Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 10

We’re back in Canada!  After a full month camping and riding, I’m happy to be home. 

I’m really glad we chose to go to the Netherlands.  We wanted a trip that would be relaxing and enjoyable rather than hard work, and it was perfect for that.  The whole country is flat and the cycling infrastructure is better than anything I’ve seen.  Campsites are abundant, so we were never worried that it would be too far to the next one if we wanted to ride just a bit farther.  Some really windy days and unpredictable weather made it a little more adventurous, but the only things that really brought us down (like my strange allergic reaction and kids going through our stuff) could have happened anywhere.  

Bottom line, if you like to ride your bike, or if you think you might like riding a bike, you should make a pilgrimage to the Netherlands.

Here’s what we did:

The Tour
- Distance pedaled: Just over 1000 km (about 620 miles)
- Days on the road: 31
- Kinds of transportation: bike, plane, ferry, bus, train. (The buses and trains just got us between the Vancouver airport and the Vancouver Island ferry.)
- Places we visited: Amsterdam, Texel, Leeuwarden, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Delft, Den Haag, and a whole lot of countryside in between 
- Places we loved: Amsterdam, Texel, Utrecht, and Delft
- Places we’d skip next time: Rotterdam and Den Haag
- Amount of gear we took: two rear Ortlieb panniers each, holding a total of 80 litres (for all 4 bags), plus our sleeping bags, which we kept in dry bags on top of our racks.  (We didn’t carry anything on the front of our bikes.)
- Flat tires: two (one for each of us)
- Trips to the emergency room: one (related to my allergic reaction, not anything to do with cycling)
- Number of collisions: one
- Traveler’s insurance? Yes, and I’m glad we had it.
- Number of knitting projects completed: five (socks, mitts, and three hats)

Most Valuable Gear
- Garmin Etrex 30 GPS
- Inflatable pillows from MEC
- Ranger bands (a common bush crafting supply that come in handy for a variety of different uses.  They’re just car tire inner tubes cut in strips and they end up being big rubber bands that can be used as bungees, clotheslines, and whatever else you can think of.)
- Soap in a tin
- Mini camp towels

Most Disappointing Gear
- Mountain Hard Wear Direkt 2 Tent - it leaked and had a horrible condensation problem
- REI inflatable sleep mat - the valve cracked so that it wouldn’t seal and all the air leaked out.  I’ve had this mat for several years, so maybe it had lived its life and was just old.

Lessons Learned 
- Take an independent way to charge electronics on tour.  Outlets were hard to find and babysitting the phone while it was plugged into a public outlet was boring and inconvenient.  I don’t know what the solution is, but next time I’ll make a different plan.
- Bike maintenance is vital.  My bike is accustomed to being stored indoors, so in order to avoid chain squeak and rust, we had to oil it more frequently than usual.  Also, paying attention to my tires meant we noticed that one of them was worn out and needed to be replaced before it blew out.
- Chocolate is a fantastic tool for staying happy, energized, and motivated, especially when it contains toffee.  I recommend regular chocolate breaks to anyone on tour.

So now that I’ve finished my bike adventure, what’s next?  My big announcement is that I’m working on a book!  I’m partnering with Interweave and it’s scheduled to be published in the fall of 2016.  I’ve set up my studio in our new apartment and this is where I’ll be parked, focusing on knitting and designing a whole lot of secret projects.  Here’s my inspirational yarn wall, created with two shoe racks and S hooks made out of wire.

I'll also be testing the designs I made for our bike tour over in my Ravelry group.  Right now, I'm accepting testers for my vest pattern, so if you'd like to knit with us, please check out the call for testers.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 9

Our focus on this trip has definitely been on enjoying bicycling and the beautiful scenery of the Netherlands, but when you're in Europe, I think there's some kind of requirement that you appreciate the old and impressive architecture at least a little bit. Last week we were in Utrecht and got the chance to visit this lovely church, Domkerk.

It's been Protestant since 1580, but was originally Catholic. (Yep, it's been there since long before 1580, at least parts of it.) There are impressive stained glass windows, and this organ. I pretty much can't believe how enormous and elegant church organs are. (Am I the only one who sees ribbing and lace in those columns of tubes and their embellishments?)

Many of the villages and cities we've visited have multiple churches whose bells chime out the hours. In Delft, where we've spent most of this week, there's a town square that's got churches and old buildings on every side. We spent most of a morning there people and bike watching, listening to the bells from several differnent churches every 15 minutes!

