Riding out of Belgium, I stopped at an automatic petrol station and found that it had a building full of vending machines for various things – coffee, soft drinks… and beer. It’s not like it was vending cartons of beer either, these were individual cans, clearly meant for consumption within the car. This country was clearly crazy, time to go to a new one. So, suitably liquored up, I crossed over into the Netherlands… and about 500 metres the road opened up, towns stopped appearing every 2km, the speed limit went over 50 and finally I could ride. I could practically hear angels sing as I opened up the throttle. Freedom.
See that? It's an open space. Don't have those in Belgium because all the drunk drivers might drive into the water
The Netherlands doesn’t really have curvy roads and it doesn’t really have long roads, but at least it has some scenery. I buzzed along the sea, at one point passing some curious looking sluice gates that turned out to be part of the sea defence of Holland – basically because so much of the country is below sea level, they used to open the gates and flood the fields during times of war, essentially turning Holland into an island fortress… until winter came and the ice froze over, allowing opposing armies to just march right across it. Oh well, good idea anyway. After what seemed like 2 minutes (damn tiny Holland) I arrived at my hostel in the Hague, or in Dutch, “Den Kkhhaahhhaggchchh” (imagine an outboard motor stalling). Before I could learn the correct pronounciation though, I was on the road again because it turned out the hostel had accepted my booking despite having no space, then emailed me to tell me I couldn’t come but the email had got caught in the spam filter for being in Dutch. Despite being in English. Sigh.
It was nice looking hostel by the beach too. Oh well.
So I loaded back up and went to their other hostel in Delft. Although annoying, this actually turned out to be one of those random fortunate twists of fate that you tend to encounter while travelling… Delft is a really beautiful place. It’s sort of the same deal as Bruges – medieval buildings and canals, but the twist is that they don’t allow cars in, so it’s a lot quieter and feels more genuine. And although it is apparently visited by a bunch of tourists, I barely saw any – unlike Bruges, you can actually believe that it’s a real town with real people who live real lives. Which is nice.
"Delft might impress me if I was retarded and"... I'm just kidding, Delft did impress me. Although I'm retarded, so take it with a grain of salt.
Delft is also where my friend Nico lives and goes to university. I say friend now, but the twist is that despite knowing him for god knows how long – 10 years? I’d never actually met him before, because we met by playing games on the internet, back when I used to play a lot of Freelancer. I was in high school at the time – maybe year 8 or 9? So basically, I’ve known Nico for longer than quite a lot of my friends back home. About time I met him eh?
Nico and Christiaan (Nico's brother and also someone I knew from the internet) enjoy some Dutch weather
Nico showed me around Delft for a while, then we jumped on the train and went to Amsterdam. All this riding about’s given me a real appreciation for going places by train – you just hop on board and getting from place to place happens by itself. No worrying about traffic, no going past the same place 3 times because George didn’t register you hitting a waypoint, no getting wet. Just relax and enjoy the scenery. Fun!
Something here smells like the art student bar at uni... <_<
Amsterdam… well.. hmm. I’d been told it was a beautiful place, but it took me two full days before I actually realised. Much like Bruges, you’ve got to pick a direction and just walk. But because it’s a big town, you’ve got to really walk… for like half an hour. And then you’ll see canals and boats and Dutch people and it’ll be beautiful. Up until that point, it’s nothing but clouds of smoke and stoned teenage backpackers.
Imagine this, but through your own eyes instead of a rubbish phone camera. Nice Amsterdam
I’m not the most intrepid of travellers – so far on this trip I’ve cruised around safe, comfortable parts of the world aboard a reliable vehicle that I don’t even do mechanical work on if I can avoid it, so it’s not like I’m above most of the people I met in Amsterdam… but my god, am I ever not cut from the same cloth. I was at a dodgy hostel that was basically a bar with a bunch of beds attached, and in my whole 20 bed dorm I think there was only one other person there interested in actually seeing the city (if you’re reading this Saul… hi). I’d wake up pretty late in the morning and everyone would still be sleeping, then get back at 10 or 11 and find everyone pre-gaming for another night out. Then the cycle would repeat. Admittedly this is making me sound old and boring (and, well, admittedly I am) but there’s really gotta to be more to the whole backpacking game. I did go out with the people from my dorm the first night I was there, but after that I was done with it. To be honest it’s not actually that great a place to party… half of the crowd is stoned kids and the other half is locals who hate your guts because they’re lump you in with the stoned kids. There were some amusing consequences though – the corner of my dorm contained me and three Welsh guys who were always in their beds and always… experienced. Every day I’d come back and ask them what they’d done today. “Weeell… we went to a cor-fee shorp ahhhhnd thahhts abouuut aall we diiid”. It came to be a bit like a video game, where you go back to the same area and there’s always the same people there doing and saying the same things. Nice guys though.
I'm pretty sure this happened because some high-as-a-kite tourist didn't realise this was a fake pommes frite
The Netherlands on the whole, however, was a beautiful place – it would’ve been better to spend like a night in Amsterdam and the rest of the time in other parts of the country. The best part of my visit was definitely being taken around by Nico, Chistiaan and Maarten (another internet friend) – it gives you a whole different perspective actually talking with someone from the country you’re in, and I learned a huge amount about Dutch history and culture from Nico’s patient explanations – stuff that I definitely would’ve missed otherwise.
My chain had had an awful tight spot in it for a while, but at this point it was ridiculous - the chain would go from having no play at all to being loose enough to hit the swingarm in one rotation. I'd always thought this was just an annoyance, but a quick google produced warnings about it breaking and tearing its way through the engine and locking the back wheel and killing me in the process (which is nearly as bad as ruining my bike). Fortunately I managed to find an English-speaking mechanic pretty easily and got them replaced... more trip budget gone, but that's life. Rolling on my shiny new final drive it was time to ride on again, but not before checking out some sights Nico suggested to me. First I rolled by the Kinderdijk to check out some genuine Dutch windmills…
Yep, this is definitely Holland
… and the star fortress of Naarden. It’s a funny thing, you ride in and there’s this lovely little town across a river. It looks something like this…
… but you don’t realise that you’re actually right in the middle of this…
Star forts are definitely cool
Naarden and Delft were really interesting – it’s seems to be a Dutch thing that despite the difficulty of a locale, they can put a lovely little town anywhere. Medieval town covered in canals that can’t even fit cars in the streets? Still a lovely town. Tiny patch of land surrounded by two motes and obsolete fortifications? Lovely little modern town. The North Sea? Potential for a hundred lovely towns, we’ll just build some windmills and drain it. No worries. Something that Nico said was that there was no unplanned nature in the Netherlands – everything’s under control and nothing’s impossible. It’s really an interesting place with lovely people, and once again I’d love to come back. But I’ll skip Amsterdam next time.