Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon! Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter...

Saturday, 30 August 2014

(Bicycle Road Trip - Part 4) Oh...Enkhuizen, Pearl on the Zuiderzee!

Where Enkhuizen captures our heroine's Zen heart, two brave old ladies share their life stories, waves crash against a boat's windows, a train leaves too early and an old friend is embraced.

Having spent a really pleasant evening at Annette and Jan's, Tuesday dawned early. 
The fourth day of my bicycle road trip to Groningen (and back) started with a quick shower and an even quicker breakfast at the b&b. I was eager to get going.
After days of cycling Fietsje and I had fallen into a comfortable routine: a quick charge up of the battery at night (hers with the charger, mine with a glass of wine and my e-Reader) , and an early start.
Looking over my route, I had decided not to attempt the Afsluitdijk connecting Noord-Holland to Friesland (the wind had shifted and would be blowing straight into my face by now), but would cycle from Hoogkarspel to Enkhuizen instead, and there would board the ferry to Stavoren in Friesland. Jan had assured me it only took 75 minutes to get there, and my kms were easy-peasy that day. Not around 85, but only around 28.

Cycling merrily along, I got into my Zen mode. Reaching this state of being became easier by the day. My ordinary life at home, and my stressful-but-exciting life at school I could shed with no trouble at all. At home I was Mum, Wife, Secretary, Helper, Gardener, Washerwoman, Cleaner-cum-occasional-Housepainter, Justice-of-thePeace, Cook, Cat-Pleaser and Dog-Commander and General Peacekeeper.
On Fietsje I was simply Renée. And I LOVED it!

Enkhuizen beckoned. Following my knooppunten to the harbour (and the ferry) I was overcome with admiration. What a gorgeous town! The rain made it very quiet, so I could enjoy it all the better. I decided to buy my boarding pass first, and was told the ferry had left only 20 minutes ago. The next one was to leave at 12.30. Gulp! It was ten to nine...
Oh well, all the more time to enjoy Enkhuizen! But there was no guarded bicycle shed, so that meant taking Fietsje along. We wound our way through the Golden Age alleys and streets, and could have taken 100 photos (but didn't; my mobile was still protesting my every move).
But the rain got the better of me. Around 9.45 I was soaked to the skin again and squelching in my shoes. This made me feel cold.

Time to find a café that was open. I found one opposite the Drommedaris, the famous town tower.
"Do come in out of the rain and get warm," the friendly bargirl proposed. But I didn't dare leave Fietsje alone and chose to sit outside on the terrace, as had become my habit during this road trip.
"I'll put the terrace heater on for you," she said. Bless her heart!
A coffee, chocolate cake and a Beerenburger (from Wikipedia: In terms of alcoholic beverages, the region is renowned for its many bitters (such as Beerenburg) and other high-proof liquors) soon hit the right spot. And the heater dried out my hair and wet rain suit very nicely.

At 12.15 I was ready to board the ferry to Stavoren. Fietsje was the first one on (make a note of this, you'll need the info later), and I chose a spot near the window whilst the boat hand tied up my bike. An old lady from Steenbergen asked me politely if she could join me. Certainly!
Her life story was a fascinating one. 88 Years of age, she was still having her adventures around the Wetlands, travelling by train these days. And another lady (67), also cycling on her own, joined us as well.
We spent a very pleasant hour chatting about travelling solo, and how it enriched our lives. In the meantime the wind had shifted yet again, and had strengthened from an okay 3 to a raging 7.

The water was crashing against the window, and the assembled tourists, many of them German cyclists, became more and more quiet. I checked if Fietsje was still tied to the railings. She was. My 88 year old companion didn't bat an eyelid and ordered a beer. My other companion smiled at me and told me about a wonderful cyclists association. I watched the waves and thought about the Titanic. Cannot think why...

When we docked at Stavoren Fietsje was the last one to leave the ferry. Causing me to miss the train to Leeuwarden...
My cyclist companion Tilia had advised me to take the Arriva train, as there were thunder storms over Friesland and I would find no shelter at all. She did the same, getting off at Sneek.
So...we three spent another hour waiting for the next train on a windy, wet, deserted platform. But at least I had plenty of time to text my friend in Friesland that I was taking a train, instead of cycling towards her. She cheerfully told me to meet her at Leeuwarden station, and that we could travel to Zwaagwesteinde together. What fun!

