Day 2: Hoek van Holland to Zwolle

  • Distance: 192km ๐Ÿ™‚ — This is…a very long way.
  • Climbing: 423m ๐Ÿ˜€ — Yes, that’s four meters of climbing for every 1km of forward motion.  The Netherlands is very flat.
  • Undercarriage: ☹️ — the less said about this the better.
  • Route: ๐Ÿ™‚ — Ok, I didn’t have the genius of JJ to do it but the Garmin Autoroute functionality worked well.
  • Hands: ๐Ÿ˜• - an early appearance of hands being a problem
  • Bike: ๐Ÿ™‚ — The Bat Bike™ still performing well.

I’d set my alarm for 5am because last year a lugubrious scouser had woken me up on the tannoy at 5am and I thought I could get some breakfast and get ready to go for the 6am docking and departure from the boat.  I’d even remembered to to leave my phone on so that the time would automatically change to CET.  

There were two problems with this strategy.  The first being that leaving your phone on means that Vodafone charges you “maritime and aerospace” rates for data.  This is…wait for it…£6 for every megabyte.  Given that the average web page is a megabyte or so and one megabyte is pretty much a single auto-refresh of Twitter (or “X”…ffs) or LinkedIn.  By the time I woke up, I’d spent £48.  £48 to get spam messages from idiots on LinkedIn asking me if I’d like to employ some programmers in Tajikistan and have the latest river of bile on Twitter ready to read when I woke up.

This I could have coped with but it turned out that I had made a poor assumption about  StenaLine. Surely their sailing times wouldn’t have changed from 2022 to 2023.  Looking out of the window (and noticing the lack of lugubrious scousers on the tannoy) I was somewhat worried to see that the ship was barely making way and there was no sign of land.

Yes, StenaLine had decided to save some fuel (yay the environment, yay for StenaLine’s profitability) by extending the sailing time by two hours.  I had an extra two hours before we docked.  What joy…I found a “coffee shop” which was open, drank coffee, tried to eat a “croissant” and failed.  

Basically the entire day was screwed.  I’d (optimistically) arranged a long day and I’d also arranged to meet my friend Gideon for lunch in Utrecht at noon which would have been lovely and relaxing but if I was going to make it to Utrecht by 12:00 I was going to have to ride very fast indeed and if I didn’t I would miss Gideon.  I texted Gideon, cancelling and realised with a sinking sensation I had a long long day with no nice relaxed lunches with a friend in it.

The view from the deck

There was the usual kerfuffle getting off the ship and after having a nice chat with the passport guy, I was on the road.

My route took me up the northern side of the Rhine from Hoek van Holland to Rotterdam.  Once again, the sheer neatness and overall density of the Netherlands was impressive.  

Huge greenhouses on one side, long straight cycle paths and…spot the lamb

The Netherlands has been in a constant battle against the sea for centuries.  Much of the land is below sea-level and certainly at risk during storm surges.  One sees a lot of “big engineering” solutions to problems like dykes, locks and the truly amazing Maasvlakte. I rode on dikes for kilometre after kilometre. I took pictures of canals and I took pictures of big engineering bridges.



Finally I arrived in Rotterdam which is big, a bit gritty but still insanely clean and well ordered.

Rotterdam

At some point I hit one of those fantastic huge bridges which swings up — like in the Blues Brothers — and I could geek out on the fabulously designed bridge with its associated water and flood management features.
I was reminded of this scene.

But apart from the slightly sad engineering geekery, it was just a lot of this.

Cycling infrastructure and canals

I had made a mistake in Rotterdam.  I’d hoped to take on some fuel and some coffee in Rotterdam but I was either working my way round the cycling infrastructure or there were no cafes.  I’d ridden 60km in the morning without much food and no coffee and I was getting a bit…cranky.  There was a long way to go and I was trying to do it without food or caffeine.  This is not a good strategy.

Eventually in a small village, I found a Snack Bar which was open and had a bewilderingly large menu.  I could have everything from a cheese sandwich to a three course Libyan lunch.  Like every sensible person in the Netherlands, I chose chips and two cups of coffee.  The chips were…possibly the best chips I’ve ever eaten and the coffees came with little biscuits which handled the sweet craving.

Human again…

There were another 40km to go to Utrecht and, to be honest, these were long kilometres.  I was dropping behind my route plan and the scenery was…dull.  A lot of fields with a lot of canals and drainage ditches and a lot of green grass with cows on it.

