Friday, May 15, 2015

Good day to fly home

Temperature has dropped a bit, back into 'zip up' range.

Forecast is for rain showers and wind today.

Think I'll head to the airport and fly home to California this morning...

Back in Alphen

Left Haarlem this morning.  Enjoyed the ride to the train station, took the train (via Leiden) to Alphen.

Had a 30 minute stop in Leiden, popped out of the station to look around.  Had a great conversation with a guy who really wanted details about my bike.  Like many things, "fellowship of the bike" is kind of a universal introduction.

Want to take a moment to thank two silent participants in my little odyssey around the Netherlands:  the train service, and my bike.  Both made it possible.

The Dutch train service is frequent, punctual, and user friendly.  By the way, if you are thinking about a trip and just want to check out how easy it is to figure out train schedules and make your plans, click here.  Enter your departure station, destination, and desired time of day.

My bike has been a gem.  Rides great, folds up, packs in a suitcase, carbon fiber belt instead of a chain so you don't get greasy every time you fold it.  Thumbs up to Bike Friday "Silk"!

Back in Alphen, took a slow and quiet ride through the countryside.  Beautiful area.

Now packing up.  Have my bike in the suitcase, so the "jeez, I have to think about this" part of packing is done.  From here on, mainly just stuffing one thing into another.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A nice day

A nice day today.  Gave my bike another day off, and relied on my feet again.

Took the train into Amsterdam, got together with friends and that was great.  But spent most of the day here in Haarlem, a place that is less known yet very nice.  Has much in common with Amsterdam, but without the big city vibe.

Though nearly "museum-ed out" I visited Teylers Museum.  Glad I did, just my kind of place.  Pieter Teyler was a weatlthy manufacturer of linens and a banker here in Haarlem.  But his passion was as "... an exponent of the Enlightenment... deeply interested in science and the arts.He left his dough to a foundation, who launched this museum based largely on his collection.  It's the oldest public museum in the Netherlands.

Naturally the museum has beautiful paintings etc, but it also has really nifty stuff -- lots of old bones, plus tools and machines from an age of scientific discovery when much was done with simple physical experimentation and measurement.

I got some nice photos of the "old bones" -- fossils actually.  Most interesting to me is that there was (and still is in some circles) debate about what these suggest.  Does the presence of extinct species in the geologic record suggest evolution may be taking place?  Or were those fossils placed in situ a few thousand years ago during a creation event?  Take your choice of theories.

The resemblance of  
to modern birds leans me towards the first point of view, but there are different opinions.

The scientific apparatus was mainly behind glass and didn't photograph as well, but here is a link to the catalog.  Worth paging through just to see the mechanical ingenuity and precision of the experimenters.

And finally, a shot at dusk of the main church here in Haarlem... with a guy on a bike who was quick enough to wave "hi folks!" as I took the picture.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vermeer's "Gw/tPE"

Vermeer was a great artist.

His work is pretty incredible, and gets a lot of well deserved respect.

"Girl with the Pearl Earring" has become a cultural phenomenon, known to millions who have no idea who did the original painting.

His reputation is probably big
enough to take a little ribbing.
My hosts at the Rechtuis van Zouteveeen had a gallery of "Gw/tPE" variations, done (I think) by Rene Jacobs of Galerie de Kunstkop in Delft.
The images speak for themselves...  a reproduction of the original with a touch of lipstick, and some variations on the theme.  Appealed to the little kid in me!


My memory of the frites from small shop near big church in Haarlem was that they were pretty exceptionally good (confirmed by independent opinion from Katie on visit a couple years back).

But on this trip, the frites from a little local shop in Alphen really stood out.  We found ourselves building them into our dinner plans more than once.  ("What do you think about smoked salmon and salad for dinner?  You bet!  Should we have anything else?  How about frites?  Even better!")

Back in Haarlem, I thought it was a good opportunity to compare.  So after walking much of the day and building up a good appetite, I went back to that shop.  They were doing a steady business, usually a good sign.  Ordered a portion...

Maybe they are under new management, maybe having an off day, maybe -- who knows.  No question, the frites were good.  But the blue ribbon on this trip goes to the frites in Alphen!
I'll be back in Alphen one last time on Friday night to pack up my bike and pick up some luggage, so may have a chance to re-affirm my findings and enjoy a (small) portion.

Hat is still off to frittuers Lucien & Eric in Belgium near Maastricht.

