Haarlem to Delft

Harlem to Delft (in Red)

At 6:00am I looked outside my hotel window, hoping to see the sun. However, the morning was darkly overcast and my hotel window looked out on a forest of bicycles parked in front of the train station across the street. What are all those bikes doing there, I wondered? There were easily hundreds, if not thousands of old clunker bikes locked to every possible stationary object.

I was to see the same thing in every town, and it took me a few days to realize the obvious – that these were “train bikes”, owned by commuters who left them at the train stations for the tail ends of their daily commutes. I had read that about one million bikes are stolen every year in the Netherlands. Clearly, most people took great care to ensure that their bikes didn’t look like they were worth stealing. I never ceased to wonder at how awful the bikes looked to my high-tech taste. Every bike had a chain guard, only a single gear, a heavy rear rack, and a wheel-operated generator to power lights. The predominant color was rust. But these were working bikes, like plow horses, and in a flat country, probably weight and gears didn’t matter. Still, they seemed very unappealing.

As I checked out of the hotel, the manager said to me, apologetically, “I’m afraid you won’t see much sun today.” During the day I often thought of this dire prediction. Unfortunately, he was right.

The girl at the VVV had told me how to get out of Haarlem and onto the long distance bike path “LF1.” I listened attentively, but the instructions were so complicated that I couldn’t possibly have remembered past the first turn, which was to go under the overpass, loop around, and do something incomprehensible. As I set off I checked my GPS for my destination, Delft. It said that Delft was 31 miles south of me. Somehow I believed this. The GPS is always right. It knows what it is doing. However, as a biker I often don’t know what I’m doing. The GPS pretends that everyone can travel as the crow flies. Not only do I not go straight to the destination, but I also have a habit of getting lost. Actually, on this day it turned out to be 44 miles.

So I went under the overpass, looped around, and got lost. My plan was to angle southwest, so as to intercept LF1 somewhere along the coast to the south. The straightforward path would be to go due west to the fashionable resort of Zandvoort on the North Sea, and thence turn south following the shore. But this would have been the long way around, so I determinedly angled southwest. However, the roads didn’t seem to go that way, and more and more I was entangled westward towards Zandvoort. Could I possibly avoid this town? The answer was no. It was ordained that I should go to Zandvoort.

Now it was raining lightly. In all my years of biking I had seldom ridden in the rain. My plan was always to sit under a tree or some overhang, and wait until it stopped. I had never imagined biking in the rain. This was my first taste, and in truth it wasn’t too bad. I had good equipment – a Gortex jacket with hood, Gortex rain pants, and waterproof panniers. There wasn’t anything to get wet. Through days of subsequent biking in the rain, I honestly never even felt wet. It surely isn’t as much fun as biking on a sunny spring day, but it beats sitting under a tree all day watching the ceaseless rain and never getting anywhere.

The streets leading up to Zandvoort were lovely. They were tree-lined, with shoulder-to-shoulder small cottage-like houses festooned with window boxes of flowers. Zandvoort itself was deserted, as only a seaside resort can be in cold, rainy weather. It had a sense of we-gave-a-party-and-no-one-came about it. Reaching the still-invisible sea at the end of the road, I turned momentarily north to get a glimpse of the sea and a large casino leading to the beach. Not much to see, so I turned southward along the coast road. I hadn’t yet encountered the bike path LF1 that supposedly ran along the coast here.

I followed the coast road a few blocks, where it turned inland away from the sea. Just around the bend, there was the entrance to LF1, and I was on my way south in the solitary beauty of a bike path leading to infinity.


Bike path LF1

To my right the grassy mound is a dike, beyond which is the North Sea. There are gentle rolling hills along the dunes, and for quite a while it felt like I was always pedaling uphill. I kept thinking that if I was pedaling uphill, there must be somewhere that I would go downhill and didn’t have to pedal, but it never seemed to happen.

I passed a number of hikers and a large number of other bikers. They would zoom by me in the other direction. They were all men and a lot were in “official” biking outfits – many of which said “Once”, the Spanish team in the Tour de France taking place that day. Like me, they rode touring bikes with narrow racing tires. After a while, I realized that it was Saturday, and people were out for their sporting and training stints. This was the only place on my trip that I saw people on racing bikes. Everywhere else it was the ubiquitous old clunker bike.

