1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 6

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 5

…I was completely recovered from the ride to Amsterdam, I felt good, and what do you know, the sun was shining! It turned out to be a beautiful day, mostly sunny, just a few clouds, and the warmest day of the trip so far (around 80 °F), I almost worked up a sweat during the ride. I had hoped for a tailwind since the ride into Amsterdam met with a headwind, but that was not to be. Only a minor headwind though, so it was not too taxing on me though somewhat annoying. During the ride, I was amazed to see lots of other people on racing bikes with cycling clothes, just like me. A few people even wore helmets and I saw some cyclers set up for traveling the way I was. I didn’t feel so alone and out of place anymore, I wonder where all those people were on the first part of the trip. I’m wondering if these people mainly take their racing bikes out on the weekend for sport. I would see rather large groups of them going hell bent for leather. Also, the weather was so bad on the front part of my trip, perhaps that kept a lot of them off the bike paths.

After I got to Utrecht, I headed straight east for Arnhem. The countryside through this part of Holland is heavily forested, European beech is the dominant tree in the forests. Some nearly pure stands of beech were seen although I suspect this is man-induced as the trees appeared to be in a rather narrow bracket of age. This tree is also heavily used in the landscape in towns along this area, especially the purple-leaved form. Some of the homes had magnificent, old beech trees in their yards, perhaps 100 feet tall and a spread of 80 feet. The perfectly shaped crown and smooth, silvery bark made them a beautiful site to behold. The countryside also began to get just a bit less flat. There were no steep grades to speak of, rather a mild, gently rolling landscape.

I had lunch in a cute little town called Doorn, stopped at a little café and looked at the selection of food with complete bafflement. I told the shop owner to just pick out something for me. I gave me a sandwich that was made with a deep-fried roll, buttered on the outside, filled with a pastey substance on the inside that was rather spicy, very good. A young guy that worked there had lived in Carson City, Nevada and like cycling so much we talked a while about my trip.

I eventually ended up in Arnhem, and much to my disappointment, the VVV was closed on Sundays. So I had to go about the chore of finding someplace to stay. I remembered seeing a hotel on the way into town so I went back. I wanted to spend no more than 40 guillders, and I kind of thought they would be more than that, but I had to ask. The rate was 60 guillders. To my amazement, the owner was glad to help when I asked him if he knew of a less expensive place. He directed me to the Rembrant Hotel, 35 guillders. The room was very small but adequate for my needs. I cleaned up and went to the Centrum. This town was alive, lots of pubs, restaurants, and cafés. I had dinner at a place by the train station, Hollandse beifstack, salate, en pomme frites. It was a little tough (I’d heard this was normal in Europe) but great taste. I ate at an outdoor table. After I finished it began to rain so I went inside and had coffee and dessert. Bananen Royale (basically a banana split). Then I went back to an area where I had seen a little square filled with cafés (like those in Amsterdam, only in miniature) to hang around and saw a stage being set up in front of one area. So I spent the rest of the evening there, had coffee and beer, and listened to a band called the Rockin’ Cracks play Rock-A-Billy and electric blues. It was great. I think I had more fun that night than any of the nights in Amsterdam, even though I was by myself. I was thinking at the time how nice it was to be doing exactly what I wanted to do. Also, even though it was a small city, there were lots of people in the cafés, but not the teaming throngs we encountered in Amsterdam. In addition, all of the people were people that lived there, it was nice to get away from feeling like you were in a sea of tourists.

I got up today and had breakfast, it was exactly the same as all the previous ones [an early use of sarcasm in my writings!]. My plan up to that point was to bike to Wesel, Germany and catch a train to Cologne. I decided instead to cycle south to Venlo, staying in Holland for one more day. There were several reasons for the change: (1) taking the train was Bill’s idea so that I could avoid cycling down through the urbanized area between Wesel and Cologne. In deciding to return to cycling as the point of the trip, I wanted to eliminate the train as part of my transportation; (2) Holland’s bicycle trails are so complete and well-marked that I wanted to utilize them as long as possible, (3) Venlo was more on the way to Cologne, and once I did get into Germany after leaving Venlo, that area of Germany leading to Cologne was much less urbanized, so I felt that I would have less difficulty finding my way on the bicycle; (4) the distance from Venlo to Cologne looked to be about the same as from Arnhem to Venlo, so it would be an easily managed distance to do and still have a large part of the day to sightsee once I got to Cologne. So, Venlo it was.

The weather started off a little uncomfortable, completely cloudy and very cool. By mid-morning, however, many of the  clouds had burned off and it warmed up a little. It was not as sunny or warm as yesterday, but I was able to take off my windbreaker for the rest of the day, and more importantly, there was no rain. I had a headwind at times, I wonder why I never get to enjoy a tailwind. The countryside was not quite as forested as the stretch covered yesterday, but it was still quite beautiful with the same mild, gently rolling terrain in places. Dozens of nurseries were along the way with huge fields of gladiolus, dahlias, norway maples, and glasshouses. Holland has an incredible nursery industry, I wonder if they need entomologists!

Instead of eating a true lunch, I bought some nectarines and had them with coffee at an outdoor café next to a beautiful old church in the town of Gennep. It seems as though every town has one of these beautiful, old, brick churches with a brick plaza or square in front of it lined with little shops and cafés. It began to get cloudier and cooler before I got to Venlo, I made it there about 3:15 PM. I found the VVV, there was a moderately inexpensive hotel just around the corner, and I was showered and ready to see the town by 4:00. Best of all, the hotel was right in the Centrum. I walked around, looking at all the shops, stopping for coffee [are you seeing a trend here?], sampling the pastries and chocolates, and then took a walk through the city park. I went back to the Centrum and had dinner at a restaurant that I had scouted earlier. I had trouble reading the menu so I just ordered the special. It turned out to be fillets of fish, broiled with fruit cocktail, salad, and (of course) frites. It was all very good. For dessert, layer cake filled with cherries and whipped cream and frosted with powdered sugar, it was absolutely delicious.

After dinner, I thought I would hang out at the cafés as on previous nights. To my disappointment, however, this city really shuts down in the evening (or at least Monday evening). The cafés were open, but there were very few people in them. It was a startling contrast to the scene only a few hours earlier. I sat in one for a while and had some coffee, then came back to the hotel and called it an early night.

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2008, 2013

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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