August 28 – 30, 2017
On Tuesday Vanessa and I set out for the coast. We were sad to leave Amy, especially since I had been there so long, had really gotten to know her, and bonded over hard times. But it was time to continue on so we headed separately to the train station, her on a bus and I on my bike. It’s kind of a funny way to travel but something we would have to get used to over the next few days. I thought about biking down the coast again but really I had done that route in reverse just a few days before and I was excited to have a nice day at the beach with my babe. And we did have a great time swimming in the sea and walking the boardwalk.
For dinner we met up with the daughter of a friend of V’s mom and her girlfriend who lived in Delft, a city nearby The Hague. Both were from South Africa (where V’s family is also from) and engineers; one was there getting her PhD. We ate at this weird place where they brought a charcoal grill to your table and you could barbeque your own food. I learned that in South Africa it is called a braai and were required to use that terminology for the rest of the meal. Our hostel that night was right by the beach called Jorplace and they were friendly and it looked cute but turned out to be something of a nightmare. The bro vibe was strong though thankfully not in our room. Our room was, however, so stiflingly hot we both had bad dreams and thought we were going to suffocate. Worse was the piled 3 high bunk beds (with an extra super high top bunk on the opposite side) that were all this thin metal grating that creaked intensely at the slightest movement. With an nearly full room the loud and somewhat terrifying scrapes continued all night. To top it off the rain started to beat down during the night and because this hostel had nowhere to store bikes I had to park mine outside at some random nearby rack and even though I covered the seat my poor Ponyboy got the full brunt of the wet wet hours.
It didn’t let up the next day and as I sat eating an overpriced breakfast where the mediocre coffee was extra I seriously thought of giving up my plan to bike down the Zeeland coast. It was made even more tempting by the offer of our new friends to hang out more and to let us stay in their new apartment they had just gotten the keys to. But I didn’t want my bike trip to quite be over and public transport to these remote(ish) islands was far from quick and easy so I decided to go for it anyway.
That first day was fairly miserable.
I was following a fairly simple route down the LF1 Noordzee route (opposite of the direction I went before although with the same starting point) but Google refused to acknowledge that the Hook of Holland/Maaslavakte ferry existed though I had found the website with the timetables and that’s the route the LF1 takes. Still it only came once an hour and I was nervous to find it and/or miss it, especially since there was also a ferry to Harwich, England that left from the same area. I thought surely they wouldn’t let me get on a ferry so large with a ride so long incorrectly but I’ve had plenty of transport mishaps so far with more to come so I’m not convinced even now that’s true.
So I hurried down the rest of the coast from Scheveningen to the Hook fairly quickly without taking some of the stops I would have liked. It was fairly dry for this portion it that was not to last. But I reached the giant English ferry pretty easily and though the desk lady who I asked for directions to the smaller Dutch ferry wasn’t particularly friendly she was right about where I would find it. But again wrong about where it went. I really did have to have faith in my own found information. I was right and in time for the noon ferry and the conductor was very nice, showing me the ropes where you can tie your bike. I found this is actually a common thing on Dutch ferries and very cool so that you don’t have to hold up your bike the whole trip.
It started to rain again now, a drizzle that would wind its way to downpour and back again several times but at least we got to see some seals from the boat. The kids were especially excited to see the critters nestled on their chilly little patch of sand and that brightened my mood too. It barely carried me through the wet and dreary next stretch of pure industrial coast. But finally I got to cross onto the next island and, even though I was soaked through my rain jacket (do any of those actually work?) I was pretty happy to be in some pretty greenery and even happier when I hit a cute little restaurant where I took a long break with a cappuccino and a brie, honey and bacon broodje (I think it means something like small sandwich).
Rain continued but at least I saw more small horses though my pictures continue not to really show just how cute they are and I arrived at my next Vrienden host around dinner time. Alas I should have stopped in the last town before getting there because there was nothing around, despite it being a whole sort of campsite and B&B. The lady was curt and fine but I found her the least hospitable of all my hosts so far. So directly after getting the key I biked back 2 miles to the nearest town where I treated myself to a whole medium pizza and a fruity beer before even changing out of my bike clothes.