It went off without a hitch. Taking Fietsje along on trains was a piece of cake (at least it was on the Arriva trains). I even remembered to check out. At Zwaagwesteinde my friend Tessa took her car; I took Fietsje.
Her neighbour Gerda helped me find Tessa in her out-of-the-way nature reserve, and I met Tessa's cat Tommy for the first time. (People reading my blogs more often know that this counts as a major event in my life).

Another goal reached!
When I sat drinking great whisky with Rein and Tessa (tea!) that evening, I realised I was having the time of my life.

My tip for wanna-be knooppunten cyclistst: do not get tempted to let your bicycle be the first one on a ferry!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

(Bicycle Road Trip - Part 3) Who Will Pay the Ferryman?

In which our heroine almost collapses, the ferryman is grumpy, the sheep are smart and Hoorn is crowded.

Waking up on Monday morning, day 3 of my Bicycle Road Trip to Groningen - and - back, took no effort at all. My internal alarm clock went off at 6 am sharp.
I had ordered breakfast for 7.30, so had plenty of time to pack my Lidl bags and go over my route for the day. My mobile was holding up, although it did need yet another power transfusion and made funny noises. My bike battery charger worked perfectly though. And the knooppunten map had dried up, crinkly.

The hotel lady served me my breakfast in an empty restaurant, telling me yet again that I was lucky to have the last room. Yeah, right! All those people had not stayed the night, but had returned to Amsterdam where they had come from in the first place.
I was on my bike before she knew it. Wormer was just as depressing as the night before, although I did pass a lot of pretty houses.

I crossed the river by bridge and cycled into the Beemster polder. "Nothing but sheep", the man in the bar had told me the night before, and he was correct.
They were everywhere, with their backs turned towards the wind (still force 7) and rain (still lashing merrily), or watching me impassively.
My knooppunten led me past gorgeous farms, and through tiny hamlets, where the only living creatures awake were the sheep and some dogs.

When I neared the hamlet of Jisp, I needed to cross the river. The ferry was moored on the other side, though.

Waiting awhile, I idly watched a young girl pushing a trolly filled with leaflets along the dyke, until she had reached me and stopped.
"Hi, when is the ferry due?"
"You have to do it yourself," she explained with a big smile.
I beg your pardon?
She made me walk around the sign, and sure enough, there was a blue flywheel with instructions for drawing in the ferry.

'Push down the foot pedal and turn the wheel clockwise'.
It was connected to the ferry via a chain, and would draw it in. Now, normally, this would be done in balmy weather without wind, I'm sure. I had to do it against wind force 7 blowing that ferry down river away from me.
By the time I had it halfway, I had to rest. By the time I had it at my side, I was winded, sweating like a horse and exhausted. I wheeled Fietsje onto the ferry, and frowned at the two winches. See, they were expecting you to do this with two people! Not true, one was for one direction. The other for my direction.
I truly hope you appreciate the effort and hardship I had to endure to pursue my road trip!!! When I was at the other side of that river, I almost puked.

My map showed the next ferry in a short while, and I cycled towards the Jan Hop ferry with great trepidation. It being a Monday, and it being the Beemster, obviously the ferry café was closed. I wasn't even surprised by this time. No coffee for me and Fietsje.

But: there was a ship bell! I could ring that bell! It would summon the ferryman! Man, what a relief.
Ringing that bell was the highlight of my morning. Across the water an old man came out of a door in a little wooden blue-painted hut, and walked to the motorised ferry. He put-puttet to me, and tied up at the landing. One Euro to cross over. I would have paid ten.
He was grumpy, my ferryman. No nice chat about where I was heading. So we crossed the river in silence.

And on I cycled. The next hurdle was the Noord-Hollands Kanaal, connecting the North Sea with the IJsselmeer or Zuiderzee (the old-fashioned name I prefer). I had feverishly looked up the ferry times, afraid that this ferry would not sail on a Monday in the Beemster, but it was huge and even took buses, so it sailed. It took its time arriving though, so I had the time to have a pee and a sandwich to get my strength up in the ferry café.

