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The Rhine in Holland

Starting in Rotterdam and ending at the border with Germany near Millingen an de Rijn, the tour of the Rhine in Holland is as fun as it gets on a bicycle. The country of The Netherlands is interesting from many perspectives; the people are friendly, the cycle paths are in good condition, the beer is world renown, it is historic, and it is beautiful.

Map of the Rhine in HollandTour Overview: July 2011. This tour is an 3-day, 111-mile, 178-kilometer ride. As it says above this tour starts in Rotterdam and ends at Millingen aan de Rijn, which is at the Dutch Border with Germany- at least on the left bank. The German Rhine splits into estuarial rivers almost exactly at the German/Netherlands border. The main estuarial rivers are the Waal, the Nederrijn/Lek, and the IJssel. Since the Waal is by far the largest of the three, we choose to follow it from Rotterdam to the border with Germany.

By the way, IJssel is spelled correctly because the Dutch consider the two letters, “i” and “j,” as one letter and pronounce it like a long “i” in English. Rijn sounds like Rhine. Anyway, when these letters begin a proper noun, the Dutch capitalized both of them.

The Rhine has many spellings in different languages but regardless of how it is spelled, it sounds the same; in Dutch is Rijn, in German it is Rhein, and in French it is Rhin.

On the first day, we leave Amsterdam by train and start riding in The Hague (Den Haag). However, since the tour officially starts in Rotterdam, I describe the ride between The Hague and Rotterdam only for those who want to do a little extra touring. If I could do it over again, I would ride from Amsterdam to Harlem first and then to Rotterdam through The Hague.

The Netherlands: Also called Holland. It is a flat country crisscrossed by rivers and canals. It is the land of windmills. It is also the land of lackluster breakfasts but there is good strong coffee to make up for their lack of good bread (even if the bread does come with chocolate sprinkles). There are black bicycles ridden in an upright posture by all genders, ages, and folks of all socioeconomic status.

Most Dutch speak several languages. Like most of Europe, history just drips off the buildings and the monuments in large drops (I am impressed because coming from the new world, I thought the earth cooled 200 years ago).

One of the best things about Holland for a cyclist is the detailed maps of their wonderful cycle path network. The maps have waypoints that match signs on the path itself.

Amsterdam: We spend three days in Amsterdam before beginning our tour. What follows is our impression of this historic city.

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Bicycles, bicycles, bicycles: Holland is awash in a sea of black bicycles. Since Amsterdam is flat, bicycles are a recognized and popular means of transportation. In fact, cars are a hassle in the city’s narrow streets and limited parking places. I do not fully understand why 95% of the bicycles are black though. I suspect it is so one blends with another in an attempt to avoid theft of your bicycle. This behavior is similar to that of African zebras that all look alike in the hope of avoiding being eaten by the lions. By the way, African lions seem quite well fed.

If one looks closely at the ubiquitous black bicycles of Holland, you can easily discern the quality bicycles from the mass-marketed €200 bicycles. A few of the black bikes would sell well above 1,000 or even multiples of that amount. I would love to know if the bicycle thieves are so addled in the brain as to miss noticing this. The majority of the black bicycles though seem to be functional bicycles designed with an upright posture and the ability to carry groceries home from the market. Holland does sell some bicycles you may not find in other countries. For example, there is the kind that has a wooden box between the person who pedals and the front tire. I have seen people carry two or three children in this box. Normally, though, the box is for freight.

In the city, the cycle routes are clearly marked and there is little automobile traffic on the cycle routes. If a car does happen down one, they must by law yield to bicycles. Bicycles have their own traffic lights that give them preference over autos. If you are thinking of crossing a street that is also a cycle route, be careful. Bicycles make very little noise. We learned that we look both ways twice, walk halfway out and then look both ways again.

