Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tire trouble

Stayed last night at F.o.d.F. home in Maastricht. Homeowner is, I think, very interesting person but language is a bit of a barrier. Her cat ('Cheese') rules the roost... large, imperious, friendly. Three other groups of travelers here, so breakfast was very sociable! And ran into another guest last night at local Chinese restaurant, had dinner together, and a very enjoyable and wide-ranging conversation.

Rode out this morning towards the south, with thought of possibly visiting Margraten. Did not pan out as expected, but that is part of the fun.

A few miles out, bike went from a nice smooth ride to making "lumpity lumpity" noises. Little bumps, felt almost like there was chewing gum stuck to the back wheel. Took a quick look, no chewing gum, rode on. Problem did not go away, so I flipped bike over to take a closer look.

Rear tire has a nasty bulge, reminscent of a goiter. Tire is in the process of a major failure! Let out some pressure, limped back to town, and spent a nice day on foot.

Psychologically interesting. When I flipped the bike -- my constant companion and reliable ride for the past few weeks -- over and spotted the bulging tire, it felt something like I imagine looking at one's own foot and realizing the big toe is gangrenous might. Well, probably not as bad as that... but not a good feeling all the same! The problem is serious, and cannot be ignored -- but you would really, really like to pretend it was not happening.

Spent a few hours visiting bike shops here today (there are worse ways to spend a nice Saturday!). Unfortunately, the reality of riding an "exotic" is... kiss the idea of spare parts goodbye. Soonest I could get a replacement tire would be 3 days from now, maybe.

Good news is that I know of one replacement tire... back at C/G/J's in Amsterdam. And I needed to head back that direction soon anyway, to start preparing for flight home on Thursday. This blow-out will just point me back there a day or so sooner.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Personal Spa

Splurged on a nice B&B in Maastricht.

Here is what sealed the deal: my own personal spa. Full stretch-out length, almost eyeballs deep, with ample hot water, and a view out over park across the street.

Worth every penny!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hopes dashed

Travelling on a folding bicycle, I found this an exceptionally interesting sign. Was disappointed to find that "Folderservice" translates basically as "directory service".

Had hoped that I might get my very dusty bike washed!

Dutch pragmatism

The Netherlands has a very pragmatic culture. Pragmatic solutions surface everywhere. Here is an interesting example, which includes both commerce (the lifeblood of the Netherlands) and the concept of 'victimless crime' (understood as a nonsensical idea in the Netherlands).

I cycled through Venlo this week, a Dutch city very close to the German border, and stopped for a nice lunch. Googled "Venlo" while I was there, to learn a bit about it -- Wikipedia is a great resource!

Lots of interesting info, including a terrific example of pragmatism in action.

As I mentioned, Venlo lies very close to the border with Germany. The Dutch have a complex relationship with the Germans, but certainly value them as trading partners, and would prefer not to lose their business.

In the late 1990s the government of Venlo decided that the coffee shops had created "a drug-related nuisance" in the beautiful downtown square (I think this translates roughly as "too many stoned Germans"). Pragmatic solution: they rezoned, and moved the coffee shops to the outskirts of town -- specifically, to a rest stop on the highway to Germany! From Wikipedia entry:
"This was a win-win solution, as the town was freed from disturbances and the coffee shops are now even closer to the expressways. Since Germany prohibits the sale and ownership of soft-drugs (weed), her citizens cross the nearby border in order to acquire substances unavailable in their own country. Venlo is connected to Germany by two motorways... allowing for citizens of Germany's largest metropolitan area to travel there in about 30 minutes."

I am an American on a bike not a German in a car, so this study in pragmatism is presented only for its academic interest.

(PS -- I've seen interesting examples here of cultural adaption and 'cross-pollenization'. For example -- the McDonalds in downtown Maastricht has stained glass windows and outdoor cafe seating. I wonder if the opposite holds true -- did the rest-stop 'coffee shops' adopt drive-thru lanes?)

Walking in Maastricht

Back in Maastricht and taking a day off from cycling.

Actually, I did cycle a bit but quickly gave it up in favor of walking. One great thing about Maastrict is that much of the downtown is available only to pedestrians and cyclists -- closed to cars! And the downtown is paved in cobblestones. Cobblestones make for pretty roads and good walking, but are not so great for cycling. In fact, after a few minutes of riding with small wheels and high-pressure tires, I stopped to check that my fillings were still in place.

Great walking city!

