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We agreed to meet outside the hotel at 9.00 next morning for a group foray down the dijk, to meet up with Marten and any other friends he might have talked in to coming along! This report is getting difficult now. There are only three days left to describe. I didn't want it to finish then, and I don't want it to finish now!

Ina and Peng arrived at 9.30 as Peng had had a flat tyre not far from home. Ina had predicted a foggy morning followed by a clear day, and that's exactly what we got. The weather was perfect for riding down the dijk. Ina is an amateur birdwatcher, like thousands of her countrymen, and had heard that some spoonbills had been sighted in the Oostvaarders Plassen, which is a large wetland to the left of the dijk as you travel south. It is the largest refuge for water birds in Europe. We didn't find any spoonbills unfortunately, but we did hear some more cuckoos, and this time I managed to record them.

We had travelled about 30 of the 35k between Lelystad and Muiderberg before we met up with Marten and Co. Marten had brought along his friends Minko (EB and touring mailing list participant) and Yvonne, who will stay overnight with us when she visits Australia in July/August this year. We made a jolly group as we cycled in to Muiderberg, to offload Denis' and my panniers at the "Nooit Gedacht" hotel, and to plan the afternoon's activities.

EB meeting at Muiderslot: Dennis, Lenore, Ina, Peng, Minko, Marten, Yvonne

We took a leisurely ride through the countryside from Muiderberg to Muiden, with Muider Slot (castle) in the background. We lunched at an outdoor cafe right beside the River Vecht in Muiden. Denis could have stayed there for at least a week - it was fascinating watching the traditional timber boats float past towards the lock, then the bells would ring, the bridge would swing around, parallel with the river, and the boats would slide on through.

After lunch we rode down the Vecht to Weesp. The countryside in this part of Holland (and I use the word advisedly) is just what a visitor dreams of - quiet waterways, grazing cows, green grass, houseboats, and windmills. I was really sorry that time was running out so rapidly.

We had tea in Weesp, again sitting outdoors - it was the best weather we had had all trip - the only day I wore a T-shirt! Minko and Yvonne left at 7.30 as they had a long ride home - Minko to Amersfoort and Yvonne to Wageningen. Yvonne then had another 300k ride planned for the next day!

Marten, Ina, Peng, Denis and I then took a leisurely ride back to Muiderberg, and had coffee with Marten's parents. It was a lovely ending to a perfect day - good weather, good cycling, good friends. (And I can keep in touch with their biking activities via their Melige Krekkers web site!)

At 21.00 I was still in my T-shirt as we reluctantly said goodbye to Ina and Peng, who were returning to Lelystad, and to Marten, who was returning to Hengelo. I really admired their stamina in choosing to ride so many kilometres in the dark - I found out later that Marten cycled to the nearest railway station for his "ride" home ;-) I must warn you here that three kisses on the cheek is the normal Dutch farewell. Ina, Peng and Marten got their full complement, but I still owe one to Minko, and two to Yvonne ;-)

We left Muiderberg early the next morning, as we wanted to visit Muiderslot before heading off to Zwanenburg via the outskirts of Amsterdam. We retraced our path from the day before, following the dijk to Muiden, with Muiderslot across the fields in the distance. When we reached the Slot we were lucky to discover that the tour guide had spent a number of years in Papua New Guinea, and had many friends in Australia, so she gave the tour in both Dutch and English. Muiderslot is one of the best preserved castles in the Netherlands, and it is furnished mostly in the fashion of the 17th century. Some reconstruction has been done, but you can't tell from the inside - it all looks completely genuine, even down to the worn, red-tiled floor.

After Muiden we rode to Weesp, then on to Abcoude, where we stopped for lunch. The path between Weesp and Abcoude is idyllic, as it utilises a quiet road running either side of the Gein, passing by farms and under large shady trees, with green fields in the middle distance stretching to meet the haze of Amsterdam on the horizon.

After Abcoude we followed the Winkel and Waver paths to Nes a/d Amstel, then turned west through the Bovenkerker polder. Once we reached the T-junction we just followed the signs to Haarlem and Schiphol, as our overnight stop, Zwanenburg, was out in that direction. As we passed Schiphol we noticed a lot of disruption due to roadworks, so we determined to ride in next day and organise our bikes for the trip home, rather than leave it until Sunday morning. By the time we reached the Tivotel at Zwanenburg we had done 75k, so we had a couple of well earned beers before exploring the town. And it was only 16.00 ;-)

Now, the Tivotel at Zwanenburg is a special place. If you have ever watched "Fawlty Towers" then you will have some idea of how it is run. We arrived at 14.00 to find that none of the rooms had as yet been made up - no sheets on the beds, no towels in the ensuite, and little piles of soiled linen in the corridor outside each room. The housemaid and her offsider were busy downstairs having afternoon tea.