By the way, the streetcar tracks are perfectly sized to your tire. If you slip in, you will get some road rash.Streetcar tracks with bicycle tire in them

The main train station in Amsterdam has a special bicycle parking garage that holds 50,000 bicycles. If my guess is correct, a percentage of these bicycles are abandoned. Abandoned bicycles are in evidence everywhere in the city. People lock their bicycles with chains or cable locks to trees, stations alongside of the canals, rusty bicycle racks, and street signposts – heck, anything that is not likely to move for a while. Some locked bicycles are missing major components like wheels, seats, handlebars, etc.

well locked bike - a jokeWell locked bike detailWell locked bikeWell locked bike detailBicycle Theft: Lock you bike. Now lock it again. That is right; double lock your bicycle unless you want to contribute to the local fad of bicycle theft. The locks should encircle the frame as well as the tires. Amsterdam has 750,000 residents, 600,000 bicycles, and about 20% of those bicycles are stolen every year. If my math is correct, that is 120,000 stolen bikes each year. I bet are stolen more than once. In truth, no one has a good count because few people bother report bicycle theft.

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Canals: Amsterdam is a city of canals. There is a saying that the canals in Amsterdam are three meters deep; one meter of mud and trash, one meter of bicycle frames, and one meter of water. Why, because the refuse collectors charge €25 to haul away an old bicycle but one can toss it in the canal at midnight for nothing. There are YouTube videos of dredging barges cleaning the canals of bicycles that seem to support the above saying. I would also guess that the bicycles in the canals come from a variety of causes such as kids throwing bikes in just to be destructive and thieves divesting themselves of evidence, etc.

Amsterdam sometimes called the Venice of the North has 62 miles (100 km) of canals. Those canals make 90 islands, which in turn are served by over 1,500 bridges. Twenty-five percent of the city is water, most of which is in canals. The name itself, Amsterdam, means dam on the Amstel River, and the word Amstel means place of clean water in the ancient language of the indigenous people. If you are a beer drinker, perhaps you have heard of Amstel Beer. The brewery needed clean water for brewing. The brewery used to be in Amsterdam before it moved to Zoeterwoude where once again it can obtain clean water.

Maxa and I first visited Amsterdam in the early 1970s. Then, one could see trash of all kinds floating in the canals, even used mattresses. The canals stunk. I mean they smelled terrible; from trash, sewage and stagnant water. Not even fish could live in that water. If you fell in back then, you would probably float but you would have nightmares for the rest of your life. However, the seventies was the beginning (or perhaps a reinvigoration) of an effort by the city to clean up its canals and attract more visitors and city dwellers. Over the last 40 or so years, it appears that the effort has been highly effective. In fact, something like 40 different species of fish now inhabit the canals. Moreover, these fish have served as the impetus for the returning of water birds that are one level up on the food chain.

No bicycle helmets and kids to bootNo bicycle helmets and kids to bootHelmets: In general, the Dutch people do not wear helmets or any of the protective clothing seen in the US. During the two weeks we spent in Holland in 2010, I doubt I saw one native wearing a helmet. Sure, I am probably mistaken in my impression that no self-respecting Dutch person would wear a helmet because if I saw someone wearing a helmet, I just assumed that they, like us in our helmets, were foreigners.

The Dutch drive motorcycles and motorbikes on cycle paths in Holland. If you are not aware that they have the right to use the path, the first time a motorcycle passes you at 50 km/h, you are in for a shock.

Some paths are divided by a dashed white linePath Conditions: I said that Holland is a flat country. What is not below sea level is barely above it. If you want to find rolling hills, try the island of Texel or along the west coast of North Holland. Otherwise, you have to ride up and down bridges and overpasses for a hill experience. I exaggerate a little because there are a few low hills inland. Most of the cycle paths are paved or on paved roads. If you have any negative issues, it will be with the wind. We did not have a problem but wind can be an issue. It will either be a tailwind, which is a good thing; or a headwind, which one of my glib friends calls, “a poor man’s hill.” I will not mention his name to protect his privacy; but his initials are DanBob Bockelmann. Oops!

Paved roads frequently have white stripes on the shoulder giving bicycles just enough room to ride. Even cycle paths have a white stripe down the middle if it is a popular path. Holland, like Germany is a bicycle friendly country. Drivers give cyclists enough room and do not become annoyed if they have to follow you until they can safely pass.

There are over 50 museums the most famous museums might be Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum. There are also many 15th and 16th Century buildings to admire if you are into architecture.

