11-cities biking tour in Holland
By Naginder Sehmi (July 2015)
Adventure and excitement packed 2015. During two weeks in March-April in Myanmar (Burma) I was glad to see that the country has not changed much since I first saw it twenty-five years earlier. The striking change is the throngs of tourists-that is only the beginning for the country has just opened up to the travel-hungry world. Biking round Lake Constance in May highlighted the differences in the quality of facilities for bikers in the three lacustrine countries, Austria, Germany and Switzerland – Germany is at the top. For my companion Karin and I this tour was a beneficial training for the next adventure on 3 July 2015.
Our two bikes loaded in a little Honda Jazz we headed to Harlingen, an ancient port at the entrance of Zuiderzee on the northern coast of Holland. It is difficult to remember the countless places visited, scenic views and events. Thousands of pictures saved in my computer do not help me to recall them in an orderly way the things I would like to share with you. To make my task lighter, I will restrict myself to recounting my meetings with wonderful people from all ages and getting shot!
Beethoven provided us with a musical prelude in Bonn (Germany), his birth place.
In Aachen ‘Naginder the Great’ challenged Charles the Great (Charlemagne, Karl Grosse). I have not sinned by taking a bit of his ‘greatness’.
In Harlingen, I rediscovered Joke, a loving generous friend, after many decades. Once upon a time we were counselors in an international children camp in Switzerland in a little village near Klosters in the summer of 1962.
In her welcoming warm house the strong temptation to celebrate our reunion had to be nipped. Otherwise we would not have started the planned 11-cities biking tour, sign-posted Elfstedenroute-lengte 240 km, in the flat beautiful green Friesland, a country apart within Holland with its own language and traditions.
The bridges over thousands of canals and roads are not the only consolation of getting a change in the peddling rhythm. On the first day a strong west wind pushed us often to plus 30km/hour that took us to Dokkum, our first city, early enough to meet Saint Boniface. He had led an Anglo-Saxon mission to convert Friesians to Christianity in 754 AD. He convened a gathering of converts near this town. Instead a gang of armed robbers appeared and slew the aged archbishop and his company. The robbers ransacked his big chests expecting to lay their hands on riches, gold plates and silverware; but found to their dismay many manuscripts of little use to them.
One can still encounter an occasional wide-winged giant Dutch windmill so docile-looking now that you do not feel dueling with them anymore.Instead, a crop of thousands of tall slender narrow-winged modern monsters churn the air over the otherwise pleasant countryside –not at all attractive for a duel.
Every time we entered a B&B, the owners’ homely welcome quickly made us forget our fatigue. Besides making us feel comfortable they ensured that we ate a full wholesome breakfast to be able to face what was coming.
On the second day we faced a strong westerly wind. Riding on the flat track became like climbing Kilimanjaro for the rest of the tour; the wind picking up an increasing force as we progressed. However, surprises awaited at every corner, a good excuse for a stop. We saw the boat “Blauwe Tulip” sailing over our bridge; another under the bridge, another through the raised bridge gate, and then a boat as if sailing in the green fields between the windmills.
We reached Leeuwarden the birth place of the world famous Mata Hari. This Friesian beauty charmed the French and the German high command during the First World War. Accused of being a spy France condemned her to be shot. I met one of her traditional ancestors near Mata Hari’s display in the museum.
The renowned Friesland cows and horses grazing in lush pastureland undisturbed by the grass-flattening gusts is a sight to be enjoyed. Riding through a forest towards the Zuiderzee shore was a short-lived relief. Even sheltered behind the high dike could not save me from automatically keeping my bike tilted to the left in order to maintain the equilibrium.
Sleek and Bolsward are charming towns. The later was one the focal points of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns dominating Baltic maritime trade (c.1400-1800) and Northern Europe. Besides Lufthansa you will find ‘hansa’ used in many names.
We ended our 4-day tour where Elfstedenroute-lengte 240 km starts. Joke was waiting to picture our joy and to tell us that early next morning we are booked on the ferry to Terschelling Island where three bikes are waiting. No rest on the fifth day that we had laboured so hard to spare.
Our rest on the ferry was less than two hours. Soon after I planted my flag on the beech Joke convinced us that it would be easy to bike along the south shore with the wind behind us and that we would return on the track in the middle of Island.
We enjoyed our frequent stops and took in varied marine scenery extending towards the mainland. The eastern one third of the island is a protected nature reserve mostly uninhabited; so we crossed over the dyke to the middle track to face the forgotten frontal wind. I pleaded with Joke to release the wind she had amassed in the opposite direction!
A delicious apple strudel topped with a thick lump of full cream gave me the force to bike back to the main town, West Terschelling. Here Joke introduced us to the statue of the famous 16th century son of the island, Willem Barentsz (Barents in English). Navigator, cartographer, and Arctic explorer, he went on three expeditions to the far north, one to search for a sea passage north of Siberia. Warming up of the Earth has allowed this passage to be used now. The sea north of Scandinavia is named after him. He published the first map of the Mediterranean region.
In Holland omnipresent bikes in all forms and shapes leave a lasting mental imprint. People respect them and provide for their parking in the busy streets, in front of narrow houses and on the canals.
We were pleasantly astonished to use even a welcoming well-managed computer controlled huge free bike-parking garage.
From Harlingen three of us drove over the famous 34-km long dyke that encloses the inland Zuiderzee. On the way we visited the open-air museum in Enkhuizen, and comfortably settled down in Joke’s friend’s house in Amsterdam. There is so much to see in this friendly city: Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Henri Matisse.
Amsterdam is supposed to be a safe city. Luckily the gun that took a shot at me was not loaded. I survived to meet and have lunch with Navjeet who brought back memories from Punjab, Kenya and Coventry. Her husband Pim joined us for coffee. Our families have a special century-old relationship. If it will last in this changing world is any body’s guess. (Read more: “Twisted Turban”)
On the way to Geneva we decided to visit Maastricht where we listened to a classical concert with a Japanese soprano who sang beautifully in the resonating cathedral square. Then I met d’Artagnant, one of the 3 Musketeers. Louis XIV sent him to fight the Dutch. He was killed in battle on June 25, 1673, when a musket ball tore into his throat at the Siege of Maastricht.
the Rhine bank was short-lived. We reached Geneva hotter.
(Pictures by Karin Nyffenegger, Geneva)