For more photos of architecture, scenery, other things from this trip, be sure to visit my Instagram feed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 8 (Ups & Downs)

We're now three weeks into our Netherlands bike tour, and it's been mostly incredible. My favorite parts have been riding in the morning sunshine, full of energy, and relaxing and knitting at beautiful campsites. Happily, the trip has been mostly ups. But, like every adventure, this one has had it's share of downs too. We've had some rain in combination with a leaking tent, some kids stole our food and dumped out our stove fuel, we've crashed our bikes together, and we've been to the emergency room, among other minor disasters.

The worst thing by far was a mysterious allergic reaction I had shortly after we left Amsterdam. I got a rash on the backs of my hands that eventually started to blister. I went to the doctor and received some antihistamines, but decided to bike to a big city emergency room the next day when the pain got considerably worse. The much stronger medications they gave me cleared it all up in just a few days, but it meant we stayed put for four nights while it healed. I've never had anything like that happen before, and the doctors weren't sure what caused it. We suspect I may have developed a nut allergy, so I'm avoiding nuts until I can get home and get an allergy test. It's a bummer not to be able to eat nuts while traveling, though. They're such a great, lightweight source of protein! Overall, I'm very grateful to the Dutch healthcare system and happy to be rid of whatever it was.

Nothing else has been as serious. Trying to avoid a passing car, we misjudged how wide our bikes were (those panniers make a very large backside!) and collided. All we got were a few scrapes and some bent hardware that was easily muscled back into place. My trusty Doc Marten boot took the worst of it. That was a rough day, but it could have been worse.


We've tried to be security conscious - always locking our bikes, taking our valuables with us everywhere - but last week, someone got into our stuff anyway. After setting up camp, we headed into the city for some sight-seeing, and when we got back, our stuff had been opened and our food containers were open and empty, strewn around the campsite. Our fuel bottle (we have a simple alcohol stove) was empty too, which worried us - hopefully no one drank it or poured it on anything flammable. Nothing but food was stolen, and it seemed more like vandalism than anything, but it definitely made us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. We left that campsite the next day.

Most of our gear has held up really well, but a few things have failed all at once. Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I realized that the valve on my inflatable sleeping pad was cracked, leaving it hissing and deflated. And this morning one of my flip flops fell apart on my way back from the showers. Both of those things were already pretty old when they started the tour, but I think three weeks on the road also takes its toll. For now, we've used duct tape to patch things up, and I'm hoping they hold on just a little longer.

We've got about a week left of travel before we head back to Amsterdam for our flight home. Here's hoping the rest of the trip goes smoothly!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 7

After leaving Texel last week, we took a ride over a very long dike - 32 km! It felt like a huge accomplishment as part of a 60 km day, and it was pretty fun to do. Since then we've been riding through Dutch countryside, following our GPS along the "shortest route" south toward Utrecht, and camping a night or two at each spot. Taking the shortest, rather than the fastest route has taken us through winding streets, along dirt paths, and into towns and cities.

I haven't done this kind of travel before, and I've really been appreciating all the variety it's allowed us to experience. At one of our campsites, there was a sweet cafe, and local church bells chimed out the hours and each half hour. It was actually really useful and I find myself missing the bells to tell me what time it is.

Another campsite was set along a canal and we ate out lunch watching leisure boats float by, including a whole house!

We've hardly met any other foreigners. It seems like everyone staying where we've stopped is from some other part of the Netherlands and staying at their usual holiday spot. Maybe that's because we've spent hardly any time in cities aside from our first week in Amsterdam and our day ride through Leeuwarden.

There are a whole lot of very small campsites around called Minicamping. They're often just someone's farm where they've added washrooms, sinks, and showers, and let visitors set up in open fields. Some of them have wifi, allowing me to work on this blog and other social media, but it's a bit hit and miss. The other travelers we've met are mostly in RV's and we've only seen a few other tent campers and a few other cycle tourists, though we have seen a whole lot of farm animals - horses, sheep, and cows especially.

Most people we've met have spoken at least a little English, though, which makes getting around and communicating easier. However, I definitely miss being able to read signs. They look like they must be full of such helpful information and it's all inaccessible to me!

We arrived in Utrecht today, and we expect the rest of our trip to be a little bit more urban. There are campsites within easy riding distance of all the cities, so it should be easy to make camp for a few nights and then explore the surrounding areas.

