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!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 4

Yesterday we rode from Amsterdam to Den Helder and took the ferry to Texel. We spent the day today riding around Texel and seeing many, many sheep. And there were cats all over the place. I particularly appreciated this kitty sleeping next to a novelty cat toilet paper holder.

We had breakfast in the town of Den Berg, which had really charming narrow, winding streets and interesting old architecture.

Like the rest of the Netherlands that we've seen so far, Texel is an excellent place to ride, with wide cycle lanes and a beautiful and varied landscape. And as a bonus, the island is covered with sheep! I particularly adore the sheep that have so much wool they're completely round. And the tiny baby sheep.

The sheep produce a wonderful wool and, while I'm not sure it's available in North America, if you come to Amsterdam, you can get it at Penelope Craft.

I had a great time at Sunday's meet & greet, and I left my trunk show at the shop while I ride around the country. So if you didn't get a chance to come in on Sunday, do stop by this month to see the samples on display and get some Texel wool while you're there!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bike Travel in the Netherlands: Part 3

After arriving safely in Amsterdam, we decided to ride to our campsite. There is a train that goes from the airport into downtown, which could have gotten us most of the way, but we still had over an hour of daylight, and we thought a nice ride would help reinvigorate us after being in cramped airplanes for so many hours.

We got a GPS for this trip (the Garmin Etrex 30 - thanks for the help choosing this, cyclists of Twitter!), and, while it was a bit slow at first, it definitely got us to our destination, and seems to be working more consistently and well now. It's been really nice not having to worry about looking at maps or trying to follow a map on the phone. (The GPS gives us turn-by-turn directions.)

The cycling infrastructure here really has to be ridden to be believed. We rode just over 20km from the airport and were on a road without a dedicated bike lane for maybe a kilometer or two of that. In the heart of the city, we spent a lot of the time next to cars in bike lanes, but most of our ride was on bike-only roads that run parallel to the car roads. They were completely separated, even at intersections! I say "roads" rather than "paths" or "trails" because in most places, there was as much consideration taken for the bike infrastructure as there was for the car infrastructure, including dedicated traffic lights and multiple lanes. Sidewalks and areas for pedestrians are separate from bike roads.

Bike traffic light

Aside from the traffic lights, there are other hints about how to behave when cycling. At every intersection there are a series of triangles. If they point toward you, you're required to yield to oncoming traffic (be it bicycle or car traffic). If the triangles point away from you, however, you have the right of way.

Despite the incredible infrastructure, three things made riding in the city a bit challenging. First, motorized scooters are allowed on the bike roads, and a bunch of these zoomed past us, which was a little unnerving. Second, after living in the country, we're not very used to riding alongside other cyclists! Riding in the city felt a lot more like driving, with ton of bike traffic on the roads (even after 11pm on a Tuesday night), and the other cyclists are obviously a lot more competent on the cycle roads than we are. It's definitely important to be confident and not hesitate as you flow with the traffic. And third, there are trollies that travel throughout the city. That means there are train tracks. I've wiped out on the South Lake Union tracks in Seattle before, so these always make me pretty wary, though I have yet to have a scare with the Amsterdam tracks. I appreciate the public transit, but nothing will make me like train tracks.

Trolley tracks are not my friend

Bike lanes that aren't separated from the street are marked with the usual white bicycle outline that we have in bike lanes in a North America, but I love that these ones look like the typical Dutch bike including swept-back handlebars and a chain guard.

A Dutch bike lane!

It was particularly fun getting a little lesson in Amsterdam cycling by riding behind Stephen West and Malia Mathers of Penelope Craft following the Penelope Thursday night Knit Night. We really appreciated them showing us the way!

Stephen & Malia showing us how they do it in Amsterdam

We spent some time yesterday afternoon just standing on the sidewalk observing the traffic flowing by, and it was really interesting not only to see how riders acted, but also the kinds of bikes they rode and the amazing collection of things and people they transported. Bikes and cargo are full blog entries in themselves, so keep an eye out soon for those.

Being in Amsterdam feels a little bit like an alternate universe - it's the bike universe, in which riding is not a statement, or even particularly interesting. The Dutch seem to be bicycle enthusiasts in the same way as Americans are car enthusiasts- certain people definitely care about their bikes, but most people just use them to get around without giving it much thought.


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