Came into town yesterday evening in the rain, but today is much nicer -- could even be zero precipitation day.

Nijmegen claims to be the oldest city in the Netherlands, but I have my doubts. Maastricht has been around for a very long while.

Favorite Church

Books play a big part in religion. Loosely speaking, three major modern religions -- Judaism, Islam, and Christianity -- have in common two key things: monotheism, and belief systems based upon truths revealed in their holy books -- the Torah, Qur'an, and Bible.

In the secular world, libraries and bookstores are churches to some.

I don't spend much time in church, but I am big on bookstores and libraries.

Just finished the Salander trilogy. The third book is great, and concludes with Salander grappling with how to behave as a free citizen and member of society. If you are reading the series, rest assured, she remains creative in her solutions!

Anyway, that left me in a tight spot. I had one paperback potboiler in my bag but when I started it... I realized that I had read it previously. Re-reading it wasn't high on my list.

So I looked for a bookstore here in Maastricht, and found something wonderful: a beautiful old Dominican church reconstituted as a bookstore. Sounds strange, but boy does it work! Even including a coffee bar inside, and a great sidewalk cafe next door. (Borders and Starbucks, pay attention!)

Had what looked like a great collection in Dutch, in addition to a good collection in English. Did a quick quality survey of the collection: included Catch-22 (two copies), Time Traveler's Wife, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Shadow of the Wind, Through the Looking Glass, etc. Not bad! Was pleased to see that they devoted almost no space to Don DeLillo. Whoever is doing their buying is doing a great job.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Seeking a balanced approach

Cycling the countryside is not just about covering the kilometers!

A footloose fietser begins post-prandial meditation, somewhere south of Roermond... 'penciling it' in the shade!

Southern LF3 Route: Grevenblicht > Roermond > Velden > Afferden > Nijmegen

Five wonderful days riding the LF3 route in the Maas valley.

Weather has been good to great. Two days were t-shirt and shorts cycling, others only added a light fleece. Rain jacket is somewhere way down in the bottom of the pack... but I can get to it fast in a pinch if needed! I'm told weather is going to get cooler, cloudier, but little or no rain expected next couple days. Haven't seen a long-term forecast myself -- internet connections have been hard to find in the country.

On the Velden to Afferden day... weather was good, but with constant, heavy headwind. Didn't really need a map. If someone had told me in the morning "at any intersection, just take the road that leads most directly into the wind and you can't miss Afferden", navigation would have been simple. Wind was steady from the NNW. I was riding up from the SSE. Would have gladly traded wheels for a motorcycle. Wind calmed down the next day.

Used GPS map system for the first couple days, then began just following the LF3 and Knooppunt route signage and winging it. Very liberating feeling! The signage is mostly great, but you do find a junction now and then where the "which way?" answer is absolutely unclear. Guess wrong, and the worst that can happen (so far) is that you get to ride a few extra miles until you realize and can sort out the mistake. My sense right now is that you cannot get truly lost in the Netherlands. You can get badly confused, but not truly lost.

Nice to see Nijmegen again, without the pouring rain. Oldest city in Netherlands, and a good one for walking. Had an interesting conversation with waiter at neighborhood cafe last night. He understood 'footloose fietser' concept immediately, said the Dutch have a word for it -- just seeing what the day brings. Learning Dutch bit by bit -- previous nights host taught me the Dutch equivalent of carpe diem: pluk de dag, which is pronounced more or less like "pluck the duck". At this rate, I'd be fluent in 50 years more or less.

I was so eager to ride LF3 route that I left Maastricht too soon -- everyone I talk with seems to agree on this! So I'm going to head back, either today or tomorrow, and spend a few days enjoying the city, doing bike day-trips from there, and taking advantage of Rogier's advice. Will take the train back to Maastricht from Nijmegen. It is going to feel strange to cover in just a few hours a distance that took me five days cycling!

Maastrict > Grevenblicht ~50km
Grevenblicht > Roermond 48km
Roermond > Velden 52km
Velden > Afferden 59km
Afferden > Nijmegen 51km

Four weeks on the road: time for a Checkup

Feet and legs are doing great. No blisters, and the legs just keep pumping.

Sit bones and saddle have reached an accommodation, neither bothers to complain any longer.

Psyche is good. For the occasional low (lost... well, confused... and tired, while riding into wind) there are multiple highs (spotting a stork atop a church chimney, a good espresso at a cafe stop, interesting conversations with friendly strangers, hot shower at the end of a ride, 'old master' countryside... the list is almost endless).