Some incorrectly call Amsterdam a city of sin because of the lawful presents of brothels in the red light district. In addition, coffee houses sell coffee but also other recreational or “soft” drugs such as marijuana and hashish. It is not that Amsterdam is more sinful than elsewhere it is that people here are more tolerant about some of the things that are taboo in other cultures.

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Ute downing another herringSnack: If Holland has a national food, it is pickled herring served by street vendors or from kiosks like this. The herring are brined but raw and still somewhat fresh. They clean and skin the fish as you watch. It takes only three seconds to make the three or four deft swipes with a sharp knife. You can order herring on a roll with raw onions or on a cardboard dish with onions on the side. If you get the dish, you are to consume the critter by holding it by the tail, tilting your head back and letting the slimy thing fall into your mouth whole. I know it sounds disgusting but they are quite good with a sort of a sweet salty taste and a slight crunch from the brine softened bones.

Tourist Information Sign VVVTourist Information: Unlike most of the other Western European Countries, the tourist information offices are not marked with the letter “I.” The Dutch tourist offices are signed, VVV that stands for "Vereniging voor Vreemdelingenverkeer " – a Dutch mouthful that means "Association for the Traffic of Foreigners."

Route signPath signage by Rolf HasseWaypoint map on path by Rolf HaasePath signSignage: Signage is excellent because of the waypoint system they use. However, we only saw a few one sign indicating that this was the Rhine Bicycle Path.

Accommodations: There are many hotels and guests houses along the way. However, we did not find any rooms for rent in private homes but they may exist occasionally. They may be signed in a way unfamiliar to us.

Stops: Besides Amsterdam for three nights, we stopped for sightseeing at The Hague, Rotterdam, and Dordreck.

bikeline Rhein-Radweg 3, von Mainz nach RotterdamMaps and Guidebooks: We used two maps by Falk Number 15 Zuid-Holland-Zuid met Goeree Overflakkee and Number 11 Rivierenland Met Rijk van Nijmegen. Both were of the sort Fietskaart met Knooppuntennetwerk (Bicycle Map with Waypoint Network). These maps show the waypoint numbers along cycle paths and low-traffic roads. We also had along the bikeline’s Rhein-Radweg 3, Von Mainz nach Rotterdam. That guidebook was useful in locating lodgings as well as recommending a route.

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Day 1: Amsterdam then The Hague to Rotterdam

Day Overview: It is all paved and flat.

The Queen's OfficeMonument to a lot of folks The HagueInside Binnenhof Parliament courtyardWilliam II monumentFountain near BinnenhofChina Town Gate The HagueOffice of the Queen in The HagueMile 0 (0 km): We spent three nights in Amsterdam at Hotel Hoksbergen, Single 301, 1012 WH Amsterdam, telephone 020-626 60 63. Their email is hotelhoksbergen@wxs.nl, and the website is http://www.hotelhoksbergen.nl . The owners and crew at the hotel meet our every need including serving us a nice breakfast including toast with chocolate sprinkles. From the hotel we ride the short distance to the main train station and catch a train to The Hague. There we zero our odometers. We arrive on a holiday Monday and there is nobody around. The Hague is the capital of the Netherlands so it is more of a government city than one geared toward tourism. Sure, there are many sights worthy of a tourist time so do visit if you can.

Leaning church towerBridge over MaasMile 6.7 (10. km): Cross over the Rijn Kanal, traveling south on the paved ‘towpath along the canal past waypoint 45. Keep heading for Delft.

Mile 10.4 (16.7 km): In downtown Delft we take a break and check out their main town square where one can find the town hall and the “Old Church.” Notice the picture of the church with the leaning bell tower to the right.

Mile 20.8 (33.4 km): We stop at the VVV or Tourist Office. They sell maps here so we purchased the two Falk maps that we use on this tour. Our impression of Rotterdam is that it is a big, densely populated, city of automobile traffic. I am sure that our route was not one that showed off the better side of this famous city. However, Rotterdam is near the mouth of the Maas. The Waal and the Maas merge and the name changes of the waterways are confusing to me. I know we end up riding along the Waal, the largest of the three estuarial rivers of the Rhine.

Still Day 1: Rotterdam to Kinderdijk

Day Overview: We reset our cyclometer to zero in downtown Rotterdam because this is about the end of the Rhine River. We are riding along the waterway and the map tells us this is the Maas but if we follow it, it becomes the Waal. Magic? As I said, the rivers cut channels everywhere so the names are confusing. Fortunately, we have a guidebook and maps to help us navigate.