The nice part about this place being an established B&B is that my room was quite nice and I even had a TV for the first time my whole trip. I usually quite like watching just a little bit of local television in new countries I visit even if I can’t understand what they’re saying. I just like to get a sense of what they are watching, what commercials might be like. The best thing to watch is if I can find a music station because the language isn’t particularly important and you get a sense of what the current pop culture is expressing. Alas most channels were filled with the horrible news of the hurricane out of Houston and, as I write this several days later, all I can think of now are the huge forest fires back home in Oregon. It feels like end times and it is depressing.
But the next day I woke up to sun and I thought the goddess might actually be smiling upon me for my last, long day of cycling. I had breakfast in their cute living/dining room but even though there were other guests we each had our own table so I didn’t really get to talk to anyone beyond a cursory “goedemorgen.” My host seemed a bit friendlier but certainly didn’t sit with any of us as others had and as I was slow setting up my bike just outside the door she exclaimed, “Oh you’re still here? Can I clean your room?” But then I was off.
There was a more direct route indicated on my RWGPS route but following the LF1 was easy now and I was doing this ride to really see the ocean so I decided to keep following the coastline even though I couldn’t really tell how many miles it would add. Quite a bit it turned out but I’m glad I did it so it was probably good I didn’t know ahead of time. Once again my pictures didn’t do the coastline any justice but the beautiful blue wasfilled with brightly colored windsurfers and kiteboarders that showed up much better against the sunny sky than yesterday’s gray and there were lots of other people out walking or biking. I was buoyed.
I kept seeing signs for “fietscafe” (bike cafe) and that also made me happy, though I was never sure if the places I ended up going near the sign was actually the right one. Still I had a cheap but filling lunch at a quick outdoor spot and I still love the idea of a cafe for cycle touring.
Going down the rest of Schouwen-Duiveland and then all around the islands of Noord-Beveland and Walcheren I finally go to Vlissingen where I would catch another ferry. This one was much larger and had a giant “parking lot” of ropes and rails for bikes and other small carts and vehicles. This time I remembered to pause by RWGPS so when I ended the day at 65 miles, my longest day yet, I knew it was genuine and didn’t include any of the ferry travel. I was also relieved to find that there was a bathroom here, as I hadn’t used one all day and I was starting to get worried.
When we arrived it felt like it should be almost done but I was still in the Netherlands and had a few more miles before the Belgian border an yet more before reaching Bruges. But I knew I had my baby waiting there and I was tired but not hurting. I passed through Sluis, the last Dutch town which had won a fashion award a few years before and then crossed the border with once again zero fanfare, i.e. there was not even a sign to indicate that I was in a new country.
I was riding through a line of perfect trees along the canal in a calm afternoon sun that made the entire landscape look like an Instagram filter. When I heard a splash I thought it must be another goose or swan but then I saw a human head in a bright cap splashing through the calm water. I saw another man getting into a wetsuit and still others biking and running so it appeared some sort of border triathlon was happening but I couldn’t quite figure out the route or timing.
I continued through bucolic Belgium until I started to approach a city and I knew that I was almost there. One more canal to cross and then it would only be blocks to the hostel. A bridge went up in front of me but I didn’t worry. I wasn’t in a hurry. This small barge carrying one car, however, was long enough that it spanned both bridges and what I did not know at the beginning of my wait was that it didn’t just need to go through but to fill up the loch system completely before continuing on. I still wouldn’t have minded this much longer wait but as we sat there, multiple pedestrians, cars, and cyclists the sky began to darken and my dryness all day soon turned to once again ending up soaked through. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty damn angry with that stupid boat. What was it even doing circling Bruges with 1 stupid little white car anyway? But all in all I felt I could really call my final tour day a success. I had done the most miles of my entire trip and yet still had a great day and almost no soreness in my knee. I had biked all the way down remote portions of the North Sea that both did and didn’t remind me of the my Oregon Coast trip back home and in a few short minutes I would again be reunited with Vanessa.
Throughout this trip I had traveled nearly 500 miles over 3 weeks and I think I can call this a truly successful first European bike trip.