To Haarlem

Den Haag to Haarlem would have been another 35 mile day.  Decided that sounded like too much, and improvised a new plan.  Ride to the station... take trains to some tiny town part way... ride the rest.  Good plan!  Did ride about 18 miles, and that was ample.

Got off the train at the whistle stop of Hillegom, in tulip country near where Keukenhoff event is held.  It is late in the tulip season now, but there were still some gorgeous fields.

Bought a ham croissant and coffee from a woman running a little temporary lunch stand at the station.  Slow day, I was her only customer.  She was pretty entrepreneurial, was doing "research" for a couple months to see if it was worth opening a permanent stand.  Entrepreneurial enough that we cooked up a business plan over lunch conversation about the California drought and Holland weather: export Dutch water to California, in exchange for payment in sunshine from California.  They've got water aplenty in Holland, and California has sunshine to spare.  This is a can't miss opportunity.  We just need to line up some venture capital and a couple of code guys to write the HTML or whatever and we are golden.

Taking the day off from biking, instead just walking in Haarlem.  It's a nice city, good for walking... one pleasant street leading to another in no particular pattern.  City was built before Descartes invented concept of a grid, so it's way easy to just wander.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Shipluiden > Maassluis > Hoek de Holland > Den Haag

35 miles today.  Not much by bicycle racer standards, but plenty for me on a bike with little wheels, schlepping bags, navigating an unfamiliar route, and half into the wind!  A great day, but my legs are worn out.  Going to sleep well tonight I think.

Will write more over coffee in the morning...

... turned out the lamp and then out like a light!  Think I probably rolled over in the night, but that's about it.  What a great night's sleep.  Day dawned a little cloudy today, little cooler than yesterday (which was hot by local standards), with forecast for nice afternoon.

Yesterday was fun.
Started in the country amid this kind of scene.

Couple hours later was cycling through Maassluis, an industrial / transportation / manufacturing hub between Rotterdam and the Atlantic.  Maassluis reminded me a lot of Marcus Hook, that famous holiday destination near Philly.  Cycling path was great but it was through some heavy duty stuff.  Wasn't as bleak as the photo makes it look, but it was industrial.

Saw the vehicle that may win the "Strangest Thing on Wheels" award for this trip.  Family boarding a roll-on / roll-off ferry boat near Maassluis in what looks like a motorized blue bathtub on wheels.  Mom, Dad, three Kids and a Dog.  (Update:  I looked closer... there are at least 5 kids on board!  No wonder the dog can't fit inside.) Wonder how the ferry guy figures up the fare on this group?

On to Hoek de Holland!  It's the pointy bit of Netherlands that kind of sticks out a bit towards England.  Couldn't resist cycling there, I've always thought it looked cool on the map.  Well, it is pretty cool in the real world: you can stand right there and look west and wonder whether you can see England or maybe even New York.  Fulfilled that childhood dream even if I was probably just seeing low haze a couple miles offshore.  Got pretty lost at one point, thanks to somebody who thought it was a fun project to remove all the bike signs at a busy confusing roundabout.  Eventually got found again after a conversation with an older Dutch woman on a bike.  She spoke very little English.  But once she understood my basic confusion ("... how do I get to the bike path along the ocean to get to Den Haag?") she made it pretty simple.  Pointed west, then tried a bunch of variations on "dunes?" ( "... duins?  doones? duunen? duinen?") until she saw the light come on in my head.  Once I got that concept, she pointed North to Den Haag.  I thanked her sincerely.  Marco Polo probably had similar problems finding China, and Columbus finding America.  ("Chris?  Head west until you bump into a new continent.  Got it?")  Even better she was heading in the same direction so I rode along with her for a few minutes until we could see the sea.  Thanked her and said goodbye.  Don't know her thoughts as I rode away, but they could have been along the lines of "... nice enough guy and certainly polite, but I can't believe they let him out on his own."

Then north along the coast towards Den Haag

Sunday -- Mothers Day! -- Ride

Had planned to ride from Dordrecht to Schipluiden via Rotterdam on Sunday -- but I found myself kind of dreading the ride through Rotterdam.  Probably would have been fine, but why ride through a big city when the countryside beckoned?  On a beautiful day.  Warm, light breeze, clear sky.  So I followed my instinct, and changed my plan.

Instead, took the train to Delft.  Picked up a posted bike network literally yards outside the Delft station, and spent the afternoon gradually working my way south across a nature reserve towards Schipluiden.  Stayed at a very nice location a few kilometers southwest of Schipluiden.