Mile 10.4 (16.8 km): We cross the IJssel into Krimpen aan den IJssel.

Mile 13.9 (22.3 km): At Kinderdijk we cross the Lek river on a ferry. The Lek is another of the estuarial rivers of the Rhine. The ferry cost is €1.40 ferry ride for two people and two bicycles.

WindmillsWindmillsHotel Restaurant KinderdijkDelftMile 14.4 (23.3 km): Although for the whole day, we rode 57 kilometers but we are not counting the distance from The Hague to Rotterdam. We will stay overnight at Hotel Restaurant Kinderdijk; West Kinderdijk 361, Alblasserdam, Zuid-Holland, 2953 XV, Nederland. Telephone +31 (0)78 691 24 25. Do not use the 0 in parentheses if you are calling from outside Holland but do if you call from inside that country.

There are 19 windmills in a row close by the hotel and these windmills are a UNESCO Heritage Site, which means they are protected and maintained. These are step windmills. Each windmill pumps water a step higher to the next windmill. The windmills pump the water into the Lek River. This part of Holland had over 1,200 windmills but now only 250 survive.

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Day 2: Kinderkijk to Rossum

Day Overview: Today the path is paved and flat. But then one could say that about almost any day bicycling in Holland. We ride along the Waal most of the way and enjoy watching the commercial traffic on the river.

Orange fountain in Dordrecht FootballMile 8.0 (12.9 km): This is the ferry from Papendrecht. It will take us to Dordrecht. It cost €2.40 for our bicycles and us. Dordrecht is historic. It has been a city since 1220. During the time of the Hanseatic League (13th to 17th Century), Dordrecht was the eastern most port that could off-load goods arriving from the North Sea. In 1572, (during the Dutch Rebellion 1568-1609) a meeting of other Dutch states convened in Dordrecht, against the laws of the Spanish ruler, Phillip II. The consensus of those attending was that they should throw over the Spanish monarchy in favor of William of Orange-Nassau who promised to finance the rebellion against the Spanish Catholics. It was an important point in the war and the House of Orange rules Holland today. The national color of Holland is orange as can be seen in the photograph of orange water in a fountain as part of the World Cup celebration.

Mile 16.2 (26.1 km): Leaving Dordrecht on another ferry, we cross a waterway called Nieuwe Merwede.

Mile 31.3 (50.4 km): Skeeuwijk.

Mile 33.7 (54.2 km): In Woudrichem we search for a ferry crossing the Afgedamde Maas. It is in our guidebook but we cannot find it. When we ask, the locals look as us as if we have a screw loose. Perhaps the bikeline guidebook is wrong but then the Falk map shows a cycle path crossing the river too. We must just be confused. The locals direct us south to Rijswijk where we cross on the auto bridge. Just as we get off the bridge at waypoint 21, we talk to a local man who suggests we see the local castle, Loevestein, at waypoint 23. The castle is a tall brick structure within a lake or a moat according to the pictures on Google Maps. We are tired, hungry, and cranky so we pass on the advice and head instead for Brakel.Town Gate WoudrichemWindmill at Woudrichem

Mile 46.9 (75.5 km): Hoping to find some lodging for the evening we stop in Zaltbommel. We ride past a dirty looking establishment just inside the city limits but when we get to the tourist office, it is closed already. We do ask a nice woman who just finished talking to two German cyclists. She tells us that the German couple just rode off to take the last room in town. She recommended the next town up river at Rossum and we ride off, not just a little bit disappointed because I was really looking forward to a cold beer.