Mild problem with a knot in one shoulder for past few days, but drugstores opened again Tuesday after a 3-day holiday... and Naprosyn is a wonder drug!

Gear is all holding up very well. No mechanical problems. Total maintenance has been a few drops of oil, topping up tire pressure, recharging batteries.

A couple days ago, I had reached the point of "hey, this is great but beam me home now." Something changed (realization that I actually will be heading home in a week?), and I'm back in the moment and feeling different. Would love to see Katie, Vinnie, soak in the hot tub and sleep in my own bed... but there is still so much I'd like to see here, and by my best estimate I've ridden less than 2% of the Netherlands bicycle paths...

Life is good, having a great time, had to pull my belt in a notch yesterday despite all the good eating... but had to let it back out today, as the good eating caught up!

Vrienden op de Fiets

Cannot speak highly enough of Friends of the Bicycle (Vrienden op de Fiets) network.

Nearly 4000 individuals or families in the Netherlands and Belgium who make space available in their homes for touring cyclists.

Hot shower, clean bed, good breakfast and great company -- for 18.50 Euro. Less than $25.00.

I've spent the last five nights with members, who have been unbelievably gracious in welcoming a sweaty, dirty stranger into their homes.

The people have been kind, interesting, and interested. The places have been quiet and relaxed, in terrific locations.

At breakfast the first day, I watched a wild pheasant browsing in the back field. That evening, I received an education in the hydraulics of the 1972 Citroen, a car way ahead of its time. Next day, discussed Greek mythology and Dutch housing construction. One night, planned out a possible itinerary for the coming week with a fietser who is leaving soon for a cycling holiday in France.

Huge thank you to Ria, Bert, Carla, Mieke, Hanneke and all the other members of V.o.d.F !


Pannekoeke... loosely translated from Dutch to English is Pancake.

In the pantheon of the gods of the table, Pannekoeke is the love child of the goddess Omelette and the hero Pizza. Inherited personality from mom, shape from dad.

Ride 20 miles then try a Bacon, Mushroom, Leek and Cheese pannekoeke from De Pannekoekenbakker cafe. Let me know what you think.

Why oh why are these not available in U.S.?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mooie fiets!

Taking break along LF3, beside the Maas... online courtesy of an unsecured network ;-)

It strikes me that the Dutch are to bicycles as the Comanche were to horses: expert on, inseparable from, notorious thieves of, etc.

There has been a lot of interest in my bike -- it is an exotic here.

Three unsolicited representative conversations:

First, with an older gentleman who stopped me in Maastricht. He had recently purchased a folder, and wasn't really happy with the riding positions it afforded. He was intrigued that my bike folded, but also managed handlebars high enough to provide a comfortable, upright riding position. Bike Friday may receive an order from the Netherlands.

Second, with my host and his teenage son in Maastricht. Dad could not believe I was touring on a commute bicycle. Son was maybe 16, knew his bicycles cold, and set his dad straight. Son said more or less: "this is a very special bike, it is made by a small marque in the United States, it has lots of gears and is faster than it looks." If son keeps up his pitch, Bike Friday may receive a second order from the Netherlands.

And finally, a few minutes ago as I waited with a group of cyclists to cross the river by ferry, the most concise and telling opinion. From a 10-year-old kid cycling with his family: "Mooie fiets!"

In English: "Nice bike!"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Easy Rider

Bike is now better configured for touring. I've shed load in multiple stages, am getting better at doing with less... in exchange for hauling less along! This setup works well.

Left Pannier: 1.5 changes of clothing, soap, razor, etc.
Right Pannier: electronics, paperback, misc.
Handlebar bag: camera, sunglasses, map.
Small stuff-sack: a fleece jacket.
Small backpack: rain jacket and lunch.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maastricht to Grevenblicht... two different worlds

Thought about riding to Margraten, but if I make that visit, I'd like to do it on Memorial day. Thought about riding to Aachen, to see the cathedral where Charlemagne was crowned -- it is supposed to be exceptional. But the cycling weather is beautiful, and I decided to simply head north along LF3 and the Maas river valley. Picked a destination almost at random: Grevenblicht.

Maastricht was nice -- a clean, prosperous city (though I don't completely understand the prosperity, as the economy seems to be based solely on people sitting in the sun at cafes). Austere streets of brick houses, but the backyards are a surprise: owner of B&B I stayed in has 5 sheep in his backyard, inside Maastricht city limits!

