Notes from a Flaat Country

Cycling around Amsterdam after a bikepacking trip, I took time to reflect the culture of bicycling in one of the most cycle friendly countries in the world. 

I opened locker number 27. A medium sized locker positioned at eye level that cost €7 per 24 hours. Secreted inside was bubble wrap, bike bags, an enormous pedal spanner, a roll of parcel tape, a dress, clean underwear and a pair of flip flops.

My bike leaned against a large stainless steel bench nearby waiting to be packed for Flight EZY8876 from Schiphol to London Gatwick.

Riding with trams amsterdamThat Monday morning Dan and I had cycled from the East side of Amsterdam towards the city centre.

Our only plan, a serendipitous ride through the streets of the city ranked joint first with Copenhagen as the most bike friendly city in the world. With a population of approximately 820,000, there is almost an equal number of bikes according to government estimates, quadruple the number of cars.

Amsterdam CanalStreams of cyclists flowed along cycle lanes, each going about their daily business, an occasional delivery truck blocked the route and I almost caused chaos by stopping suddenly in mid flow traffic.

 

I loved seeing the city this way and quickly learned the correct cycle etiquette. We’d spent three days touring the countryside and coast. I’d been looking forward to this birthday trip for one big reason – The Netherlands is flat; really flaat.

At Christmas I pushed both my body and bike into the Moroccan Atlas mountains, at Easter, I’d ridden the hills of Donegal and closer to home I’d pedalled the Purbeck Hills in Dorset and Berwyn in Wales. I’d had enough of hills and insatiable hunger. This would be the best trip ever.

Somewhere near the city centre, Dan and I stopped for coffee, locking the bikes at a nearby rack. I went inside to order. The décor was brown. The floor was covered with boards worn bare, the walls made from wooden panels thickly painted in layers of dark caramel paint and the ceiling, burnt sienna from years of cigarette smoke. A fresco of blue and white delft tiles tinged sepia from nicotine, depicting a stormy maritime scene hung opposite the bar. A single ceramic beer tap was clamped to the counter and a stove for winter warmth was tucked against the back wall. An assortment of sweet and savoury snacks failed to tempt me. I ordered two milky coffees and brought them outside to a small table lower than a coffee table.

‘You know what,’ I said. ‘Flat is kind of boring. I mean… I like flat, just not all the time.’

‘I never thought I’d hear you say that,’ said Dan, smirking.

‘I’ll remind you what you said next time you moan about a steep hill.’

In all fairness, I couldn’t believe what I was saying either, but I felt as flat as the boobs meant to be covered by a double ‘a’ sized bra. And on that note, the Dutch use double ‘a’ a lot.

When riding or pushing up a hill. I feel a sense of achievement when I reach the top. It feels natural to stop and take stock of the view and the sounds and smells once breathing returns to normal. Then there’s the exhilaration of bombing downhill. Ups and downs, highs and lows and a little bit of flat, just like life itself. Here, all the paths were similar with smooth hard surfaces and barely an undulation.

‘Thing is, Dan. This is a brilliant country for cycling in, but it’s not the type of cycling I enjoy best.’

He gave a wry smile as he lifted his cup for a last mouthful. ‘I prefer wilderness.’

We climbed on the bikes and rode on, stopping only when amused by a wooden bike. Banks Mansion Bike AmsterdamThe route to Schiphol airport was so clearly marked that we had no need to use paper maps or GPS until we arrived at the airport’s western boundary.

Somehow we lost the cycle path and rode for a couple of kilometres on a road we shouldn’t have been on. Airport bus drivers tooted and cars swerved around us. Pretty soon we found the path again and rode to the entrance taking it in turn to wheel the bikes through the automatic turning doors, a skill we’d failed to master when we’d arrived.

We wheeled the bikes into lifts and down to the luggage lockers. As I wrapped and taped my bike, I thought how much been fun it had been riding straight from an airport to cycle around a country.

 


Catch up on the Bikepacking in Holland trip.

Accommodation Tip

Vrienden op de Fiets
This foundation offers a network of overnight addresses for sporting types who go on multiple-day trips.

These addresses are often situated along splendid cycling and hiking routes in the Netherlands.

You can set off anywhere in the country – and stay overnight and have breakfast in people’s homes for a bargain price.

Membership costs €8.00 a year giving you access to almost 5000 addresses.

Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a ‘modest explorer’. Nothing modest about me.

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