Every time we come back from The Netherlands we say we’ll cycle more. This time we seem to be doing reasonably well at it. Yesterday I had a glorious cycle to Newport to buy some new crochet hooks. On the way there I heard a saxophonist playing in the woods which was an unexpected pleasure.

I’m glad we live at the Cowes end though as I get all the annoying obstacles out of the way early ( the hilly bit with no right of way and no visibilty at Medina Vally Centre, the stupidly close poles on the bridge that we definitely wouldn’t have managed to fit our kiddy trailer through, and the kicked out junction with no right of way at Stage Lane) and can just enjoy the rest of the ride home, the angle of the views are slightly better on the way back to cowes too!

Cycling home I realised that being on my bike on a car-free path – particularly in my favourite gear ratio (2:6 if you are interested) – makes me feel almost as contented as swimming does. If we had Dutch style infrastructure and attitudes to cyclists I would feel happy very often ūüôā

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My favourite day at this site was definitely when we went to visit the Maastricht caves . We even had to cycle (or in my case push) up a proper hill to get there and we arrived a little early for the English language tour so there was time for yet another beer!

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The tour guide was brilliant, we had a long hot walk to the caves as the usual entrance was closed during which he established that we were a group that were a mix of English and German speaking so he switched flawlessly between both languages throughout the cave tour.

The extra walk was well worth it as we got to see into the vault which is usually too far for the tour. This was where many Dutch pictures were hidden through the 2nd world war, as well as a hidden radio and a fair few people!

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The caves are really man-made tunnels and there are the most amazing charcoal drawings throughout the caves.

Some dinosaurs,

the tour guide was rather critical of the fact that there were a couple of dinosaurs that were incorrectly included as they couldn’t have been from this area.

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An illustration of 5 people who helped the Spanish in the 17th century and then had their heads chopped off and displayed at De Vijf Koppen (The Five Heads Bastion).

We were quite excited to see this as we had visited this bastion on our walking tour the day before!

 

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A map of the underground caves and tunnels, it really is incredible just how extensive they are.

 

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My favourite part was hearing about the Jewish man who used the tunnels to escape to safety during the second world war and had carved his name in a wall in the 1940s and then seeing underneath the same name with a date just a few years ago when he had revisited the caves.

As well as the charcoal drawings there were many sculptures in the soft rock.

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The tour guide gave us a choice of the more adventurous experience or the standard one Рwe opted for the adventurous one and got to experience a little of the more creepy nature of the caves as the tour guide went ahead of us with the lanterns leaving us in complete darkness to follow him using our fingers on the walls as our guide. It was slow, scary and very disorientating even though i knew we were safe my heart was pounding at the complete helplessness I felt, if the tour guide left us we would have had no way out. He told us about some monks who had become lost in the mines and when they were later found their fingertips had been completely worn away as they had tried to trace their way out by running their hands along the rough walls. Many people have lost their lives in the caves and even with the torch light I was unable to identify which caverns we had been in before.

Jonathan was the only child on the tour so got to have a go at cutting a bit of the stone, it was soft but the idea of doing it for hours on end in the cold humidity was very unpleasant. People stopped working in the mines at the age of about 35 as the damp conditions led to horrendous arthritis.

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The temperature is about 12 degrees all the time in the mines which on the hottest day of the holiday was was a welcome relief!

Back outside we had lovely dappled sunshine

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and after a trek back up the hill we needed another cool beer and then enjoyed the unusual experience of free-wheeling down a Dutch hill to head back to the van.

Maastricht was an easy 30 minute cycle from out camp site, so we headed there for a couple of days.

The first day after the obligatory visit to the, rather impressive, tourist information centre (VVV)

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we set out on a walking tour of the city.

First stop was the magnificent bookshop converted from an ancient Dominican church – Boekhandel Dominicanen

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We opted for the fortifications tour so we saw lots of, well, fortifications.

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We learned that “molen” means mill and saw some watermills.

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Jonathan wanted to take some photos of the deer in the town park.