Challenging to actually finding this B&B.  You can't reach it by car -- only by foot, bike, or boat. It's an old (1650) farmhouse, nicely remodeled, next to a canal.  On one side, I looked down at a meadow.  On the other side, I looked up at the canal!  I understand that I actually stayed in what was once the cow stables.  Those cows certainly had it good.  Main house is shared by other guests, but tonight I was the only one.  Owners live on the other side of main structure, in what was once the pig barn.  Imagine it has been remodeled just as nicely as well. Plus, another beautiful big tub and ample hot water!

It was a photogenic kind of day, almost everything I looked at this afternoon was sweet.  Lot's of bird life, and lot's of people out enjoying the day.

Plus, it's Mothers Day.  A conductor on the train reminded me!  My mother has passed on.  Hope that if she knew what I'm doing, she would enjoy it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dordrecht / De Luthiers

Want to say what a pleasure my short visit to Dordrecht was.  My only regret is that I couldn't stay a bit longer.

Dordrecht is a fine small city, one of the oldest in the Netherlands and with a rich history.  First mention is from the 9th century, when -- I regret to say -- it seems that some of my possible ancestors from the north stopped by and looted and burned the town.  Shame on them! 

Great place today, and easy to get around by bike even on a busy weekend. 

I stayed at a B&B called "De Luthiers", run by a couple who make and repair beautiful instruments.  As nice people as you could ever hope to meet, and a wonderful cozy apartment.  They work mainly on acoustic instruments (guitars, violins, and older) so it isn't exactly appropriate but I'll steal a concept from Spinal Tap:  their B&B is an 11 on a scale of 10.

Had a wonderful talk with them, and a chance to have a look at their workshop, some works in progress, and some exceptional instruments.

Perhaps nicest of all, the gentleman who focuses on guitars lent me the first guitar he ever made for the evening.  Modeled on an older Martin, small body, 12 fret, pyramid bridge.  Just a wonderful guitar, not a false note in it.  After dinner I laid on the bed and noodled around with Satin Sheets, Prodigal Son, When a Man loves a Woman, a few others.  What a great way to end the day!

B&B de Luthiers.  Stay here if you are ever in Dordrecht, even if you can't play a note.

Note to self:  this would be a great base if a couple ever wanted to spend a few days exploring De Biesbosch by bike...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Word Problem / Applied Trig

Saturday dawned cloudy and really windy.

Forecast: little chance of rain, decent temperature for riding, but 100% chance of very high winds from the south-west all day.  Right is what the weather report looked like on-line... and below is what that weather report looks like in terms of the real world ;-)

I really wanted to ride some, so I started the day with coffee and something that reads like the word problem from hell on SAT in teenage years:

"Steve is in Breda, and wants to ride to Dordrecht, which is ~25 miles away to the North, following bike paths.  The wind is blowing at 20+ miles per hour from the Southwest, and will continue all day, getting stronger in the afternoon.  The first miles of Steve's planned route would be almost directly into the wind, which would suck. Can Steve change his route to avoid the headwind?  If so, how?  When should he leave Breda?  In what direction?  By what means?  What is his first destination?  Second?  Third?  Keep in mind these factors:  all possible solutions must result in a route for Steve using available public transportation or posted points on the cycle network, Steve must cross the forbidding Hollandsche Diep using the only available bridge, and the use of magic in putting a hex on the wind to stop it is not permitted.  You have 30 seconds to answer.  Show your work."

Well, all of the above applied except the 30 seconds part.  (Thank you to the cosmos that SAT's are behind me...)

Answer was to use the advice Mirjam gave us on the boat:  If the wind is blowing and you want a nice ride, take the train to someplace where the wind will be more at your back.  Obvious, but you have to know just how great the Dutch train system really is to believe it can actually work.

In my case, the answer was:
-- take the 11:21 train to Roosendahl, leaving from track 7
-- transfer in Roosendahl to the 11:51 milk-stop local, leaving from track 3B
-- get off at Zevenberg, a nice little town approximately 20 miles west of Breda
-- ride around more or less aimlessly and hope to find a sign for LF2B bike route, then turn north
-- improvise as needed from that point
-- leave now if you want to catch that 11:21 train!

Test scorers probably wouldn't like that "improvise as needed" part, but it was useful.  I did find the LF2 route in Zevenberg... but the always reliable LF network was blocked for repairs at one section outside Dordrecht and an ad hoc re-calculation of route was needed.  Seemed to work, as I'm here in Dordrecht now!