My next destination was the old port of Hoorn, famous for its merchant ships in the Golden Age. Because of my early start in Wormer, I reached Hoorn around 10 am.
 I had expected a sleepy pretty town; I got a heaving steaming reeking Summer Fair, with so many people drinking in the café's and bars that they spilled out into the rain onto the pavements. No one cared. It was mayhem.

Yep. You saw this coming: my knooppunten had disappeared behind fair stalls selling trash and trinkets, and I got lost - again. After trying to find my way for half an hour, I gave up and parked Fietsje next to a café terrace. I ordered a tea and a kroket sandwich. I got a coffee. Sent it back. Got two kroket sandwiches. Sent one back. Got the bill: for a coke, a tea and two sandwiches. Sent it back. Got the proper bill, with apologies. Accepted. Left.
When I spotted two policemen, I asked directions to the outskirts of Hoorn. They apologised, were strangers to Hoorn themselves, only drafted in to manage the Fair crowd, but if I wanted to walk with them to their meeting point, I was welcome. Perhaps someone there would know which way I should go.
So Fietsje and I were escorted to some street corner milling with policemen drinking coffee from plastic cups, getting some hoots from the revelers on the pavements. Fietsje, new to hoots, didn't like it one bit.
But: justice! Behind one of the police cars I spotted a knooppunten Knooppunt. Hurray, I was saved!

The gorgeous town gate was the last thing I saw of Hoorn when I sped away, vowing I will return some day to have a proper look at the town, preferably not in the 3rd week of August.

The rest of my trip to Hoogkarspel was wet and uneventful. I dropped off my gear at my b&b and reunited with a niece-once-removed from my husband, and an extremely nice time was had by all.

My tip for wanna-be knooppunten cyclists: make certain you have had a good breakfast before you attempt a do-it-yourself ferry!

(Bicycle Road Trip - Part 2) Flying through the Wetlands!

Where we meet the first of many old men, our heroine fears she will sleep in an asylum, a hotel keeper is having delusions and a pizza saves the day.

On the first day of my road trip I had cycled 87 km. Wow. I was quietly proud of myself.
On the Sunday, the second day of my road trip, it was raining. And not only that: the weatherman on the TV predicted wind force 7. 
So I bolted my breakfast, packed my bags and around 8.15 am wheeled my bike (which by now I had named 'Fietsje', as it was my only mate at the time) with difficulty from the lock-up where it had made many friends overnight. It was surrounded by hotel tour bikes which had been tossed in willy-nilly, no doubt by disgusted fellow cyclists coming back from the fireworks show through the driving rain the night before.

My knooppunten route took me through stunning wetlands. Now I saw firsthand why my own name for my country is absolutely spot-on. I was surrounded by very low-lying meadows with waterways, lakes, streams, rivers and all the waterfowl that come with all that water. A falcon watched me from above and a kestrel wheeled away from me only moments later. And there were waterlilies everywhere.

The wind was southerly, and let me tell you, with wind force 7 at your back, you feel as if you are flying! 
The night before, when watching the weather forecast on TV, I had decided to stop thinking about the ever-present rain. No point whatsoever. It would be raining all week. So what?
So I concentrated on the landscape, on the knooppunten, on not crashing Fietsje at sudden twists and turns and on the sodden villages I sometimes had to ride through.

The Haarlemmermeer, on a Sunday, is closed.
It was an effort to find a caff that was open, for a pee and a much needed coffee. But when I did find one around lunch time, it was a cozy one at a ferry crossing, with a friendly chubby cat and an old man, who watched me and Fietsje with interest, and came up for a chat.
"You going far?" he enquired.
"At least past Amsterdam, towards Zaanstad," I answered.
He gazed past me out of the window, at the rain being blown almost horizontally.
"Good luck. Make sure you stay on the right side of the river."
No worries. My knooppunten system led me along the river Zaan very nicely.

So far I could stay on the right side, no need to use one of the numerous ferries.
On I cycled, driven by the wind, lashed by the rain, through an empty landscape with only some boats keeping me company from time to time.