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We ended up back at the very empty town square and had an ice cream, toasted sandwich and a beer before cycling back to the camp site.

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We love going on holiday to The Netherlands – this year we decided to go somewhere other than the Katjekelder park in Nord Brabant so we headed for a camp site just outside Maastricht, Camping De Oosterdriessen.

This was a great choice: It had a large areas to camp in separated by light hedges,

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A lake to swim in,

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And some good weather to sit outside and eat the tarts

 

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and drink the wine we bought in France.

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We had a fabulous time in The Netherlands and for me the highlight was definitely the cycling – I managed to get out on my bike everyday and sometimes two or three times.

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¬†We’re about to set off on an expedition apparently:

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I love how safe I feel cycling there and how the infrastructure and the attitude makes for such a pleasant experience.

Look at the size of these cycle paths:

 

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See the depression for the bicycle wheels to go alongside the steps for the underpass – what a simple and yet clever idea:

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Love the height and ease of use of the traffic light button:

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And easy to follow comprehensive signage:

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During a walking tour of Breda, I discovered the local authority there have decided to reopen the harbour, what a good idea. But impossible of course, since it was filled in in the ’60s and an underground car park built across much of it. Yet wait, this is the Netherlands, engineering watercourses is a way of life, and they want their waterfront back, so the car park gets the heave-ho (with parking relocated to a more suitable location) and the canal gets reinstated, with harbour allowing pleasure boats etc to moor up, locals and tourists to stroll or cycle the banks, and this prime city centre area to look luverly and have a sense of place, rather than just being a car park and grim road. More information on the project (in English) can be found here. You will find on that page the heartwarming (for me anyway) phrase “Plenty of space will be set aside for pedestrians and cyclists in the area” UK planners take note – they actually mean that.

The Dutch let us down today. Junction with signs to Breda in three directions for cyclists – not too helpful… Oh well, that’s not bad, that’s the first gripe to date. We followed a 25km ish route today joined by Aunty Jane on a hired (child’s) bike. They have a system of numbered junctions marked on a map, with traffic free and low traffic routes in between. You pick your next destination junction, and follow signs to that, then look for the next numbered junction and so on. Generally works quite well. I’m still admiring the fantastic infrastructure for cyclists. If we had something more like this at home I’m convinced we could increase cycle trips and decrease car use.


Just posted on the family blog about how good cycle infrastructure is in the Netherlands (after a slightly petty gripe about signage at one junction) and that improving ours in the UK would almost certainly see a modal shift from car to bike. What I’m not sure about is how you change an anti-bike culture. The Dutch drive sensibly around cyclists, are tolerant of them making mistakes (and misdemeanours), I would wager there are few calls for compulsory tests, insurance or tax on bikes as are often heard in the UK. Cycling is deeply embedded in Dutch culture though, and we have lost that now. I’d like to hope that would start to change if we got to the stage where we had decent facilities for cyclists and hence more people using bikes. But I’m not sure. Oh, and before anyone suggests no-one will cycle in the UK because its hilly, and the Netherlands is Pancake-flat, I don’t expect us to reach NL numbers of cyclists or distances, but for many trips a bike makes sense, and for many more it would make sense with some major or even minor improvements to our infrastructure.

Oh, and by the way, Dutch roads are excellent by and large. Driving here is not unpleasant at all. Just often unnecessary.

I am a Philistine and a country bumpkin.

Went to Amsterdam today, too many people, too busy. Much nicer further south IMO (I am rather fond of Noord-Brabant). I lived for 16 years in London and never liked it greatly. Several years out of cities have only confirmed my views.

Oh, and I’m a Philistine because we went to the Van Gogh museum and it was just some pictures. I liked a few very much, but that was it really. Oh well, we can’t all be cultured ūüėČ

DS (age 5) commented on one of the paintings featured in the museum leaflet “Yes, Mum said that it was his famousest painting, but I don’t think they look much like sunflowers”. Like father like son then.