Navigated my way out of town, feeling pretty cocky -- I looked at a map, said "I know that street", and cycled off. And by and large, that was how the day went: if the path looked good and it headed more or less north, I took it.

Distance from start to finish by a direct route is probably 25 kilometers. As I rode, it was a bit more than 35.

Much of the cycling was along LF3 -- "long distance cycling route 3". That name gives an impression of some sort of bicycle freeway, but nothing could be further from the truth. Route was made up of dirt roads, gravel paths, small streets, and sections of beautiful paved "road"... just 24 inches across! Literally, two bikes could pass but it was dicey... so more common for one rider to stop, pull over, let the other by with a wave. (My shoe shown for scale, on bike 'highway'.)

How busy was it? I stopped from time to time, and sat for up to 10 minutes without seeing another cyclist go by.

The Maas is lovely, a twisting, turning, slow-flowing river with a bit of barge traffic.

Grevenblicht is a picture perfect little village, a place I could imagine living. I'm staying the night at a sort of B&B... really, a room in someone's home... that is part of the "Vrienden op de Fiets" or "Friends of the Bicycle" network. 3700 of these in Belgium and the Netherlands, very reasonably priced (~20 euro), and so far terrific.

Strangest siting of the day: 3 kangaroos, in a back garden here.

Asked my hostess for her recommendation for a place for dinner. Her reply: "... there is a Dutch restaurant, but it is overpriced... there is a Chinese restaurant, but it is not so good... and there is a good Friture, you should go there". So I did. And it WAS good! "Frites Sataysauce": fries with peanut butter! Just the ticket after a ride.

Spent some time after dinner working on a Dutch crossword puzzle. A zen exercise, but I did manage to fill in 5 words.

Final photo... is view from my bedroom window.

Change Day is Tough Day

Sunrise this time of year is ~4:30 a.m. The roosters start a little before sunrise.

We got up ~5:30 Wednesday, to be ready for a 6:30 taxi to start K's travel back to California.

Everybody knows this is true: you NEVER sleep well when you have to meet a taxi at 6:30. So, neither of us slept particularly well.

Taxi was on time, and all went well, except for minor glitch at Ede station. Ticket machines wouldn't take what we had available, so we had to wait a few minutes for main office to open so we could trade cash for tix. No big deal. Caught train to Schiphol in plenty of time for K to make her flight. I went with her to airport.

Hard part... was at the airport. Katie was 90% ready to blow off reservations and stay here with me... I was 90% ready to buy a ticket and head home with her. K said something very, very kind: "You'll have a great time for the next couple weeks." And she headed to check-in, I headed back to the trains. But not without some tears in the process. Kissing sweetheart goodbye is rough.

Made it to Maastricht via a couple train connections.

Maastricht seems like a nice town. A few days ago we were freezing in Den Helder (far north-west Netherlands), now I'm in the far south-east and weather is great. Maastricht is a prosperous town in a sliver of Netherlands sandwiched between Belgium and Germany... would love to know how it came to pass that this town is part of Netherlands. Maybe can find out tomorrow.

Friendly reception here at B&B. Spent time sitting in the sun with proprietor, who lent me maps, guidebooks and advice.

For some reason, I focused on cars this afternoon. There are a lot of small, quality, diesel-powered cars here. Seems to me that they'd be a hit in California, but... CARB and Detroit have other thoughts.

No internet connection, apparently a problem with service provider, so I'll post this next time I get a connection.

(PS -- Big event tonight is laundry! The rags are rank.)

Monday and Tuesday of this week...

Great days Monday and Tuesday...

Katie and I left G&C&J's place in Amsterdam Monday morning, after a really nice weekend visit. (Garrett by the way is a killer cook, though I don't think he realizes it. Shrimp tacos, pork cutlets, tuna steaks, mango salad ... between Garrett and Ron, I'm barely staying even on the scale despite beaucoup biking miles!)

We walked together over to the #15 bus stop, and said a temporary goodbye: K took the bus to Amsterdam Zuid station, I rode my bike. Easy ride, and I was waiting for Katie at the station when she arrived. Bike ride felt very short, wondering why: knew the route? better weather? in better shape after couple weeks of riding? Who knows. Anyway, we met "by the fish" at the station, got our tix to Ede Waginegen, hopped the train.

