My wife and I just returned from a week of cycling, eating & drinking, seeing a zillion tulips, eating and drinking, sightseeing, eating & drinking, touring (and did I mention eating and drinking?) in Holland. As cycling challenges go, this is the bottom of the heap. As my wife stated as we were landing at Schiphol Airport outside of Amsterdam, “it’s not saying that there are no hills fully describes it . . . it’s just totally and completely flat.” In 5 days of riding around the country, the highest point we hit (according to my Garmin Edge 305) was 74 feet above sea level and the lowest point was at 39 feet below sea level (a lot of the country is below sea level). The steepest grade we saw was 3% and that was only for about 150 feet and was man-made – the bridges over the canals have to leave room for boats to get under them.
Biking in Holland is unique. Not only because you never change gears, but because biking is deeply ingrained in the culture of Dutch society. Kids start on bikes as soon as they can sit up. It’s routine to see moms out shopping with multiple kids on their bikes as well as a load of groceries. Business people headed to work on their bikes will casually be on the phone while holding their briefcase and riding through traffic.
There are about 10,000 miles of bike paths in the country. We’re not talking little dirt cutouts beside major roads. We’re talkin’ paths that are the same size as many of the roads, many with their own traffic signals and right of way. In fact, for all practical purposes, bicycles appear to yield to nothing and no one. Not only do the cars stop to allow bicycles by, but the pedestrians do too.
The Dutch are terrific and friendly people. Aside from the fact that their language is the closest on this planet to Klingon (one Dutch person described it to us as sounding like everyone in the country had some throat disease), almost everyone speaks English and is happy to help.
We took this trip with Butterfield & Robinson. This is our first with them after having taken a couple earlier, and to different locations, with Backroads. While we don’t have enough experience to generalize, it seems pretty clear the B&R puts sightseeing and eating and drinking well ahead of activities (in this case cycling) on their trips. Our previous experience with Backroads was that the trips had a slight bias to the activity ahead of consumption. We are committed to do more experimentation here to test our hypothesis.
Oh yeah, the tulips. Totally unreal. There are flowers as far as the eye can see and the smell of the flowers is everywhere, although sometimes barely drowning out the smell of the fertilizer. We were there the last week of tulip season and most farms were in the process of mowing down the beautiful flowers. The tulips sold for export are shipped before the buds are open. The rest remain the ground so that the bulbs mature another year – it generally takes a couple of years for the bulbs to mature. So, they have these huge tulip mowers that look like reaper/harvesters for corn. The flowers are unceremoniously whacked and tossed. Geez, I had no idea.