A Circular Bike Tour of Holland, Day 5

Noordwijk to Amsterdam

The morning in Noordwijk was windy, cool, and with light rain. I knew where we were going to start today, but there was a lot of uncertainty about what came later. We had a 6:20p train from Amsterdam to Paris, and we had to be on that train. We'd discussed the alternatives the evening before, but had come to no decision. Len was for biking all the way in to Amsterdam, but I was afraid to do this, given how long it had taken us to get out of Amsterdam the first day of the trip. I could just see us lost in the outskirts of Amsterdam with the pressure of making the train building.

As I had done on previous days, I had checked Google for walking routes from Noordwijk to Amsterdam. The routes they gave were very long and indirect, most on the order of 45 miles. I also checked some biking blogs for routes, and was very discouraged when I found such a route that was also about 45 miles. Given the time constraints, I was unwilling to commit to biking all the way to Amsterdam. Instead, I proposed that we bike to Schiphol Airport and take the train the rest of the way into Amsterdam.

When we started out in the morning from our hotel we were still uncertain. We'd play it by ear and see what happened. However, I was looking forward to the first part of the trip, from Noordwijk along the coast north to Zandvoort. On this leg we would take the long distance bike path LF1, as I had done ten years earlier, but in the opposite direction this time. On the earlier trip going south I had fought a gale-like headwind all the way. On this morning, though, the strong wind would be at our back.

Ready to leave Noordwijk on the last day

We biked along the deserted beachfront of Noordwijk to join the bike path at the north end of the beach. Soon we were cycling through wooded areas, fresh from the rain that had now diminished.

Bike path LF1 from Noordwijk

Sometimes the path would open up to vistas of the dunes along the shore. We both thought that the scenery was reminiscent of the Monterrey Penninsula in California.

Dunes along the sea shore as seen from the bike path

It was about 13 miles to the seaside resort of Zandvoort. I had put a "go to" on my GPS for Zandvoort, and as we biked along the direction arrow pointing towards Zandvoort on the GPS kept tilting away from vertical, until it passed horizontal and we began to actually get further from Zandvoort. A young woman was walking a dog along the path, and I stopped to ask her if this was path LF1. She had no idea.

Further on there was a man walking a dog. By then I had decided that I had asked the woman the wrong question. This time I asked the man whether this was the way to Zandvoort. "No," he replied firmly. It seemed that we had missed a turn somehow. He suggested that we go back a mile or so, and take a right turn on the road (the only one we had crossed that morning) to go towards the sea, where we would encounter the correct bike path to Zandvoort.

It was about two miles back to that road and on the way we passed by a string of runners, probably from some club or other. It was Saturday morning, so people were out getting exercise. As we rejoined the path along the shore we were passed by a succession of cyclists sprinting at high speeds on gleaming road bikes. In total contrast to everything we had seen in the country before, these cyclists had really good bikes, wore expensive biking clothes, and had helmets. I remembered this phenomenon from my previous trip. It was the weekend serious cyclists, pretending to be in the Tour de France.

The rest of the way to Zandvoort had gentle, rolling hills mimicking the dunes that surrounded the path. They were the first real hills, if you'd call them real, that we had encountered on the trip. It was always a problem for me, since my bike had only that one gear that worked. I kept trying to get into another gear, but the derailleur would always slip out, I would be spinning air, and Len would hear me utter an expletive.

When we reached Zandvoort we saw the sea for the first time since we had left Noordwijk. In spite of the fact that the bike path had followed the shore, there had been no view of the sea, as it was behind dunes and dikes. I stopped my bike on the sea front to check the map and figure out where we should go. Len was talking to a mother and teen age daughter while I was checking the map. I tuned into the conversation in mid-stream. The daughter was waving her hand and saying something to the effect that all we had to do was to go straight on the highway, and that she had done it several times herself.

This conversation turned out to be very fortuitous. On my Michelin map there was a highway that went almost straight from Zandvoort to Amsterdam. Moreover, it was only about 17 miles or so. The problem was that it was an A-road, where you were not allowed to cycle. Google and the biking sites on the Internet had avoided it and had taken long paths to do so. The girl was telling us that it was ok to cycle on that road, and that she had done it.

