Windmills, waders and wild roosters

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A boat/bike cruise is a perfect way to explore the charming towns as well as the serene farmlands and woodlands of the Netherlands. A week aboard the boat provided us with well-marked bike routes, interesting harbor visits and some delicious cuisine to savor along the way. Cruising through the lush countryside and through charming villages was a bonus to spending the day on our bikes. We had the option of a guided tour with our knowledgeable guide Piet, or to venture off on our own with a well-marked map and a “See you back at the boat!” We decided to play it by ear and do a little of both. The Dutch bike network uses a point-to-point system (Knooppunt) which is much easier to follow than a traditional “route names.”

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And if “knooppunt” isn’t a funny enough word for you, try “wild rooster.” Occasionally we came across warning signs on the path and wondered if we needed to be worried about some kind of feral chicken hiding in the woods ready to pounce on unsuspecting two wheelers. Turns out that “wild rooster” (pronounced “vild roaster”) is actually a grill (roaster) in the road to prevent animals from crossing over. Better known as “cattle guards.”

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The Dutch have a saying…”In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth except in the Netherlands where God created the waters and the Dutch created the land.” And in many cases, the innovative engineering of containing and relocating water substantiates this claim. Extensive agricultural land and in some cases entire cities have been built on land created by a sophisticated network of dikes. So, one of our journeys included riding a few kilometers on what used to be the bottom of the sea as recent as the 1970’s and is now fertile farmland and young forest.

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Biking at the bottom of the sea

The days on the trail were spent ticking off the kilometers over meadows and through forests between one charming village after another.

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Hattem

Just when I thought I found the best photo, something around the next corner would surprise me and make me smile.

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At the end of one particular long day of biking, we pulled into a sweet fishing village with a history of devastation from the huge flood of 1916.   Now a distant memory, the village stands as a reminder of the resilience and stamina of the Dutch. On this late August day the harbor and the cobbled streets were a happy rendition of peaceful serenity. A small group of us walked along the water’s edge marveling at the colors and designs of the old fishing boats. We finished off the day sharing stories over a few good Dutch beers at a sidewalk café that was bathed in the glow of the late afternoon sun.

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Spakenburg

 

DIKES AND BIKES – Wandering the Netherlands

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The barge glides steadily through the gentle waters of the Ijssel River whose banks are lined with river rock and sandy beaches normally submerged under the water. This year has been particularly dry in the Netherlands with rainfall at record lows, and the river level sits three meters below normal. But today, the sky is heavy with low dark clouds and the steady drizzle offers much needed moisture and foggy vistas of gray water, gray sky, gray landscape. A perfect day for writing.

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My home for the next week is aboard the barge “Sarah” – a boat that sails the rivers of central Netherlands known as the Hanseatic region.  This area flourished during the Middle Ages as one of the most important trade routes in Europe with the Ijssel  River being the highway of commerce. The quaint towns along the river have a distinctly Medieval flair evident in the old architecture and cobbled streets.

The rest of the small group aboard our boat chose to follow our determined guide, Piet on the planned 45km bike excursion around the hills and towns of the region today. (Piet reminds us that, “There is no such thing as bad biking weather. Only bad clothing.”) Yesterday we enjoyed our biking under clearer skies, knocking out about 45 km on well-marked paths that meandered under deep green canopies of tall trees and open meadows filled with purple heather. We pushed on at a leisurely pace fueled by the occasional coffee and Dutch pancake.

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Our group of fifteen guests, four crew and one guide is a congenial mix of Germans, Dutch, Poles and Americans from all walks of life. We are today only two days into our weeklong bike/boat excursion and have already settled into a comfortable rhythm of living together in very tight quarters and forging new friendships in the process. It helps that everyone on board is here because we share the same passion for travel and adventure as experienced from the saddle of a bicycle.

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I’ll be blogging every few days or so whenever I’m not on a bike or indulging in some fantastic cuisine on the boat or engaging in lively conversation with my new friends. Until then, “Proost!”

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