Can't say much about Breda as I wasn't there long enough to really experience the town... in late afternoon by train, out early next morning by bike.

Did have a nice conversation with some local folks over coffee in the evening.  Thoroughly enjoyed that.

And my hosts, who have a small chicken coop with two chickens and a very young goose told me a great story.  They found the goose egg earlier this spring on a walk in the country.  Conditions didn't look good for it for some reason where they found it, so they brought it home and put it in a chicken nest.  One of their chickens sat on it for 20+ days, and one day out popped a baby goose... who is already bigger than "mom".  Hosts posed me this Zen question:  which is smarter, the chicken or the goose?  Silly question, without an answer, but brings a smile.

Breda did also provide me with a quick karmic balance adjustment.  Much as I loved the bathtub in Den Bosch (I took a second hot bath in the morning!), there was a karmic price to be paid.  My place last night was nice but basic.  Like basic in there was hot water only from the kitchen faucet, not in the shower -- shower was cold water only.  I figured that after two baths in the last day I really couldn't need a shower that much after all, so I put the soap back. Anyway, that's how how my karma was brought back into balance pronto.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Rogier Steers Me Right

For a thin guy, my friend Rogier is pretty phenomenal with food advice.

Turned me on to pannekoeken.  You've got to try them to understand them.  Yeah, they are pancakes, but... yes, you've got to try them.

Turned me on to Lucien & Eric's, a fritture in Belgium near Maastricht.  Was worth the ride, they do make darn good fries!

When Rogier said "while in s'Hertogenbosh you have to get a Bossche Bol" believe me my ears were open! And my hosts pointed me to a baker named Jan de Groot (translation... Big Jan, or maybe Fat Jan... a good thing in a baker) as the ideal source.  He sells 20,000 of them a week so he must be doing something right.

I expected from the description that they would be the size of a tennis ball.  I was wrong.  They are the size of a softball.  A thin crust of pastry, stuffed with whipped cream, and all coated in chocolate.  You eat them with your hands -- knife and fork could be used, but it's frowned upon.  No way to eat them other than messily, but the tip I was given:  flip them upside down and start from the bottom, so the chocolate forms a cup for the insides.  It works, sort of, but count on ending up both messy and happy.

Thumbs up!

Den Bosch Ride

Friday... a beautiful day for cycling.  Made a plan over breakfast: stay the morning in Den Bosch, ride some miles in the country to the south of town on part of the LF7 route, then take a train in late afternoon on to Breda.

Glad I did.  The countryside outside of Den Bosch was beautiful.  My bike is very quiet, and I spent much of the morning listening to the birds singing as I rode.  Stopped sometimes just to listen closer.

LF7... stands for "Long Bike Route 7"... is one of a couple dozen routes that cover the country.  The name makes them sound like bike highways, and sometimes in town they can be busy.  But they aren't Highway 280 or Route 101 for bikes!  Sections of the LF7 I rode today were single lane dirt paths, and you could stop and maybe see another cyclist every few minutes.

After seeing so many churches I was struck by the cathedral-arch these trees made over the path. Then just after that arch of trees, I found a little roadside sanctuary.  So maybe the cathedral-arch wasn't accidental?  Added a yellow flower and rode on.

 Sunny, and shirt-sleeve temperatures too!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New Lock

I once studied cryptography.  In good crypto, management of keys is crucial to strength of system.

Same with bikes.  Key management is everything.  I discovered the absolute most secure approach is simple:  just leave your key in another city and nobody, including yourself, can open the lock!

Luckily, my lock was only securing my cable to the seat of my bike, so I could still ride.  But I couldn't remove the cable from the seat, so I couldn't use it or the lock to secure my bike.  So what to do?  Hack the system ;-)

Good hackers have good tools.  And fortunately I packed the equivalent of a bicycle repair shop.

I dis-assembled the frame of the bike seat. Slid the lock & attached cable off.  Purchased a new lock.  So now I have a perfectly useable cable, with a perfectly useable new lock, plus the old lock still attached... consider it a piece of decorative jewelry, useless but it does make the bike now appear to have two locks, so maybe it's an even better system now.

Process took about an hour.  Unlikely that any bike thief would bother, even if they had the right tools in their pocket.

Now have three keys to the new lock.  One in the lock... one with my travel docs... one in my wash kit.  Triple redundancy in my key management system!  Publishing the location of keys is a technical security breach, but a minor one since I'm physically difficult to locate.  And it is a huge convenience to me, in case I forget where I put them!