You may be asking, "But what about the knitting?" I'm definitely getting some knitting done in the evenings after our daily riding is done, but it's all secrets! My yarn is lace and sock weight so that yardage will last more of the trip with less weight. It's been warm enough recently that I haven't needed my knitted accessories very much, but my sweater has been priceless. I love that it's loose fitting so I'm comfortable riding in it unless it's very hot and sunny. The snap closures are easy to open while I'm riding, so if I need to ventilate, I don't need to stop to do it. And the sweater has been shoved under a bungee net for easy carrying, crammed into a pannier, and worn in all kinds of weather, and it looks fantastic. A few pills have emerged, but if anything, I think the wear has made it even more cohesive and beautiful.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 6 (the Riders)

It's endlessly fascinating to watch the variety of people and things that are transported by bike here in the Netherlands. Biking is definitely an ordinary way to get to the office.

And it's also pretty normal to put a kid in a box to get him where he's going.

If you want to take a friend along, just have her hop on the back! Raining? Bring an umbrella.

One of the photos below show a scooter driver giving a cyclist a hand over the bridge, and if you look closely at the bottom left photo, you'll see a girl standing on her mom's rear rack while her sister rides in the front child seat. The right one shows a guy transporting some kind of furniture unit by bike.

These guys made us feel a little more at home.

But this kind of traffic was much more normal.

There are so many bikes that the need enormous parking complexes! This three-level structure is packed with bikes.

We weren't able to get photos of all of the ways that parents travel with kids (and pets!), so here's a little illustration drawn by my husband to show some of the wonderful variety of family transport modes.

One of my favorite Netherlands memories so far has to be watching a kid hop on his mom's rear rack, crouch on the saddle, and then climb into the front basket, sitting there happily with his knees held to his chest. He was completely balanced while doing this and I couldn't help but think he was staring at us the whole time, thinking we were freaks for wearing helmets. As they rode away, his mom leaned forward smiling, and kissed him on the top of the head.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Penelope Craft Trunk Show

Last weekend I had the opportunity to do a Meet & Greet and trunk show at Penelope Craft Amsterdam. I've said it before, but the shop is beautiful, with a fantastic selection of yarn, ranging from rustic-feeling Texel wool to shimmering silks.

There are also a bunch of wonderful knitted samples, and I'm happy to add to that collection this month. If you stop by, you can see a few summery patterns - Flying Buttress Tank and Calico shawl are two breezy designs that were originally published in Knitscene, but are now available through my website and Ravelry. I also brought both the long and short versions of my Agave Tank.

My latest sweater design, Picea, along with some older favorites - Dinar Slippers and Lenke leg warmers are also on display.

The samples will be at the shop for most of June, so stop in to have a look while I wander the Netherlands!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 5 (The Bikes)

I'm not sure how to put into words how many bicycles there are here. I could look up the statistic, but instead I'll just share a handful of the different bikes we've seen around. Almost all the bikes we've seen in the city are fairly typical "Dutch" bikes, which have step-through frames for easy mounting/dismounting, swept-back handlebars that provide a very upright riding position, and some hardware on the front and/or back for carrying things. But there are all sorts of variations on this theme! Bakfiets are literally, "boxes" that are attached at the front of heavy duty bikes and are used for carrying anything from children to carpets. A lot of bikes have child seats in all different configurations.

Check out the variety:

That's a lot of bikes! But every time we thought we'd seen all the possible variations, we'd pass another one that was unique!

And, for some more knitterly bike photos, check out Stephen West and Malia Mathers with their great Dutch bikes!

We were feeling pretty different from the other riders around us our first week, with our drop handlebars and helmets (which we have continued to wear despite the peer pressure of almost no one else doing so). But then the weekend came! We went for a ride on Saturday and were surprised and delighted to be passed by a lot of riders who made us feel more at home - sporty folks in Lycra and helmets! I only wear bike shorts under cute skirts (even on tour), so I never really expected to relate to the spandex crowd, but their presence was actually reassuring. I guess some of those folks in suits and dresses that we saw riding the clunky city bikes on weekday mornings also have fast bikes at home! It makes sense that those bikes wouldn't be casually strewn along the sidewalks and fences like the everyday bikes. I guess they're kept safely inside along with the helmets.

It's fun to look at pictures of bikes, but it's even more fun to see people riding them! Next time I'll share photos of lots of different riders, their bikes, and the way they transport their kids!


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