Around 3 pm, I noticed my back getting wet. So far my rain suit had kept me dry, but that was suddenly a comfort of the past. And not only did I get wet, and were my feet swimming in my sodden shoes, but my mobile phone had got wet as well. It gave one last buzzing sound and then quietly died.
This caused a sharp stab of panic. No phone, no contact with the home front, no photos and no means of finding a bed for the night. Damn!
I passed the outskirts of Krommenie, along depressing factories with forgotten names in peeling paint, "Lassie" (of the rice) the only one I knew. Krommenie was closed as well. But after cycling through what passed as its centre (closed), I spotted a bar. Five men were watching a huge flatscreen and drinking beer.
Their eyes swiveled from the football to me dripping onto the flagstones, and they all burst out laughing.
"Wet enough for you?"
"I am soaked, my mobile is soaked and everything is closed and I need a bed for the night. Do you know any hotels around here?"
They were very helpful. One looked up b&bs through Google, but both were booked. The other looked for hotels, and found one in the next village, Wormer. He talked me out of cycling on through the Beemster, "nothing but sheep!" and gave me directions to Wormer.

15 Minutes later I stopped in front of a sixties barrack with a huge glass front, and my mouth fell open. The lobby was milling with dark skinned people, some of whom were in traditional clothing. Oh my! He had directed me to an asylum centre. My cold feet told me not to be such a wuzz, and I went in.
Five minutes later I had a room, absolutely the last one available so the lady said. I couldn't care less. I took a hot shower, had a little snooze and around 6 pm was feeling peckish. So down the stairs I went, to ask for the restaurant.
"It's Sunday", the lady said.
Erm...I knew that...
"We do not serve food on Sunday", the lady said. "But aren't you glad to have the last available room!"

Long story short, I had to walk in to Wormer, in the hope of getting some food, somewhere. After a quarter of an hour, getting a bit desperate, I spied a pizza courier on a moped, coming towards me. So I jumped out in front of him, waving my arms.
"All the pizzas are ordered, mrs," the boy said.
"I don't care, where is your restaurant?"
He gave me directions and sped away. The pizzeria was full of people, all waiting for their ordered pizza to take away. On my right was a door, with 'restaurant' on it. I went in, glad that I was spared eating my pizza in the bus shelter. It had 25 tables. It was empty.
"What do you want?", panted the girl, droplets of perspiration on her forehead.
How about a pizza???
"I am rushed off my feet!", she said almost angrily.
Hah! Here my training with youngsters came in handy. Soothingly I told her no rush, just give me a glass of wine and I'll wait until you have time to serve me.
It took her approx. twenty minutes, but then I got her full undivided attention. She plonked down at my table, and happily told me the crowd had gone, and I could order anything I liked.
One delicious pizza, a green salad and two glasses of red wine set me back €12,50, a bargain!!

Afterwards I fled up the stairs to my room, the lady at the counter once again shouting after me that I was sooooo lucky to have the last room available!
It took all night to dry out my knooppunten map. But my mobile spluttered back to life...yay!

My tip for wanna-be knooppunten cyclists: do NOT let your smartphone get wet!!!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

(Bicycle Road Trip - part 1) Prep, prep, prep...rain,rain,rain...

Planning a cycling adventure whilst it is pouring with rain, does have an atmosphere all to itself...
Still, we have a saying in the Wetlands: 

(S)he who says A, should say B as well...

So: ignoring that special wet atmosphere and the echoes of nagging thoughts like "you fat idiot" and "you must be joking" and putting positive thoughts in their place like "it is an adventure", "you've always loved to cycle" and "staying at home and watching the rain is boring", I had packed my two plastic Lidl bags (ready to be inserted into my brand new bike bags) and had mapped the first day of my route (knooppunten system).

What did I pack?

- a track suit from my long past tennis days (slightly too small)
- a rain cycling suit (seemed wise)
- 2 t-shirts
- 2 cycling shirts (one of which I will wear at a time)
- my padded cycling shorts (which I will wear, so technically they weren't packed but laid out)
- a legging and t-thirt for sleeping in
- a cardigan
- a pretty smock (you never know where I would end up)
- underwear (always handy)
- long pants
- warm socks
- toothbrush etcetera (little etcetera!)
- my knooppunten maps
- my mobile, broken as it was...
- my mobile charger
- my e-Reader (absolutely essential!) with 3 new novels
- sunglasses (well...always the optimist)
- credit card
- phone numbers for the people I wanted to visit
- bug spray (they love me) + anti itch salve
- my e-bike battery charger
- energy bars
- energy drink
- mints
- Paracetamol sups

I was looking forward to it, but was apprehensive in a major way at the same time; because of the weather and because, of all times, I was having trouble with my back.
I hoped it was because of standing in the North wind at the tennis courts, and that it would pass. But I slept very badly, I can tell you.

