A short cycle through western Europe (Part 3)…

Our arrival into Europe…

It was sad to say goodbye to Rags and leave him in a cage, but he wasn’t allowed inside the ferry with us. And there were a few other dogs where he was too, so at least he would have some friends to woof with. And we could visit him every so often as well. It took 17 hours in total to reach Amsterdam, and they had all sorts of entertainment on board to keep us amused. It felt more like a cruise than a short crossing, what with the various live music performances and expensive cocktails.

When we finally did pull into the Dutch port the next morning, neither of us were really that impressed. It was a bit grim. It was very industrial, not the stretches of tulips and windmills that we were expecting. But, I guess ports always are a bit grimy, especially such a big one as this. It wasn’t actually in Amsterdam, it was about 20km from the city, in Ijmuiden; so we had to figure out a route to get across. It was now that we both wished we’d been a bit more prepared, that we’d brought a map book, or at least learnt a few phrases. We just stood outside the port kind of looking around, thinking, “Which way is the city?”

imag0030After a short while we’d got our bearings. We’d bought a cheap map book, and by looking at it realised that there was a canal we could follow all the way along; so we did, enjoying the flat land beneath our wheels. When we finally did make it to the city it came as a bit of a shock. It was incredibly busy. There were so many bikes! And they rode so fast! It was a sight my sore eyes had never beheld. So many people cycling, it was wonderful! But trying to manoeuvre our weighty vessels in amongst them all, that was hard. And the right-handed orientation of the roads didn’t help.

There was a camp site that the lady in Newcastle had told us about, ‘Camp Zeeburg’, just outside the city centre. It was the only one that accepted dogs. They were pretty lenient on all the rules in-fact. It was a place to party, with young adults from all over the continent congregating to smoke, drink and make merriment. The atmosphere was great, a really friendly vibe was going about. The tents were perhaps positioned a little too closely together, almost touching; but the laid back attitude was contagious, so we soon settled in.

dscf7086We spent about a week staying there. The city knocked me over a bit at first. The heat was escalating, and after dossing around in the countryside for a couple of weeks, the masses and masses of people whizzing around got me somewhat dizzy. So the first few days were spent acclimatizing. But soon enough I was able to join Adri in feeing relaxed, enjoying the canals, the coffee-shops, the streets, the bars, and everything else that the city has to offer.

When we left Amsterdam we just followed another one of the canals south. It was such an easy place to navigate; heaven for cyclists. On nearly every road there was a separate lane for bikes; and the signs were all spot on. Plus, obviously, it was completely flat. Just endless stretches of fields and water channels and quaint, well-kept country houses. It was perhaps a little too tidy sometimes, for my liking; there weren’t the usual scraggy patches of weeds and wild bushel for us to hide our tent in; it was a little square and overly-fenced. But we still enjoyed it none-the-less.

dscf7123The rest of Holland and the Netherlands are quite different to Amsterdam, almost like a different country. Everyone spoke English in the city, it was very modern. People appeared open-minded, and very cultured. There was also a certain friendliness, a certain affability. But further afield, to us, the public appeared somewhat indifferent. English was also barely spoken. I mean, this is quite rightly so, we were in the Netherlands, not Britain. And it also gave us a more authentic Dutch experience. We knew we wouldn’t be in the country all that long, so we hadn’t invested a great amount of time in learning the language. But we soon knew enough to get by, awkwardly. Although any interactions we had were always rather brief.

We continued south, in the direction of Utrecht, creeping further inland; stopping at the small towns of Woerden and Waalwijk to do some busking. But it wasn’t all that profitable, the people there not seeming to have much of an interest in our music. It was fun cycling through the surrounding countryside though, navigating our way along and over the canals. It was so green and luscious, so full of life; the sunlight glimmering on the water; bugs buzzing about us. We’d often have to take a short trip on a ferry to cross the bigger ones, which was fun, especially in the more rural areas. And the weather continued to be hot and sunny, so we were both catching quite a tan.

dscf7129When we got to Tilburg things began to get a bit more exciting. It was the first big city we’d visited since Amsterdam, and it too had a different feel to the rest of the country. It felt a little more rough and ready, a bit more dodgy. We bought a small djembe, for one of us to play on whilst t’other strummed the guitar; which turned out to be a lucrative decision, as the busking then improved. But it wasn’t until we got into Belgium that things really picked up…

Enjoy this story? Then you might like my book, ‘At Home in the Bushes’. It’s about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping & busking around Britain. You can order your copy for £10 now!

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