Leaving Brugge on the Monday morning after such an amazing weekend was really hard – it is strange to experience how quickly I get back into the ‘normal’ routine of daily home life … I was able to sleep in a flat, eat from a plate (knife and fork optional!), not worry about the bad weather outside and have great conversation. All things it is really easy to take for granted.
Christiaan cycled with me to the next town and we had a quick tea before I set off alone again. He was returning to Brugge to meet with friends to plan his next trip to Madegascar and a summer inland boat trip on a beautiful barge with a friend – in addition to this he is thinking of a cycle trip from Brugge to Berlin!! Does this man never sit still!?
I cycle along the canals out of the town and consider again the differences between here and the Kennet and Avon canal – space, quiet, no people and lots of apparent places to moor up and spend time but no-one else to spend it with.
I head to the coast to see where the orginal entrances to the canals which brought trade into Brugge originated from. These entrances silted up a very long time ago. The headwind coming across the land from the sea was quite hardgoing but it was a beautiful day and as discussed with Christiaan I was looking forward to catching the ferry to Vlissinge – it is so great to have conversations and change plans based on how those conversations go …. I would never have considered this route onto the Netherlands ‘islands’ before talking with Christiaan and now I am no longer heading through Belgium to Antwerp but up and across to Arnhem.
The transition on the cycle path from Belgium to the Netherlands is not evident in anyway and the first time I realise is when the signposts show different names and words and I notice that the way to order tea is different!
The ferry to Vlissinger is awesome – I do love a boat trip!!! It appears to be the commuter route and I am the only Tourist – €4 one way!
From Vlissinger I cycle to Middelburg. The routes are, of course, all along the canals and are really well signposted. I notice this about Belgium and the Netherlands – cycling is so much a way of life that it is made as positive and as easy as possible – I find out later from several people I talk and stay with that in the Netherlands there is a strong Government initiative to encourage cycling for sustainability and health.
In Middelberg I order a part for the Primus stove and decide to stay on a campsite in Koudekerke for a couple of days since the weather is due to change and I want to wait for the stove fuel line to arrive – this was a really good move … Robbie (the tent!!) withstands 85km/hr winds which arrive with explosive suddenness at 0230hrs. These winds carry on relentlessly until the morning and only abate of a few hours before returning to their previous ferocity!!
I confess that at 0245 that morning I am checking the Internet for ‘wind stability’ tests for Robbie and am relieved that several German outdoors magazines have given Awards to the tent and that it has performed well in 120km/hr tests!! By morning I am giving Robbie my own Award for fortitude – no bent poles, damaged fly sheet or evidence of any issue – phew …. well done Robbie!! The owner of the campsite turns up at 9am to check I am ok and that the tent has survived – apparently this level of high winds is unusual at this time of year and she had been concerned in the night how I was faring!! When the locals are concerned then is the time to feel even more thankful that we are all doing just fine!!
2 days later the fuel line arrives and we are off again … The wind continues and I leave Koudekerke and Middelberg to go up through pretty villages en route to crossing over onto the Neeltje Jans, an island nature reserve. One of these pretty villages is Veere. It was recommended for a visit and was really lovely – also quiet this early in the year and on a weekday afternoon.
Crossing over the flood barrier to Neeljte Jan on a very blustery afternoon was an experience – a strong headwind and the overpowering sensation of the forces of nature – the bridge contains tidal turbines and there are many wind turbines alongside which harness the power of the extreme weather there.
The Oosterschelde Flood barrier is the largest of 13 Delta dams and storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea. The construction was in response to the widespread damage and loss of life due to flooding from the North Sea in 1953.
Neeltje Jans is a very small nature reserve and cycling across it I was surprised to see mussels being farmed on long lines.
I was later on advised again that waiting in Koudekerke was a really good move because when the weather is bad the bridge/flood barrier is shut – I would not have wanted to get caught, alone, on the Neeltje Jans (beautiful and wild as it is) over the past few days. I cross back over from this island to the next and continue on …..
The Netherlands are known for being very flat but there is so much to see in the countryside and such beauty in the towns, villages and in cycling through these places.
The left over browns and blacks of winter gradually being replaced by the spring greens and yellows are very evident in the Netherlands. The dying rushes in the marshlands and around the dikes are being replaced by brighter colours but in the meantime strong colour really highlights this transitional time and appears even more vivid than usual.
I reach Dordrect and have arranged, through Warm Showers, to stay with the Family Soare. A wonderful family who have 4 Boys, of a range of ages from 12 years old down to 5 years old, who are all into cycle touring. The 2nd eldest, Daan, advises during a conversation that he can easily manage 85km in a day – having seen the photos I am also aware that on these trips he is carrying his own kit in panniers! They are planning a summer cycle tour this year and will be going to Romania. Daan kindly gives me his room for the night – they have made dinner for me despite me getting there later than anticipated (continued strong headwind made the 17 km feel more like 70) and we have peppermint tea together and talk about cycling before bed.
We have breakfast together in the morning – unfortunately Klarina has already gone to work – she is a nurse and Andrei is an IT teacher – before the children head off to school. Daan is doing a reading for the Easter service and is composed but nervous. All the children play instruments and are very outgoing so breakfast for me is a wonderful jumble of hearing them speak fantastic English, my halting, half remembered, rusty German, some piano practice and the usual sibling interactions – a wonderfully homely start to the day.
The dikes are steep sided and have a very sinuous rhythm to them, great to cycle on top of – and today the wind is more with me than against me.
The River Waal is constantly busy moving cars, fuel, coal and what appears to be rubbish or recycling. This is evidently still a viable, economic manner of logistics. For me it was so interesting to watch the boats slide by as I continued on my way. When it was empty of traffic it is also a fantastically beautiful river. The houses and villages behind the dikes are also really pretty.
I stop for tea at a beautiful cafe/b&b/house and spend a lovely couple of hours chatting to Susanne, the owner. Today is the first day of the season and I am her first customer. She is surprised by my aim to get to India and when I leave the whole family comes out of the house to wish me well and wave me off – it was a really touching, such care and interest – that they all wanted to come out and give good wishes. I catch another Ferry back onto the ‘mainland’ and the camp on the top of another dike for the night.
It is a beautiful place to stay and I sit and watch the boats in the dark until they cease and then when they restart again at 5am I am already up packing, having breakfast and ready to see what the day brings – I expect to be in Arnhem in time for 2nd breakfast! When I reach Arnhem I am feeling pretty ropey and do not enjoy being in the city – Im no longer sure if I am getting agrophobic or anxious from spending so much time alone or if I am actually unwell.
The city centre was so badly destroyed during the war and then so rapidly rebuilt that I feel an uneasy sense of instability and stress with the modern, concrete ‘architecture’. It all feels wrong – or is it me?! I decide to get out of the city and spend a couple of days in a campsite on the outskirts of Arnhem – this site is really lovely, relatively cheap, is incredibly well organised – it even has a library! The owners are so sweet that they creep around in the early hours and put out Easter eggs for all the campers on a very cold, crisp Easter Sunday morning!!!
On Easter Monday I leave Arnhem feeling physically a bit better and head for the boarder with Germany. I find it difficult navigating my way out of Arnhem and then spend a frustrating couple of hours cycling around the complex river systems just outside Arnhem.
The waterways are so intertwined and there are limited opportunities for crossing between one area and another that I am annoyed with myself for being so stubborn as to not have a map and a concrete plan since I then find myself literally cycling circles – beautiful views should not be compromised by my frustration and annoyance at ‘not getting places’ … I need to learn to relax into this trip and not get caught up in the concept of ‘destination’!