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KOBLENZ TO LELYSTAD
We intended to train it to Cologne (I just HAD to see the cathedral) then Arnhem, and catch up a few days that way. Russell would also catch the train next day (Saturday) as he was due to fly out of Amsterdam on Friday morning. We noticed the train fare became pretty steep, now that the excursion fare was shared between two instead of amongst five! I believe also the fact that we were crossing the international border between Germany and the Netherlands added to the price.
At Cologne we left our panniers in a locker, and locked our bikes up outside the station. The cathedral is immediately opposite the station, so finding it was no problem, we just had to fight our way through the crowds. This seemed to be a repetition of history - the relics of the Magi drew so many pilgrims in the middle ages that they had to build a huge church just to accommodate them all at mass.
The structure itself is a monument to the stonemason's art - to me it seemed as if the whole thing had been crocheted in stone, it was all so intricate. It is a shame that hundreds of years of coal-burning fires and acid rain have left their mark in the blackened stones and crumbling sculptures. Efforts are being made to clean and restore the stonework, but I am afraid it is too late - you can see it crumbling before your very eyes. The inside is dark, but awesome, with the lower tier of stained glass windows standing 17 metres high.
We spent about three hours in and around the cathedral, then boarded the next train for Arnhem. Netherlands, here we come!
The weather had deteriorated badly by the time we reached Arnhem. We called in to the money exchange/hotel booking agency (I can't remember what it was called) on the way out of the station, in the hope of getting a bed in town, but the only accommodation available was two beds in a shared dorm at the youth hostel. It was a four-bed dorm, and the other occupants were "an older German couple". We accepted the hostel beds, then made our way to "Alteveer" through the steady rain.
We parked our bikes in the large, dry bikeshed, and pushed wearily through the doors to reception. Denis cheered up the minute we crossed the threshold, for there, immediately opposite the reception desk was a real live dinky di bar, all done up like an English pub! He had been afraid, I think, that he would be confined to quarters because of the rain, and an evening of broken German conversation with our room-mates wasn't particularly appealing. He needn't have worried as Herbert and Wilburga were nowhere in sight, and we didn't meet them until the next morning. They were a lovely couple, and we'd really like to see them again.
Well, Arnhem youth hostel Alteveer really rocked on the evening of Saturday 26/4! Some all-female hockey team was having their annual weekend away, and they really knew how to enjoy themselves. Denis was in great demand as a dance partner as he was the only male present on the customers' side of the bar (there had been some others earlier, but they quietly melted away as the ladies really started to party!) He had a ball!
Next morning it was still raining. We were to meet yet another EB connection, Marten Toxopeus, on the Oostvaardersdijk between Lelystad and Muiderberg on the morning of 1 May, which gave us 4 days to get to Lelystad (yes, Lelystad ;-)) As we no longer had time to do our scheduled trip through North Holland via Rotterdam and the Hoek van Holland, and we didn't fancy riding too far in the rain, we decided to stay at the hostel in Arnhem for the next two nights.
The canals of Delft
We spent the day on trains, making our way via Utrecht and Rotterdam to Delft, home of the beautiful, and mighty expensive, blue and white porcelain. Beware of ripoffs! "Hand decorated" does not mean the same thing as "Hand painted". You pay a lot for the genuine article, but some of the cheaper, mass produced items are quite tasteful. It was a dull day, and Delft itself looked rather dull, but I'm glad we don't have canals in Canberra - I can't imagine reverse parking a car beside one! Hanging around railway stations can also present touristic experiences - Denis and I both enjoyed the snacks we bought from the automatieks - and the kroketten were nearly as good as the ones made by our Dutch mates back home.
We hoped for a clear day on Monday 28/4, but it was not to be. We spent the morning at the VVV trying to book accommodation in or near Amsterdam for our last 3 nights in the Netherlands. We were completely out of luck. It would be the weekend following Queen's Day, and it seemed like everyone had decided to extend the public holiday from the Wednesday to the next Monday (another public holiday, Liberation Day). Denis was doing his 17.00 panic, and it was only 11.00!! We settled for one night in Muiderberg, as we were already going there, and two nights in Zwanenburg, which is not too far from Schiphol airport, on the way to Haarlem. As it was still too wet to do any decent outdoor sightseeing, we went shopping instead :-)
Tuesday 29/4 was still wet, but it was time to mount up and move on. Today we were headed for Apeldoorn and the Paleis het Loo, and then on to Epe where we were booked in to a B&B for the night. We followed the cycle path north through the Hoge Veluwe National Park, and that's where we came across our one and only "wild rooster". We were riding along in the drizzle through the lightly forested landscape when we passed one of those <exclamation mark in a red triangle> warning signs. The words underneath said "Wild rooster". Now, I've seen wild pigs, and they can get pretty mean, but what should one expect from a wild rooster - to be crowed to death? Or perhaps it was a monstrous fighting cock, with giant spurs on its feet, and it would fly onto my shoulder and pierce my jugular vein, or peck my eyes out? We kept a wary eye open for anything untoward, but nothing leapt in to view - we couldn't even see any chickens. We realised we were headed in the wrong direction and turned around, and there, 100 metres back down the path was another sign warning of the wild rooster - it must have had a very limited territory. Just after we passed the sign (second time), we crossed a cattle grid (for the second time). We wondered why they didn't have a warning sign for .... oh, we had been reading the sign in English, but it was written in Dutch, oops!
