Wednesday, 10 May 2017

back to the low country

Sunshine, bike paths, Lidl. What more could a cycle tourer want?  Our ride northwards shadows the Maas/Meuse river and is a real pleasure after the cold days we've had since we reached the continent.  We are in and out of forests, cruising through small towns, pedalling past fields being ploughed and find our way onto a bike path next to a river, hidden by the dyke alongside it.  We have identified some woods as potential camping but the sun is still up and there are dog-walkers and joggers about so we stop at a bench and cook dinner.  A local man stops and sits down to chat with us.  He obliquely refers to his b&b, perhaps dropping the hint to us, which we let pass.  We have eyes only for the woods, and a little gap away from the path overlooking the fields.  As the sun starts to set a hot-air balloon drifts over our heads, the hot air blower sounding like an asthmatic whale.

BP has a problem with penny farthings
Dick Bruna's memorial
Onwards to Utrecht which is a lovely city.  It's a Sunday so the roads are quiet but there are folk about.  Canals. Miffy. Houseboats. Bike paths galore.  We find the one along the riverbank which bends and twirls past some fabulous houses and gardens.  It's a popular route although the roadbikers get a bit annoying because they really want to go fast and the path is full of Sunday riders.  We mooch along happily, threading our way towards Amsterdam. 

We reach the city via a canal path, what else?  One moment we're in fields and the next we've arrived in a modernish suburb on the south side of the city, looking for Fiona and Gordon's street.  We decide to stop at the supermarket just as Gordon rolls up on his bike.  It's seven years since we saw them last in Bangkok, before we were travelling on bikes and again we have lots to catch up on.  We are introduced to their son, Laurie ,who is now at school.  It turns out that this is the longest time they have ever lived in one place together, so it's no surprise when they express itchy feet. 
obligatory windmill photo - although these days it's more wind turbines
We have a day to wander and explore the city - both our first time in the city.  The ever-diminishing rings of canals might be more charming if they were pedestrianised.  This is a classic European city where people live right in the city centre.  I hadn't really considered this before a friend in England reflected how much Manchester had changed with the development of the city centre making it more residential and more European.  Here we find bustling street markets selling food, clothing and bric-a-brac.  There are lots of tourists but the city is busy with the normal day to day stuff.  We just have to take care on the bike paths - the locals who know their way round are not always patient of tourists who stop suddenly to take photos or gawp at the street scenes.  The one thing that strikes me is the familiarity of the architecture, specifically the brown stone houses - they look just like the brownstones of New York.

say 'cheese'

It's only a fleeting visit and before we know it we're saying our goodbyes once again and heading out eastwards through a green part of the city and out along a huge canal surrounded by wind turbines.  Zwolle has a nice pedestrianised central area where we stop for a picnic lunch. The weather has finally begun to warm up and we still have showers but signs of summer are everywhere.  Our last night in the Netherlands we find ourselves amongst farmland where all the fields either have crops or are being prepared.  It offers little to the wild camper but finally we find some woods where we can keep out of sight.
yep, it's flat alright