I had my doubts, but I thought we could go a little ways and see, so we followed the highway north from Zandvoort (a nice run alongside the sea). A few miles out of Zandvoort it angled gently westward through an expansive park, busy on that Saturday morning with hikers. This was an N-road (N208) with a very nice accompanying bike path. The A-road (A200) would begin after we went through Haarlem.

After the park the highway got busy with stop lights and traffic as we entered Haarlem. I had stayed there on my first trip, and as we crossed a bridge I could see St Bavo's church where I had visited previously. The thing that had impressed me was that both Bach and Handel had played the organ in that famous church.

Crossing through Haarlem with a view of St Bavo's church

We were just following the red bike signs through the town. Mostly they were really helpful, but sometimes confusing. At a traffic light the highway went straight, but the bike sign towards Amsterdam pointed left. Len went straight, but I called him back and we decided to go left as the sign dictated. Then we were on some unknown highway for awhile, but I could see on the GPS that it would soon join up with our original highway, which ominously was going to turn into an A-road superhighway straight to Amsterdam.

When this did happen, I understood both the Michelin map and the girl who had given us directions. Even though this became an A-road, the N-road still existed, almost diused, alongside the superhighway. And the N-road still had its bike path. I was a little miffed at Google maps, because surely the walking map should have used this path. Are you not allowed to walk on a bike path? I'm not sure, but in other routes they had given the walking paths had been on roads with bike paths. Or maybe I should have had a better map than the Michelin -- one that would have shown both the A-road and the N-road.

Now it was a straight, easy shot into Amsterdam. We even had the wind at our backs. Mostly it was boring, though -- no towns or anything of interest with the exception of the jets passing over our heads to land at Schiphol.

The straight, boring path to Amsterdam

It was incredibly easy to get into Amsterdam on our bikes. We'd had such trouble getting out of Amsterdam on our first day, but it's a lot easier to get into a city because all you have to do is to follow the signs to "centrum." When you're leaving, unless you're headed to another major, nearby city, there isn't anything equivalent.

The path to Amsterdam may have been boring, but Amsterdam sure wasn't boring. The rainy morning had turned into a gorgeous afternoon, and on this Saturday in the peak of summer Amsterdam was a carnival. Throngs of pedestrians, bikes, and cars clogged every street. Once again, we navigated using the "go-to"on the GPS and the waypoint I had made for the bike store where we would return the bikes.

Amsterdam is jumping

On our way to the bike store we saw a really unusual (to us) and funny sight -- a foot-pedaled bar, with young men drinking at a bar while they pedaled through the city.

The "Pedal-saloon"

It was only about 3pm when we reached the bike store. At 35 miles it had been the longest ride of our trip, but also the earliest that we had reached a destination. This was partly due to not having stopped, but also to that strong wind at our backs.

We return the bikes in Amsterdam

This picture was taken by a young woman who worked at a place across the alley from the bike store. She said that she didn't even own a bike. We looked at her curiously, thinking that she must be the only person in the country who didn't own a bike.

Removing all of our equipment from the bikes took some time, but not nearly as long as it had taken to install everything. While Len was working on his bike there was quite a commotion in the street outside our alley. I rushed out with my camera and saw a parade of costumed people celebrating some Chinese anniversary. The parade went on for some time, and afterwards throughout the city there were various celebrations for this Chinese occasion.

The Chinese parade

We left our panniers for storage at the bike shop and went walking in the city. We had several hours to kill. For a time we sat in the main square, Dam Square, which was just at the end of the little street with our bike shop. On this glorious afternoon, the square was brilliantly alive.

Dam Square

Walking a little further we saw a minor accident between a motorbike and a cyclist. I was amazed that we hadn't seen more such accidents in this chaotic mix of pedestrians, cars, and cyclists.

We crossed over one of the ubiquitous canals, looking for an ice cream cone. At the end of the street we could hear the music from some of the Chinese celebration. A woman was singing the Willie Nelson song, "Always on my Mind." It seemed sort of out of place.

Crossing an Amsterdam canal

An ice cream store was proving hard to find. We made some random turns, and then found ourselves in the red light district, with the women posing in windows. I joked that no one would believe that we had come looking for an ice cream cone!

We did find the ice cream, and as we returned to the bike shop for our belongings, I took one last picture of how I would remember this trip in Holland.

Cyclists in Amsterdam

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