I began to see the mushrooms that I had read about in the biking books. These are concrete bike-path markers that are numbered on the maps so you can tell precisely where you are.



This mushroom told me that I was near the town of Noordwijk, a place that held a special memory for me. I thought these mushrooms (which I thought of as toadstools) were a great idea, but they suckered me in. The problem later turned out to be: where were the toadstools when I needed them? When I knew where I was, I often saw mushrooms. When I was lost, the mushrooms deserted me.

I think it was 1971 when I was last in Noordwijk, a seaside resort where I had attended a conference on Information Theory as a young researcher. It was the first stop on what turned out to be my only around-the-world trip. From there I had gone to teach a short course in Sorrento (Italy), then on to Singapore, a lecture in Australia, a week’s vacation in Tahiti, and finally Hawaii before returning home. I remembered the time in Noordwijk particularly for the ice cream parlors that concocted exotic deserts. These parlors lined the coast road, and every night my friends and I would gather there to discuss information theory and debate which deserts we would sample that evening.

Today it seemed that the outdoor and indoor cafes were still lining the street, but the whole town was deserted.



It was only 11:20am – early for lunch – but for old times sake I entered one of the empty cafes for a morning snack. I ordered a ham-and-cheese tosti and a coke. It was a delicious meal.

I had been sailing along on the bike path LF1 with no difficulty following the path and the nice little mushrooms. But somehow at the end of this sea-front street, the path disappeared. I still don’t know where it went, but before long I found myself considerably inland, on uninteresting roads (always, however, on bike paths alongside the roads), and finally – let’s face it – lost. The GPS told me that my next destination along the shore, Katwijk, was getting further away, and was in what I considered to be an unlikely direction.

I reached Katwijk through a maze of small roads, and at the end of its shore-front street I was able to rejoin LF1. Now the path had left the dunes, and traveled through light forests. It would have been pretty, but it began to rain hard. I spotted a bench beside the path and under a tree, and there I sat for about 15 minutes. Finally I said to myself that I couldn’t stay there all day, and that I had to suck it up and get back on the wet bike. I had gone only about a half mile before I saw a teahouse, called de Duinen, on the bike path. Cute. It was a teahouse just for bikers and hikers. In the pouring rain, it beckoned like an oasis to me.

The Teahouse on the Bike Path

I nursed a cappuccino and some tomato soup while I watched the rain. The teahouse was crowded, and everyone seemed to know each other. They were hikers and bikers, and all seemed to be in good spirits in spite of the weather. I thought that these were hearty souls. Of course, they were speaking Dutch, and for all I knew they could have been cursing the weather. After a while I decided that they belonged to a local Lion’s Club that was having some sort of outing. They came and went, and they all knew each other.

Time to get back on the path, and magically it stopped raining. I drifted southward through tree-lined paths such as this:

Through the woods

Once again the path seemed to disappear. Many days later I studied the book about LF1 that I hadn’t had at the time, trying to figure out where I went wrong. But these things happen: no path. Instead I joined a major highway leading to den Hague to the south. There was an excellent bike path alongside the highway, and for a while I made very good time. For about 20 seconds the sun shone. I didn’t have a chance to get elated, because the next thing I knew it was raining again.

I didn’t want to go to the diplomatic city of den Hague. Instead, I needed to angle inland towards my destination of Delft. Inevitably, the road was sucking me towards the Hague. Finally, I took an arbitrary turning to the east to escape the clutches of the highway. Almost immediately this side turning became a seldom-traveled, poorly-surfaced road through a woods. There was a very impressive estate, like an English manor house with extensive grounds and lakes to my left. While I was admiring the estate, I hit a huge pothole in the road, and my rear tire bottomed out with a thunk that rattled my backside.

I was constantly worried that day about my tires, given my lack of a reliable spare tube, and I immediately became scared about the tire. It didn’t have sufficient air pressure, since my hand pump couldn’t get past about 60 pounds per square inch. (95 is recommended), and there was a lot of additional weight on the back because of the panniers. Sure enough, my worry came true. Within a half mile the tire was bottoming out frequently. Something was wrong. I stopped in the rain and felt the tire. It was low. I pumped it up as much as I could and set off without much hope for the tire.