Saturday morning, at 6 am, I was itching to go albeit drugged up with Paracetamol. I had packed my bike, glad of the help my husband Theo gave me with fixing the knooppunten route holder (aptly named ' Bikepointer' by the ANWB) onto my handle bars. After a last cup of coffee and a kiss on the head of my still sleeping kids, I hugged my husband and turned onto the cycle path near my home. It was dry!

Five minutes later, it was raining. Rain wasn't the proper name for that wetness - it was a cold lashing shower.
My first lap was via the ferry at Rozenburg to Maassluis, and then through the greenhouse-filled Westland to The Hague.

At the ferry quay, I shared a dripping tree with the mailman, also dripping, and two youngsters with their hair plastered to their heads. We told each other it was a great day for cycling, in the manner of people who are trying to keep their spirits up.  They were going into Maassluis, and were awed when I nonchalantly told them I intended to reach at least The Hague that day. 
When I paid for my ticket on the ferry the ferryman grinned and told me I was bonkers to be out in this weather. As if I didn't know.
Which reminded me of an Irishwoman, Maira, who told me years ago that she always  ignored the Irish rain, since she might as well have dug her grave if she let herself be stopped by it.
Hey there, Maira, was determined to think of you whenever the non-stop rain threatened to dampen my spirits!

From Maassluis I swiftly raced to Schipluiden, where I had a quiet biological coffee and almond cake and a pee, and then on to Delft, where I promptly got lost. Due to road works my knooppunten had been removed or covered up, and it took me ages to find them back again. Delft on a Saturday, when you are trying to find your way, is not a good place to cycle. But I did manage to get to the outskirts, where I reconnected to my knooppunten system. Hurray!

I had envisaged a stop in Wassenaar (the posh seaside part of The Hague where our King and lovely Queen Maxima have their residence) for the first night. Well, was I making a mistake!  The annual fireworks show was on in Wassenaar/Scheveningen and all the b&bs and hotels were full.

Now, you could argue that I was a fool for not booking a bed in advance, but hey, not booking made it a much better adventure! So there!

So I cycled on, to Leiden (another one-and-a-half hours, groan; my bum was making its presence felt) where I treated myself to an expensive but luxurious room with a view at a Van der Valk Hotel. It came with a bubble bath and bath salts, yay! And, not un-importantly, with a lock-up for my bicycle. 
After bubbling away my threatening muscles ache and my ever present backache, I took a short wet walk, and then went and had dinner at the hotel. It was lovely. The mussels and Chardonnay were great, the waitresses were sweet to me, the restaurant was warm and cozy and filled with happy people, and around 21.00 my eyes started to droop so I took myself off to my room, after admiring my view one last time.

The first day over, I tried to ignore my aching back and read a couple of pages in The Luminaries. But somehow the adventures in Hokitika took a backseat to my own adventures, so after rinsing out my special bike t-shirt and hanging it over the radiator to drip dry, I decided to plan my knooppunten route for the next day.

My tip for wanna-be knooppunten cyclists: pick a dry week!

Monday, 25 August 2014

The 17th Ity - Generosity. (And books)

Almost done, followers of the swami! I wonder how you have been faring with the 18 Ities. It has been fun, but also hard sometimes. It has made me reflect, at least, and I have had a laugh at most.

Generous people have my admiration.
Some are generous with their time (good!), some with their money (nice!) some with their love (best!!!), and some have such generous ideas that I think 'now why didn't I think of that?'.

I have no idea who started with this, who had the generosity to think of it, but somewhere someone started spreading books around.

When I was in Amsterdam a week ago, we came upon an outside window sill which had a bunch of books on it and a card in the window: feel free to take one.
And last week I came across this  sweet little house on a street corner in Enkhuizen with a stack of books in it. Again - for free. The only 'rule' (if you want to call it that) was that if you took a book out, they asked you to put another one in.

What a great idea! It inspired me to start a little spreading around of my own. Now, whenever I buy a cheapish (but good) paperback, I pass it on. And I ask the person I give it to, to pass it on themselves. Most people react surprised but happy, and promise to do so.

And it doesn't have to be books, it could be anything really.
Generosity. Such FUN!