Thursday, 26 September 2013

Becoming fietsters

So we left Iceland, a place and people we’ll never forget, and have started our cycling adventure around Europe. Just like in Iceland, we want to really get to know the places we visit, live with the locals and absorb the culture of each new country – the rest Europe has a lot to live up to!

We cycled to Hull to get the ferry after a quick stop in the UK to pick up our bikes. As we cycled on board it felt the beginning of a real adventure… And the Netherlands didn’t let us down. Rob lost his phone on the first day, we fought killer Christmas trees, got fleeced at a Dutch car boot sale and were attacked by hailstones the size of golf balls.

As two novice cycle tourers, we decided to start our journey in the Netherlands where bikes rule the road and there’s an amazing network of easy, flat cycle paths.

Our bikes rest at one of the many route signs
After a shaky start trying to navigate through Rotterdam we learned how to follow the scenic green cycle routes and quickly fell in love with the quaint towns and tasty cheeses of the Netherlands.
The bikes enjoy hanging out in Gouda

Our first stop was a ‘Gouda’ one, sorry for the 'cheesy' joke… where of course it would have been rude not to have bought some of the local delicacy. Not sure the Dutch would approve of the way we ate it though!
Rob enjoys a smashing meal
Endeavoring to get to know the Netherlands a bit better, we arranged a work exchange at a bamboo nursery in Leusden near Amersfoort for two weeks through

Sunset on the nursery
In exchange for feeding and watering bamboo plants and Christmas trees, weeding, cutting and potting bamboo and generally helping around the nursery four days a week, we got to unpack our panniers in a caravan, were given access to a vegetable garden, some euros to buy food each week and got to spend time with some lovely people.
Our home for two weeks
Louise excels at potting bamboo... 
Rob wanted to make a Holland pot joke here, Louise wouldn't let him...
Over the two weeks we learnt a bit about bamboo, a few Dutch words and how to avoid being prickled by Christmas trees after making the mistake of wearing shorts on the first day. We also got a real insight into life in the Netherlands, we explored the area, ate some chocolate sprinkles on toast and we even went to a Dutch car boot sale where you could buy everything including the kitchen sink.
Our hosts didn't find the joke as funny as we did...
Exploring at a nearby lake
Street art in Amersfoort
We got fleeced six euros for two camping stools at the car boot sale, but at least we’re using them.
Louise drafting the blog on a €3 stool
We’ve set up our next workaway job and it’s just around the corner, in the Midi Pyrenees! So we’ve got six weeks on the road, google maps recons the 1500km or so will take us 80 hours to cycle, but we thought we’d give ourselves a little bit longer just to be sure. And the whole point of our adventure is to take our time getting to know places, taking detours and getting a little bit lost – all part of the fun.
And there's always something to see

Campsites can be quite expensive, so our best option is wild camping. Unfortunately it’s impossible to find a pitching place that isn’t in view of someone’s house in the Netherlands, and it’s illegal… Luckily we discovered Paalkamperen sites, literally translated as pole camping, these are very basic free campsites usually found in forest with a water pump and room for a couple of tents.
Drying out after a night of thunder,  lightning and very painful hail stones
This campsite in the middle of a forest was hard to find, but we loved it
And of course the money saved on camping has to be spent on something else...
Rob cleans up nicely when we splurge on a B&B
We’ve found the Dutch to be very nice people, or perhaps the people we’ve met just feel sorry for us cycling with all our belongings in the rain… So far, we’ve been given a bottle of wine, a bottle of coke zero, the use of camping chairs and a free night in a B&B in Dordrecht where the lovely lady who runs it washed all our clothes, let us take over her basement to dry our tent and fed us lots of tasty food. Her equally lovely husband gave us his map collection for our onward journey through Belgium and France making Rob a very happy boy! And cycled with us for the first 10 minutes (and nearly came to France) to make sure we took the nicest route.

Next stop Belgium, beer, chips and chocolate here we come.

1 comment: