Car(e) free holidays – To Holland by bike (part 1)

My husband and I have been taking holidays by bike for years. There are pro’s and cons though.

Luggage restrictions

You can’t take much luggage, so it forces you to really think hard about what to pack. At some point on the trip you will have to transport it all. You don’t want to take anything weighty as that makes the bike unstable. And you don’t want a bike that you can barely move, let alone pedal. This means that the multiple changes of outfits for every kind of night out have to. be rethought. You need to get used to washing out your clothes regularly so that you can keep on wearing the same few items of clothing. I tend to select a few items that all mix and match together, which makes for a small amount of variety.

Weather

Weather can be unpredictable. When you are on holiday by bike, there’s no real getting around it. The bike is your main mode of transport, so if it rains, is windy, or is the hottest summer on record, you just have to get on with it.

For us though, our holiday starts the moment we leave the house with our loaded up bikes.

We are lucky in that we live in a city on the British south coast. We are within spitting distance of the cross channel ferries, and have a main line rail station that can get us to London and beyond. Usually at this time of year we are loading our bikes onto a Brittany Ferry and heading off to France. But this year in a break from tradition we have decided to head to Holland – The land of the bicycle……and clogs, cheese and those cigarettes that help you chill out (or so I’m told).

We prepared for the trip well in advance with cheap (really really cheap) train tickets to London, and then a good deal on Eurostar to Amsterdam. In recent years Eurostar have stopped insisting that all bikes are either folder or boxed and they now allow complete bikes to be transported, for a suitable additional fee and pre-booking. It’s even possible to drop the bikes of early – in our case the night before, so that we don’t need to be inconvenienced the next morning.

We arrived at St Pancras around 8pm and searched out the Euro Transit office to drop off our bikes. It wasn’t easy to find if you didn’t know where to look, and the address given on the booking form doesn’t come up on Google Maps. So, for anyone travelling this way in the future , be aware that it is at the back of the station. Follow the road that runs between Kings Cross & St Pancras stations and it is at the back of St Pancras. The office is open until 11pm, and they label your steeds up and take them away. There is no receipt given – I did ask. Eeek. I hate this bit…..having our transport taken away from us, and hoping that it will be at the other end to greet us.

We spent the night at a local Travel Lodge and made our way to the terminal in plenty of time. Security is on par with airport security, but a pretty slick process, and before we knew it we had taken up our seats and were on our way.

I’ve travelled on Eurostar a couple of times before, but I still marvel at the speed of it. Within 1/2 hour we had reached the coast…it can take me longer than that to drive the 3 miles to work some mornings. In less than 3 hours we had reached Amsterdam. Hurrah.

On arrival to the Amsterdam Central Station it is easy to get lost. But we had vague instructions regarding bike collection so set off in search of where to collect out bikes. After a heart wrenching moment when we thought that maybe we should have collected them from the train ( which had since departed), we found the collection point at a bike rental store in the station. We collected the bikes, loaded up and were on our way…..once the rain had stopped.

I had routed us an 11 mile bike route to where we were staying for a few days in Haarlem. Although I had heard great things about the Dutch cycle infrastructure I had never experienced it having only done a weekend break in Amsterdam once about 15 years ago. It was so simple getting out of the station and straight onto a segregated cycle path. The route took us through Westerpark, past an area of very small houses built on what I can only describe as an island of islands. There were no cars on there and each home just had small lanes or water between them. It looked very tranquil.

The cycle paths continued all the way into Haarlem, mostly following the railway line, which we crossed a couple of times. We travelled the entire 11 miles on mostly totally segregation cycle paths away from any roads, and the only roads we rode on were very local roads with no traffic on. The paths went through nature reserves, tiny hamlets and were off the beaten track. Possibly not tracks you would want to ride on at night with poor lights, but during the day they were perfect.

Eventually we arrived at our lodgings on the outskirts of Haarlem at around 5 pm. We were ready now to really start our holiday and find out what The Netherlands were really all about.

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