A Circular Bike Tour of Holland, Day 4

Gouda to Noordwijk

In the morning from our hotel on the outskirts of Gouda we pushed our bikes through the "secret" passageway underneath the highway facing our hotel. After our first three days of miseries trying to cross highways, this was a delight.

The passage underneath the highway

On the other side of the highway there was a wonderful bike path going our way.

On the other side, a bike path going our way

We followed this path for a few miles, crossed a canal, biked a few blocks through a town and joined a highway headed northwest towards Leiden. There was unremarkable cycling for a dozen or so miles as we followed a large canal. We intended to aim towards the University of Leiden, but never did see the turn that would have taken us there. It was much easier to follow the red cycle signs for Centrum, and this was much better anyway. The centrum of Leiden turned out to be much more interesting and picturesque than the university.

Every which way you turned in Leiden there was a view down a canal that made you want to take a picture. In the centrum area the canals were lined with cafes and overflowing with parked bikes.

A Leiden canal

Picturesque bridges

Canal-side cafes

The wind was whipping up and umbrellas were flying. For a few minutes it rained, but then stopped. We locked our bikes (I had visions of mine falling into the canal.) and had coffee and sandwiches at one of the many cafes. People were huddled against the building for protection against the wind and rain.

Morning coffee in Leiden

Len was interested in seeing the paintings of Jan Steen, one of the Dutch masters who had lived in Leiden (Rembrandt did also). He had asked several people about where Steen's paintings were, and he asked our waitress the same thing. Like the others he had asked, the waitress didn't seem to know who Jan Steen was. He also asked about where the University of Leiden was, and again, she didn't seem to know.

We unlocked our bikes and pushed them down the canal, where we crossed over a pedestrian bridge. Seeing a lot of bikes isn't unusual in Holland, of course, but this was another time that we especially remarked on their prevalence.

Bikes, bikes, bikes

We pushed our bikes along several narrow streets, headed in the general direction of the university and of the Rijksmuseum, where we thought we might see some of the Dutch master paintings.

A narrow street in Leiden

We found the Rijksmuseum (meaning "state" museum) and locked our bikes along the canal facing the museum. We cast a wary eye on our panniers, which we would have to leave unattended on the bikes, but there was no other choice. Moreover, we were always careful to take our handlebar bags, which contained every item that we could not afford to lose.

At the museum desk Len asked about paintings, but was told that there weren't any there. This museum housed Egyptian, Roman, and Greek artifacts. We were disappointed, but since we were there, we paid the admission and toured the galleries.

In the Leiden Rijksmuseum

The Egyptian galleries were well done, and I marveled that so many museums around the world could have mummies, sculptures, jewelery, and other valuable artifacts from the Egyptian dynasties.

We had been told that the University was across the street from the museum, but also that there wasn't anything that could be called a campus. Classes and university buildings were housed in ordinary buildings -- if I could call any building "ordinary" in such a beautiful city! We did go momentarily into the faculty club. I was saying that Len should ask for visiting privileges (from UCLA), and I think he was actually going to do that before I asked him not to bother. In any event, I'd have to say while the university is undoubtedly famous and historic, we were disappointed in its outward appearance.

The University of Leiden, Faculty Club

Across the canal from the university there was a group of young women having a discussion. Perhaps they were students, or perhaps not, but this is how I remember most of the people we saw on the trip -- young, fresh, and energetic.

Dutch girls

We cycled along one final canal on the way out of Leiden. It had been a beautiful city, and I was tempted to point my camera along every canal view. Maybe if you live there, you get used to those views, but for a tourist, they are remarkable.

Leaving Leiden

I had planned the navigation from Gouda to Leiden using Google Maps, but had not even thought about how to get from Leiden to Noordwijk. We just followed the red cycle signs that pointed in the direction of Noordwijk, and it really was no problem. As we approached Noordwijk the GPS did its usual service of letting us zero in on our hotel.

There is something about coming up to the ocean or a sea after a long trip. You can almost sense its presence. Maybe it's a smell in the air, a drop in temperature, an increase in wind velocity, or a disappearance of the horizon. Something tells you that the land has run out and a great expanse of water will soon take its place.

I think this feeling was especially true in Holland as we came on to the sea front in Noordwijk. It is, after all, a small and compact country, and the sea seems disproportionate. Noordwijk, as a sea resort, had a completely different character than, say, Leiden or Gouda. This could have been New Jersey. Well, not really, but still. Here there were no canals or medieval structures. A line of hotels and restaurants along the main street faced the beach.

As we arrived at the beach, Len did what practically everyone does; he abandoned his bike and walked down the sand into the surf. The wind was really, really strong, and the temperature was cool. It wasn't really a beach day, but many people were simply strolling along the sand.

The beach at Noordwijk

I had been to Noordwijk twice before. The first time was in 1976 when as a young researcher I attended a conference on information theory there. The second time was in 2001 on my first bike trip through Holland. But my memories were always of that first trip, when every night I and my friends would walk down the hill to the beach front and have some fantastic desert in one of the many restaurants there.

So, after checking in to our hotel, which was a small one up the hill south of the main drag, Len and I went walking, looking for a restaurant to have dinner, and another to have desert. We were in the mood for Italian food -- perhaps spaghetti -- and we debated the merits of three possible candidates. None of the restaurants was especially busy, probably due to the weather. A couple eating dinner at one of our possible choices made of point of telling us how they ate there practically all the time, and how the food there was wonderful. We were impressed, though I thought they could possibly have been shills. Anyway, we picked a different one, and the dinner was ok, but not great.

The sea front restaurants and hotels in Noordwijk

After dinner I had my heart set on something like a bannana split, but we searched in vain for the desert restaurants that I remembered from so long ago. I settled for an in ice cream cone at an Italian gellateria. Good, but not what I had in mind.

The GPS track from Day 4, Gouda to Noordwijk

Proceed to Day 5

Back to the overview page for the circular tour of Holland