The Netherlands

Last one off the ferry (there were circumstances) and, incredibly, the Dutch immigration boys had left for the day. It was 8:00AM. I rolled around vast, confusing parking lots, fences, ramps, gates, buildings and overpasses as the sun rose (yes, at 8:00AM) until a maintenance man opened a gate for me. “Welkom,” was all he said.

All the cliches followed. Rainy. Flat. Clean. Orderly. Compact. Bicycles everywhere. Bike lanes, signals, signage, etc. Robust, red-cheeked bicyclists. Hothouses. Canals.

Between towns the miles were easy, with excellent signage. In town it was easy to get lost. Very lost. I made it to a hostel in The Hague, where a merry bunch of young vagabonds were staying, some overnight, some for a week awaiting school, some for weeks working there. Great session out back around a gas fire, great folks. I got into a chess game with Paul, a transplanted Brit. Quite fun, Paul, thanks for the lesson! Katia from Switzerland, Dominique from England, Peter, Kareem, Simon, Esther, Kate, Caroline from Montreal, Rebecca from Rhode Island, Bob and Dylan. Such great people. Especially Ola. Thank you, dear, for expanding my knowledge of Poland. Enjoy school. Then visit Vermont.

Next day, lost again at noon, Margaret pulled up next to me in fine style: wearing a dress, on a utility bike but a good one, and passing me. She has spent years on the road with husband and kids, now lives in a tiny town between The Hague and Amsterdam. She took over. First, a short detour to her house for coffee and sandwiches. Then off toward the sea, where my map (google) shows nothing, and hers (fietspadroute) shows the best of The Netherlands’ extensive “off the grid” bike path network, Fiets Pad, which is away from all roads and traffic except for occasional town sections. Miles and miles through the dunes, all thanks to Margaret.

Amsterdam was a blur. The amazing buildings, churches, canals, and bridges were easy to enjoy from the bike. I got a cheap room near the center, not far far from the red light district, in the middle of a giant party that’s been going on for decades. My bike stashed in the kitchen, I positioned myself on a bridge right below my room’s window, throngs walking by. It was slow, but after a couple of hours I made enough to feed myself for the weekend, if not pay for lodging. There were some anti-American remarks thrown my way.

Way late, couple of young toughs tried to grab my mandolin and tips; there was a scuffle, with my back to the railing and the canal below. I managed to stomp the lid of the mandolin case onto the little guy’s hand, and out-shove the other one and shout them both down. It was nearly the only applause I got all night.

Two nights in that town were enough. I headed south for a Warm Showers host, but spent so much time lost I didn’t make it. In a small town I saw a hotel and thought I’d ask. It was swank, but the dining room was empty. One half the price, and a hundred times nicer, than the dive in Amsterdam. Elegant dining, wine, deluxe double room, $44US. Still too much for me to sustain, but camping here is all but impossible, and it’s really, really nice to sleep dry, shower, and put on dry clothes in the morning.

I had been lost trying to follow complicated directions to a Warm Showers host, and stressed about time. So I thought, what if I just plan on finding another cheap hotel (replacing the stressful urgency to reach my host with a more distant, generalized money stress). Worked so far. I had a great ride today, nearly sixty miles with very little getting lost, since I was just heading south through the countryside.

Today was windy, cold–around 25F–and snowy. I’ve been riding in my Fedora since I lost my wool cycling hat first week out, and today was the first day I had to add a silk scarf for my ears. The rest of my weather gear works great. On these bike paths I didn’t pass many food places, so I ate rolls with butter and bananas in a bus stop shelter (from the wind) overlooking a working old-style windmill.

I found another cheap room just after dark in tiny Zevenbergen, and walked to the grocery. Food costs less here.

Lest you think this is all fun and games, it isn’t. It seems I spend every waking moment busy at some task. Packing and unpacking is endless. I get more e-mails than ever. Wound care is down to knuckles and ankle, but it takes time. Finding warm showers, navigating, food, bike work. It’s all I can do to cover forty miles and get eight hours’ sleep.

With that, I’ll post this and go to bed. Tomorrow I leave the Netherlands, the home of my ancestors. Snow is in the forecast.

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