Cement tractor monument to workers who built the dikes, 501 Storks nesting in power towers, 503 De Gouden Molen Hotel.Cement tractor monument to workers who built the dikes, 501 Storks nesting in power towers, 503 De Gouden Molen Hotel.Cement tractor monument to workers who built the dikes, 501 Storks nesting in power towers, 503 De Gouden Molen Hotel.Mile 54.4 (87.6 km): In Rossum we stop at De Gouden Molen; Waaldijk 5, Rossum 5328 EZ; +00 31 (0)418 661306; info@goudenmolen.nl; their website is http://www.goudenmolen.nl . They have 9 rooms, the cost is advertised as “from €65” but we paid €100 for two people for one night. The lower price is undoubtedly for a single bed room. It is a lovely place and we are very pleased. Their restaurant is top quality but we opt for a less expensive restaurant nearby. Tonight, July 6, 2011, is the World Cup Semifinal game between Holland and Uruguay. Football fans (in Dutch Voetbal sounds the same as the American word 'football') are all a twitter and ready to party while the cheer their team to victory in South Africa. When we inquired at the restaurant for reservations, they asked us when we could be finished because the entire restaurant staff was going downstairs to a pub to party with the fans. Fun! By the way, I get my beer and it is tasty, tasty.

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Day 3: Rossum – Millingen aan de Rijn and then to Emmerich, Germany

Day Overview: Today is much the same as yesterday, flat and paved.

Path atop the dikeMile 0 (0 km): Getting our bicycles from the garage where we had stashed them overnight, we met the retired owner of the hotel. His children run things now but he enjoys keeping up the horse drawn coaches and the various antique decorations hanging in the public areas of the hotel. He relates to us what it was like during the German occupation of World War II. For some Dutch citizens that was not a good time and the memories (some of them nightmares) are still fresh and painful. Starting at our hotel, we ride north toward the German border. It is a glorious day with the sun shining and the forecast to be warmer than yesterday.

About mile 3.1 (5.0 km): We stop at a monument that we did not understand it. It looked like a solid granite slab split into two halves. One-half is highly polished and has representations of many of the world’s famous landmarks, such as the UN Building in New York, the Great Wall of China, the Eifel Tower in Paris, etc. The other half is unpolished and rough looking. It has a representation of the Waal River and the Maas River along with a few representations of rural life on a farm. As we remount our bikes, person drives up and offers to explain it to us. He knows the artist personally and is himself a highly educated mathematician who has quit the rat race and now prefers an agrarian lifestyle. He points out that the dikes purpose is to narrow the river to keep the water level high enough to facilitate water transportation. He explained that Holland has three major river systems The Maas begins in Belgium, the Waal from Germany, and from the north yet another river. Historically, when one river would flood the other rivers would not because their sources are in different microclimates. The three rivers were interconnected in the Dutch estuary so when one flooded the other river channels would take the excess water and evacuate it to the ocean without causing too much damage. Nowadays that is not the case because of the manmade dikes. If one overflows the dikes, the damage can be severe and unexpected. So, one purpose of the monument is to promote the idea of tearing down some of the dikes. The man explaining the monument also mentioned that Holland is made of soil from the Alps. Huh? Yes, well you see the largest and longest river that flows through Holland is the Rhine and it starts in the Alps. Soil eroded in the Alps, and other parts of transalpine Europe, is carried by the Rhine to Holland where the Rhine slows down enough for the silt to settle out. In the past, every few years the channels would silt up and the river had to create a new channel. That Holland is part of the Alps is not a widely held opinion – to say the least.

I bet you wish I had a photograph of the monument. Sorry, I do not, so the 1,000 +/- words above has to suffice.

Mile 28.0 (45.0 km): This is Nijmegen.

Maxa and Tim at the borderMile 41.6 (67.0 km): We break for a beer in Millingen aan de Rijn. The border is just a stone’s throw north of our restaurant.

Mile 42.3 (68.0 km): The Border and the end of the official tour. Now we ride to the nearest train station in Germany, which is Emmerich, a town from which we have departed twice before. Ok, so I would need a very good arm indeed to throw a stone over half a mile. I am just saying.

Emmerich from the bridgeEmmerich BridgeMile 51.2 (84.4 km): This is the bridge crossing the Rhine into Emmerich.

Mile 53.8 (86.6 km): In Emmerich, we take a room in Hotel Pension Societät, owned by Petra Rick, Kleiner Wall 4, 46446 Emmerich am Rhein, telephone 02822- 913080 www.hotel-societaet.de . The email is info@hotel-societaet.de. We took a three bed room for €88. The hotel is next to a chemical processing plant of some sort. However except for the view, we are unaffected by our neighbor because it has no oder.

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