foot). The bike garage was pretty much opposite the hotel but you could only see the entrance from the hotel as it as an underground garage. You wheel your bikes down a grooved track and once inside we were blown away by how many bikes were able to be stored in there. There were 20 rows and each row had slots for over 300 bikes at 2 different heights. It was crazy………. thousands upon thousands of bikes stacked neatly with all manner of baskets, kids seats and attachments. Luckily the garage had an attendant and we were allocated a spot for the night, stowed and locked our bikes and were on our way.
We were all very hungry and sore, so it was time to stretch our legs and obtain some food. We’d ridden past what seemed like a million cafes within the last 2km of the days riding so we knew which way to go for food.
We found a nice looking cafe and ordered some well-earned food. Astrid requested a pumpkin and coconut soup (which was delicious). Soren had a beef carpaccio with pinenut and Parmesan (which was enormous and he devoured). Anto ordered a steak and with vegies that was apparently pretty good. I had a quinoa, hazelnut, fig and goats cheese salad that was also very tasty.
It had been a long time since that morning tea cake, so the food didn’t last long! The
kids were tired but it was still before 6pm so we decided to have a quick walk around city centre of Haarlem. The market was just closing up but Astrid was impressed by the huge wheels of cheese (and yet more cheap flowers).
Haarlem is known for its medieval character, cobblestone streets and gabled houses with Typically Dutch facades. The market square was bustling on a Saturday evening and there were no shortage of people and bikes out and about.
We had to and tried to find our way back to hotel without maps as both our phones had gone flat. Luckily we had some kind of bearings and made it back to the market square without too much trouble.
We had spied a creperie in our earlier wanders and stopped in for a quick crepe Suzette and coffee for dessert. The kids enjoyed the orange icecream and cream (of which there was plenty)!
The sun was now getting pretty low in the sky and it had been a long and hard day of riding. We were impressed that we’d managed to get from Amsterdam to Haarlem (the long way) in one piece and hadn’t caused any traffic accidents or fall off! The only real issue for the day was that I had managed to re-damage my knee that I’d injured a few weeks earlier in Canberra. It had seemed fine until I tried to ride that heavy Dutch bike for 60km with Soren on the back!
Statistics for Saturday the 1st of April 2017 in the Netherlands – the temperature range for the day was 5 to 13 degrees with a mean of 9 degrees and fog and rain. A much less Spring like day than the previous one!
The total walking for the day was 8km and the total riding for the day was 58.9km with 106m of elevation! The Netherlands if very flat, we can’t get to the end of our street in Canberra without doing more hills than in almost 60km of riding in the Netherlands……..
Up next, day 2 of our Dutch bike tour, off to Leiden and biking through the bulb region…..