We duck into a coffee shop in Utrecht, Holland and watch the morning commute go by on two wheels. We had to stop riding and get out of the way because our stop and start navigation is holding up the hundreds of other cyclists on their way to work. They flow everywhere, lining up at stoplights, crossing smoothly in front of each other and traveling in mini pelotons down the street. They are all riding very upright Dutch bikes and carrying children, laundry and groceries and none of them are wearing cycling clothes or a helmet. There are few cars and they stay out of the way. The narrow street is full of bikes parked so tightly there is little room for our large touring bikes without kickstands. While we wait for the flood of cyclists to slow down we enjoy a great breakfast and coffee. It's an amazing scene for us because of the contrast with our American car culture, but here it's just normal.
We get to chat with a local about real estate prices and what it’s like to live in Holland vis a vis the USA. Like most of Holland, she speaks excellent English and we share stories of the road and discuss the differences in our two countries. From our perspective, the Netherlands looks like paradise; but our new friend is not so sure.
We are following a long distance route across the country toward the North Sea. We love that the route is called the 7b-just like Bonner County license plates. A reminder of home every time we see one of the navigation signs. There are windmills and flowers and canals. The route passes through marshes and we see monuments to Allied planes that crashed here during WWII. It is a jarring contrast to the peaceful terrain.
The Netherlands are a cycling dream where humans own the streets and cars do not rule the world. Trucks stop for us in roundabouts so we don’t have to put a foot down. Going to the grocery store we can’t even find a place to park our bikes as everyone else has a kickstand and there is no place for us to lean.
We spent 16 days riding through the Netherlands from Maastricht to the North Sea and then down to Belgium. Our helmets stayed on the handlebars as we followed the Lf 7b and LF1A routes. These long distance routes wind through the country, finding nature reserves and following rivers and canals. They lead to charming campsites and drop us in the center of beautiful villages. We have been on a lot of cycling routes in Europe and somehow these feel different to us. Sometimes it feels dreamlike riding the green corridors and then next to the dunes on the North Sea. The route feels somehow more whimsical and low stress compared to other places. Even when we lose the track, there are separated bike paths everywhere and a whole numbered system to get you back on route. We follow the directional signs and glide along at the same steady speed. The only hills are going onto the dikes and bridges. We ride lots of ferries across rivers, canals and parts of the North Sea. They are actually ferries for bikes only...and people have jobs piloting them. At night we pick out our camping site and try to find a cold beer.. good times.
Eventually we reach the North Sea and follow the coast down to Belgium, crossing the massive dams and dikes that ensure North Holland continues to exist. At our Airbnb in Aaltmaark, the owner proudly informed us that we are 3.5 meters below sea level. What an amazing country.