Archive for July, 2009

Greetings from the Waddenzee!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2009 by alexhamlin

Rachael and I are—at this very moment—sailing north across the Wadden Sea to the Frisian Island of Vlieland. It’s an hour and a half trip, our longest ‘assist’ of the jouney so far (even our longest train ride was only an hour) and it’s a strange, if welcome, sensation to have absolutely nothing to do for a little while. Our bikes are lashed securely down below in the car bay, while outside the salt streaked windows, white-capped waves reflect the summer sun.

The Wadden Sea presents an odd seascape to one used to deep water and granite harbors. “Wad” is Dutch for Mudflat, and just a few hundred yards off the port side of this massive ferry, waves are breaking over the black mud of one such shallow sandbar. Our channel is well marked—green and red buoys lean against the tidal current every hundred yards or so—but it’s still strange to see dry (or dryish) land so close to such a large boat. In this country of canals, locks and dikes, it’s just one more of the technical marvels we’ve seen to keep nature at bay.

Of course, the Dutch have found other ways besides dredging to deal with this shallow sea. Much of the Dutch coast along the Waddenzee and Islemeer has been created from these mudflats, making farmland out of ‘zeeland.’ The Polders, as they’re called, were created by creating a new coastline out of dikes, and then pumping out the seawater. The man-made outlines of the Polders are clear even from space: with their plumb edges, straight roads and perfectly arranged ratios of towns and villages, they’re easy to pick out on Google maps.

Tomorrow we ride down Vlieland, take another ferry to the Island of Texel, ride down it, and then take a final ferry to the mainland and the last leg of our journey to Haarlem. It’s a short spin from there back to the streets of Amsterdam. By bike, by rail, by sea; all in a days work on the Dutch Commute!

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Kindergarden? Kinderfiets!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 22, 2009 by rachaelpasternak

IMG_5393_editIt’s true in any language: children seem to have the most honest and authentic observations about life. Take for instance, my cousin’s young daughter, Marike. When we proudly showed her family the “One Minute in Holland” post, she turned to her mother and said matter-of-factly, “That’s normal. What’s so special about that?!”

And that is exactly the point. The Dutch are so accustomed to their outstanding bike route network that, from a child’s perspective, there isn’t anything remarkable at all about it. Children are introduced to bicycles and the cycling culture from a very early age. They ride on their mothers’ bikes in little front seat as soon as they can sit and learn to ride their own small bikes not long after they learn to walk. Biking to school and to play with friends (often alone) is absolutely accepted and normal here. They develop the skills to ride confidently on separate bike paths and quiet streets as naturally as they would learn how to read or write.

All of these children are learning that cycling is a way of life in The Netherlands. It provides an easy, efficient and healthy mode of transportation, not to mention a form of freedom and independence that many American children won’t experience until they receive their drivers licenses. It also means that every year, there are more people in the world who see the value in cycling over driving, that there are that many more people who will fight for more and improved cycling infrastructure and that there are that many more who will enjoy the benefits of cycling culture throughout The Netherlands. Perhaps some of them will even take this way of life beyond the borders of their country. Maybe one day people traveling to The Netherlands won’t need to post blog entries celebrating the Dutch cycling network because it will be ‘normal’ in their cities and countries as well.Kin

Some Shots from Along the Way

Posted in Uncategorized on July 22, 2009 by alexhamlin

One Minute in Holland

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2009 by alexhamlin

Things are denser here. Every three or five kilometers, we pass through a small village with narrow streets, bridges, and a canal or five. It’s hard to make good time when every few minutes there’s a new distraction: a beautiful church, a central square filled with cafes, a spot to sit by the river. We just have to sit back, keep pedaling, and enjoy the view from the handlebars. So here it is, your moment of zen:

Riding by the Numbers

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2009 by alexhamlin

IMG_5278_edit“What are those numbers?”

During the first two days, this question would come up every time we came to an intersection. There, below the route sign for the Landelijke Fietsroute (Regional Bike Routes) would be another sign displaying a green circle with a number in it. At first, we thought they might just be local bike routes. But our large scale map didn’t show them, so we put the signs out of our thoughts until the next intersection, where another number would pop up.

Finally, after running off the edge of our map, we bought a smaller scale map that cleared up our confusion. The numbers indicate Fietsknooppunt, or Bike Junctions, and are part of an ingenious method of navigating the Dutch bike paths. Rather than number the routes (like the LF routes), the Dutch number the junctions, and then post signs pointing to those junctions.

(Of course, we should have known this when we started—it might have saved us some trouble navigating out of Amsterdam—but we’re enjoying the sense of discovery.)

This way, you need only write down the Fietsknooppunt along your route, and then follow the signs in order. So a ride from Eindhoven to Heeze would be 94-77-27-76-50, which is much easier than listing off street names, distances and directions like ‘turn left at the third cheese shop.’ It also makes it easy to create a route of your own to go just where you’d like. It’s a discovery we’ll be putting to good use in the days ahead.

Bikepaths or Cobblestones? Both.

Posted in Uncategorized on July 18, 2009 by alexhamlin

IMG_5228_editRiding down a bikepath in downtown Maastricht today, I couldn’t help but think of some recent conversations in Portland about paving over two blocks of cobblestones on NW Northrup St. to make way for a new bike lane. Here’s the Dutch solution. Bumpy? Yes. Civilized? Very.

Day 1: Amsterdam to Utrecht

Posted in Uncategorized on July 18, 2009 by alexhamlin

(Today, we’re in Posterholt, a small village about 50 kilomters north of Maastrict in the South of The Netherlands near the German border, and catching up on blog posts. Here’s one that’s been in the hopper for a few days, from the first leg of our journey.)

IMG_5055_editRiding out of Amsterdam, one truth quickly presented itself: there are more than enough bike paths here to get yourself well and truly lost.

For our first leg, a 50 kilometer spin out of Amsterdam down to the University city of Utrecht, we had intended to follow one of the Landelijke Fietsrouten, or Regional Bike Paths, that connect the thousands of kilometers of bike paths into a huge, nationwide system. Once on the route, you only need to follow the signs at each intersection marked with “LF” and, as the Brits say, Bob’s Your Uncle.

The only trouble is getting on the Fietsrouten when EVERY road is a bikepath. When I lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I knew I was on the right bike path because I was on the ONLY bike path. And in Portland, a ride across town or out of the city might intersect only five or six major bike paths. Here? Every intersection is a bike path intersection, every corner has a signpost with indicators for bikes, and there are hundreds of ways to get to the same place.

IMG_5258_edit_1In the cities, large streets have separate paths, often on both sides of the road. The paths are most often separated from the road—and from parking spaces with the ever-present risk of getting ‘doored’—by grassy or planted medians. Where the bike path runs along the road (in the United States think of a narrow, two lane street) the pavement is painted with only a single car lane, the better to allow space for two bike lanes to run in each direction. With such tempting paths leading in every direction, and a bike map crisscrossed with lines of every color, it can be tough to choose the right way.

The upside, of course, is that you can just follow the signs and, though you might not know where you are, you can certainly find your way to where you’re going. So after an amazing ride over all kinds of bike paths (paved, cobbled, brick and just a little dirt) we arrived in Utrecht, happy, tired, and a little wiser about how to get where we’re going.