However, now is the time to sing the praises of the Dutch cycling infrastructure.  I cycled 192km today and apart from a handful of kilometres where I was on very quiet roads which were shared with cars, I never actually shared any space with cars.  There are cycle paths everywhere and they’re not just crappy old things thrown down to keep the cyclists happy.  They’re new, the tarmac is so smooth that my new knobbly tyres made singing noises while I cycled along.  At roundabouts, you (mostly) have right of way and cars (almost always) wait for you.  Unfortunately, there are some junctions at roundabouts where you don’t have right of way and it was my luck to whizz round a roundabout and nearly get hit by a car.  A police car. The officer peeled rubber to catch up with me and then pulled in in front of me and let rip with what I can only imagine was a stream of Dutch invective.  I’d like to say that I shouted “You won’t take me alive copper” and a Italian Job style car chase ensued but…I grovelled in English about how I was new to the country and didn’t understand the excellent Dutch cycling infrastructure.  The policeman said “take care”…three times and then peeled rubber off into the distance.  Obviously Dutch policemen don’t pay for their own tyres.

I stopped in Utrecht for a coffee two hours after when I should have met Gideon for lunch.  I should have chosen a Starbucks because I just needed caffeine but I ended up in a hyper-trendy coffee bar.  I was offered three different types of coffee, tasting notes on each and a choice of cup shapes.  <sigh>.  Of course it took 30 minutes to make and was…terrible.

30 minutes for some brown tasteless water.
  
I was only half done.  There was a long way to go.  Although I was aided by a reasonably friendly tail wind, there were long and dispiriting sections of flat straight roads.  I did get a bit blasรฉ about the cycle lanes and got a tremendous buttock-clenching shock when I was passed by an agricultural tractor about the size of a small family house on the cycle lane.

There were some pretty bits

I can’t remember where this was but it seemed pretty nice to me.

There was a pointless massive bicycle sculpture in the middle of nowhere.

What’s going to make this look good?  I know, a big bike.

Of course I had to take pictures of a windmill.  They are, after all, the symbol of Holland and the Dutch.  Well that and slightly disarming directness bordering on the rude…

A windmill.

For some reason this part of the Netherlands appears to be Tiny Horse Central.  There’s fields and fields of little tiny horses.  They would have a bit of a problem if the land ever gets flooded.

These horses are not a long way away.  They’re tiny.

Slower than I would have hoped, the kilometres ticked down. 40k to go…30k to go…and then finally I was in Zwolle and I was searching for my hotel.

The Apart!Hotel (yes, the exclamation mark is part of its name) in Zwolle had sent me 8 emails and 6 WhatsApps in the days leading up to my arrival.  Mildly aggressive emails asking me for arrival time and some somewhat useless descriptions of how to find it.  I wandered around the centre of Zwolle in a post 192km daze singularly failing to find anything that looked like my hotel.

Eventually I phoned them and a nice Dutch lady piloted me to the back door and then remotely opened it from, I presume, home.  There’s nobody in the hotel.  Just me.  I have a key which remotely operates my door and the main door.  It’s slightly weird but also quintessentially Dutch.

The room is big, has Wi-Fi but doesn’t have a heated towel rail so not everything is rosy in the land of long-distance cycling.  I showered for a long long time, washed my cycle gear and headed out into Zwolle to find some much needed food.  

Zwolle is absolutely jumping.  Scores of cafes and restaurants with people spilling out onto the streets laughing and enjoying the sunny evening.  Given the 192km and the associated “soft tissue” issues, I was not laughing and enjoying the sunny evening. I needed food and I needed drink. An Indian restaurant supplied both.

Mmm.  Indian food and, in the background, blog authorship.

Whilst the outskirts of Zwolle (and all other Dutch towns and cities) are a bit faceless, the centre is lovely.  In a way that only the Netherlands can pull off, towns are surrounded by industrial parks which put all other industrial parks to shame with their neatness and modernity.  I saw a scrap metal merchant with an office block which would not have been out of place if he or she were running a silicon chip fabrication plant.

I know the Netherlands is a rich country and so can afford to be clean, well-ordered and have superb cycling infrastructure.  I don’t think even the Dutch would class their country as beautiful but it does work incredibly well. The UK isn’t a rich country (any more) and so it’s often dirty, littered, badly-ordered and has potholes the size of Belgium in many of the roads I cycle on frequently.  It’s all a bit depressing.

So, full of Chicken Karai and Spinach Pakora, I am going to get an early night and try to not wake up 2 hours before I have to.  It’s another long and flat day tomorrow.  Germany beckons.


Comments

  1. Flat sounds great until you realise there's absolutely no respite for the legs. As a fellow Cambridgeshire cyclist I think gentle ripples is best. None of your stupid ascents or descents, but some gentle exertion, some rest. DaveC.

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