Ede is closest stop to Otterlo, which is closest village to Kroller-Muller / Hoge-Vulewe. Katie mentioned to me while I was planning trip: "if you come across anything really nice before I arrive, maybe we could spend a day there before I leave."
We could do anything for the couple days until Katie had to catch her plane home, and we chose to return to Otterlo / K-M museum, H-V park.

Took taxi from Ede to Otterlo, checked in at Houtekamp B&B, said hi to the dog / rabbits / chickens / peacocks / cows / sheep / goats (hope I didn't omit anyone...), then spent two wonderful days cycling and walking.

Weather was prime. Fries were good. Thirty kilometers on bikes more or less, just noodling around in Hoge-Vulewe and on little trails in and around Otterlo, plus a few kilometers walking.

Saw the stag again, late evening on Monday, wonderful!

Watered and fed the rabbits.

Watched the peacock try to interest the peahen in some hanky-panky, and can only say WOW. Peacocks pull out all the stops, guys. Serious 'hey look at me! let's have some fun!' display. He looked like he belonged in Mummers' parade.

Set the alarm for Wednesday morning. Early pick-up, to get K to the airport.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Language studies

A terrific thing about travel is the opportunity it affords for exposure to other cultures and languages.

Our bike/barge trip was a prime example. Interesting people from six countries (Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the United States) had the opportunity to interact during an active week.

Together, we learned that while languages may differ, some experiences are universal.

ITALIAN: "Aio, mi fa male il culo!"
"Oh, my aching ass!"
DUTCH: "Au, mijn gat doet pijn!"
GERMAN: "Ach -- mein 'orsh' dut weh!"

Musical Chairs

The Dutch say their weather is "changeable".

Yesterday Katie and I sat down at a cafe for a late lunch on a sunny afternoon.

Sat first at a table in the shade of a big tree, and placed our order. Enjoyed that table for a while, but it turned out to be a bit cold since we were just sitting.

So we moved to a nearby table, in full sun. Was lovely and warm, sunglasses time. Received our lunch.

A light drizzle began. It became a shower. In turn, the shower became a rain, which became a downpour. At about the shower stage, we changed tables again to sit under an umbrella.

Enjoyed our dry lunch, and a coffee.

As Cathleen said: "... pretty much every day in Holland involves some kind of precipitation event."

Back in Otterlo, so we can enjoy the Kroller-Muller together before Katie flies home tomorrow.

Multi-modal transport day yesterday: bus, bike, train, taxi, foot.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Not all museums are created equal

One of the pleasures of the Netherlands is its museums.
Almost every small town seems to have a good museum or two, usually staffed by knowledgeable and pleasant volunteers, and sometimes with a very arcane focus. Well worth seeking out when you take a break from cycling. And the large towns have great museums!

And I'm in my element in a museum, the more obscure the better. Show me a definitive collection of 16th century cannonballs, I'm in heaven. A collection of cracked ceramic wall tiles, salvaged during the demolition of an old neighborhood? I'll spend an hour with no regrets.

Just two days ago, Katie and I spent an afternoon in Den Helder at a museum dedicated, basically, to lifeboats. And it was GREAT! They even had a wind-tunnel that you could stand in, while they ran the wind up the Beaufort scale to simulate different storm levels. (Incidentally, we discovered in the process that wind conditions during the Texel Icy Death Ride were approximately a Force 6 on the Beaufort scale.)

And on Texel, the museum of junk that washed up on shore is terrific! Ranges from the comic (sculpture of working man, executed in trash) to the tragic (burnt life saver from sunken ship).

But on the ride south from Den Helder to Alkmaar, while riding along the North Sea dike, we found a museum that even I have mixed feelings about. I won't name the museum, it wouldn't really serve any purpose, and there is a lot to praise: it was free, it was warm, the people were nice. But it sunk in slowly that this museum really had limited potential to fascinate. In essence, it was the museum of the local municipal water and sewage board. We watched a very professional video, with great graphics and Mission Impossible style score -- but production values couldn't disguise the fact that the topic was primarily use of small mussels as an indicator of water quality. Then we played with the single interactive display -- a kind of fish-tank thing that illustrated concept of wave action, I think. Can't be certain, as some of the controls didn't operate. But the capstone was the museum collection itself, which was very selective (eg, small). It included for example, a pair of rubber waders. But the single best item, in my opinion, is shown above: a rock, labeled "Norse Steen", which translates to "Rock from Norway".

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The good life

Lunch break with Jonathan, Katie, Cathleen and Garrett. Little cafe ('Vertigo'), outside film museum in Vondelpark.

