I decided to make use of the four day Easter holiday weekend and cycle from London to Amsterdam. However, since I was leaving directly after work on Thursday evening and didn’t want to cycle dangerous British roads in the dark, I got a train to Dover and made it just in time to catch the midnight ferry to Dunkirk. This however, proved to be a mistake, as, due to the length of the journey and the hour time difference, I arrived in Dunkirk at 3am. Predictably the hostel I had booked gave up waiting for me and locked up, so I had no choice but to either keep cycling and hope to find somewhere open, or sleep outdoors in the rain with the refugees.
I cycled on for the next two hours through rainy traffic and refugee camps until eventually at five am I was lucky enough to find another hostel, the lovely owner of which took me in and gave me my own private room for the night/morning. I knew I had to make it 150km’s the next day through Belgium to Breskens in the Netherlands if I wanted to catch the last ferry to Vlissengen, so I didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in late. I grabbed five hours sleep and was up at 10am, had a quick (free) breakfast and was back on the road.
Riding along the beach in Belgium
The day went fairly smoothly for the first few hours – it was nice and sunny and I dried out my wet clothes by hanging them off my bike as I rode. Initially I felt I was making good time, but after a number of stops for photographs, lunch and exploring I realised at 5pm I was going to have to hurry to make the 9pm ferry! I abandoned the slow moving beach roads and got onto the main road for a few hours of hard pedalling. I whisked through Belgium fairly quickly and then just after entering the Netherlands developed a rather serious pain in my left Achilles tendon. I tried adjusting my foot to accommodate it but I couldn’t really slow down or rest so I had to push through, despite the pain worsening. Luckily I made it to the ferry in time, but I was seriously worried about whether I could continue the next day.
I spent that evening in quite a nice hostel in Vlissengen, and being that it was a seemingly quiet deserted town I thought nothing of leaving my bike locked up outside on the street. Bad idea…. but more of that later.
Anyway this hostel had been left in the care of a very young lad from somewhere or other who was travelling and needed work, and the owner was busy that night DJ’ing at a club in town. Luckily the hostel only had one or two other guests who were already in bed, so he decided he would come with me for a few drinks at an Irish pub down the road, where we chatted about our respective travels and had a few beers. He was a nice enough chap but clearly didn’t know anything about how the hostel worked, and forgot to take any payment from me before I left the next morning! (the owner, luckily for him, had my email and tracked me down for payment a few days later).
Upon returning to my bike I found my seat missing – the whole seat-post and saddle as well as my saddlebag with all my tools and puncture kit! Coupled with the somewhat better but still sore pain in my Achilles tendon this was not good news. I hummed-and-harred about what to do for awhile until eventually deciding to push on through, standing up to pedal until I found a bike shop.
Fortunately this was exactly what my Achilles tendon needed, as the change in foot position while standing took the pressure off it and I went along quite well and full of renewed energy for the next hour until I reached a town with a fairly big bike shop. There a very helpful bike mechanic found me a cheap, used seat-post and saddle and I was on my way again, only €30 poorer.
I continued on along a route I’ve been wanting to cycle for many years, along the Dutch dyke system that holds back the ocean south of Rotterdam and The Hague and connects many small islands and outcropping bits of land. It’s an incredibly interesting landscape and the huge, modern mechanical dykes are amazing to see up close.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great that day, and with the combination of a headwind, my sore Achilles tendon and the delays of buying a new seat it didn’t look like I would make it to Amsterdam that evening as planned. However I still had a good time exploring the dykes and cycling the tiny little villages on the many islands along the route. The cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands is incredible, and is maintained equally if not better than the roads.
There is a seperate, dedicated bicycle lane next to every single street, no matter where you go. In many places it even goes under or over the road when crossing, so for the most part you need never be involved with or worry about vehicular traffic. Despite this I still managed to accidentally cycle onto the freeway at one point, and had to get off and walk back along the grass verge to the normal road. The truckers driving past in their massive 18-wheelers found this rather amusing.
I stopped for lunch in a great little seafood restaurant in the docks of a small village and had a well deserved beer with calamari and chips. By the time I got to Rotterdam it was already 6pm and I was exhausted, so I had to choose to spend a night in Rotterdam and continue the next day, or get the train to Amsterdam and spend the night there.
I decided to go with the latter as I knew Amsterdam better and figured I would have a good Saturday night there. I almost got in trouble on the train as I didn’t put my bike in the correct section, but luckily the conductors are understanding of foreigners and let me off.
So I finally arrived in Amsterdam, and although I didn’t quite cycle all the way I had a great trip and overcame many obstacles. That night I made some friends in The Flying Pig hostel, drank an entire pitcher of beer and multiple tequila’s, explored a bit of the red light district and then we went out to a techno club until 4am. The next afternoon, slightly hungover, I packed up my bike into a box kindly donated by a local bike shop, and headed off to the airport to fly back home to London.
I hope to do this trip again some time, however I would spread it over 3 days and go via Bruges.