Cycling in Holland

April 7-10, 1997

My boyfriend Simon went to a conference just outside of Eindhoven, Holland, and I thought that this was my opportunity for a cheap vacation. We would take his car (via the ferry), and the hotel room and ferry cost for two wouldn't be much more expensive than for one.

So we loaded up the car, put our touring bikes on the back, and drove to Harwich, a port on the east coast of England, and got on the ferry. The ferry is big, taking maybe a couple of hundred cars. The crossing (straight east across the North Sea) takes about 9 hours. But there are a variety of things to do on the ferry to keep you entertained. They have a restaurant, a couple of bars, a disco, a cafe, a duty-free shop, a couple of small theaters where they show videos with a projector, lots of seats scattered around, including seats on the deck outside. There are also a bunch of cabins, which are mainly useful on the night crossings, so you can sleep as you cross the water. We went out during the day ferry and back by night.

Monday the 7th of April was the first day of the conference. While Simon attended talks, I went into the nearby village and found the tourist office, where I bought a good map of the area and got recommendations for things to see. I didn't know any Dutch, but everyone there speaks English, so as long as you can find people to ask directions of, you're all right. While I was at the counter asking for advice from the ladies behind it, a guy came up and gave some suggestions too. I headed back to the hotel for lunch, then set out for a ride.

A bit on cycling in Holland. (Click here for some info on Holland from an insider.) It seems that everyone in Holland rides a bike, and most of the bikes are exactly the same style. There are cycle paths along all the but the smallest roads, and they are often separated by a curb from the main roadway. Even better yet, there are cycle paths not near any roads, which are especially pleasant and scenic. There seems to be cycle paths along a good portion of the major highways as well, so it's really easy to get around by bike. In addition, it's dead flat, so if you don't like hills, you're in cycling heaven.

The cycle paths range in pavement from smooth concrete to paving stones, which are like large bricks set next to each other. Some of the paths through forests were smooth dirt. The main problem I had with the cycle paths, especially the ones separated from the roadways by a curb, is that I felt that the cars didn't respect my right of way nearly as much. For example, I felt that most cars leaving or entering the roadway expected me to stop for them, while on a US roadway, I would clearly have right of way. (Even if some cars in the US don't recognize your right of way, it is your legal right and if you assert your rights, most will accept it.)

Another problem was turning left. Turing left into a side road in the US, I'd move to the left of the lane and wait for traffic coming the other way to clear, and I'd go, and cars coming my way would pass to the right of me. In Holland you are not allowed in the roadway if there's a cycle path, so you have to stop on the cycle path, and then wait for both lanes to clear before you go. this is a real pain. And if you're turning left at an interection with traffic lights, you have to go through the intersection, and then stop on the far side to wait until the lights change before you can cross the road you've just been going along to get to the cycle lane on the street you're turning on to.

At the traffic circles there are separate, clearly marked lanes for bikes, outside the lanes for cars, which is something I have seen nowhere else. Here in Cambridge, there are plenty of traffic circle (roundabouts) and cycle lands, but the cycle lanes end at the traffic circles, and you have to find your own way through. I just act as I would if I were driving a car, but some people are very nervous about doing this.

Anyway, on to my ride. I headed east, going on bike paths ("fietspad") through woods until I got to the Strabrechtse Heide. This is a dry sandy area. As I rode around I felt that I was in Africa... On my way back I stopped in a cafe on the edge of the woods and had a couple of cheese sandwiches. I managed about 50 miles that day.

The next day my goal was the Achelse Kluis, a monastary just over the border into Belgium, where they used to brew beer. Evidently they don't any more, but they have a good beer store and a cafe where you could try some of the beers. Being a big fan of beer, I thought this was a good idea. I went south to the village of Achel-Statie, where I looked around a bit and bought some bike food. They happily took my Dutch money. For some reason I didn't notice that the Achelse Kluis was actually on my map, so I asked directions, and then managed to get slightly lost. Finally, after asking directions from some fellow bikers (themselves clearly tourists) and locating Achelse Kluis on my map, I made it there safely.

I was disapointed to find out that the cafe was closed, so I couldn't drink beer there. Oh, well. I bought an ice cream at a van just outside the gates, and went to a neaerby cafe where I has some nice brown beer, and then I headed on.

I went north through the Leenderbos, a big woodsy area, and rode around the paths there for awhile. Eventually I headed back to the conference center, having done a bit over 40 miles for the day.

Coming back I felt an annoying twinge in my left elbow. I felt alot of this last year, and it had done much to keep me off the bike. I think it was mostly caused by typing too much and in a bad position. Anyway, it had mostly gone away. But for the past several weeks I hadn't been getting out cycling, telling myself that I'd be doing plenty of it in Holland. And so when I suddenly did over 90 miles in 2 days, my elbow was not happy.

So I decided to take a day off and go far a walk instead. I went north to a Parrot Park, where I fed the parrots seeds, and one of them mangaed to bite my finger, causing a small blood blister.

The next day the conference went only until about noon, so I went for a shortish ride to the area of woods north of Borkel Schaft. This was only a few miles west of where I'd been when visiting the Achelse Kluis. There were some big lakes here, with lots of birds, and it was a sunny warmish day, and I completely enjoyed the ride. I only did about 30 miles that day, but it was very enjoyable. Again I felt the annoyance in my left elbow. I'd have to be more careful in the future with it...

So in the end I had a very good time riding around while Simon attended talks. I found that I learned far more about the area than Simon, knowing much better what the people did (farming), what the soil was like (very sandy), what the natural areas looked like. I even learned a few words of Dutch (picking them up in context, in conversations and on road signs, and trying to comprehend tourist brocures).

I felt a bit ashamed of being a "conference wife", but my independence was pretty clear to people, as I spent my days cycling around, exploring the local area. Also, it was pretty clear that I knew a fair bit about the subject of the conference (asynchronous circuits), if anyone got into discussing techincal stuff.

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