It was comforting to see from the linen trolley list that our room was the next to be made up, but after spending half an hour at the bar in our cycling clothes, we just had to suggest to the manager that it was time the maid got back to work. He seemed quite reluctant to direct her to do anything!

Next morning we cleaned our bikes thoroughly before riding (baggageless) to Schiphol airport. When travelling to Australia it is important to have a clean bike as the quarantine people can impound anything they believe could transfer exotic diseases to Australia, and this includes dirt from farm roads in Europe (or New Zealand, or anywhere else)

It took Denis some time to discover where to buy the KLM bike boxes (30 guilders each), but he finally appeared, and we struggled down to the "Left luggage" area to package the bikes. The KLM boxes are very large, so although my front wheel had to come off, Denis' didn't, so it didn't take us too long to achieve our purpose. The overnight fee of 16 guilders (8 guilders per box) was a reasonable price to pay for peace of mind. No more bicycling 'til we returned home!

After a bite of lunch at the airport we headed in to Amsterdam for a quick look around. The reconstruction work meant that the trains weren't running, so after some confusion we caught a bus going in the general direction of the city. Unfortunately the bus only took us as far as a train/tram transfer station, so we had to ask directions from a couple of orange-overalled young men. They were quite aghast that we hadn't paid any fare for the bus, and directed us straight to the ticket booth, where we were sold a Strippenkaart. I wonder who invented these ridiculous things? You need at least a 2-hour lesson on how to use them before being let loose on the Amsterdam public transport system.

In the train we struck up a conversation with the fellow sitting next to me. He was sleepy, and slightly drunk, but insisted that we should not go all the way to Central Station if we wanted to pick up a canal trip around Amsterdam. He knew a better place. When he lurched out of his seat at some unknown station, saying "Follow me!", I thought, "Oh no" but Denis nodded and followed him, so I scuttled after them both.

He told us his brother lived and worked in Australia, so he was pleased to be able to be of service to some Australians visiting Amsterdam. His genuine concern for our welfare was quite touching, given the state he was in. I pinned my last kangaroo souvenir to his jumper, and I swear there were tears in his eyes.

He led us from tram to tram until we finally emerged at the Leidseplein, where he showed us the canal bus stop before turning back home towards Amstelveen. The canal bus is quite a good vehicle for touring the canals of Amsterdam. They run a green line and a red line with overlapping stops, and you can get on and off all day. So for the one ticket you can cruise round all day, or get off at this museum or that, then get back on and sail down to the next. There is a basic taped commentary in English, French, German, and Italian, so you pick up some information along the way. We happened to be on the bus when it was rammed by a private boat coming out of a side canal, so that added a bit of excitement to the trip as well!

Bikes galore outside Amsterdam Central Station

After visiting the Flea market we were feeling a bit tired, so we headed up to Central Station to work out how to get back to Zwanenburg. We had to catch the train to Sloterdijk, then catch a bus to Z'burg. Denis just bent the Strippenkaart over and shoved it in the franking machine - he didn't bother counting sections, or anything technical like that, so when the train conductor came along to check the tickets he was thoroughly confused. He ticked us off for not doing it properly, but obviously saw the lecture was useless, so passed on with a warning to do it right next time. I hope the system has changed by the time we get back!

The bus driver was much more understanding - we just handed him the kaart and asked if there was enough left on it to get us to Zwanenburg. There was enough for one, but when we pointed out it was for both of us he just took the ticket and nodded. When we got off the bus we gave him the remains of a bag of Dutch salt licorice that we had tried, but couldn't appreciate.

The cleaning staff back at the hotel were running true to form. It was 18.00, the beds were made, but there were no towels to be seen. Denis jumped in the shower and sent me downstairs for some towels, "Oh, sorry madam, they've just been washed. They're all in the dryer. Oh, your husband's in the shower, is he? Perhaps we can find one here at the back of the cupboard...Will this one do? It's all stained, but it's clean. I'll have someone bring up some more towels when they're dry."

An hour later I still hadn't joined Denis at the bar, as I was still up in our room waiting for a towel! I thought it must be a very slow dryer, but no, the manager had forgotten all about it!.

We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant that night - our final fling! Next morning, waiting for our taxi to Schiphol I couldn't help thinking of that song: "I'm leaving on a jetplane, Don't know when I'll be back again.." I really hated to go.

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