Fries so-so, company excellent!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday night in Amsterdam!

Internet connections from our boat (the Wending) have been sketchy at best, non-existent more common, so I haven't been keeping up this blog for a couple days.

Here we are back in Amsterdam, after riding 63 kilometers today, 68 yesterday if I remember correctly, and about 2 the day before... but more on that later.

It's Friday night in the definitive party town of the western hemisphere -- pretty much any vice you'd like, just pick your pleasure --gambling? dancing? private party with consenting adults of your preference? bio-engineered killer weed? bicycles? And I headed to the library to get on-line! Can you say nerd?

Quick run-down on the cycling...

Tuesday rode from Einkhuzen in morning, took the boat across to Texel in afternoon. About 3 hours under way, water a bit rough but not bad. Got into Texel late afternoon, went for a short ride to stretch legs and see some sights. Highlight: the spring from which ships bound for the East Indies filled their water casks, before heading out into the North Sea and catching a current south towards Africa. Island water was purer than Amsterdam / Hoorn / etc water, and kept longer... so a fill-up on Texel was the last stop on their way out. Next stop: area of Cape of Good Hope, Africa. (Yes, that was the highlight. I already explained about the nerd thing.)

Conditions Wednesday morning were hideous. Cold, driving rain. Group rode out from Wending around 9:00. Mutinied within minutes. About half of us said "hey, it's been swell, ride on if you want... but we'll see you later" and headed back to the boat. One important stop on the way: Katie and I stopped in at a wool processing factory with a tiny retail showroom, and I got a pair of fleecy wool slippers. Rode the last tiny bit back to boat, and spent next few hours focusing on exploring the potential of the slippers, and enjoying warm feet for a change.

We sailed back across to Den Helder, did some walking around town in the afternoon. The hard-core riders who had continued on the Texel Icy Death Ride joined us around 6:00 pm (after taking a ferry over from Texel). Said they had a wonderful time, but from details that emerged over next day or two... I'm just as happy that Katie and I skipped that particular ride!

Den Helder was not my favorite town. Basically a military base, and one that has fallen on rough times. Town has a hard-bitten feel. Nothing specifically wrong, just not generally nice.

Next morning (Thursday) set out for long day of riding, Den Helder to Alkmaar. Rode down the North Sea coast, in part along the world's widest bike path -- you really could land a 747 on it -- between the water and the main dike structure. After a while, cut inland and rode through beautiful dunes and parkland, until we reached Almaar. A long ride, made a bit longer by 3 of us doubling back at one point in search of a cell phone lost by one of the riders. Found it! A nice day overall weather-wise... very cold in the morning, a tiny bit of rain, but clearing and warming steadily through the day... and by evening in Alkmaar, really beautiful.

Today, from Alkmaar to Amsterdam, great weather and great riding. One comical situation: about 5 kilometers from the ship, the chain broke on one of the bicycles, ridden by the same rider who had the flat earlier in the week, and a minor accident (no damage) just a few minutes earlier. Now, a broken chain is no big deal. There is a tiny tool called a chain-breaker, about the size of a Bic lighter, and we could have made an emergency repair... if we had had one. But we didn't. So we went with Plan B: 10 foot piece of rope, tieing the chain-less bike to a working bike to tow it home! The lady whose bike it was truly was not a happy camper, and the idea of trying to cope with being towed was stressing her badly, so we re-arranged a bit: Katie took my bike, the lady took Katie's bike, a strong pedaler took the tow bike, and I rode the towed bike. Same basic technique I remember from young adult car towing events, and we made it work... despite language barriers. But the kicker was... that we were riding into 5:00 pm Friday Amsterdam bike traffic, at Centraal Station, and it was packed! That we made it through will amaze me always.

Beautiful evening. Had a great dinner on the boat, an Indonesian-style rijstaffel. And here I am living it up at the Amsterdam Public Library ;-)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hoorn to Enkuizen, lovely day for cycling

Hoorn is a beautiful old port. Now a bedroom community, but once a very busy working port. A great feeling, a lovely spot.

Left Hoorn about 9:00. Day started out cold with a few drops of rain, but with breaks in the clouds. By mid-day, was still cold -- but sunny, and stayed sunny for the rest of the afternoon.