A pretty thatched house in Apeldoorn
We were pretty sodden by the time we reached Paleis het Loo on the northern edge of Apeldoorn, around 35k from Arnhem. The palace was the home of William of Orange and his English wife Mary, who were later invited to England to reign as joint monarchs after the Brits decided James II was a bit too Popish for their liking. The building is furnished in grand style, and is open as a museum for public inspection - you can wander around at your own pace, or take a guided tour (in Dutch). We struck up a conversation with a young woman who has been trying to locate some long-lost relatives in Australia. I promised to help, but have had no luck so far :-(
We left Apeldoorn and continued to Epe, about 15k to the north. The cycle paths are well marked, and the streetpoles that are numbered to correspond to points on the cyclemaps provide reassurance. The map of Epe at the southern entrance to the town has not been updated for a while - it did not show the street we were looking for, and you know, we were getting close to THAT time of day =:-o
I asked for directions at a greengrocer's - the proprietors didn't speak English, but their customer did, and obviously knew the town well, too. She was well into her seventies, and her English was fairly broken (but 3000 % better than my Dutch!), but her instructions were spot on, and we found our way to Schutteshof without much trouble.
Schutteshof is a B&B run as a sideline to the family farm. Mijnheer Schutte is a large man, and when we arrived he was wearing the biggest pair of clogs I have ever seen in my life! The building is a traditional style Dutch farm house, complete with thatched roof, which has been extended on the inside to include a couple of double rooms, a family room, and a self-contained apartment for longer stays.
We had tea in a pub we had passed on the way, only to find it the headquarters of a local cycling club. Tuesday night was obviously time-trial night. The timekeeper was having a coffee with the bunch when we walked in, but he went home not long after, leaving the stragglers to clock themselves in.
I ordered a ham and cheese pancake for dinner, and couldn't believe it when the waiter brought over the apple syrup and powdered sugar to pour over the top. My new Dutch internet friends later told me this was normal practice, but I'm afraid I rejected the experience.
The next day was Queen's Day, 30 April, and the whole population of the Netherlands celebrates in some way. Mijnheer Schutte gave us a map of Epe, with directions to the road to Elburg. "You will be on the right road if you pass an orange house", he told us. Well we were, and we did - orange streamers, orange flags, orange flowers everywhere. The sign out the front was a bit superfluous - Tijd voor oranje (time for orange), it read.
Decorations for Queen's Day, in Epe
Just past the orange house we were picked up and pulled along by a friendly group of racing cyclists out for a morning training session. Even though we were drafting, I found the exertion a bit too much, and had to drop off the back after a couple of kilometers. We had missed our preferred turnoff in the excitement, but the adrenalin rush kept us buoyed up for the next couple of hours :-)
Cycling in this part of the Netherlands is pretty simple. You just need to know the general direction you're headed, then follow the signs on the cycle paths. At Elburg we saw our first traditional thatched windmill, then we crossed the bridge into the Flevoland polder. The polders are quite amazing, stretching flat from horizon to horizon. Because the reclaimed land has an even depth of soil right across, trees planted simultaneously all display the same growth rate, so it looks as if some giant gardener has been out with the hedge clippers, trimming the trees to an even height.
At one point we saw a long flash of red in the distance. I thought it was a plastic fence, but Denis insisted it was tulips. He was right, but unfortunately that was the closest we got to any of the tulip fields I had so been looking forward to. Maybe next time ...
The 12 or so kilometers between Elburg and Dronten was fairly slow, as we struck a rather stiff head wind. That's the one trouble with riding on the polder - there is nothing to break the wind - you just grit your teeth and struggle on. It must be great if you're travelling in an easterly direction!
Dronten to Lelystad was a lot easier, as there is a wood running alongside the cyclepath. The trees create interest, and form an serviceable windbreak as well. We were due to meet Ina and Peng, friends of Marten's, at our lodging in Lelystadhaven at 15.00. I was a bit worried about navigating through Lelystad itself, as we had always come unstuck in the urban areas. There was no problem however, as the way to the harbour was signposted right from the southern outskirts of town. As we approached the harbour from the polder level it was strange to see the boats all floating at anchor 5 metres above us!
We made it to "De Lange Jammer" with about half an hour to spare, so we had time for a quiet beer in the bar before Ina and Peng arrived. I had corresponded with Ina via e-mail, and had spoken to her on the 'phone, but I had no idea what she looked like. My only clue was that Peng was a New Zealander. It was obvious who they were when they walked in - Peng's black hair kind of gave him away! I guess my Australian flag tacked to the front of my barbag kind of gave us away too ;-)
Ina and Peng took us in tow back towards Lelystad proper. We did a tour of the leftovers of the Queen's Day markets, had coffee at their place, then went out for tea. After tea they rode back to the harbour with us. Ina had told us something of the intricacies of the Lelystad cyclepaths, how some roads may be used, and others are forbidden to bicycles. I'm glad they were with us, because, even with local knowledge, we became flummoxed a number of times. Luckily it was a perfect night to be out riding.