It was about six miles to Delft. I was now on nameless city streets, simply following the general direction from the GPS and what I could make of road signs, though none of them mentioned Delft as a possible destination. Four or five times more I had to stop and pump up the rear tire. Obviously it had been punctured – probably by hitting the end of a spoke when it bottomed out on the pothole. Somehow I just had to limp in the last miles to Delft and then see what I could do. It was raining, I was tired, and that damn tire was haunting me.

The first view of Delft resuscitated me.

Entering Delft

I walked my bike towards the two large churches that dominated the town. I knew that my hotel was beside one of them. Of course, I went to the wrong one, but there was a VVV office nearby where I bought some new maps and got directions to my hotel. My maps from the previous day hadn’t lasted very long. I had biked out of range of one of them. The other map – well, it’s a sorry story. During dinner in Haarlem I had been studying that map when I smelled something burning. Funny, I thought, something is burning. It was only my map, which had been laid across the candle on the table.

I remembered my hotel from a previous visit to Delft. I had stayed there perhaps six years before when I had given a speech at the University of Delft in honor of its 200th anniversary. The queen had been there and given another speech. The whole day, except for my speech, had been in Dutch. I never had the foggiest idea of what had been going on. Anyway, they had put me up in the best hotel in town, the Museum Hotel, and that is where I had booked for this trip.

Museum Hotel, Delft

I still smarted from a parking ticket that I had gotten on that other trip. It was for about $200 for parking alongside the canal shown in this picture. There was a sign, unfortunately in Dutch, that said something about parking there. Well, I left the country without paying. I was hoping that they had short memories about this transgression.

However, what a difference it was biking into the city versus driving in. I remembered driving in circles, with no idea where I was, caught in a maze of one-way streets, and no possible place to park anywhere. It had been a nightmare. In contrast, biking in was simple and enjoyable.

My room was actually in what they called the “residence”, which was down the alleyway to the left of the hotel. William of Orange, or one of these Williams (there were a lot of them), was assassinated there. Many years ago, of course.

I put my bike in an interior courtyard. Three other guests had already put their bikes there, so apparently biking into the hotel wasn’t so unusual here. I was tired, but I had to do something about that tire. So I removed the tire, and installed my unreliable spare with its super-sensitive valve in its stead. I was ever so careful with the valve stem. I was wondering if the tire would last the night, just sitting there, let alone the hardships of the roads to come. I took the flat tube up to my room, and discovered the hole, which I patched. At least I had a spare that I thought would be ok. The irony is that in all the hardships to come, that unreliable tube lasted the rest of the trip.

I went out for a walk and to find a place for dinner. Crossing the canal in front of my hotel I set up this picture.

A Delft Canal

No, that’s not my bike. It is someone’s typical Dutch bike, although it is not nearly as dilapidated as most.

The town of Delft is lovely with several similar canals. It still looks much like the famous Vermeer painting “View of Delft”. Vermeer, by the way, was buried in the church next to my hotel, as was the inventor of the microscope, Lowenhoek.

As I had found in Haarlem, the main square was now deserted at 6:00 pm. I sat almost alone at one of the outdoor cafes and ordered spaghetti and one of those meringue/ice cream deserts that I had been dreaming of all day. As I ate, they removed all the tables and the waiters watched me eat. Apparently, only I came between them and an early evening. My own waiter started to chat, and it came out that he was studying computer science and wanted to go into the telecom business. I gave him my business card, but he didn’t seem very impressed.

Dinner in Delft

Dinner, by the way, was a step up from the previous night’s uneatable wienerschnitzel, but it wasn’t great. I resolved to have better meals in the future, and thereafter I had excellent meals everywhere. I earned them!

My room at the hotel was a little strange. The bathroom was on a lower level, and I had to go down steep stairs to get there. Nonetheless, I was ready for bed.

End of the day in Delft

Proceed to next day's biking, Delft to Goedereede

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