Changed cycling route slightly, improvising to cycle through some tulip fields. By this time of May, most fields have been cut... but Martin (our guide) ran into some friends while we were walking last night, and they told him about an area near here were tulips were still in bloom. So we winged it, headed in that direction, and found beautiful fields! Yellow, purple, red, white... pick your color. Farmer took a break to talk with us, told us we really were lucky: last year, he had finished harvest by May 3. Don't know why he's later this year, he didn't say.

Then rode back into Hoorn, had a coffee in the central square, and rode north generally along the main dike to Einkhuzen. Forty kilometers total ride. Hung around the boat for a while, then went out for a walk through huge open-air museum.

One minor mishap, but turned out fine. One of our party had a flat tire. Decision was taken not to fix the flat, but simply to ride the last few kilometers. I think perhaps people were simply uncomfortable with the idea of changing tube in the field? Or perhaps, right tools weren't available. Anyway, I swapped front wheels with the rider who had the flat and rode the last while on the flat. Worked better than I would have thought... just kept my weight well back on bike, rode relatively slowly, and avoided potholes. Tire made a loud chirping sound like a squawking chicken with every revolution, but other than that bit of bizarreness, rest of ride went fine.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wonderful day of riding!

Amsterdam > Amsterdam East > Marken > Monickendam > Volendam (by bike) > Hoorn (by boat). More or less 44 kilometers cycling, another 10 by boat across bay to Hoorn.

Wonderful cycling. Day started cold and cloudy, stayed that way until late afternoon. By 6:00 or so was cold and clear; now 9:30, and it is a gorgeous evening. Went out for a walk around Hoorn, which was once upon a time the major port for the Netherlands trade between Baltics and southern Europe.

Interesting sight as we left Amsterdam: a hotel, at eastern terminus of what became the Holland-America line, that was the final European-side stop of a stream of US-bound immigrants. Their next stop: Ellis Island.

Beautiful riding through the countryside. One minor mishap... we were cycling down a barely one-lane dirt road, when a nitwit in a Mercedes SUV decided he couldn't wait 30 seconds and had to pass. He knocked over one of the cyclists. Just tapped her I think, but it was enough. No major damage, but she was pretty shaken.

SO nice to have the skies clear and the sun shine, even if it is still ridiculously cold! Hope this weather holds for tomorrow.

Gazelle is a nice bike. Easy rider!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

To the boat, day in Haarlem, first ride with tour mates

Dropped off our stuff this morning at the boat -- the Wending, a canal boat built in 1913, worked for 80 years hauling cargo, converted to present life about 20 years ago. Nice solid boat, roomy, great common room and private cabin. Cabin surprisingly deluxe... two beds (not bunks), private bathroom, heater, even a writing desk... though compact.

Then went to Haarlem for the day. Visited Frans Hals museum: terrific! When you get close enough to see the brushwork on those big gloomy formal portraits, they are actually astonishingly cool. My painting never got much beyond house-painting or finger-painting, so I'm not the most informed critic, but enjoyed them nonetheless.

Had frites with Katie. We checked out a few stands, but at K's suggestion went back to the same place I tried last week -- it looked best to her. K had frites with tomato ketchup, I tried the garlic sauce. Katie's review as I remember it: "excellent fries, crispy, very genuine, even have the skin left on them."

Returned to the boat around 4:00. Good mix of people -- 4 crew (captain, cook, engineer, bike guide), plus 14 riders. Riders are from all over. About half are German or Austrian; 2 are Canadian; one other American, married to one of the Canadians; 3 Italians (two sisters plus one's best friend). Good chemistry. Wish I spoke German.

Went for first 'shakedown' ride, basically so guide can figure out who is likely to fall off, who are the wild cards, etc. Nice ride, maybe 10k, through redeveloped old warehouse district along the Ij.

Nice bikes: Gazelle Medeo's. Easy riders for touring I think, a bit less responsive (twitchy if you prefer) than the Tikit, which is staying at C&G's this week. Thought about bringing it for ride, but I'll take a break and ride something new. Per tour guide "Gazelle is kind of Mercedes of Dutch tour bikes... no shakes, brakes well, solid and reliable". We'll see.

No connectivity from the boat, so I walked over to public library. Tried to piggy-back onto wireless, but no go... so using public terminal.

Will post again, with pix, next time I find a public hot-spot.

Weather promising for tomorrow. Should be a nice day, and a nice ride.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Packing up, heading to 'the barge'

K and I had a nice risjtaffel dinner at Blauwe Amsterdam on Amstellwayveenveg (chances I got that spelling right are near zero!).

Packing up now to head off to our boat. Change of scene -- coming week will be day biking trips, based from floating hotel... an old canal boat converted to passenger use.

Staying at Cathleen and Garrett's has been really nice. Cozy and comfortable.

Trying to repack is always amazing: HOW did all this STUFF fit into THAT???

May be keeping up this blog offline for coming week. Depends on internet connectivity. Connectivity is more and more ubiquitous, but on a boat moving from place to place, who knows.

Off to Leiden by foot, tram, train...

K and I walked down street to bakery off Hoffdorpplein, crossed street to take the #15 bus to Amsterdam Zuid station, then the train to Leiden Centraal. Dead easy trip. Took maybe an hour door-to-door.

Cold, blustery day with sprinkles of rain. Not bad, but kind of day that chills you down over time.

Visited De Lakenhal museum in Leiden. Was originally the guild hall for cloth trade, which was huge in Netherlands in 1600s -- and Leiden was the second biggest town in Netherlands. Eclectic collection! Lot's of dark and gloomy paintings in the old Dutch Master style, really pretty depressed stuff, sort of thing that makes you understand why painters here lose an ear from time to time.

Excellent room with old armor though, including one steel vest with a great big dent like right over the heart! Dude had been shot with a cross-bow, or huge musket ball, or somesuch. Because of the lighting we couldn't tell whether it was just a really, really deep dent, or whether there was an actual hole that went through at the bottom of the dent. The guy who wore that armor originally either had a really lucky day, or a really crappy one. I felt strongly that the museum should have had some kind of information on a label -- so what happened to the guy??????? Did he live another 50 happy years, or were his buddies divvying up his stuff later that night?

Disappointing on the Fries front. Katie (what a traveler) landed yesterday and said pretty much verbatim "Hey, great to see you, let's go to Leiden tomorrow, and I want to get some frites for lunch when we get there." Well, Leiden is a nice town but strangely light on options for fries -- didn't really see any. What gives? So we had curry at a little Thai take-away joint.

Start bike/boat trip tomorrow. Weather forecast is improving over next few days -- zero rain forecast (yeah, right), with gradually warming temperatures.

Hurt my ankle a bit, too much walking on Wednesday. Need to get back on bike, give it a rest.

In window of toy store: world's smallest bike? They start 'em young here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A great dinner

Realized that after a couple days of constant on-the-go, fueled basically by snacks (frites, granola, cold sandwiches), I was feeling a bit run down. Not bad, just... depeleted.

So I went out for a nice dinner, at a place down the street recommended by C&G: restaurant called Gent, located by the foot/bicycle bridge over local canal, on street leading to Vondelpark.

Terrific meal:
-- Warm brown bread with butter
-- Salad of fresh greens with pancetta and carmelized pears
-- Organic chicken breast stuffed with cheese, more pancetta, and fresh asparagus

I'm topped up on vitamins, calories and flavor! Feeling good.

Recommendations for this place if you are in the neighborhood.

Good walk, sore feet, one photo.

Gave the bike a rest today. Stayed in Amsterdam, and walked... and walked... and walked.

About 20 kilometers, but some of it was on the #2 tramline. Started out this morning with short walk to local bakery for breakfast of croissant, an orange, coffee. Then longer walk to grocery store to pick up some milk, juice etc. Then an extended amble around the neighborhood to check it out post jet-lag. Then a failed attempt to find a tiny mouse for this netbook (trackpad works but not my favorite). Then a hike in Vondelpark. Then back to apartment at 3:00, to touch base with Katie -- who will be here tomorrow! Then a really big walk from Old South / Olde Zuit (this neighborhood) to downtown. Downtown too crowded and touristy (look who's complaining -- a guy recognizable at 100 paces as a tourist from California). Then a walk part way back, and a decision midway to be kind to feet and hop on tram!

Travelled light, did not even take camera. Just clothes, cash, passport, and a plastic shopping bag. Bag is handy for lots of stuff, and gave me the appearance of actually having a purpose in my wandering.

Laundry last night successful, but -- why on earth do graphic / industrial designers think that the little glyphs they put on appliances are any help at all? Luckily Cathleen had left me a couple post-it notes with meanings of the symbols. Very grateful... otherwise, I would have been staring at the machine all night, like a caveman who just discovered a space ship.

Time to put up feet, then think about dinner.

Photo taken from C&G's kitchen balcony, just after 6:00 pm.